#75 ~ A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents

June 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Family, Inspiration, LIfe, Reading | 4 Comments
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Cover for A Love Like No Other

A Love Like No Other by Pamela Kruger and Jill Smolowe

This book tackles topics about adoption and living in a family created through adoption from the perspective of adoptive parents. Although each section of the book has been written by a different adoptive parent, the editors grouped them by topics, such as reflections on birth parents, dealing with the unexpected, and personal transformations. What makes this book interesting is the diversity of adoptive parents and families represented. There are domestic adoptions, oversees adoptions, single parent adoptions, same sex couple adoptions, nuclear family adoptions. The selection of so many ranging voices is a testament to the beauty of adoption. It brings with it all of the joy, heartache, developmental and emotional complications, and love no matter where it is found.

Of the stories, the two that impacted me the most were written by Jana Wolfe and Melissa Faye Greene. Greene experienced a great deal of depression after adopting her son. Her son Jesse joined their family of four children by birth from Bulgaria and her story was very dear to my heart. I did not experience this when Emma joined my family. In fact, my situation was exactly the opposite. It was when Allison joined us by birth, following a wonderful adoption experience, that my world turned upside down. No matter how depression comes after a child joins the family, the affect can be devastating. Most importantly, it can also be overcome.

While Melissa Faye Greene writes about the early days and weeks after bringing her son home, Jana Wolfe discusses her first 13 years living with adoption. She chronicles the ups and downs she and her husband have experienced along the way. The way in which their marital relationship has grown stronger is very inspiring. What she said that meant the most to me is:

It’s not that adoption gets less significant to Ari [her son] or to any of us in his circle, but it’s become less of something you figure out and more of something you figure in.

Not everything can or should be fixed or solved for your children. Even if that were possible, it does them no favors to hand them everything on a silver platter. Life is about learning how to successfully navigate through each day, especially those things that are uncomfortable or unexpected. The best gift you can give your children is the freedom to explore their lives and the security of knowing that you’ll always be there no matter what.

Although I found most of the essays interesting, there were some that didn’t interest me at all. That, however, is the beauty of reading a collection of stories or articles: you can skip or skim over topics that don’t interest you without feeling (too) guilty. That’s not to say that I won’t ever read them, though. On this journey through life, what once did not appeal to me may someday be extremely relevant.

I would highly recommend this book to all adoptive parents and any people thinking about adoption.

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To buy this book, click here.

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#62 ~ The Forgery of Venus

March 23, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Free, Historical Fiction, LibraryThing, Reading | 1 Comment
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The Forgery of Venus: A Novel by Michael Gruber

What would it be like to live a life in which you cannot trust your memory or your senses to tell you what is true or even who you are? Charles “Chaz” Wilmot lives that nightmare in The Forgery of Venus, the latest novel by Michael Gruber. Chaz is the son of a successful artist who crafted in the tradition of Norman Rockwell but, in his son’s eyes, could have been so much more. Chaz has even more talent than his father did, but he chooses to subsist as a commercial artist taking in piece work for magazines. It isn’t that he doesn’t believe in himself. He just doesn’t believe in the worth of what is being peddled and sold as art. He’s so adamant that it costs him his wife, Lotte, and prevents him from providing the best medical care possible for his ill son. When the use of the experimental drug salvinorin causes Chaz to believe his is actually experiencing parts of Valazquez‘s life and paint exactly like the old master, he finds himself entwined in another man’s art and in the world of high stakes art forgery.

I enjoyed this novel and found its questions about the meaning of life and art very interesting. Not being able to rely on your memories, your senses, or even the answers you requested from your own very young children would be very frightening. I think that I, like Chaz, would prefer to be crazy than for that to be a permanent state of existence. The mystery behind Chaz’s life/lives was intriguing and it was difficult to put this book down. Although I understand the premise of Chaz taping his story for an old college friend, I found the voice and tone of the first narrator hard to overcome. I also found it somewhat difficult to become comfortable with Chaz, but it was worth the effort. If you enjoy Tracy Chevalier don’t mind waiting out the first narrator, you will enjoy this book.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#58 ~ The Witch’s Trinity

February 15, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Religion | 1 Comment
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The Witch’s Trinity: A Novel by Erika Mailman

I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction recently and most of it has centered on London. The greatest portion of that has taken place during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs. I wanted to change things up. So, when I read the list of Divia’s holiday bounty, I instantly took notice of The Witch’s Trinity. Not only does it take place in Germany, it had a paranormal twist. This made it very much different from my usual fare. It was a quick read that did not disappoint.

The Witch’s Trinity tells the story of Güde Müller, an elderly grandmother who lives with her only son Jost and his family. They live in Tierkinddorf, Germany and have been experiencing two years of extreme famine. The strain of living without adequate food is taking its toll on the family and the town as a whole. Güde can tell how much Irmeltrud, Jost’s wife, resents her being alive and taking food that would ordinarily go to her children. After a Catholic priest is called in to investigate whether witches are to blame for the town’s hard luck, one of Güde’s childhood friend is burned at the stake. Still, the town is desperate. The able-bodied men leave the village in search of food. While they are gone, the village starts to turn on one another and it seems that no one is safe from being accused of witchcraft.

