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The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

 

The Farm

 

You know that feeling when you are on the uphill part of a roller coaster? There is that tick, tick, tick, of the car, your heart beats a bit faster as you look down, the seat belt starts to strain as you test just how tight you set it, you try to remember to look out and see the surrounding city, but it’s hard to peel your eyes from the pinnacle……now imagine all that tension and that you can see your parents tied to the tracks ahead and the knowledge that you have to choose one, just one to save.  You have to choose just one, mom or dad. That’s The Farm. The tension in The Farm just builds and builds and like a dog with a bone, it just won’t let go of you once you pick it up.

 

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

That’s how it starts for Daniel.  His parents retired to Sweden last year and because he has never opened up to them about your sexuality, he has pretty much avoided making a visit because that would mean introducing them to Mark, his boyfriend.

So Daniel picks his mom up at Heathrow and she starts to tell him, from the beginning, what has happened. You think you know your parents, like Mark does, until you are thrown into a crisis and realize that you really don’t know them at all. That feeling that you know them is even stronger than the feeling you might have with your spouse and yet is based on childhood memories and the false faces that our parents show us.

As Daniel listens to his mother, he is constantly forced to take sides; his dad or his mom. One minute, he believes that his dad is right and he deals with his mother calmly like you would a nut. Then he sees her side and even though he doesn’t want to believe it, his dad suddenly looks like the bad guy.  It’s the ultimate moment in time when you have to start being an adult and find that you have to now parent, your parents. (A theme that many of us have or will face.)

Now, I’ve read Smith’s earlier trilogy, Child 44 and it was good, but this is better. Not only has he become a better, tighter writer, but he has taken on a situation that most of us can picture ourselves; maybe not as extreme as poor Daniel, but it’s still the stuff that can keep you up at night just like this book did to me.

Read it.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0446550736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446550734

I received this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

 

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The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Imagine a time in your life when everything has fallen apart and you are wandering aimlessly, wondering what your next step should be when you come upon a house that you have never known before that somehow calls to you.

(side note: My love of architecture often means that I am drawn to homes and buildings that I have never noticed before, even when my life is going great, so this whole idea isn’t far-fetched for me)

Keep imagining….you go up the walk and before knocking on the door it opens and standing there is someone you have never met before, but she has such a motherly welcoming nature about her that you find yourself entering.

The woman, Peggy, ushers you into the kitchen as you walk by walls dripping with framed photographs of famous women from the past, including Florence Nightingale. The house seems alive, charming you and breathing life into everything at the same time.

You continue to stare at the portraits that blanket even the walls of the kitchen. Peggy says, “They’ve all lived here, at one time or another.” Still stirring the milk at the stove, Peggy speaks without turning around. “They came to the house, just like you, when they’d run out of hope.”

Our main character, Alba, has indeed run out of hope and while we won’t find out exactly why until later in the story, her feeling of being lost is palpable. Peggy invites her to stay after letting her know the rules of the house; she has 99 days to turn her life around and then she is out. Alba agrees to the rules, thinking that she has nothing to lose.

That is the start of The House at the End of Hope Street and while I may be, deep down, the most cynical person that I know, I was thoroughly charmed by van Praag’s book. The house gives subtle hints and objects to the residents in hopes of steering them in the right direction and we get to know all four of them well as the story develops.

Honestly, my hard heart is tempted to label this chick-lit (sorry if that offends you and it usually turns me off too), but it was…well….hopeful and while I doubt there is a magical house like that near where I live, I found myself longing for one. Having been through my own 100% life upheaval in the last year and a half, I could really relate to the residents emotions and their struggles between their hurt hearts and giving life another chance.

It might just be the personal timing, but this is one of my favs so far this year. It wasn’t life changing, but I no longer feel like the only one that is lost and it gave me some courage to keep at it.

 

The House at the End of Hope Street: A Novel by Menna Van Praag

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0143124943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143124948

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready

Let me give you the blurb first:

An addictive genre-blend of a thriller: the immersive sci-fi of Ernest Cline; the hard-boiled rhythms of Don Winslow; the fearless bravado of Chuck Palahniuk; and the classic noir of James M. Cain
Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a bombed-out shell of its former self. Now he’s a hitman.
In a New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap into” a sophisticated virtual reality for months at a time and those left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His clients like that he doesn’t ask questions, that he works quickly, and that he’s handy with a box cutter. He finds that killing people for money is not that different from collecting trash, and the pay is better. His latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist. Finding her is easy, but the job quickly gets complicated: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has an agenda far beyond a simple kill. Now Spademan must navigate the dual levels of his world-the gritty reality and the slick fantasy-to finish the job, to keep his conscience clean, and to stay alive.
Adam Sternbergh has written a dynamite debut: gritty, violent, funny, riveting, tender, and brilliant.”

Okay, after reading that, the only reason that I can see how this ARC landed on my doorstep is the two words, “classic noir”.  I typically don’t do sci-fi/dystopian and while I am quite handy myself with a box cutter, hit men in books are a dime a dozen. Somehow though, it was that hard charging noir rata-tat-tat style of writing that sucked me in right from the beginning.

The only problem was that then it lost me.  It seemed to go from Double Indemnity of the Future to I don’t give a care about any of these characters within about 100 pages. The noir tempo seemed to fail or be feigned at points and what started out as a book ended up reminding me of scripts that I read in my Scriptwriting 101 class.

What should have stayed along the lines of “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and …blow” (thank you Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not) turned into …

No, Mark. I said absolutely-

Persephone cuts me off.  Fiercely.

Look, I am very grateful for all that you have done for me, but I am not your f *&% daughter. I’ll do what I want. And I’m doing this. I need to.

There is a long silence. During which we all listen to the stillness of Chinatown.

