Tag Archives: Harper Paperbacks

Book Review: Long Past Stopping: A Memoir by Oran Canfield

Title: Long Past Stopping: A Memoir
Author: Oran Canfield
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0061450761
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 321
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Oran Canfield’s memoir is part Running With Scissors, part Mommie Dearest. It’s the antithesis of the trite feel good books by his father, Jack Canfield. The Chicken Soup books are supposed to make you feel good, but lack any real substance. Long Past Stopping, on the other hand, makes you feel terrible, but is filled with dense narrative.

Instead of a typically standard timeline, Canfield takes two tracks, simultaneously, and weaves one around the other. In the first, we witness a child slowly becoming a man. His strange journey through oddball alternative schools, summer camps and traveling circuses read like a fantasy gone wrong. It’s Fellini-as-life but the film won’t end. This serves as his colorful background to the second, equally important but certainly less light-hearted track.

The second reveals the man as he goes through an endless and depressing cycle of addiction/rehab/addiction. Creating his book without the first track would be wrist-slitting, leaving readers hopeless. Canfield is just that deeply addicted to nearly every thing he gets his hands on. He crushes our hopes for him ad nauseum. The chapters dealing with his unending, bottomless drug sprees are highly frustrating to read. But the fact that I had to continue on proved he trapped me. I liked him in spite of himself. When a writer can do that, it says something. And the device of two tracks serves as a balance rather than an annoyance.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about initially was the way the chapters were arranged. Each chapter alternates between adulthood and childhood. Initially I found this distracting and disruptive to the pacing of the book, but as I continued to read I found that he intentionally does this to interweave certain childhood experiences with more recent ones. He’ll plant seeds for you in stories of his childhood that you pick up on and become more relevant in a situation he has in his twenties. I later discovered that it makes the pacing genius, as he ends each chapter with a teeth grinding nail-biter that you are forced to wait for two chapters to find out the outcome.

The writing is strong in this very personal saga. You get a realistic, first-hand look at what life is like for someone hopelessly addicted to heroin. It’s not romantic or pretty and it’s heartbreaking. Canfield writes it in a way that keeps our interest levels high, even though the subject matter is downright horrible. Like the video from a crime scene security cam, each chapter is written in gritty detail and we can’t look away. A subtle sense of humor is sporadically injected to help give us a bit of relief. Even his short chapter descriptions are a sign that this is a man who sees the funny side of the crappiest existence possible during his horse latitudes.

While the book does cover a lot of bizarre and painful moments in Oran’s life, it is written well and it is written with an amazing amount of humor. I definitely laughed out loud as many times as I cried. Oran is a very good writer. He has a gift with words. He has definitely found his voice. He has a real talent for writing in a way that keeps you turning the pages–wanting to know what happens next.

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Book Review: Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

Title: Don’t Breathe A Word
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
ISBN: 978-0061689376
PP: 447 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Don’t Breathe a Word is the third Jennifer McMahon book I’ve read. I loved Promise Not to Tell and was highly disappointed by Dismantled. So, this really could’ve gone either way for me. Not only because of my previous thoughts on her book, but also because I’ve been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, so it’s been taking a lot longer than usual for me to be impressed by a book. Luckily for everyone involved, I loved Don’t Breathe a Word (and am completely cured from my reading slump).

Don’t Breathe a Word is a novel that is VERY hard to classify because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a mix of horror, fantasy, psychological thriller, fairy-tale, and so many more things. Usually when an author throws everything but the kitchen sink in a book I get annoyed because very rarely is it done well. But in this book, it was done extremely well. I enjoyed all of the elements embedded in it and it didn’t make the book seem like the author couldn’t choose which direction she wanted to go in and just decided ‘to hell with it’. While all of those genres are my favorites, I definitely enjoyed the horror and the psychological thriller aspects of it.

This novel is creepy. Seriously, chill up your spine type of creepy. The weird thing is that Don’t Breathe a Word didn’t affect me when it got all dark and shadow-like at night, but it freaked me out during the daytime. I was alone in the house and getting a pen from my bedroom when I heard this huge, house-shaking type of grumbling sound. My first irrational thought was “Oh my God, it’s Teilo, the King of the Fairies.” I kid you not. I think I was so creeped out because we’re taught as little kids that fairies are these cute, sweet, yet somewhat mischievious magical creatures (Tinkerbell, anyone?). Yet in this book, they seem very malevolent and for some reason, that scared the hell out of me.

However, my absolute favorite part of the book (in that whole “what the hell? Can this be more disturbing?!” kind of way) were the family dynamics between all of the characters. It was seriously twisted. So much that I had no idea what the hell was going on most of the time and what imagined was not even half as bad as what actually occurred. In fact, that may have been more creepy than the evil fairies.

