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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

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This book has dual time frames told in alternating chapters:

In 1985 in Chicago – and across the United States – AIDS has devastated the gay community. The story starts with a group of friends mourning the AIDS related death of their friend Nico. These chapters are largely told from the point of view of Yale Tishman and through Yale, we witness the ongoing crisis, and it’s effects.

In 2015, Nico’s sister Fiona, now in her early 50s, has gone to Paris to track down her estranged daughter Claire. Through these chapters we learn about the fates of various characters in the earlier timeline, and understand what Fiona went through, watching not only her brother, but so many of their friends die at the hands of a virus which the government at the time seemed largely unbothered about.

This is without question my favourite book that I have read so far this year – and I’d put it into at least my top 10 of all-time favourites. I absolutely adored Yale, and appreciated that Makkai drew so many believable and distinct characters which made up his friendship group and other acquaintances. She does not portray heroes and villains, just incredibly ‘real’ characters, who I felt like I genuinely knew and cared for. I do feel that the early timeline on its own would have made for an interesting and wonderful novel, but the 2015 story added to it, in that we could see what an effect Fiona’s experiences had had on her as an adult.

I could write about this book all day, and good luck to anyone who asks me about it – you’re going to need to set aside a few hours while I wax lyrical! However, I don’t think I could do it justice. It is a beautifully written, heartbreaking, uplifting, thought provoking novel, and I recommend it to literally everyone.

 

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Otilla McGregor needs to sort her life out. She drinks too much, she is in a relationship with her married boss, her sister has severe mental health problems – but she is determined to sort her life out and get herself together.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It’s told from the point of Otilla, and employs a type of ‘scrapbook’ method to tell her story; this encompasses emails, snapchats, text messages, letters to the Little Book of Happy (makes sense when you’re listening/reading!) and conversation transcripts with her therapist.

The narration was excellent – Prendergast really got under the skin of Otilla and helped make her into a believable and likeable character. The story itself was also interesting and I liked the deviation from conventional narration, although I think this may work better as a physical book rather than an audiobook.

I would say however, that this is NOT a book to listen to if you need cheering up! As mentioned above, Otilla drinks way too much, her love life is a mess, she thinks that she may be to blame for her sister’s mental and emotional problems, her father passed away a few years earlier and she misses him terribly, her mother has her own problems….on top of all this, Otilla’s best friend Grace is an enabler who believes the only reason to give up alcohol is so that when you go back to it, you get drunk quicker and for less money. Otilla works in a cancer care hospital, so even several of the lesser characters have serious problems.

For all this, although at times I did wonder how much more misery could be stuffed into one book, the story did hold my attention throughout. I adored her new potential boyfriend, and really rooted for Otilla.

I’ve heard good things about other books by Annaliese Mackintosh and would certainly read/listen to more of her stories.

 

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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This novel is set over the course of one day, and it starts with Nathan Clark being a witness at his own funeral. His wife, father, children and best friend are all there, along with two people who he can’t identify. Unable to remember how he died, and unable to rest until he can remember, Nathan watches his family from some kind of afterlife, and remembers fragments of their life together while he tries to piece together exactly what has happened to him.

I loved the premise of this book, but I think I was expecting it to be more of a mystery or psychological thriller than it actually was. Instead it’s more of a slow burner – the first part in particular is very fragmented with Nathan being thrown from one scene or memory into another. Sentences end halfway through to reflect half remembered scenes from Nathan’s life, and suddenly he is flung to another time, another place.

There is no doubt that the writing is very elegant, and occasionally exquisite. I loved the idea behind the novel, but somehow despite this I never quite became enthralled by it. I was interested enough to keep reading, and like Nathan, I wanted to find out how he died but in the end, that wasn’t really the point. We find out early on that his youngest daughter Lois died some time before, and although initially Nathan can’t remember how she died, the answer to this particular question is revealed – and that’s when pennies drop and things start falling into place.

I did find this book an easy read despite the heavy subject matter, but I never quite managed to connect with any of the characters. Nathan’s wife Cheryl may have been the love of his life, but for my money she was downright unlikeable – same goes for his best friend Adrian, and his father Frank. I did quite like his two children Gina and Luke, but I never felt that we really got to know them well enough – especially not Luke, who is relegated to something of a background character.

Overall though, while I can’t give this book a definite thumbs up, it’s also not a thumbs down. I would be intrigued to read more by this author.

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It’s March. We are a quarter of the way through the year and already I have found a book that I believe is a serious contender for my book of the year.

