What Was Mine

What Was Mine – Helen Klein Ross

Genre: Fiction, contemporary fiction,

Admittedly this book started off a little slow for me, but once I got into it, I pretty much plowed through it. The chapters themselves are not very lengthy so it’s very possible to get through the book pretty quickly.

Anyway, moving on. This is a story about a kidnapping. Lucy has been trying for years to have a baby, but nothing has worked. Eventually she and her husband end up divorcing due to the stress of infertility. Lucy resigns herself to the fact that she will never have a bay. That is, until she happens upon an unattended infant in an IKEA store.

(Disclaimer: I’m going to be really honest here. Lucy’s reasons for taking the baby are pretty much crap. Natalie aka Mia, was not some neglected child. It was a mistake for her mother to step away, true, but that doesn’t make Lucy the law and sure as hell doesn’t give her justification for, you know, kidnapping someone else’s kid!)

Ugh. Sorry, but the anger.

Marilyn will never forget the day she last saw her four month old daughter, Natalie. She’ll also never forget the mistake she made of taking that call while she was in IKEA. Marilyn was a loving, doting mother whose only crime was letting her guard down for a few minutes. Those few minutes changed everything about Marilyn’s life. Reeling from the disappearance of her daughter, Marilyn navigates the days after with trepidation. She loses her marriage and herself. But somehow, she manages to get through the darkness and find some light with a new love and ends up having three more kids, though her heart is still broken from losing Natalie.

Natalie/Mia. Mia always knew she was adopted. She knew that Lucy wasn’t her birth mother, but all the same, she was her mother. Until Mia finds out the truth. Lucy is not her adoptive mother. Lucy is her abductor. Now she’s faced with the prospect of getting to know the mother she was stolen from, as well as her biological siblings. But how can she just forget the last twenty-one years of her life? She hates Lucy. Or does she? It was difficult watching Mia trying to navigate this new chapter of her life. I can’t imagine finding out that the person I trusted most in this world was capable of such an awful crime.

It was also difficult seeing Lucy try to justify her actions. Yes, Lucy wanted a child and after trying and failing, I understand the urge continued to grow. But with that being said, nothing makes what Lucy did OKAY. Not only did she make a choice that directly affected Mia and Marilyn, but Lucy’s own family. Her sister who is in complete shock that Lucy could do such a heinous act. Marilyn’s other children. I guess the best way I can describe it is if you cut down one tree in the forest, even if there’s hundreds of other trees there, the one you’re cutting down is significant to the forest. To the birds and other animals that need that tree.

Conclusion: 4.5/5 stars. I can’t give it the full five because I really hated Lucy. Still, an enjoyable (and quick) read that you’ll be intrigued (and possibly horrified) by.

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Book Review: Still Alice

Still Alice – Lisa Genova

Harvard professor Alice Howland had the life she always wanted. A loving husband and three successful children.

And then she got the one thing she never wanted….or expected. At 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As her mind slowly deteriorates, Alice struggles to hold onto those aspects of her life that she holds most dear. Her words. Her memories. Her life.

This is an incredibly realistic and therefore painful depiction of what it’s like for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and what it is like for their families. For Alice, it’s made worse due to the fact that her type of Alzheimer’s is genetic. So, not only is this disease going to rob her of her life and those activities of daily living we take for granted, but it also holds the possibility of robbing the lives of her children as well.

It’s not an easy read. I found myself aching for Alice as her Alzheimer’s progressed and she had difficulty recognizing her children. I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a hug. I wanted to be able to save her and find a way for her to get her life back. I felt her humiliation and frustration.

And I also felt for Alice’s family. Her husband, John, a scientist who can’t do anything for his ailing wife; her three children. Anna, newly married and trying to get pregnant, Tom, a surgeon, and Lydia, an aspiring actress.

I pictured myself in Alice’s shoes, my world crumbling around me. Losing the ability to process situations, fearing for when I would not remember those I love more than anything in the world, but also how devastating it would be to lose myself. Maybe we don’t always have a grip on who we are 100% of the time. We feel lost and confused, but it’s a temporary feeling. Except for when it isn’t.

