Sunday, July 31, 2016

Inheriting Edith, by Zoe Fishman. William Morrow, 2016

Maggie is a professional house cleaner with a degree in English. She’s had other jobs, but she prefers cleaning in Manhattan- it pays a lot better, it gives her time to think, and she has been a compulsive cleaner since she was a child. She is the single mother of a precocious two year old, and has just gotten the surprise of her life: she’s inherited the Sag Harbor beach house and money of a friend and former client that she has been estranged from for years. Along with the house comes Edith, the 82 year old mother with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The will states that Edith is to remain in the house she shared with her bestselling novelist daughter, who has taken her own life.

Edith and Maggie both have severe doubts about this situation. Edith feels she needs no help, nor does she need strangers in her house. Maggie feels she’s in over her head with caring for an elder. But they gingerly build a relationship, and Edith asks Maggie to help her write down her life story before she forgets it. In the process, they both realize they have things in their pasts that they need to deal with before it’s too late.

I read the story in a day; it’s fast reading and fairly compelling. It’s sad to watch Edith losing ground so quickly, but fun to learn about her past. I did have to wonder why the 2 year old took up so much of the book; obviously she’s the most important thing for Maggie, but I felt her constant chattering slowed the story down. I guess it did show how overwhelmed by the child Maggie is! The obligatory love interest might as well not be there; he really adds nothing to the story. I would have preferred to learn more about Edith’s past, and about her dead daughter. A good beach read. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Seed Collectors, by Scarlett Thomas. Soft Skull Press, 2016

“The Seed Collectors” anchors on a mysterious plant on a mysterious island that can only be accessed by helicopter (how then are there aboriginal people there?). The plant makes seed pods that carry the gift of enlightenment- and death. That’s the other problem- since the person dies to become enlightened, how do other people know about the enlightenment? But this part is magical realism, so I put those questions aside and went along for the ride.

The Gardener family lost several members of one generation on a quest for this mysterious seed pod. They disappeared, never to be seen again. Oleander Gardener, great aunt to numerous other Gardeners, has died and left her considerable money, a fancy spa retreat, and other blessings, mostly to Fleur Meadows, who, as far as they know, is no relation to the Gardeners at all. She also left to her nieces and nephews seed pods of that very same mysterious plant. And then there is the book, which turns into whatever book the possessor needs at the time.

If ever there was a family in need of enlightenment, it’s this one. Incest, overeating, compulsive spending, alcoholism, anorexia, and infidelity, are all on the menu. The POV bounces from one family member to another. There is no character who is truly likable; on the other hand, none are truly detestable, either. Bryony is lamentable and wholly self-centered, but she, like them all, is just a person stumbling through life. Did the loss of the one generation cause this one to be this way? That is never answered.

The story lurches around not just in POV but in time, too. There are parts where I have no idea who the narrator is writing about. But somehow, despite these problems, the book was oddly enjoyable and at no point did I consider not finishing it. The prose is beautiful. The people are interesting. The situation is unique. It’s literary fiction at its strangest. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents.

This in no way influenced my review.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Girl Unbroken: A Sister’s Harrowing Story of Survival from the Streets of Long Island to the Farms of Idaho, by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney. William Morrow, 2016

“Girl Unbroken” is a truly horrific true story of one child growing up in multiple abusive settings. Rosie’s mother, Cookie, is mentally ill, an alcoholic and drug abuser, and reacts to anything with anger and anger brought out her violent side.

Cookie had five children by five different men. None of the men stayed in her life. The three older sisters escaped- I believe their story is told in “Etched in Sand”, Regina Calcaterra’s first book. That left Rosie and her older brother Norm to live on the streets, get sent to a foster home that was almost as bad as being with Cookie, get kidnapped by Cookie and moved to Idaho, and end up living on a farm owned by Cookie’s boyfriend as basically slave labor. Rosie also was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend.

How all five of these people not only survived this torrent of mental, physical, and sexual abuse but turned out to be good, productive, good hearted adults is beyond me. They were born with spines of steel. Thanks to her older sisters, Rosie believes in herself despite the things her mother says to her about her worthlessness. Not only does she do all the farm chores, but she makes straight A’s and is active as a cheerleader and is in many school activities and attends church. Is she perfect? Almost but not quite. She abuses alcohol for a while in high school, but has the self-awareness to stop when confronted about it. Against all odds, she has made a good life for herself.

The book, as I said, is horrific. It’s a can’t-put-it-down read because you have to know what horrible thing her mother or step father will inflict on her next. Rosie is one of the abused children who fell through the cracks of a system that is supposed to save them. My heart aches for the child she was. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.