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Archive for February, 2009

stillaliceStill Alice

By: Lisa Genova

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-0281-7

Pocket Books – Jan 6, 2009

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Still-Alice-Lisa-Genova/dp/1439102813


Readers join Alice, a well respected Harvard Professor, researcher and world traveling convention lecturer on her journey into dementia. Expecting a diagnosis of menopause after some minor physical and mental changes Alice is shocked to be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease before her 50th birthday. Throughout the story Alice shares her thoughts and struggles with the reader. At first her thoughts are intelligent and coherent and she is only slightly irritated when she misplaces things or forgets an appointment. As one can guess her irritation increases and her thoughts become less coherent as the book moves along. The forgetfulness increases until it is no longer objects that are lost but Alice herself getting lost in her neighborhood and even in her own home. Readers travel with Alice as she receives the diagnosis and shares it with her family and coworkers. The story of Alice’s mental decline covers a two year span chronicling Alice’s hopes and fears, positive and negative feelings, and jumbled up thoughts.

Although it’s not realistic to expect that a person with dementia would be able to chronicle very far into their journey on their own, I enjoyed having the book written from Alice’s viewpoint. I think it humanized victims of the dreaded diagnosis and gave wonderful insight into what many actually feel, think and wish they could express.

Alice doesn’t want to be a burden to her family or the laughing stock of the college community. She wonders if she will know when the time is right to stop doing certain things. She creates a daily memory quiz and gives herself constant reminders in her PDA to help her through each day. She struggles to cope with changes and also struggles to help her family come to terms with changes ahead for them. Her diagnosis is devastating for her family, but in the end it brings them closer together and they all pitch in to help keep her routine. As she watches them rally around her she can’t help but wonders how long she will recognize them. She is plagued with guilt when she finds out that she passed the gene to at least one of her children. She wants to be part of the cure so her children or grandchildren never develop Alzheimer’s. She wants to live life to the fullest while she can yet she doesn’t want to be around when she can no longer function and think on her own. As she plans for her future she visits a care facility and even considers suicide. I didn’t agree with everything Alice and her family did after the diagnosis but I felt compassion for the position they were in and understood many of the reactions.  Alice sets out to read as many books as she can. When the printed page no longer holds her attention she starts watching classic movies and home videos. She wants to add more to the family legacy and she desperately wants to be there to hold her grandchildren. Alice is brave and strong. Even in her struggle she wants to educate others. You will feel pride when she starts an early onset support group and you might want to cheer when she makes a speech at an Alzheimer’s convention. As daily mix ups were recounted you might find yourself starting to smile or laugh only to be hit with a wave of sadness and then anger at yourself for even thinking of laughing for nothing about this decline is funny. You might even cry!


The Author has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and is an online author for the National Alzheimer’s Association therefore this book is much more than just a novel. Still Alice is a thought provoking story. It is heartbreaking yet encouraging. The author provides hope in a time of despair and Alice herself shows us beauty in darkness. I thought about Alice for several days after I finished reading the book. I felt connected to Alice and had to remind myself that the book was fiction and not about a real person.  I recommend this book to all readers not just those who may have a family member struggling with this devastating diagnosis. All readers can benefit from this book because none of us knows who in our family might someday suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The book doesn’t offer a map to coping with the disease but rather it reminds readers to look beyond the disease and take time to see the person. Where there is life there is humanity and we must treat all humanity with dignity and respect. She may be slipping away but she is Still Alice. An additional reason to purchase the book is that a portion of the sale of each novel will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. Good for you Lisa Genova!

Pearl

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pendragon21The House of Pendragon: Book II, The Recruit

By Debra A. Kemp

Amber Quill Press 2007

Historical

Buy Link: http://amberquill.com/Recruit.html 

Author website: http://www.myspace.com/debrakemp

 

After reading Debra A. Kemps’s first Pendragon book, (The Firebrand) I wanted to read the sequel right away. Unfortunately life got in the way and the book was put on hold for a few days. Once I had a whole day to indulge myself, I got comfortable on the sofa with my soft, comfy throw and a glass of iced tea. I began the first paragraph a little warily, wondering if I could possibly love this book as much as the first. I needn’t have worried, Ms. Kemp did not disappoint.

 

Freed from slavery and coming to Camelot, as King Arthur’s daughter, is quite an adjustment for Lin and her foster brother Dafydd. Released from the brutal uncertainties of his life as a slave, Dafydd settles in and happily begins training for his life long dream of being a bard. Lin’s adjustment is harder. Although Arthur is thrilled at his daughter’s return and offers love and warmth, Queen Gwenhwfar’s reception is cold and distant. What Lin desires most is her mother’s love and approval—the Queen only wants Lin to conform to the monotonous life of royalty and accept the duties of a princess, including an arranged marriage. With Prince Modred’s rape and abuse still fresh, the last thing Lin wants is a husband.