For anyone who has had a relative with Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and awful it can be. But we expect it with relatives who are elderly. We don’t expect it with people we love and care about who are still relatively young. We don’t see it coming for us either. There’s a lot of scary things out there, but for me, this book was terrifying. Not because it was some thriller about a serial killer, but because it was just….too real. But that’s also what makes it a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

Book Review: The Forgetting Time

Title – The Forgetting Time

Author – Sharon Guskin

Wow. Sharon Guskin hits a home run with her debut novel, The Forgetting Time. I really did not want this book to end because I found it so engrossing. But with that being said, it may not be for everyone. The story follows single mom Janie and her precocious son four year old son, Noah. Parenting is never easy, and parenting as a single mother is even harder, but as the story unfolds, Janie cannot even begin to imagine how difficult caring for Noah will become. You see, Janie finds that Noah’s oddities can no longer be dismissed as him having a vivid imagination. Noah remembers things he should have no memory of, like a vacation house. He’s never seen a gun, but tells stories of being shot. And Janie’s never read Harry Potter to him, and yet, he knows details from the books. Faced with the possibility that Noah might be sick, Janie becomes desperate for answers, desperate enough to seek out Dr. Jerome Anderson. Anderson, who was once a prominent and promising professor of psychology is now the laughing stock of his field. Why? Because his life’s work has become about chasing down accounts of past lives.

Now, you don’t have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy this book, but being more open to it helps.

In the end, though, it’s not about the metaphysical. It’s a book that challenges us to ask questions, questions like, what came before and how does it affect who we are now? Do we really only live once? And finally, can we ever reconcile our past with our future?

Rating – 5/5 stars

Book Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye

Cynthia Hand – The Last Time We Say Goodbye

TW: Suicide

Alexis aka “Lex,” is not doing too well in the wake of her younger brother’s suicide. But then again, who would be “doing well” under those circumstances? Not many people I would assume.

But Lex isn’t just mourning Ty. No. Lex is hiding a secret from everyone she loves about Ty’s last day. And since then, she’s closed off from those who love her, including her ex-boyfriend, Steven.

And then, perhaps prompted  by guilt, (although it’s probably in combination with grief), Lex starts feeling Ty’s presence in her house and in Ty’s room. Not only is she feeling his presence, she’s seeing him too. And smelling him, or at least, the remnants of his wafting cologne. In addition to seeing Ty, Lex begins to notice things around the house going missing.

As if this mystery isn’t enough, Lex is dealing with her mother who is still reeling from her son’s suicide. And after he left his wife and two kids for a younger woman, Lex’s relationship with her dad is anything but okay.

But I won’t lie. This isn’t a science-fiction type of book. It’s not a mystery either. Not in the larger sense of the word/genre anyway. Not to completely spoil the book, but yes, Ty is really dead. No, Lex doesn’t find a way to bring him back.

But that’s mostly why I enjoyed this book, despite the topic. Death leaves us looking for answers no matter how old or young  a person is. Even if we had warning or time for “closure” (yeah, using quotes there because do you ever really achieve closure?). But death is especially jarring if we have no warning of it at all.

If you’re looking for a story with a huge plot twist, this isn’t it. Instead what you’ll find here is a truly raw and gripping tale about to how to conceive of moving on when someone you love is gone forever. How to accept that your life is never going to be the same as it once was. And finally, coming to grips with knowing that no matter what you had done differently that hour, that second, that day, that week, that sometimes, while not for the lack of trying, you simply couldn’t have done anything.

4/5 stars.

Book Review: Safe With Me

Hannah: Hannah’s life was irrevocably changed the instant her twelve-year old daughter, Emily, was hit by a car while riding her bike. Her only comfort comes from knowing that her daughter’s death was not in vain, as Hannah decided to donate Emily’s organs. Now, a year has passed, and Hannah is still going through the motions as she grieves the loss of Emily. She’s attempting to re-build her life when Olivia and Maddie walk through the doors of her newly renovated salon. As she listens to Olivia describe Maddie’s situation – a young girl who up until recently was home bound due to her being very ill – Hannah cannot help but wonder if Maddie is the recipient of Emily’s liver. Desperate for answers, but not willing to divulge her suspicions quite yet, Hannah befriends Olivia and Maddie and is able to find a closeness that she never expected. But what happens when her deception comes to light?

