Monthly Archives: January 2015

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino

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Summary (Amazon): If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.

My Review: So one day, I am sitting at work realizing that I haven’t phoned one of my friends in a while. I texted her to see if she was available to chat that evening, and she said she was. When I got home from work that day, there was a package from her husband with this book inside. Maybe I intrinsically just knew they were thinking about me. Who knows?

Sorry to say though, this is not so much of a review because I just could not get into this book. I struggled away for about half of it, and I finally decided that I didn’t want to waste any more of my time reading a book I wasn’t that interested in.

The book is written in the 2nd person. It’s weird, but it could be doable. I mean, how many Choose Your Own Adventure books did you read as a kid? But here’s the problem that I had with this 2nd person interpretation. This 2nd person is a man. I am not a man. I do not want to fall in love with the female character.

And then to make matters more difficult, the plot is overwhelmingly confusing. “You” find a book and you find that it was misprinted, so you return it and meet the pre-mentioned female character who is also returning hers. So then the book store gives you the book of the story that you were reading and then you find there is a problem with it and you track down the publisher and find that there’s more problems. So all in all you are reading snippets of various unrelated books with various unrelated characters. If I had known from the beginning, I would have tried to keep a list of what character was who because I took a break reading for a couple days and had no idea what was going on or what character the author was even speaking about.

Anyway, this doesn’t count as a book for me this year since I didn’t finish it. But if you are up for a challenge, go ahead and try it out!

 

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We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

2015/01/img_1041.jpgSummary (Amazon): E. Lockhart’s novel, We Were Liars, is clever, alluring, and wildly addictive. Each summer the wealthy, seemingly perfect, members of the Sinclair family gather on their private island.  We Were Liars is the story of those annual reunions; in particular what happened during a summer that protagonist Cadence is unable to remember. Prejudice, greed, and shifting patriarchal favoritism among the three adult sisters contrasts with the camaraderie and worldview of the teenage cousins and their dear friend Gat. Lazy days of sticky lemonades on the roof and marathon Scrabble games give way to twisty suspense, true love, and good intentions gone horribly wrong. We Were Liars is a story that begs to be read in one sitting. —Seira Wilson

My Review (SPOILERS!!! Seriously do not read this review if you want to read this book)

Executive Summary: Shocking

This is the first book for book club for 2015, and I think we started off well! I ended up buying this book (with a gift card my mom got me for Christmas!) because my best friend’s maiden name is Sinclair. And I know she will want to read this book as it’s so like her upbringing. </sarcasm>

The main character of the book is Cadence Sinclair. Her grandparents, Harris and Tipper Sinclair, are rich, and very controlling. Harris and Tipper have 3 daughters–Bess, Carrie, and Penny (Cadence’s mom) who are all useless individuals. They are drunk, unhappy has-beens who are living off of their father’s money, and therefore their father can control them quite easily. Let’s be honest, most everyone in the book (except Gat who is the “normal” voice) is pretty horrible.

The book begins when Cadence is about 14 or so, and from the start, we know that Cadence will be involved in an accident. (The book bounces back and forth between past and present tense.) The book is written in a style that I think really supports the main character’s age. There is a section near the beginning of the book where Cadence talks about when her dad left her and her mother. She writes “Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth. It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch…” After a few pages later when I realized that she wasn’t ACTUALLY shot, that the whole thing was a metaphor, I realized what a good metaphor that was for a naive (read: overly dramatic) teenage girl.

Each summer, the grandparents and the families of the 3 daughters go to Beechwood Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, which Harris owns. Each family has their own house on the island, and three of the grandchildren–Cadence, Mirren, and Johnny are all nearly the same age. Cadence is the oldest, but only by a few weeks. Starting at the summer when she was eight, a new child of similar age started coming to the island. His name was Gat. And he was the nephew of Carrie’s new boyfriend, Ed. Carrie never marries Ed because her father is a racist, and she will lose her inheritance if she does. Once Gat arrives, the four older grandchildren become known as the Liars, as they are always getting into mischief.