 

Hurt by her mother’s coldness and unable to accept the life Gwenhwfar plans for her, Lin’s headstrong rebelliousness resurfaces, bringing harsh punishment from the Queen. Deciding there’s no hope of reconciliation with her mother, Lin goes to Arthur and requests permission to train as a royal soldier. Having passed the initial test to be accepted as a trainee, Lin is warned she will be given no consideration for her rank or sex during training. Haunted by her past and meeting resistance at every turn, will Lin’s indelible, fighting spirit finally be tamed or will she become a princess worthy to be Arthur’s heir?

 

Being a modern woman, I love Lin’s stubborn resistance to a life planned by everyone but herself. In The Firebrand we meet and get to know Lin, as an orphaned slave with a death wish, and the heart warming love between her and her foster brother. In The House of Pendragon: Book II, The Recruit we see Lin grow, mature and come into her own. She learns when and where to fight her battles against cruelty and barbarism. But fight them she does, even against the father she’s come to love and respect. I was impressed with Ms. Kemp’s impeccable writing and gifted storytelling, as she seamlessly weaves this gripping tale from one book to the next. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the author will honor us in the future with a new Pendragon book. I feel an intense attachment to these characters and would love to read more of their story.

 

If you haven’t read Pendragon: Book I, The Firebrand, I suggest you start with that one. My review of it is listed in categories in the sidebar under book reviews – historical.

 

Willow

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promisethemoon1Promise the Moon
By Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Bantam Books, June 2008
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Moon-Elizabeth-Joy-Arnold/dp/0385340664  

It’s silly but I was drawn to this book by the pretty picture on the cover. I thought it would be a book about promises and hope. It was, to a degree, but it was also a bit depressing. I guess I should have expected that from a book that centers on war and suicide. I was hoping the focus would be more on the promise and less on the tragedy.

Promise the Moon by Elizabeth Joy Arnold is about Natalie, a young widow and her two young children, Anna and Toby. We meet the grieving family soon after Josh’s suicide. They feel angry and betrayed that Josh made it home from the war only to make a choice to leave them. We soon learn that Josh arrived home from war physically safe and sound but brought post traumatic stress along with him. Not until midway through the book do we learn the degree of the coping skills he utilized as he tried desperately to return mentally. Young Toby, the one who found his father after he shot himself, immediately stops talking.

Natalie wants to reassure her children of their father’s love for them so she hides a note and pretends that their father is writing to them from heaven. Josh used to put little notes in a secret hiding place in the bathroom for Toby and Anna. He always told the kids the notes were one way he showed his love for them. Natalie was only going to leave one note but when Toby found it he started talking again and the letters seemed like a way to help him cope. The letters end up leading to deception and lies and cause trust issues for Anna. Anna feels guilty about how she acted before her father’s death and has her own secrets as she gains more information about her father’s past.

In the midst of their sorrow the family is uprooted when they are forced to leave the base for “civilian” housing. Natalie moves back in with her parents, including her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. One of the first things Toby does in the new house is run to the bathroom and look for a note. Natalie vows not to send any more letters, so when he stops talking again Anna takes the task upon herself. Even though Toby knows his dad is in heaven, he believes Josh still writes to him. Anna won’t admit to her mother that she is writing the letters and as she reads the letters, Natalie begins to question where the information is coming from. Suddenly the letters reveal things only she and Josh could know. Could he possibly be writing to them?

As she adjusts to being back in her childhood home and helps care for her mother, Natalie she sees hints of a mental illness that plagued her husband upon his return from war. She finds his PDA chock full of notes that clearly helped him make it through his daily routine. Only after reading his detailed notes does she realize how hard he tried to appear to be better. She senses that he wanted desperately to be the Josh she married. She reads through the entries and gains insight into his worlds but she can’t bring herself to read the entry posted on his last day of life.

A chance meeting with an old high school sweetheart and contact from a soldier buddy lend emotional support and additional information to help the family come to terms with Josh’s death and the real reason behind his suicide.

The story is compelling but several times, as I was reading, the book seemed to be dragging on. There was a little too much repetition of events for my liking. The author set out to show how grief impacts a family but she almost included too many scenarios in her attempt to show the array of emotions. I feel that is what caused the book to drag along.

Promise the Moon is not a light read. The author deals with tough issues but the issues are a reality. War happens, military suicide happens and loving families are shattered. Although it is an emotional book readers will find the promise if they stick with the story until the end. Readers will grow to care for these characters as they bond together to deal with their loss. When the last page was turned I was satisfied with the ending. It is possible to find hope and happiness after tragedy but the road to get there is long and bumpy and you may need a friend or two to help you stay the course.

