Book review

Books #43

It’s been a busy month! But I did find some time to read. And of course, a bunch of books I had on hold at the library all came at the same time. It always happens that way. Anyways, here are some good ones:

#1 Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Wow. What a story, what a book. It took awhile to get through it, but I definitely recommend it. It got on my radar after hearing a podcast (maybe This American Life?) about what happened at Memorial Hospital during Katrina and so when I saw this book I had to get it.

The book reconstructs what happened during the 5 days at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina: when the floodwaters surrounded the hospital and flooded the lower floors, they lost power, the heat was intolerable…

“The hurricane cut off city power. The hospital’s backup generators did not support air-conditioning, and the temperature climbed…Early Wednesday morning, Memorial’s generators failed, throwing the hospital into darkness and cutting off power to the machines that supported patients’ lives.”

It was chaos. They were hearing reports that it was Marshall Law outside the hospital walls. “Thiele thought the hospital would be overtaken, that those inside it had no good way to defend themselves.”

“While the mayor commanded everyone to leave, many didn’t have cars or other means to do so, and officials knew that the city’s plans to help transport them had significant holes, including a lack of sufficient drivers. Residents who could go on their own were already stuck in traffic on the interstate leading out of town. The Superdome, the giant stadium that hosted the New Orleans Saints football team, was designated as a “shelter of last resort.” “

Helicopters would land on the helipad of the hospital roof but then refuse to take patients. “The pilots would not allow pets on board the aircraft and watercraft, creating stressful choices for the staff members who had brought them to the hospital for the storm.”

Pets were being euthanized. The nurses and doctors that stayed behind had to choose which patients could be rescued.

“The ICU filled with screams. Plywood grew wet and buckled. Water pooled on the floors. The metal window frames strained and creaked like the Titanic… The command team announced a shift in hospital operations from “assault mode” to “survival mode.” This unofficial designation reflected news they had received minutes before the meeting. An Acadian ambulance worker on-site had confirmed with his dispatchers that one of the canals in New Orleans had been breached…the sight of the water advancing toward the hospital, pushing the hurricane debris ahead of it, was like something out of a movie.”

And eventually, the rescue boats and helicopters stopped coming.

“…electronic medical records system would be useless. Paper was high technology in a disaster. The electronic medication dispensing cart, new to Pitre-Ryals’s unit, would also shut down, its stock of medicines locked securely inside it… The hospital was stifling, its walls sweating. Water had stopped flowing from taps, toilets were backed up, and the stench of sewage mixed with the odor of hundreds of unwashed bodies.”

Then, at the end, when there was hope of rescue, a few doctors and nurses chose to “speed up” the death of certain patients. Patients that had DNR’s. A patient that was morbidly obese and couldn’t be moved up through the stairwell to the helicopters.

” “When I made my mother a DNR, I did not know it meant ‘do not rescue.’ “ (one of the victim’s daughter’s said that)

“It was a desperate situation and Cook saw only two choices: quicken their deaths or abandon them. It had gotten to that point. You couldn’t just leave them. The humane thing seemed to be to put ’em out.”

The first 40% of the book was the reconstruction of those 5 days. The rest of the book was the investigation and trial and aftermath.

Reading about the truly horrific experiences these people went through (doctors and patients) during those 5 days, I can understand both sides of this argument. It was described as a war zone. I can understand being faced with a scenario where you have no idea if you will be rescued, not sure if you can save everyone, and make a decision about the sickest ones…but at the same time…those patients weren’t given the choice. So I can see how it can be seen has murder (hence the criminal charges and trial).

#2 Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

I heard an interview with this author on a podcast and the book sounded really fascinating. There was a long wait at the library for this book but it was worth the wait. It was a good book and I definitely recommend it. It’s an interesting memoir and it’s also an interesting discussion in medical ethics.

Dani is an accomplished writer, mother, wife. She’s in her 50’s and her on a whim, decides to do one of those DNA kits with her husband. They send it off, forget about it, and then the results come back and she discovers that she’s not genetically related to her half-sister, Susie. This opens up a can of worms she was not prepared for.

“If it was true that Susie and I were not half sisters, my father was not my father. That he was Susie’s father was without question. She looked like him. She had his eyes, and the shape of his face. She even sounded a bit like him…”

“My mind and body seemed to be disconnected. My body wasn’t the body I had believed it to be for fifty-four years.”

It turns out, her parents had difficulties conceiving and they went to a not so reputable fertility clinic in Philadelphia. Back during those days, it was common practice to mix the sperm with donor sperm. Dani, who always felt closer to her father than her mother, has now discovered she was not genetically related to the father she grew up with.