All in all, I highly recommend Don’t Breathe a Word. It’s creepy, twisted, unpredictable (and this is coming from someone who tends to predict everything that happens in these types of novels), and one hell of a page-turner. If you’re going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick this up. If you’re not going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick it up anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner

Title: Jerusalem Maiden
Author: Talia Carner
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062004376
Genre: Fiction
PP: 464 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Spanning the 20th century from 1911 through the 1968 epilogue, “Jerusalem Maiden” is a fascinating story which focuses on the life of a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. Talia Carner draws the reader into the life of Esther Kaminsky, the “Jerusalem Maiden”; and, in doing so, provides insight into the history of Israel and the cultural differences among its diverse citizens. On a deeper level, the novel presents the reader with dilemmas that many individuals face. That is, whether to follow your own dream or whether to follow cultural dictates and the expectations of your society. Further, the heroine, as do many individuals, experiences deep turmoil with respect to her faith as she strives to ascertain the direction Hashem (God) would have her choose for her life.

“Jerusalem Maiden” highlights the internal conflict that Esther experiences as she struggles between those choices. In developing the storyline from Esther’s perspective, Talia Carner opens a view of Jewish culture and world history that may be unfamiliar to many readers. However, the novel never loses the focus on Esther’s conflict – whether to pursue art, effectively abandoning her religious upbringing and her family, or whether to follow the path of marriage and motherhood as is expected of young Haredi women. Seeking to know God’s will, Esther must make choices that conflict with her upbringing.

Talia Carner has developed “Jerusalem Maiden’s” characters with rare skill. One finds they are drawn into the characters’ personal conflicts, caring deeply that the outcome will be favorable for a particular individual. The women are very much alive in the pages of this book. The male characters are as well drawn as the female protagonist, her sister Hannah, or her friend Ruthi. Nevertheless, the men’s lives and personalities are not as fully described as those of the women. However, Carner does furnish sufficient detail to provide the reader with insight into the male characters’ mindset – which exacerbates Esther’s conflict between fulfilling personal desires and bowing to the dictates of societal expectations.

I recommend “Jerusalem Maiden” to any reader who is looking for a fascinating read. It is a well written, deeply personal portrait of a young woman struggling to follow her dreams without sacrificing her family or the principles by which she has been raised. You will find yourself hoping that she can do so.

Book Review: Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

Title: Miss Timmins’ School for Girls
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0061997747
Genre: Murder, Detective Story
PP: 512 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Boarding schools have always had a close spot in my heart. Though as a child, I would have hated the thought of being sent to one, however as I read more of them in my adulthood, I wish my parents would have sent me to one. I miss being a part of a larger culture, which is a world in its own. All boarding schools are.

The story takes place in a boarding school in Panchgani, India, where upper class girls mix with British missionaries and rock and roll, drugs, and other influences of the time-it is the mid 1970’s and the times, well, they truly are a-changing.

Our heroine is Charu, a new teacher at Miss Timmins. It’s her first job and she is barely older-or more experienced than the girls she is teaching. She forms a friendship with another teacher with a very different personality and lifestyle. Moira prince has joined the 70s with a vengeance and it is through her that Charu meets the world of hot music and illicit drugs.

And where, Charu is left to wonder, does the Shakespeare she’s been hired to teach, fit into this new world?

This book is a beautiful well-written novel. So good a novel, in fact, that I forgot it is a murder mystery. So I was appropriately surprised when in the middle of monsoon season, at night (of course) a teacher is murdered. The school’s careful surface is shattered and the local town is delighted to jump upon it with gossip and speculation. I loved how the writer made use of what was happening in the world and connected it with the school. The fact that a school so well-sheltered is now thrown into chaos and uncertainty after a murder takes place.

I enjoyed this book as a murder mystery but also as so much more. It was fascinating to read about the India of the 70s with the sudden clash of Indian culture, British imperialism, and the new wave of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. So as a lover of murder mysteries and as a lover of political-sociological studies (especially when presented in compelling fictional form) this book had me hooked.

The characters are well-drawn. Not only are the major characters fascinating but all of the minor ones as well had distinct voices and stories and caught my interest. Currimbhoy is a wonderful writer who takes the murder mystery beyond its genre (as good mysteries do) to examine issues of class and social mores. It is the venue that got me going: Boarding schools seems to create a world onto their own, full of the intensity of adolescent friendships and angsts and teacher eccentricities. I loved books set in boarding schools when I was a child and adolescent and now, on the other side of life, I love reading them even more. This is a wonderful book that I recommend not only to lovers of mysteries but to all lovers of fiction and those interested in how world upheavals play out on the smallest scales.

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