Pearl

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blackrock_small_smallBlack Rock: A Time for Love

By E. G. Parsons

The Wild Rose Press, January 2008

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Rock-E-G-Parsons/dp/1601541716

Author website: http://egparsons.com  

 

 

 

This book has been on my TBR (To Be Read) pile for quite awhile. I was waiting until I was in the mood for a good historical romance to read it. What a mistake that was! If I had known just how good Black Rock: A Time for Love was going to be I would have read it weeks ago.

 

The author sets the stage for this wonderfully intriguing story with a brief prologue. The year is 1846. On a small ranch in the town of Wild Rose, Texas, two ranch hands have mysteriously disappeared inside the magnificent black rock from which Black Rock Ranch takes its name.

 

As the story opens, more than fifty years later, twenty-year-old Roxanne Ingram is looking forward to returning home to Black Rock Ranch after ten years in a Boston girls’ school. Shortly before her departure, Roxanne gets word that her beloved father has passed away, and she will be retuning as sole heir to the family ranch. Confusion is added to grief, when, attempting to settle the estate, Roxanne discovers the date of birth recorded for her in the family Bible does not match the one she has always known to be her true birth date. Touring the ranch, which she now owns, Roxanne has an unexpected encounter with Collin, who has come to study the giant black rock on the edge of her property. She is outraged by his rudeness, but can’t help being attracted to the irresistibly handsome Colin. Shortly after her encounter with Colin, Roxanne meets charming Brad Wellman, the wealthy rancher whose property adjoins her own. As both men vie for her affections, it becomes a race against time for the two men — one a deadly villain, and the other a prince charming who holds the key to the shocking secrets of Roxanne’s origin.

 

If you’re looking for a beautiful historical romance you need look no further than Black Rock: A Time For Love. The author is so in tune with the late 1800s that it almost seems as though she must have lived them in a former life. The clothing, customs, and dialogue are written to perfection as the story moves seamlessly from one breathtaking scene to the next. The paranormal twist to this story is a most intriguing and welcome bonus. Roxanne is a thoroughly likeable heroine, and Colin will steal your breath away! I highly recommend this book to any lover of paranormal and/or historical fiction, or to anyone who just plain loves a good story.

 

Honeybee   

 

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Lily In Bloom

By Margaret P. Cunningham

Black Lyon Publishing, May 2008

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Lily-Bloom-Margaret-P-Cunningham/dp/1934912026

 

 

These long, cold months really have me longing for my gardens. As the snow piles up outside, I find my head filling with ideas for new garden spots, my hands itching to get out and dig in the soil. With two feet of snow making my gardens indistinguishable from the rest of the yard and a good six weeks left of winter, I found the next best thing in Margaret P. Cunningham’s debut novel, Lily in Bloom.

 

Lily McVay has always taken good care of herself. At fifty she is physically fit and alarmingly attractive. That’s why she is stunned when her husband, Howard, runs off with his much younger assistant, Heather. Insult is added to injury when Howard demands a divorce and the terms of their settlement hinge on the restoration of Lily’s deceased mother-in-law’s prize-winning gardens. Months later, discouraged by a string of disastrous blind dates, prank phone calls that begin to come with increasing regularity, and the unsettling feeling that her house is haunted by her mother-in-law’s ghost, Lily focuses her attention on the task at hand; bringing the once-gorgeous gardens back to their former glory in time for the town’s annual soiree. The daunting task is soon lightened by the presence of sexy master gardener, Will. As they work together to rebuild the garden, Lily finds herself growing more and more attracted to the irresistible Will. Telling herself the sixteen-year age difference is insurmountable, Lily fights her attraction, turning her attention to finding out the reason for the unsettling presence that haunts her home, and the meaning of the strange, unsettling phone calls. With a little sleuthing and the help of her eccentric neighbor, Lily soon unearths some surprising family secrets, along with a forgotten old fountain. As the weeks pass, Lily and Will’s labors begin to pay off and the garden is not the only thing that begins to flourish …  

 

There was an awful lot to love about this book. The premise was delightful, and the many interesting plot twists had me eagerly turning the pages to see how things would all work out for this star-crossed couple. I enjoyed the interaction between Lily and her middle-aged, well meaning friends, Helen and Marilee, and I thought the author did a wonderful job of developing the romance between Lily and Will. Her offbeat sense of humor and obvious love of gardening were woven throughout this beautifully written story. I would recommend Lily in Bloom to anyone who likes romance sprinkled with humor.