It’s a true crisis of identity and history for Dani. “Why am I? Why am I here? And how shall I live?”

” ‘It’s rare that you get an opportunity in life to stand outside yourself. It’s as if Hakadosh baruch hu is saying, Child, come sit next to me and now, look. Finding all this out is a door to discovering what a father really is. It isn’t closure—you may not get to have that—but it’s an opening to a whole new vista.’ I had been so afraid that blood would be all that mattered. Oh, how I had underestimated my remarkable aunt.”

Thus begins the search for her biological father. And the questions about her whole life (she’s Orthodox Jewish but never looked Jewish) and her heritage. It’s a very confusing, emotional time for her. But the real emotional roller coaster starts when she finds her biological father and they start corresponding through email.

The book is very interesting and a good read!

#3 Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

A lot of people might have heard of the Mutter museum in Philadelphia,a museum of “medical oddities”, but there was actually a pretty important doctor by the name of Thomas Mutter who played an important part in medical history.

He was orphaned at a young age and then sent to a distant relative who was basically a caregiver. Eventually he went to boarding school and then medical school. He became a gifted doctor and a surgeon and created the “Mutter Flap” to treat burn victims. It was an early method of skin grafting/plastic surgery.

“The broken. The diseased. The cursed. People who were considered monsters, even by medical definition. Mütter welcomed them all. An expert and efficient surgeon, he systematically rehearsed every procedure in his mind before beginning it.”

“Monsters. This is how the patients would have been categorized in America. Mutter was used to seeing them replicated in wax for classroom display, or hidden in back rooms away from the public eye. It was not uncommon for these patients to enter the surgical room fully prepared to die. Death was a risk they happily took for the chance to bring some level of peace and normality to their mangled faces or agonized bodies.”

He was renowned for his patient care, his surgical skill, his engaging teaching techniques in the classroom and he became the Chair of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

“Mütter had fought hard to make sure Jefferson Medical College provided recovery rooms to all patients who offered themselves up to the knife at the school’s surgical clinic.”

He performed hundreds of surgeries on patients who were “deformed” and gave many their lives back. He was also the first surgeon to use ether anesthesia during surgery (in 1846).

“Mütter’s fight for anesthesia to be widely accepted—to be adopted by doctors and surgeons as swiftly as possible in order to end what he saw as unnecessary human suffering—proved to be a turning point in his career…It was often a guessing game to determine how much was needed to sedate the patient . . . and how little could be used to kill them.”

He was so ground breaking and fascinating and he tragically lived a short life. His collection of medical “oddities” was bequeathed to a museum which became the Mutter Museum after he died. The book also talked a lot about the time period and the beginning of modern medicine and discoveries. It was so fascinating!

#4 Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This was a very good book. It started out slow and I almost gave up but don’t give up because the story picks up and it gets very good and by the end you will be crying.

The story is a fictional telling of what it was like for native Hawaiians in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s when there was an outbreak of leprosy and they were rounded up and taken to the island of Moloka’i to live a segregated life. (I read a nonfiction book about this and it was VERY fascinating and I highly recommend it.)

Rachel is just a young girl when she contracts leprosy. She’s taken from her family and sent to Moloka’i to live. She lives in a home for girls and basically spends her life on the island. She grows up, she makes friends, she watches her friends die of the horrible disease. She come of age, she falls in love, she gets married…she has a baby and must give it up the second it’s born. The baby is then given up for adoption to a family off Moloka’i that doesn’t have leprosy.

It’s a touching, heart breaking book and I liked how it ended. It was a long book and there were definitely parts that felt like it dragged a bit and could have been edited down but the story was about a lifetime on this island, so it was kind of hard to avoid.

Would definitely recommend!

#5 My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

I loved this disturbing little book! What a creepy couple! Happily married couple, the husband and his wife Millicent, are living the picture-perfect life. They live in an expensive gated community. She’s a realtor. He’s a tennis instructor. They have two teenagers. They just happen to have a secret hobby: murder.

The husband, goes out to bars and hunts for women. Millicent kidnaps and murders them. But then all of a sudden, things are starting to unravel in their lives and their little hobby has consequences.

It is a gripping, creepy and enthralling book. I could not put it down! I could totally see it as a movie.

Happy Reading!

