Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gracefully Grayson-Ami Polansky

Gracefully Grayson-Ami Polansky

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 250
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2015
Middle Grade

With the help of a play, Grayson is finally allowed to be herself.



Well, Polansky has certainly written a charming character in Grayson. She is alone and different, sustaining herself through fantasy and imagination. Polansky writes her with dignity and respect. Though the book does follow a very familiar narrative arc for the writing about young transgender protagonists, it does so in a...soft way. I can't really describe it to be honest but I have read a lot of novels about transgendered people and it is handled particularly delicately by Polansky. This is great for a book aimed for the younger set. For adults, this book might be a bit too light, a bit 'been there' and goodness, there was no attempt to challenge feminine stereotypes but for its intended audience? This is a lovely book in that it shows that even though your outside doesn't match your inside, there are people who will accept the inside. A reminder all too infrequently demonstrated and yes, sometimes, they are even adults AND children your own age! I also loved the portrayal of the play. The teacher was totally in Grayson's corner and the end result was beautiful for all of the pitfalls in the journey.

I think this is one of those books that for those at the end of their journeys and adults, it will seem too twee, too light, too conventional but it's so easy to forget how it is when you're young and you've never known this narrative could exist. And also, how the first step to challenging the gender you're supposed to represent is usually a somewhat naive sprint to the stereotypes surrounding the 'other gender'. This is not a book written for adult YA readers but rather for the middle school kids themselves.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Misdiagnosed-Jody Berger

Misdiagnosed: One Woman's Tour and Escape from Healthcareland -Jody Berger

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 280
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2015
memoir

Rejecting her diagnosis of MS, Berger explores her options.



I caught a glimpse of another review that snarked that the subtitle could be "one woman's search for a diagnosis she wanted". I agree, completely. Don't get me wrong. I actually kind of enjoyed the book. It's a healthcare odyssey I'd never take myself (see Trick or Treatment, an examination of alternative medicine). Not least because I do not have the kind of money that would allow me to explore all sorts of alternate medical options but primarily too because I would not really consider alternative medicine until I'd found a Federal board-certified specialist who I felt like took a good look at my scan. See, this is really my problem, Berger considers that her original doctor didn't take the time to look at the scan so she bangs her head a couple of times against that same wall and then runs off to juice cleanses and IV chelation. Why not find a different specialist whose bedside manner felt more comfortable to her? The other problem I had is Berger's claim that she was always healthy. But the way that she describes her childhood...in my opinion, that is when she was first misdiagnosed and it takes her a little too long to see what I thought immediately; her mother's reaction to her childhood is why she took this super long journey to find a different diagnosis.

Nevertheless, this book's strength, the actual core message is that you should not just accept what doctors tell you. You should take command of your own healthcare (though with a grain of salt, I visibly winced when the alternative doctor gave her statistics...and then she compared them to the peer-reviewed medical ones...), demand the time you deserve (you deserve it no matter what), and advocate for yourself (ask questions!). This is what I firmly believe. I've had chronic illness since I was born and I've seen so many doctors over the years-been lucky to find some great ones but also met my fair share of those who have been dismissive. For those who are lucky enough not to have so much intimate experience of the healthcare system, this is the best message this book could give.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Conjurer-Cordelia Frances Biddle

The Conjurer-Cordelia Frances Biddle

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 320
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel, series

When Lemuel Beale is missing, his newly orphaned daughter, Martha, works with the detective in charge of investigating his disappearance in 1842 Philadelphia.


To be honest, I did not expect much from this novel. I wanted something light, unassuming, and forgettable. The cover (so blue?) and blurb along with the author's name which sounds like a romantic pen name  (no way that's her real name, I said to myself) all made me judge the book before actually reading it.
I was wrong. I showed myself up for the judgmental elitist I am. And that's her real name-she's actually a member of the Philadelphia Biddle family.
Sorry.

Okay I admit it. Martha took awhile to turn into the kind of character I'd keep reading about (strangely fragmented as a person) but somehow I didn't think Martha was actually Biddle's focus so much as a way to discuss the position of women. Instead, what we get is a fascinating portrait of a Philadelphia in the 1800s. The challenges of being a woman (Martha is an old maid at 26...), the strange character of the city, the society of the day were all done wonderfully. I felt pulled into this story, into this place, and with every twist of the mystery I wanted, nay, demanded more. This is plot driven with such a well-done mystery that I could not guess at. And it's such a strange mystery and the way that Biddle writes 1842 Philadelphia, it could not have occurred anywhere else (or anytime else) which is kind of my favorite type of mystery. Having spent some time in Philadelphia and visited the Eastern State Penitentiary I was perhaps also fascinated out of a personal connection with the city but I also think that it's written well enough to appeal to those who've never been to Fairmount.

Really, the sense of place, I cannot stress it enough, is just astonishing and shows that Biddle is a historian as well as novelist (and Main Line heiress).

I'm sold. I shall be following this series!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Salinger Year-Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger Year-Joanna Rakoff

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 352
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
memoir

Rakoff writes of the year she worked at the agency that represented J.D. Salinger.


