First Reviews of 2014

Who knew I would still be doing this? The beginning of the year was low key enough, and the two books I read interesting enough, that the first weekend I have two books to review! But first, the bad news. There were also two books that I could not, for some reason, finish reading.

Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman
2013, 480 pages

This is a collection of short stories selected by Gaiman. I read about half of them, and only disliked about two. So, those are good odds. Unfortunately it was just far too long for me to pay attention to. I also have to be in the right mood for short stories, and after 200-and-some pages I was out.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
2012, 302 pages

I must have read a review of this somewhere, or a synopsis, and that is why I deicded to try and read this one. Unfortunately, I didn’t get past the first chapter. A rich banker is driving to his summer house on an island where his daughter is getting married. Meanwhile, he’s pulling the dirty-old-man thing and wants to sleep with one of his daughter’s bridesmaids. Nope, not going to read that.

Now the books I did finish:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
2010, 274 pages

Larry and Silas, one white and one black, were secret friends when they were young. At that point there was to be little mixing of the races. One night Larry takes a girl out on a date and she never returns. Ostracized from his small town in Mississippi, he lives alone, and lonely, until 20 years later another teenage girl disappears. Now Silas, a cop, has to figure out what happened to the girl, and what happened all those years ago.

I’m not big on mysteries, but this one didn’t feel very long and was interesting. It alternated between the current investigation and the past with the two boys. I don’t think I liked it as well as Tilted World, also written by Franklin, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bedazzles

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith
2013, 352 pages

I read about this book somewhere and thought it sounded interesting. I really enjoyed it, but it was not entirely what I thought it would be. I thought the book would focus more on Zelda Fitzgerald, than Evalina Toussaint. The synopsis even says, “Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses the cascading events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them.”

The book did not focus on the relationship with Zelda, but did focus on all relationships that Evalina made during her time at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Evalina ended up at Highland when she was 13, after her mother (a prostitute), killed herself. Evalina goes back and forth between the real world and Highland, which is run by Dr. Carroll and his wife. After she loses a baby, she comes back as a patient, and then ends up working on the staff.

The relationships between Evalina and all the patients are all documented, and Zelda Fitzgerald does appear every so often, as she leaves and returns to Highland. But the parts that I found most interesting about this were the descriptions of treatment at Highland.

Shock therapy and insulin therapy were common, and terrifying, for me at least. Patients were essentially put into diabetic comas to help rewire the brain and make patients, many who suffered from depression, more normal. “On a few tables there lay only one syringe, which was destined for the metrazol shock patients such as myself. We, too, would be thrown into a spontaneous convulsion, like an epileptic fit.” Just….how is that okay?!

Another patient was sterilized, because she was white and had a black boyfriend. “‘Necessary therapeutic sterilization was performed for the public good…you gotta understand, these morons breed like mink. And she had run off with a Negro, remember that. The duty of the state is to protect the race.'”

It’s not all that depressing. There were performances, dances, gardening and other activities there too. It was a quick, interesting, enjoyable read. I recommend.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles


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