Olivia: To the outsider, Olivia has it all. A great house, a wonderful, successful husband who is able to financially support her to the point where Olivia doesn’t need to work, and lastly, a healthy daughter. For the past eight or so years, Olivia’s daughter Maddie has been sick; however because of an unknown family’s loss, Maddie is given the second chance of life. There’s only one problem. Olivia does not have it all. She’s careful to hide the bruises from her daughter and from everyone else in her life; quick to keep up the facade of a perfect family – and husband. It leaves Olivia lonely. And then fate brings Hannah into their lives. The two begin to craft a friendship as Olivia opens up to Hannah about James’s abuse. And then Olivia’s world comes crashing down. Hannah is the mother of the liver donor who saved Maddie’s life. If James finds out that Olivia brought Hannah into their lives, he’ll go ballistic and there’s no telling what he’ll do. How can Olivia keep Maddie – and herself – safe and not lose the one true friend she’s made in a long time?

Maddie: At sixteen, Maddie is finally able to live her life as a teenager out in the world instead of as a patient in a hospital, waiting for death to take her. But Maddie knows nothing in life is simple, for consider the cruel irony surrounding her own circumstances. Someone had to die in order for Maddie to live. And yet, Maddie is not really living. Not yet. She spends more time behind her computer screen fabricating a fake persona than interacting with her peers. Of course, her fellow students don’t make her transition easy. Her first day at school is a disaster and leaves her hysterical. Olivia suggests a makeover, which brings them into Hannah’s orbit. Maddie immediately feels a kinship with Hannah – as does Olivia. Only Maddie could never fathom why, until that is, she sends a thank you letter to the donor’s family….and Hannah reveals it is she who is the family of the organ donor.

In Safe With Me, Amy Hatvany tells a powerful story about two mothers and their daughters that is sure to pack the emotional punches. What starts off as a slow tale quickly evolves into a story that could easily have a devastating ending as the lives of Hannah, Olivia, and Maddie begin to spiral, both together and apart.

Safe With Me masterfully intertwines suspense and mystery into a novel about second chances, forgiveness, friendship, and most of all, healing.

Rating: Four-and-a-half stars.

Book Review: I Was Here – Gayle Forman

“I don’t know if I had ever really listened to the words before, because when I did now, they were like a smack from her grave. It says you can still forgive her. And she will forgive you back.

But I don’t know that I can. And I don’t know that she did.”

– Cody Reynolds, I Was Here

Gayle Forman, author of books such as If I Stay, Where She Went, and Just One Day brings readers I Was Here, the story of one young woman’s search for answers in the wake of a tragedy. Meg and Cody were best friends. Where Meg ended, Cody began. They knew everything about each other. Except they didn’t. Not even close. Because Cody had no idea that her best friend was so depressed that she needed to swallow poison to make the pain go away. When someone takes their life unexpectedly, it’s natural for those around them to question why they didn’t see any warning signs. It’s also understandable to look for some reasoning behind their decision.

As humans we’re conditioned to ask questions about situations that leave us confused. Why? Because answers help us cope. Help us move on. And we cannot move on until we reach a conclusion, a finality in our quest for answers. So when Meg’s grieving parents ask their daughter’s best friend, Cody, who is like a second daughter to them, to pick up Meg’s stuff from school, she accepts, albeit reluctantly. Although combing through the remainders of Meg’s life feels all wrong for Cody, she continues doing so. While picking up Meg’s belongings, she meets her former roommates who were just as in the dark about Meg’s suicide as her parents and Cody, her supposed best friend. Cody also stumbles upon Ben McCallister, the guy who broke Meg’s heart.

Cody is looking for someone to blame – someone other than herself that is – for Meg’s heartache. At first, the person that fits that bill is Ben. Even more so after she finds e-mail after e-mail from Meg to Ben that for the most part go unanswered. There is one poignant response from Ben, however; the one where he tells Meg she needs to leave him alone. If only he knew the lengths she would go to to satisfy that request. Only it’s not that simple. Even Cody knows that. Most college freshmen don’t kill themselves over unrequited feelings. When Meg’s parents insist Cody keep Meg’s laptop, Cody gets an insight into her best friend’s world that she never saw coming. Meg had joined a suicide support group. But it’s not the type of group that dissuades suicide. Oh, no. It is one that encourages it.