 

Honeybee

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foxriverFox River

By Emilie Richards

Mira 2005

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Fox-River-Emilie-Richards/dp/0778322521

 

Sometimes you can find the best books in the strangest places. I was in a thrift store looking for a small, vintage table when I ambled over and began pawing through a box of used books. When I picked up the worn copy of Fox River I recognized the name Emilie Richards right away. Although I’d never read but one other Emilie Richards’ novel, it made quite an impression on me. I never found the table I was looking for, but I brought home quite a find in this book.

 

Daughter of an aristocratic hunt master, artist Julia Warwick grew up in Race’s Ridge amidst the rolling, green hills of Virginia horse country. At age twenty she was happily planning her life with horse trainer Christian Carver when her best friend, Fidelity, is killed and Christian convicted of the murder. Julia’s world falls to pieces around her—alone, frightened, and pregnant with Christian’s child, she marries Bard Warwick. Bard needs to control every aspect of his life and that includes Julia.

 

Nine years after her marriage, Julia takes a tumble from her horse and although the doctors can find nothing physically wrong, she’s blind. Diagnosed with psychological trauma, Bard arranges for treatment at the exclusive and expensive Gandy Wilson Clinic. Feeling confined and controlled, Julia feels she truly is losing her mind and enlists the help of a nurse and her mother Maisy to free her. Against Bard’s wishes, Maisy takes Julia and her daughter Callie home to Ashburn. Just settling in and becoming more self sufficient, Julia’s world is turned upside down again when new evidence proves Christian was wrongly convicted and he returns to Race’s Ridge a free man. Who did kill Fidelity and what is it Julia’s mind refuses to see?

 

With its intricate plot of lies, deceit, and betrayal, as well as complex characterizations, Ms. Richards has given us a non-stop page-turner with Fox River. This story has it all, romance, intrigue, mystery and glimpses into the ugliness of certain social issues both past and present. At first I wasn’t happy about the story in a story aspect of this book, as Maisy reads the novel she’s writing to Julia, but I came to love it and realized it played an important role in pushing the plot of Fox River forward. I adored Maisy and believe she’s my favorite female character to date. If you can get your hands on a copy this book, I highly recommend it.

 

Willow

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pendragon1The House of Pendragon, Book I: The Firebrand

By Debra A. Kemp

Amber Quill Press 2003

Historical

Buy Link: http://amberquill.com/Firebrand.html

Author Website: www.myspace.com/debrakemp

 

When I received The House of Pendragon, Book I: The Firebrand by Debra A. Kemp, I thought—okay, another battling knights, forced marriage, romance kind of thing. Not that I don’t enjoy those books, but I’ve read so many of them, I was hoping for something a little different. And this story delivered. Ms. Kemp has drawn from the too often told stories of King Arthur and created a totally unique, fresh, and realistically adult view of the uglier side of life in the dark ages. The story follows Arthur’s daughter, Lin, from slave to heir to the throne.

 

At the tender age of five, Lin is living in a slave hovel and awakens one morning next to the cold body of the only woman she’s ever known as mother. Unknowing of her royal lineage, the only family she has left is her seven-year-old brother. Dafydd loves his little sister and does his best to be both mother and brother. Complete opposites in temperament and personality, these two are perfect foils for one another.

 

In spite of all Dafydd’s attempts to caution Lin against her rebellious ways, years of taunting and ill treatment by the Queen’s sons leave her heart hardened. At the age of twelve, the Queen gives Lin to her son Modred, as his personal slave, to use in any way he likes. Horribly abused by her new Master, Lin becomes filled with hatred and a cold contempt of Modred and the Queen. With evil cruelty, Prince Modred is determined to break Lin’s spirit. Despite his attempts, Lin is just as determined to die before bowing to his will.  

 

Ms. Kemp has given us a brilliantly flawed heroine in Lin, a slave with a stubborn will too strong to be tamed. To her, slavery is wrong. Period. She will fight it till her dying breath; no matter how much pain it brings. This aspect of Lin’s personality may not set well with some readers because it also brought abuse down on those closest to her. But I understood exactly where Lin was coming from and felt very close to her. I loved her defiance, even if foolish and self-destructive. I cheered her on all the way, even while I waited anxiously for the retribution bound to follow.  

 

If you’re looking for a romance set in King Arthur’s court, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a beautifully written tale of the loving relationship between a brother and sister, and their daily struggle to survive the ugly, heinous life of slavery while keeping their humanity intact. Once I started The House of Pendragon, Book I: The Firebrand, I read it in one day and had trouble putting it down even long enough to take care of necessary chores. Lin and Dafydd will live long in my heart and I can’t wait to read Book II.

 

Willow

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