During summer 14, a different sort of relationship begins to grow between Gat and Cadence. They hang out all the time, share books, write love notes on each other’s hands. But they only hang out during the summer. Each of the Liars have their own “regular lives” during the school years. Right before summer 15 is when Cadence’s father leaves them. She’s excited to get to the island to get away and to see Gat, but when she arrives, she finds him mailing roses to his girlfriend. Between summer 14 and summer 15, Gat went on a mission trip to India. So he’s especially antagonistic about these rich people and their private island and all their silly things that they just shrug off like they are no big deal.

Also prior to summer 15, Tipper dies. The dynamic on the island has completely changed. Cadence and the others are instructed to keep it together for Grandpa’s sake.

And sometime on the island, Cadence goes swimming alone. She is found later curled up on the beach wearing a camisole, bra, and underpants. She doesn’t know what happened. They took her to a hospital off of the island, and can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. She has debilitating migraines, and can’t remember anything from shortly before, during or shortly after the attack. None of the Liars are returning her emails.

The following summer, Cadence’s father decides to take her on a trip around Europe. She’s upset. She wants to go to Beechwood Island to see the rest of the Liars. Her mother won’t allow her. Her grandfather’s house on the island is being redone so the summer won’t be any fun anyway. She reluctantly goes to Europe with her father and has a somewhat terrible time as she is sick so often.

The following fall, Cadence begins to take some of Gat’s lectures to heart. She begins a plan to give away something of hers every day. Some of the things she gives to homeless people. Some she mails to her cousins. Her mother is upset because spending money is her mother’s favorite activity.

Summer 17 Cadence is supposed to go to Australia with her father. However, she doesn’t want to. She wants to go to Beechwood. She hasn’t been there in 2 years and she wants to see the Liars. Her mother compromises and says she can spend 4 weeks there, but then she is staying with her father in Colorado for the remainder.

Cadence asks her mother what happened with the accident, and her mother is obviously frustrated. She’s told Cadence all she knew about what had happened every day since it happened, but Cadence doesn’t retain it. She asks her mother one last time, and this time she writes it down. She’s on a mission to figure out what happened.

Cadence and Penny arrive on the island for summer 17. Grandpa didn’t just renovate. He tore the entire house down and replaced it with a modern monstrosity with clean lines as opposed to the old Victorian home. He even got rid of the old maple tree with the swing. Cadence is devastated but she holds it together like she’s supposed to. But it’s hard. They don’t even stay at their old house now. Cadence and her mother now stay in the “New Clairmont” with their grandfather. She is expected to be there for all meals and hang out with the little cousins. But she hasn’t even seen the rest of the Liars yet. She finally finds some time to escape and find them. They are staying at Cuddledown, Mirren’s family’s house, together. Unfortunately though, Cadence is still required to stay at the New Clairmont. She catches up with them. Things are a little awkward, especially with Gat.

Cadence continues the summer trying to piece together what it was that had happened. She writes down the memories that return and keeps trying to get more information from her cousins and aunts.

STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. SERIOUSLY

Eventually Cadence remembers that she and the Liars were getting pitted against each other by their mothers and grandfather. They were being used as pawns to get a better share of the inheritance. Penny was using Cadence’s first birth status to try to get more. Johnny’s mother was using his eldest boy status. Mirren’s mother was using the fact that she had 4 kids and the others didn’t. They were all fighting over petty things like table clothes. So the liars devised a plan. Everyone but them was off the island, and they set fire to grandfather’s house. That way there wouldn’t be anything left to fight over. They knew that the fire department would take a while to arrive from the mainland, and they knew that they wouldn’t be prosecuted.

