Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: A Child Called "It"

Book 9/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: April 20, 2012.

I found this book on Pinterest and immediately took interest in reading it.  Then my friend told me it was on sale at for something like $5.  I couldn't resist a deal like that.  So I listened to Dave Pelzer's memoir of his painful childhood.

Perhaps listening rather than reading was a mistake for me.  I found the narrator's voice to be irritating.  But furthermore, I don't think I cared for the way it was written.  Without disrespect for Dave's story, I didn't like the back-and-forth way of the way it was written.  One minute Dave is certain that there can't possibly be a god and the next, Dave is bowing his head in the backseat of his mother's stationwagon and praying "harder than [he'd] ever prayed before."  It switches a lot.  Between David now narrating and David as a child responding to his mother's erratic behaviors.

As far as the story goes, I found it to be absolutely unbearable.  The thought of a mother behaving this way towards her own child makes me physically ill.  Dave's mother, "The Bitch", singled out Dave - one of her five sons - and treated him as the absolute scum of the earth.  She came up with cruel and unusual punishments for this child.  Banished him to the basement garage on an army cot as his sleeping quarters, locked him in a bathroom with a bucket full of bleach and ammonia, starved him for days on end - and then when she did feed him, fed him the most ridiculous ways possible - regurgitated frozen hotdogs, table scraps, leftovers from his brothers' morning cereal bowls.  Beat him senselessly, made him lie - nude - in a bathtub filled with cold water and then immediately sent him to the back yard to sit - soaking wet - in the shade, smeared a soiled diaper on his face and tried to force him to eat it's contents...  Imagine all the most horrific things you can, and they're probably in Dave's story.

The worst part, though, is not his mother - who is obviously a very sick woman and should have been institutionalized.  The worst part is his father, a spineless San Francisco firefighter that allowed all of these things to happen right under his nose and did nothing to stop his deranged wife.  Even when Dave begged his father for help, the man did absolutely nothing to stop her or to help his son.  I absolutely can't understand any bit of logic in this behavior.

This was a quick read - under 5 hours recorded from Audible - and I'm glad I listened to it.  I'm also glad Dave wrote the book and then managed to make such a successful life for himself despite such a horrific beginning.  I gave the book two stars on Goodreads, though, mostly for writing style and also maybe a little bit because I'm irrational and wished that in times like these, nonfiction could work out to be a little less heartbreaking.  Oh and also because it touched religion a little more than I personally thought was necessary.  I'm going to go hug my kids for a while now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Book 8/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: April 30, 2012.

I think I mentioned last month that I joined this local book club.  It's called "The All Things British Book Club", and it consists of a bunch of Americans in our little community who are anxious to get out and explore this lovely country we're in.  I chose last month's selection, and then I chose this month's as well.  After this I'll be taking some time off from book club coordinating...  Phew!  But I was thrilled to have a good excuse to read Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry.  Audrey Niffenegger is best known for her novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, which is one of my favorites.  I had heard of Her Fearful Symmetry but also had heard about all the very mixed and not very great reviews.  So I was hesitant to read it right away, worried that it would taint my adoration of The Time Traveler's Wife.  I'm irrational like that.  Anyways, the fact that Her Fearful Symmetry is set in London gave me all the shove in the right direction that was needed.  So glad, too.

Her Fearful Symmetry follows the life of American born-and-raised mirror twins Julia and Valentina Poole, who inherit their Aunt Elspeth's estate upon her untimely death.  The girls, 21 at the time and extremely immature - "green" if you will - travel from their home in Chicago to Elspeth's Swain's Lane flat situated right beside London's famous Highgate Cemetery, where Elspeth - their mother's estranged twin sister - is in the Noblin family mausoleum.

This story is complex and creepy and bizarre and I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it.  There's a great mystery in why Elspeth and the twin's mother, Edwina, parted ways in the first place.  There's romance - Elspeth's partner, Robert Fanshawe, lives in the flat directly below theirs.  There's quirkiness in the various additional characters - Martin and Marijke, the couple that owns the flat upstairs from the twins; Jessica, the elderly woman that runs the cemetery; Edie and Jack Poole, the twins parents back in Chicago...

Audrey Niffenegger in Highgate Cemetery
It was fun for me to read this book now as opposed to when I first heard about it because now that I'm IN the United Kingdom myself, I recognized a lot of what the book talked about - Sainsbury's and Tesco were mentioned many times.  I've BEEN to those places.  Not the local ones discussed in the story, but I can't imagine they're all very much different from one another.  In my research of the book for book club purposes, I discovered that Audrey Niffenegger herself worked as a tour guide at the cemetery while she was working on the novel, which I thought was an absolutely fantastic little tidbit.

I understand some of the negative reviews.  This book wouldn't be suitable for everyone.  But for me - an avid watcher of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, and a kid who grew up on creepy things - The Nightmare Before Christmas was in my Christmas stocking the year it came out on VHS.  One year I received Beetlejuice as well.  I love odd and different and mysterious.

The book gets weird.  I'm not going to lie.  To be fair, Audrey Niffenegger is a little bit weird.  Again, I like that.  Things happened in this book that I found to be quite disturbing.  But something about Audrey Niffenegger's talent for writing even made sense out of those things in the end for me.  I really enjoyed the book a lot.  Gave it 4 stars on Goodreads - would have given an extra "half" if permitted.  And this weekend I'm going to go and see the Highgate Cemetery for myself.  I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Minding Frankie

Book 7/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: March 30, 2012.

It was my month to lead the book club I'm a part of locally.  Since it was March, I thought it would be appropriate to read a book by an Irish author.  So I fell back on Maeve Binchy, since I read Tara Road not too long ago.  While perusing Tesco, I found her newest novel, Minding Frankie, and I picked it up and went with it.  I wish it hadn't taken me almost a full month to get through, but I wasn't really impressed with it.  Maeve Binchy is adorable and I love how her books about Dublin paint a picture of it being such a small, cozy community.  The books contain a lot of interrelated characters.  It makes for fun reading if you've read more than one of her books.  I was thrilled when Minding Frankie made reference to Tara Road, and the restaurateur that lives there, Colm Barry - one of my favorite characters in Tara Road.

However, Minding Frankie was for the most part all over the place and hard to keep up with.  Too many extra characters, too many running plotlines...  I had a really hard time keeping up.  The book follows Noel Lynch, a recovering alcoholic who suddenly and very unexpectedly finds himself a single parent to a newborn baby girl, Frankie.  Noel is surrounded by a loving and supportive community and has the added benefit of his older (and wiser) cousin, Emily, as a long-term visitor from the United States.  He is constantly having to prove his worthiness to his social worker, Moira, who is pretty much the biggest pain in the butt ever.

This book went on and on forever, and true to Maeve Binchy's unique writing style, many times at the end of a chapter, I felt like the book could safely have ended and spared itself from boring deeper into the well of "blah".

Disappointed that I chose this book for the book club and disappointed that it took me so long to complete.  I gave it a two-star rating over at Goodreads.  I really do like Maeve Binchy, though.  She's cute.  I can't help it.

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