I heard William Kent Krueger speak at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing, and between hearing him speak, meeting and talking with him at...moreI heard William Kent Krueger speak at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing, and between hearing him speak, meeting and talking with him at another session, and falling in love with the simple cover images of Ordinary Grace, I had to buy the book. And I loved it. I'm so glad I bought it. The truth of it is that I have been reading it since May . . . not because it is a slow read but because I have savored each and every word and turn of phrase.
Ordinary Grace is haunting and beautiful, especially for anyone who has ever struggled with a God who allows bad things to happen. Krueger said he had hoped to name the book Awful Grace--as in a grace that fills one with awe, a grace beyond our understanding. The publishers balked at that idea. After all, who wants to read a book with "awful" in the title? So "Ordinary Grace" was settled upon. There are a couple of moments in the book where the title plays into it, as when Ruth (the mother) talks about an ordinary prayer, one that isn't full of platitudes or admonitions. Often prayers are. But it's more than that, too. Perhaps the awful grace--the grace beyond our understanding--really is the ordinary grace after all.
This is, quite simply, one of the very best books I have ever read. From the themes of grace and forgiveness and grief and love to the prose and beautiful descriptions and magical phrases, Krueger has deserved each and every accolade he has received for Ordinary Grace.(less)
Ugh. I have no idea how I feel about this book, even though I finished it more than a week ago. There were several times I nearly stopped reading, but...moreUgh. I have no idea how I feel about this book, even though I finished it more than a week ago. There were several times I nearly stopped reading, but I kept hoping it would get better. I think it did, but then I'm just...not sure.
Ultimately this is a story of family and how living under one roof automatically makes you part of each other's lives, even when you would prefer to keep your distance. It is also a story of grief--of many kinds--and how it completely transforms every part of whom you are. I liked those themes, but I didn't enjoy watching how messy it got. Which, in the end, is what life and grief and being a family can be sometimes. (less)
For some reason though I found Jason Mott's writing style and word choice delightful, I had a hard time getting into this book. Once I really started...moreFor some reason though I found Jason Mott's writing style and word choice delightful, I had a hard time getting into this book. Once I really started focusing on it I found myself drawn in to imagining what life would be like if the people I loved came back from the dead for a time. What would I say, what would we do, how would we spend those stolen moments together? And then how do I need to live differently today with the people that I love so that there is peace in the end? At one point, these words are written, and they summarize every answer to those questions: "Some folks locked the doors of their hearts when they lost someone. Others kept the doors and the windows open, letting memory and love pass through freely."
And maybe that IS the way it's supposed to be.(less)
The story of the Nichols family is told here--through recollection and research--in a hauntingly beautiful narrative. In her introduction, Alonzo allo...moreThe story of the Nichols family is told here--through recollection and research--in a hauntingly beautiful narrative. In her introduction, Alonzo allows that portions of the story are unbelievable. She was right. At times I had to remind myself that she was recounting true events supported by evidence, police accounts, and memories.
What is perhaps even more unbelievable than the events are the true themes of this story: submitting to God's call, no matter what or where it is; trust in God's protection and ultimate goodness; integrity; and, most significantly, forgiveness. This book is a beautiful reminder that forgiveness truly is the language of heaven. Even when--or perhaps especially when--it doesn't make sense.(less)
Full disclosure, I did have to slog through one episode of Ursula's life, because it was SO depressing. That said, Atkinson w...moreThis book was beautiful!
Full disclosure, I did have to slog through one episode of Ursula's life, because it was SO depressing. That said, Atkinson wove a wonderful tale of love, regret, life, beauty, and grief. It crosses generations while staying all within the life of one young woman. By the "resolution" the reader is challenged to consider what he or she would change with the opportunity to go back and relive life . . . what decisions, what circumstances, even which roads to take and relationships to forge. And, in the end, even what pain to avoid and what pain to relive.
A friend said this book was haunting and would stay with her for a long time. I concur!(less)
I hesitate to give this four stars only because that equals "really liked it." I'm not sure this is a book one CAN like. Don't get me wrong--it's beau...moreI hesitate to give this four stars only because that equals "really liked it." I'm not sure this is a book one CAN like. Don't get me wrong--it's beautifully written. McCreight's prose is technically well done, and her unique structure of the novel is engaging. It's told in Facebook posts, text messages, emails, journal entries, and chapters that alternate between Amelia (in first person) and Kate (in third person). McCreight masterfully captures the voice of a teen girl trying to find herself . . . all of those things are very well done. I highly recommend this book if you want to read a mystery worth trying to solve.