Broken finally by Mina’s best Axl Rose falsetto.

Mop becomes mike stand.

Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door

I figure it’s time to call the meeting to a close.”

It was almost a farce and it lost me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t like I threw it against the wall or didn’t finish or anything…it was just blah and there was no there, there, if you know what I mean.

Shovel Ready: A Novel by Adam Sternbergh

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385348991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385348997

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Two Looks at Typhoid Mary

Fever  Deadly

In October, I read Fever by Mary Beth Keane and then earlier this month, I got my hands on Deadly by Julie Chibbaro. Both deal with Typhoid Mary in very different styles and from extremely different angles.  Also, it must be pointed out that Deadly is considered Young Adult, even won the National Jewish Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, while Fever is geared towards adult historical fiction.

Since Deadly is more fresh in my mind I will tackle that one first.  Prudence is a young lady slightly ahead of her time. Her losses, a brother to some disease and her father MIA in the Spanish-American War, have led her to be obsessed with what makes the body tick and what makes it stop ticking. Luckily she lands a job in the fairly new Health Department and this feeds her need for knowledge and leads her on the hunt for what turns out to be Typhoid Mary alongside her boss, George Soper.

Now Deadly, is a great book for young adults. It shows that women had to fight for their place in the world (especially the sciences), to be taken seriously, and to be sexually harassed while doing so at the beginning of the 20th century. However, it really didn’t focus one bit on the Typhoid Mary other than a few inner conflicts that Prudence felt about her treatment. The focus of Prudence’s strife could have been set in any backdrop at that time period, say a woman that wants to be a clerk as opposed to a shirt waste maker or any other field/area that women had yet to really enter at the time. At it’s heart, it is a story of a young girl with dreams  that are “above her station” and trying to achieve them. A great story until I compare it to Fever.

Fever was for adults and told from the viewpoint of Typhoid Mary herself, Mary Mallon. Imagine yourself, an Irish woman, never been sick a day in your life that you can remember, immigrating to the United States by yourself and working hard enough to become a well-known for hire cook in some of the more respected households. You live a fairly moral life, except for the fact that you have never married the man that you live with. It is the the early 20th century, so fevers and other often deadly illnesses are still common among all classes.  You, Mary the cook, pitch in when fevers hit a household that you are working in; preparing cold compresses, ice baths, and the like.

Suddenly, in 1906, some man named George Soper from the Health Department starts chasing you down telling you that you are the one responsible for all of those illnesses and deaths.  (Insert my great-great-grandmother’s Irish brogue here saying, “Are ye daft man? I’ve never been sick a day of me life, hows could I be making these people sick? ‘Tis crazy) She ran off from the man, multiple times and from job to job.

No matter, eventually Soper captures our dear Mary Mallon by force and quarantines her on North Brother Island in a hospital usually used for Small Pox victims. She is still healthy as a horse, but all told, spends 26 years living in a wee house on that island, not sick, but not allowed to leave.

Obviously, Mary’s travails griped me in Fever in a way that Deadly couldn’t and wasn’t meant to. The injustice, the loneliness, the longing, the sheer uncertainty of life and science at that point left me wanting to find the  grave of Mary Mallon and apologize for what we did to her.

So if you want a light young adult overview of Typhoid Mary, pick Deadly. If you want to feel her pain and really dealve into the story of Mary Mallon, read Fever.  And….if you ever find yourself wandering around Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, doff your hat to her for me.

Fever: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (March 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451693419
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451693416

Deadly by Julie Chibarro

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 068985739X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689857393

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Red Apple

In it’s short history, America has had some dark times as we navigate not only our constitution but the changing times. i.e. our horrible native American policies, the Civil War, Slavery, Civil Rights, Gay rights, and the continuing battle to separate Church and State.

There was one period of disease that was so far reaching and so blatantly against what forefathers stood for that just peeking into that era makes me cringe with embarrassment for being an American.

When else have we persecuted people for their own thoughts and beliefs? When have we gone after a multitude of people for something that should be covered under one of the basic tenets of this great country, Free Speech? When have we hounded everyday citizens, pressuring them to turn in the fellow neighbors, friends, family, teachers, union members? The United States became like sinking ship and it was every rat for themselves.

One can say that we have some of that now with the fight against terrorism, but this was different. The U.S congress was tiptoeing along the yellow brick road to fascism. It wasn’t just the Hollywood Ten that classic film buffs, like me,  may know about.

Now McCarthy didn’t start it. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) became a standing (permanent) committee in 1945, but had it’s roots as far back as the Overman committee in 1918, headed by Senator Lee Slater Overman right through the Dies Committee chaired by Martin Dies Jr from 1938-1944.

Strangely, when many of think of HUAC, we think of the bombastic Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and that isn’t the case. Since he wasn’t in the House, had had his own committees in the Senate. We also tend to think that the Hollywood Ten were the only ones blacklisted, but Red Apple makes it painstaking clear, just by looking at six New Yorker’s lives and how they were changed, no ruined, by the Cold War and McCarthyism.

As far as the book itself, there were points that were a bit plodding and it was tough to keep track of all of the acronyms of clubs and government divisions, whether pro-communist, peace-based, anti-communist, etc. However, it was a revelation to me, made me so angry that the first three paragraphs of this review were written at 1 AM in long hand in the little notebook by my bed. It made me so irate that I just had to get some thoughts down right then.

Did you know that McCarthy actually made it into the dictionary. (thanks Dictionary.com)

1.

the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, in manyinstances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.

2.

the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.

Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York

by Phillip Deery

 

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press (January 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0823253686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823253685

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P.S. Thanks to the publisher for my copy, I think being so irate about things that I couldn’t change was great for my low bloodpressure.

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