But Cadence was the only one who escaped the fire. Johnny, Mirren, Gat, and the two golden retrievers all died. They weren’t able to get out in time. Cadence burned herself badly in the fire, and the emotional shock blocked most of the painful memories. She’s the only one left of the Liars.

 Verdict: 4 stars

It’s pretty rare that a book fully surprises me, and let’s be honest, especially a young adult book. I even knew there was a surprise ending before reading, and it still got me. For that, it gets four stars. I have read some other reviews that criticized the writing, but to me, it felt very appropriate. It felt like I was reading a journal written by a 17 year old, and I also think that the writing style was critical to the surprise ending. And although my family unfortunately did not have a private island (gasp), I’m certainly familiar with the family drama that accompanies a grandmother dying. I think it’s a relatable theme. All in all, a good way to kick off book club for 2015!

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2015 Book Club List

2015/01/img_10381.jpgThis year’s book club list was created similarly to last year‘s list*. We have a list of genres to choose from and depending how often you actually make it to book club dictates the order in which you get to pick your genre. I picked literary fiction this year, as I wanted to mix it up a bit. The three possibilities that I brought as options were Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (which we selected), Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

This year we added an additional category–banned books. However, we did not drop any genres. So this year, the last person had a choice between 2 genres which ended up meaning that no one picked a classic for this year. I guess I’m going to have to pick one to read for myself.

Without further ado, here’s our 2015 list**

January (Young Adult) – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

February (Historical Fiction) – His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

March (Best Seller) – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

April (Literary Fiction) – Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

May (Mystery) – The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

June (Romance) – The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

July (Pick an Author) – TBD**

August (Book into Movie) – Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

September (Banned Book) – Beloved by Toni Morrison

October (Sci-Fi) – The Martian by Andy Weir

November (Non-Fiction) – No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

December – Book Swap

*If you want to see the last four years (pre-dating the blog) of our book choices, go here.

**The pick an author choice will be filled in later.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2015/01/img_1022.jpgSummary (Amazon):  Neil Gaiman’s intent was simple: to write a short story. What he ended up with instead was The Ocean at the of the Lane–his first adult novel since Anansi Boys came out in 2005, and a narrative so thoughtful and thrilling that it’s as difficult to stop reading as it was for Gaiman to stop writing. Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman’s magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: magical

I came about this book due to a Christmas gifting malfunction. We ordered some books for my sister-in-law for Christmas, and when they didn’t arrive, we ordered replacements. And Murphy’s law, we eventually received both sets, so we kept one.  This was one of the books. I have read exactly one Neil Gaiman book before (Stardust) which I wasn’t overly impressed by. I have wanted to read more of his as I know he is very well-liked, and I wanted to figure out what I was missing! This one I really enjoyed! Also the book has a dedication that says “For Amanda, who wanted to know”. So maybe he was talking to me? 🙂

The book begins with an adult man (unnamed throughout the book so I’m going to refer to him as “TN”–the narrator) returning to his hometown for a funeral. He has a bit of time before going to his sister’s house, so he kills a little time first by driving by the location of the house where he grew up before heading, somewhat subconsciously, to the Hempstock’s farm. Upon arriving, he meets Mrs. Hempstock, and she offers him some tea. He asks if Lettie, his childhood friend, is there, but Mrs. Hempstock says she isn’t, so he asks if he can go sit at the duck pond. Mrs. Hempstock is fine with it.

He heads down to the pond, and he remembers that Lettie always called it her ocean. And suddenly, an ocean of memories of childhood returns to him.

Shortly after his seventh birthday (which no one came to), the South African opal miner boarder who his parents were hosting after their luck had changed, stole their Mini Cooper and committed suicide in the back of it. They found the car on a dead end road near Hempstock’s farm. (At the beginning of the book, we meet the miner when he accidentally run s over the narrator’s kitten. The black kitten named Fluffy that he had gotten for his birthday was now replaced by a mean orange tomcat the miner called Monster. So I didn’t feel that bad about the miner committing suicide.) Lettie Hempstock, a little older than TN, comes down to the scene of the accident and tells the police and TN’s father that the boy can come stay at their house until they are done with the necessary paperwork.