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Books #41

I’ve been so busy lately, the book reading has slowed down, but I am still reading. So here are a few to add to your list:

  1. A Beautiful Corpse: Harper McClain #2 by Christi Daugherty

This is the second book in the series. Harper is back, front and center, still the crime reporter for the flailing newspaper in Savannah. Her personal life is also flailing a little bit. Her ex is back in town, but they aren’t really back together and things are weird between them. She’s also dealing with the aftermath of what happened in the first book–and the whole police force is kind of punishing her for it. Which makes her job harder.

Harper is just trying to do her job when she gets a story that changes everything. Naomi Scott is a law student who also works as a bartender to make ends meet. She works at the same bar as Bonnie, Harper’s best friend. Naomi is murdered and Harper is convinced the police are on the wrong path.

This was another good book. I really enjoyed the story. All the characters come to life, you really picture the world created. I couldn’t put the book down.

#2 One Day in December by Josie Silver

This is a typical far-fetched, rom-com/chick lit book with vibes of Bridget Jones.

Laurie is on a bus in London, going home from work in December. She sees a guy standing outside at a bus stop, he looks up, they make eye contact, sparks fly, she thinks He’s The One. Then the bus drives away. She can’t get him out of her mind. Months later, her best friend and roommate, Sarah, brings home her new boyfriend, Jack, and of course it’s the guy from the bus stop. But Laurie doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to wreck anything for her best friend.

The book spans years, many relationships, marriages, divorces, will Laurie and Jack ever be together? I liked the characters and the writing style. Overall, I enjoyed the book, it was easy to read. I don’t know that it’s a super memorable book but I liked it.

#3 Educated by Tara Westover

I’m not even sure where to start with this book…it’s a memoir. Tara describes what it’s like growing up in rural Idaho in the mountains with a deeply religious family, bordering on cult-ish behavior, where her and her siblings are “home-schooled” but not really. It doesn’t seem like they get any schooling beyond learning basics.

“Grandma thought we should be in school and not, as she put it, ‘roaming the mountain like savages.’ Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. ‘I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself,’ he said, ‘as send them down the road to that school.’ [pg 4]”

Her father is a right wing End of Days nutjob who is thinks schooling is the work of the devil. It’s clear early on he has some severe mental illness and his wife is compliant, or bullied. There’s hints of domestic violence, too. Randy Weaver and the Ruby Ridge incident happened nearby them and that fueled Tara’s father’s paranoia.

“…by the time I was ten, the only subject I had studied systematically was Morse code, because Dad insisted that I learn it. ‘If the lines are cut, we’ll be the only people in the valley who can communicate.’ [pg 45]”

Then one of Tara’s older brother’s goes away to college, despite their father’s refusal. Tyler had figured out a loophole: being “homeschooled” didn’t keep them from being able to go to college.

“There’s a world out there, Tara. And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear. [pg 120]”

So that plants the seed. Tara decides she wants to go to college, even though she’s had no formal schooling, hasn’t even learned math…she gets some books, studies for the ACT, takes the test and fails, then takes it again. And lies about her age (she’s 16) and gets into BYU. She’s definitely a fish out of water. She goes to college and for the first time in her life she’s discovering things are not as her father said they were. And she’s learning things she was never taught–like The Holocaust.

The first half of the book is about her growing up in the horrific environment of insanity, lies and mental illness. The second half is about her going to school, learning EVERYTHING normal people learn in a short period of time and then ridding herself of the shackles she’s had her whole life (her family).

It was a great book, very compelling, but I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable reading…it was definitely intense reading!

#4 Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly

Marianne is accomplished in her career, married with an adult daughter, living a posh life in London. Then she goes back home to her rundown town to help care for her mother who is suffering from dementia. She is faced with the dark secrets she left behind.

Her husband surprises her by buying a flat in a newly renovated building that used to be the insane asylum in her hometown. He thinks this is a good thing since they are going to be there for awhile taking care of her ailing mother. But Marianne is suddenly faced with her secret past and everything is threatening to be revealed and ruin her life.

The book was told in a very interesting way. I enjoyed it a lot and liked the unique writing style. The book starts slow but picks up the pace and get pretty good.

#5 The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I loved this book!

It’s 1943. Tess lives in Little Italy in Baltimore with her mom. She’s finishing nursing school. She’s engaged to the love of her life, Vincent, who is a doctor. Her life is planned out and she thinks things are going the way they should. Then Vincent goes off to Chicago for what they believe will be a few weeks, to help out with a polio outbreak. A few weeks turns into months. Their relationship suffers. Tess is lonely, starting to have doubts about Vincent and whether he still loves her.

