Friday, April 25, 2014

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

My take: 4 looks
Honestly, I am not sure what I think of this book. There is a lot going on. I will just start a stream-of-consciousness review...

This is a book about a Christian extremist mother, who emotionally dominates her husband, micromanages her adopted daughter and fawns over her pastor.

She is a real nut, and I have met her before. She is every fundamental-evangelical-puritan-type who abhors sin and is curiously drawn to and manipulated by it without being aware of its hold on her. She wants to support missionaries, but won't show common decency and love to her neighbors, singing hymns at the top of her lungs while they are "fornicating", in order to irritate them. She is all about church work, to the exclusion of her duties as a wife, mother, friend, etc. God is her excuse for almost everything.

On the other side of the coin, this book is about Jeanette, her adopted daughter. So entrenched is she in her mother's religious fervor that she alienates herself from classmates at the public school, which she is ordered by the court to attend. Her class projects all have religious subjects, and not always positive or loving references. This is a religion that thrives on fear.

However, something is happening to Jeanette...something that will forever mark her as full of demons and sinful.

It's no secret that this is a coming-of-age and coming-out novel about a young lesbian girl in a rigidly Christian household, and I have read that it is semi-autobiographical. To me, though, there is just too much going on. Coming out gay is tough enough, but couple that with a fanatical mother and it's almost too much to bear. I was not as much pulling for Jeanette as I was pulling for her mother's demise. I despised that woman.

Don't think this is a book about a gay woman. It's not. While her lesbian experiences were not closely examined, they were on the periphery, as well as interesting characters who helped Jeanette along the way. It's the relationship with her mother and her relationship with her faith that took center stage, and made for an intriguing story. The book is beautifully written, with wit and wisdom, expertly weaving Jeanette's magical alter-ego in and out of the prose. It is about being entrenched in a dogma and slowly finding out that there are other views and perspectives that deserve attention. It is about being crafted into one person and slowing breaking out of that shell to be who you truly are. It is about eating oranges all your life, and awaking your taste buds as you finally try other fruit.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Author Spotlight: Gabriel García Márquez 1927-2014

Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," has died.

He was 87.
García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize "magical realism," a genre "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination," as the Nobel committee described it.
In a televised speech Thursday night, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff across the country.
The author -- known by his nickname "Gabo" throughout Latin America -- was born in the northern Colombian town of Aracataca, which became the inspiration for Macondo, the town at the center of "Solitude," his 1967 masterpiece, and referenced in such works as his novella "Leaf Storm" and the novel "In Evil Hour."
Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Creepy Book of the Day: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch



A young woman holds her newborn son and looks at him lovingly. Softly she sings to him: "I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, My baby you'll be" So begins the story that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans. Since publication in 1986, "Love You Forever" has sold more than 15 million copies in paperback and the regular hardcover edition (as well as hundreds of thousands of copies in Spanish and French).

My take:
I am going to lose some of you here. This book seems to be very polarizing, and I am on the "this book is hella creepy" end of it.

First, the mother holds her son as an infant. She holds him as all mothers do, in a rocker, gazing lovingly down as he sleeps in her arms.

It is a beautiful illustration and reminds mothers of all ages what it was like to be totally in love with your newborn.

That's when it starts to get weird.

Mom has an unnatural attachment to her child. She creeps in at night, evidently on her hands and knees, and peeks at him sleeping.

She gets him out of bed while he is asleep so she can hold him. Who knows what time it is. It may be 3am. She just feels that she needs to hold him. She probably can't sleep because he is too far away from her if she is in her bedroom and he is in his.

Poor kid.

He grows into the typical teenager, but you can see from this illustration that he probably needed to have his tail beat a little more often. If my teenage boy walked through the house at this age, leaving a wake of grime and dirt behind him, you had better believe that baseball glove in his hand would be replaced with a mop and dishcloth.

The boy finally gets his mama's breast out of his mouth and moves out. By the looks of the mother, this "boy" must be in his 40s. What does the mom do? Drives through town with a freaking ladder on the roof of her car. When she gets to his apartment, she puts the ladder outside his bedroom window,  because of course, it's the middle of the night, and climbs through the window so she can pick him up and rock him as he sleeps.

This poor woman is insane. As you can see from the picture, even the cat is trying to escape. And he must be medicated, because he is not waking up. And does she have on a dress? She climbed a ladder in a dress and Sunday shoes? Man, oh man.

