Review: Left Neglected

Why I picked it: I have been anxiously waiting for this novel to be released.  I loved Still Alice and couldn't wait to read this book. 

Synopsis:  Sarah is like any other career-driven supermom, leading a hectic but charmed life.  Juggling her career, shuttling the kids to soccer, day care, and piano lessons; convincing her son’s teacher that he may not, in fact, have ADD; and making it home in time for dinner, it’s a wonder this over-scheduled, over-achieving Harvard graduate has time to breathe.

Everything changes one fateful day, while driving to work and trying to make a phone call, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In the blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her jam-packed life come to a screeching halt.

A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of her world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her, including her formerly absent mother. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future. 

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - I had forgotten what a beautiful writer Genova is.  This novel is written in the first person and felt like I was listening to someone tell me their story.

With the shooting in Arizona a few weeks ago I thought about the Senator several times while reading this book.  Her road to recovery will be long and frustrating at times but hopefully she will find peace with her daily life at some point. 

Sarah, the main character in Left Neglected, sounds just like any one of my friends pre-accident... the chaos of making it through the day can be overwhelming at times.  She is constantly justifying her decision to work as opposed to staying home with her three small children.  Post accident Sarah is a head strong woman navigating through recovery and finding peace with the 'new' Sarah.  Since this book is written in first person so we don't hear her husband's side of the story - I would have liked to hear from him (this did occur to me a few times throughout the book).

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy, audio (iTunes)
Challenge: Teresa's Audiobook Challange, January selection

Review: Lipstick in Afghanistan

Why I picked it: I seldom request a book from an author but I did request this one.  I finally feel settled after a crazy 2010 and have time to read really good books, about tough topics that allow me to learn.

Synopsis: Roberta Gately’s lyrical and authentic debut novel—inspired by her own experiences as a nurse in third world war zones—is one woman’s moving story of offering help and finding hope in the last place she expected.

Gripped by haunting magazine images of starving refugees, Elsa has dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was a teenager. Of leaving her humble working-class Boston neighborhood to help people whose lives are far more difficult than her own. No one in her family has ever escaped poverty, but Elsa has a secret weapon: a tube of lipstick she found in her older sister’s bureau. Wearing it never fails to raise her spirits and cement her determination. With lipstick on, she can do anything—even travel alone to war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

But violent nights as an ER nurse in South Boston could not prepare Elsa for the devastation she witnesses at the small medical clinic she runs in Bamiyan. As she struggles to prove herself to the Afghan doctors and local villagers, she begins a forbidden romance with her only confidant, a charming Special Forces soldier. Then, a tube of lipstick she finds in the aftermath of a tragic bus bombing leads her to another life-changing friendship. In her neighbor Parween, Elsa finds a kindred spirit, fiery and generous. Together, the two women risk their lives to save friends and family from the worst excesses of the Taliban. But when the war waging around them threatens their own survival, Elsa discovers her only hope is to unveil the warrior within. Roberta Gately’s raw, intimate novel is an unforgettable tribute to the power of friendship and a poignant reminder of the tragic cost of war.

Type: Fiction
Taliban destroys 6th century
Buddha's, March 2001

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - I finished reading this book a few weeks ago and am still thinking about it.  I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time.  It's a must read (it's that simple)!!

Lipstick is important to the story, an Afghan woman is not allowed to wear lipstick beyond the walls of her home.  The American brings lipstick with her and little does she know it will have so much meaning throughout her journey.

I know the Taliban of new stories, but reading about the daily struggles to survive one day in Afghanistan if the Taliban are living in a village is a horrible situation.  The people, especially women, are subjected to so much violence yet have found ways to live with the promise of a happier life.

The Buddha's are a part of the story (located in Bamiyan):  Sixth Century Buddha's destroyed by Taliban  - declaring idols are infidels of God

Rating: 4/5 stars

Country: Afghanistan
Source: Review Copy

Review: The Wolves of Andover

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club Selection

Synopsis: In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - After talking with a few of the MM listeners/readers I might suggest reading this book after reading The Heretic's DaughterThe Wolves of Andover is a stand alone novel but some of the comments our call to discuss the book mentioned not understanding why a few moments were in the book.

We had a WONDERFUL discussion with Kathleen Kent.  She talked about both books and we were all mesmerized while she described her research process and family history. 

The book discussion is available on iTunes (search Manic Mommies Book Club) and also available on the Manic Mommies Book Club page.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Source: Review Copy

Author Q&A:

Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas in Austin. I had always loved writing, but wasn't confident I could make a living at it, so I spent twenty years living and working in New York first in commodities and then as Chief Operating Officer for a US company doing defense conversion work in Russia for the Department of Defense. I travelled extensively through the Former Soviet Union, and greatly enjoyed the career I had built. But always, in the back of my mind, was the thought that someday I would write the book that became The Heretic's Daughter. In 2000 I moved with my husband and son back to Texas and, retiring early from my job, made the conscious decision to begin writing full time. Little did I know it would take 5 years to research and write, but I was fortunate enough to have the support of my family and to find my agent who got me the publishing deal at Little Brown.