The problem lies in the subject matter. As the mother of three young girls, this book is heart-rending. Of all the things to consider as our daughters--our children--grow, bullying is becoming a greater and greater problem. It's a buzz word right now, but it's also a reality for many children. And, when adults get involved too, it's even more chaotic and destructive. It is a terrifying reminder of how important it is for us to listen to our children . . . what they are saying and what they are too afraid to say.
So, yes. Four stars. Read this book. It's well written. Even more than that, it's important.(less)
I should start by acknowledging that I didn't love this book . . . until the very end. Given the rough time I had getting into the book but how deeply...moreI should start by acknowledging that I didn't love this book . . . until the very end. Given the rough time I had getting into the book but how deeply affected I was by the ending, I'm having a hard time deciding how to rate it. I think I'm going to go with four stars just beause the premise was so great, and the ending really sealed it.
Grief is a common theme in life. Since every day, we--and the people we love--are dying just a bit, life truly has more loss than anything else. Sometimes that loss is "easy" and sometimes it is so painful that it is hell itself.
A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness based on an idea that Siobhan Dowd had as she was dying of cancer. She didn't have a chance to finish her book, so Ness took all of her ideas and crafted his own work. Obviously we don't have the characters and ideas that Dowd developed, nor do we know how much of this story is Ness's creation. What we do know is that perhaps no one knows the realities of dying and saying goodbye better than someone who is in its midst. Ness took those ideas and somehow adopted those feelings and realities, and he created a stark and beautiful portrait of a young boy learning how to say goodbye to his mom.
The other truth about grief is that it is contradictory. In reality, so is life. As Ness says toward the end of the tale: "The answer is that it does not matter what you think . . . your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary." (p191) Isn't that the way? Isn't that the truth about pain and loss and saying goodbye? Our minds protect us so well, but then they let us down in the end. Because the truth is what is, even when it doesn't make sense. (less)
The Pawn was published in 2008, so I'm a bit late to the game. I'm actually grateful for that, because now I don't have to wait for the next book in t...moreThe Pawn was published in 2008, so I'm a bit late to the game. I'm actually grateful for that, because now I don't have to wait for the next book in the Patrick Bowers series. This is the first in a proposed 8-part series from "The Patrick Bowers Files." Bowers is an environmental criminologist--he uses geography and environment to help build a profile of the killer he is pursuing. In The Pawn, we are introduced to Bowers and his unique line of work, and James weaves his back story in to a fast-paced political and psychological thriller.
As is an indicator of good story telling, I truly found myself coming to care for the main characters and be repulsed by the psychopaths. Bowers, his step daughter, and his partners are well written. The villains (yes, there are many in this book) are, too. And, even when James doesn't include it, the reader can sense a depth to the characters that will make them fun to get acquainted with in future stories from the files. Perhaps the most exciting part for me was believing I had identified the killer then believing I was wrong only to believe I was right again before--oh, I don't want to give it away. Just know it's worth the ride.
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, publishes The Patrick Bowers Files, as well as Steven James's other books. Typically I shy away from Christian fiction, because I find it lacking in depth, lacking in thrill, or preachy. I'm pleased to say The Pawn is none of those things. Bowers wrestles with God in a way that feels authentic, and the family drama isn't neatly wrapped at the end of the book. Just like real life. (less)
Warning: this is a hard book to read. It's a good book, and it's worth it, but it's hard. Consider yourself warned.
On the cover of my copy of The Faul...moreWarning: this is a hard book to read. It's a good book, and it's worth it, but it's hard. Consider yourself warned.
On the cover of my copy of The Fault in Our Stars, there is a quote from Jodi Picoult. I feel like I could simply write that as my review, and it would have summed up the entire book: "Electric . . . Filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy." Truly, nothing more needs to be said.
John Green has written a young adult novel about life and death, from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl living with terminal cancer. She narrates her journey through a terminal life--the same life we're all living, really--and the friends she meets along the way.
As a mother, my heart broke on nearly every other page. I can't even imagine the thought of normal being certain you have enough oxygen tanks to get your daughter through her next journey out of the house. Or knowing that your child will never see again. Or knowing that there is nothing left to fight with except hope.
At the end of the day, while The Fault in Our Stars is about the crap that life gives out and recognizing that people don't die after a long battle with cancer but rather after a long battle with life, it's really a story about hope. It's about finding love and loving, and it's about being strong enough to break down and cry, and it's about making today your best day. It's about leaving something behind that will last. It's about life.
