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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Jan 272015
 

My goal for 2015 was to read 140 books. That’s about two books a week or so. That’s about on par of what I typically read. Some of these books I read in December but a few are from this month so I am already on track with my goal!

I read a lot of fiction. Mystery and thriller type books are my favorite genre for sure. As a teen I could not get enough of the horror books. I also like nonfiction, too, despite the majority of the books I post about being mysteries. I have a few nonfiction books on my “to read” list and will be reading those next.

Here are a few of my favorites in the last month or two:

1. Abandon by Blake Crouch

This is the same author that wrote the Wayward Pines trilogy (which was REALLY good if you’re looking for an intriguing series to check out), which will soon be a TV show. I really enjoyed that series and wanted to read more by this author. I had the opportunity to read this particular book for free through Amazon Prime.

I LOVE this type of book…I don’t even know how to categorize it–mystery? Horror? Adventure with some paranormal aspects to it? It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite books–Thunderhead. In Abandon, a group of people get a special permit to visit an abandoned mining town high up in the mountains in Colorado that is near impossible to get to. It’s a professor, a journalist, two paranormal scientists and their guides. They traverse difficult landscapes on llamas to get to this town that was abandoned mysteriously over 100 years ago. Then everything goes wrong, of course. The book is told in both flashbacks to the 1800’s townspeople and the current day group trying to explore the town. There were some really gripping, exciting, horrifying elements to this book and it kept me on the edge of my seat. The ending was a little weak, I felt like maybe the author didn’t know how to finish it–but that didn’t ruin the rest of the book for me.

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2. Run by Blake Crouch

Another free read from Amazon Prime for me. I read it right after Abandon because I just wanted to read more from this author! Where do I start? This book was a wild ride from beginning to end. Heart pumping action.

I would describe this book as a combination of The Road and how I imagine The Walking Dead to start–the downfall, essentially. No, this isn’t a zombie book, but it’s a book about society completely breaking down and what one family does to survive. I love survival type stories like this. I constantly think, what would I do in this situation? And I also constantly remind myself that I need to take some basic survival classes! lol

The “cause” of this downfall was unique and fascinating and I bought it. The character’s fear felt real. The panic and desperation jumped off the pages. It was a great book. My one complaint is that the book starts in the “future” (or present day) with an unknown character and then the end of the book goes back to that time period and character (revealing who it really is) but by the end of the book I had completely forgotten that first chapter and how the book started and was so wrapped up in the survival story I was confused. Then I remembered. The ending fits but it was abrupt.

This book was amazing. I was impressed beginning to end and felt like it was a solid book–and would be a great movie.

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3. Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

The last book in this series! I hope he’s writing more because I love the characters. This book takes place in more recent times, while the earlier books in the series took place in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The main characters have grown up a lot and their lives have changed drastically.

The story brings back a character from an earlier book, Amanda McCready (the 4 year old girl that was kidnapped) but now she’s 17 years old and missing again. I LOVED the ending. It was so good and things wrapped up nicely. The sad part? It kind of felt like the end, too. I don’t know that there will be any more books in this series. It felt like a firm ending…

4. Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I’ve been a huge fan of these authors for a long time. But apparently I missed a bunch of their books! It was before I religiously used Goodreads and kept track of what I read so I bypassed several of their novels thinking I’d already read them but I hadn’t. This was one of them. It was a page-turner! Suspense from beginning to end. The story was an adventure story–kind of a cross between Indiana Jones and a book about explorers to a new land. I haven’t read many maritime adventure/survival stories and this was a great one that made me want to read more in this genre. I liked the characters, I was excited to finish the book and wanted to read more.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I didn’t really know what to expect with this book and had little knowledge of what it was about. At first it feels like chick lit; the story of several middle aged women who are friends because their kids are in the same kindergarten class. But as the story unfolds you realize it’s so much more. The way the author told the story was fantastic. The layers peeled back bit by bit and you suddenly realize there was so much more going on in the story. On the surface you think the book is about childhood bullying. At one point another mother starts a petition to get rid of one 5 year old who was deemed the bully of her kid. Reading this you get angry at this woman and angry at how the lemmings surrounding her follow suit. You realize that even as adults, you never really escape that snobby clique-y world that is school…The end of the book was CRAZY. It was such a good read and it had me hooked. It ended exactly the way I would have wanted it to end. GREAT READ!!

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6. Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

This book makes my top 10 books this year for sure. From beginning to end this book was fantastic. It was an easy, fast read and I loved the characters. I wanted them all to win in the end. The bad guys were good bad guys and you hated them. The heroes of the story (and there were a few) were so well written and REAL. The story was fascinating, exciting, on the edge of your seat fun. LOVED THIS BOOK. Cannot recommend it enough!

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7. Abandoned: A Thriller by Cody McFadyen

I picked this book up by random at the library and was happy I did! Although, I later discovered that this was book 4 of a series! Dammit! I hate when that happens. However, it works as a stand alone book and I never felt confused or like I missed out not having read the first three in the series (and will be reading the other books soon).  I started reading the book and when I thought maybe there were previous books I checked it out on Goodreads and sure enough, this was book 4 AND this book had a lot of mixed reviews. As I kept reading, however, I found that I really loved the characters and how they interacted with each other. The story was new and compelling. It felt original and it was exciting. It kept me guessing! I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it to anyone looking for a thriller.

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Do you have a reading goal for 2015? Have you read any good books lately?

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