Delightful. I mean, Rakoff is not in a good phase of her life for this book. Plagued by debt, a terrible boyfriend, isolation, a domineering boss, and using a typewriter in the 1990s, she really doesn't know what she's doing but she knows that this is probably not it. That's the beauty of this memoir, it is so intensely relatable. She comes into the literary world full of optimism and idealism and finds herself in a world unlike what she had hoped. And Rakoff brings you into her struggles, her little attempts to lift herself out (responding to Salinger fan letters-a move that backfires), and in the end into something that is much more true to herself as a person. She sheds the crutch of a bad boyfriend, stops hiding and 'comes of age'. There is such growth and charm throughout the memoir-Rakoff strikes such a good balance between bitter, sweet, nostalgia, and detail. Her prose is eloquent and brings alive New York on the cusp of the digital age. The humor shows up in the farcical surreality of life. I was charmed and amazed by how well done the authenticity of a 23 year old's view of life was. Sustained through changes and growths, this is not going to be the last of Rakoff I read. She found her literary voice through Salinger and has clearly become an accomplished writer in her own right-a understated conclusion underlining the whole mess of that year.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Night School-Richard Wiseman

Night School:Wake Up to the Power of Sleep-Richard Wiseman

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 352
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
non-fiction, popular science

Wiseman pulls together the various sciences of sleep.


Set up in a sort of self-help way, this is meant to help you sleep better. I am a habitual insomniac with a sleep cycle that in no way can be called consistent except for the almost rule of "can be found asleep at 5am" (exceptions abound). So I guess I am the target for this book. Why the "I guess"? Well, I am also an over-intellectualizer and have been in various doctor's offices so I kind of know a lot about sleep science as a layperson. I cannot quote specific studies and researchers like Wiseman can but let's be honest, there's actually so much that we do not know about sleep. The advice I've heard over the course of my life all pretty much sounds the same. Avoid stress, establish a routine, lay off the coffee, make the bedroom someplace really nice (invest in your linens and mattress), keep the temperatures low, avoid screen time, etc. Wiseman delves deep into all of the reasons why this advice is given, outlines the experiments and untangles much of the conclusions into clear unconfusing prose. His tone is sometimes a bit too jolly (I cringed at many of the 'dad jokes') but he sticks to common sense which is fairly refreshing compared to some sleep self-help texts. I did, however, get the sense of sometimes he is aggregating all of the information he could possibly find, without really considering how it works together and whether the work/research was valid. I understand this somewhat, as a desire to be as objective as possible means not injecting your value judgments, but at times, I craved criticism.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blood Med- Jason Webster

Blood Med-Jason Webster

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 368
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

An American girl is found dead and Cámara finds himself embroiled in corruption during his investigations.


Set in Valencia in post-financial meltdown Spain, this is not an optimistic book. Sure, there's some procedural stuff in here, a crime is being investigated and someone died but really this is more of a book detailing the decline of a society. Spain in this book is disintegrating and the characters talk politics almost more than they speak of the murder. Fascism is on the rise and really I almost felt like I was not so much reading a mystery book but rather a book written by the doomsayers. I live in Greece, during financial meltdown (which is nowhere as quick as the meltdown in this book), and there were so many parallels that I must admit I became a bit depressed. I felt the same sense of helplessness as when I talk about Greek politics with the people I know and I finished the book much the same way I finish most of these real-life discussions, helpless and doomed.

Maybe I don't drink enough.

I think Webster's flaws for me are that his book was too timely and too intense.
Strengths for most readers but not for me at this time.

Furthermore, I don't know but something about Cámara was too well-done. None of the dangers he found himself in made him change as a person and none of them really seemed to be truly dangerous-of course he'd survive! No, most of the (life-changing) violence in the novel occurs to the women.
Le Sigh.

I still rank it was three stars on sites like goodreads though since it is intensely written, gritty in the expected ways, and there's a definite affinity for Valencia woven throughout all this doom and gloom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Visionist-Rachel Urquhart

The Visionist-Rachel Urquhart

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 352
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Set during the era of Mother Ann's work, a young woman finds a place among the Shakers but when the other young girls begin to see visions, things unravel.


I don't actually know that much about the Shakers. Like many others I suspect, I primarily knew of them through their furniture and as an attempt at a model Utopia. Urquhart, however, does know a lot about them and her research is visible through the novel but in a non-showy way. Instead, her research simply sets the stage for the plot. The plot itself seems to explore primarily the concept of 'The Way'. By integrating her outsider, Polly, into this strict society, Urquhart shows how multiple aspects of the community serve both material motives (the cynics amongst us are not surprised) and spiritual motives. But interestingly, through Charity, Urquhart also offers a variety of views within the Shaker community thus adding nuance and depth to the more typical depictions of closed communities. I really enjoyed Urquhart's view of the Shakers-not idealistic but also not entirely cynical. I, however, probably enjoyed even more the outside world of New England with the fire inspector Pryor who is neither villain or hero but something of both. Pryor in his plotline really drives the book forward showing the passing of time that a novel focused on the Shakers probably would have lacked (as it was, sometimes the monotony of the community dragged the book down). I spent my time rooting for Polly but as a character she actually grew the least-I'd say Charity developed more with time. Nevertheless, all of the characters in the novel grew and changed believably which is a major strength.