Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go To Slee[Before I Go To Sleep, or as Hubby said, “50 First Dates meets Memento” was a thrilling and gripping book.  (Thank to Lisa from Books On The Brain and TLC Book Tours for “telling” me to read it NOW.) It’s also the first book I have finished since last spring.  It was just what I needed!

Before I Go To Sleep is the tragic but somehow realistic story about Christine, a woman suffering from extreme amnesia.  Watson is clever with her storytelling and introduction to her main character.  Christine has suffered from a debilitating amnesia that wipes her short-term memory clean every night when she goes into a deep sleep.  This has been going on for twenty years!  She wakes not knowing who she is, who the man is in the bed next to her, not even how old she is.  She wakes some mornings thinking she is still a child and sometimes no older than her mid-twenties.  It’s a shocking moment, repeated every morning in the bathroom mirror’s reflection, when she sees a forty-seven year old woman, wrinkles, cellulite and all when she expects to see someone at the beginning of life.

The cleverness I mentioned is how Christine starts keeping a journal to document her daily discoveries.  At the suggestion of a doctor who wants to help her, but also study her and write a medical paper about her situation, Christine is able to wake, receive a phone call from this doctor who reminds her where she keeps her journal, and then read her own words and learn about what her life has become and what it was.  She is told she loves her husband but is also warned of things that scare her.

Before I Go To Sleep had me fearful for Christine and second guessing things in her journal.  Unfortunately I started having a hunch of what the twist could be early on in the book, but I continued to second guess myself which was fun.  I don’t like predictability in books.  I want to be surprised, learn something new and be thoroughly entertained.  This book brought all three of these things to me for the most part.

I learned that a film adaptation of the book is in pre-production.  I hope it makes it to the big screen because, if done well, it could be a hit.  Nicole Kidman is slated to play the role of Christine.  Okay, well Nicole, let’s see what you could do with this character.  It could be great!

{5 out of 5 stars (4 stars for the twist at the end alone)}

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Friday Finds ~ August 5th, 2011

Friday Finds ~ July 8th, 2011

This was my favorite meme to put together when I get the time.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,  Amazon.com, Washington Post.com, NPR.org, Books On The Nightstand Blog, The Millions, The Daily Beast and various other places on the Internet, checking out the book section of Hubby’s Entertainment Weekly Magazine and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my Goodreads To-Be-Read shelf this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from Amazon.com.

   

  

The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler
The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams
Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago
 

The Typist by Michael Knight

Summary ~ The Typist ~

Written with the stunning economy of language for which Michael Knight’s work has always been praised, The Typist is a rich and powerful work of historical fiction that expertly chronicles both the politics of the Pacific theater of World War II, and the personal relationships borne from the tragedies of warfare. When Francis Vancleave (“Van”) joins the army in 1944, he expects his term of service to pass uneventfully. His singular talent—typing ninety-five words a minute—keeps him off the battlefield and in General MacArthur’s busy Tokyo headquarters, where his days are filled with paperwork in triplicate and letters of dictation.

But little does Van know that the first year of the occupation will prove far more volatile for him than for the U.S. Army. When he’s bunked with a troubled combat veteran cum-black marketer and recruited to babysit MacArthur’s eight-year-old son, Van is suddenly tangled in the complex—and risky—personal lives of his compatriots. As he brushes shoulders with panpan girls and Communists on the streets of Tokyo, Van struggles to uphold his convictions in the face of unexpected conflict—especially the startling news from his war bride, a revelation that threatens Van with a kind of war wound he never anticipated.

If you are a regular visitor to Planet Books then you know that I enjoy reading historical fiction set during WWII.  I don’t know why this is but I can’t seem to turn away from stories set during this tumultuous time in our world history.  I have not read very many books set in Japan during this period though.  Most take place in Nazi occupied Europe.  The Typist by Michael Knight is another book that takes the reader back to the mid 1940’s but this time it is in American occupied Tokyo, Japan after the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan by atom bombs.  General Douglas MacArthur is the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in the Far East and his headquarters are in “Little America”, a few square miles in Tokyo that were spared from American bombing and left in tact.  Here we meet Francis “Van” Vancleave, a typist in the OPS department at HQ.  Because of his swift typing speed of ninety-five words a minute he is assigned to this billet.  His mother had taught him to type when he was a kid and that skill brings Van into company with General “Bunny” MacArthur himself.  

 

Van lives a quiet life in the barracks with his roommate Clifford, a member of Honor Guard Company.  Clifford brings excitement to Van’s life and through that excitement a story set during a time of rebuilding in Japan develops.  In addition to the dramas that Clifford brings, an act of kindness on Van’s part finds him in the company of The General and his family on an intimate level.  These relationships made for complex plots that I enjoyed.    Knight’s writing took to the streets of 1944 Tokyo and the culture that was redeveloping itself to fit into a modern and westernized world.  Van is a likable guy and the problems he faced are tough and probable.  I enjoyed learning about some of the history of the rebuilding of Japan and the policies and ideas that General MacArthur implemented.  Though liberties were taken by Knight I still found myself researching some facts brought to my attention throughout the story.  