 Mom eventually (and thankfully) gets old enough that she can no longer follow him and cradle him creepily in the middle of the night, so the son cradles her. What gives? This is a seriously codependent relationship. And where is her husband? He either left her craziness, or she killed him in his sleep.

I vote for the latter.

And the cycle the man-child now looks down at his poor, unsuspecting child.

Norman Bates, anyone?

The sequel could be called "I Love You to Death".

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Program by Suzanne Young

In this “gripping tale for lovers of dystopian romance” ( Kirkus Reviews ), true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories. Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.


My take: 2.5 looks, rounding up to 3
Maybe it's because it has been a long time since I experienced teenage angst, as well as a teenage love affair, but I found this book to be very sophomoric. Yes, it is a Young Adult genre novel, but so is The Giver by Lois Lowry, and it is beautifully written.

Romantic? Not really, unless you are 14 years old.

Suspenseful? Not really, unless this is the first book you've ever read and have no idea what is going to happen.

It is written to read at a fast clip, but I still found it to be pandering and redundant.

There were some very real issues that I think the book could have tackled: Who is Realm, really? (I hope to know more in the sequel). Is there actually a suicide epidemic or is this merely common teenage angst? We all know that teens feel deeper and sharper, in part because of raging hormones, and have not yet developed the tools necessary to wade through these years. However, there did seem to be a mental issue that was somewhat contagious. And the fact that it has started to spread to adults by the end of the book was telling. I hope this is explored in the second (and final, from what I have read) in the series. I also hope Sloane's mother is explored more. She seemed to be complex and conflicted, and I would like to see how she comes to terms with what has happened in her life.

All in all, because the story held my attention, and I am interested in the ending of the saga, I am promoting this one to 2.5 looks. However, Young had a perfect opportunity to explore a very real and serious issue and decided to make it a Harlequin Romance Junior instead.

Can't recommend this one.

National Library Week: Libraries around the World

  Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany-Designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, the new Stuttgart City Library opened in 2011 to mixed reviews from locals, library enthusiasts, and architects. It's been derided as a two-color Rubik's Cube, a block-shaped prison for books, and a sterile unfriendly environment. But with the funnelling staircases connecting the book-filled floors skyward and hidden cozy seating areas, I think it looks more like a less-fluffy heaven for nerds.
Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany
Designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, the new Stuttgart City Library opened in 2011 to mixed reviews from locals, library enthusiasts, and architects. It's been derided as a two-color Rubik's Cube, a block-shaped prison for books, and a sterile unfriendly environment.

The sense of homogeneity generated by the facade with its nine-by-nine grid pattern is also reflected in the building’s “heart”: a 3,000 cubic metre space which, apart from a small water feature at the bottom, is entirely empty and is designed to allow visitors to forget the hustle and bustle of the world outside. Above the heart is located the light, funnel-shaped gallery room with its collection of quality literature, where the books literally blend into the architecture. Library users of migrant origin will find not only German books here, but also fiction in 25 different languages.

Taipei Public Library in Beitou, Taiwan
It's what is on the outside of this library that counts. The Beitou branch of the Taipei Public Library system was the first building in Taiwan to receive the highest EEWH rating possible—the diamond rating—making it the most eco-conscious building in the country. Built with wood from sustainably managed forests, the library also uses photovoltaic cells to generate power, has an insulating 20-centimeter layer of soil on the roof, and uses collected rainwater to flush the toilets. And books. They also have books.

St. Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai, Egypt
The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Hebrew, Georgian, and Aramaic texts.

The oldest continually operated library in the world, St. Catherine's Monastery has been around since it was first built by the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, sometime around 564 AD. It currently holds over 3,000 religious and educational manuscripts and approximately 8,000 printed books, including first editions of Homer and Plato.

Picture Book Library in Iwaki City, Japan
Built in 2005, the Picture Book Museum gave the preschoolers of Iwaki, Fukushima, a space to call their own. Turned off by the shhh-ing atmosphere of traditional libraries, the Picture Book Library's founder gave architect Tadao Ando free rein to create a space that would be inviting for children. His only order was to make sure the covers of the books were visible. The glass-walled and vibrant end result was celebrated as a new paradigm in educational spaces in Japan, and as an architectural masterpiece.

The library has been highlighted as one of the "25 Most Modern Libraries in the World".

