The Perfect Son By Barbara Claypole White

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Felix and Ella Fitzwilliam are parents of a child with special needs.  Their brilliant teenage son, Harry, struggles with Tourette’s.  Felix has been a successful, perfectionist, workaholic investment banker and hasn’t been very involved with the family.  Ella, however, has left her career to be a full-time mom for Harry, and she guides his life minutely and with strong support.  When Ella has a near fatal heart attack on a return flight home, life for this family changes drastically.  Ella must take time for her recovery, so the day-to-day task of caring for Harry falls on Felix who is ill-equipped to handle the role.  Everyone is struggling with the situation, as both father and son are both worried about Ella and also don’t really understand each other and struggle to get along. As time progresses the father and son learn how to adapt to each other, and their bond grows stronger as they face the prospect of possibly losing Ella.  I loved the way the book was developed.  As the story progresses you learn more about Felix and what causes him to be the way he is, and the bond that eventually builds between father and son was touching.  I also enjoyed the way that Harry had learned to manage and and make accommodation for his disorders.  This is a heartwarming book about a family in crisis.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

a piece of the world

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post, but that is because my son got married, and I’ve been busy celebrating.  I will try to make more frequent posts to catch up!  Before the wedding, I recently had the opportunity to hear this author speak at the Christamore House Guild Book and Author Benefit.  An interesting part of her talk was to share the similarities she has had with the painting including a mother and grandmother named Christina and living in Maine and having a father who took the family to the house for a picnic in the field.  I have always enjoyed the painting of Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, and the Orphan’s Train was a book I enjoyed by this author, so I was eager to read this book.  The book is historical fiction, and although it features Wyeth’s painting, the artist has a minimal presence in the book other than becoming a friend and frequent guest at Christina’s house.  The book gives the back-story of Christina’s family and how they arrived at the farmhouse.  The farmhouse was very primitive and dilapidated and Christina had physical issues which got progressively worse.  She had a tough life, unable to complete school because she had to care for her family and the farmhouse, and the additional physical issues caused an added difficulty.  It was interesting to learn the story of the person in the painting.

The Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

lucky boy

I really enjoyed listening to this book read by Soneeda Nankani and Roxana Ortega and often found myself sitting in my garage or a parking lot to hear more when I arrived at my destination.  The story line centers around two women who both love one little boy.  Solimar Valdez is an eighteen year old who flees her impoverished village in Mexico because there is no one left her age and there are no opportunities.  Along the way to America she meets a boy and becomes pregnant with Ignacio.  Her cousin helps her find employment when she arrives in America, and she begins a productive and comfortable life for herself and Ignacio in her new country.   Meanwhile, Kavya Reddy and her husband, Rishi, live in Berkley, CA and long to have a child, but their efforts have been unsuccessful.  Kavya and Rishi  begin considering adopting a child. Meanwhile, after her cousin runs a red light, Solimar and her cousin are arrested, and Ignacio is placed in foster care because his mother is imprisoned and facing deportation. Kavya and Rishi  begin fostering him and then decide to proceed with the adoption process.  The two families’ worlds connect when Solimar tries to get Ignacio back before being deported.  This book is beautifully and descriptively written with believable characters and real-life situations.  It takes an honest look at complex situations without pronouncing moral judgements.  This is another book that would be good for a book group discussion.

Spare Parts by Joshua Davis

spare parts

This book is the one my library, Carmel Clay Public Library, chose as one of their community reads books this year.  The theme for the year is STEM.  Of all the books we’ve done over the years, this one has touched me the most.  It is inspiring, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and educational.  The book tells the story of 4 undocumented Mexican teens who came together in a program at a high school in Phoenix, Arizona.  These four misfits were inspired by two science teachers to build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and enter an underwater robotics competition, competing against the best college teams including MIT.  They had little money and used their ingenuity to build the robot with parts from Home Depot.  There were so many things to like about this book.  First we learn the back story of each of these boys and the struggles they had and the obstacles they encountered.  The two dedicated teachers that started the program were inspiring in their efforts to reach marginal students and a great model for other educators.  This group of boys had very different personalities with different gifts, and it was nice to see how they learned to work together and trust each other in their efforts.  Of course the underdogs from a high school team going up against the great college teams had me cheering for their success.  These boys were determined and hard-working, setting an example for their school.  They have now left a legacy and inspired and given hope to the students of that school who otherwise wouldn’t have had much hope.  The book also follows up on what has happened since the competition.  It is a very timely book with the immigration issues and hopefully eye-opening to others of the difficulties in solving that problem.  It is not an easy fix like our politicians try to portray and the book has inspired me to learn more about the issues.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

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Maribeth Klein in a a forty-year-old married mother of twins with a high-stress job when she suffers two heart attacks.  She returns home shortly after double bypass surgery to recuperate.  Her husband expects her to just pick up and continue as if nothing has happened, continuing the household tasks and childcare routines, and she becomes overwhelmed.  She packs her bags, a lot of cash, and gets on a train to escape.  She doesn’t leave any word of where she is. Weeks go by without any contact with her husband.  This is a book that I enjoyed and could identify with in some respects, but ultimately there were too many parts that just didn’t work for me.  I think there are a lot of working women out there who at one time or another have felt overwhelmed and the thought of escape is appealing.  A reader can feel some sense of connection with that.  I did have problems with the relationship that developed with her new cardiologist.  I didn’t feel that it was very believable, and I thought things wrapped up a little too easily with her husband.  The book would have been better if the author had spent more time and attention on realistically working out the situation with her husband.

