Review: End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

13414676This is a really nice book. I can’t fault the writer at all. However, I have to say it was gut wrenching for me. Schwalbe and his mother had a very special bond. Hell, from what I grasp, she had a special bond with everyone she knew. She seemed like she was a truly amazing person.

The part that was really hard for me was the dedication Schwalbe had for his mum. No, it wasn’t a bad thing. It was an amazing thing. When my father died, I can’t lie, I was, perhaps more devastated by my lack of involvement in his final days. That is so very hard to write. To admit to. Sure, I can blame circumstances. Being in a different country, blah blah blah, but that doesn’t ease the guilt one feels. Then to read a book where Schwalbe went to such great lengths….well it was very hard. Yes, he was lucky. His mum was lucky. We can all say, well, he had a job that allowed him to be by his mother’s side so often. That’s all. He could afford to spend 5 hours a day with her when she was having treatments. He could call her a dozen times a day. Reality is more simple than that though. He made it happen. Amazing sacrifices he made to make sure his mother was surrounded by love in her final years…

I’m jealous of his dedication. Of his courage. His sacrifice. Of those hours, days, weeks, months, and years he had with his mum at the end. Reading this book made my gut clinch with my own guilt…I miss my dad…I wish I had been the kind of daughter to him that was like the son Schwalbe was to his mum…I wish I had that opportunity…

There’s nothing else to say really…

Until next time…

Urania xx

Buy it now End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Review: Being Dead by Jim Crace

92559This is one of those books that I found very difficult to choose between a 5 star read and a 3 star read.

I don’t believe you’ll find many other books out there quite like this one, I will give that to Crace. It’s hard to find a really original book out there this day and age, and this is certainly that for me.

The forward in the start of the novel says it all really…

Don’t count on Heaven, or on Hell.
You’re dead. That’s it. Adieu. Farewell.
Eternity awaits? Oh, sure!
It’s Putrefaction and Manure And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot,
As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
I’ll Grieve, of course,
Departing wife,
Though Grieving’s never
Lengthened Life
Or coaxed a single extra Breath
Out of a Body touched by Death.

‘The Biologist’s Valediction to his Wife’ from Offcuts by Sherwin Stephens

It only gets worse from there. This is a story not about murder, but about death. DEATH. Don’t go into this novel expecting a happy ending. The ending is there, even before the story begins. Hell, even the title gives it away.

Being. Dead.

It depressed me if I am to be honest. Perhaps that is why I can’t decide if I should rate it high or low. Please don’t think the talk of death is what depressed me. For it was not. I actually found that a bit fascinating. But once again, I felt it was forced. Page after page after page after many a page talking about the changes in the body and of nature’s attempts to wipe their image from the face of her good clean Earth…well, it just felt forced. I felt as if Crace was trying to pound it into my brain. I can certainly see where many people would be turned off by that writing (an example to follow at the end of the review). Me? It’s things I’ve often wondered over. I once dreamed of being a forensic scientist. Of course, that was before I realised how much schooling in biology was needed! At any rate, I could deal with that, I just wished that the natural felt…well…more natural…ha!

What depressed me was, what’s the meaning of all of this. Tragically we are led to believe of this great love. Here’s a quote and proof for you!

The plain and unforgiving facts were these. Celice and Joseph were soft fruit. They lived in tender bodies. They were vulnerable. They did not have the power not to die. They were, we are, all flesh, and then we are all meat.

Joseph’s grasp on Celice’s leg had weakened as he’d died. But still his hand was touching her, the grainy pastels of her skin, one fingertip among her baby ankle hairs. Their bodies had expired, but anyone could tell – just look at them – that Joseph and Celice were still devoted. For while his hand was touching her, curved round her shin, the couple seemed to have achieved that peace the world denies, a period of grace, defying even murder. Anyone who found them there, so wickedly disfigured, would nevertheless be bound to see that something of their love had survived the death of cells.

See, there is romance there, is there not?

It made me happy to go on…”devotion defying even murder.” Whoa, Dude! I want some of that….

However, the more I read, the more I got depressed. I have to admit, I’ve struggled with religion that last few years…no….wait….that’s a lie….I’ve struggled with NOT struggling about religion for the last few years…This book….no, it’s not religious…well, not really….I guess, it’s just that here we are, swooning over this image of these two murdered people…projecting our views unto them…romantic views…even death can not end their love….blah blah blah….they died in each other’s arms…blah blah blah….their last instinct was to comfort one another…again, blah Blah BLAH…

The reality is, they are dead. They are crab bait. Further more, as the reader goes deeper into the story, the more they realise that perhaps it wasn’t some great love story…there lives weren’t really even that interesting even to them…

What if it’s true…we only have a short lifetime to be alive…and what if we’re all wasting it on “only” existing and not really LIVING? What happens when we, like every other single person we know, settles in life? We settle on the quiet night at home. We settle on keeping quiet to keep the peace. We settle on no change because it’s just so easy?

