Saturday, October 24, 2015

520-523 (2015 #77-80). Four Books on Aging

Just this past week, my mother turned 87, and my father is 86.  My mother has a lot of health issues and has had a part-time caregiver for a number of months.  Lately my spare-time reading (outside of audiobooks) has turned from recreational to the serious, as I try to learn more to be able to help them - and myself.

They're Your Parents Too!  How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo, helped me better understand why some of my four siblings seem to be unaware - or uncaring - about my parents' aging and health issues.  We each had different relationships with our parents as well as with each other, that impact how we interact today.  Each chapter has case studies and helpful suggestions at the end on dealing with these situations.

The Eldercare Handbook:  Difficult Choices, Compassionate Solutions, by registered nurse and nursing home administrator Stella Mora Henry, focuses on professional care (assisted living and nursing homes) when home care is no longer an option.  It too is full of case studies and great advice.

Chapter 2, "Red Flags: Ten Signs To Watch For In Your Parents," is an excellent tool to help children make a plan and ideally involve their parents in the process.  The author also walks the reader through the process of selecting a long-term care facility as well as all the concerns that come with that decision, including medical, financial, and legal matters.  Most eye-opening for me was the need to do the research into assisted living and nursing homes NOW, because often a hospital will give as little as 24 hours notice that a patient will be discharged and cannot return home.

I heard Dr. Tam Cummings, the author of Untangling Alzheimer's: The Guide for Families and Professionals, speak at a recent caregiver's conference.  If I hadn't, I would not have been able to make it through this book, because the numerous and frequent grammar and syntax errors and obvious lack of editing detract from what would otherwise be quality material.  Someone unfamiliar with the author might find it hard to take her book seriously due to this poor quality.

While the book focuses on Alzheimer's, it does touch on the many other forms of dementia, and their signs and symptoms as well as stages.  Each chapter ends with a helpful summary of five or six main points to remember.

If I hadn't received the book for free, I would have been more upset about the poor editing.  I do hope the author publishes an update or revision soon with better editing, as the information she shares is so worthwhile.

The Elder Care Helper Guide:  Making Sense of Long-Term Care, by Susan Cherco, was probably the most useful book of the four.  The book describes the types of elder care available - home care, assisted living, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities - their costs and who pays, and the appropriateness of each for a given situation. Checklists and lists of best practices help the reader evaluate local providers of the appropriate type.  Most of the information in this book is available on Cherco's web site,  However, the book is organized in a way that makes it easier to read, and also includes mini case studies.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The first and last books were borrowed from and returned to the local public library.  The other two books were received at a caregivers conference in Austin, Texas, in late September 2015.  I will be hanging on to them for a while.]

519 (2015 #76). We Never Asked for Wings

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh,
read by Elea Oberon and Robbie Daymond

I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, so when I saw she had a new book out, I had to read it.

Once again Diffenbaugh deals with a number of social issues in her book: illegal immigration and undocumented workers and children, teenage pregnancy and single motherhood, bullying and poverty, and differences in educational opportunities.

Letty Espinosa is an American citizen born to illegal immigrant Mexican parents in the San Francisco area.  She was able to attend the better Mission Hills high school and was a shining star in science - but then she got pregnant.  She didn't want to hurt the chances of her equally bright Mission Hills boyfriend, Wes, and never told him she was pregnant, just quit returning his calls.  Ultimately Letty's life spirals downward as she drinks heavily, has another child (this one with an unknown father), and works as a bartender.  Her mother Maria Elena takes over raising her children.

This works fine until Letty is 33 and her grandmother dies in Mexico.  Her father Enrique, an artist who makes pictures with bird feathers, returns there but doesn't come back, and Maria Elena follows him.  Now Letty is left to raise her children, fifteen-year-old Alex, and six-year-old Luna, on her own.  Alex is bright like his parents, but doesn't have much of a future in the poor area where they live.  Neither does his girlfriend Yesenia, an illegal immigrant and daughter of another single mother, Carmen.

Letty gets a lot of help from her wealthy friend Sara and a fellow bartender named Rick to get her family moved into Mission Hills.  Alex thrives in the new environment, getting into an honors science class, having his project involving his grandfather's feather collection chosen for the science fair, and developing a relationship with his father.  Yet he is still torn by his concern for Yesenia back in his old neighborhood, and it leads him to trouble.

The story is told in third person from the viewpoints of Letty and Alex, alternating each chapter.  This worked especially well with the audiobook, as it was always clear who was narrating.  Actors Elea Oberon (Letty) and Robbie Daymond (Alex) have voices with just the right blend of youth and maturity to fit their characters.