What was it like getting your first novel published? What is your writing schedule like? The success of my first novel has been beyond my wildest expectations. The book is now published in over a dozen countries, including such exotic places as Turkey and Taiwan. While writing the book my only expectation was that I get published. I had no academic standing to gain easy entree into research library records and the most ambitious writing project I had ever undertaken was to write short stories and poems for my own pleasure. The things I did have were disciplined work habits, a passion to write, and some wonderful stories that my mother and grandmother had passed down to me about my nine times great grandmother, Martha Carrier. It was a wonderful time of exploration and I travelled to Connecticut and Massachusetts several times to get the feeling of the places that were important to the story. I still do most of my best writing in the morning, and try to write some every day. Every once in a while, the muse will descend and I'll write late at night, or have to pull over while driving to jot down some notes.

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I usually start with a general outline and character development. I spend a lot of time playing with the characters in my head until I feel they're ready to be committed to paper. The outline is just a loose road map, which is often changed during the writing of the first or second draft. The narrative path I've picked may turn out to be not right for the character to take, or the story line may not be interesting enough. There is certainly a lot of organic processing during the first few drafts. After the second draft, though, when I'm polishing the third or fourth draft, the story line and characters are usually set.

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? If I could interview anyone who is a writer, it would have to be Annie Dillard. To me she is the most wondrous word crafter in contemporary writing. But, I think she is a very shy, private person and sometimes the alchemy of the writing process is difficult to articulate. If I could interview a non-writer, it would have to be Helen Mirren. She seems to me to be such a fascinating woman (with emphasis on "woman", not "girl"); talented, humourous, well spoken, and at sixty-something totally fearless about wearing a bathing suit in person. Now that is a modern goddess!!

Ultra Marathon (50K): I'm as ready as I can be!

~ a shirt I will be wearing
keeping Eleanor close ~
What am I going to talk about after this weekend?  For months YOU have been training with me so I ask you...are you ready for Saturday? 

I have dedicated the run to my friend Eleanor.  Eleanor is a warrior, diagnosed with stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer June 2007.

Last January she was trying to earn a place on the US National Women's Kayak Polo Team, balancing cancer treatment and training would be tough but she was ready.

She made the team but everything changed after learning she had 30 tumors in her brain. She blogs, 'Results are back.  I do have cancer in my brain.  Lots of it'. 

Eleanor continues to defy the odds, finding ways to outwit cancer to stay alive.

Running:  Just before I moved I was lucky enough to spend time with her - she told me she wasn't done fighting.  She spent Christmas with her husband and three children and earlier this week I had good news for her.  Eleanor will be running with me Saturday.  I will be wearing two bibs, one for each of us.  We are doing this together.

Not an hour goes by when I do not think of Martha and Eleanor, most of the time it's a simple thought like 'I hope you are having a good day'.  They are part of me, they make me a better person. They are fighting to stay alive, I can surely cross a finish line. It's nothing compared to the race they are running.

Timing and Weather:  Based on my long run, 27 miles in 4:54 I should be able to finish the 33 mile run in less than 7 hours.  The trail is icy, post blizzard and snow is in the forecast tomorrow.  I'm mentally prepared for this since it's out of my control.  Could make for an interesting day!

Cheer for us!

Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Why I picked it: I received this book last summer and have been meaning to read it since it arrived in my mailbox (remember... I love all things Africa).

Synopsis: When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness.

Meet Baba Segi . . . A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing.

And his wives . . . The bride of Baba Segi's youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband's home. Baba Segi's second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear. The third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost. Bolanle—Babi Segi's fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life's misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives . . . and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - I can't remember the last time I decided to sit and read a book all day.  I couldn't wait to discover the secret and how Baba and the wives would handle the secret!  This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. 

The first wife is so deceptive!

Rating: 5/5 stars

Country: Nigeria
Challenge: Off the Shelf

Source: Review Copy

Review: The Septembers of Shiraz

Why I picked it: I have picked this book up at the bookstore many times (never actually bringing a copy home) - while at the library last month I decided to pick up the audio copy and listen while running.

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. 

As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches for him, suspecting, all the while, that their once-trusted housekeeper has turned on them and is now acting as an informer. And as his daughter, in a childlike attempt to stop the wave of baseless arrests, engages in illicit activities, his son, sent to New York before the rise of the Ayatollahs, struggles to find happiness even as he realizes that his family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - This a 'Mari Book'.  I love to learn about culture, historical events and how average people deal with a situation.  I loved this story.  I could see it made into a movie - I would see it!

Rating: 5/5 stars

Country: Iran
Source: Library (audiobook)

Review: One Amazing Thing

Why I picked it:  Don't you love this new cover?  I have the original book jacket (hardcover) and am sad to report that this book has been on my shelves for close to two years! 

I picked this book just after Thanksgiving, reading it in just one weekend (it's a short novel).

Synopsis:  Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive.

There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self- discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. One AmazingThing is a passionate creation about survival—and about the reasons to survive.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This book reminds me of a Mitch Albom novel.  The story is very personal in nature (you feel a connection to the main character) and chronicles one day in the lives of nine people caught in a terrible situation.  It makes you aware of what people go through when trapped in a small space, complete strangers who need each other to stay calm/controlled in a dire situation.

I'm sorry it took me so long to read this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

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