This is a discovery that leaves Cody reeling and angry. Angry that people – specifically one person – would goad her obviously confused best friend into killing herself. This person and this group need to pay. Fueled by a myriad of emotions, Cody hatches a plan. She makes a profile for the page and begins to post in an attempt to lure out the man who helped Meg take her own life. And at first, Cody knows it’s all lies. But in a way, it’s also the truth. When she writes about losing her other half in Meg, she isn’t lying. And even though Cody goes into this knowing it’s a hoax, it doesn’t make it any less intoxicating when she is able to make contact with the user going by the name “All_BS,” fitting for an individual who offers death as a solution to those who are lost.

In addition to playing detective, Cody also struggles to keep her distance from Ben, who is intoxicating on a whole other level. He’s able to get under a skin in a way nobody else can, but it’s so wrong. So very wrong. Because this is the same guy who broke Meg’s heart. Between tracking down All_BS and her attempts to not fall into Ben’s trap like the many girls before her and Meg, Cody is barely holding it together. Maybe it would be easier to just end her own life the same way Meg did. After all, they were best friends, were they not?

Forman is able to take a book that appears to be about suicide and turn it into a story that is really much more. And she does it with extreme talent. At its core, I Was Here is about friendship, love, family, and finding oneself in a world that is more vague than certain. It’s about letting go while finding a way to hold on. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness; for those who are no longer with us and for those who still are and most importantly, for ourselves.

Fans who enjoyed Forman’s If I Stay will surely devour I Was Here. I certainly did.

Book Review: The Storyteller

“It’s easy to say you will do what’s right and shun what’s wrong, but when you get close enough to any given situation, you realize that there is no black or white. There are gradations of gray.” – Jodi Picoult 

And isn’t that the truth? It’s no secret to any of my family members or friends who one of my favorite authors is: Jodi Picoult. I’ve been hooked ever since a friend of mine gave me My Sister’s Keeper and I salivated over it. I knew from then on Picoult was an author to look out for. And I did. I’ve read nearly every one of her books save for one or two, and this book was by far the hardest for me to get through. As someone who is Jewish, I’ve been reminded over and over how atrocious the Holocaust was, and it was awful. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is a word in the English language that can possibly describe how terrible it was and not just for Jewish people. Perhaps that is why it was difficult for me to read. The book isn’t based on any one real person per se, but Picoult is not an author to take research lightly. I admire her work ethic tremendously. This book was no exception to her thorough research. She spoke with Holocaust survivors. Knowing that, you understand that while this book is a work of fiction, the horrors people faced in the concentration camps were not and therefore, most likely, a lot of what is in those chapters is not fiction but ultimately too real.

That being said, what would you do if someone close to you told you they were part of one of the most vicious crimes against humanity, and then asked you to kill them? This is exactly what happens to Sage Singer. Sage is a baker who works alone and late at night/into the early morning. With a scar on her face, she considers herself unattractive and therefore doesn’t really warrant any attention. Being alone suits her fine. Sage meets Josef in a grief support group. To her, he’s just a nice old man. Until one day Josef reveals the truth. He was part of the Nazi SS Guard, and for that, he wants Sage to help him kill himself.

From there we’re taken on a painful journey when it’s revealed that Sage’s own grandmother, Minka, is a Holocaust survivor. And to find out if Josef really is who he says he is, we have to read Minka’s harrowing story.

Yes, at the surface, this is a book about the Holocaust, but at its core what it really is is a book about forgiveness. Who deserves it, who doesn’t, who can grant it, and who can’t. And if any decision we make is ever really the “right” one.

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me

Love can find you in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times, like say an elevator during a blackout in New York City. And that is where we meet Owen and Lucy.

Seventeen year old Owen has been plucked out of his Pennsylvania home which he shared with his parents when a tragedy hits to the busying city streets of New York, which he hates.

Sixteen year old Lucy is a latchkey kid if you ever did find one, usually staying with her older brothers while her parents jet off to Europe. Only now her brothers are away in college and with her parents away too, she’s left to her own devices.

