Friday, February 1, 2013

What I read in January (2013)

For full reviews of these books, click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden. 

Fiction

Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie is a private detective, but she has come from a life of service and time spent as a nurse during World War I. She takes on a case that requires her to delve into her own sad history in the war and her one true love. The book starts in the present (well, 1929), but then flashes back to her childhood, life in service, and time during the war. Winspear slowly unravels the secrets of Maisie's past and her own tragic life. Like Downton Abbey, it tackles themes of British class mores and the impact that World War I had on its participants. I really enjoyed this novel but it wasn't perfect. I found some details lacking, but I will keep reading the series (10 in all, I hear) in the hopes that it will only improve! I'm curious to learn more about Maisie--she's an interesting character.


This book took me AGES to finish. It was not an easy read--not only does it take some time to get into (Udall tends to have a meandering writing style) but also because it is so sad. Edgar Mint was born to an Apache mom and a white dad, both of whom abandoned him. When he was seven years old, the mailman ran over his head...he miraculously survived, but his life deteriorated from there. He traverses a series of temporary homes, from a long-term stay in a decrepit hospital and a horrible boarding school for Native Americans to a foster home of kind but dysfunctional Mormons. He has a few people who are looking out for him, but they are all totally screwed up. Although I found this book to be sad and a bit slow, it is a classic reminder of how desperately children need nurturing, comfort, and wise guidance. I am happy to say that it has an ending of redemption.

Nonfiction


Pershall grew up in the small town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and she never really fit in there. Fast forward to adolescence, when she develops anorexia and bulimia, followed by (or concurrent with) bipolar and borderline personality disorder. She becomes highly self-destructive and somehow, amazingly successful given the self-destructive behavior. Each time she seemed to pull her life together, her mental illness struck again. (She even got married for awhile.) As one of the Internet's first "camgirls," Pershall broadcast one of the first online suicide attempts (and only one of many of hers) before shutting down her site. She found comfort by making tattoos of the things that scared or saddened her. This book shed a lot of light for me on mental illness, particularly bipolar and borderline diseases. I would have liked to have learned more about her childhood and any thoughts she had about what led her to these illnesses. This was a raw, terribly honest memoir about all the mistakes Pershall has made in her life. I'd expect nothing less from someone who bared her soul (and clothing) for the Internet.

Best book of the month (nonfiction)


This book helped me get back into my reading groove, thank God! Any story about or by sisters always interests me, and this one--about Asia--did in particular. It's about Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists who were captured and imprisoned in North Korea from March to August 2009. Laura's sister Lisa did everything she could to get her sister out of North Korea. I was touched by the very close relationship between the sisters, who are best friends. I also found it touching to read about the relationships she developed with some of her guards, translators, and even her primary interrogator. 
For more recommendations, refer to my "Best Books of the Year," in 2012 and also in previous years.


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