What if the greatest story of our lives is that some stranger makes up for us at the end? Because they romanticised some dead hand that seemed to reach for another? What if that’s the last story? One that isn’t even true? What happens if that last false impression isn’t even close to who we really were? Who will correct the misconceptions? How soon will all we tried to do in this life be lost after we have died? Especially if we leave no one behind that really gives a shit? What’s the point?

See! Brilliance! 5 HUGE stars…..

But damnit….that’s what I’m feeling in my head after reading the novel! Whilst reading it, after the half way point I just wanted it to hurry up and END!!! 3 FAT stars.

Sigh….

Here’s but one sample of Crace’s writing style. I loved it….and yet, page after page after page after yet page, I hated it as well….

The dead don’t talk – but bodies belch for hours after death. A woman bends to kiss her husband for the final time. Despite the warnings of the morgue attendant – sweet-breathed or not – she puts a little weight upon his chest, and is rewarded with the stench of every meal she’s cooked for him in forty years. The morgue could sound, at times, as if a ghoulish choir was warming up, backed by a wind ensemble of tubas and bassoons. It could smell as scalpy, scorched and pungent as a hairdressing salon. The breath of these cold choristers was far worse than the onion breath of clerks. But no one said that bodies weren’t sincere. There’s nothing more sincere than death. The dead mean what they say.

Until next time…

Urania xx

Buy it now Being Dead by Jim Crace

Review: The Broken Hearts Book Club by Lynsey James

  
This British rom-com is cute and young and fun… and naïve and a little bit silly for this Definitely Over 30 reader. 

I would have appreciated the wishy washy guy, the finicky girl, the mean older ladies, and the stressed out dad a LOT more if I read this when I was younger. 

While there’s plenty of responsibility going on – renovating a house, taking care of a child, starting a business, running a book club – it was all through the lenses of a 20-something who just really didn’t seem invested in life yet.  Nor does she need to – she’s still young! But I’m not, and I wasn’t the best audience for this story. 

If you’re still in your twenties — or you’re still living with your parents — this book is a good, light read about love, loss, and opening your heart again. 

-calliope

Buy THE BROKEN HEARTS BOOK CLUB

Review: The Girls of Mischief Bay by Susan Mallery 

 

Three women in an L.A. suburb find themselves in the middle of some changes. Big changes. Marriage, divorce, pregnancy, death, grief, friendship, and new beginnings all play a part in this new series by one of my favorite authors. 

The writing is excellent, from the fleshed out characters to the descriptions of the coastal setting. Technically, everything is on point as Mallery invites us into the lives of three women of different ages, their families and friends, their businesses.

But there’s something missing for me. Excitement, maybe. And I get it that lack of excitement is one of the relationship issues in the book, but the reader should still somehow be pulled into the book… And I just wasn’t. For one thing, there was a lot of “telling instead of showing” (like when one character sat across from her friend and next to her other friend and put her purse on the free chair). I liked the book enough, but I wasn’t totally invested in it. It didn’t thrill me. 

On the other hand, Mallery successfully shows the reader real emotions. For example, one character is mourning a loss. Brava for getting to the nitty gritty of being beside oneself with grief. The scene at Goodwill – I can picture that kind of thing because I have seen people just UNDONE like that. I’m thinking WOW as I remember reading Mallery’s take on it.  And the spa scene with the possible future stepchild – realistic and full of tension. 

Although this particular plot was a bit of a downer for me, I enjoyed Mischief Bay and its inhabitants. I’ll be on the lookout for book number two. 

-calliope 

buy THE GIRLS OF MISCHIEF BAY

Review: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

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I generally don’t read children’s fiction, but I wanted to read Nest to get an idea of the usefulness of a book about children grieving. I can report with confidence this: I believe Nest would be helpful for 10-14 year olds with a mentally unstable or absent parent. They would see they are not alone, people grieve and cope in myriad ways, and anger is natural. Young readers could see that maintaining connections — family ties, friendships, or even looser relationships — help distract as well as move a person through his or her bucketful of emotions. Moving forward is key.

That’s my opinion as a mother and a former schoolteacher.

My emotional response to Nest was pretty much bawling my eyes out. A child without two loving parents just kills me… though I know it is so, so common. I felt for Chirp and her sister, for Chirp’s friends Dawn and Joey… Why did they have to suffer? Why did their lives have to be upended?

Yet they found ways to cope. They found ways to hope. They found ways to stick together to fill up a little bit of what was missing.