Because it isn't just this novel that is filled with "staccato bursts of humor and tragedy." Life is too.(less)
The Art of Racing in the Rain is cleverly written and a very quick read. I didn't find it gripping necessarily, and I didn't feel too invested in the...moreThe Art of Racing in the Rain is cleverly written and a very quick read. I didn't find it gripping necessarily, and I didn't feel too invested in the story line or the characters, but I did find it fun to read each chapter. The reason behind the "racing in the rain" title is clear from the beginning, though Stein does bring it back around with subtle differences or a bit more explanation through lessons learned by Enzo, the narrating dog, from the car races that he watches on TV.
Stein's use of a dog as the narrator allows his characters to be introduced and developed in a unique way that was more engaging than the plot of the novel. And, at great surprise to me, the scenes that were the most tender were one-on-one moments between Enzo and the people he loves and is charged to protect. There were times when I felt that the prose waxed a bit eloquent for a dog, but then I reminded myself that perhaps dogs who hope to be humans one day talk like that. (And then I reminded myself about the suspension of disbelief and that this is, actually, a novel and dogs don't really talk.)
I'm not sold as a dog person, nor am I sold on this being a "four-star" novel. I did tear up in a few of those tender moments, and I did have brief flashes of thinking I may be missing out on something by not having a four-legged friend in my life. If I let one in, though, he better narrate our story. And bark any time I'm about to make a mistake. (less)
Thirteen Reasons Why is an interesting concept for a book, and Asher did a unique job mixing Hannah's voice with the narrator's voice. I found it enga...moreThirteen Reasons Why is an interesting concept for a book, and Asher did a unique job mixing Hannah's voice with the narrator's voice. I found it engaging and could barely put it down, wondering what the next tape would reveal. I have no experience with teen suicide but, like most significant (and permanent) choices, I would assume there are far more than 13 reasons why . . . Hannah eludes to that.
Despite the sexually-graphic content of one of the final tapes, I will buy this book and encourage my children and their friends to read it. I learned about this book after reading an article in Entertainment Weekly talked about how this book is saving lives and bringing healing to parents whose children have taken their own lives. It would be worth it for that alone, but I think it's also valid for anyone who engages with other people at any point in their lives. People have the tendency to be cruel and joke at others' expenses. Perhaps a book like this could bring some of that to an end. As Hannah is revealing some of the cruelty she has endured, Clay (the narrator) interrupts to say, "He didn't know. If he'd known what you were thinking, he certainly wouldn't have done it." And I think that's the point. On its own, a joke or a prank can be insignificant. None of Hannah's reasons on their own would have been enough, but together . . . it all adds up. If I can teach my children only one lesson, it will be this: be kind to other people, because you have no idea what private battles they are fighting.(less)
This book was hard to read. But, I think it was also important to read. It was important to see what can happen to a woman who doesn't gain or build o...moreThis book was hard to read. But, I think it was also important to read. It was important to see what can happen to a woman who doesn't gain or build or receive a healthy self image. It was important to see how many times Janine or Amy could have spoken out, crying for help, and it was even more important to understand why they kept quiet. (less)
Swamplandia! is a coming-of-age story for three siblings as their family's alligator resort in the swamplands of Florida sees its last tourists. Each...moreSwamplandia! is a coming-of-age story for three siblings as their family's alligator resort in the swamplands of Florida sees its last tourists. Each family member deals with it in a different manner--one tries to save it by leaving, another tries to escape it, another tries to save it by staying, and another inexplicably disappears. Even more than all of their efforts to save Swamplandia!, this is a story of a family trying to save a mother who dies in the first pages of the book. In so many ways, Swamplandia! the resort is built upon this woman, this mother, this alligator wrestler, and it didn't stand a chance without her. In just as many ways, Swamplandia! the novel is also built upon this woman, this mother, this wife, and a family that didn't stand a chance without her.
When I say this is a novel unlike anything I've ever read, I mean that I have never witnessed, firsthand, the destruction of a family when its matriarch is stolen from it. And I saw it, page after page, as I was unable to put down the book. I had to know if and how this family could survive when its life had been snuffed out.
Many reviews called this a laugh-out-loud novel. I can't say that's true, except in the guilty laughter that comes at the absurd way humans try to recover from losing their joy. I would more say Swamplandia! is the achingly beautiful story of a family losing all it had and fighting its way back to saving itself. (less)