May 062015
 

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Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

*** There might be some spoilers in this post. ***

When I first read about this book online I was dying to read it. After a long wait, it finally arrived at the library. I wasn’t quite prepared for it, though, and as I started to read it I felt so many emotions that I couldn’t deal with. But I kept reading, and I’m glad.

The book is about an Irish Catholic family living in Boston. Joe is the patriarch of the family, he’s a Boston cop and with his wife they have four kids. He starts noticing some things are “off.” His wife suggests he goes to a doctor, who referred him to a “movement specialist.” That’s where he finds out that he has Huntington’s Disease.

HD is not a well-known disease. Most people don’t know what it is. I know what it is because it runs in my family. When I try to describe it to people I end up just saying “it’s like Parkinson’s” and leave it at that. If you are interested in reading more about it, check this website out.  Symptoms include:  personality changes, mood swings & depression; forgetfulness & impaired judgment; unsteady gait & involuntary movements; slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing & significant weight loss.

The scary part about this disease is that it’s genetic. If your parent has it, you have a 50-50 chance of getting the disease.

“A genetic crystal ball. Exoneration or the death penalty for each kid. [pg 95]”

I don’t talk about it much. But it was something that overshadowed my childhood in a big, big way. Like I said, it runs in my family on my dad’s side. His father died of HD. My dad has three sisters and two of them developed the disease and died in nursing homes after a very long struggle. I remember visiting my aunts in their nursing homes. They were hooked up to feeding tubes because they could not feed themselves (you lose the ability to swallow), their entire bodies shook and jerked and were never still and they could not communicate. As a small kid, this was terrifying to see and experience.

“Katie imagines a time bomb ticking away inside her head, already set to a particular year, month, day, hour. Then boom. Huntington’s will explode inside her skull, blasting the parts of her brain in charge of moving, thinking, and feeling. [pg 131]”

I’m not going to go into too many personal details because it’s not fair to my family to share that stuff. But I will say that the waiting period to know if my dad was going to develop it was always in the back of my mind growing up. The symptoms usually start in your 30’s. But you aren’t “in the clear” until you reach your late 50’s or early 60’s without showing any symptoms.

For years I wondered. I wondered if my dad would get the disease, I wondered if my brother or I would then develop it. We could have all gotten genetic testing to know for sure, but without my dad showing signs of HD, there wasn’t really a reason to get tested. Which was probably very expensive in the 90’s when this was going on. Looking back, I think the peace of mind would have been worth however much the testing had cost and I kind of wish I’d done it. I remember having the “maybe this is Huntington’s” thought in the back of my head growing up when I was clumsy or fell or dropped things…the thought was kind of always there.

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In the end, my dad never developed any symptoms of Huntington’s and that was good news. That meant he was in the clear and there was no way my brother or I could develop it. It doesn’t skip generations. There’s no way that my brother or I can pass it on to our future kids. The defective gene stopped in our family. Thankfully.

“Maybe she already has it. The pamphlet says symptoms can begin fifteen years before diagnosis. She wobbled yesterday at Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose. Her outstretched arm and leg waved around like branches blowing in a hurricane. Was that Huntington’s? [pg 132]”

I pretty much cried during this entire book. I could relate to SO much of what the O’Brien family was going through. Even though I was really young when my two aunts went through this, it left a huge impression on me. They both passed away when I was in my teens.

“A month ago, she didn’t notice whether her dad dropped the remote control or his fork. She didn’t register any ticks or weird fidgeting. Now she sees it all, and everything she sees is called Huntington’s. [pg 137]”

So back to the book…as I was reading the story my first thought was “he shouldn’t be a cop anymore.” The change that happens is scary. The symptoms of shaky, jerky movements and losing motor control are scary enough, add a gun to that? It made me cringe. Which I’m sure is what the author was going for. I felt like that part of the book was unrealistic–I think someone would have noticed sooner, or his family should have stepped in and made him retire or surrender his firearm.

The story is about the whole family, not just Joe. His oldest son is married and him and his wife have been trying to get pregnant for a long time. They are finally pregnant, 10 weeks along, when they get the news that Joe has HD. What does that mean for them? What does that mean for their baby? One of the daughters is a ballet dancer. This would be a career-ender if she developed HD. The other daughter, Katie, is a yoga instructor. Same with her–if she gets HD she can’t do her career either.