Nest is well-written, from the sentence structure to the easy flow to the authentic characters. The only niggling detail was about prayer: the author had Chirp uncomfortable saying grace before a meal, or saying the name Jesus. But I’m pretty sure Jewish people say grace (to G-d, not Jesus) and they believe Jesus existed, just that he wasn’t the Messiah. Besides that, Nest was wonderful. The 1970s were portrayed just as I remember them, without being contrived or hokey. And though the ending was sad, I finished the book with the thought that those children were going to make it. They had hope, they had strength, and they had each other.

-Calliope
buy NEST

Review: Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

18769271So many reasons to love this book! The main character, Leigh, sells graves in the family-owned cemetery which earns points for plot originality. Leigh is a sympathetic teenager struggling through somewhat normal teen angst. There’s the tear-jerker factor in a sibling recovering from a potentially fatal disease. And there are Leigh’s parents who at first glance are not very likeable but kinda grow on you by the end of the story.

This is such a different kind of young adult novel. It has some of the common elements such as high school drama and bits of a love story. But the language of the story is so quirky and Leigh has such a deadpan sense of humor that the book stands out from many others that I’ve read lately. I also love that the story was inspired in part by events from the author’s life. A debut novel from Jennifer Longo that promises even better things to come in the future!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Six Feet Over It

Review – The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

15818333In 2013, the age of Instant Messaging, texting, face-iThingy, etc…, how many of us really know or speak to our neighbours anymore? Would you notice if two teenage girls were living with abusive and irresponsible parents? Would you notice if those parents were to disappear? Well, luckily for you, Lisa O’Donnell explores this conundrum in her debut novel, The Death of Bees. Set in present day Glasgow, O’Donnell presents the reader with Nelly and Marnie – two teenage girls growing up in some of the worse conditions imaginable. Their situation gets exponentially more precarious when their parents die, and they are suddenly left to fend for themselves. Don’t worry, I didn’t just give away a spoiler – you know this happens right from the get go. Marnie and Nelly’s quest for survival from both death, and the social services is the main focus of the story and along the way, we meet a host of interesting characters that intersect with Marnie and Nelly.
O’Donnell’s narrative is split between 3 people, and each one provides a different view point of events. At first it was a little jarring to read through the eyes of Nelly, as she has a very particular way of speaking. However, you soon get used to it and it really provides character. The amount of time spent on each narrative is perfect; you never once feel like you’ve been spending too long reading as one character. The language used by the characters is not pretty – but then life isn’t always pretty – it is honest, sparse, and real.
If you’re looking for your next unique read, I would highly recommend this one. It runs the gauntlet of emotions (it will even make you feel physically sick at one point!) and does not let up, but at the same time, it isn’t depressing for the sake of being depressing. There is light amongst these characters and it shines just as often as it is put out. It is a relatively short read, so if you can read it in one sitting, or even two, then that would be the way to do it so that you don’t lose the rhythm of the narration.
You can get this fresh, unique and honest story here – The Death of Bees: A Novel

~ Pegasus.

Review: The Reunion by Amy Silver

20130912-165921.jpg4.5 stars

The Reunion is so much more than a story of old friends — Conor, Jen and Dan, Andrew and Lilah and Nat — coming together.

It’s about all the ways we think we love one another – freely, unconditionally, conditionally, out of guilt, with pity. It’s about memories that scar us, change us, move us forward, and hold us back. It’s about guilt, sorrow, forgiveness, and asking for forgiveness.

The Reunion shows how people find their way out of the past and into a new future while remaining part of the old group. Jen holds on to old love and loneliness. Andrew punishes himself for the past. Natalie represses anger. Dan burrows into his own little world. Lilah lives in denial. They all feel guilty and feel the haunt of Conor in the French house.

Death knocks several times on the door in this novel. But that’s what makes it so realistic- life demands death at some point or another. So the friends come to terms with the deaths within their group, and then they are able to allow the death of their guilt.

I was impressed with this novel despite the fact that it isn’t my usual cup of tea. The Reunion isn’t written chronologically. It throws the reader back and forth in time across the chapters and in excerpts of letters written between friends. The novel isn’t upbeat or light. Any romance is bittersweet at best. There’s even a sliver tainting the happily-ever-after.

And I loved it. I cried with real pain at the loss of life and love. I laughed with Lilah at her crazy antics. I sympathized with Jen — who I thought got the short end of the stick in every instance. I wanted to rescue Dan, and shoot Cupid’s arrow toward Nat and Andrew.

The Reunion is well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking. It’s substantial enough for book club discussions and literary analysis. Its authenticity takes a crack at your emotions. It asks what we internally live with that needs riddance. It asks you to face your own truth. Most importantly, The Reunion asks you to love yourself and others without condition.

-Calliope

Buy It Now The Reunion (U.S.)
Buy It Now The Reunion (UK)