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This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor
This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor
by Alan S. Kesselheim
Edition: Hardcover
88 used & new from $0.01

17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eloquent Clear-Eyed Courage, March 8, 2008
This is the voice of Dr. Susan Wicklund, telling stories from her practice as an abortion provider, and stories of the effect her career had on her life, her family, and the communities where she worked.

The prose is even-keeled and quietly eloquent, but her description of life under seige as anti-choice fanatics grew bolder and bolder in their violence and intimidation literally made my heart pound while I read some passages. I had to tell myself that her book is in my hands, so obviously she made it through alive. Even if you remember the news stories from those years, the immediacy of her account will give you fresh insight.

Dr. Wicklund is a hero in this book, and she's a hero to me. Still, I wondered occasionally what it would be like to hear someone else's side-- not an enemy, but maybe a colleage or family member whose perspective could broaden the view a little. However, she does talk about regrets and the price she paid for her choice of career, in time away from her family and the strain put on those who cared about her.

This is the first book in a long time that I've read straight through in one day. Powerful.

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pretty lights, no problems, February 10, 2008
I've had these lights for months now, turning them on and off every day, and none has burned out yet. The color of the light is a little different from incandescent holiday lights, but it's not cold or weird-looking. I'm very satisfied with them.

A Free Life: A Novel
A Free Life: A Novel
by Ha Jin
Edition: Hardcover
151 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars installments from an ordinary life build a subtle, caring portrait, February 10, 2008
This review is from: A Free Life: A Novel (Hardcover)
At over 600 pages, this book took me several weeks to read-- yet I'm truly sorry it's over. The chapters are only a few pages, each narrating in plain language a small episode from the life of Nan Wu and his family. Just like in real life, you never know when the next installment about the neighbors' kid, or the shady lawyer, or a son's schoolwork will pop up.

The effect over the length of the book is of a rich fabric, but also of the daily effort and accretion of detail that it takes to get through life. Nan Wu is a poet who has to make a living with poorly-paid jobs and exhausting restaurant work; the book's form made me feel the repetition, the wandering purpose, and the small moments that make life worthwhile despite the struggles.

I came to care about Nan Wu and his wife very much. My only wish was for more about their son, who is six at the start of the book. His storyline seemed incomplete and intermittent in relation to how important he is to Nan.

Reading this book was like keeping up with a circle of friends and acquaintances from my hometown, filling in the news about them as I receive it, watching things change and remain the same. Quiet and satisfying.

Boy Toy
Boy Toy
by Barry Lyga
Edition: Hardcover
76 used & new from $0.01

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent portrait of child sex abuse, but a few plot problems, January 19, 2008
This review is from: Boy Toy (Hardcover)
Boy Toy's strong point is its description of how an adult grooms a child for abuse, manipulates and pushes at boundaries until they're completely gone. Eve Sherman's actions and Josh's reactions were completely plausible, and the emotions and how it affected the rest of his life were right-on.

I liked the narration by 18-year-old Josh as he decides what to do next with his life, baseball, college, and so on. He was still a young narrator, but with a more mature eye: the balance between insight he'd gained and what was still unclear to him kept my interest.

Sometimes the story went on a little too long or was paced a little slow-- I'd flip ahead and could see there was 10 or 20 more pages of pretty much the same stuff I was reading right now.

The climax of the book was also a little bit of a letdown. Josh's "I realized" moments happened almost in a vacuum, with too many internal shifts that weren't backed up by real events. I also didn't believe his interactions with the police and in court: in my experience, he would have been treated much more considerately, interviewed in a medical setting by a forensic interviewer instead of grilled by cops, perhaps been allowed to testify by video deposition rather than having to talk in open court with his abuser sitting right there. This may be a small-town thing, but it didn't ring quite true to me.

Boy Toy wasn't perfect, but it was well worth reading for its emotional notes and everyday-yet-creepy portrait of child sex abuse.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2008 8:46 PM PDT

by Robin McKinley
Edition: Hardcover
104 used & new from $0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Decent setting and characterizations in desperate need of editing., November 29, 2007
This review is from: Dragonhaven (Hardcover)
I didn't find the narrator's voice realistic or authentically "teenage," especially for a boy. I found it annoying. Lots of "Okay, the closest thing that I can tell you was that it was like this. Well, not really like this, but more like that. A THIS kind of that. Words just don't work, you know?" A whole book in that style, relentlessly, on every page. I found myself skipping the middles and ends of many paragraphs, and that's not a pleasant way to read.

That said, I did enjoy the characters and the idea of a huge dragon reserve in Wyoming. The politics had tons of potential as an interesting side of the story, but were too simplified and sometimes inexplicable to really dig my teeth into. In particular, the shtick about "dragons are protected, but it's massively illegal for anyone, including a ranger, to help one survive" didn't make sense and was not believeable.

I felt a big "wouldn't it be cool" rush of energy around this book, but the story-telling and details were not pinned down or thought out well enough to sustain interest. Then the narrative voice just swamped it all. Skip this one unless you read every dragon book that comes out.

by Chris Crutcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.10
176 used & new from $0.01

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than its premise., November 6, 2007
This review is from: Deadline (Hardcover)
When I first read about this book, the premise seemed like a sure winner. A kid has a year to live, and decides not to tell anybody. How does he come to terms with death and pack in as much life as possible in the short time remaining?