He goes to their farmhouse, and meets Lettie, Mrs. Hempstock, and Old Mrs. Hempstock. They know more about the accident than he does, including the words that were on the note in the miner’s pocket, confirming that he had committed suicide due to gambling debts. The older women suggest that Lettie take TN to the pond where she tells him that it is really an ocean that they came across from the old country when she was just a baby. In the pond/ocean, they find a dead fish, which Lettie assures is very unusual. She guts the fish and finds that it had died from eating a sixpence, which she gives to TN. His father returns for him, and they return home.

The following day, TN’s mom tells him that he has won £25. Later that day, the gardener finds a jar full of ancient coins in the vegetable garden. TN goes to bed happy as he has more money that he ever has. He awakes choking and pulls a shilling out of his throat. He goes outside, and his sister yells at him for throwing coins at her and her friends. (He and his sister don’t really get along well.) He’s confused and begins to walk down his driveway. Just anywhere to get away. And Lettie is at the end of his driveway waiting for him. He tells her about the weird occurrences and she tells him that someone is trying to give people money, but they are doing it badly. It has to do with the opal miner somehow. Lettie invites TN over for breakfast. Old Mrs. Hempstock examines TN’s shilling, and despite the fact that it’s dated 1912, she insists that it is brand new. Lettie takes TN to go find “her”, bind “her”, and send “her” back to sleep. It seems like all the Hempstocks are old as time, but the reader never really learns anything too specific.

Lettie uses some sort of divining rod to find her. TN is instructed to not let go of Lettie’s hand under any circumstance. Of course, he’s a 7 year old boy, so when the huge ragged sort-of woman appeared in a storm and throws something toward them, TN catches it. Lettie, who has been trying to get the woman to reveal her name, knocks it out of his hand, but a pain has already appeared in TN’s foot (he doesn’t tell Lettie). Lettie continues singing her binding song, and at the end, the storm has died, so they head home considering it a success.

(This is not important to the story itself but I seriously wish this existed. On the way back to Lettie’s farm, TN sees a field of what appears like furry snakes. Lettie encourages him to pull out one, and it’s a kitten! A FIELD OF KITTENS! Squeeeee!!!)

When he arrives home, TN inspects his foot. There’s a small line and a hole. Using tweezers, he pulls a giant worm out of the hole in his foot (gross) and puts it down the drain. The following day, his mother announces that she has a new job, and TN and his sister are going to be watched by their new boarder, Ursula Monkton. When TN sees Ursula, he realizes she is the human form of the raggedy woman that he and Lettie encountered in the forest. TN’s sister loves her new friend Ursula, but Ursula has it in for TN. TN wants to go speak to Lettie, but Ursula forbids them from going outside the grounds. Every time he tries to sneak away, she catches him. He knows that he needs to talk to the Hempstocks, but he doesn’t know how to contact them, especially while Ursula is turning his entire family against him and monitoring his every move. She begins seducing TN’s dad, who becomes hypnotized of sorts by her and nearly drowns TN in the bathtub.

Finally one evening, TN realizes that she has some sort of mind connection with him due to being inside him (apparently she was the worm in his foot). He carefully sneaks out of his room and heads toward the Hempstock’s all the while sending thoughts that he is in his bedroom so as not to alert Ursula. She figures it out just as he is stepping onto the Hempstock’s property, and they know she is off to alert his parents. They quickly devise a plan to “snip and cut” TN’s garment, and Old Mrs. Hempstock begins. Shortly thereafter, TN’s parents arrive, but Old Mrs. Hempstock finishes her snip and cut just in time, so they forget why they stormed over to find TN, and they allow him to stay at the Hempstock’s.

