Friday, August 29, 2008

Conversations with the Fat Girl

Title: Conversations with the Fat Girl
Author: Liza Palmer
Date Finished: August 28, 2008
Pages: 328

Have you ever found a book that you related to on so many different levels that you just did not want to put it down? I will be honest, chick-lit is not one of my favorite genres, but when I read the synopsis of this book I felt an immediate connection to the main character and her trials and tribulations with her best friend. Having just gone through very similar experiences, I found myself anticipating the outcome and wondering if it would be similar to my own.

Maggie and Olivia have been best friends for years, having bonded in middle school because they were both overweight and outcasts. The girls fantasize all throughout high school about big events in their lives and how everyone will realize that these girls really are great and want to be a part of their lives. Years later at the age of 22, Olivia being the bigger of the two, decides to undergo gastric bypass surgery. After becoming a "skinny girl," Olivia falls in love and become engaged to Dr. Adam Farrell. Upon visiting them on the east coast, Maggie discovers that they sleep in their own double beds in the same room, Adam is obviously repulsed by overweight girls, and seems to be looking for a trophy wife to show off on his arm.

Maggie finds herself discontent working as a barista in a coffee house along with the one man she cannot stop thinking about, Domenic, the busboy and doll maker. Domenic (whose real name is Domenico) works in the family doll making factory, where he is in charge of making the small hands and feet for the dolls. Maggie finds herself always acting awkward around him and not confident enough to tell him how she really feels. The two dance around the topic of a relationship the entire book. The question of whether they would become a couple or not, started to get on my nerves, but I really appreciated that this book did not focus solely on her finding a boyfriend, but on finding her own self.

Maggie was chosen to be Olivia's Maid of Honor and bends over backwards throughout the whole book to do everything she can to make this event as special and meaningful as possible for her best friend. She also sees it as her own personal reward, because years ago, they were both just fat girls who no one liked, and here they are 15+ years later and one of them is marrying this handsome doctor. What Maggie seems oblivious to is the fact that her best friend really hasn't been a friend for several years. Ever since becoming skinny, Olivia has hidden the fact that she was ever fat from all of her new friends, and seems to have made up this really great past that Maggie knows is no where near the truth. Olivia is constantly disappointing Maggie, and cannot seem to find time in her busy schedule to actually call her back, but does have time to talk to her new friend Gwen, who is also quite rude to Maggie. Even though Maggie is the MOH, Gwen is determined to have a special spot in the festivities, and is always monopolizing Olivia's time, which seems to be of no concern for Olivia.

Things really start to come to a climax at the Bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Wanting to make this day as special as she can, Maggie has set up to have drinks with just Olivia before the festivities start. Hoping to rekindle the friendship that seems to be missing, Maggie wanted to spend some quality alone time with her best friend before her big day. After three unreturned phone calls to confirm, Maggie goes out with her sister Kate, whom she brought along for support on this trip, to wait at the restaurant where all the party goers are suppose to have high tea. When the other guests start to arrive it becomes very embarrassing for Maggie that the Bride and Gwen are the only ones not present. Thirty minutes later they do finally show up and Maggie finds out that they had flown in early and spent the whole day together shopping, getting pampered at the spa (which was Maggie's birthday gift to Olivia) and just hanging out. Feeling frustrated, Maggie chooses not to say anything and they move on to the next activity. Feeling more confident, since she has lost a size, Maggie grabs her new outfit and cowboy hat as they head to the bar. Gwen makes a nasty comment which riles up Kate who in her drunken haze, confronts her. When it becomes apparent that Olivia is not going to do anything to stand up to her friend, Maggie, on the verge of tears, pulls her sister out of the bar and heads back to the hotel. At three a.m. Maggie gets a call from a desperate Olivia who wants to meet. Maggie sneaks out of her room, where her sister is sleeping, and meets Olivia who is in tears and feeling bad about not defending her at the bar. She gives Maggie her birthday gift, which is a beautiful necklace with an M & O on it, and begs Maggie to promise she will still be a part of the wedding.

