The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

the nestBook – Leo Plumb and his siblings – Beatrice, Jack and Melody – are due to receive a family inheritance when the youngest (Melody) turns 40. Their father had intended the inheritance as a modest supplement to their income. But, the value has soared and now the Plumbs are relying on the “Nest” to help them though various financial predicaments. Then, a few months before they are due to receive their windfalls, Leo is in an accident that upends all of their plans. As the siblings try to recoup their losses, they reconnect and rediscover the ties and secrets that bind them.

I enjoyed meeting this family. Bea is an aspiring novelist, despite a decades-long writer’s block, and mourns the loss of her former lover. Jack hides a huge betrayal from his partner. Melody anxiously tries to keep track of her teenage twin daughters and hold onto her expensive lifestyle. And then there’s Leo. Charming, smart and witty, he also has no scruples about pursuing his own wants and needs. This book captures family dynamics and how loss, need, love and support thread through our lives and relationships.

Parenthood (2010)

TV Series – After reaching the end of my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation, I was in dire need of finding a new show to fill my void.  Parenthood turned out to be that show.12760510

Parenthood is like Modern Family, in that both shows have a strong focus on family dynamics and relationships.  Parenthood, however, concentrates on more serious content, things that test the bonds that hold a family together.  The show follows the day to day trials and tribulations of the Braverman family.  Zeek and Camille have raised four children, who are now grown with their own families.  Crosby is a carefree guy who lives on a houseboat, enjoying his limitless freedom.  Julia is partner at a prestigious law firm, trying to juggle work while raising a young daughter with her husband.  Sarah wants to make a fresh start, taking her teenage kids and moving back into her childhood home with her parents.  And finally, Adam, the eldest of the  Braverman children, and caretaker to everyone, including his wife and two children.

What makes this series special are the intense bonds shared by the members of the Braverman clan.  Together, this family endures everything that life throws their way.  I would strongly recommend Parenthood to anyone who loves realistic family dramas.  I was completely invested in each of the main characters, and though fictional, their stories often left me tearful.      

10/10 would recommend to friend.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

sunBookCircling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.

Sickened: the memoir of a Munchausen by proxy childhood by Julie Gregory

Book– Munchausen by proxy is a rare form of child abuse characterized by faking or exaggerating symptoms of illness in a child, usually to gain attention from the medical community.  Gregory recounts a harrowing childhood spent in hospital rooms, performing illness (or actually being made ill) to satisfy her mother’s craving for attention. Her mother alternates between deliberately starving and abusing her, turning the rest of the family against her, including her helpless father, and cossetting her with attention. Gregory focuses on the strategies she used to survive, such as stealing food from other students’ lunches and from convenience stores.

The writing is at its best when Gregory is understating her situation; like most works of this kind, overly dramatic language can often actually take away from the impact of the story. She includes scans of her own medical records from the time and it is chilling to see how willing some doctors were to believe her mother’s stories. While Gregory obviously escapes her mother’s orbit, as of Gregory’s memoir, there are still children in Gregory’s mother’s care.

Sickened will appeal to fans of memoirs chronicling mental illness, complicated family relationships, and difficult upbringings.

Novels In Verse: The Forgotten Genre

Book – The genre of novels in verse often gets swept under the rug, lost in the muddle of YA fiction.  As opposed to the narrative style of most YA novels (words organized in sentences and paragraphs), verse novels tell stories in the form of free verse poetry.  Aside from their unique formatting, novels in verse excel at covering difficult topics and creating emotionally charged stories.


Here are a few examples of novels in verse, in a variety of themes:

Substance Abuse: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins challenges taboo subjects such as drug addiction, abuse, sex, and suicide in her novels. In her first verse novel, titled Crank, Hopkins addresses drug addiction through the experiences of the main character, Kristina, otherwise known as Bree. Hopkins bases the story off of her own experience with her daughter’s addiction.  The strength in this novel is the connection the author has to the subject matter.

Historical Fiction: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This story follows fourteen year old Billie Joe and her experiences during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  Billie Joe’s narration is a diary of daily life on her family’s farm where she lives with her Daddy and Ma.  Emotionally charged, this story provides insight into the lives of those living through the dust bowl, while the free verse form helps readers connect to the characters more fully.


Other verse novels at the Warrenville Library include: Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas, A Girl Named Mister by Nick Grimes, May B: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose,
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and Sold by Patricia McCormick

 

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Book –Set in 1964, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards easily connects to our modern world.  On a stormy Winter’s night, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own twins.  The first one comes easily, a perfect baby boy.  But the twin, his daughter is different; the doctor immediately sees that she has Down’s Syndrome.  Before his wife can notice, he hands the baby girl off to his nurse, instructing her to take the child and leave her at an institution.  He then tells his wife that her daughter was a stillborn, in his mind saving her and himself from the anguish of raising a child with disabilities.

