{Review}: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Sunday, August 28, 2016



 I've read quite a few Alice Hoffman novels in my day. (Will I ever read them all? I don't know! She's so prolific, I can't keep up.)  This month, I read two of Alice's novels back to back: 2011's The Dovekeepers, and the upcoming Faithful, out from Simon & Schuster in November 2016. The Dovekeepers, if you haven't read it, is an epic saga that tells the story of four women who sought refuge on Masada, escaping from Roman persecution after the destruction of the Second Temple.  Faithful, on the other hand, is short and sweet, with one endearing character.  Two books on opposite ends of the novel spectrum but here's what I've come to learn about Alice's novels: they are all about regret, transformation and redemption.

Faithful is the story of Shelby, who is left reeling from a tragedy and because she cannot forgive herself, she starts to self-destruct. In her journey back to herself, she is supported by a cast of characters that see something in her that she cannot see in herself. And once again, Alice is the queen of the plot twist. Shelby receives a series of anonymous postcards, and the reveal of the sender will surprise you, reader!

While Faithful is not the deep, profound prose of Alice's longer, meticulously researched historical novels, it was easy to become attached to Shelby and become emotionally invested in the outcome of her path-- I cried several times during the novel because I felt her pain acutely, thanks to Alice's ability to give Shelby a voice that we can hear. We can all root for a  heroine that makes regretful life choices, flounders a bit in the aftermath, then struggles to overcome and ultimately redeem herself.

About the book:

Faithful by Alice Hoffman is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on November 1, 2016, by Simon & Schuster. 

"From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel."  (via Amazon) 

{I requested an ARC from the publisher, and was not obligated, nor compensated,  to write this review. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. }

My Cochlear Implant Story: Part Two

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Why? Well, why not?

But let me back up. I had a list of reasons that kept me from getting an implant sooner.
1. Too old. 
2. Too invasive.
3. Doing alright with my existing set-up.

It's a pretty short list, yeah but I guess the whole list was also shrouded in fear, even if I didn't want to admit it. 

My mother, an AuD, had been urging me for a few years to think about getting a cochlear implant. I usually mumbled something along the lines of "sure, sure, maybe, someday," which meant...well, never, really. 

Finally, I agreed to go for a consultation at NYU. I knew the technology had come a long way, and my hearing was rapidly deteriorating. I let my mother make the appointment for me because why not? Just because I'm in my late 30s, doesn't mean I can't let my mother do stuff for me, right?! Mom came down to the city and together, we went to talk to Dr. Shapiro. After that consultation, I was more on board with the idea, especially after I found out I didn't have to shave my head to get the implant. (Don't give me side-eye. I know what you're thinking but I have enough problems without having to walk around with a half-shaved head.)

To determine candidacy for an implant, I was evaluated by another audiologist at NYU (hi, Laurel!). It was your standard hearing testing, just longer and more thorough. One of the tests determined speech discrimination.

What's the opposite of passing with flying colors? Failing with drooping, sagging colors? I listened to an audio recording of a nice fellow saying "Ready?," followed by a sentence I needed to process and repeat. Of the ten sentences, I understood one: "The train is leaving the station." And something about a banana. 

Yup, right ear: useless. With an aid, I did not do much better, as far as speech discrimination goes.


May 9th:



A month after the surgery, my implant was activated. In those YouTube videos with people getting their implants turned on, it always seems amazing! And it is!  But you know...it wasn't like that for me. I've been wearing hearing aids for 34 years, so sound is not new for me, the way it is for people who have never heard anything. The activation appointment was exciting but not overwhelming. Laurel, my audiologist at NYU, tested my speech discrimination on activation day and I couldn't really make out anything. What was REALLY exciting was the appointment where Laurel tested my speech discrimination again and I actually understood what she was saying--sounds, words, phrases, sentences. It wasn't 100% but it was pretty good and a vast improvement over that first day.

There were also moments like this:


Yesterday, I heard a cicada for the first time, which my sister identified for me. It seems like such a small thing, hearing these sounds of nature but for someone who has never heard them, it's a whole new world. These moments make me feel vindicated in my decision to get the cochlear implant.  A speech therapist I met with at Rusk Institute kept calling it a "baby brain," and it really is, because so much is new for my brain.  The brain, you guys, is amazing and I never knew just HOW amazing the brain was until I got this implant. Just incredible. 

Want to know more about how the cochlear implant work its' magic? Check out this video from Cochlear America:


{Review}: The Girls

Sunday, May 15, 2016



The Girls, out from Random House on June 14th, left me with the nagging feeling of familiarity. I'm only 36, so it's not because I lived the heyday of the 60s and 70s. Set in Northern California, at the end of the 1960's, Evie's story hits all the hallmarks of teenage angst-- friend drama, divorcing parents, sexual awareness, self-consciousness and endless navel-gazing.  But it has this particular heady sheen that seems gloss over anything set in the 60s and 70s.

