book recommendation

A Hard Book to Read

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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.

Winter Reading

If you follow me on Goodreads, you know that I read a lot. Each year you can sign up for a “challenge” to read a certain number of books. In 2012 my goal was to read 77 books and I surpassed that with 109 books total. In 2013 the goal was 100 and I read 119. I decided to challenge myself this year and made my goal for 2014 125 books. As of this week I’ve reached that goal and went over it with a few books! I haven’t decided yet what my 2015 book goal will be. Definitely more than this year, I know that….

I found that having a Kindle made it SO much easier to read more books. Not only did I not have to drive to the library or wait for books to be available, I also got free books on Amazon. Amazon offers a ton of free kindle books, plus if you are an Amazon Prime member you get 1 free book a month. My library also offers eBooks. Sometimes you do have to wait a few weeks or more for the book to be available (which I find weird considering it’s all digital).

This might be the last book post for 2014! Are you looking for a good book to get you through the yucky winter? Never fear! I have recommendations. 🙂 Here are a few good ones I’ve read lately:

1. Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

What a fantastic series, glad I found it. The writing is crisp and clean, the stories move quickly and I love all the characters. This is the second book in the series and it’s even better than the first. This particular story was extremely dark and there were some pretty terrifying moments.

2. Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson

This is Book 3 in the series. A departure from the other books in the series. The cowboy is taken out of the wilderness in Wyoming and is solving a murder mystery in Philly. Despite being different from the other books, the beloved characters were still involved and the story was great. Walt is a fish out of water in Philly but it works. The story was great, loved the change of scenery and I was sad the book was over.

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3. A Dark and Twisted Tide by SJ Bolton

Another great Lacey Flint book. This one was super fascinating. It took a topic I didn’t know much about and spun an interesting and twisted tale. The twist in the finale was so fascinating! I don’t want to give too much away. I recommend this book!

4. Personal by Lee Child

The newest Jack Reacher book! And it is a great one! If you don’t know about the Jack Reacher books, I really recommend them. It’s a series I try to turn everyone on to because I love the books so much. I started the series like 10 years ago and zipped through as many as I could. A few years ago they finally made it into a movie and while I was disappointed they cast Tom Cruise in the role (I had always pictured Vincent D’onofrio as Reacher) the movie was actually pretty good. So if you’re looking for a new series to start, pick this one (another favorite is the Elvis Cole series).

This book was really good and I read it quickly, maybe 2 days total to finish it. The chapters are short and it reads fast. The books COULD be stand alone books but it would probably be better to read them in order. The ending of this book was shocking!

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5. The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

Book #5 in the Longmire series. Another good book from the series. I accidentally read it out of order, but never noticed. The main story was done in the TV series, so if you’ve seen the show you know the ending. Despite that, it was still a good story and it WAS a little different than the tv episode.

6. American Goulash by Stephanie Yuhas

I was given an advance copy of this book from a friend who helped get it published. It’s a short story, only about 160 pages, but it’s a pretty tight, concise book for being so short. It’s a memoir about a Hungarian-American girl growing up in the 80’s with a mentally ill mother and grandmother in New Jersey. Despite the topic being somewhat dark, it was a really light book. It was charming and hilarious in a lot of places. There were a few chapters that I felt could have been cut out, but overall I enjoyed the book. She writes her mother well and I could really picture all of it. The chapter where she got her first period and had no idea what was going on and her mother gave her “The Talk” was hilarious–“You get pregnant I fuck you up”. There were bittersweet moments in the book that I think everyone can find they relate to. Recommend it!

7.  The Witch With No Name (The Hollows #13) by Kim Harrison

The last of the series…Sad! I discovered the first book about 10 years ago. I remember I took it with me on a camping trip and spent most of the time devouring it. The series was pretty good, there were some books and some plot twists here and there that fell flat for me but for the most part the series kept it’s integrity and kept me reading. I loved the main characters and thankfully this series never got horrible like the Anita Blake series did (man I wish the author hadn’t ruined THAT series!).

So how was the final book? Not great. I included it in this post because I really did love most of the series and if you are looking for a new series to read, check it out. Despite that, the last book of the series was kind of a mess. The story was hard to follow, the writing was all over the place and many of the characters didn’t seem true to their character throughout the books. That was disappointing.

8. Another Man’s Moccasins by Craig Johnson

Book #4 in the Longmire series. (See above, I read this book out of order.) Another good book in the series. This one had two stories going at the same time–one took place during Walt’s time in Vietnam. Both stories converge at the end and wrap up nicely. That’s what I love about this author–the stories always work well and aren’t convoluted.

9. Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Book 4 in the series. It sucked you in immediately. The writing was fast paced and actually quite hilarious despite the somber topic. The writing always impresses me. Several of his books have been made into movies. I could have sworn that I remembered this one so I checked my Netflix and yep, I’d seen the movie many years ago and apparently I only rated it 2 stars…The book is so good, though. Maybe I need to watch the movie again now that I’ve read the book? It’s apparently been long enough since I saw the movie that I didn’t remember the major plot points OR the whodunit. So that was good.

The book is great and I was happy that there were new awesome characters and they also brought back some of the old favorites (like Bubba). The story was dark and twisted and there were so many layers to it. The whole book had me hooked start to finish.

10. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

Book 5 in the series. How did I not discover this author sooner?? His books are amazing. So incredibly powerful and well written. It’s a different story than the other 4 in the PI series. Patrick wasn’t technically “hired” as a detective to solve the whodunit but thank goodness he insinuated himself. The layers of this story are just amazing as they unfold. The story and characters involved in this compelling book are twisted and shocking and kept me on the edge of my seat. I think I read the book in two days.

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Hope you enjoy some of these recommendations! Happy reading!