After telling herself that she just would not know what to do without her best friend, Maggie once again gives in to Olivia, and wants to still be a part of her big day. When she tells her family, Kate is obviously upset and feels betrayed that she stood up for her sister only to have her go running back to the person that was so openly mean to her in public. The worst for Maggie is when her mom tells her she will not accompany her to the wedding and that she wants her to realize that Olivia is not a real friend. Feeling like she is being let down, her mom explains to her that she loves her and is tired of watching her continuously hurt by the same person.

It is wonderful to watch Maggie become more confident in herself as the book progresses, she finally does something with her degree that she loves, she starts taking better care of herself by going to a personal trainer, and she stops allowing herself to be used by others. Having that defining moment where you realize that you do have the power to make changes in your own life, and you actually take back control is a great thing.

The day before the rehearsal Maggie finds out she is no longer a part of the head table with Olivia and in fact has been banished to the furthest table from them, Table 9. Olivia's mother asks her to take the pictures Olivia has selected to a place that can put them together as a slide show. Instead, Maggie volunteers and says she will do it on her computer. The night of the rehearsal dinner, Maggie confidently walks to Table 9, where she is the only person, since everyone else who was suppose to sit there has grabbed a chair and moved closer. When it is time for the slide show, the guests finally get to see the real Olivia. Maggie has gone through and added in slides of the two of them when they were younger, and some of the fun things they did together. Olivia freaks out, and begins screaming at her mom for adding in pictures that she did not pick. Maggie walks over and tell her that she is the one who put the pictures in, because these were some of the best times these two girls had growing up. Realizing that Olivia has drastically changed and really is not a friend, Maggie walks out. On her way out, she runs into Gwen who makes some comment about seeing her the next day to which Maggie finally makes a comment she has been wanting to make to Gwen for a long time.

Maggie does not end up stand up next to Olivia as her Maid of Honor, but does learn some great things about herself. Through this trying time in her life, she has discovered who her real friends are, found confidence in herself and allowed herself to look past the body type and realize that she has the power to be the person she wants to be. In our society today, the majority of the population is overweight, and it is due to lack of activity, giving in to high calorie foods, the convenience of stopping for fast food instead of cooking a healthy meal, and portion size. I myself struggle with weight, but I know that all I have to do is take back control. I have the power to control what I put into my body, when I work out, what other activities I participate in, and how motivated I am. I really enjoyed this book and the journey that Maggie had to endure.

It is truly heartbreaking when a friendship dies, but friendship like so many other things work both ways. To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend and when one person is doing all the work, something is wrong. Sometimes we hold on because we are afraid of not having someone in the "best friend" role in our lives, but that is no reason to hang on to something that has been gone for a while. I know it was hard for Maggie to walk away from Olivia and her wedding, but she is a better person for it, and without Olivia there to hold her back she will continue to succeed, rebuild confidence in herself and really enjoy life. I loved this book and hope to see something else by Liza Palmer soon!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Title: Blacklist
Author: Sara Paretsky
Date Finished: August 23, 2008
Pages: 480

Lately, I have been trying to expand my reading boundaries and have been picking up several new authors to try. So far, I have yet to be disappointed. I tend to walk along the aisles of the local library until I find someone who has several books and then I pick one up to see if it interests me. This is how I found Sara Paretsky, who writes about a private investigator by the name of V.I. Warshawski (a.k.a. Vic or Victoria). I was not able to find the first book of the series, but the title of this one caught my eye and after reading a quick synopsis, I was hooked.

The story is about a 91 year old wealthy white woman, Geraldine Graham, who lives in a fancy retirement home with a room that overlooks her old mansion. Geraldine believes that she has been seeing a light on in the attic of her old home, but every time the police go out to inspect the premises, they turn up with nothing. The house was abandoned by the family that bought it from the Graham's and has been sitting vacant for a while. Geraldine's son believes his mother's sightings at night are actually a ploy for him to come over and spend more time with her, but to appease his mother, he hires a private investigator that he has on retainer to investigate, Ms. V.I. Warshawski.

