Tag Archives: alcoholism

Review: Shake Down the Stars by Renee Swindle

8th August 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the author Renee Swindle in exchange for an honest review.

It’s been five years since Piper Nelson’s daughter died, but she’s coping worse than ever. Her mother and sister are so absorbed in the sister’s celebrity wedding, they don’t have time to notice Piper’s pain. Her ex husband has moved on, and the loss seems to sever her last connection to her daughter, adding to her sorrow.

Her job as a high school teacher suffers as Piper begins drinking more and more to stave off the pain. And like many addicts, she’s hurt too many people by the time she reaches the end of her descent to know where to turn. Help comes in the unlikely form of Selwyn, whom Piper meets at a disastrous engagement party for her sister and her sister’s pro football fiance. Not put off by Piper’s anger and addiction, he instead offers her support and friendship.

She knows she needs to change, but how do you move on from such a loss? How do you shut it away when others are ready to pass over it?

Though Shake Down the Stars could easily have been a depressing or morbid book, Renee Swindle writes a book that feels incredibly realistic and respectful. Addiction is never demonized but written about with understanding and empathy. Swindle also respects that loss looks different to different people and that the reactions to death can range as widely as the people that death affects. But Piper can’t see that in her grief, and the family dynamics and her eventual recognition of them is just as pivotal to her story.

Piper learns to find joy and laughter again through unexpected relationships, including other addicts who walk the same road she does. Yet never does Swindle brush over Piper’s pain, making for a book that can cause laughter and tears sometimes on the same page.

ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere says it best, calling Shake Down the Stars “a rich, savvy exploration of the many kinds of love, loss, and dysfunction that can unearth us or save us, bedevil us or deliver us.”

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

If Jack’s in Love by Stephen Wetta

6th February 2012

If Jack's in love, he's no judge of Jill's beauty. - Benjamin Franklin

*Bought at Barnes & Noble after reading the first 20 pages and being unable to put it down.

What it’s like to be Jack Witcher: like running through a field full of land mines.

It’s 1967, and Jack is a smart kid, but he comes from the kind of family where his dad wants to fight the neighbors, his brother is the “bad kid” no one wants his or her daughter dating, and his mother isn’t all that pretty. The Witcher family is the house in every neighborhood where the residents leave broken chairs on the porch and piles of trash on the side of the house, a beat-up car left with its hood up at all times. If that’s not bad enough, Jack Witcher is in love with Myra, whose brother Gaylord is missing and who everyone suspects met trouble in the form of Stan, Jack’s brother.

Jack fits nowhere, not with his family, not with the kids at school. In fact, the only person who really pays attention to Jack is Mr. Gladstein, a Jewish jeweler who is also a bit out of place, and for some reason, Jack divulges his love for Myra to Gladstein, who gives him a trinket to win the heart of his girl. Myra doesn’t seem to be anything special, though she sticks up for him once or twice, but as Jack says, “Myra was everything to me, probably because there wasn’t much else.”

When I first opened this book, I was waiting for my Nook upgrade at Barnes & Noble, so of course, I was picking up books every chance I got [Hm. I wonder if this was their ulterior motive]. If Jack’s in Love  was on one of the tables, and I flipped to the first page, and then (as there was some trouble with my Nook), kept flipping until my low back began to hurt and I desperately began missing the nice armchairs that have gone in lieu of some crazy toy area. By the time my Nook was ready, I was hooked.

This is no typical coming-of-age novel. Jack is in a truly precarious position, not only in terms of age, but also because of the family dynamics. Witchers ain’t Snitchers, his dad and brother menacingly warn him again and again, and Jack is party to too much knowledge. What do you do when you’re 13, your dad is planning to commit a crime and your brother already has? Witchers ain’t snitchers. Is loyalty worth more than right? There are moments when Jack is genuinely afraid his father or brother may try to kill him because they know Jack’s just not like them. He is frightened of and for his own family, an alcoholic, violent father, a pot-smoking, sadistic brother, and a mother who has checked out.

If Jack’s in Love is a glimpse into that rundown house, that family who yells at one another and can’t control their kids, and it’s pretty petrifying. Now imagine being one of those kids.

Jack – and I – were simply waiting for the moment when one of those land mines would explode.

Other reviews:

The Literate Housewife

largehearted boy

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

4th January 2012

*I received this book from a publicist author in exchange for an honest review.

Ah, memoirs. I absolutely have a love-hate relationships with you. Sometimes you are so smart and elucidate universal truths in life. Other times you allow a flow of emotion similar to the effects of watching a Greek tragedy. Yet other times you make me want to swat you, like an errant fly buzzing about the room.

It is also incredibly difficult to review a memoir because you are taking an intensely intimate work and critiquing it. I can imagine it would be difficult for an memoirist to separate critiques of the writing from the self (although arguably, this is always difficult).

So let me set it up for you: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me is about Ian Cron’s life with his alcoholic father…who also happened to work for the CIA for many years. It starts with Cron’s father’s job in movies in London and tracks the family through the highs and lows of his family and his father’s problems. My issue with the book, and I admit up front that this is my own personal hangup, is that Cron talks a lot about not having any money after his father gets fired from his movie job in London. Except that in my book, having a nanny throughout your childhood ain’t poor. Ordinarily I could overlook this, but Cron makes much of this in the first third of the book, and it felt incredibly insensitive to someone who grew up struggling.

For example, this passage drove me crazy:

As my father’s drinking and depression augured downward, my  mother was forced to go to work as a secretary in a publishing company – what was called a “girl Friday” – to pay the bills and keep food on our table. My mother grew up in a wealthy and highly regarded family on Long Island. Only a few years earlier, she had been touted in British tabloids as one of the most beautiful American women on the London social scene. Now she was a personal assistant to a publishing executive.

Say it ain’t so! A personal assistant! How horrid. What must the neighbors think? I mean, I hate to be snarky, but if you grew up without much, Cron’s complaints sound like a whole lot of whining. My parents were both teachers and did their absolute best with the income they had and the many medical bills my mother incurred. We grew up in a very happy household, so I was rich in that way, but there were many times  we struggled quite a lot financially. The author goes on to say,

With some income flowing in, our financial condition began to stabilize, if not inch up. It would be a long time before we could sign “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but one or two green shoots were peeking up through the dirt.

I’m sure leaving the privileged lifestyle he had always known was rough, but overall, the “poor is me” narrative got old. Also, I think Cron has a highly-idealicized picture of family life, and he refers to family sitcoms throughout the book. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people whose lives would live up to that. It’s not real.

All of that said, and my own personal feelings aside, Cron had some funny moments. They were mostly one-liners, but they worked. As for the alcoholism, I fortunately don’t have those experiences, but the scenarios Cron lays out are scary, and I cannot imagine them as my own kind of “normal.” His own problems with alcohol and drugs are honest and helpful in discussing the cycle of abuse. The publicist who contacted me also indicated that though Jesus is in the title, the religious aspect isn’t overwhelming, and I’d agree with that. Religion and spiritualism are not something Cron comes by naturally, but its importance to him and his sobriety is undeniable.

Though this didn’t work for me, if you like memoirs or personal experiences with alcoholism, you might want to pick this one up.