A total of 6000 people visited the Picture Book Library in its first 10 months, often 200 on each public day and visitors have exclaimed of the building: “The museum is "architecture of light...the concrete feels so warm". Critics say "a tension-rich rhythm develops out brightly and darkly, from open and closed zones". "Like so many of his greatest buildings, it pulls off a remarkable illusion: the walls may be built from blocks of concrete, but, from the inside at least, the building feels as if its primary materials were light and air". "There is no dead end,” one blogger noted, and they were reminded of M. C. Escher

Also of note:
Boston Public Library in Boston, USA
Opened in 1848, the Boston Public Library is the second largest library in the United States, with over 24 million volumes. It was also the first public, free-to-all library, and the first to lend books out to patrons.

Royal Grammar School Chained Library in Guildford, England
Established in the early 1500s, the Royal Grammar School contains one of few remaining examples of the practice of chaining books to shelves. This allowed important or particularly useful books to be placed in communal areas for public perusal rather than locked away, paving the way for the public library system. Now the Headmaster's Study, the Chained Library holds books that date back to the late 1400s, including two early editions of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia.

McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas, USA
When the city of McAllen acquired an old retail property, they brought on Minneapolis-based architects Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. to convert the space into a massive new public library that looks nothing like the Wal-Mart it once was. The largest single-story public library in the United States, the new McAllen Public Library now includes a massive children's area with one of the largest teen areas in the state, an art gallery, a 200-seat auditorium.

Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France
No expense was spared to carry out the library’s grand design, which many claimed defied logic. While books and historical documents are shelved in the sunny, 23-storey and 79m-high towers (shaped like half-open books), patrons sit in artificially lit basement halls built around a ‘forest courtyard’ of 140 50-year-old pines, trucked in from the countryside. The towers have since been fitted with a complex (and expensive) shutter system but the basement is prone to flooding from the Seine.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

National Library Week: Banned Books

You know, it is Parenting 101 that you should tell a child what he CAN do, and not what he CANNOT do.

Do you know why? Because everyone is a little bit of a rebel. When you tell him, "You can't...", what you are really doing is piquing his interest so that he will not be able to think of doing anything else.

It's human nature.

So, if you tell a reader a book that he can't read...that's all he is going to want to read.

Don't get me wrong. There is some trash out there. Books so poorly written that authors should pay you for the time you waste reading their refuse. There are books with explicit sex, strong offensive language, unchecked violence, and religious overtones galore. However, I say read them, if you like.

It is NOT my business, or anyone else's for that matter, to tell you what you can and can't read. As a mother, I can steer my younger children toward age-appropriate material, but I will not ban a book eternally. Once they are old enough, they can decide for themselves what they think of the subject matter.

With that said, you are going to guffaw at the most challenged book of 2013. Dav Pilkey's best-selling picture book series topped the list, just as his "Captain Underpants" did in 2012. The reasons cited included "offensive language" and material unsuited for its targeted age group.
I will allow that to sink in for a minute.

Now, I don't want to rant. I will tell you that the majority of book challenges come from parents (more specifically, moms). I don't have a problem at all with you telling your child that he can't read a particular book. But, do not tell mine that he can't. That's my decision.

Before I need another blood pressure pill, take a look at this site to get more information.

Here is an awesome timeline of banned books.

And the top 20 most challenged books of last decade:

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Library Week: Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey

Parker Posey sums up nicely why we need the Dewey Decimal System!

About the man:
Melvil Dewey.jpg
Immediately after receiving his undergraduate degree, Dewey was hired to manage Amherst's library and reclassify its collections. He came up with a system of decimal numbers used to classify a structure of knowledge first outlined by Sir Francis Bacon.

Dewey copyrighted the system in 1876. This system has proved to be enormously influential and remains in widespread use.

In 1877, Dewey moved to Boston, where he founded and became editor of The Library Journal. The journal became an influential factor in the development of libraries in America, and in the reform of their administration. Dewey was also among the founders of the American Library Association.

Dewey became librarian of Columbia College in 1883. The following year, he founded the School of Library Economy—the first school for librarians ever organized. When Dewey relocated to Albany in 1889, he took the school with him. It eventually returned to Columbia in 1926. Dewey also served as director of the New York State Library from 1888 to 1906. During his tenure he reorganized the state library and established a system of traveling libraries and picture collections.