Old Mrs. Hempstock removes the hole in his foot, and they begin preparations to get rid of Ursula. Lettie has collected a plethora of random items that she plans to use to drop around to contain Ursula so she can’t escape and terrorize a larger amount of people. She and TN go to see Ursula to give her one last chance to go home on her own accord, but Ursula likes where she is now. She’s making people happy, especially TN’s dad, and she doesn’t want to go. They know what Ursula is  (a flea), and there is another creature (a varmint) out there that she is afraid of, so they decide to summon these creatures to send her home. Ursula becomes nervous and starts to try to return home through the hole that the Hempstocks removed from TN’s foot. But she doesn’t want to go without TN. As she tries to take him with her, the varmints arrive and devour her. But once the varmints have finished, they won’t leave until also devouring TN.

Lettie tells TN to stay in the fairy ring that surrounds the tree in his backyard, while she figures out what to do. This time, TN obeys her. A variety of people appear to try to seduce him out of the ring–the opal miner, his sister, his father, Ursula, even Lettie–but none of them will step inside the ring, so he knows that they aren’t real. The real Lettie eventually returns with a bucket of water from her ocean. She instructs TN to step inside it and when he does, he realizes it is more than an ocean. Inside the ocean, he could breathe, and he knew everything about everything. The ocean in the bucket was attached to the actual ocean so when he finally, reluctantly, surfaced, he’s back at the Hempstock’s. Eventually the varmints return for TN and begin tearing out pieces of the world, leaving nothing behind. TN realizes that if he doesn’t sacrifice himself, the entire world will be destroyed. He runs off the Hempstock’s protected property, and is thrown to the ground. But not by the varmints, by Lettie trying to protect him, and she is severely injured by the varmints. Her cries awake Old Mrs. Hempstock from her slumber, and she sends the varmints home.

Lettie needs to recover, so she is placed in her ocean to heal, and TN is returned home. His mother tells him that Ursula had to leave due to family issues, and Mrs. Hempstock tells them that Lettie is going to Australia to be with her father. TN seems to have a vague memory that that isn’t what happened, but he can’t seem to recall exactly what happened.

He’s awakened from his memory as Mrs. Hempstock appears with a sandwich. He asks her why he came there, and she says that he came to get away like he always does. He says he hasn’t been there since he was a child, but she assures him that he has been back before. He came back once when he was twenty-four with two young children, and he was scared. He came again when he was in his thirties and told her about his dreams. He doesn’t remember either time, but she tells him that it’s easier that way. She tells him that Lettie is finally almost healed, and he thanks the ocean (Lettie) for saving his life. As they are walking away so that TN can head to the funeral, he has already begun to forget. He tells Mrs. Hempstock to tell Lettie hello from him next time she writes from Australia.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book is short, but there is no fluff. Every word has a purpose. Even though I didn’t have quite as exciting of a childhood as the narrator, I think that it is easy to relate to this story. We all have memories that reappear when we find ourselves in the situation where the memories were created. We also all had situations that as children seemed magical, but to any adult would be simple and foolish. But, there’s also a realization that grown-ups aren’t really all that different from children. “Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” As I’ve grown older, I absolutely believe this. The only thing that I felt was a little lacking in the book was that I never felt fully immersed in the story like I sometimes do with other fantasy stories. However, I am really glad that I gave Gaiman another shot.

 

 

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2014/12/img_0991.jpgSummary (Amazon):  In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects–life, death, love–with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: realistic

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while as I like to try to fill in my pop culture gaps, especially when it comes to books. I finally got the chance when I borrowed this book from one of my friends in book club.

The story is pretty simple, and really not that unique. However, the success of the book is in the details. The general premise is that the main character, Hazel, has cancer and has an unknown amount of time to live. She meets a boy, Augustus “Gus”, at her therapy group and they click. See, like I said. Not that unique. But the characters have a compelling mixture of optimism and sarcastic realism that is enticing.