All in all The Typist was an enjoyable and quick read.  The vibe of war torn Japan is heavy and desperate but also laced with hope.  The characters that Knight creates weave themselves well into the history of the time and real-life characters like General MacArthur.   My only problem was after Van is discharged from the Army and finds himself back home, creating a new life for himself the story felt like it just fell off a cliff.  It was such an abrubt ending in my opinion that I don’t have a sense of closure with the book like I find in every other book I’ve read.  Though it has left me frustrated I still enjoyed the book. 

{Rating ~ 3.5 out of 5}

 I would like to thank Kristen @ Grove Atlantic for sending me this book for me to read and review!

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Summary ~ The Story of Beautiful Girl~ It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African-American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: “Hide her.” And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

The Story of Beautiful Girl is haunting, hopeful and beautifully written.  Rachel Simon brings the reader a story that unfortunately reflects real life and what was happening in our country in the early to mid twentieth century.  It is a story about a girl named Lynnie who was loved by her parents but not enough to be brave and care for her themselves or even maintain a relationship with her when they place her into an institution for the intellectually inhibited.  The year is 1968 when Lynnie is facing a very difficult time in her life.  She was impregnated by a fellow resident at “The School” and doesn’t want her baby to face the same fate she has.  With the help of her true love Homan, a deaf-mute who lives and works at the school, she escapes and gives birth to her daughter on a stormy night.  With nowhere to go and fear racing through their veins Lynnie, Homan and “Little One” come across a small farm-house where an unsuspecting older woman lives.  They knock on the door seeking refuge and not only do they briefly find kindness and care in Martha’s home, Lynnie finds “Little One’s” salvation and protector without really knowing it in the moment.  And so begins the amazing story of Lynnie, Homan, Martha and “Little One” aka Julia. 

I was swept up in the story immediately and ate up the pages with satisfaction and anticipation.  Each character, including Lynnie’s best friend and nurse Kate were given ample time for character and story building throughout the story.  Each person was effected by the terrible treatment of the intellectually inhibited and the outcome of others actions.  It brought to light a time and events that would probably prefer to be forgotten by some but haunt others.  At times I was reminded of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter but this was a much darker and emotional story and left me feeling completely different after reading it.  I felt like I had learned some history and had a new understanding and respect for people who were born this way.  Not only was the character development strong but the descriptions of settings was so well written that each place came to life for me.  I just love that!

I highly recommend picking up The Story of Beautiful Girl when you get a chance and finding out for yourself what I enjoyed about it.  I also advise friending Rachel Simon on Facebook and following her on Twitter because she is very active and one of the most gracious authors I’ve come across.  She’s a busy bee this summer but it’s nice to “meet” authors via social media and Rachel is one of my favs. 

Thanks to NetGalley.com for providing the opportunity to read and review The Story of Beautiful Girl.  If you are a “professional reader” and are looking for new ways to review upcoming titles be sure to check out Net Galley.  It’s a cool website with a quick turn around on review copy requests.  It’s a digital download of the review copy and they even format for Kindle which was how I read The Story of Beautiful Girl.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

 Summary ~ The Bird Sisters~ Love is timeless. So too is heartbreak.

Whenever a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. The two sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health. 

But back in the summer of 1947, Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
Character analysis, atmosphere and subtlety are the name of the game in Rebecca Rasmussen’s lovely debut novel The Bird Sisters.  Twiss & Milly are sisters in every sense of the word.  Blood sisters, best friends, supporters, criticizers and playmates.  Life in rural Wisconsin is slow, quiet and calm for the most part.  That is until the church pastor walks away from his faith and his church community, the sisters father suffers unknowing damage from a freak accident and their cousin Bett arrives for the summer.  The Bird Sisters was a slow start for me but once I found my rhythm and became familiar with the characters and their lives I became wrapped up in their stories. 
 
I was disappointed to find myself unwillingly figuring out the secrets way too early that showed themselves later in the book.  I don’t try to do that but my brain just sees things between the lines.  The Bird Sisters surprised me when I found myself welling up due to the heartbreaking sadness that plagued the sisters and their family.  It takes a lot for me to cry when reading and I didn’t realize how invested I was in this book until the first tear fell.  Like the subtle story telling that Rebecca writes so beautifully the emotions crept up on me and took me over like the scent of flowers in a field as you drive by.  Taboo topics are hinted at and then quietly brought to the forefront by Rebecca’s gentle hand. 
 