About the System:
The Dewey Decimal Classification organizes library materials by discipline or field of study. Main divisions include philosophy, social sciences, science, technology, and history. The scheme is made up of ten classes, each divided into ten divisions, each having ten sections. The system's notation uses Arabic numbers, with three whole numbers making up the main classes and sub-classes and decimals creating further divisions. The classification structure is hierarchical and the notation follows the same hierarchy. Libraries not needing the full level of detail of the classification can trim right-most decimal digits from the class number to obtain a more general classification. For example:
500 Natural sciences and mathematics
510 Mathematics
516 Geometry
516.3 Analytic geometries
516.37 Metric differential geometries
516.375 Finsler Geometry
 Is that gorgeous, or WHAT?! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

National Library Week: Types of Libraries

Did you know there are various types of libraries? Here is a cute graphic from the Baynet Library:

That sums it up nicely.

According to Wikipedia: The year 1876 is key in the history of librarianship in the United States. The American Library Association was formed, as well as The American Library Journal, Melvil Dewey published his decimal-based system of classification, and the United States Bureau of Education published its report, "Public libraries in the United States of America; their history, condition, and management." During the post-Civil War years, there was a rise in the establishment of public libraries, a movement led chiefly by newly formed women's clubs. They contributed their own collections of books, conducted lengthy fund raising campaigns for buildings, and lobbied within their communities for financial support for libraries, as well as with legislatures and the Carnegie Library Endowment founded in the 20th century. They led the establishment of 75–80 percent of the libraries in communities across the country.

I have visited the Carnegie Library of Atlanta, nee The Young Men's Library Association, and now the Atlanta Fulton County Library. These arches form a square in downtown Atlanta, and are from the original Carnegie Library, as are known as the "Carnegie Education Pavilion".

According to the library historian on the 5th floor of the library, the remaining arches from the Carnegie Library reside in a landfill, waiting to be restored and used.

I can imagine that it was a beautiful building.

On a side note, Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell's father was the president of The Young Men's Library Association. The reader doesn't fall far from the bookmobile!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in History: Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language is printed in 1818

Noah Webster, a Yale-educated lawyer with an avid interest in language and education, publishes his American Dictionary of the English Language.

Webster's dictionary was one of the first lexicons to include distinctly American words. The dictionary, which took him more than two decades to complete, introduced more than 10,000 "Americanisms."

One facet of Webster's importance was his willingness to innovate when he thought innovation meant improvement. He was the first to document distinctively American vocabulary such as skunk, hickory, and chowder. Reasoning that many spelling conventions were artificial and needlessly confusing, he urged altering many words: musick to music, centre to center, and plough to plow, for example. (Other attempts at reform met with less acceptance, however, such as his support for modifying tongue to tung and women to wimmen—the latter of which he argued was "the old and true spelling" and the one that most accurately indicated its pronunciation.)

The introduction of a standard American dictionary helped standardize English spelling, a process that had started as early as 1473, when printer William Caxton published the first book printed in English. The rapid proliferation of printing and the development of dictionaries resulted in increasingly standardized spellings by the mid-17th century. Coincidentally, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language was published almost exactly 63 years earlier, on April 15, 1755.

Taken from web sources.

National Library Week: Ancient Libraries

Isn't this beautiful? Can you just imagine what it looked like in ancient days? What happened to it?
According to San Jose State University, the destruction of this priceless treasure was a stroke of the most unimaginable bad luck. If Byzantine Egypt had been taken by one of the later Islamic conquerors, this irreplaceable collection would have been counted amongst the finest of the spoils of war to fall into a victor's hands.

Early in the year A. D. 642, Alexandria surrendered to Amrou, the Islamic general leading the armies of Omar, Caliph of Baghdad. Long one of the most important cities of the ancient world and capital of Byzantine Egypt, Alexandria surrendered only after a long siege and attempts to rescue the city by the Byzantines. On the orders of Omar, Caliph of Baghdad, the entire collection of books (except for the works of Aristotle) stored at the Library of Alexandria were removed and used as fuel to heat water for the city's public baths.

This is what Carl Sagan imagined the library looked like.

I love the idea that words, histories, stories, thoughts and ideas have always been important enough to write them, keep them, and make them available to the masses for reference and reflection. Legend has it that there was an inscription above the shelves that read: "The place of the cure of the soul."

More about the Library of Alexandria at The History Channel.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

National Library Week! April 13-19, 2014


It is National Library Week in the good 'ole US of A!