As I was reading, however, the premise was the thinnest, least believeable part of the book. Compared to Chris Crutcher's real strength-- making you care about the characters and their relationships as they deal with pain and the horrible things that happen in life-- it seemed a touch gimmicky, getting in the way of the real, gritty stuff that was happening.

The main character's medical problems as illness caught up with him, the reactions of the people around him-- they just weren't quite real, they were glossed over a little.

That said, there were other things in this book that made me go, yeah, that's exactly how it is. Some of them were things you don't see in a lot of books.

I loved how Crutcher showed that situation where you're keeping a secret, and maybe you think it's too soon to tell someone, and then the relationship progresses and suddenly it feels too LATE to tell them and it's a big mess. That was pitch-perfect.

I loved how the main character felt like a real teenager in his not-quite-realistic thinking about death, a little romanticized and theoretical and yet not afraid to tackle the big questions like religion and meaning head-on. The way he attached near-ultimate importance to a football game was a perfect match for how he took the idea of death in stride. The way his anti-racism town project was a little off-kilter and doomed to failure, but still so much more right than the attitudes he was fighting against. Everything had the out-of-scale intense emotion of being a teenager.

I liked how people made mistakes and there was no way to really fix them, no symbolic literary redemption whatever, just moving forward and doing the best they could.

Definitely read this if you've liked Chris Crutcher's other books--for the football, the small-town dynamics, the romances and family relationships. If you want more focus on what it's like to die young, you might also like Paige Dixon's "May I Cross Your Golden River?" or the brand-new "Before I Die" by Jenny Downham.

The Girl in the Box
The Girl in the Box
by Ouida Sebesstyen
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
28 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique, memorable, even inspiring., October 27, 2007
I tracked down this book after coming across several "I read it when I was a kid and never forgot it" testimonials. For about the first third of the book, I wasn't sure: the pace dragged a bit, the narrator kept making veiled references to something she hadn't explained yet, and it all seemed pretty contrived.

The flashback story accelerates, however, and the present-day story of Jackie's captivity grinds along relentlessly with its suspense over whether she'll live or die, whether that door at the top of the stairs will open.

I have never read another book quite like it. I felt inspired at the end by Jackie's questions and the answers she creates for herself, to look at my own life and wonder what kind of a box I might be in, and how I want to respond.

Four stars instead of five for characters who seem a younger and less fleshed-out than they're meant to be, and for the slow start. Worth reading, for writers and readers who like big questions.

The Love Hunter
The Love Hunter
by Jon Hassler
Edition: Paperback
67 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well done, but not as easy to love as his others, October 14, 2007
This review is from: The Love Hunter (Paperback)
Like the other Jon Hassler books I've read, this one had sentences and turns of phrase that were so felicitous, and showed such amazing powers of observation, that I read them over and over. The descriptions of Iowa, Minnesota, and Manitoba brought the landscape into sharp relief, and I felt like I was there at the grody hunting cabin, and wading in the cold water.

The biggest problem for me in this book was the characters. None of them was likeable, except for Rachel. And she spent so much time keeping the others going that I hardly got to see her as her own person. Long sections of this book (especially at the hunting resort) were less than pleasant to read because I didn't like or care about the people I was watching.

I admire this book, but when I go to re-read some Jon Hassler I will turn to Staggerford, which renders the same kind of landscape and small-town life not just in perfect detail, but in loving detail. I believe Staggerford is Hassler's masterpiece, and The Love Hunter didn't quite measure up.

The White Darkness
The White Darkness
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Edition: Hardcover
75 used & new from $0.01

27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars wonderful premise, disappointing execution, October 8, 2007
This review is from: The White Darkness (Hardcover)
After looking forward to this book for several months, I finally started it...and abandoned it within a day.

The premise, a teenager trapped in Antarctica and facing intrigue and life-or-death situations, was great. The main character's voice at the beginning was great. How's this for a beginning: "I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now--which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter."

I was all set to love the book and its main character, Sym. However, by the end of the first chapter it becomes clear that there's something wrong with her uncle, who is clearly the antagonist. He's obviously lying, perhaps crazy, certainly not a very nice person. Yet Sym doesn't catch on to this for most of the book. She's fourteen, old enough to notice and form her own opinions. When she goes blithely on her way, ignoring the obvious approaching plot of the book, I can't help losing respect for her character. It's like she's sleepwalking or just going according to the script.

When the reader has caught on to something and has to wait around for the main character to catch on too, and it doesn't happen despite ample evidence, it's hard to keep caring. I found myself flipping ahead to see if the book had turned the corner yet...nope...nope, not yet. I checked the ending to see how it came out (pretty much as expected), then regretfully put the book down.

I am really sorry that I experienced it this way, as the language and writing were often thoughtful and beautiful.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 18, 2010 11:24 AM PST

The Deep End
The Deep End
by Chris Crutcher
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
56 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A happy discovery for fans of Crutcher's YA fiction, October 8, 2007
If you like Chris Crutcher's young-adult books, go back and try this thriller. The main character is a child and family therapist with his own history of anger and mistakes. The plot isn't all that subtle, but it will pull you through the book with a few violent shocks and a lot of affection for the characters. I especially liked the glimpses of what it's like to work with kids in play therapy.

The details are a bit dated ("He's got one of those cellular phones.") and a few of the characters are stock (biker with the heart of gold, for example) but the emotions ring true as they do in all of Crutcher's books. I have a huge crush on him for the way he speaks out for kids and keeps it real.

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