The four siblings get together and discuss whether or not they are going to get genetic testing. What does it accomplish? Getting a death sentence with a positive test–but your death sentence is 10-20 years from now? Does that IMPROVE your quality of life because you try and live each moment to it’s fullest and strive to accomplish all your goals before the disease takes hold? Or does it just become a giant black cloud hanging over your head and in the end ruin what little life you have left? It’s a hard decision. Myself? I don’t know how I would have reacted to that situation. I’m lucky that I no longer have to deal with that possible scenario, but still…? What road would I have taken?

“He keeps adjusting in his seat as if trying to get comfortable, but he never does. He’s in perpetual motion…He’s boogying to music no one else on the planet can hear. His faction contortions are the hardest for Katie to witness. They make him seem disturbed…even though she knows the reason behind the grimaces and facial twitching, they’re off-putting. Strangers must assume he’s dangerous or deranged or drunk. [pg 305]”

I have to admit, there were a lot of times in the book where it was almost too difficult to read. But I kept at it because I felt invested in the story and the characters. I feel like the author wrote the progression of Joe’s illness very well and it felt accurate from my point of view. After I finished the book I realized the author has a PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard. She’s also the author of “Still Alice” (about Alzheimers disease). She clearly knows what she’s talking about and was able to bring a tough subject to life. She created characters that you enjoyed and felt invested in–all while informing the reading about this lesser known disease. It never felt preachy or like you were being talked down to.

“If that piece of paper reveals that she’s gene negative, she’s free of HD. No more worrying every time she drops her spoon. No more panicked dread every time she fidgets in her seat. Her children will never get HD…Every breath is a risk. Love is why we breathe. [pg 335]”

I read the book in one day. I had to take a break here and there because emotionally it was gut-wrenching but at the same time I didn’t want to put it down. I don’t know that this book is for everyone. Maybe someone reading it without any knowledge of Huntington’s wouldn’t feel as emotional as I did reading it…despite the dark, emotional topic, I think the book was really well written and I hope some of my readers check it out.

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Apr 292015
 

Okay I’ve read some REALLY good books lately! Here are a few that you should add to your “to read” list!

1. The Returned by Jason Mott

This book is about the dead returning to the living. No, not zombies or creatures. They just…reappear. The main characters are Lucille and Harold–an elderly couple living in the South who lost their only song, Jacob, when he was 8 years old in 1966. The dead are coming back to life and returning to their loved ones with the help of a new government agency. But they just see this in the news–stories about “The Returned”. Until Jacob shows up on their porch with an agent, still 8 years old.

“It really is a blessing from God, Agent Martin Bellamy…and just because a person don’t quite understand the purpose and meaning of a blessing, that doesn’t make it any less of a blessing…does it? [pg 78]”

They have the choice to accept Jacob, or to deny him. They choose to take him back into their lives, despite the fear and trepidation around whether it is “natural”. “Some folks locked the doors of their hearts when they lost someone. Others kept the doors and the windows open, letting memory and love pass through freely. [pg 338]”

It’s a good book, a quick read. While it does tend to drag a little in the middle of the story where the protesters are rallying again the “Returned” and the Returned are being rounded up and imprisoned, I still liked the book and it was an interesting story!

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2. As the Crow Flies: Walt Longmire Book 8 by Craig Johnson

Have you started reading this series yet? No? Why not?! It’s a great mystery series and I just LOVE this world that the author has created. The characters are complex and I love them. Walt is a great hero and in this book there is a new character introduced whom I hope sticks around – Lolo Long, the new chief of Tribal Police. She’s difficult, by the book and no one likes her but Walt takes her under his wing, so to speak, and coaches her. Despite starting out as a very unlikeable character, I grew to like her and hope she becomes a regular character.

This book was just as good as the other ones in the series. It’s a murder mystery, but also a book about Walt and Henry Standing Bear planning Walt’s daughter’s Cheyenne wedding. And these two old guys planning a wedding are absolutely HILARIOUS. Great book.

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3. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

This is the second book I’ve read from this author and hands down, she’s a great writer. The stories are compelling and suck you in. This book is no different. I couldn’t stop reading it! Then when it was almost finished I started to bum out that I was nearly done.

Similarly to “Big Little Lies”, there are three story lines taking place with each woman the main character of that story and then the stories eventually intercept. I liked all three women equally and enjoyed their stories and I admit that I guessed “the husband’s secret” pretty early on. I don’t want to spoil it for readers so I will be vague. My only concern is that if I continue to read this author she uses the same format of three women telling their story. I can see that getting old.