I love libraries! I love everything about them: books, librarians, study spaces, comfy places to read, internet access, Friends of the Library stores, music, movies, foreign language offerings, classes, and it goes on and on.

I miss three things from libraries past: card catalogs, periodical index and microfiche. I know. Go figure.

Now THOSE were the days of research! You actually had to DO something, put forth more effort than typing a search term...but I digress...
This is all about LIBRARIES! Looking forward to this week:
  • Monday: Ancient Libraries
  • Tuesday: Types of Libraries
  • Wednesday: Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey
  • Thursday: Banned Books
  • Friday: Library Field Trip!

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

A classic story of two fathers and two sons and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each. And as the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother, and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find the peace that neither will ever retreat from again....

My take: 3 stars
A book about two boys becoming young men, their fathers and how they relate to them, and growing up under the same, but vastly different, religion.

This book is full of symbolism, from the baseball game which begins the book, to the eye issues experienced by both young men, to the emerging of a new nation, and hence, two new young men.

However, maybe a little too much symbolism. It is heavy-laden and prime for themes, studies and analyses. On the surface, it is an intricate story of interwoven lives and faiths. In discussion, it becomes The Mariana Trench. My college-age son reports to me that, regardless of the assignment in Literature classes, he always uses this book for his theme.

I think the most important role of this book, written in 1967, is not the relationships presented, but the religions. In a time when Judaism was not widely experienced or understood in America, very little was pervasively known about Orthodoxy versus Hasidism. Potok describes each in detail and from the inside out. History is revealed, and the ideologies of the two sects are described, as well as lived out by the characters, making the understanding of them almost palatable.

The birth of the nation of Israel is overshadowed by the personal stories, but acts all the same as a climax to the novel as it sets the stage for an exciting and dangerous future for Jewry worldwide.

I think less should be spoken of about the symbolism of the book and more about the trailblazer that Potok becomes in bringing two sides of a very foreign and ancient religion to the American masses. I learned more about the history, beliefs and ideals of Judaism from this book than ever before.

Highly recommended.

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out.

An allegory about the power of belief—and a page-turner that will touch your soul—Albom's masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected. 

My take: 3 looks
I hesitate to call this Christian fiction, because, strictly speaking, it is not; however, I think it mostly fits the bill.

I disagree with the summary that it is an allegory of the power of belief. When the first phone call is received, it is met with elation by the recipient. What is the proof? The voice on the other end is unmistakable. How can it be a hoax? There is even a conversation, albeit it brief and a bit fragmented. But the voice. It has to be.

As the phone calls continue, received by eight people from different backgrounds, walks of life, and faith situations, the blessing turns into something else.

"Instead of feeling reconnected with her only son, she felt his loss as palpably as she did when the news of his death arrived. An unexpected phone call here or there? A clipped conversation? A phenomenon that might disappear as quickly as it came? The awful part would still not change. Robbie was never coming home." p136

I think Albom is a good writer, and his books have always resonated with me. However, this one fell a bit flat. While I found the characters to be well-flushed, I found some of the situations a bit contrived, sophomoric, or just plain unrealistic. For example, the fact that Doreen and the police chief had been divorced 6 years, and she still felt emotions surrounding him so intensely.

In the end, I was satisfied with the ending, but would recommend his other books before this one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Submerged by Dani Pettrey

A sabotaged plane. Two dead deep-water divers. Yancey, Alaska was a quiet town . . . until the truth of what was hidden in the depths off the coast began to appear. Bailey Craig vowed never to set foot in Yancey again. She has a past, and a reputation--and Yancey's a small town. She's returned to bury a loved one killed in the plane crash and is determined not to stay even an hour more than necessary. But then dark evidence emerges and Bailey's own expertise becomes invaluable for the case. Cole McKenna can handle the deep-sea dives and helping the police recover evidence. He can even handle the fact that a murderer has settled in his town and doesn't appear to be moving on. But dealing with the reality of Bailey's reappearance is a tougher challenge. She broke his heart, but she is not the same girl who left Yancey. He let her down, but he's not the same guy she left behind. Can they move beyond the hurts of their pasts and find a future together?

My take: 2 looks
A milquetoast Christian fiction, the first in the Alaskan Courage series. The characters are irritating, the story is character-heavy, and the plot is predictable. The good news is that the Christian-part of this book is not overdone, as so many are. The characters who are Christians live their daily lives praying, seeking guidance from God, and going to church. There is no preaching here, just a glimpse at life for an evangelical believer.