We begin with two backstories: an introduction to the novel's antagonists, a roaming band of gypsies that capture Evie's bored imagination, and we get a glimpse into a sensational ending. From there, we go back to the beginning: Evie's life fraying at the edges, her father out the door with a younger woman and her mother taking benign neglect to a whole new level.

After awhile, I began to realize where the familiarity came from. Last year, I read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, and The Interestings. Both of these books are about angsty adolescents in the 60s and 70s, and they convey that same sort of dream-like quality, a looseness that comes from an age where things were just plain weird and everyone was high and figuring out how to be liberated, in mind and in body.

Not that I have a problem with that. It works for this book. Evie has a lost summer before being shipped off to boarding school, taking up with the members of a cult living in a run-down house in a remote place. Her mother is too busy finding herself a man, and her father...well, her father is doing his own thing too, so where does that leave Evie?

Left to her own devices, Evie learns a thing or two about herself through compare and contrast, and developing a low-level sense of self-loathing, ashamed of her privilege. Her vulnerability is ruthlessly exploited as she tries to convince herself that she belongs. The shocking events at the end of her lost summer disabuses her of that notion.

When we meet Evie, she is in her 60s, approaching 70, revisiting some hazy time when she was 14 and it was the 60s in California, and some crazy stuff was going down and how did she even get swept up in all of it? But now her life is sad, lonely, aimless. And I can see her so vividly, thanks to Emma Cline's gift for drawing characters with words that evoke a forlorn, pathetic mood, a kind of grayness over everything, even in sunny, bright, optimistic California.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}


My Cochlear Implant Story, Part One.

Thursday, May 12, 2016




I have a pretty little clay bowl that my mom's friend Sonny gave me last year. It took me a while to figure out how best to use it because it's too precious to dirty up with food. It finally landed on top of my dresser, as a catch-all for my jewelry, which I take off nightly. I also keep my eyeglasses and hearing aids in it. 
On Sunday night, I dropped my right hearing aid in it for the final time. 
The following morning, I was up at 4am, waiting to be picked up by my dad and sister, ready to take me to NYU for what seemed to be the next logical step in this journey I've been on since I was born. 
A video posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on

A photo posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on


By 7:15, I was in the OR, with a mask over my face and counting down to sleep. 
I woke up some hours later with a huge bandage over my right ear, to a friendly nurse offering me water for my parched throat. 

A photo posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on

I guess I'll call this Cochlear Implant: Part One. The surgery was a huge step but it's not the most important step. That comes about a month from now, when the device is activated. As nerve-wracking as surgery is, it pales in comparison to the anxiety of waiting to find out what kind of effect, if any at all, the surgery will have.

Some things about how I'm feeling:

  1. When I burp, my ear pops. 
  2. I'm not supposed to blow my nose vigorously during the initial recovery period. Anyone who knows me knows this is impossible for me. But the stars have aligned this week, and I've suffered no allergy attacks since coming home, and therefore, have no need to blow my nose. 
  3. I wore no hearing aid at all for the first day or so of being home. I don't know why. The silence was nice, though I'm sure it was annoying for everyone around me. 
  4. My bandage very quickly become a security blanket of sorts. I was hesitant to take it off and afraid of what would be underneath. 
  5. But I did take it off, on day 2, with Henry's help. My ear is banged up, bruised and swollen but not nearly as monstrous as I thought it might look. When it looks prettier, I'll show you a picture. 
  6. On Day 2, I was able to putter around a bit before feeling light-headed and going back to bed. Today, Day 3, I made lunch for the kids, and put together end-of-year gifts for the hebrew school teachers before I had to go back to bed. Progress. 
  7. Right now, the tip of my ear is numb and the inside of my ear feels stiff. But I don't feel much pain, just soreness and discomfort. 
  8. I was sent home with Vicodin which is always fun. I've taken it twice so far, to help me sleep. 
  9. With or without the Vicodin, all this napping is giving me some funky dreams, and not really pleasantly funky either. 
  10. For the next few weeks, my brain will have no input from the right ear, not that it had much to begin with. Then, there'll be lots of input. We'll see how that goes. 
  11. Bonus: While I was writing this, I got an email from my audiologist with an order form attached, asking what kind of equipment I wanted and in what color.  I guess it's time to countdown to activation day. 

PS I know some of you wanted to know why and how I made this decision, but that's another blog post and I'll do it, promise. xo

{Review}: The Age of Reinvention




What is the difference between a lie of omission and a lie, period? And is one worse than the other?

I would argue that both are no good, but that a lie of omission has technicality going for it. Technically, one did not utter a falsehood. One merely failed to correct an assumption, which places the responsibility on the other party to do due diligence.

Then, when happens when one has an attack of conscious and feels a desire to finally correct the assumption, but at the risk of losing everything, including the identity that was reinvented?

