Still Alice

Still Alice

Our book club book for January was Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and was chosen by Jo.

Alice Howland is a fifty year-old professor of psychology at Harvard University. She is married to a successful biologist with whom she has three grown children. Alice’s life is hectic – full of work, travel, family commitments and running. Alice has also been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Early in the novel we see Alice becoming forgetful which she puts down to over work until one day, she becomes completely disorientated while running her usual route. Alice is devastated but quick to accept her diagnosis, although her husband, John, is not so accepting. Alice takes part in a clinical trial for a new drug, Amylix, and it was interesting to read how these trials work. Much of the novel centres around Alice’s desire to maintain herself and still be ‘Alice’, while conscious of the fact that she is losing her grip on her memory…

“More and more, she was experiencing a growing distance from her self-awareness. Her sense of Alice – what she knew and understood, what she liked and disliked, how she felt and perceived – was … like a soap bubble…”

I was surprised by how quickly this disease took hold of Alice. The entire story spans two years and by the end Alice can no longer remember her own children. This book is a compelling, heart-wrenching and devastating portrayal of life on the inside of Alzheimer’s. I found myself crying over it and Alice’s fate quite a bit – something I don’t usually do when reading. Genova has a PH.D in neuroscience from Harvard which allowed her access to many experts in the field. In the wrong hands, this book could have felt like a science text book, but Genova has done an amazing job in her debut novel, to give it a soul. About a third of the way through the book, Alice goes to visit an Alzheimer’s Special Care Unit, and reminisces about a butterfly necklace her mother once gave her. She remembers being six or seven at the time and being devastated to learn that butterflies only live for a couple of days. Her mother comforts her by saying

“Just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic”.

This is such a poignant quote given Alice’s struggles.

I’m so glad Jo chose this book and I will definitely be searching out more of Lisa’s books in the future.

My rating: 8.5/10

Book club rating: 8.25/10

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The Perfume Garden

The Perfume Garden

Author: Kate Lord Brown

Publisher: Corvus Books

read on my kindle

At its heart, The Perfume Garden is a story of love, and loss and family. There is plenty of tragedy, but also romance. Emma Temple is the young heir to the perfume company “Liberty Temple”, named after her mother. After her ex-boyfriend is caught in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the death of her mother, Emma moves to Valencia, Spain. Her mother had bought “Villa del Valle” before she died, and had left it to Emma. She opens a florist shop, called “The Perfume Garden”, selling produce from her abundant garden. While renovating the villa, Emma meets Luca de Santangel and his family, and gradually pieces together the mystery of her own family.

In a parallel story, set against the backdrop of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, we meet Charles and Freya Temple. This brother and sister have come to Spain as part of the International Brigade to fight against Franco and the Nationalists. Freya works as a nurse, while Charles works as a journalist/photographer trying to tell the rest of the world of the tragedies occurring all over Spain. They rub shoulders with Neruda and Hemingway who are also in Spain for similar reasons.

I really enjoy reading historical fiction, especially when the subject is something I don’t know a lot about, and I love discovering new writers. I haven’t read any of Kate Lord Brown’s novels before, but I will definitely be reading more in the future. It is similar in style to Belinda Alexandra and Kate Morton, both of whom are authors I love. There were also shades of Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits in one of the main characters, Rosa, who is able to read the future. I have read stories set in Spain during World War Two before, but I was really interested to learn more about the years preceding the war.

I loved the Spanish setting – the relaxed style of living, the food, music and dancing, the colours of the sky, and the vividness of the scenery. Mixed with the fact that Emma is a perfume maker, you can almost smell the orange blossoms and the almond soap as they are described on the page.

8/10

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week bloggers are invited to participate by posting their own Top Ten list on a certain category. To kick off 2013, this weeks’ list is Top Ten books I resolve to read in 2013.

Here is my list:

1. The Wild Girl – Kate Forsyth. I loved Bitter Greens and am really looking forward to Kate’s new book about the Grimm brothers.

2. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour book store – Robin Sloan. I’ve heard lots od good things about this one on twitter, and it’s all ready to go on my kindle.

3.Foal’s Bread – Gillian Mears. My next book club choice for later in the year.

4. The Diviner’s – Libba Bray. Again this is waiting to go on my kindle.

5. An Abundance of Katherines – John Green. I discovered John Green this year when I read The Fault in our stars, which I loved. I’m hoping to participate in a read-a-long of An Abundance of Katherines in March.

6. And the Mountains echoed – Khaled Hosseini. There is nothing more to say except that I can’t wait for this one!

7. The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes. I have been looking forward to this one since I was lucky enough to win a copy from Culture Street.

8. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen. This is on my Classics Club list so I will either read this or another Austen in 2013.

9.The Storyteller – Jodi Piccoult. I am reading this for Allen and Unwin for its release in March.

10. Beautiful Darkness – I recently read Beautiful Creatures which I loved, so I am keen to see how the story continues.

So there you have it. My Top Ten books I resolve to read in 2013.