Tess and Gina go to Washington DC for a weekend of fun and to get Tess’s mind off her worries. Tess makes one mistake and ends up cheating on Vincent and getting pregnant. Since she’s a “good Catholic” girl, she can’t end the pregnancy. She decides to leave Baltimore and find the one night stand to see if he’ll give her some money so she could disappear with her baby. Instead, Henry proposes. Tess decides this is the best option. Her baby will have a name. So she leaves Vincent, Baltimore, everything she knows, and moves to North Carolina, marries Henry and realizes she made a huge mistake.

The book is compelling and an easy read. You get sucked in immediately. It discusses WWII, race issues, polio, women’s issues, women’s independences, so many things. It was really, really interesting!

#6 Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

I’m not sure how to rate this book. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been a faithful radio listener for 20+ years. So of course I pre-ordered the book. But this book, I feel, is not necessarily for the faithful listeners. This book is clips and transcripts of some of Howard’s best interviews over the years, with some thoughts and such in between. He reveals some personal stuff in the book but it’s not necessarily a “tell all” type of memoir. So if you’ve listened to the interviews and heard every show (like me) then this is all stuff you’ve already heard.

BUT, it is very good and it’s very interesting because he chose interviews that were very compelling. Where guests really revealed intimate or tragic things about themselves and their lives. So even if you aren’t a Howard Stern fan, you could read this book and enjoy every word of it because you will learn things about celebrities you wouldn’t learn anywhere else.

He talks about a LOT of heavy topics, too. Like how Pamela Anderson was gang raped. Lena Dunham was raped. Stephen Colbert’s father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash. Rosie O’Donnell talked about the really hard childhood she had losing her mother at a young age. Howard wrote:

“…she announced she was gay. That really struck a chord with me. I had an older cousin, Stacy, who came out in the 1950s, when he was thirteen. This was in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, but my family was very accepting. My mother would set him up on dates, and even as a little kid I appreciated how courageous Stacy was. The same went for Rosie. I couldn’t imagine how much guts it took for her to come out, especially considering the potential risk to her career, yet she did it. “

Several celebrities discussed their run-ins with Harvey Weinstein. And Howard shared his interview with Harvey (where Harvey lied outright about the casting couch rumors).

Courtney Love talked about what it was like losing her husband to suicide. “No, he was weak. He was weak. Howard: Does that bother you that you guys weren’t on good terms when he died? Courtney: We were on good terms. He was just really weak. Howard: He couldn’t fuck at that point or think about anything other than his own condition. Courtney: He couldn’t think of anything but drugs. Howard: It is sad. So sad.”

Chris Cornell talked about his addiction to Oxy. “Yeah, it’s—you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t feel anything. Kicking it is so hard because all of a sudden your whole body comes to life, and you’ll have had all of these physical problems you didn’t realize you had because you don’t feel a damn thing. And so your knees will hurt. Your joints ache. Your brain hurts. It’s very depressing. It’s very hard to stay off. Getting off isn’t as hard as staying off. “

The interviews were really heavy at times. “Sometimes the conversations can be funny, like Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogen talking about their love of weed. Sometimes it can get dark, like hearing about Anthony Kiedis and Drew Barrymore being exposed to drugs when they were just kids.” And then it could be funny–like Alex Trebek revealing that he went to a party in Malibu and ate a bunch of Hash brownies because he has a sweet tooth. LOL!

And of course, Howard talks a lot about the animal rescue him and his wife do. He opened up about his cat, Leon: “We had Leon for eight years. We were never sure how old he was. This past September, the vet found a large tumor. We had to get it removed or else Leon would die. The surgery was routine, we were told, and he was expected to come through it fine. I had this strange feeling. A few days before he went to the hospital, I had a long talk with him. I said, “Leon, you’re going in for an operation. I can’t lose you. You’ve been with me through thick and thin. Don’t worry, you’re going to be all right. We’re going to be spending a lot more time together.” But deep in my mind I knew this could be it. Sadly, he died on the operating table. The tumor was even bigger than they thought, and he lost too much blood during the procedure. We had Leon cremated, and we put the small box containing his remains in a large Chinese vase in our bedroom. In that vase we keep the remains of our dog Bianca and all our resident cats who have passed away: Apple, Charlie, Sophia, and now Leon. Inside Leon’s box is also his collar with contact information in case he ever got out of the house. “My name is Leon Bear Stern,” it read. “Here is my phone number in case I am lost.” I was the one who had been lost—lost until I found Leon.”

I still cry whenever I read about his experiences losing his pets (they’ve lost a few cats over the years). It touches me pretty deeply.

Anyways, the book is excellent.

Happy Reading!

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