Tag: Emotional Gut Wrenchers

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: An Emotionally Gut-Wrenching True Crime / Memoir Mash-Up

May 18, 2017 Memoirs 4

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-LesnevichNonfiction – Memoir / True Crime
Released May 16, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (published by Flatiron Books)

Headline

Though not perfect, The Fact of a Body is a thoroughly unique, complex, and emotionally gut-wrenching mash-up of true crime story and dysfunctional childhood memoir.

Plot Summary

Marzano-Lesnevich interweaves the painful story of her upbringing in an abusive family with the true story of the murder of a five year-old boy by a sex offender (Ricky Langley).

Why I Read It

A mash-up of a dysfunctional childhood memoir with true crime literally couldn’t be any farther up my alley. Plus, Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (my review), called it a “marvel.”

Major Themes

Crime, Mental Illness, Pedophilia, Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets

What I Loved

  • This memoir / true crime mash-up is totally unique and was mostly (see below) successful for me. Marzano-Lesnevich interweaves the true story of the murder of five year old Jeremy Guillory by convicted sex offender Ricky Langley (and Langley’s childhood and coming of age) with the story of her own family and childhood, which resembles Ricky’s in surprising ways.
  • The farther I read, the more sense it made to meld these two stories into one book.
  • Marzano-Lesnevich’s exploration of the making of a sex offender is frightening and heart-breaking all at the same time. And, the juxtaposition of reading about the perpetrator of a sex crime alongside the victim of a sex crime gives this story incredible depth and nuance…and certainly brought up some complex feelings for me.
  • By the end of the book, I was just heart-broken about all of it and surprisingly emotionally gutted.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The Fact of a Body has been compared to In Cold Blood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Serial, and Making A Murderer. For me, the Serial and Making A Murderer comparisons were unfounded and misleading. Serial and Making A Murderer focused heavily on “is or isn’t the suspect actually guilty?” And, that’s not what The Fact of a Body does at all. Rather, you know who the perpetrator is right away and there is never any question of his guilt. The Fact of a Body is more an exploration into the psyche of a killer and sex offender…a la In Cold Blood.
  • Initially, I found the writing style and structure a bit tedious. The shifts between Ricky/Jeremy and Marzano-Lesnevich’s childhood were jumpy and Marzano-Lesnevich injected her own opinions/speculation into the Ricky/Jeremy story with statements like “he must have been thinking X” or “maybe he does Y,” which I found annoying. However, either I eventually got used to the style or things smoothed out farther into the book, because it bothered me much less by the end.

A Defining Quote

But how could I fight for what I believed when as soon as a crime was personal to me, my feelings changed? Every crime was personal to someone.

Good for People Who Like…

True Crime, dysfunctional childhood memoirs, dysfunctional families, emotional gut-wrenchers

Other Books You May Like

Another true crime book focusing on the psyche of a killer:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: A Nonfiction Page Turner

November 10, 2016 Nonfiction 23

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkNonfiction
Released September 10, 2013
558 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)

Headline

Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on my Page Turners list.

Plot Summary

An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

Why I Read It

This was the book that got the most votes from my Nonfiction November Reading Options post…plus, it’s been on my TBR for a couple years now and I felt like the last person on earth who hadn’t read it.

Major Themes

End-of-life care, euthanasia, prioritization of medical care, disaster preparedness, aftermath of a disaster

What I Liked

  • I think it’s rare for nonfiction to feel like a fast-paced page turner, but this one did. Particularly in Part 1, which focused on the play-by-play of what happened in the hospital during and immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
  • Comparing Five Days at Memorial to The Martian might seem odd. But, I got the same frantic feeling as I did while reading The Martian; of putting out a fire just to have a new one crop up…and being on the edge of my seat wondering whether they’ll survive each new setback.
  • This book is about so much more than just the events at Memorial. It’s about end-of-life medical decisions, euthanasia, medical ethics, the prioritization of care and evacuation in a disaster, what happens to society when conventional standards break down in the face of disaster (i.e. sometimes a Lord of the Flies environment), bureaucratic incompetence, poor planning, lack of perspective and the wrath of the elements. It’s about how all this conspired to create a horrific situation requiring choices no human should ever have to make.

Memorial wasn’t so much a hospital anymore but a shelter that was running out of supplies and needed to be emptied.