However, that does not save this mystery. My cry to authors of Christian fiction is this: Can we get a meaty story, that is clean? One does not have to sacrifice for the other.

Not recommended.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces Bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

My take: 4 looks
This one gets four looks because it is a true story, the man survives, and he is a hero. However, Hillenbrand would be best served with a harsher editor. While the story is unbelievable riveting, the text is redundant, verbose and, many times, unnecessary.

For example, the fact that these young soldiers were immature and unseasoned is repeated again and again in copious stories of draining CO2 from life jackets to make soda, taking a dare to fly into a storm, and ignoring sage advice of superiors. We get it. They were young and cocky. Strike a few pages here and there and get on with the meat of the story. If felt at times that Hillenbrand may get paid for the word.

If you don't mind skimming, this is an excellent story of the human spirit and one man's desire to live despite the odds.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

From the author of the critically acclaimed What Alice Forgot comes a breakout new novel about the secrets husbands and wives keep from each other.

Three women. One secret. And a letter that will change everything— forever. Tess. Rachel. Cecilia. Three women living three very different lives. But when Cecilia opens up a Pandora’s box, their lives will intersect in ways none of them could foresee.

Cecilia is the woman who seems to have it all: a successful career, a gorgeous husband, and three wonderful daughters. One day she finds an old tattered letter in the attic that’s addressed to her, to be opened only in the event of her husband’s death. But he’s still very much alive. When Cecilia casually mentions it to him on the phone, he laughs it off, telling her to put the letter away. Yet when he flies home early from an overseas business trip, and then frantically searches for the letter, Cecilia realizes there’s something important in it, something she needs to know. Yet even Pandora herself could not prepare Cecilia for what the letter reveals.

My take: 4 stars
This book is so much more than the letter that Cecilia opens. That makes the title misleading, too. There was more than one secret, making it more of "The Husbands' Secrets". There are three family stories in this novel, weaving together, touching the other characters. As they meet one another, you find yourself holding your breath, waiting for them to find out how their lives will intersect. There are elements that were a bit hard to swallow (would you really pull your child out of school overnight and move back to mum's house because your husband thought of cheating?), promises made and broken, and difficult decisions on forgiveness.

My favorite part of the book is the end, where Moriarty takes the reader on a journey to a parallel universe, exploring uncovered truths and presenting what-if-scenarios.


2014 National Book Award Judges have been announced!

The 2014 National Book Award judges have been announced, and you can read the entire article here.

I just returned from a trip to Atlanta, where I saw Margaret Mitchell's National Book Award for Gone with the Wind. I really didn't realize how amazing these awards are, how much consideration goes into the choices, and the lasting effects on the winning titles.

Here are the judges for the Fiction category:

Geraldine Brooks won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, March. A former foreign correspondent, she has reported from more than fifteen countries and wrote two works of nonfiction before turning to novels, which include Year of Wonders, People of the Book, and Caleb’s Crossing. Born and raised in Sydney, she now lives on Martha’s Vineyard.

Sheryl Cotleur holds a B.A. from Case Western Reserve University and an M.F.A. from Kent State University. She has been a bookseller for the past 28 years and is currently the frontlist and backlist buyer for Copperfield’s, a chain of seven stores in northern California.

Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece was a finalist for both the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography.  A long-time faculty member at Smith College, he reviews new fiction regularly in both the US and the UK; earlier books include, among others, The Bells in Their Silence: Travels Through Germany.

Adam Johnson is the author of Emporium, a story collection, and the novels Parasites Like Us and The Orphan Master's Son, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. He teaches creative writing at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco with his wife and their three children.

Lily Tuck is the author of five novels, Interviewing Matisse or The Woman Who Died Standing Up, The Woman Who Walked on Water, Siam: Or The Woman Who Shot A Man, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, The News from Paraguay, winner of the 2004 National Book Award, and I Married You For Happiness; two collections of stories, Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived and The House at Belle Fontaine; a biography, Woman of Rome, A Life of Elsa Morante.

I love that the list includes booksellers, as well as authors. Booksellers are readers first and foremost, and it's hard to get much crap past a seasoned reader. While authors may be a little more forgiving, the reader will not.

I am not familiar with any of these judges except the first Geraldine Brooks. I have read several of her books, and have loved them all. She writes with a depth and flow that makes her books a pleasure to read and recommend to others. What better award is there than that?