Friday, February 6, 2015

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This is a pretty personal book for me so be forewarned:  this non-fiction book is scary, depressing, inspiring, frustrating, and ultimately life-changing, depending on what chapter you are reading and what stage you are in your own life.  For me, turning fifty-two hasn't been a huge change; I'm physically active and shockingly healthy after living in the cesspool of public-school teaching for many years.  However, over the last nine years, I have participated in my father's death and all the tasks that led up to it - numerous doctor visits after a cancer diagnosis, learning to be the best note-taker, communicator, and advocate for my father that I could be, and dealing with the details of his death. Now, as my mother ages, becoming less and less the mother of my youth, I feel the emotional stress as I watch her move from her own home, to a retirement apartment, to assisted living; I experience the brief flashes of her memory that come far less frequently; and I find myself questioning what we do here in our culture for our parents - is it best for them or for us?  Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston general surgeon, takes all of these ideas of mortality and looks at them piece by piece.  He intersperses anecdotal stories of dying young people, slowly deteriorating elderly couples, and even his own father to help personalize the journey of where medicine has been in our care of morality, and the possibilities for the future.  It is a supremely compelling read, and while aggravating and disheartening at times, it made me question my choices for my mother in a healthy way.  In the long run, I hope it will help me be a stronger advocate for her quality of life.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough - it is a must-read.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
If you're like me, I am sick to death of hearing "This is the next Gone Girl!"  Newsflash ...Gillian Flynn cannot be replicated - she is capable of writing brilliant prose plus she sucks you into her own freaky mind games in a complex and thought-provoking manner.  However, with that said, Girl on the Train is a very solid thriller that definitely keeps one turning the pages.  Told from the perspective of a few different characters, it jumps through time as it relays how a young wife disappears from her small London suburban bungalow.  Rachel is the most prevalent narrator.  Her life is a disaster, seriously.  A young, recently divorced young woman who has nothing going for her - she's a drunk, she likes to make late night inebriated phone calls to her husband and new wife, she's unemployed, and she lives in a friend's spare room.  As she pretends to go to work each day on the train into London, she fantasizes about the young couple she sees in the cottage next to the train line. One night, this young woman vanishes and Rachel seems to get herself wrapped up in the whole bloody mess.  A mystery fanatic should be able to figure out 'whodunnit' by the last quarter of the book, but who knows?  It is a compelling read until the very last page.

The Distance by Helen Gitrow
Remember Robert Ludlum from back in the 1980's?  He was the master of government thrillers, espionage, and murder, all wrapped up in a complex and sometimes confusing plot line.  Helen Gitrow seems to have taken his recipe for her first outing into the world of mystery.  She has created a futuristic London, which is not all the futuristic; the only difference being they have come up with a new prison system where they block off a few streets and create a neighborhood for the worst of the worst.  Enter our protagonist, the beautiful socialite Charlotte, or known by her alter-ego, Karla; the woman is the techie wizard who creates any identity you want and gets you anywhere you want to go.  A man from her past wants into this new neighborhood prison - it will take you the entire book to figure out why.  Gitrow explores  the high-tech world of crime and how it has changed the way the bad guys can conduct their business.  However, my memory of Ludlum was that he could also create compelling characters that were rich and developed; I did not find that with Gitrow.  The book is heavily plot driven, with little character development into their motivations and pasts; I would have liked more.  If you like complex and confusing, this is the book for you.  Me, I like my mysteries a bit more richly drawn.

Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
Having read What Alice Forgot, Big Little Lies, and The Husband's Secret, I figured all of her books were compelling page turners; I was mostly right.  Let's starts with Three Wishes.  Honestly, it's a hoot!  The story begins with the three main characters, the Kettle triplets, celebrating their 34th birthday.  That first chapter ends with the pregnant triplet looking at the fondue fork sticking out of her stomach, another triplet bloodied from passing out and breaking her jaw on the restaurant table, the third triplet calming calling for help, and the other customers all aghast at what they have seen.  Hence begins the flashbacks to the triplets' lives...filled with parental divorce, spousal cheating, an abusive boyfriend, and all the travails of these hilarious, wickedly mean at times, and engagingly tight-knit sisters.  Listening to the book obsessively, I laughed out loud frequently and occasionally commiserated with the nasty things life threw at them.  It was just an awesome read.  Now, I cannot say the same for The Last Anniversary.  Based around the most sickeningly perfect protagonist, Sophie, who I just wanted to slap most of the time, the story takes place on a small island off the coast of Australia.  A mystery of an abandoned baby long ago has fueled a lucrative commerce on the island and Sophie is pulled in when the main house is left to her unexpectantly.  All the signs of a compelling story yet I just wanted to say "blech" at the end.  All the characters are so two-dimensional, and not particularly likable, the plot line is dreadfully predictable, and the writing is rather blase.  Thank goodness Moriarty learned as she went along and wrote more books.  This one is an example of a first novel to forego.

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