  • Fink wrote the book in a way that, when I was in the heat of the moment (i.e. Part 1), I had sympathy for both sides and could see both sides’ logic. But, in hindsight (i.e. Part 2, which covered the subsequent investigation), the doctors’ actions seemed callous and wrong. This is probably similar to how the real-life situation felt to many who were involved or following it on the news and I appreciated Fink’s ability to make me feel the complexity of the real-life situation.
  • This book is a debate starter. The lack of a clear right answer to what happened at Memorial would make for some fantastic book club conversation.

What I Didn’t Like

  • It was overly long and I could’ve done without a few specific tangents in Part 2 (historical background on euthanasia and the entire Epilogue except what happened at NYU hospital during Hurricane Sandy).

A Defining Quote

Pou would later say that the goal in a disaster must be to do “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” […]. But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, medical nonfiction, disaster scenarios, emotional gut wrenchers, debate starters

Other Books You May Like

Because of its fast paced, how-will-we-survive-what’s-thrown-at-us-next feel:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Because of its focus on how society responds to disaster:
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

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Alcohol & Advil: Mudbound and Dinner with Edward

July 14, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 19

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style
Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil) is back! Chalk up the long hiatus to a lack of books that left me sufficiently hungover to warrant a post. For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, both.

The Alcohol

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Algonquin)

Plot Summary: Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.

My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Something was definitely going to blow. The writing is simple and down-to-earth…with a cadence that takes you right to the Deep South.

When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Lining my husband’s fingernails and encrusting the children’s knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown.

Mudbound is centered around the themes of racism and women’s role in a marriage. There is a keen perspective of what it was like for a black war hero, having been celebrated abroad, to return home to be treated like a lessor class of human:

Ronsel

I never thought I’d miss it so much. I don’t mean Nazi Germany, you’d have to be crazy to miss a place like that. I mean who I was when I was over there. There I was a liberator, a hero. In Mississippi I was just another nigger pushing a plow. And the longer I stayed, the more that’s all I was.

And what it was like for a wife to have little say in the direction of her life, to be expected to defer to her husband always, and to serve her father-in-law as if she were his employee. These themes lead to some barbaric events that are not for the faint of heart. Mudbound is the best piece of Southern fiction I’ve read all year and one of the best I’ve ever read and would be a great choice for fans of Pat Conroy.

The Advil

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Algonquin)

Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir was a perfect follow-up to the brutality of Mudbound because it was completely different, it was short, it was sweet and hopeful…and because it focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works.

When Isabel shows up for her first dinner with Edward, she’s working herself to death and her marriage is in trouble, while Edward is trying to recover from the death of his beloved wife, Paula. One dinner turns into many, which then turn into a rescuing of the soul for both Isabel and Edward. It turns out Edward is a true gourmande, creating elaborate, multi-course feasts and imparting his culinary wisdom to Isabel (and me – I’ve already tried his trick for fluffy scrambled eggs!) in the process. Dinner with Edward combines the comforting feeling of Our Souls at Night with the delectable food focus of Sweetbitter…and is going on my 2016 Summer Reading, Cooking/Food Books, and Great Books Under 300 Pages lists.

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Read One, Skip One: The Mother and Some Possible Solutions

May 19, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 15

The Mother, Yvvette EdwardsThe Mother by Yvvette Edwards
Fiction (Released May 17, 2016)
256 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Amistad)

Plot Summary: When Marcia Williams, drowning in grief following the murder of her sixteen year-old son, faces his teenage killer at the trial, she is forced to make sense of how something so horrible could happen to her son.

My Thoughts: This novel kicks off with an incredibly powerful first chapter that pulled me in immediately, even though it was obvious this would be an emotionally difficult read. The Mother is part story of a mother’s grief, part courtroom drama, part portrait of grief’s impact on a marriage, and part statement about race, poverty, and what happens to people born into a rough life on the streets.  

Edwards’ simple, yet impactful writing and powerful images take the reader on the emotional roller coaster ride of the trial along with Marcia…feeling how each subtle change in momentum sends Marcia’s emotions either tumbling or soaring. As the story progresses, the book’s feel changes from quieter to more action-packed, culminating in a particular scene that that felt out of place. I really loved that quieter book and a part of me wishes the ending had maintained the same emotions-focused feel. Despite my lack of love for some aspects of the ending, The Mother is a powerful book in a compact package and is going on my Great Books Under 300 Pages and Book Club Recommendations lists.