But the nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the baby, and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.  Though separated by distance and lies, the lives of the infant twins and their families are forever intertwined.

In a new city, Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy and loving household.  Meanwhile, the doctor is faced with his wife’s grief over the loss of her infant daughter.  In her mourning, their son Paul grows up in a distant family full of regret and anguish.  His mother is never able to console her heartache, carrying her grief throughout her life.

Kim weaves a story that is powerfully real, illuminating the loss of a child with the gift of a new life.  In our modern world, the doctor would have been able to foresee his daughter’s disability in the womb.  Would he and his wife have terminated the pregnancy, knowing the difficulties they might face? With such high awareness of disabilities like Down’s Syndrome in today’s society, there is so much support available for parents and families.  It’s interesting to wonder what might have been, if these fictional characters represented real people living in the 21st century.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

sharpBook – Gillian Flynn is becoming a household name, due to the success of the recent film adaptation of her suspense novel, Gone Girl.  But before Gone Girl took over the big screen, Gillian debuted her first novel, Sharp Objects.  

Sharp Objects is a phenomenally demented mystery.  It centers on reporter Camille Preaker, a woman still struggling with her past and a tormented inner self.  When an assignment sends Camille back to her childhood home to cover the murder of two young girls, she is forced to confront everything she tried to leave behind.  Back in her childhood home, things are not as they appear and Camille soon discovers that there is far more at stake than simply uncovering the truth behind the murders.

I strongly believe the power of Gillian Flynn’s writing comes from her leading ladies.  In each of her novels:  Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects, it is the strong female lead that first pulls you into her dark world.  There is something sinister about all of these women and the pasts that burden them.  In Sharp Objects specifically, it is the relationships between the women that I found most compelling, and again, sinister.

Dark and emotional, I couldn’t put this book down.  I discovered Gillian Flynn awhile ago, when I was going through an intense murder-mystery phase.  As a reader who generally favors fantasy and romance–more lighthearted tales–Sharp Objects was a gulp of fresh air into this wonderful genre, and I encourage booklovers of all genres to give it a shot.

Also, as a side note to all the Gillian Flynn fans, get psyched, because both Dark Places and Sharp Objects are scheduled to hit the screen!  The film adaptation of Dark Places recently finished shooting and is set to be release in August of 2015.  The cast looks wonderful, starring Charlize Theron; from first glance, it seems that this film will not disappoint.  Meanwhile, Sharp Objects will be produced as a television series by Entertainment One, though there is still limited information regarding the specifics of the project.  Just knowing that there are TWO more Gillian Flynn projects coming out…there’s a lot to be excited about!

 

 

 

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

dead endBook – This is the memoir of the great-great-great granddaughter of the industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Burden’s look back at her life contains very little warm sentiment. Perhaps her writing is catharsis for dealing with painful memories. She is the product of a dysfunctional family and a distinctly un-maternal mother, yet she recalls her past with acerbic humor. That sense of humor, and material drawn from the lifestyles of extremely privileged relatives combines for an interesting read.

Burden’s biography is populated with over-the-top characterizations of her family, servants, and numerous pets. These descriptions are often un-flattering, scandalous, and frequently successful in their aim to amuse. I admire the fact that she does not spare herself from this lampooning treatment. Burden begins her chronology at a point immediately after her father’s suicide, when she was approximately six years old. Her forthright portrait of her youthful self as a troublemaker who strove to emulate Wednesday from The Addams Family is disturbing and intriguing. Perhaps these traits are understandable for an individual who felt impoverished of family love.

Revival by Stephen King

revivalBook – King’s most recent novel has been hailed as a return to classic form, closer to a real horror novel than he’s written in a while. If you go into it looking for that, you might be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. The story follows two men, narrator Jamie Morton and the man he refers to as his “fifth business,” the catalyst to all the really important events of his life, Reverend Charles Jacobs. Charlie (as he prefers to be called) is fascinated by “special electricity” all his life, but his interest takes a darker turn when his wife and son are killed in a car crash. After that – well, a horror novel called Revival with a lightning bolt on the cover does evoke a certain famous Doctor F., after all.

Revival isn’t as focused as the classic King novel it most evokes, Pet Sematary, and dealing as it does with similar themes and ideas, it suffers by the comparison. Where the plot meanders, though, the characters pick up the slack, and a few genuinely creepy moments (Jamie’s birthday-party nightmare sticks in the mind) carry you through rapidly to the end. The ending is, at least, classic Stephen King – sprawling, grotesque, and a little out of left field.