Book Review: The Girl from Station X: My Mother’s Unknown Life

Thanks to Lisa at Aurum Publishing Group for sending us not one, but two copies of The Girl From Station X: My Mother’s Unknown Life (Quayside Publishing Group and Union Books). Reading the blurb from the publisher it sounded like it would be a most interesting read and the packaging was just absolutely gorgeous:


From the publisher:

When her needy and troubled mother began a slow descent into Alzheimer’s, Elisa Segrave faced a host of unenviable tasks– not the least of which was sorting through the chaos of her old childhood home.

Although aware of aspects of her mother’s personal history– the privileged childhood, the early losses– Elisa had no knowledge of the life she uncovered in a box of diaries, stowed carefully in the attic. On those pages she encountered a woman of strength, passion, and purpose– a woman who left behind the sheltered world she’d always known to embark on a secret life of wartime adventure, intrigue and tragedy.

Elisa Segrave’s mother, Anne, was the daughter of Gladys and Raymond Hamilton-Grace, owners of Knowle– a sprawling and beautiful property located in Sussex, England. Although not part of the aristocracy, they were a well off family and her parents were madly in love. Tragically, Raymond never returns from WWI and Anne’s disabled brother is dead soon after the war is over. Gladys eventually marries another wealthy man when Anne is 5 and she is raised as a spoiled rich, pampered and indulged only child. Life is all finishing schools and fox hunts; balls and trips abroad; manor houses and servants (like Dowton Abbey!)– Anne never has to lift a finger to get what she wants. Continue reading

Book Review: The Unknowns

15790899The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth was our Critical Era online Book Club pick for December. It was a quick and quirky read which had some funny moments but it was definitely what we at Literary Hoarders like to call a “Boy Book”.

Boy Book Definition:

  1. Computer nerd protagonist obsessed with video games, comic books and/or getting together with a “real” girl.
  2. Unlimited funds usually obtained by computer nerdiness.
  3. Obsessive masturbation (uh ya– approx. every 5 pages there is a masturbation scene– awesome).
  4. Over analysis of masturbating computer nerd’s own faults told in a sarcastic and humorous way.
  5. The perfect dream girl who eventually falls for the sarcastic, masturbating computer nerd (and not just because of the unlimited funds).

Social outcast Eric Fuller spends his early high school days reading comics, obsessing about girls that he can’t get and masturbating. After becoming the butt of all jokes he turns to his computer for solace. He eventually hooks up with the nerdiest nerd at school to develop an early 90’s role-playing game. Fast forward 20 years later and Eric is still masturbating, has invented a web advertising tracking system and is a bazillionaire. He is still hopeless with the ladies but uses drugs and alcohol to loosen himself up. He meets up with the beautiful Maya at a party given by his newly lesbian BFF and instantly falls in love. Because he is an awkward computer nerd she ignores him completely and he leaves with her friend, Lauren, instead. Even though he is “madly in love” with Maya he offers Lauren Ecstasy and they screw all night. He makes a faux pas during this little encounter and reveals a very embarrassing Oedipal thought while high and his only fear is that Maya will find out. WHAT??

The story is presented in a way that makes you think that it was meant to be a funny, ironic look at a loser who knows he’s a loser and some of the thoughts and banter did have me chuckling out loud. But, the story takes a very serious turn once the beautiful and perfect Maya (miraculously) falls for Eric’s quirkiness (not his money) and it becomes harder to stay in a laughy frame of mind after that. There was also a lot of discussion of Eric’s own dysfunctional family which was presented in a very flippant tone which I actually found more sad than funny.Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 10.32.09 PM

The ending was atypical for this kind of story which I did find kind of refreshing and Mr. Roth definitely has mad writing and story telling skills. I don’t mind Boy Books on occasion but this wasn’t really the book for me–  I never really did warm up to Eric and I wanted to pound Maya square in her hipster glasses (she was just too cool for school in my opinion). I think that The Truth in Advertising by John Kenney did a way better job in tackling heavy subjects while maintaining a light and humorous tone.

2.5 stars, Meh– take it or leave it.

Audiobook Review: Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

rabid_smallWHAT? Is what Penny asked me when I told her I was listening to this book. Yes! I saw the title at the WPL available on audio and it sounded soooooooo interesting that I had to have a listen. It was definitely a fascinating read.

Co-authors Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy do a fantastic job tracing this deadly virus historically, socially, literarily (is that a word??), scientifically and culturally. There were also real life survival case studies that had me on the edge of my seat more than any old horror novel would have!

Fascinating points that I learned about rabies while listening to this book:

1. The scientific name of the virus is Lyssavirus rabies– named after Lyssa, the Greek goddess of animal rage. This viral infection goes back a loooong way!

2. Any mammal can contract rabies and (even in this day and age) it is most commonly spread by unvaccinated dogs.

tumblr_m34i0w9JTA1r6etako1_5003. The rabies virus is shaped like a bullet and lives in the saliva and brain of infected mammals; it is not found in the blood.

4. Foaming at the mouth and fear of water (hydrophobia) are actual symptoms for all victims of rabies (humans and animals). An additional symptom for males only = multiple, spontaneous ejaculations until death. WHAT??