This book had a powerful affect on me. It made it difficult for me to sleep well for almost a week. It’s unbelievable the things that humans will do to one another and it’s frightening how open women and the elderly are abuses of many kinds. It’s especially shameful how women turn on each other instead of supporting each other. The terror experienced by Güde and other helpless citizens of Tierkinddorf was so believable that there were entire sections of this book that had my heart racing. I left this book feeling thankful to be alive in 2008 instead of 1608. Witch trials make workplace cattiness seem like child’s play.

As with many books, The Witch’s Trinity was tidied up too quickly and neatly. I would still suggest that anyone interested in witch trials or the plight of women or the elderly read it. You will continue to think about this book and its themes long after you’ve finished it. That certainly sets this novel by Erika Mailman apart from the rest.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#54 ~ Dreamers of the Day

December 31, 2007 at 11:21 am | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LibraryThing, LIfe, Reading, Secrets and Lies | Leave a comment
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Dreamers of the Day: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

This novel tells the story of Agnes Shanklin, a dowdy, severely skeptical 40-year-old spinster who still needs the reassurance of her mother’s approval before making any decision. When Mumma and the rest of her family dies during the influenza epidemic, Agnes inherits a small fortune. Despite the nagging voice of Mumma in her head, she begins to dress in a way that flatters her figure and decides to follow in the footsteps of her deceased sister Lillian, the woman through whom she’s lived vicariously since their days in college. She takes a trip to Egypt, the land of Lawrence of Arabia and her trip happens to coincide with Churchill’s Cairo Conference.

Agnes is an intelligent woman who feels she knows the true inner workings of American domestic and foreign policy and how it was that United States got involved in WWI. Very near to the beginning of her dialog with the reader, she explains how it was the use of marketing language and lies involving Mexico that got this nation fired up to fight. I found it interesting that the narrator handily denounces such strategies near the beginning of her story while using the rest of her story to dish out her own propaganda.

It must be as frustrating to live a life full of self-righteous skepticism as it is at times to read Agnes’ story. Here she is a woman who takes a huge leap of faith in herself and, as a result of a connection made by her sister, happens upon Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill in Cairo, Egypt at a most decisive time in history. Simply because of Lawrence’s affection for Lillian, Agnes is given the opportunity to take part in important discussions with some of the most important political leaders of her lifetime. Even while she feels as though she is looked down upon for being a woman and an American, she was constantly critical of their manners and their convictions. Their real-life experiences mattered not. She knew better than they did.

Separating myself from Agnes’ intellect, I enjoyed reading this book. I identified with Agnes’ inner relationship with her mother a great deal. As the oldest child, you sometimes feel the need to not go after what you want in order to lighten the burden on your parent(s). My parents did not expect this of me the way that Agnes’ mother seemed to, but I believe that we both operated from the same mindset. I very much appreciated Agnes’ mistrust in herself, her body, and male attention. I also enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the landscape, culture, and people of the Middle East. The description of the day that Agnes spent with Churchill and company riding camels to see the pyramids captured the experience perfectly.

In the end, I was disappointed with the literary device the author used to turn Agnes’ story into her own morality lesson about American politics today. It would have been much more beautiful and moving had she painted the story as it was in watercolor.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#33 ~ Special Topics in Calamity Physics

August 8, 2007 at 3:27 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Childhood Memories, Inspiration, LIfe, Marisha Pessl, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 2 Comments
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Just 75 pages into Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I knew that I was going to enjoy it. When what I was reading spoke to me personally in conjunction with an outside conversation I had just moments before reading it, I knew that I was reading something spooky-spectacular. Now that I’ve completed this novel, I can say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. It is as fabulous in its story as it is original in its style and form. I hope to keep my mind long enough to see how this book is regarded by future generations.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of Blue van Meer, the only child of an amazingly intellectual college professor named Gareth. She lost her mother at the age of five in a terrible car accident. From that time forward, the van Meer’s traveled from one small college town to the next ~ usually once per semester. The main story begins just before Blue’s senior year of high school. As a special “treat,” her dad takes a year-long teaching position in a small North Carolina town with an excellent prep school which will help Blue get into Harvard. Truth be told, Blue’s intelligence matches her father’s. There’s little doubt that Harvard would pass her up.

Given Blue’s nomadic childhood, she developed a strong bond with her father ~ in equal parts because he was her only constant and because she tended to keep to herself. That all changed at St. Gallway. Through a fluke encounter at the local grocery store, she catches the eye of Hannah Schnieder, a beautiful woman who happens to be the film teacher.

