Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Destiny of the Republic (Candice Millard)

Wow, never in a million years did I think a book about the assassination of James Garfield would affect me as much.  I found myself finishing this late into the night on my eReader and didn’t want it to end.  In Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard has taken an obscure leader of our country and made him real for the modern generation.

It’s hard to believe how much the average American does not know about this period of our history (myself included).  I knew that James Garfield was one of the assassinated Presidents…end of story.  However, I found myself shaking my head throughout about how much I really didn’t know.  A.) Garfield most likely would have survived the attempt today because his gunshot wound was NOT fatal.  He died from a massive sepsis infection from a parade of doctors sticking their unsterilized and ungloved fingers in his wounds.  B.) Alexander Graham Bell played a huge part in trying to save Garfield’s life.  C.) Robert Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln’s oldest son, was present at THREE of the four presidential assassinations.  How’s that for bad luck?

More than anything though, Millard succeeds in giving Garfield a real voice and letting the reader know what kind of a man he was (a kind friend to all).  It’s a shame that most people know so little about his short administration, but hopefully with this very worthwhile read, that will change.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

S. (J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst)

One of my favorite television shows ever is Lost.  I quickly became addicted to trying to solve the puzzles surrounding Jack, Kate, Locke, and the rest.  I was a staunch defender when people tried to say that it “jumped the shark” and was one of the few who loved the ending (I could analyze it forever.). 

When S. came out, conceived by Lost producer J.J. Abrams and written by author Doug Dorst, I was excited to dive right in and even more excited when I saw the actual book.  If I could give a 5 just for presentation, I would, for no small detail is spared with S.  From the slip jacket cover to the musty book smell, every incidental is well thought out.  A reader could get overwhelmed with all the multicolored margin notes, footnotes, and slips of paper inside, but I was too excited to begin to think about that. 

S. is the very definition of a multifaceted reading experience.  There is the story itself, The Ship of Theseus, but there is also a story in the margins about a budding literary relationship.  Combine that with the editor’s manuscript footnotes and all the extras inside, and there is a whole lot to read.  There is also quite a bit of disagreement on how to read it; some say read the story, then the first colored notes, then the second colored notes, etc., but I read it all at once.  And I wonder if that was my problem.  I quickly realized that, much like some aspects of Lost, there were parts to S. that made no sense or puzzles that were left unanswered.  However, unlike Lost, I found myself not really caring about either the main story or the side story and just wanted to be finished with it already.  A book shouldn’t be a chore to pick up; Abrams and Dorst should have concentrated less on the gimmicks and more on the meat.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Safe With Me (Amy Hatvany)

Amy Hatvany's Safe With Me begins with the ultimate horror for any parent -- the sudden death of their child.  Life changes in an instant for Hannah, who is grieving the loss of her beloved daughter, Emily, in a tragic accident.  When the doctors ask Hannah to make a decision about organ donation, she is thrust into something that no parent should ever have to decide.

At the same time, Maddie is a teenager with a diseased liver, having spent much of her life in the hospital and wanting more than anything to have a sense of normalcy.  Without an immediate liver transplant, Maddie's prognosis is not good, and Olivia, her mother, is forced to think about the probable death of HER child.  She is also in an abusive marriage but feels that she can't possibly do anything about that unless Maddie gets well.  Safe With Me goes back and forth between narration by Hannah, Maddie, and Olivia; Hannah realizes soon after Maddie and Olivia come into her hair salon that Maddie is the recipient of Emily's liver.  What she will do with that information and how all three slowly move on with their lives makes Safe With Me a compelling read.

The novel ends a little suddenly, and I would have loved it if Hatvany had provided her readers with an epilogue.  However, this is the sort of thought-provoking book that gets people talking about issues and the "What ifs?"  That, to me, makes Safe With Me the most rewarding type of book.


Monday, February 3, 2014

The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd)

Author Sue Monk Kidd is definitely not riding the coattails of her phenomenally successful The Secret Life of Bees.  Instead, she has written an extremely well-researched historical fiction novel chosen by Oprah's book club, no less (of course, that makes it an instant bestseller).  Still set in the south like TSLOB, The Invention of Wings takes place in the early 1800s, when slavery was widely rearing its ugly head and abolition started to gain serious ground.

One birthday, Sarah Grimke, the young daughter of an extremely wealthy Charleston plantation owner, is given her own slave (Handful) for a "present."  Sarah would much rather Handful be her friend, but her parents are insistent.  Thus begins the relationship between Sarah and Handful, the first who would go on (along with her sister) to be a staunch abolitionist, and the latter willing to do anything to be in control of her own life.  A supporting cast of characters adds much to the narrative that is so truly hard to read at times.  To Kidd's credit, she in no way glosses over anything related to this tragic time in our history.

Goodreads tells me that I began reading this novel on November 30, 2013, and I did not finish it until last night (February 2, 2014).  It's not that The Invention of Wings is that long, but the prose is so beautiful that you definitely want to take your time with it.  I'm sure this will be just as successful as The Secret Life of Bees.