5. Once the symptoms have manifested rabies is 100% fatal.

6. Approximately 55 000 people die of rabies every year (mostly in Africa and Asia).

image7. Most commonly known as the SADDEST DISNEY MOVIE EVER, Old Yeller was based on a book by Fred Gipson about a frontier boy’s pet dog who is bitten by a rabid wolf. The Disney writers originally changed the ending and saved the dog but Walt Disney, himself, vetoed the idea. He realized that it would be a much more powerful story if Yeller died. Who didn’t freaking BAWL THEIR EYES OUT at this movie!!??!!

8. It is suspected that the “madness” that killed Edgar Allen Poe was actually a rabies infection; he showed all of the signs and symptoms.

9. The only way for a vet to officially diagnose rabies is to have a brain tissue sample sent to the public health lab for testing. It is a very grizzly process that involves the decapitation of the animal in question.

10. In literature the first stories of werewolves, zombies and even vampires (non-sparkly type) may have been born out of the actions of rabid humans.

Rabies211. Louis Pasteur’s first human test subject for the rabies vaccine was a young boy who had been bitten repeatedly by a rabid dog. His frantic mother brought him to Pasteur’s laboratory and he reluctantly took him in (Pasteur was not a doctor and could have gotten in huge trouble by doing this). The boy, Joseph Meister, spent months at the facility under constant observation and treatment and never did contract the disease. He was so grateful to Pasteur for saving his life that he became the care taker of the Pasteur Institute when he grew up. One story tells how Joseph bravely kept some Nazis from desecrating Pasteur’s tomb during WWII.

12. The island of Bali was rabies free until 2008 when a man smuggled his pet dog that was (unknowingly) infected with rabies to the island. A nationwide epidemic broke out because of this one dog and rabies continues to haunt Bali to this day. The organization BAWA started vaccination and educational programs to help eradicate the virus and they are hoping to be rabies free by 2015.

I found that reading this book made me consider the growing trend of anti-vaccination campaigns. We have come a long way in medicine, disease treatment and prevention– so much so that generations have never experienced the terror, devastation and death toll that a little virus can cause. Years of vigilant vaccination have only kept these viruses at bay but we should not be so complacent as to think that they are not just not lying dormant until they can infect again. I know many educated people who do not get their pets vaccinated for rabies and, even worse, some who refuse to have their children vaccinated for diseases that have the power to kill. We are beginning to see some of the diseases that were thought to have been eradicated (with the help of vaccination) returning– I just hope it does not come to the point of a full-blown viral epidemic before people wake up and realize that vaccines save more lives than cause harm. Seriously, better to be safe than DEAD! 

Rabid was narrated by Jonny Heller who told the story in a creepy, almost macabre voice worthy of the latest suspense/thriller. It kept the story moving even during its most scientific of descriptions. Great job! Absolutely fascinating! 4 stars from me! 

Audiobook Review: The Rosie Project

rosieThanks so much to Audiojukebox and Simon and Schuster Audio for sending us Graeme Simsion’s quirky and adorable audiobook The Rosie Project (it arrived just in the nick of time as I could not listen to one single second more of The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls– a book that I could not finish). This story was predictable, a bit over-the-top and somewhat unrealistic but it was as charming as hell and I fell in love instantly with both Don and Rosie.

The story is told from the blunt and extremely logical point of view of Don. He is a genius Professor of Genetics, a black belt in Aikido and most likely has Asperger’s (although he does not see it– he hilariously gives a lecture to parents of children with Asperger’s in one of the opening chapters, obliviously describing his own personality quirks and getting all of the children riled up in the process– “Aspies Rule!!”). He prefers bike riding to driving, keeps a strict schedule for meals and activities and automatically calculates the BMI of everyone he meets (like you do). He enjoys his life but is a bit lonely– he can count the amount of friends he has on one hand. He recalls that his old friend, Daphne, once said that he would make someone a good husband. Launch The Wife Project– a questionnaire that will pick him the perfect mate thus eliminating the need for dating (which Don is disastrous at! The Peach Ice Cream Incident, The Jacket Incident, The Night of the Speed Dating).

Rosie is a mess. She is a PhD candidate in philosophy working as a barmaid at a gay bar. She has struggled with her identity ever since she found out her dead mother’s deep dark secret– a one-night-stand with a fellow student the night of her med school graduation. Her “father”, Phil, may not be her real dad (no wonder he treats her like shit and doesn’t keep his promises). Her life is turned upside down when she meets Don after his best friend Gene “throws her in as a wild card” Wife Project candidate (a swearing, smoking, vegetarian who constantly shows up late and is bad at math? Surely not a candidate for The Wife Project!! HA HA!!!). Their lives will never be the same!

Don and Rosie are TOTALLY unsuitable for each other and their one date creates a chaos like Don has never experienced before. She definitely should not become his wife (in fact, Don considers Rosie to be “the world’s MOST incompatible woman”). But, for some reason he feels a compelling need to help her out and The Father Project is born (Don creates a capital letter title for all events and activities). Queue the hilarity as they collect DNA samples of no less than 100 potential fathers, travelling all over Australia and America to solve the mystery. Hanging out with Rosie to complete this project is frustrating, annoying and extremely confusing for Don but he has also never had so much fun in his entire life. Will Don and Rosie ever find love??

This book just SCREAMS movie adaptation and I will be the first in line at the theatre when it comes out (as long as they don’t cast someone stupid like Jennifer Aniston as Rosie). It made me laugh and it made me cry! DELIGHTFUL!! 3.5 stars.

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.’