Hazel’s favorite book is a (fictional) book called An Imperial Affliction. (I love book within book stories. I can’t help it.) She lends it to Gus who also loves it, but they are both shocked by the ending–or lack thereof. In “AIA”, the main character, Anna, has cancer and decides to start a charity for people with cancer who want to cure cholera. Her mother meets a rich Dutch man, who might be a fraud, but her mother is going to marry him. The book ends abruptly, mid-sentence, and Gus and Hazel discuss what happened to the remaining characters. Was the Dutch man a fraud? Did they end up getting married? Hazel has already written the author, Peter van Houten, a bunch of letters with no replies, so she is stunned when Gus tells her that he has tracked down Peter’s email address and has received a response! Hazel summarizes her numerous letters into an email which she also sends. van Houten tells her that he cannot tell her the ending of the story except in person because he doesn’t trust that she wouldn’t publish it without his consent.

Hazel tells her mom who assures her that they would let her go to Amsterdam to meet him in person if they could, but they just do not have the money. However, Gus has saved his Wish (Make a Wish), and he surprises Hazel with a trip. (Hazel used her wish at age 13 to go to Disney World, and Gus justifies including her as she is the one who introduced him to the book.) Despite some hiccups in Hazel’s health, she is approved to go with her mom as a chaperone.

They arrive in Amsterdam and Gus and Hazel have dinner at a fictitious restaurant (yes, I looked) overlooking a canal. The meal was paid for Peter van Houten, and they are excited to meet him the following day. The next day, they arrive at his doorstep and he all but shuts the door in their face. It turns out that his assistant, Lidewij, approved the trip, and he had no idea that they were coming. He proceeds to down a couple glasses of scotch, speaks philosophically to them, and refuse to answer most of Hazel’s questions. They storm out dejectedly, and Lidewij comes out after them. She explains that she thought having people arrive who were lovers of his book would help re-ground him (but obviously that didn’t work). She offers to take them to see the Anne Frank house as a consolation, and they accept. Overcome by emotion in the museum, Hazel and Gus begin a mega make out session that they continue after the tour in his room. Cue the Marvin Gaye music.

The next morning, they have breakfast with Hazel’s mom and tell her about meeting Peter. Honestly, I’m not sure what they were expecting. The ending of a book is the ending for a reason. You don’t get to know what the characters do. Maybe the author doesn’t even know. It’s a book of made-up characters.

And then Gus starts acting weird. And you just know what is happening. His cancer has returned and is all through his body. He found out before they left, but he still wanted to go on the trip. They return to the states and he begins chemo and other experimental treatments. His health declines quickly, but there are still some good days in the midst. When he has one of his last good days, he invites Hazel and Isaac (another friend of theirs who is blind due to his cancer that attended the group sessions) to a pre-funeral so they can read him their eulogies while he can still hear them. He dies soon after.

Hazel speaks at his funeral, although she determines that funerals are for the living, and she revises the eulogy that she read to Augustus. But the biggest surprise at the funeral is that Peter is there. Augustus had been in contact with him after their trip and convinced Peter to attend his funeral to make amends for his terrible behavior during their visit. Hazel refuses to accept his apologies or endings to the story, but she does finally realize that the main character in Peter’s book was based upon his own daughter. She died at age 6, and he has never recovered.

Hazel, understandably, is having a hard time getting over the fact that Augustus has died, and she decides to hang out with Isaac. He tells her that Augustus was writing her a sequel to AIA in his last few days. She decides to go to Augustus’s house and check his room, where she finds nothing. A few days later, his mother calls her to say that she found a notebook with some missing pages. Hazel realizes that perhaps he sent those pages to Peter, so she emails his former assistant for help. Lidewij finds the missing pages, which were a request for Peter to write Hazel’s eulogy. She makes Peter read the letter and then send it to Hazel. You don’t get to choose whether you get hurt in the world, but you do get the choice of who hurts you. Augustus liked his choices, and he hoped that Hazel liked hers. She did.

