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Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen (BookReview)

Twain’s End was one of those books I picked up, put down, picked up, swore off, picked back up and couldn’t put down. My impression of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain is forever skewed because of this novel. Its one of those situations I had to ask myself, how much of this is historical and how much is fiction. Apparently, Ms. Cullen’s did her homework, remember that old saying stranger than fiction? The documents and historical records show that much of this book could be exactly the way it happened.

The story is about Clemen’s secretary, Isabel; her devotion, love and relationship with him. It also highlights Mr. Clemen’s relationships with his his alter-ego, (Mark Twain) as well as his wife, daughters and other women in his life. Not to mention, their physical and mental ailments. The book is written well and gives the reader a sense of ‘being there’.

One thing a person doesn’t normally think about is the time period when the slaves throughout this country became free, the affect and impact it had on the families that had believed slavery to be nothing more than a way of life. Heartbreaking and tragic, the things Clemen saw from his father and the way those experiences shaped his life. How did children of this time period cope? Sam Clements didn’t fair well at all, his upbringing plagued his love and twisted him from the inside out. He really is a jerk, and the ending was all too real life. Painfully real.

Overall, this book has inspired me to start my own research for a historical fiction novel. It left me thinking of the stories that haven’t been told about this era, the way people had to cope and adjust. Lives like Mr. Twain’s all too often get sugar coated and turned heroic when the reality was right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time), either way, Twain’s End is worth the read.

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Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver #bookreview

Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall brings back memories of the movie Groundhog’s Day plus my own horrible high school experience.

When I was a kid, my dad took me to see the Bill Murray’s blockbuster hit. On our way home, he told me every student in America should have to watch that movie over and over again until they could successfully write about underlying meaning of the story-line.

As I listed to Lauren’s debut novel on audio, I thought the same thing. Every teenager should have to read and understand this book. It delves deeper into the life of Samantha, the main character, than the Groundhog Day’s or maybe it’s just Sam is more relate-able than Phil. Either way, high school sucks and then you die. Really, that sums it up in seven words. But the self-discovery of the young woman’s repetitive week is worth the read. Its nice to know most people who bullied eventually know what they did, eventually know the hurt they caused.

As for the ending, I don’t want a spoiler alert, but really, it couldn’t have ended any other way. The reality of the book has to have the finality of the story (if that made sense…) Overall, a good read that delivers a classic lesson.

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Half the Sky; turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide

Women should read Half the Sky. (Men should too.) I don’t normally read non-fiction. This title was on a recommended reading list of my college-aged daughter. (Her degree is International Policy.) It intrigued me just reading the synopsis and to think these stories are REAL. Heart breaking, horrifying, intense and true life…

This book tackles the atrocities that women in developing countries face on the daily. Did you know the sex trade/trafficking of young women is a bigger problem today than the slave trade was of the nineteenth century? Did you know the mortality rate for young girls is significantly lower in developing countries? One’s got to stop and ask why don’t girls get taken to the hospital when they are sick? Why they don’t get immunized like their male siblings? Why is it rape victims in developing countries endure the wrath of their president, abductions from the government and dehumanization tactics? Again, this is not fiction, this is real life for many women all over the world.

More horrors for women of the world are prostitution, obstetric fistulas, genital mutilation, acid attacks and no means for fixing what gets broken, physically, mentally or psychologically. The sad truth in many of these places is laws ring hollow if they are not enforced. Traditions, rituals and customs are difficult if not impossible to change.

The second part of this book tackles the difficulty of just that; change. I’ve always been one of those people who want to save the world. This book poignantly points out, sometimes the world doesn’t want to be saved. In Half the Sky, the husband/wife authors describe their own attempts to buy prostitutes out of slavery, and the social conditions that make restoring these women to a normal life so difficult. Beyond that, they delve into the inadequacies of laws and who are (or aren’t) enforcing them.

When you get down to the root of the problem, it’s the invisibility of the oppression. The answer is to expose and educate those that are hidden and ignorant. These stories are more powerful than statistics, they bring to light what is happening to the women of these developing countries and what can be done about it. (donate here) Kristof and WuDunn make the moral arguments these ladies can’t, they speak truths that are hard to hear and almost impossible to believe. This is the start of making real change, real growth and real progress.

 

 

 

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult #mustread

Small Great Things, possibly the most important read of the year!  Modern day American racism is the theme and Jodi Picoult portrays it brilliantly.

(The book…) In a nutshell, Ruth is a black labor and delivery nurse who has done her job well her entire (long) career. She’s also a single mom who’s raised an incredible son in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. In comes a couple of racist jerks (whom Jodi portrays PERFECTLY, in tone, description, etc.) and they have a baby boy. (You see where this is going right?) Of course, Ruth is their nurse. Turk, the baby’s father, forbids Ruth to have anything to do with his son. He makes quite a stink about it until Ruth is told not touch or interact with the newborn in any way. That’s all fine and dandy if nothing happens to the child, right? No spoiler alerts in my reviews-imagine the worst, the best and a twist you’ll never see coming-and that’s the book.

Like in other intensely written novels of this type, one should ask themselves (especially if they are white), what if it was reversed? What if the prejudice was the other way around? It’s unfathomable. Well, to most… To me, this book clearly turns the spot light on NOW. Not back in the 90’s, 60’s, 20’s or when slavery was still legal but RIGHT NOW in everyday life we are living. Jodi shows that this type of prejudice is still prevelent in today’s world.

If you don’t believe racism is alive and growing, ask yourself, would YOU want to be black in today’s society? In this country? I know I would not. On a personal note, I have two black nieces. As a white, middle-class married mom, I like to believe things are way, way better than they’ve been, but when I have my brother’s children, it is so blatantly obvious that there isn’t as much change as we think. Racism is alive and well. On a political note, it could be why we have the current administration in the White House. Could modern day racism be to blame? I agree with President Obama that is it not the love of the current president that put him in office but the hate of Barack that did. Anyway, no need to turn this book review into a political rant.

Five star story. Check out Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, you’ll be glad you did.