Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: One Doctor : Close Calls, Cold Cases and the Mysteries of Medicine by Brendan Reilly, MD

In One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases and the Mysteries of Medicine, Dr. Brendan Reilly brings readers to the front lines of medicine today and exposes it's fractured, ailing state. A distinguished internist  at a major academic medical center in Manhattan, Dr. Reilly sees the spectrum of patients as they are admitted to his service and he navigates the healthcare system in trying to provide the best care to each patient. By weaving together his thoughts on the healthcare system, the mysteries of some of his most challenging patients and the very personal story of caring for his own parents at end of life, Dr. Reilly has created an informative but also gripping look at medicine today.

Dr. Reilly began his career as a primary care physician in small town New England and practiced medicine in a way one imagines it was practiced years ago - with house calls and an in-depth knowledge of each patient. This experience, though not without its own challenges and during which he encountered his most mysterious case which haunts him to this day, informs Dr. Reilly's approach to treating patients. In this quote he reveals his philosophy as a doctor:
For many doctors, the purpose of medicine is to cure disease. For these "curing" doctors, if you don't have a definable disase - panic attacks is not a disease - then you've come to the wrong place. But, for other doctors, the purpose of medicine is the same today as it has been for centuries: to relieve human suffering - sometimes by curing disease (when we can) but always by empathizing with, understanding, and trying to comfort the sufferer.
He laments the fact that the vocation of being a doctor and comforter to patients has been devalued in the current business culture of medicine with healthcare as a "commodity" and patients as "consumers" and "customers" while the doctors are "providers".

Although Dr. Reilly provides his opinions on the state of healthcare today, the book is not merely an examination of healthcare policy from within the industry. Perhaps it's greatest offering is in bringing the reader to the bedside as Dr. Reilly and his team of colleagues, interns and residents see patient after patient and try to solve their medical mysteries. In each case,  the doctors use a mix of basic physical examination, patient interviews and more advanced medical technologies like CT Scans to get to the source of the symptoms presented by the patient and land on a diagnosis. The reader sees the process used in diagnosis, the challenges of managing not just the patient but their families, and the inevitable race against time as patients begin to worsen and the narrow window of time to diagnose and treat successfully narrows.

The counterbalance to the doctor at work is the doctor trying to doctor his own parents. His father, also a physician, has metastatic bladder cancer which has significantly impacted his quality of life while his mother is suffering from dementia and also needs significant daily care. With their care, Dr. Reilly experiences first hand what many of his own patients' families grapple with including challenging end of life decisions. How much intervention is enough or too much? It is interesting to watch him practice the same deductive approach to medicine without the benefit of distance - he is obviously emotionally invested in his parents and it complicates his care for them.

My Thoughts
I could not get enough of this book - it is fascinating on so many levels. With the health care debate so front and center now with the launch of the Affordable Care Act, it is interesting to explore, on a less superficial level than offered by the media, the many drivers of our issues in healthcare today. It also confirms my belief that there is no silver bullet to our healthcare challenges today and each solution will have some sacrifice with its own downsides.

More than that, however, I loved the front row seat to the practice of medicine and watching the doctor at work. It was like watching an episode of Gray's Anatomy or ER - gripping and emotional. In each case, you see the doctors struggling with their own issues - there is actually quite an exploration of regret in medicine and how it is not well understood or discussed - and juggling multiple patients and a plethora of information as they try to both cure and comfort each patient. At the core of each case is a patient looking to the doctor and the healthcare system for relief and a doctor trying to solve a mystery in order to do just that.

This book is definitely a top read for me in 2013 - highly recommend!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by Jo Jo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind by Jo Jo Moyes: Sophie LeFevre's husband, Edouard, is fighting for France at the front of World War I; Sophie has been left behind in the small town of St. Peronne which has been occupied by the Germans. A Kommandant is taken by Sophie and the painting the artist  Edouard had made of her which hangs in her home and reminds her of life before the War. When that painting surfaces almost one hundred years later in the home of Liv Halston, an international scandal erupts and thrusts everyone into the limelight. Although long since deceased, Sophie also takes center stage and her story is told.

 Liv Halston was given the painting "The Girl You Left Behind" by her husband, David. When he dies suddenly, Liv is left as a young widow and she clutches everything that connects her to her late husband. She lives in the fantastic "Glass House" that was custom built by David, an architect. Each feature in the home reminds her of David, his brilliance and what she has lost. "The Girl You Left Behind" also reminds her of happy times with David and she develops a connection with its subject, Sophie. When the LeFevre family engages the services of a firm to recover the painting missing from Edouard's collection, they contact Liv and inform her she is in possession of a painting that was illegitimately obtained during the War. The family wants restitution but Liv cannot let go of one of her last connections to David - or to Sophie.

My Thoughts
I found this book completely engrossing. It is told alternately from Sophie and then Liv's point of view and I think the movement between contemporary and historical fiction was well balanced and served to keep the story moving. The author successfully creates two very sypathetic characters in Sophie and Liv - they are both dealing with tremendous grief and loss but they are also complicated and don't always make predictable, stereotypical choices. They are linked by the painting and they both hold on to it in an effort to connect to what they have lost.

The story extends much beyond just Liv and Sophie - each of their storylines are filled with interesting characters and subplots to make this a multilayered novel which pulls you in. In addition, there is the controversy over works of art with questionable provenace and what the current owners owe the descendants of the true owners. All of this together makes for a story I won't soon forget.