Vic is anxious for work, or anything that will help her keep her mind off her lover, Morrell, who is on assignment in Afghanistan and possibly in quite a bit of danger in the post 9-11 war zone. As Vic searches the house one night, she encounters a young girl, who offers no explanation as to why she is there, but Vic ends up getting her hands on something as the girl dashes off into the darkness. Vic then stumbles upon more trouble as she trips on a stone in the path and falls into the pool, where she encounters another body, however, this one is dead. Marcus Whitby, a young African American journalist who Vic discovers in the pool was writing a book about a blacklisted African dancer and anthropologist who is intertwined with the families she encounters throughout her research. Using the article she was able to take from the young woman she met at the house, Vic finds the mysterious late night girl is none other than Catherine Bayard, whose grandfather owns a large publishing company and is Vic's hero and has been since she heard him speak to one of her classes in college.

A young Arab, who was washing dishes at Catherine's private school has since disappeared and is wanted by several branches of the government and National Security under suspicion of being a terrorist, after it was discovered that the mosque he attends is very politically active. Vic soon discovers that the person hiding in the old Graham house is none other than Benji, the Arab, and he is being looked after by Catherine, who is lying to her grandmother and sneaking out at night to take food and companionship to him. Catherine is able to enter the house and bypass the alarm because of a key that her grandfather has had for years, that no one else seems to remember him having.

Paretsky does a great job of explaining that during the McCarthy Era many people were labeled as "Communist" whether they actually were or not, just by the people they kept company with, their skin color, or the ideas they shared with those they felt they could trust, and in turn were blacklisted. Many authors, publishers, performers and so forth were unable to find work after being labeled as Communists. It was quite similar to the Salem witch hunts, where people were sought out and punished for what others believed them to be. I have always been fascinated with the McCarthy Era and felt this book did a good job of bringing some of the ideas of those days to light.

As the story continues, we learn about the death of another man, who was once a neighbor of the Graham's and Vic discoverers that this is the man that Marcus Whitby may have possibly seen before he was killed and put into the pool. Vic does not feel that the local police are putting in enough effort to find out why a young, black journalist was found dead in the pool of an abandoned mansion in a very wealthy, elitist white neighborhood, so she continues her own research and is determined to find out what happened to Marcus and any connection that the Bayard family may have to his murder.

The deeper she digs the more Vic learns about the families that used to live on this block and how her own client, Darraugh Graham, is involved and has been keeping things from her. His father is not the man that his mother was married to and he idolized all those years, in fact the dad he had was actually a homosexual and was having a relationship with another man in the neighborhood. Darraugh's birth father is none other than Calvin Bayard, the publisher whose own wife has taken over the company and lied and cheated her way to the top. Knowing that she butted her way into Calvin's life, Renee will do anything to protect her family and her husband's reputation. But would she be the mastermind behind all these deaths?? Guess you'll have to read it to find out who actually did the killings and why they were done.

I really enjoyed this book by Sara Partesky and have since learned that this is her 11th novel featuring the main character of V.I. Warshawski. As the story comes to an end, Sara does a great job of wrapping up all the lose ends she created, but leaves you wanting to know more about Vic and what will become of her and Morrell. Is he safe? Why hasn't she heard from him in so long? So many questions that I can't wait to discover the answers to.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Title: Fatal
Author: Michael Palmer
Date Finished: August 18, 2008
Pages: 544

Having really enjoyed the first Michael Palmer book I read, I was very anxious to try another one, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Fatal was just as interesting as The First Patient, and actually dealt with some issues that I think are really important. I almost gave up on writing this review since I was having such a hard time committing myself to actually sitting down and writing it, but I felt very strongly about some of the issues that it dealt with and wanted to share those.

This book starts out with a doctor, Matt Ruttledge, being summoned in the middle of the night from a nurse at the hospital. Since he has such a hard time waking up, the nurses have been instructed to ask him a series of questions to make sure he is really awake and will not immediately go back to sleep after hanging up. Throughout the book, Matt ends up encountering several people who seem to have gone mentally crazy, and have large lumps similar to that of "Elephant Man."