Verdict: 4 Stars

In terms of young adult books, this is one of the better ones that I have read. Like I mentioned, the story itself is not particularly original, but there are a lot of things that I liked about it. In many YA books, the teenagers run the show. That might be motivational, but it’s not very realistic. In this, all people are strong and fragile, and therefore a lot more believable. Despite the fact that Isaac and Hazel appeared to be the sickest, in the end, Augustus is the one who dies. And throughout the book, he is the one who wanted to leave a legacy after he died, however, through Hazel, he realizes that it’s quality over quantity. I also appreciate the balance that the book took with regard to making the most of the time that you have.  I enjoyed the philosophy interspersed in the book (not overbearing like philosophy can be) and the author’s ability to write a book that was a love story, a tragedy, and yet humorous without being too swayed in any one direction.

A few quotes throughout the book that I loved:

“Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.” (Also I did not know prior to this book that Dom Perignon was a real person)

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. … You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

 

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Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2014/12/img_0990.jpgSummary (Amazon):  Nellie Bly, posing as “Nellie Brown,” went undercover to investigate the deplorable conditions of insane asylums. Her memoirs of this event form the basis of “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” which forever changed the way the world looks at treatment and housing of the insane.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: incredible

Nellie Bly, at age 23, in 1887, basically changed journalism forever. She managed to get herself committed into the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (although it did not seem very tough to get admitted) and then wrote about the atrocities that were there. Her initial intention was to get to the worst section of the Asylum, but after arrival and talking to some of the other patients, she decided to not risk her health in that way.

At the time, it was very easy to be committed to an asylum. You just had to behave a little strangely and you were admitted. A lot of foreign women who did not understand fully what was happening were admitted. And no one ever recovered. You could only leave if someone from the outside came to collect you and promise to take responsibility of you. Nellie simply had to go to a working class boarding house and act strangely before the other women there were nervous enough to call the police. Once there, she was evaluated by the police and a doctor, and a judge sentenced her to to go to Belleville Hospital where she was again examined before taking the boat over to the Asylum. The doctor’s examinations consisted of very general questions, but regardless of the answers, everyone in there was deemed insane.

Upon arrival to the island, she found conditions much worse than expected. The nurses were lazy and cruel, and any discussion of it to the doctors or supervisor would result in further punishment. Complaints to the doctors also resulted in verdicts of insanity as the patients were obviously deluded and making up stories. They were bathed once a week in succession, with no water change, regardless of whether they were sick or not. The same with the post-bath hair combing. The temperature was frigid and none of the patients were provided with enough clothes or blankets. The food for the patients was horrible and spoiled while the nurses were provided with fresh food. The nurses specifically picked on certain patients trying to cause them to act out. Some patients were beaten and choked. No one was allowed to have any books or anything really to do.

 

“What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.”

 

Eventually Bly’s publisher came to collect her, and she testified before a jury about what she had found. They planned a surprise trip to the island to verify, but it turned out to not be a surprise. Someone had found out ahead of time and fixed many of the issues. Many of the women, specifically the ones who had the more horrible things done to them, were nowhere to be found. However, some small consolations were that one of the doctors told Nellie that had he known what she was doing, he would have helped her. Most of the atrocities were covered up by the nurses. And separately, even though much of what Nellie described could not be verified during their visit, they believed her story enough to allocate an additional $1M to help the insane.

Verdict: 4 stars

It’s hard to give a rating to a journalistic story. The writing in and of itself is nothing terribly impressive, but it’s the whole situation that is. It’s impressive that in an era where women did not even have the right to vote, Nellie was able to gain the respect of the newspaper, the court, and the general public to create actual change in a terrible situation. And not only that, she opened the door to investigative journalism from which I’m sure stemmed many other investigations which changed society for the better. It’s incredibly inspirational.

 

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