Thursday, April 28, 2011

No Mercy by Lori Armstrong

On medical leave from the Army, Mercy heads home to her family ranch after the recent death of her father, having been away for 20 years. It's her responsibility to decide whether to sell the ranch or not, and she gets little help from her sister and nephew. After a dead body is discovered on her land, Mercy butts heads with the sheriff, Mason Dawson.

When another body is discovered, Mercy starts her own investigation into the deaths. As she unearths buried secrets, her life--and the lives of family members--are put in jeopardy.


I have been wanting to read a Lori Armstrong book for ages, and after meeting her at RT and spending an inordinate amount of time in the bar with her (and Beth Williamson - I was in heaven with those two!), I stepped up and bought the first in the Mercy Gunderson series. First off, let me say that I discovered on page 1 that this is written in first person. A serious dealbreaker for me. I almost set it aside, but I so adore her Lorelei James books, that I decided to stick it out. I'm so glad I did!

Mercy is a tough broad. And yet, she could be extremely vulnerable if she let herself. But she doesn't. She has a lot to deal with: her father passed away and she wasn't home for it - she was off at war in the middle east. Her nephew is mixed up in an Indian gang, dead bodies of those 'gang' members are starting to appear on her land, people are trying to buy her ranch out from under her, and her sister is an emotional wreck who needs constant support. She doesn't trust the town sheriff or even her ranch foreman. In fact she tells herself she only trusts herself, but she barely even does that.

The supporting characters, from Sheriff Dawson, to her sister, to her foreman, to all the people she interacts with, all serve as different windows into Mercy's many issues. Trust, guilt, betrayal, fear. They all plague her and are shown through her interactions with the other characters.

This book is gritty and emotional - which seems an odd way to describe it since Armstrong goes out of her way to make Mercy as unemotional as possible. She tamps down her emotions viciously, trying to be as stoic as possible, even though she so hurts deep inside.

The setting here becomes its own character - almost as strong as any person in the book. The harsh land of South Dakota paints the bleak setting for this rather bleak novel. The Indian reservation (the rez) is its own harsh reality (and breaks my heart). Yet each of the settings completely matches the character and tone of the book. From all that befalls Mercy's sister, to the murders that take place, to the attitudes of the town toward Mercy (and hers toward them), to the harsh memories of her youth and the flashbacks from her army days, this is definitely not an upbeat book, and yet I kept reading, hoping for the best for these folks who live on the wild land. And Armstrong pulled me in and kept me riveted. Mostly out of sheer desperation to find something... anything... happy in this book. Alas, there is not a lot to find. But the book does end on a somewhat optimistic note.

All in all, a gritty, dirty, messy, wonderful read.

It's payday today, and so I've already downloaded Mercy Kill. Once I finish my other reviewing obligations, I'll be able to dive into this one.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

First post about #RT11

This year, RT is taking place in my backyard. And because we're totally tapped out after youngest's bar mitzvah, I couldn't afford to either take a week off work or to pay for the entire convention. Much sadness ensued. Then, Holly, Tracy, Nikki, Renee, Rosie, and I decided that we could do the weekend. So I'm planning on checking in Friday morning and hanging til Sunday morning.

Well, yesterday I received an email from the lovely and wonderful Malle Vallik of Harlequin/Carina Press asking me to a dinner that she and Angela James were hosting. (thanks for the referral, Holly!) Of course, I immediately emailed the hubby, told him the kids were on their own for a 2nd night in a row, and answered in the affirmative for dinner. Pretty much a no-brainer. An invitation to dinner to talk about books? I'm so there! One of the tremendous perks of being local. And of having teenagers who'd rather call for a pizza than almost anything else.

Well, it turns out that both Malle and Angie are beautiful, wonderful, gracious people, and I had a lovely time. OK, it was lovely except for the 10 minutes when I was suffering from The. Worst. Hot. Flash. Ever. I seriously think I freaked everyone out. And I thought I would die. Yes. D. I. E.

Also in attendance was Smart Bitch Sarah, who is one of the funniest women I've met. And also just very lovely and gracious, too. So there was me, Tracy, Renee, Amber, Barbara Vey, Mallory, and Katie. All talking books, Goodreads, and peeves. Oh, and amazing food, too! Truly a wonderful evening. So thanks again, Malle!

I started out the evening with lovely long curls. This pic was post-hotflash.
Missing is Barbara, who manned all the cameras.

Afterward, Tracy and I hung in the bar chatting with LB Gregg (aka our very own Lisabea). As we were ready to leave, I spotted Lauren Dane and had to go interrupt her conversation to say hi. Yes, I was rude and pushy, but there you have it and she was very sweet about my interruption :)

I will be heading out to RT tomorrow by lunchtime (hopefully - I have to call in to two meetings tomorrow morning - ugh). I'm sharing a room with Holly, Nikki, and Tracy. Should be a blast! And we'll be hanging in the bar Saturday evening at about 7:00 as "the SoCalBloggers" just waiting for all the authors and other bloggers to come visit with us. Well, ok. We'll be there gawking and drinking and laughing and we hope that anyone who is there that wants to visit will swing by.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Bending Toward the Sun by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, with Rita Lurie

A miraculous lesson in courage and recovery, Bending Toward the Sun tells the story of a unique family bond forged in the wake of brutal terror. Weaving together the voices of three generations of women, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie, provide powerful — and inspiring — evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, relevant to every culture in every corner of the world. By turns unimaginably devastating and incredibly uplifting, this firsthand account of survival and psychological healing offers a strong, poignant message of hope in our own uncertain times.