Matt is on a crusade against the local mining company, Belinda Coal and Coke Company, for the loss of his father in a cave in, and for the death of his wife by a rare cancer that he feels is a direct correlation to the mines unsafe disposal of waste and toxic chemicals. Trying several venues of complaints, Matt has become a joke for the local police and a nuisance to the townspeople. With the mine being a big source of income for most of the residents, they are doing everything they can do shut him up.

Palmer does a great job of developing several story lines within this book by giving you enough details and background information that make them all easy to follow. Even though different chapters may take you to a different place or character, you never feel confused. As the story progresses and the different lines intersect, you see the pieces fit together to become a whole.

In Washington, D.C., Ellen is struggling with her decision of whether or not to pass the newest megavaccine, Omnivax. The group she is a part of consists of several doctors and scientists who have been meeting for three years to discuss the ramifications of the vaccine and why they should support it. The First Lady is heavily influential in promoting the vaccine and has her own reasons for wanting it passed. Ellen struggles with being the only member of the group who is hesitant, which stems from the fact that her granddaughter, who was perfectly healthy as a baby, now suffers from side effects of a childhood vaccine. The percentage of children that are effected by vaccines is astonishing. Some development disabilities such as diabetes, ADD, ADHD, where others can result in death. This knowledge drives Ellen to make right choice, not just for her granddaughter, but for all those who will be administered the megavaccine.

In Boston, Nikki Solari, who is a musician as well as a pathologist watches her friend and fellow musician succumb to delusions that she is being chased and they they are trying to stop her music. When she is finally found, she has passed on and is covered by those mysterious lumps that Matt has seen as well. Attending her friends funeral in Belinda, Nikki meets one of the head policemen who seems to fancy her and asks her several questions regarding her friends death and all the events leading up to her death.

Matt, Ellen and Nikki team up to uncover what is really going on in the mine as well as with the new megavaccine. Realizing that the vaccine was originally tested on residents on Belinda several years before, those who are invested in the drugs passing, will stop at nothing to eliminate those testers who are slowly dying off. All three end up with several others in what appears to be a mine cave-in that was actually set up as a trap to keep them from discovering the truth. After barely escaping Matt finds himself yet again in trouble. Being helped out by the family in town that everyone is afraid of, Matt finds true friendship, respect and most importantly the answers that he has been desperately searching for and allows himself to once again feel love.

This book really effected me in the sense of how many big companies do not follow safety procedures. There have been several cases of groundwater contamination, toxic fumes, etc.. that are released into the environment because big companies want to cut costs, so they cut corners. Often times when something like this happens, the people who work there are too afraid to say anything because of the repercussions. Especially in situations like this book, where the entire town profits off the mine and that is where the majority of them are employed. I realize this book is a work of fiction, but the topics that are discussed are very real.

Another issue in this book is the side-effects and possible long term disability or death from immunization shots you receive as a child. How many people really know what the shots are for, or if they have been tested by the CDC and FDA efficiently. Why don't we question doctors before submitting our children to shots? Humans tend to be quite inquisitive, but there are some things we don't question, that we might need to rethink. How much of a push are the doctors receiving from the drug companies on a specific medication? How do we really know that this one is better than another one? I know that the majority of vaccines are in place to help protect our children and hopefully keep them from experiencing some really bad diseases, but should we really stop asking questions??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Celestial Bed

Title: The Celestial Bed
Author: Irving Wallace
Date Finished: August 13, 2008
Pages: 304

The story behind me picking up this book is actually quite funny. My Dad and I often recommend authors to one another and Irving Wallace came very highly recommended. So, last week I went to the library and there were two books there by Mr. Wallace, one was quite large and the other fairly short. I decided to pick the smaller one, just in case I was not a big fan, not really knowing what it was about. After getting about half way through, I called my Dad to see if he had actually ever read this particular book. When I informed him of what it was about, he seemed a little embarrassed and mentioned that this was not one he had read. Although it was quite different from anything I have read before, I did enjoy it.