When Samir Tahar shortens his name to Sam, walks into a French law firm and is given the persona of a Sephardic Jew and a job, whatever hesitation he had is overshadowed by his new prestige as he is taken under the wing of his avuncular boss. And I did wonder, what kind of world is it when being a Jew is an advantage? As much as I embrace my own Jewish-ness, I have never once felt that it was an advantage or bestowed some kind of social privilege on me. I guess, better to be a Jew than a Muslim, which is the exact scenario that Sam enters into in this novel by Karine Tuil, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

Clocking in at just shy of 400 pages, The Age of Reinvention maintains a frenetic pace throughout that mirrors the runaway train that Sam finds himself on, after he cannot bring himself to correct an assumption, and he puts on his new life like the expensive suits he can now afford. It all comes to a head in the most ludicrous of ways but the scary part is that we readers can easily believe it might happen, in this age of Islamophobia and terrorism. Nothing seems surprising anymore; shocking, maybe but hardly surprising to find out the extremes to which our government might go in the fight against terrorism.
And what international thriller would be complete without a love triangle? Sam's arrogance, his willingness to parade himself around becomes his downfall as he grows vulnerable to exposure and becomes visible to the other two-thirds of the love triangle. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned. The love triangle would be a subplot, but Karine Tuil masterfully draws a thin but substantial line between events that put the plot into overdrive, so that we fall headlong with our characters past a point of no return, especially when a third plot line is uncovered, that proves to be the loose nut that brings it all crashing down around Sam. 
In this book, the reader is treated to a richly painted world that offers an immersive literary experiece that won't soon be forgotten as we turn over my original question: what's worse, a lie of omission or an outright lie?

{I requested a copy of this book for review purposes from Atria Books/Simon and Schuster. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: Writing My Wrongs

Thursday, May 5, 2016




We love redemption stories. We love the triumph of the will. We watch the fall from grace salaciously, with judgement but we cheer when grace is restored. Why? Because all of us have redemption stories. Some of them are big, like rags to riches or a life of crime to a life of honesty, but a lot are small, quiet moments in our everyday relationships. We build trust, break trust and restore it again. We disappoint each other, apologize, kiss and make up. In every redemption story, big or small, we see ourselves.
And in Writing My Wrongs, we see how a stubborn streak and parental neglect leads to a fatal mistake that brings the killer low, though it takes Shaka Senghor many years to accept that he has hit rock bottom. His stints in solitary confinement, his realization that he has made an avoidable mistake, his willingness to confront his demons and let go of his anger allows for a degree of introspection that is admirable and difficult. Senghor comes to realize that small, meaningful interventions early in his life would've made all the difference, something as simple as "Are you okay?" "Why are you so angry?" Indeed, the world would be a more peaceful place if we stopped reacting and started listening, looking, wondering, getting at the root of a conflict instead of hitting back.

Writing My Wrongs is a compelling, engaging read that doesn't radically stand out from any other redemption story out there, but the voice carries the reader along. Redemption stories are, by their very nature, predictably full of plot lines that crest, dip then crest again. However, this is the first time that I've really understood how the prison system is designed to rob people of their humanity. The constant upheaval, the threat of violence from all corners, the social isolation-- all of this serves to set inmates up to fail. Should someone be punished for committing a crime? Yes. Should someone be made to feel that there's no hope for change? No. What good does it do to return angry, demoralized people to society? Not much, as far as I can tell, and neither can Senghor, who has made it his mission in life to help children find a way to express their anger, frustration and disappointment without succumbing to violence.
So read this book for the story itself, and for a reality check.

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Vegetarian

Wednesday, April 13, 2016



The Vegetarian is full of powerful and graphic imagery but nothing gory, nothing overly disturbing as alluded to in the many rave reviews of this book. I wondered if something was lost in translation.
The words that come to mind when I think of this book, post-read, are minimalist and sparse. Yet the imagery is vivid, and in sharp relief. Each word has been carefully selected, each phrase carefully turned. There is a distinct lack of superfluity.
At the core of this novel is a woman who we don't really get to understand on her own terms. She is defined by her relationship with others. Her husband is quietly unsatisfied with her, though he cannot say she is a bad wife. Her sister pities her, and feels responsible for her. Her father cares little until he cares too much, refusing to understand her.  There are three voices in this book, and none of them belong to Yeong-hye, as central as she is to the book. 
Yeong-hye commits herself obsessively to being a vegetarian, as the result of a dream. The confusion,  wrath and indignation this elicits from her family is outsized. The more she is excoriated for not conforming, the deeper she digs her heels in, turning herself inside out and driving herself insane.
But is she really insane? Or is that an identity foisted on her by those around her as way of understanding her refusal to be like everyone else? It's hard to tell in this novel. We get the sense that she has discovered something about herself and has become attuned to her own sexuality, in a way that was never revealed to her husband. An inverse relationship develops. As Yeong-hye begins to fall together,  those around her who were so sure of themselves begin to doubt themselves and fall apart.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links.}

»

The Real Nani All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger