Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.  After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. 

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better.  A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

And here's what I thought:  This book was a big mix of scary and fascinating.  The author, who did exhaustive research, writes the first half of the book, which focuses on the five days at the hospital like a tension-filled thriller.  As a reader, you feel like you don't want to keep reading .... but you must.  And this is the stuff of nightmares, at least, for me.  

In the second half of the book, the tension is relieved somewhat, but it still retains some of it, but reads more like a half legal novel/half legal examination.  That's not to say that it didn't remain a page turner, but I felt the pace of it slowed down a bit (which makes sense).  

The author really delves into a lot of different facets of what happened in the aftermath of Katrina, when the floods brought the worst devastation to the hospital.   She details not only what the doctors and nurses were facing, but what some of the patients, themselves, went through.  She includes detailed floor maps at the beginning, so you can go back and reconstruct what you're reading about. Because she brings in so much detail, it all felt very vivid.   Which is great ... and kinda awful at the same time.

Reading this book gave me insight into many things, including how poorly not only this hospital, but other hospitals, have been prepared for disaster.  The events caused by Hurricane Katrina shone a spotlight on just how poor communication was, and how awful planning was.   It's an eye-opening read just for this.    Is it a book for everyone?  Definitely not.  However, I found it to be fascinating, and a worthy read.

First lines:  At last through the broken windows, the pulse of helicopter rotors and airboat propellers set the summer morning air throbbing with the promise of rescue.  Floodwaters unleashed by Hurrican Katrina had marooned hundreds of people at the hospital, where they had now spent four days.  Doctors and nurses milled in the foul-smelling second-floor lobby.  Since the storm, they had barely slept, surviving on catnaps, bottled water, and rumors.  Before them law a dozen or so mostly elderly patients on soiled, sweat-soaked stretchers.

Note: This book, which weighs in at 486 pages (and that's not including the acknowledgments and notes) will go towards my goal in the Chunkster Reading Challenge

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  "I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts," says Stephen King, who has combined these elements into a wonderful new story. Joyland is a whodunit noir crime novel and a haunting ghost story set in the world of an amusement park.

It tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a 'carny' in small-town North Carolina and has to confront the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the way both will change his life forever. It is also a wonderful coming-of-age novel about friendship, loss, and your first heartbreak. Who dares enter the funhouse of fear?

And here's what I thought:  Reading this just made me happy.   As soon as I started it, I knew I was going to settle in and enjoy myself.  King keeps it pretty simple here, with one main character, and some supporting characters, but with a focus on a specific place and a specific time.  He doesn't spread the story out over years, but instead, focuses on a pretty short time period.  That's not to say that not much happens; on the contrary, quite a bit happens.  There is a lot of character development, and a lot of story packed into this book.

One of the things that I liked about this book was that the pacing was consistent, and then, towards the end (of course), it sped up a bit.  But, even though there was some reflection going on by the main character from time to time, I didn't feel like there was any choppiness, or stalling out.  I also liked that this book had a realistic set of characters, and a realistic setting, with the bit of the supernatural edge to some of it.   This is something I've liked in other books by Stephen King, and I actually prefer it over the more horror-focused stories.  Plus, throw in an old amusement park as a setting, and I'm hooked.

I have read almost all of Stephen King's books and find that I enjoy his later books more than his early books.  Sure, the first time I read Christine, I thought it was cool.  And I think I was maybe 10.   But going back for a re-read a few years ago, I just didn't like it as much.   The books I find I enjoy tend to be ones that he wrote later on, like It, and Bag of Bones, The Stand, Insomnia....

This is a smart book, with a lot of appeal.  I found it to be a page-turner, and it kept me thinking after I had finished it, which I appreciate.

First lines:  I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw's Beachside Accomodations in the town of Heaven's Bay.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  The only thing, actually.  By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood.  That fall was the most beautiful of my life.  Even forty years later I can say that. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers – a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the Gods Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer attack; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack. 

Told with wit, dizzying imagination, and dark humour, Booker Prize-winning Margaret Atwood’s unpredictable, chilling and hilarious MaddAddam takes us further into a challenging dystopian world and holds up a skewed mirror to our own possible future.

And here's what I thought:   I have been eagerly waiting for this book, which is the third in a trilogy.   I had just re-read Oryx and Crake and After the Flood last December, so they were really fresh in my mind.

One of the things I enjoy the most about Atwood's books is that while they are entertaining, they make me think.    This trilogy brings up a lot of issues, like bioengineering gone wrong, and what it would mean to try to survive in a world where almost all of the humans have died.  Heavy stuff --- but somehow, it doesn't make for a depressing read.  Instead, I find myself wondering about what it would be like to have things like rabbits that glow in the dark, or pigoons.  And let me just say ... the whole Chickie Nobs Bucket o'Nubbins was something that stuck in my head after I read the first book, Oryx and Crake.   

What I think is immensely cool is that Atwood uses real things, like the properties of real plants, in the story.   She says, in the Acknowledgments section, "Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory."    It's a bit sobering to think that some of these things that exist in the story, could potentially exist in a world that wanted them.