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

in the morning i'll be gone

My mystery book group recently read the third book in a  mystery series by Adrian McKinty. The series is set in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, featuring Catholic policeman Sean Duffy who is working for the Protestant RUC. Duffy has recently been demoted and thrown off the police force, but he is recruited by MI5 and put back on the force to help locate a former classmate who is a master bomber and one of the 38 IRA escapees from a maximum security prison.  There is a massive bombing in the works, but the time and location are unknown so they are operating against the clock to find Dermot McCann.  With no real leads Duffy is at a loss but also becomes involved in a “locked room” mystery while trying to track down McCann.  Duffy has gone to question McCann’s former mother-in-law who believes her daughter was murdered, but the police have ruled it an accident.  She says that she will give McCann up if Duffy solves her murder.  This mystery/thriller worked on many levels.  First you get two stories for the price of one.  The setting and time period are interesting backdrops for this series, and the crisp writing, story line and interesting main character and humor make this a book that is hard to put down.  I also enjoyed that real life pieces of history were incorporated into this book. I listened to the audio version read by Gerard Doyle which added to the enjoyment immensely listening to his Irish accent.

The Girl Before by P.J. Delaney

the girl before delaney

I recently finished this book that came out around the same time as another book with same title. I wrote about the other book in a previous post.  This is the book that is getting more publicity, but even though I enjoyed this one, I enjoyed the other one much more and found it more compelling and suspenseful.  This book was also similar because it also has alternating chapters titled “then”  and “now”.  The story line alternates between two different women who move into an  award winning minimalist techno house on One Folgate Street.  To reside in the house the applicants had to answer a strange application that asks strange personal questions, and most applicants are turned down.  The eccentric, obsessive, control freak designer/owner, Edward Monkford, however accepts both Emma and her husband and Jane for his own mysterious reasons. Each of them have moved into the house after a personal tragedy.  Emma, “the girl before”, had been at home when her house was burgled and Jane recently lost her unborn baby. To live in the house, they have to abide by over 200 odd rules and are only allowed to bring a minimal amount of items with them. When Jane moves in she learns that Emma had mysteriously died in the house by supposedly falling down the stairs, but Jane who becomes involved with Edward starts looking into Emma’s life and begins to wonder if Edward is responsible for Emma’s death.  The suspense does increase as Jane’s path starts following along the same as Emma’s which is revealed through the alternating chapters.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

lillian boxfish takes a walk

What a delightful read!  The year is 1984 and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish loves to walk the streets of New York.  That is where she does her best thinking, and she has a love affair with the city.  It is New Years Eve as Lillian starts a 5 mile walk to a restaurant and she reminisces over her interesting life during the walk.  Lillian worked as an advertising copy writer for R. H. Macy and was the highest paid female during her time.  She has a gift with words and poetry and loves what she does. She has a lot of spunk and charm.  The book was inspired by a real life person, Margaret Fishback.  I found the book to be a charming, fun read.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotten

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This is a book that I read last year and enjoyed so much I recommended it to my book group.  It is Christopher Scotten’s debut novel.  The book takes place in a down and out coal mining town in Appalachia where Kevin and his mother have gone to live with Kevin’s grandfather after the horrific death of Kevin’s younger brother.  Before returning to Indiana, Kevin’s father has made enough comments that indicate he thinks Kevin is responsible  for his brother’s death.  His mother can barely function, and it is hoped that the new setting will be restorative.  Kevin makes friends with a boy named Buzzy and they spend their days exploring the mountain.  The town is struggling to stay alive and the man who ran the town has now made millions and is wanting to remove the mountain top for coal.  This sets up a struggle between him and members of the community including Kevin’s Grandfather and a gay man in the town.  During the book Kevin and Buzzy are exposed to the sadder adult side of the world.  This book has a lot in it.  It’s a great coming of age story, and I loved the relationship between Kevin and his Grandfather.  It is a story of greed and destruction of the environment, and portrays the conflict of some who are just caught because they need a livelihood even if it’s causing damage.  There also other social issues such as discrimination portrayed.  This superbly and beautifully written novel is both heart-warming as well as heart-wrenching.  You’ll find yourself engrossed.  I’m looking forward to reading any future books this author publishes.  It is a great book for book discussions.

 

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

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Hag-Seed is one of the books in the The Hogarth Project which has acclaimed authors of today writing a re-telling of one of Shakespeare’s plays.  As such, this is a re-telling of The Tempest and cleverly involves a play within a play.   Felix who has been dealing with the death of his daughter is the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival and all set to stage The Tempest when he is undermined by his devious assistant and replaced by him.  The show is canceled, and heartbroken Felix goes off the grid to a remote location where he also deals with not only the loss of the play but the loss of his daughter as well.  Years later he has the opportunity to put on a play with the inmates at a correctional facility and his clever plot for revenge takes place.  I loved the way Felix in his teacher role was able to engage the inmates in learning Shakespeare and acting.  The prisoners were colorful additions and added some humor to the mix. As an added note, I was not familiar with The Tempest and did not feel that impacted my enjoyment of the book.  It has inspired me to either read it now or go see the play.