The story is about a psychologist, Dr. Arnold Freeberg and his unique style of treatments. After realizing that for some people, talk-therapy was just not going to help cure his sexually dysfunctional patients, he modeled his clinic after another couple who had been quite successful with the use of sexual surrogates. After being run out of Arizona, Dr. Freeberg packed up and moved his family and practice to California, but only after being assured by his old college roommate and lawyer that this type of therapy was more openly accepted. The one and only sex surrogate that Dr. Freeberg had used in Arizona, Gayle, was just finishing up college and promised to join his new practice after graduation. While waiting for Gayle to join his team, Dr. Freeberg hired 4 other females and one male surrogate, who endured a vigorous 6 weeks of training and teaching before being allowed to interact with a patient.

The description in this book was often times quite graphic, and took me a little while to get used to. I found the story line quite suspenseful and was anxious up to the end to see how the characters would handle moral situations. The receptionist in the Freeberg clinic recommends her boyfriend, Chet, to seek the help of a surrogate from the clinic, not realizing that he is an aspiring newspaper writer who is looking for that big break into the newspaper business. After hearing what it is the surrogates do, Chet contacts a religious fanatic that he has done some research for in the past, and pitches the story to him. The religious fanatic has some ties in with the DA and after some encouragement, everyone is on board to make an example of Dr. Freeberg and his main surrogate by charging them with pandering and prostitution and sentencing them both to prison time.

As Chet's therapy progresses with Gayle, a behind the scenes romance beings between Gayle and Paul, the only male surrogate. This was one storyline I was not a fan of. After two casual meetings at a restaurant the characters are proclaiming their love for each other, and each time they meet to consummate their relationship one of them freaks out and feels like the techniques they use on their patients are being used on them and always end up storming out. To me it came across as a very badly played out soap opera.

It was interesting to watch the patients that sought out help from Dr. Freeberg and his surrogates progress and eventually overcome their troubles. Although this is not something I had heard of before, it was very educational. I would not consider this one of my favorite books, but I think I will read something else by Irving Wallace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Date Finished: August 10, 2008
Pages: 321

I put off writing this review yesterday in hopes that my feelings and impression of the book would become more defined. I still have mixed emotions about this book, but our book club is meeting tonight, so I'm hoping that by writing this I can work a few things out.

I would say that the most important thing for a reader to have with this book is patience. It took me the first 85 pages (2 chaptes) before I really felt like I had a sense of what was going on. The writer, Arundhati Roy jumps back and forth from the 60's to the 90's quite frequently, and often without any warning. The story is is about a pair of fraternal twins, Rahel and Estha, their mother, Ammu, and other family members in Ayemenem, India. The resounding theme of this book is that anything can change in the course of a day.

I think the biggest disappointment for me was the conclusion to the much anticipated story of the death of Sophie Mol. (Mol is used for young girl, and Mon is used for young man throughout this book). Sophie is the twins half-white cousin from England who comes over to visit for Christmas with her mother after her step-father dies. Roy does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what exactly happened to poor young Sophie that took her life. You get the sense early on that her death has had a tremendous impact on the lives of the twins, but it is not until close to the end that you actually find out what happened. For as much build-up as Roy gives to the death of Sophie, I would have hoped that her explanation would be much more in-depth. It basically boils down to the fact that the three children were crossing the river in a boat in the dark of night, and when the boat tipped, Sophie was pulled by the current and unable to resurface along with the other children. With it being so dark out, the children are not able to search for her. All of this is explained in not much more than a page.

I do love the story line of Ammu and Velutha, her untouchable. The caste system is made up of "touchables" who are of a higher class and prestige and "untouchables" who are the lowest caste group and are treated like slaves. It breaks my heart when Velutha's father in a drunken stupor tells Ammu's mother of their unrequited love, and she in turn locks Ammu in her room and has Velutha banished. When the children ask their mother why she is locked up, she blames them for all of her problems. The children, feeling less loved by their mother decide to run away. During their escape is when they lose dear Sophie. Ammu's mother, after hearing of Sophie's death, runs to the police and accuses Velutha. In her mind, there is nothing worse than loving beneath you. She cannot accept the fact that her daughter has had an intimate relationship with an untouchable and will do anything to keep them apart,which in turn makes them star-crossed lovers.