The Leftovers takes place three years after an event known as the Rapture by some, and the Sudden Departure by many. Basically, 2% of the earth’s population just disappeared in a split second. The monumental event, whatever it was, did not discriminate across gender, sexual, religious, colour or race lines. Set in the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, this novel examines the effect the Sudden Departure has had on the residents, focusing mainly on the Garvey family – father Kevin, the town mayor, who tries to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of normalcy; wife Laurie, who has left the family to join a cult known as the Guilty Remnant; daughter Jill, who is rebelling as a form of coping with seeing her oldest friend disappear; and son Tom, who put his faith in a man who calls himself Holy Wayne and who believes he has the power to absorb other people’s pain.

A lot of the events in the book could be described as mundane, in that it is people just trying to live their lives, coping with loss, not knowing what happened or why, and searching for ways to get through the pain and confusion. It does make you think ‘what if’, but what I loved about it was the fact that although the Sudden Departure itself is implausible, the reactions of the townsfolk to it do seem entirely believable. I wouldn’t class it necessarily as dystopia, and definitely not as sci-fi, but perhaps alternative reality. A reality that I personally would not want to contemplate!

Lives go off on their own trajectories, and people react in different ways. I loved reading about the residents of this small town, and I only wish there was a sequel. Incidentally, I tried watching the TV adaptation before I even knew that it was based on a book, and while the premise fascinated me, I couldn’t get past two episodes before giving up. The second long flashbacks annoyed me and there seemed to be too many storylines going on, but in the book the storylines all meld together perfectly.

Highly, highly recommended.

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December 31 1999.  Ten year old Amy Archer goes missing, and is presumed dead.  Her body isn’t found, and ten years later, her mother Beth is still struggling to cope with her grief.  On December 31 2009, there is a knock at her door, and a young woman claims to know where Amy is.  Beth is then introduced to a girl who looks exactly like her daughter, and knows things that only Amy could have known.  But this girl is only ten years old.  As Beth tries to understand the truth behind ‘Amy’s’ sudden reappearance, her enquiries take her down dark paths and reveal secrets long hidden.

I am in two minds about this book.  I think the premise is interesting – I don’t personally believe in reincarnation, psychics or mediums, all of which are discussed in this book, but I don’t think that you need to to invest in the story.  The narrative moved fast, and was interesting enough to keep me reading for hours, but the main issue for me was that I did not like any of the characters.  Not Beth, not Libby (the young woman who knocks on her door) and not even Amy/Esme, the young girl who claims to be Beth’s daughter reincarnated.  The other problem was that this author really REALLY liked his imagery and symbolism, and initially that annoyed me a little.  However, as I got further into the book, I must have got used to his way of writing, because I noticed it less and less.

Much has been made of the ending – I am not going to reveal anything about it here, but I personally did not mind it so much as other reviewers appear to have done.  I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, I would probably recommend this book, but beware that it does detail some particularly dark scenarios, which could make for uncomfortable reading.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a book I’d rave over, but I enjoyed it enough to read further books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Sage Singer is a 25 year old baker, from New Hampshire, who wants to hide away from the world, because of the scars, both physical and psychological that she has, resulting from an accident three years earlier.  She is in a relationship with a married man, which is going nowhere, and does a job that allows her to work at night, without contact with others..  When she befriends 95 year old Josef Weber at her grief group, she is able to open up to him in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else, so when Josef tells her that he is a former Nazi, responsible for countless deaths, and requests that she helps him to die, her world is turned upside down.

(Don’t worry, all of the above happens very early in the book, so there are no spoilers here.)  I have always found Jodi Picoult’s novels to be compelling and thought-provoking, and this one was no exception.  It is stated early on that Sage’s grandmother Minka was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and a large part of the book is given over to her description of life during that time.  This may be a fictional story, but Picoult spoke with Holocaust survivors while researching this book, and while Minka may not really exist, the horrors described are all too real, and I was moved to tears while reading about them.

I liked and sympathised with Sage – she was a well rounded character, with flaws and insecurities that made her very believable.  The main theme of the book is forgiveness, and Sage’s dilemma in this regard was fascinating.  Her struggle to reconcile the elderly pillar of the community who she had become friends with, with the former war criminal who killed indiscriminately, was interesting and well described.  Can we ever forgive on behalf of someone else?  Does Sage have the right to forgive Josef’s sins – as he asks her to do – when it was not her who was personally sinned against?  All of this crops up throughout the book.

I also adored and admired Minka.  I would have liked to have seen more of Leo, the agent who has made a career out of tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice – while he was immensely likeable, I didn’t feel that he was as well drawn as some of the others in the book.  This is only a slight niggle though, as for the most part, this book was truly hard to put down.

The ending was a surprise, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.  However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what had gone before, and overall, even though it’s not my favourite by Jodi Picoult (that would probably be Nineteen Minutes) I would certainly recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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