August 2007 archive

2008 Themed Reading Challenge

January 1, 2008 – June 30, 2008

SIGN UPS EXTENDED through January 2nd – Due to Mr. Linky being down (due to exceeding their bandwidth) until January 1st, I am extending sign ups for this challenge until midnight (PCT) January 2nd.

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**UPDATE August 17, 2007:
When signing up below, please link to your post about this challenge on your blog (not just to your main page). If you have already signed up and have not created a list yet, that is okay. Just come back when you post your list and re-sign up on Mr. Linky, making the link directly to your challenge list (I will delete your link to the main blog at that time). Thanks for all the enthusiasm about this challenge! It is really fun to host a challenge that gets people excited!

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If you’re like me, you have a stack of TBR books a mile high and you are just looking for an excuse to read them! I’m hosting a Themed Reading Challenge beginning January 1st and running 6 months. Here are the rules:


1. Choose at least 4 books that share a theme – such as historical romances or books with animals as the central character or books set in a particular part of the country or books about family secrets. It doesn’t matter what the theme is – your choice!

2.  Sign up here using Mr. Linky to link to your post of book selections by DECEMBER 31, 2007.

3. Write a review about each book you complete and a final wrap up at the end of the challenge.

4. Feel free to use the banner above on your blog.

5. Come back in January when I will have a Mr. Linky set up for you to link to your reviews of the books you have read.

Sound like fun? Sign ups below:

The Great Fire – Book Review

Now they were starting. Finality ran through the train, an exhalation. There were thuds, hoots, whistles, and the shrieks of late arrivals. From a megaphone, announcements were incomprehensible in American and Japanese. Before the train had moved at all, the platform faces receded into the expression of those who remain. -From The Great Fire, page 1-

Shirley Hazzard’s award winning novel, The Great Fire, follows the parallel lives of two men at the end of World War II – Peter Exley, an Australian living in China to investigate war crimes; and Aldred Leith, a Brit who has traveled to Japan near Hiroshima to record the effects of war on the survivors. Both men struggle to come to terms with life after war … and the novel explores their psyches through flashbacks of memory interspersed with their adjustment back to civilian life. Of the two, Peter is the least developed character – but nonetheless, the reader empathizes with his struggle over whether to pursue a life in music or return to toil in his father’s law firm.

Hazzard spends more time refining the character of Aldred Leith who arrives in Japan to stay with an Australian Brigadier and his family. Brigadier Driscoll and his wife are unlikeable people who have two children – Ben and Helen. Ben, at age 20, is dying from Friedreich’s Ataxia. His sister, Helen at age 17, provides the love interest for the adult Leith. The difference in their ages lends a subtle conflict to the novel. Leith’s former preoccupation with his work is gradually replaced by his obsession with Helen … and it is through this love, that he begins to understand how he will recover from the psychological effects of the war.

Hazzard’s writing is beautiful and hypnotic, yet at times ambiguous. Entering the world of her novel feels a bit like plunging into a vast and complicated art museum where everything must be slowly considered and the meaning is not always clear.  At times I felt tranquilized by Hazzard’s descriptions, such as when Leith has a memory from childhood:

Aldred shifted his chair to look at the logs. These were among earliest memories: the heavy loads dragged in out of evening air, or out of rain, to dry in the warm kitchen. The Tarpaulin spread, and the pieces brushed off roughly, one by one. Loose bark, wood dust. The kindling struck off and set aside. The child, who was himself, squatting silent on the periphery, peering into shapes, textures, colours; the mottlings and dapplings. The scrubby bark, coruscated, or the smooth angular pieces like bones. Forms arched and grooved like a lobster, or humped like a whale. Dark joints, to which foliage adhered like bay leaves in a stew. Pinecones, and a frond of pine needles still flourishing on the hacked branch. And the creatures that inched or sped or wriggled out, knowing the game was up: slugs, pale worms, tiny white grubs, scurrying busily off as if to a destination. An undulant caterpillar, and an inexorable thing with pincers. Or the slow slide of an unhoused snail – the hodmedod, as they called him here – revisiting the lichens and pigmentations and fungoid flakes that had clung to his only home – freckled growths dusted, seemingly, with cocoa; red berries, globules of white wax. Wet earthy smell, forest smell. The implements set aside; the elder Laister stern with him: “Dawn’t tooch the axe. I’m warning you.”  -From The Great Fire, page 222-