While the settings are vivid, it's the characters and the wonderful storytelling that makes it all come together for me.  Not all of the characters in this book are necessarily wonderful people.  However, they are compelling; when you are learning about their story, you are curious, and want to know more (well, at least I did).   And the humans are made even more human by the comparison to the Crakers, the engineered people created before the huge disaster.   It's a clever way to show characteristics of the different groups.

I did like how Atwood very nicely gave a recap of the stories from the first two books, at the beginning of this one.  Having it all there, before you start the story, is helpful --and I found it really got me in the mood of the story.

The one drawback I found in the story is that now, after waiting for this book, I have gulped it down .... which means I will need to wait to see what the author writes next.   sigh.

First lines:  In the beginning, you lived inside the Egg.  That is where Crake made you.  Yes, good, kind Crake.  Please stop singing or I can't go on with the story.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

TBR jar ---

I've been seeing TBR jars mentioned around the blogosphere -- like here -- and here -- and here.

Managing a TBR (to be read) list is something I've struggled with in the past.   When I started out, I typed books into a spreadsheet I mean, it seemed like a smart idea: easy to do, easy to organize, easy to sort, etc.

And then ..... it grew out of control.   Soon, it was past 100 books.  Then, 200 books.  And somehow, it wasn't fun ... it was scary.  And overwhelming.

You might be wondering how the list got so huge.  Well, since I'm a librarian, and I purchase books for my library, I'm always reading journals, and book reviews.  And blogs.  So, I come across descriptions of good-sounding books all the time.   It's pretty easy to have your TBR list get out of control as a result.

So, back to the spreadsheet.  I deleted it.  Cold turkey.   I figured there was no way I'd get to all those books, especially since every time I opened the spreadsheet, I felt like hyperventilating.

When I saw the ideas for a jar, I thought I could make this work.  After all, it might get full, but it would only make it more attractive.   So, I grabbed an antique jar I had, and some slips of colored paper ---- and now, voila!  TBR jar!     I'm thinking that my bag of library books will dwindle by the end of next week, which will give me the perfect opportunity to dip into the jar.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Blogger Hop ---- what are your beginnings?

Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer has kindly taken up the mantle of hosting the Book Blogger Hop (thank you!).    This week's question, submitted by Judy, is: What got you started as a blogger?  Everyone has a story/reason -- what's yours?

I started blogging because I had started reading book blogs, and liked that even though they were all different, there was this common theme of sharing thoughts on books.  There was also this feeling of community that appealed to me.   I've always been a book addict, but had never really thought about sharing my own thoughts on what I was reading, beyond the occasional comments to my husband, or my co-workers.   For a long time, I worked in an office, where no one really seemed to talk about books.   Of course, that all changed when I got my MLIS and became a librarian ---- now, I work with people who love to read, and talk about books.  

Anyway, getting back to the whole blogging thing (sorry, I got off track for a moment there) ---- I decided that if all of these other people could write about what they were reading, I could too.   As I said, I also liked that there was this feeling of community -- that even someone like me, who is pretty shy by nature, could feel like I was part of a bigger group, where there could be some back-and-forth discussion.   Looking back at some of my early posts, I cringe a bit.  However, now that I've been blogging for a while, I feel like I've become more comfortable with my writing style.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other bloggers have to say on this!  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review - Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

And here's what I thought:  A friend of mine at work mentioned Rainbow Rowell and how awesome she was .... and now I know this to be true.

I absolutely LOVED this book.  And once I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down -- which meant that I stayed up way too late one night to finish it.  And then, when I was finished, I just wanted more.

I really liked how the author wrote both characters, and how realistic, and different, that they were.   I also really liked how you get the viewpoints from both of them.   The way that the two of them feel about each other, and how that changes through the story was so well written, that it felt completely natural.  The ups and downs that they go through also seemed very realistic.  There wasn't a moment where I thought, oh no, school wouldn't be like that, or that character is unrealistic -- and this was with all of the characters.  I wound up really caring about both of them, but especially Eleanor, who I worried about the whole way through the book.  I just wanted to scoop her up, and take her away from her family.   To have that kind of emotional reaction to a book is pretty rare --- and I really liked that I got that caught up in it.   This is a love story that you can appreciate even if you've never met someone like Eleanor or Park.  You don't have to be a teenager to enjoy it, either --- this is one of those timeless-seeming stories that I think would appeal to many readers.

I will admit, I was a freshman in high school in 1986 (so yes, now you can figure out about how old I am), and while I wasn't listening to all of the music mentioned in this book, I was listening to some of it then, and then in the years following high school.   So, reading about Morrissey, and The Smiths, and Skinny Puppy, and all the other music made me want to go through my CDs and my iTunes and just listen.   I'm sure there are playlists out there that people have made in response to this book, but here are some of the songs on my list (which aren't limited to just 1986):

Dear God by XTC
There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths
Cities in Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees
A Strange Kind of Love by Peter Murphy
Assimilate by Skinny Puppy
I'll Fall With Your Knife by Peter Murphy
Pictures of You by The Cure
Walking in My Shoes by Depeche Mode
Light by KMFDM
Asleep by The Smiths
Kinda I Want to by Nine Inch Nails
Thieves by Ministry
Hole in the Ground by Sister Machine Gun
Marian by Sisters of Mercy

First lines:  XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.  Park pressed his headphones into his ears.  Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits.  Or maybe he'd make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.

Wordless Wednesday -- Bibbit

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