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Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Book of Madness and Cures

Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in 16thcentury Venice: a woman who practices medicine. Her father, a renowned physician, has provided her entrée to this all-male profession, and inspired in her a shared mission to understand the secrets of the human body.

Then her father disappears and Gabriella faces a crisis: she is no longer permitted to treat her patients, women who need her desperately, without her father’s patronage. She sets out across Europe to find where-and why-he has gone. Following clues from his occasional enigmatic letters, Gabriella crosses Switzerland, Germany and France, entering strange and forbidding cities. She travels to Scotland, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. In each new land she probes the mystery of her father’s flight, and open new mysteries of her own. Not just mysteries of ailments and treatments, but ultimate mysteries of mortality, love, and the timeless human spirit.

Filled with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an intoxicating and unforgettable debut.

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Grace

It doesn’t hurt to occasionally make forays into fiction that is outside of one’s genre comfort zone, so to speak. Today I am treading into general fiction, perhaps into that sub-genre that does not always dare speak its name — women’s fiction — and reading T. Greenwood’s latest novel. A half-century ago, I would have been the subject of taunting for trying such a thing, or at worst (like young Trevor in the book) subjected to bullying. At this stage in my life, the former does not bother me, and as for the latter, I have acquired a skill set that handles that type of behavior quite quickly and effectively. Accordingly, I am here to report that GRACE, for all its domestic backdrop, is suspenseful, addicting, and one of those rare books that you will sacrifice sleep to finish and be glad for it, regardless of your genre of choice.

“I am here to report that GRACE, for all its domestic backdrop, is suspenseful, addicting, and one of those rare books that you will sacrifice sleep to finish and be glad for it, regardless of your genre of choice.”

GRACE takes place in rural New England; its subjects are the working class, those who make do with a few extras and a helping of downsized expectations, and for whom a few unexpected setbacks can spell chilling disaster. So it is with the Kennedys (no, not thoseKennedys), whose situation is unraveling in slow motion with all-but-certain bad results. We know this from the first pages of the book, which begins on a winter night with a chilling, horrifying tableau, and then goes back in time to show how things came to reach the state of affairs so prematurely revealed.

Kurt, husband and father, manages an almost successful junkyard that he inherited from his dad but that is slowly falling into failure due to a number of factors, including online retail sites. The family bills are divided into past due — 30, 60 and 90 days — and the adjustable rate mortgage that looked so attractive a few years ago on their now upside-down house is about to become a monster twice the monthly size of what it was.

Elsbeth, wife and mother, has been a beautician at the local salon ever since she was 17, and shortly after she found Kurt discovered that she was heavy with child. She is troubled by the fact that she struggles to love Trevor, her firstborn son, but has no difficulty feeling a wholehearted and genuine affection for her much younger daughter, Gracy. Elsbeth has other problems, however, including an impulsive kleptomania that she limits to small items from the local Walgreens, and a near constant and not wholly unreasonable desire for a bit more than the family can afford at any given point.

Trevor, whose conception occasioned the marriage of Kurt and Elsbeth, is on the cusp of adolescence. He is uncomfortable in his 13-year-old body, which is always hungry and a target for a couple of school bullies, who put him in situations where he is constantly blamed for the outcome by school authorities. His one solace is a camera given to him by his art teacher, a 16-millimeter that requires film to be developed. It is his pictures that bring Crystal inadvertently into the lives of the Kennedys. Crystal, a clerk at the Walgreens where Elsbeth trades and shoplifts, slowly begins to realize what is happening in the family’s world when Elsbeth brings Trevor’s film to the store for developing. Shel is aware of Elsbeth’s love of the five-fingered discount, but turns a blind eye to it while she is caught up in her own tragic and heartbreaking situation.

All of these elements are inter-related, and slowly, painfully and explosively converge. Some elements can be seen coming down the road as clearly as an old Chevrolet with a cracked head gasket, headed for Kurt’s junkyard. Others, like Elsbeth’s shoplifting, impact indirectly but just as surely. By the end of the novel, much has changed, and yet there is a lot that cannot be.

What is striking about GRACE is the manner in which Greenwood quietly but effectively constructs and addresses common situations that affect all of us at one point or another to varying degrees throughout our lives. Everyone can empathize with Kurt, who consistently finds that too often he has too much month left at the end of the money. Elsbeth’s penchant for shoplifting, and the manner in which she justifies it in her own mind, is a trait shared by far more people than one might expect. And Trevor? Does anyone reading this really want to go back to adolescence? Don’t raise your hands all at once! Greenwood takes these commonalities, and with a twist here and a realistic turn of events there, turns them into a recipe for tragedy, one that can only be avoided by an unexpected element.

Part suspense, part romance, and all real-world, GRACE is a thoughtful and intriguing slice-of-life work that you will not soon forget.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 6, 2012

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected: A Memoir

Brett and Kelle Hampton were euphoric with the birth of their second daughter Nella. However, their initial euphoria turns to shock and dismay that their newborn was born with Down syndrome as their first child two years old Lainey was a healthy baby. Once Ms. Hampton moved pass the denial phase to acceptance, she, her spouse and Lainey realized how wonderful Nella is and that they were fortunate that God chose them to raise her. The author of the Enjoying the Small Things blog is her daughter’s champion as she has become an advocate for Downs’ syndrome people. Her optimism is addicting though some of the difficulties of raising a special needs child is glossed over by the upbeat philosophy (try getting a baby-sitter for a night out when your family lives a thousand miles away). With great photos and expanding on entries from her blog and adding much more, Kelle Hampton provides a wonderful from the heart memoir that encourages families to mentally hug the upbeat moments as “Beauty in the Unexpected” can be our inspirational norm.

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