However, in contrast to The Language of Flowers, I had trouble liking the characters in this book.  So many of them are either self-centered (Letty, Enrique, Maria Elena, Wes) or a bit unbelievable in different ways (Sara. Luna, Rick, Alex, Yesenia, Carmen).  Too many things start going right for Letty too quickly.  And for a smart kid, Alex does something really stupid.   Still, I am glad to have read the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

518 (2015 #75). Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

by Jennifer Chiaverini

This is the fourth of Jennifer Chiaverini's historical fiction / biographical novels featuring lesser-known women of the Civil War era.  It is most similar to the first in that group, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, in that it's about a President's wife and a black woman.  Unlike that book, the black woman in this one is not a free woman.  I was surprised to learn that Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Union General and later President Hiram Ulysses S. Grant, came from a slave-holding family in Missouri.

Apparently, Mrs. Grant was often accompanied by a "favorite slave" when she joined her husband at various military outposts, according to the author in an interview, in reference to her research.  Little is known about this woman, except that her name was also Julia (and she was often referred to as "Black Julia,") and that another Dent family slave described her as a "tiny ginger-colored maid."  Chiaverini uses these two details to build an almost-entirely fictional character (and her related experiences).

I found the story of the novelized Mrs. Grant to be far more interesting.  I also learned a lot about Ulysses S. Grant and his career from this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

517 (2015 #74). All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr,
read by Zach Appelman

I can see why this book won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  It is superb.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a 12-year-old blind French girl living in Paris when the German occupation of World War II begins in 1940.  Her widowed father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History, which supposedly has a priceless but cursed diamond.  They flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast (it is pictured on the book cover) and the home of her great uncle Etienne, a radio enthusiast (he has eleven sets).  Marie-Laure doesn't know that her father is carrying either the diamond or one of three exact replicas, to keep it out of German hands.

Werner Pfennig is a 14-year-old German boy living with his younger sister Jutta in an orphanage in the coal-mining town of Zollverein.  He has an aptitude for science, especially radios, and when he fixes one for a German commander, he is sent to an elite (but brutal) military school where he learns to track Resistance radio broadcasts.  Werner begins to question what he's doing.

Their path cross four years later, in August 1944, during the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo.  Anthony Doerr also has interesting storylines for a number of minor characters, that reach their climaxes just before, during, and long after this period.

Listening to this book in audiobook format is especially appropriate.  Because of Marie-Laure's blindness, Doerr is very detailed in his descriptions, and I could really "see" the settings, especially Saint-Malo.  Actor Zach Appelman does an outstanding job with the reading.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, October 04, 2015

516 (2015 #73). Girl Waits With Gun

by Amy Stewart 

What a romp!

Amy Stewart's first foray into fiction is a lot of fun.  Just the kind of book I like, too - one based on an actual incident and real people.

In 1914, a car driven by a silk factory owner named Henry Kaufman ran into a buggy with the three single Kopp sisters in it.  They weren't hurt, but the oldest, 35-year-old Constance, asks Kaufman to pay $50 to repair the buggy.  Henry and his band of thugs instead race away, and later harass and threaten the sisters with bricks thrown through the windows of their isolated farm, and even a fire.  The local sheriff ended up giving the women revolvers and taught them how to shoot.

Stewart ups the suspense with subplots about a secret in the sisters' past (fortunately revealed pretty quickly), and a completely fictional factory worker also being harassed by the factory owner.

According to an interview, Stewart got the idea for the book while researching for her previous one, The Drunken Botanist (self-described by Stewart as "a book about booze," which I now want to read).  She was checking old newspapers for information about a gin smuggler named Henry Kaufman, and found numerous articles about the silk manufacturer's interactions with the Kopp sisters (maybe he was the same guy?).  Constance, who was six feet tall, particularly intrigued her.

In a post for's blog, Stewart said she used the site, as well as city halls, courthouses, cemeteries, historical societies, and libraries, to piece together the Kopp family and to find descendants, who provided even more information.

The book title comes from a headline of  a story that appeared in numerous newspapers of the time.  The novel is a bit long and drags in parts, and ends rather abruptly - setting up for a sequel that Stewart acknowledges she is writing.  I will definitely be reading that.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this advance reader's edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  I might keep it for a while and then pass it on to someone else to enjoy.]

from The Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island),
November 23, 1914, page 13
On her website, Stewart describes this as "a classic (if not
terribly accurate) newspaper illustration from the Kaufman case."