Some Possible Solutions, Helen PhillipsSome Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips
Fiction – Short Stories (Release Date: May 31, 2016)
224 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Henry Holt) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: From the author of The Beautiful Bureaucrat (one of my favorite books of 2015), a collection of short stories focusing on “an idiosyncratic series of “What ifs.”

My Thoughts: My love for Phillips’ The Beautiful Bureaucrat created sky high expectations for this short story collection…despite short stories tending to be hit or miss for me. Well…this collection proved just like most others…hit and miss (with more misses than hits). If you read The Beautiful Bureaucrat, you know to expect some weirdness from Helen Phillips and she delivers that here. But, Bureaucrat had me dying to figure out the weirdness whereas some of the stories in Some Possible Solutions (Game, One of Us Will Be Happy, Children) left me so confused that I wasn’t even interested in trying to figure out the point of it all (my notes literally say “didn’t get it”).

But, there are some bright spots! The first story, The Knowers, had me pondering whether I’d want to know my date of death in incredibly dramatic fashion. The last story, Contamination Generation, was a heartbreaking piece of social commentary. And, there were a couple that posed simple life questions in tongue-in-cheek ways. The MyMan Solution got me thinking about what wives are really looking for in their partners…via a woman who purchases a life-like robot/sex toy. And The Wife Solution explores what someone wants in a wife (or, what they think they want)…via a married couple that hire a “wife” to serve all their needs (his and hers). Though these bright spots shined, there weren’t enough of them to overcome my confusion with many of the other stories.

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Alcohol & Advil: Did You Ever Have A Family & The Royal We

October 8, 2015 Mini Book Reviews 39

 

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style


Welcome to my new feature, Alcohol & Advil (many thanks to my good friend, Barrett, for thinking up this catchy name), where I’ll pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)!

For me, the “alcohol” is usually books that I either absolutely loved or books that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way (and sometimes both!). I’ve had two book hangovers so far this year (caused by My Sunshine Away and A Little Life) and, in both cases, I didn’t choose the appropriate “Advil”. But, the third time’s the charm…

The Alcohol

Did You Ever Have A Family, Bill CleggDid You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
Fiction (Released September 8, 2015)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: The story of June Reid, who loses her entire family (her daughter and her fiancee, her boyfriend, and her ex-husband) in a horrible tragedy on the night before her daughter’s wedding.

My Thoughts: The hype (both from bloggers and awards committees) surrounding Clegg’s debut novel made me nervous to read it…but, it surpassed all my expectations! Did You Ever Have A Family is a mostly character-driven story about family (obviously), small-town life, prejudice, parent/child relationships, grief, heartache, and regret.

Clegg’s ability to draw me into the story emotionally was what really made me love this book. I cared deeply about what had happened to these people and how they’d ended up in such a tragic place. Clegg reveals the family’s backstory and the aftermath of the tragedy in drips and drabs, causing my heart to break a little more each time a new tidbit is added to the mix. I’d even venture to say that I was as emotionally invested as I was in A Little Life, and that’s saying something. 

This is only the third book this year that’s given me a “book hangover” and I feel confident it will be one of my favorites of 2015. I’m also adding it to my Book Club Recommendations List.

The Advil

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica MorganThe Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Fiction (Released April 7, 2015)
465 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: Inspired by the real life courtship of Prince William and Kate Middleton, American Rebecca “Bex” Porter embarks on a relationship with Prince Nicholas after meeting at Oxford.

My Thoughts: I’d heard this novel was a fun read from both bloggers and real life friends alike. So, when I was wallowing in my Did You Ever Have A Family hangover and saw The Royal We pop up as a $3.99 Kindle deal, I pounced.

It’s fun, cheeky, and romantic (but not overly cheesy)! It pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of the British monarchy (I love any book that refers to the fictional Prince Charles as a “douchelord”…who knew he had so much in common with Scott Disick?!), but it’s equally heartfelt about the emotions that go along with existing in a gilded royal cage.

I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes rigamarole that an incoming member of the royal family goes through to be appropriately trained for duty. Obviously, who knows how much of what happened to the fictional Bex is actually true, but speculating is half the fun. Some elements of the novel obviously depart from real life (i.e. Bex is American and she and her sister, Lacey, are twins), others mimic reality, and some are tantalizing mysteries. The Royal We is a great choice if you’re looking for something light…be it a recovery book or a beach read.

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