The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud introduces Nora Eldridge as The Woman Upstairs. The good daughter, teacher, friend who doesn’t cause problems or inspire greatness. She is ever present in our lives but barely living hers. I don’t know if Nora saw herself like this until she met the Shahids; an artist mother, a passionate political father, and an adorable boy in her classroom.

Until this point, I think Nora may have been content with her life and still had enough hope that exciting things could happen. She gave up the artists life years ago and moved back to Cambridge to care for her dying mother. She tells us these things and seems saddened with how her life turned out, but there is much bitterness and anger seething through her words. The entire novel is told from Nora’s perspective immediately after a life changing event, and Messud lets her current perspective tint her story telling.

It is a unrelenting diatribe on not allowing the happiness into the world and Messud doesn’t tell us the reason against this trust until the very end. And its a beautifully horrific way to end a friendship and is left vague enough that we don’t even witness any outcome. This is almost written as a confession as to why something offstage is about to happen without ever telling us what happened. Its a little frustrating but it makes me want to read the whole book again to see if I missed clues and foreshadowing about the unspoken events.

Well written and it makes me want to go out and live a little more. Not to be tied down helping other people live their lives, but to take the jump into the real world more that I’ve ever done. But don’t worry, I won’t leave my family and kill anyone any time soon.

Read August 2013

Bad Monkey

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen, is full of passion and humor for Florida, which is practically its own character in the novel. Home is home. That’s the primary feeling of this story. Florida is a beautiful, magical place but has many flaws…many many flaws. But to live without these flaws is unfathomably to many locals, including our hero Andrew Yancy. Yancy who has been reassigned to the Health Inspection unit after attacking a girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner, doesn’t exactly live by the letter of the law.

Yancy meets his compatriot in local love in Neville, who loves the Bahamas and couldn’t live elsewhere, just like Yancy who can never leave the Florida keys. Back and forth from Miami to the Keys to the Bahamas, Yancy is drawn into a mystery that began with a dismembered arm being caught by a tourist on a fishing boat. Not letting anything go and wanting to get his real police job back, Yancy uncovers the mystery behind what happened to the man whose arm was found, not letting his professional or personal life get in his way.

Hiaasen writes with a passion for his locale. A lot of the reviews talk about the satire of his work. I think satire requires ridiculing something that needs to be fixed, and the flaw is ridiculed to point out the ridiculousness of the action. There are aspects of satire, especially with the spec house next door to Yancy and the Medicare fraud, but I don’t think Yancy could exist as he does anywhere that wouldn’t allow that exploitation. It’s not just the locale that Yancy is in love with; it’s the lawlessness. He couldn’t be who he is without the crooks and petty thieves and bad restaurant owners.

This was a very funny look around Florida and the Bahamas with an intriguing story mixed in. Hiaasen makes you believe that not only could this story have happened, but it only could have happened in Florida.

Raising a Self-Reliant Child: A Back-to-Basics Parenting Plan from Birth to Age 6

To be honest, I have to start this post with the fact that I didn’t finish this book and after renewing from the library five times, I’ve come to the realization that I will not be finishing this book. That is not to say that Dr. Alanna Levine’s Raising a Self-Reliant Child: A Back-to-Basics Parenting Plan from Birth to Age 6, isn’t worth a read. Its that I’ve already read a parenting book this year and between that and the random articles I read, I just didn’t need anymore advice right now.

This book is exactly as the lengthy title suggest, a basic approach to many parenting problems: sleep training, discipline, communication, etc. And the advice is good and set up in an easy to follow format for any parenting needs. I really did like the step by step instructions broken down in the middle of the chapters for easy reference. The stories with the misbehaving children and at-a-loss parents are amusing and appropriate without at any time Dr. Levine crossing a professional line.

As a pediatrician, her opinions are valid and her approach is both loving and stern which if followed I believe would help any parent raise a self-reliant child. This book would make an excellent baby shower present for a first time parent to help them when they hit the rough patches.

Read (mostly) July 2013

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, is the story of Jesus, the man, not Jesus Christ. Aslan looks through all historical texts contemporary to the life of Jesus, including but not limited to the Bible. He pulls the different stories together with what is known about the time period within Jesus lived. Anyone who thinks that the Bible was a truly accurate account of Jesus’s life would never have read the entire Bible since different stories contradict each other, but this book brings in additional sources to prove some of the Bible stories false.

Even with this, my opinion is that Aslan is not writing with an anti-Christian motivation, but rather through a historical lens. A true believer in the Bible and Jesus’s works should not be turned off by reading this book. Aslan makes it clear that the most important part of Jesus Christ, his resurrection, must be believed by faith since there would be no historical proof. In fact, Aslan is generous in his telling of what Jesus’s followers said and how their testimony facing death is pretty good proof. But unless you were already a believer, this book wouldn’t change your mind.

Aslan is very clear that the New Testament and the Christian religion were written and developed by men other than Jesus. Written, for the most part, many years after Jesus and his followers lived. The historical Jesus story is interesting for historical as well as religious reasons. Aslan shows that much of the story of Jesus the man was lost in order to make him the Christ, but that Jesus the man was great also. He was a real man that walked the earth 2,000 years ago and said and did some pretty amazing things.

This book didn’t change my mind about religion and I don’t think it would for anyone with deep convictions. From a non historian, the book seems well researched and presented in layman’s language to make it an easier and educational read.

Read August 2013

City of Woman

David R. Gillham’s City of Women, tells the story of Sigrid Schroder’s life in Berlin during World War II. The Germans use propaganda to prove they are winning the war, but everything that Gillham shows us in Sigrid’s world is not representative of wartime success. The city is under bombardment from the British on almost every clear night. Spending time in the basement with her fellow residents of her apartment building, we meet a diverse population in age, wealth, and appreciation for the Nazi party.

Gillham shows a world where there should not be trust amongst anybody and what can be done when people are forced to trust each other. Whether it be shared secrets or for survival, Sigrid is thrown in with Nazi sympathizers, Jews in hiding, resistance organizers, Jews working with the Germans, and soldiers willing to die for others right to an existence.

This was a moving story told from an unusual perspective during World War II. Sigrid’s loneliness pushes her into situations she would never have encountered otherwise. The touch and friendship of another human being becomes essential to Sigrid’s survival.

Overall, the sadness of the characters and situations are beautifully told and still allow the reader a glimmer of hope at the end.

Read August 2013