Sunday, January 31, 2016

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

It's a New Year and for me that means my doctor visits begin again.  We all take them and people say better safe than sorry but I always see any doctor visit no matter how routine as a cause for alarm. Hypochondriac that I am it might seem strange therefore that I would decide to read Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan.

It's a contemporary novel in which the heroine Libby Miller is in her 30's and finds out she has a rare and deadly form of cancer.  Her first thought is to go home and talk to her husband Tom who she has always relied on for support. He will know what to do.  But before Libby can reveal her news, Tom has some suprising news of his own. Libby ends the marriage and decides not to tell Tom or anyone about her cancer diagnosis.

Libby also decides why bother with treatment when the odds don't look good? She watched her mother die from cancer when she was young.  Why inflict that again on her brother and father? Why tell anyone?  And so Libby sells her apartment, quits her job, withdraws her savings and moves to Vieques, a small island near Puerto Rico which her mother loved.  As Libby says "It was all going to be very Eat Pray Die".  The plan is to spend her remaining year walking on the beach, sipping Pina Coladas and visiting the places that meant so much to her mother whose memory permeates this book.  Of course things don't work out the way Libby planned, the small plane she takes to Vieques for example is flown by a handsome Puerto Rican pilot who has been through health issues himself and for me meeting him was one of the joys of this novel.

Life And Other Near-Death Experiences is not a depressing read despite the subject matter and some will say that's the problem.  Libby narrates the novel in a funny tinged with sarcastic "and then this happened" way but as the novel progresses the author Camille Pagan  is able to convey some important lessons about not going it alone. People want to help.  The ending though is too polyanna and I wondered what people faced with serious illness might think of Libby's journey.   The takeaway might be that it's important to go for doctor visits and treatment regardless of the fear you may have.  You owe it to yourself to fight.

Finally Libby who begins the book angry and panicked gradually evens out and becomes more reflective and though her mother is no longer alive you sense that she is still with Libby in spirit.  I found Libby a likeable funny and strong character who you will want to root for. Over two thousand people have reviewed Life and Other Near-Death Experiences on Amazon.com and it is a book I recommend checking out.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh

In his book The Blooding, bestselling author and former LA Detective Joseph Wambaugh tells the story of the rape and murder of two teenage girls that took place in Leicester England in the 1980's.  This case is historically significant because its the first time DNA evidence was used in a police investigation to solve a murder.  Prior to this point DNA was used to determine paternity but when the two girls in Leicester were killed, three years apart 1983 and 1986, the British public wanted answers and the police had a sense that one man had committed both crimes

Turns out nearby the murders, at Leicester University, Dr Alec Jeffreys was developing what would turn out to be DNA profiling.  Dr Jeffrey offered his services to the police and they sent out a dragnet asking men between the ages of late teens to middle age to come in for a blood test. Thousands of men had their blood drawn and it raised civil liberties questions.  But this blood test campaign was important not only for ruling out suspects but also in catching the killer.  As Joseph Wambaugh points out who didn't show up for the blood test became as big a clue as who did show up.

In the genre of True Crime Joseph Wambaugh is top notch.  In his many books he is able to paint a picture of the town where the crime occurs, the family, friends, suspects and the victim.  Being a former Detective, Wambaugh is particularly good at explaining police work and the mindset of detectives and while I prefer another book Wambaugh wrote, Echoes In the Darkness, The Blooding was a page turner, particularly if you are a fan of shows like CSI and Forensic Files since the Blooding is where DNA solving crimes first got started

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

This Thanksgiving to get into the spirit of the holiday I read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, an award winning historian who has written books on the American Revolution, Custer's Last Stand, the Sinking of the Whaleship Essex etc.

Philbrick's book Mayflower published in 2007 tells the story of the Puritans coming to America in 1620, Provincetown Harbor MA.  He also takes the reader through the next 50 years of New England history culminating in King Phillip's War (1675-1678).  It was a war between the descendents of the Mayflower Puritans and Native Americans who greeted them upon arrival. Philbrick points out that in the 50 years prior to the outbreak of war both sides had gotten along well and had worked out a contract that kept the peace for half a century.

As Philbrick explains both sides needed each other.  The Native American population in the Cape Cod area had been decimated in the years prior to 1620 by disease brought over by European explorers. The Puritans after departing from the Mayflower were also sticken by disease.  Of the 102 who sailed on the Mayflower orly 53 were still alive by the following winter of 1621.  Both sides had a great deal to teach each other about crops, shelter, hunting, medicine. And in the beginning both the Puritans and Native Americans had visionary leaders who kept the peace.  But as the decades went by and more and more English settlers landed on the shores of New England grabbing land and not fairly compensating the Native American population, tempers began to mount.

Nathaniel Philbrick wonders in his book if things could have turned out differently and the tragedy of King Philip's War averted?  He does a very good job of detailing this period of American history including why the Puritans were willing to leave England risking their livelihoods and their lives. Mayflower shines a light on a period of American/English history that isn't taught much in schools but should be and Nathaniel Philbrick is an excellent guide.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sorry For The Delay In Posting

Sorry that I haven't posted in awhile.  My computer broke but I have a new tablet device now and hope to churn out reviews of the books I have been reading since I last wrote:  Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick and The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh, books seven and eight in my 50 book reading project.  Hope to have both reviews up in about a week.