However, this book was REALLY good. Read it.

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4. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Another “If you liked Gone Girl…” book. I don’t really get the comparison. The epilogue maybe falls under the comparison but overall I don’t think so. The Good Girl is about the abduction of Mia, an art teacher who also happens to be the daughter of a Chicago aristocratic judge. The chapters flash back and forth between Mia’s kidnapper, Mia’s mother Eve as she deals with the man-hunt and search for her daughter, and Gabe the detective in charge of her case.

The writing is really well done and I didn’t want to stop reading the book. Each chapter ended and I thought, “Okay, now I’ll go to bed…” then I’d read just one more chapter. It took me a day or two to read the whole book. It’s a fast, easy read and you end up liking a lot of the characters, even her kidnapper. This was a quality book that I would recommend to anyone looking for a GOOD BOOK to read!

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5. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I loved this book. I loved every single word of it; I loved the story; I loved the characters. Everything about this book was wonderful and charming. It’s a story about AJ, a grumpy bookstore owner on an island off Boston. His life is forever changed one night when, passed out drunk and depressed from his wife’s recent death, he wakes up to find a priceless book stolen. Basically his life savings is gone. Shortly thereafter he finds a 2 year old girl left in his bookstore with a note from the mother. She can’t keep her daughter and wants her to grow up smart and loving books.

AJ ends up adopting Maya and raises her on his own. His sister-in-law is a pivotal character, as well as his soon to be second wife, Amelia. Complete the little family with the best friend police chief and you have a fantastic group of characters that are so well-developed that you just want to join their world.

“Remember, Maya: the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life. [pg 41]”

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. [pg 249]”

“My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. [pg 249]”

The characters were excellent. The dialogue was witty and funny and smart. A nice change from the forced and often stilted dialogue in novels that just comes across as fake. This book was all around amazing–one I am thinking of buying and reading again someday. Loved it.

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6. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

I didn’t really know what I was getting in to when I started this book, other than it was about a family and their dramas. Turns out the mother, Lorelai is a hoarder. The story spans a generation of the family, her four kids growing up in a house where she saves every little thing. Meg, the oldest, realizes at a very age that her mother is mentally ill but no one else in the family will admit to it and they don’t try and help her. It’s begins with Easter and the novel largely revolves around Easter and the things that happened to them around that time. One of the first clues that the mother is ill is that she “saves the foils” from the Easter egg hunt she plans annually for the kids. The description of her frenzy around “saving the foils” was chilling.

The stories of the siblings intertwine and then we’re at “present” day where Lorelai has finally died, basically starving herself and she had TB. The family reunites to clean out the house and it’s worse than it was when they saw it last. They have to crawl through the piles to get through the house, kind of like rats burrowing and crawling.

The writing is really good and the characterization is well-done. You felt sympathy for everyone in the family when it was their turn to kind of tell their story. It was a great read and I enjoyed the book a lot, despite the sadness and mental illness of the mother.

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7. The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

I could NOT stop reading this book. I read it in two days and had I not had to go to work I probably could have read it in one sitting. :) There were two parallel stories going on, one in 1980 where a group of newly graduated from college friends decide to live off the grid in a cottage near a lake. The other story is about modern day Lila and her husband Tom. They’ve suffered a horrible tragedy and Lila is struggling with her grief.

She inherits this mysterious cottage from someone she doesn’t know and decides to fix up the cottage. She ends up living in the cottage, separated from her husband essentially, while she works through her grief. The story seems predictable but it had some interesting twists and turns in it that didn’t feel predictable. I absolutely loved this book and was disappointed when I finished it! Beautiful, poignant, excellent book.

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8. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Dark, twisted, similar to Gone Girl…It’s being compared to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train and I tend to agree. It’s a twisted story that keeps you guessing and just when you think you’ve got it, there’s another twist. The main character shifts through out the story and it’s very well done and not confusing. You grow to like the characters, even the despicable ones, and it’s a compelling read.

The story starts out with Ted, a rich guy who recently discovered his beautiful wife is cheating on him with the contractor who is building their mansion. Ted meets Lily on a plane from London to Maine and he tells his story. She offers to help him kill his wife, Miranda. Little does he know that Lily has done this before. The story is told in flashbacks, weaving them into present day as all of these evil people plot against each other. What a good read!

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Hope you guys check out some of these books and enjoy them!

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