 
Like The Bird Sisters, its author is sweet, lovely and full of layers.  I had the sincere pleasure of not only meeting Rebecca Rasmussen last night at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA but because of the strange turn of events I had the opportunity to really talk with Rebecca and get to know her quickly but truthfully.  This crazy weather we’ve been having here on the east coast played its tricks about fifteen minutes before Rebecca’s book event was to begin.  Lightning and thunder struck just above the building that One More Page Books is in and that tripped the circuits.  The fire alarms in the building block went off and weren’t reset for two hours.  We all had to stand outside for forty minutes where I proceeded to melt and wither a bit.  Eileen, the store owner and host took matters into her own hands and went across the street to La Cote D’Or Cafe, a quaint restaurant that graciously allowed One More Page Books to hold the book event in their dining room. 
 
 
Once settled the evening proceeded smoothly and quite nicely.  Instead of reading from The Bird Sisters Rebecca took questions from the audience.  I really loved the way she could elaborate on a question and in a way tell a story to get her answer across.  She made me feel better when she discussed the fact that some readers were finding it difficult to get settled into the book.  I had felt the same way and though I love literary fiction and prefer it to “commercial fiction” I still found it challenging at first to find my groove with The Bird Sisters.  Rebecca also answered questions about her publishing experience and sang her editor’s praises.  All in all Rebecca Rasmussen was a joy to meet, talk with and listen to.  If you get the chance to attend one of her upcoming events I highly recommend it.  She will be on the east coast for a little while and you can check out her website for tour dates and locations HERE.
 
If you are looking for a beautifully written book to add to your TBR list pick up The Bird Sisters.  The beautiful cover is just the icing on the cake with this book!
 
Rebecca Rasmussen & Me with The Bird Sisters
 {Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Summary ~ The Weird Sisters ~ The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they’ve been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected.

This book surprised me!  I was a slightly afraid to read it because my mother-in-law had suggested it to me because of the similarities she was finding between the fictional family in The Weird Sisters and my family.  Getting started on book proved to be a bit challenging.  I had just finished reading Tatjana Soli’s The Lotus Eaters which is a thoroughly developed piece of historical fiction set in the tumultuous Vietnam War and the pace of The Weird Sisters took some getting used to.  Once I found the flow of the book I began to enjoy the characters and appreciate the plots.  There is a unique quality about this book that confused me initially.  It is told in plural first person.  I had never read a book in this style before and I kept wondering who was telling the story.  I was so distracting that I found myself Googling that question and was relieved to discover the answer.  Once I understood that there were three narrators, the sisters, I was good to go.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one with that problem.  My mother-in-law had the same confusion as have several people who shared about it on the Internet.

I think the most important thing about The Weird Sisters was what it taught me about Shakespeare.  Throughout the book Brown has the family communicate in difficult moments through the lines and quotes of Shakespeare plays.  She would also provide backdrop of the line and where and why it was said in the original play.  Putting Shakespeare into the context of an American story was brilliant and breathed new life and meaning into the old hum-drum words that I never could thoroughly understand on their own.  I think that incorporating The Weird Sisters into the Shakespeare curriculum in our schools and using it as a reference tool after reading it while reading the plays would help put things in perspective for the high school student of today.  At least I believe it would have for me and maybe I would have done much better than the C’s and D’s I got that semester in high school.

When I first started this book I also had the thought, “Not another character with cancer!”  I have started sharing this opinion with a dear friend of mine with terminal cancer.  She won’t read a book if cancer plays a part in it.  She doesn’t want to read about what she is living through.  Having said that I think that the way Brown wrote the mother’s story, her illness, treatments, horrible side effects and how everything effected her family around her was brilliant.  I learned that Brown’s mother is a twenty-two year survivor of breast cancer.  It showed that Brown had personal experience with the disease in some way because of the care and tenderness with which she wrote those scenes. 

With all that said, I truly took a lot away from reading this book.  I found the sisters, Rose (Rosalind), Bean (Bianca), and Cordy (Cordelia) to be all frustratingly relatable and foreign.  Rose is written like other eldest sisters are written in other books I’ve read but she learns her lesson with grace and quite unexpectedly which was nice.  I do have to say though that not all eldest siblings are the uptight, frumpy, and not as pretty as the rest.  Wink! Wink!  Bean was wicked fun to read and I felt that her problem was by far the most serious of the three sisters.  Cordy was enjoyable and I enjoyed seeing her grow up on the page and discover that she was valuable.  I enjoyed the men opposite each sister.  Rose’s fiance Jonathan was level-headed with a sense of adventure that nicely offset Rose.  Bean’s interactions with the handsome and engaging Father Aiden were a treat to read.  I was really rooting for Cordy when she started to work at the local coffee shop and was reconnected with its owner, Dan, the funny, thoughtful and concerned friend who helped her grow into adulthood without holding her hand too much. 

