Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Visionist

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing,
known as the Shakers, is a religious sect founded in 18th century England, a branch off of mainstream Protestantism.They were known as "Shaking Quakers" because of their ecstatic nature of their worship service.
The Kimball family lives on a small farm in rural Massachusetts. After a horrible fire, May (the mother) along with children Polly and Ben, find refuge in a nearby Shaker community called The City of Hope. Simon Pryor is the fire inspector on the case and after it is evident that many parties have interest in attaining this farmland, Simon must find both the truth and May Kimball to solve the mysteries that seem to appear as quickly as the Visions of the Shakers.
This novel is a story of hope, friendship and survival. It is easy to criticize the Shaker's way of life for the parts we do not understand but their discipline, advancement in medicine, and generosity to strangers is extraordinary in a time when life was difficult and people had little means to survive. Aside from the celibacy (because how on earth could they continue long term without generations to follow in their footsteps?) the Shakers had strong values, worked hard and created successful communities. There is nothing more interesting to me than reading a novel and learning something completely new. This author is an excellent writer. It is thorough and clear. With great characters and a twisting plot I highly recommend this unique read!!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Perfect Score Project

Debbie Stier, a single mom living in NY with two teenagers began
this project to entice her son Ethan to focus, prepare and really try to "care" about the upcoming SAT and college decisions that were on the horizon. What started as encouragement morphed into a year long project where (very brave!) Debbie tried every prep program, read every blog, spoke to every expert and STUDIED HARD! for the 7 (yes, 7!!) SAT's she took. This easy, funny personable story is her journey to understanding this exam which our society has (mis?)placed such utter importance on to predict success in college. Debbie really does her homework. She describes which trends worked, which fads didn't and most importantly - this is not a one size fits all industry. To succeed you really must understand your child's needs and instead of confusing or bombarding them, make a plan together. This author dissects through the history, changes and sales pitch currently marketed, with humor, warmth and unrelenting determination. I learned that my memory, of my own SAT experience, is very selective (as with all highschool memories!) and I now possess a much more clear idea of how to get through this trying time with teenagers successfully without breaking the bank or each other. A little laughter goes a long way. But lets be honest parents, its your fault no matter what. Highly recommend!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cut Me Loose

Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood.
Leah Kaplan grew up in a close knit Yeshivish community, a fundamentalist sect of ultra-orthodox Judiasm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She and her 10 siblings lived in a strictly observant Jewish household with her beloved Rabbi father and warm nurturing mother. Leah went to a local religious school where female students studied specific religious subjects along with a sprinkling of limited, minor academics. This was all Leah knew. Without ever having traveled or viewed any t.v., movies, books or listened to secular music, Leah's world was a small safe haven in which only those alike were allowed to enter. Girls were raised to be disciplined future mothers and homemakers while their counterparts studied and interpreted Jewish texts and laws. Perhaps she endured a childhood of wondering but most likely her AHA! moment came when she finally traveled to England to study for one year and then later to Israel. Along the way Leah's eyes fly wide open to the world, the diverse people in it and opportunities she has been sheltered from her entire life. Leah questions herself, her abilities and as an adolescent girl she is curious and attracted to the opposite sex for which she is wholly unequipped with any social skills whatsoever and as it turns out a deep rooted desire to be accepted and loved, even cherished. Leah's parents immediately cut off emotional and later financial ties. She finds herself back in NY, confused, penniless, and desperately lonely. She has been set up for failure because she does not know she can depend on herself. This mesmerizing memoir was heart wrenching, well written and a small look into a world that is unknown to the average person. Leah's brilliance, kindness and beauty help her follow the difficult path to success and you will cheer for her the whole way through. A must read!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

By Blood

"The Patient" is the main character in the book, By Blood. I did
not even realize that we never learned her name until I began writing this review, ahhhh very clever. There is no doubt that this novel is truly unique in every way and very well written. It did not ensnare my senses until the far middle of the story but I much rather enjoyed the second half and culmination of what happens in this mystifying, intricate web Ellen Ullman weaves between three characters. "The Patient", Dr. Shussler - the analyst, and the mysterious renter/eavesdropper next door. The year is 1974 and setting is San Francisco, neither fact very important to the story. The Patient, a lesbian financial guru in her early 30's attends a weekly session with Dr. Shussler, a woman of unknown age and German origin whose father was a Nazi collaborator. The professor who listens to their sessions from next door, is of the creepiest nature, on trial at his university for a crime never disclosed but hinted at in the creepiest of ways. A most unlikeable fellow and scarily unstable. He develops a love for the unseen patient and wants to help her find her birth parents. I can honestly say the writing is excellent, storyline is wholly original, and the author brings closure to the ending full circle, very well done. But, alas, what is gnawing at me is I don't like any of the characters, not even a little, and the first half which necessarily sets the stage was hard to get through. If not for the surprisingly well done ending I would probably not have felt satisfied at all. Hard to recommend to the masses but if you are intrigued by this mysterious storyline then maybe this one is for you!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Where the Moon Isn't

Matthew Homes tells the story of his life.
Some of his story is a reflection of his childhood and other moments are details of  his present circumstance but all of it is told with the most simple honesty I have ever read. As a young boy growing up in England Matt is traumatized at the age of 6  by the death of his brother, Simon. This horrific event, how it affects his parents, and their past medical history, Matthew starts to break down. Eventually when safety becomes an issue, professional care can no longer be denied. Matthew is a caring, loving young man and mental illness whether is it hereditary or brought on by a traumatic event, sets the story of his life. Lucky for Matthew, his parents, Nanny Noo and artistic gifts for drawing and writing help him express himself and get the help he desperately needs. This is a shockingly easy read considering the sadness and seriousness it entails, one would expect a heavy story to be hard to get through but Where the Moon Isn't is told from the heart of a sweet boy that is irresistible. This new author, Nathan Filer, is definitely one to watch. Highly recommend this captivating novel.