Hannah has mentored a group of five classmates called the “Bluebloods” by the rest of the class. Upon Hannah’s insistence, Blue is reluctantly included in their weekly Sunday dinners at Hannah’s house. After a couple of months, she’s even seen as one of them. In one form or another, they all get embroiled in figuring out Hannah’s mysterious life away from them. When Hannah is discovered dead, Blue’s newfound life is destroyed along with it. Worse still, while the “Bluebloods” are nearly violent in blaming Blue for Hannah’s death, no one else will believe that her was anything other than a suicide. Blue is forced to go it alone to detangle Hannah and why she was so mysteriously attached to her.

This book is written in first person by Blue as a memoir of her childhood. Pessl uses the experiences of this interesting father/daughter relationship to construct this novel. It is full of references and hand-drawn reproductions of pictures used to illustrate her points. One might think that references would bog down a novel written as a memoir, but they were nothing short of a delight. Blue never used a quotation unnecessarily. Although I never bothered to check to see how fictitious (or not) they were, this novel would not have worked without them.

I would have to say one of the most amazing things about the construction of this novel is the Table of Contents. It is created in the form of a syllabus from one of Gareth’s courses. Each chapter title is that of a well known novel or story. Each one (for at least those that I was familiar with) was absolutely perfect for that chapter. I could not believe how ingenious and creative that little touch is. How could I not buy a book with a chapter entitled, “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man?” For that matter, how could I not adore a character who makes up a Ulysses study group to get out of her house and out with her mentor? There were times that the Table of Contents alone made me happy to be alive as a literate human being.

There is still some summer left. Do yourself a huge favor. Buy this book.  I swear you’ll want to keep it. Take a long weekend (Labor Day if you must), sit back, crack open this book and be delighted. You may find yourself reading way into the wee hours of the night without being exhausted the next day.

Yes, my friends, it’s that refreshing.

Life Meets Book in Perfect Harmony

August 4, 2007 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Religion | 2 Comments

Last evening, I spent some time talking with one of my co-workers from India.  We began talking about language and how it is heard and perceived by native speakers versus those who have learned it later in life.  I have a lot of fun talking with S.  He is intelligent and oh, so very easy to tease.  As the conversation moved along, we began talking about the Hindu religion.  He explained the different persons making up the Hindu godhead and there were many obvious parallels to Catholicism specifically.  The way he was speaking reminded me so clearly of the way Beverly Donofrio discussed her spirituality in Looking for Mary Or, the Blessed Mother and Me.  It made me feel good.

Our conversation was especially meaningful to me when he talked about earning karma.  He is not a vegetarian like strict Hindus are.  He said that when he eats meat, he is buying bad karma.  However, he makes much effort to buy good karma.  Even neutral karma is better than bad karma.  He is a spiritual person and it his eating of meat does not interfere with that for him.  He is at peace with that.  I, on the other hand, dwell on my religious inadequacies.  Ever since, I’ve been thinking a lot about his spiritual views.  Could adopting his view of being honest about my “bad karma,” but focusing the rest of my energy working for the greater good be the answer I have been looking for?  Perhaps.

 After S left, I sat for a few minutes and read the last two pages of a chapter in Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  They blew me away.  The topic wasn’t religion, but government.  Still, it was as if Blue’s father was speaking to me in a code so that no one else would overhear it.  The last sentences blew me away:

Now, Dad answered his own question, his voice low and scratchy in the receiver.

“We are under an invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things,” he said. (pg 261)

It’s time to take off the blinders that have been put in place by other people and my own misconceptions.  I hope my blindness isn’t truly invincible.

#05 ~ Life of Pi

February 5, 2007 at 7:42 pm | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 3 Comments
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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I had been excited about reading this book for quite some time. I was worth the wait. I did find the middle two thirds of this book to be slow and boring. Upon finishing it, I’m could be convinced that this was intentional. How slow and boring would it feel to spend 225 days as a castaway in a lifeboat? It is a brilliant book.

Pi’s family is a secular family. Pi himself, on the other hand, is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian. He has incorporated many of the rituals from each tradition. It’s not so much that he is creating his own faith. He actively participates in all three. It feels perfectly natural for him to find God as He reveals Himself to other people. His views on faith, religion, and God are interesting and thought provoking.

I don’t feel that I can really say much about this book without it spoiling it for other readers. This is the story of Pi, a teenaged Indian boy, who is the son of a zookeeper. In order to make a new life for themselves, the family sells off the animals to North American zoos. They travel together with these animals on a boat that has set sail for Canada. There would begin their new life. Unfortunately, the ship sinks quickly. Only, Pi and three of the zoo animals make it on the lifeboat. The remainder of the story details how Pi survived his ordeal. As the book is told in an interview type of style, we was get glimpses of Pi’s life after reaching shore in Mexico.

After completing this book, I know that I will have to read it again at some point. I want to go back and pick up pieces that I missed or misinterpreted. It is a book that I could learn something from with each read.

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