I received an e-ARC via netgalley. is currently offering a giveaway for a book bundle from the author - enter here

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dewey's Readathon: October 2013

Ok - I am in! The Readathon wasn't on my radar for some reason this month but all the #readathon tweets and excitement have drawn me in! I have a baby shower later today so will not be reading for the entire 24 hours but am still looking forward to getting some solid reading in.

 And for the first time, I have my trusty readathon companion with me - Prince! I adopted him last night and so far he seems pretty content (after we have played some catch and tug) to rest next to me while I read.

I will update this post throughout the day - to get things started, here is my Hour 1 update:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? 
Not sure  . . . since joining was a last minute call, my planning is non-existent.  But I know I will finish The Girl You Left Behind  - loving it! 
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
See above re: planning :(
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I live in the city, love to read and have been blogging for almost 4 years. 
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Will try to keep the distractions to a minimum so I can really read! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guest Post: Author of Painted Hands - Jennifer Zobair

When I talk about how I came to write a book about two successful, professional Muslim women in Boston, I often say that it started with a drug test in Michigan. I’d just left my law firm job for an in-house position at a robotics corporation and, as many companies do, they required a drug test as part of the hiring process. I reported to the appropriate hospital for the test, with my big, blond hair and tailored black suit, and proceeded to answer the perfunctory questions—name, address, date of birth— from the twenty-something male registrar. When he got to religion, I said Islam.

 Without missing a beat, he replied, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

 Despite research showing that Muslim women in America are highly educated and high-income earners, the stereotype of the oppressed and foreign woman persists. This “otherizing” is what allowed that young man to be so surprised to learn I was a Muslim. And it’s what informs too many narratives about Muslim women in this country.

 My novel is about the kinds of Muslim women I know—smart, opinionated, warm, confident. Because I married into a Pakistani American family, many of the Muslim women I know happen to be South Asian like my two main characters, Amra and Zainab. In many ways, the book is about their experience as second generation Indian and Pakistani Americans and the ways they navigate their bicultural identities. For example, they don high-end western clothes as they scale the corporate ladder, but can still rock a gharara or a sari at South Asian weddings and parties. Zainab, who is a brash, beautiful campaign strategist, even wears a red lehenga to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, causing Amra to ask if her attire isn’t “too ethnic.” Part of this might be because Amra is a lawyer at a prestigious law firm, and law firm culture is notoriously conservative. But politics is, too, and Zainab’s sartorial choice probably has more to do with her confidence: In this as in all matters, Zainab is radically and unflinchingly committed to being herself—a very American and very South Asian feminist.

 The novel explores Indian and Pakistani culture, to be sure—there are descriptions of food and clothes and wedding traditions like how brides typically wear red and have their hands “painted” with henna before the ceremony. But for immigrants of any generation or background who happen to be Muslim, there are points of departure from other immigrant stories in a post-9/11 world, and I’ve tried to capture that in this novel. What does it mean to be a Muslim in America, or a woman—even a feminist, as my characters and the author certainly are—in Islam? Who is a “real American” and who gets to decide? And how do you maintain your dignity when so many people stand ready to vilify you on the one hand, or pity you on the other, based on your religious affiliation?

 Of course, Painted Hands also explores issues many non-Muslim women can relate to as well. My characters balance high-powered careers and the desire for a family. They are attracted to compelling and complicated men. They confront the glass ceiling, the pressures of the western beauty myth, and the fissures even close friendships face when people change. At the heart of the story, then, is that whatever our roots, whatever generation of “immigrant” we happen to be, our struggles and triumphs are strikingly similar. There are differences, of course, and I hope Painted Hands illuminates a bit about what it’s like to be Muslim woman in America. But I hope it also shows that universal truth the brilliant Maya Angelou spoke of in her poem “Human Family”:

 I note the obvious differences 
between each sort and type 
but we are more alike, my friends 
than we are unalike

Thank you to Jennifer Zobair for this excellent post about the characters in her novel, their immigrant stories and the universality of that experience.  Her first novel is Painted Hands (my review).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair

In Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair, we meet Zainab Mir, Amra Abbas and Rukan, three American Muslim women who grew up together as best friends. Now adults, the women are successful in their careers and have managed to dodge their family's attempts to marry them off and move them into the traditional wife role they would like them to play. Amra is an in-demand attorney at a top Boston firm and firmly on the partner track. Her hours are long and all-consuming. Zainab is a political consultant and communications director for a feminist candidate for office in Boston - she espouses controversial positions by mainstream standards and certainly by those of her conservative Muslim family. Rukan is considering marriage to a non-Muslim which has shocked her family. The novel provides a glimpse into the dilemmas that face many young women - balancing career aspirations with desires to have a husband or kids and the selection of a spouse that a family does not support - but offers that glimpse through the lens of the Muslim-American experience.

My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it is well-written and the characters are engaging. As I reflected on what captivated me about this book, I first thought it was the view into a world that is not written about much in contemporary literature. The experience of young Muslim-American women grappling with modern dilemmas like how to balance work and home life or the choice of a spouse which dismays a family, is not one widely seen in literature today. I was fascinated by the Muslim traditions and the cultural expectations placed on women. In addition, the author skillfully created multidimensional characters in these three women. It would be easy for them to all fit cultural stereotypes and be very similar to each other simply because of their common background.  Instead, they are distinct from each other and have their own story.

On reflection, however, I realize that the women's Muslim American background is a layer in this story but not the entire story. At the core, they are just modern, educated women facing the challenges we all face. What I was drawn to was their similarities to me and not to their differences. Amra, Zainab and Rukan's experiences are similar to my own and those of my friends  - their differences make the story perhaps more compelling but what I responded to most was how well their stories resonate. This is a smart, entertaining read.

You can read other reviews of this book from those on the TLC Book Tour .