After the accident the twins are separated, Estha is sent to another town via train to live with his father and new wife. Rahel stays with her mother, who has a hard time finding work after being shunned from the family, eventually dies and Rahel leaves for the US. While in the US Rahel marries, divorces and eventually returns to Ayemenem. Baby Kochamma, the grandmother, is scared for the twins to be together because she knows that eventually, they are going to figure out what she did, and her only hope of them not being able to put all the pieces together are to keep them separated. Baby Kochamma's resentment of others finding love stems from her own "unobtainable" love. Father Mulligan caught her eye at a young age, but was never available for Baby Kochamma like she wanted him to be, even in death.

The language that Roy uses is absolutely beautiful, and even though my frame of reference for India is embarrassingly minute, I felt like I could picture the scenes she laid before me and could feel like a part of the background. Even now, I still have mixed feelings about this particular book. It did win the Booker Prize in 1997 (a literary prize awarded each year for a full-length novel written in English). There seem to be quite a mixture of reviews out there, some love it, some hate it, some fall in between. Even though I would not consider this one of my favorite books, I am incredibly happy that I read it. Thank you Trish for recommending this book!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The First Patient

Title: The First Patient
Author: Michael Palmer
Date Finished: July 30, 2008
Pages: 384

Before reading this book, I had not heard anything about Nanotechnology, but found myself very intrigued as the story progressed. Not being very medical savvy, this book opened my eyes to something new that I would consider to be a topic of sensational medical research.

A definition from the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology lists: "Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced. In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products." More on this later.

The story begins in picturesque Wyoming, with Gabe Singleton, a doctor and former Naval Academy cadet, sitting atop a horse watching a helicopter land. This particular helicopter happens to contain the President of the United States, whom they have given the acronym "POTUS", Andrew Stoddard. Gabe and Drew are longtime friends having been both cadets and roommates at Annapolis. The reason for Andrew's visit is to recruit Gabe to come with him to Washington to be his personal physician. The man who had held this position, until recently, seems to have vanished along with his college-aged daughter. Although reluctant to leave his life in Wyoming, Gabe agrees.

While getting dressed for his first political dinner, Gabe is summoned up to the President's quarters to find him having what appears to be a psychotic episode. After stabilizing Drew, Gabe is informed that this is not his first episode and all the test results from his previous episodes have disappeared along with his doctor. After some talk about invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment (which deals with removing power from the President due to disabilities, and giving the power to the Vice President) Gabe agrees to keep this Presidents secret and not let on to anyone that something is amiss.

Within the book, Nanotechnology has been used to give an unknown source power over the President without his knowledge or the knowledge of those in his immediate cadre of secret service agents, family or close personal friends. By pushing a button, chemicals within the President's brain react and cause him to have what appears to be a psychotic episode.

There are two powerful women in this book that both have major roles. The first is Allison Cromartie, whom Gabe believes to be a nurse, but after saving his life by rear ending him while someone tries to shoot into his car, he discovers that she is actually an undercover Secret Service Agent. The second woman owns a large pasture with stables outside Washington and ends up being a key figure in the unfolding drama. With both of these women working within the medical field or scientific research, it leaves you wondering how far they would go to emphasis their presence in a man's world.

I really enjoyed the way that Palmer keeps you guessing throughout the book. I always enjoy a good mystery and find myself trying to figure things out before they are revealed. As the story began to wrap up, I felt very proud of myself and was almost certain I had figured everything out... then the ending came, and there was a very unexpected and delightful twist. Palmer really does bring the story full circle at the end and things that happened throughout came together perfectly, like putting in the last piece of a puzzle.

I happened to pick this book up at the library on a whim after my attention was caught by the title. This previous week, I attended a local book sale (Thanks Trish and Laura for taking me along) and happened to come across another book by Michael Palmer, which I quickly picked up and put in my bag. I am always looking for new authors to read, and feel like I have found yet another one I can enjoy!