Thursday, September 24, 2015

Orphan #8

I had seen and read reviews for Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade for some time and wasn't sure if I
wanted to read it or not, but when I saw it on sale I finally picked it up.  In it, the author tells the story of how she came to write the book, which is historical fiction based on records that the author found while doing family history research. Ms. Alkemade was at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan going through records and found a record of a motion being made in 1920 to "purchase wigs for eight of the children who had developed alopecia as a result of X-ray treatments given to them at the Home...".  The book that the author ended up writing is based on her personal family history, which did not include any of her family receiving the X-ray treatments, but her grandfather had been placed there after his father abandoned the family and his mother could not care for him and his brothers.  And that is why the author was researching the records at the Home.

The story in the book is about a four year old girl named Rachel, whose father left and her mother had to place her and her older brother, Sam, in the Home because she couldn't care for them.  Since Rachel was still so young she was placed in the Infant area and separated from Sam.  Rachel was one of the eight children chosen for medical research that the ambitious Dr. Mildred Solomon was conducting.  The X-ray treatments left Rachel bald for life, which lead to teasing and harassment through-out her growing up years.  Her brother Sam had run away from the Home and when Rachel turned fifteen she left also, headed to Colorado where she hoped that she would find Sam and perhaps her father who had left over ten years before.

As Rachel got older, she became a nurse and eventually ended up working at the Old Hebrews Home in Manhattan.  And there she found a patient-Dr. Mildred Solomon, who was elderly and dying of cancer.

Thus, the dilemma of Rachel's life: does she care for the patient in a compassionate manner, or let her suffer (ie. withholding meds, etc.) to pay her back for all the suffering she caused in Rachel's life?  Rachel desperately wanted to hear that the doctor remembered her and would apologize for all that she had done.  Rachel now had all the power in her hands.

This was a good book, made more interesting after reading the notes at the end where the author explained her connections with it. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Two great books read at the beach

I just returned today from a week at the beach with my family.  Lots of time for fun, sun, eating and reading!  And I loved the two books that I read!

I took Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) with me to read. This book was written before Gone Girl, but it was certainly as good of a story!

The main character, Libby, lost her mother and two sisters in a brutal murder one evening years ago when Libby was seven years old.  Her fifteen year old brother, Ben, was charged and imprisoned for life for the murders. Her father was an irresponsible, often missing from their lives, family member who neither Libby nor Ben had contact with.  Nor had Libby had contact with Ben all the years he was in prison.  She grew up with various family members who would take her in for periods of time.

Jump forward twenty-four years.  A Kill Club, who studied true crimes, wanted to pay Libby to talk to various people who may have been involved in the murders.  Libby was desperate for money so she agreed to talk to who they wanted. Surprisingly to her, the members of the club did not think that Ben was the killer.

The best part of the book for me was that Libby began questioning her own testimony that had put Ben in prison all those years ago and she began to be interested in learning the truth.  I thought that the actual ending of the story was a bit weak, but that didn't take away my enjoyment of the book.  I found myself contemplating it for several days after I finished reading it!

When I finished reading Dark Places, my daughter had just finished reading Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman and asked if I wanted to read it. I am a big fan of Hoffman's writing so that was an easy choice for me!  This novel was written in 2007 and apparently slipped by me, because I had never heard of it.  It is a three generational novel, which I always enjoy.

Skylight Confessions is the story of seventeen year old, orphaned Arlyn, who on the day of her
father's funeral invited a young college student into her home when he came by looking for directions.  John Moody ended up staying with Arlyn in her home for three days, before returning to school. Shortly thereafter, Arlyn showed up at John's school and inserted herself into his life.  They ended up marrying and spent a lifetime resenting each other.   John and Arlyn had a son, Sam, whose troubled adolescence is the tipping point of the story. 

Meredith was a college student who had gone to see a psychic and when she was leaving she saw a man and a woman, who turned out to be Arlyn's ghost following John.  Meredith became fascinated with what she saw and went to John's home where Sam was having an acting out incident and when Meredith appropriately and helpfully handled it, she was offered a job at the home as the children's nanny.

 Interplaying throughout the story is Arlyn's early death, her love affair and child born to another man, and Meredith.

As Hoffman's books do, there is an other-worldly mystical aspect to the story as only John and Meredith are aware of Arlyn's presence.  The story is one of love and grief and despair and it all ties together nicely.  I really liked this book!

Me Before You

I had not read any other works by Jojo Moyes, but I may after reading Me Before You.  It was a good
story and made me ponder.

The story is about Louisa Clark, a twenty-six year old, single girl living at home with her parents in England.  She learned that the cafe where she had worked was closing and began searching for another job.  Unfortunately, she did not feel as if she had any marketable skills, other than waitressing.  She was offered a job caring for a young, recently paralyzed man, Will Traynor, and despite her hesitancy, she took the job.  Will had been struggling with accepting that he was a quadriplegic and had made an agreement with his parents to not take his own life for six months.  His parents hope was that Louisa could interest him in life again, so that he would not carry out his suicide. Louisa began planning outing to take Will on in order to help him see what he was capable of.  In the process, Louisa learned what she was capable of doing, too.

It's a charming novel and quite good.  I enjoyed Moyes' writing style and thought processes throughout the novel.  It was a thought-provoking story.


I read Recessional by James Michner a couple of weeks ago.  It was written in 1994, but I had never

heard of it.  It is a big book, but a quick read. It is a novel about a retirement community in Florida.  I found it interesting because my parents had lived in one for several years and the similarities to their experiences were uncanny!

The basic plot is about a young widowed doctor who walked away from his obstetric practise in Chicago and was then hired to revitalize the Palms.  There were many stories involved in the book, but it was not confusing at all.  Rather, Michner took many of the individual characters living at the Palms and told their stories.  Some of the stories were very touching and others were fascinating.

The story certainly made me think of the sadness that happens as one ages and others don't recognize or acknowledge the life experiences and wisdom that the elderly have.  And the waste of all the great stories untold.

This book was not like other Michner books that I have read in the past with his detail to history and events in time, but given that he was eight-six when he wrote this book, I would guess that it was close to his heart.  It was a good read.