This is a slowly unfolding novel – quite literary in style and phrasing. It is a novel about love and recovery from war, about friendships and the complications of family. For those readers who enjoy a gently paced story and want to be enveloped and lost in words, this one is for you.

Recommended.

Coronary: A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry – Book Review

When doctors allow themselves to become beholden to corporations, as Moon and Realyvasquez did to Tenet in return for six-figure fees and perks such as easy access to hospital aircraft, management’s bottom line becomes indistinguishable from their own. It is not surprising therefore that the less scrupulous among them get sloppy about their professional and legal obligations to patients while actively promoting their own and the company’s financial issues. – From Coronary, page 276-

In September of 2001 I  moved to Shasta County, California – a pretty and rural area dominated by the Sacramento River, beautiful mountains and lush forests. A year later, one of the biggest medical fraud and malpractice scandals in the United States rocked the Shasta County community of Redding, California and that is pretty much all anyone talked about for months. So when earlier this year Klaidman’s well researched and detailed book was published, I was surprised it wasn’t being read by every person in the county. It got a blurb in the newspaper and a few people wrote angry letters to the editor complaining that Klaidman had written unduly harsh commentary about the community of Redding…but otherwise it was released to mostly silence. Ironically, Klaidman’s account in part explains this resistance of Redding’s citizens to see the scandal for what it was and is – a shameful, egg-in–the-face, shocking betrayal which is hard to understand and harder still to accept.

The story is about a large corporation (Tenet Healthcare), two egotistical doctors (Dr. Chae Hyun Moon – a celebrated cardiologist, and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez – a respected cardiac surgeon), a state of the art hospital, a tight-knit, rural community and the hundreds of patients who were operated on unnecessarily. When all the numbers were in, an astounding 769 patients over a period of a few short years had undergone completely unnecessary, invasive cardiac procedures including by-pass surgeries. Almost half were under the age of 65 years old. And the doctors involved as well as Redding Medical Center, owned by Tenet, had profited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Many patients died from complications of their unneeded medical care, still others are living lives of chronic disability and pain. A three year Federal investigation led to a huge (more than 450 million dollar) settlement, but no criminal charges. Astonishing? Yes. I couldn’t put this book down.

 Klaidman walks the reader through the unfolding scandal piece by piece, introducing the key players and demonstrating how something this obscene could actually happen in our medical system. The book is compulsively readable and almost unbelievable. The reader will never view the medical system in the same way again.

As someone who has worked as a licensed physical therapist for eighteen years, I found myself dismayed and angry after reading Klaidman’s novel. This shouldn’t happen – ever.

This is a book that everyone should read.

Highly recommended.

The Blind Assassin – Book Review

Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get? At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down. -From The Blind Assassin, page 95-

In Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize winning novel The Blind Assassin, we are treated to a novel which is a story within a story – a memorial of sorts to the life of two women…Iris Chase Griffin and her sister Laura. The novel opens with the death of Laura…and a mystery. Atwood builds her story through a series of newspaper clippings, flashbacks from Iris’ perspective on her life, and a piece of fiction about a man and a woman and the story they weave.

True to Atwood’s style, the characters are painstakingly created and come alive on the page. No less detailed, Atwood constructs a small town setting within the bigger context of World War II. The result is a tale Gothic in feel, full of shadowy half truths and complex relationships which come together for a satisfying finish.

To give more detail about the novel would be to reveal spoilers – and so I will simply say “Read it.” Atwood is a brilliant novelist that continues to amaze me with her scope and talent.

Highly Recommended.

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