REVIEW: THE THINGS WE KEEP, BY SALLY HEPWORTH

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Anna Forster’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at age 38 is devastating. She manages for a while in her twin brother Jack’s home, but an accident leads to the realization that she needs more care. So she ends up in a residential home, with all elderly residents…except for one man named Luke.

The connection developing between Anna and Luke is cause for concern for Jack, some of the staff, and the director. But one employee, Eve, the new cook, sees something different. She notices that Anna and Luke have a real connection, which is opposite what one might expect for patients with dementia.

Eve’s story is an interesting one. What brought her to Rosalind House was the need to earn money after her husband’s death, and the subsequent financial ruin he left behind after divesting his clients of their money in a scandalous Ponzi-like scheme. Their daughter Clementine, age seven, is also suffering the after-effects of the ruined reputation via bullying at school.

Multiple narrators tell the story of The Things We Keep, which was so engaging that I had difficulty putting the book down. I came to care deeply for Anna, Luke, and Eve…and even the gardener Angus, who offers support and comfort to Eve.

What underlying issues will come up in the facility when staff members clamp down on Anna and Luke? How will Eve deal with the repercussions of some of her actions? And how will Clementine cope with the bullies at school?

There were some actions taken by Eve that I came to question as pretty risky, or perhaps even unprofessional, but her heart was in the right place. I enjoyed her story, as well as Anna’s. I also liked the first person narrative of Clementine, shedding a great deal of light on this child’s perspective. 4.5 stars.

My e-ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: STILL ALICE, BY LISA GENOVA

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Alice Howland, a psychology professor at Harvard University, has had a remarkable career and anticipates a promising future. The mother of three adult children, she is married to John, a scientist, also employed at Harvard. She is only fifty years old when she begins having “memory” issues. She thinks she might be starting menopause, as her online search suggests some of the same symptoms she has been experiencing. But then one day, Alice gets lost while running in an area that is completely familiar to her, and the fright compels her to seek medical attention.

But when Alice goes to her doctor, and then is sent to other physicians for more tests, she soon learns that she has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Still Alice is a compelling, emotional, and enlightening story that reveals through her perspective the deterioration that ensues in the months after her diagnosis; we begin to see the occasional lapses that turn Alice into someone who does not recognize her family, friends, or colleagues. By the time this has happened, of course, Alice has left her teaching position. The medications that seemingly halt the progress of the disease, allowing for occasional almost “normal” moments, are unable to change the grim outcome.

What I enjoyed most in this tale was how the reader can seemingly get inside Alice’s head, see life through her eyes, and feel what she is feeling.

Despite the tragedy of watching Alice lose pieces of herself over the course of the story, a core of Alice remains. Her emotions show through, reminding us that she remains. And there is a kind of triumph that her spirit is still very much present. A story that will touch anyone who can relate to family connections and the strength of those bonds. 5 stars.