Rita Lurie was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic, subsisting on scraps of raw food. Young Rita watched helplessly as first her younger brother then her mother died before her eyes. Motherless and stateless, Rita and her surviving family spent the next five years wandering throughout Europe, waiting for a country to accept them. The tragedy of the Holocaust was only the beginning of Rita's story.

Decades later, Rita, now a mother herself, is the matriarch of a close-knit family in California. Yet in addition to love, Rita unknowingly passes to her children feelings of fear, apprehension, and guilt. Her daughter Leslie, an accomplished lawyer, media executive, and philanthropist, began probing the traumatic events of her mother's childhood to discover how Rita's pain has affected not only Leslie's life and outlook but also her own daughter, Mikaela's.

A decade-long collaboration between mother and daughter, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust remains in the hearts and minds of survivors, influencing even the lives of their descendants. It also sheds light on the generational reach of any trauma, beyond the initial victim. Drawing on interviews with the other survivors and with the Polish family who hid five-year-old Rita, this book brings together the stories of three generations of women — mother, daughter, and granddaughter — to understand the legacy that unites, inspires, and haunts them all.

The inside front cover copy really tells the story here. If you ever wondered what it was like to be a Holocaust survivor or to be the child of one, this is the book for you. It begins with the Gamss family's experiences hiding out in an attic for 2 full years (14 people in a 15 ft long attic, 4 ft high).

Sections are told by Rita, who lived in the attic, Leslie, her daughter, and Mikaela, her granddaughter. Rita was incredibly honest about her depression, her stepmother (by whom she felt horribly mistreated), and all else in her life. It took incredible strength to look inward and tell her story honestly and openly.

Rita tells of the time spent in the attic of a both brave and fearful couple, with 14 of her relatives, watching as first her baby brother and then her mother succumb to illness and heartbreak. She speaks of being forced to remain silent, of watching her relatives being shot and killed, of the hurt and anger of having her father withdraw from her emotionally. She speaks of not being able to walk afterward, because her bones were so weak and bowed from not being able to stand in a 4 ft tall by 15 ft long attic so cramped with people that there wasn’t room to move even. Of having to toilet in front of everyone. Of the feelings of depression and inconsolable sadness she felt every single day from these losses that she lived for two years and, really, for the rest of her life.

Leslie then tells of what it was like growing up in a household with a depressed mother, always feeling responsible for her happiness and safety, afraid to spend a night away from home because she didn’t know if her mother would be alive when she got home. And of somehow passing that same fear on to her own daughter. Her brother and sister felt the same fear, but managed to live a little more normally. From the opening:
Finally, some researchers have proposed that memories of fear can actually be carried across generations through biochemistry. Children of severely traumatized Holocaust survivors have been found to have lower than average levels of the stress hormone cortisol, just like their traumatized parents. They also have been found to be more likely than average to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder when exposed to a traumatic event, and more likely to view a non-life threatening event, such as illness or separation from a loved one, as traumatic.

Interestingly, I went to school with the younger Lurie daughter. We weren’t good friends (I “knew who she was”), and I had no idea that so much was going on in her household. Rita Lurie signed the book for my brother in law and sister, because they are friendly. The progression of Rita and Frank's life and the life of their family very much mirrored my own family's life, from the middle class upbringing to the three children and all that accompanies that, all the way down to the bat mitzvah each woman had as adults because they were not allowed as young teenage girls. It felt very much like looking into a mirror at times, but yet still being removed just enough to sit back and absorb it all.

I related to so much of this story – I almost felt like they were my own memories from hearing my parents’ friends and my grandparents’ friends talking and reliving. There’s a point in the book where Leslie relates how Rita didn’t want her going to Germany in the late 80s. My own mom had a very hard time when I said I wanted to go to Germany. Even all these years later, it carries a stigma among people of my parent’s generation (and I have to admit – my own, too). While in my head I know that Germany is a democratic, liberated country, and the people who live there are also generations removed from what their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did, I still feel a twinge when I think about the people who “choose” to live there. And how silly and dumb is that, since I know tons of people who live there, including my hubby’s cousin. And really? It’s a dumb thing to put on this generation. But there you have it. I do still want to go there and the surrounding countries and visit the concentration camp sites, the Anne Frank house, and more. Someday I will do it with a clear heart.

Because my own parents lived through that time, and I was the first generation to be educated about the Holocaust, it’s something that hits very close to home for me. It’s really difficult – impossible really – to separate my own personal experiences as a first generation post-Holocaust Jew from the literature.

This book is an inspiration and achieves its goal – showing that you can overcome, you can win, and damn if it doesn’t take every ounce of your strength sometimes. I was in awe not only of Rita, but of her husband Frank, who has supported her unquestioningly and unconditionally all these years. I think this is a must read for anyone, but especially as we lose the folks of this generation, it's so important not to forget their experiences. I recognized a lot of myself in Leslie, and a lot of my mom in Rita. Although mom was not in Europe, we had family there, and the profound effect of the Holocaust on both my mom's and my generation should continue to be told.

Also visit the website dedicated to the book that includes memories, interviews, photos, and much more.
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