All in all The Weird Sisters and Eleanor Brown deserve the praises bloggers, newspapers (specifically The Washington Post), and the stints on bestseller lists have given.  A beautifully written book about family facing epic and miniscule problems and trying to make it out the other side with love, friendship and support. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5} 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Summary ~ Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother’s exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards-and the costs-of raising her children the Chinese way.

 

After reading The Glass Castle for my book club’s March selection I felt the intense need to read a book from the opposite end of the parenting spectrum.  I found what I needed ten fold in Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The following quote is what I wrote in my Goodreads.com status update about half way through the book. 

  “I’m liking this book so far. Some of it parallels my upbringing and makes me think that not all Western parents are as easy going as she thinks. At least mine weren’t when it came to some things. Piano lessons, practicing, voice lessons, grades and strict parenting were all a way of life in the Brandt house. Though we were “spoiled” on some levels rules were always enforced and fights ensued as in this book.”

For the most part I related to aspects of daughters Sophia and Lulu as well as Amy and her husband Jed.  Amy comes from Chinese immigrant parents (I do not) who raised their daughters with iron fists and did not give in to their Western surroundings and ideas.  Amy strived to do the same for her and Jed’s daughters but soon discovered that it wasn’t going to go as smoothly as things seemed to have gone for her parents.  (I have to say that I find it curious that a woman who aimed to be the quintessential “Tiger Mother” and raise her daughters in the “Chinese-way” married a white, Jewish American.  Just sayin’.)

I did not find myself gasping as I read about the rules, punishments and screaming Amy parented her daughters with.  This book came out in late January 2011 and I found it amusing that Amy Chua got so much negative press in the news for her book.  I was raised in a strict household and remember many times where I “hated” my parents because they prohibited me from doing what I wanted but in hindsight I was spoiled rotten and the things they did not allow me to do were in my best interest.  Due to my observations as a non-parent of parents I think that I probably had it better than those parents children because of the rules upheld in my home that I don’t see followed or even placed in theirs.  Now I’m sounding a bit like Amy.  Sorry.

I felt that the writing in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was good.  It wasn’t as narrative as The Glass Castle which read so smoothly and unbelievably that I felt I was reading fiction most of the time.  It was however very much a memoir and made me feel like I was watching home movies of this family.  The fighting described by Amy to get her youngest and most rebellious daughter to practice her violin were very uncomfortable to read yet brought me back to my youth as a piano student.  I took piano lessons for six years starting in first grade.  I had a natural ear when it came to singing and the piano and at age four I plucked out the tune of “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”.  As soon as I did my mom announced to my dad that she would be starting me in piano lessons in first grade.  I did well and progressed quickly but soon it wasn’t fun anymore.  I remember my mom yelling from the kitchen, “That’s not your lesson piece!  You have to practice your lessons before you can play for fun.”  She knew the difference in songs because she sat in the waiting room outside my classroom every week and listened to my teacher instruct me on the pieces I was working on at the time.  Mom even went so far as to turn off the grandfather clock in the living room where our piano was so I couldn’t tell who long I had been practicing.  I’m pretty sure I only had to practice for thirty minutes a night where Sophia and Lulu practiced three hours a day including weekends and even on vacation but to me those were a long and torturous thirty minutes as the years went on.  (Amy would call ahead to the hotels the family would be staying in around the world and request time with the hotel piano for Sophia and they would bring Lulu’s violin with them as carry-on baggage.)  Eventually I chose to quit piano in junior high and my parents let me.  My sister continued on with her lessons for a few more years and to this day play much better than I do.  We both have pianos in our homes now, which I admittedly don’t play much at all but I do turn on the auto-play and enjoy that.  It’s a digital upright piano that my parents bought for me.  I don’t know how often my sister plays hers but I do know that our parent’s piano continues to be played often by my dad.  He loves piano and has always strived to master specific pieces throughout his life.  When I was little he had a big black book of classical pieces and as he learned a piece and got fairly good at it he would check it off in the table of contents.  There were a lot of checks!

For the most part I didn’t have a problem with Amy’s parenting tactics because of the level of success she and the girls were trying to achieve in piano and violin.  I did wish for more peace and quiet for the family as the girls got older though.  Like I said, having a peep-hole view of their lives during tumultuous times was uncomfortable.  Amy’s writing drew me in and held my attention throughout though and that doesn’t always happen for me in non-fiction/memoirs.  I think that from a social study view this is a great book to read if you are a parent or a child of a parent.  I think that it will open up discussions in book clubs, on social networks and around the water cooler. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Below is a pic of my little sister, our Cocker Spaniel Maxwell and me.