One fateful afternoon when Lucy goes to check the mail and Owen is on his way to the roof of the building (one of the few perks of being the new building manager’s son) they meet in the elevator. They’re not in there for long when it literally envelopes them in darkness and they are stranded. Soon the talking and banter begins. Although they are rescued not soon after, they decide to continue spending the day together.

Smith builds a very sweet, but slow-building romance between the two, a romance that is quickly put on the proverbial back burner when Lucy’s parents want her to come finish out her last two years of high school in London and Owen’s father loses his job as the building’s manager, sending them on a road trip to Anywhere But Here and We’ll Know When We Get There.

Communicating through postcards and e-mail, Lucy and Owen attempt to maintain their fledgling relationship, something anyone who’s ever been in a long distance relationship can confirm, is a lot easier said than done. As Lucy moves from Edinburgh to London and Owen from places like San Francisco to Seattle, and their communication dwindles, the two can only wonder: are some moments just meant to be fleeting? And can you really keep the spark going with someone you met in the dark?

Book Review: Five Days Left

What if you only had five days left? Five days to live the rest of your life, five days to spend with your spouse, five days to spend with your kid. This is a question plaguing both main characters in Julie Lawson Timmer’s debut novel, Five Days Left.

Five Days Left follows Mara Nichols and Scott Coffman, two characters who are each dealing with their own parental woes. Mara was adopted as a child and has since adopted her own little girl. Meanwhile, Scott and his wife are currently fostering the younger brother of a former student. Although they have never met in real life, the two each belong to a forum for parents of adoptive and fostered children. As the novel progresses and Mara and Scott face their seemingly separate journeys, Timmer manages to weave their interconnectivity beautifully as the reader jumps back and forth between Mara and Scott and their interactions in their own lives as well as between each other on the parenting forum.

Scott should be elated now that he and his wife are finally expecting a child of their own; however, knowing he must give up his “little man” in five days when the boy’s mother returns is killing Scott and it’s also taking quite the toll on his marriage.

Mara used to be a successful lawyer. She used to be happy. Moreover, she used to be healthy. But that was then and what is now is Huntington’s, a disease that is slowly taking her hostage and giving her no respite whatsoever. So Mara hatches a plan. Her birthday is in five days. Instead of letting Huntington’s kill her in the most humiliating and debilitating of ways, she will die on her own terms. She will take her own life.

Five days is all Scott and Mara have left.

This novel will make you cry, will make you angry, but most importantly it’ll provoke you to answer one simple question: what would you do if you only had five days left?

Book Review 5: Little Mercies

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is one of those rare breed of authors who truly never lets you down. Sure, there are those who write and who write well, but it’s almost like going to a restaurant and ordering a meal and expecting it to be the same the next time. The texture is the same, the flavor is the same, but there’s something off about the meal. It’s just not as good as it was the first time and you find yourself wishing you could go back to that moment, to the very first time you ate that delicious dinner and pinpoint exactly what the mystery ingredient is.

But reading Heather Gudenkauf is like being able to experience that first amazing meal over and over again. In short? She doesn’t disappoint.

Little Mercies follows Ellen Moore, a dedicated social worker who is truly a bleeding heart for all of the neglected and abused children out there, after an accident thrusts her into the spotlight as a neglectful mother. Ellen has seen it all; the good, the bad, the ugly, but she never thought she would fit into the latter categories, but after a hectic morning, Ellen misses a crucial detail, her youngest daughter Avery whom has been left in her car in the sweltering summer heat.

As a reader who has been subjected to quite a few real life stories this summer on the news featuring parents leaving children in the car, it was frustrating. And yet, as a human being, a person who understands how frantic life can get, I found myself sympathizing with Ellen and crying right along with her, fervently stating, “It was an accident!”

As we’re there with Ellen and her family as they go through the motions in the aftermath of such a tragedy, we also meet Jenny Briard, a young girl who has traveled a long way by herself, a girl who has a connection to Ellen that neither are aware of.

Gudenkauf is able to weave this incredible web of connectivity where the ripples are unseen by the naked eye, but very much present. In the end we’re left to decide what should have happened, what shouldn’t have happened, why these events took place, and if there really is a bit of mercy even in the wake of destruction.