Friday, March 30, 2012

March 2012 Bookshelf

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

This book has been on my "to read" list for a long time, probably before I saw the movie.  If there's a movie I like to read the book first but it doesn't always happen that way. :) 
I really liked this debut novel from Sue Monk Kidd.  It had a compelling storyline and interesting characters. 
Lily, a white 14 year old, escapes her life with Rosaleen, a black woman who has been taking care of Lily about 10 years.  Lily's Daddy, who isn't really a Daddy to anyone, is so cruel to her that she's done so she goes off searching for a kinder place, a place her Mama referenced long ago. 
Arriving at the Boatwright sister's place begins a softening of heart for Lily and for the Boatwright sisters.  Healing has begun and all because of bees. 
Kidd writes a slam dunk novel, her characters are fleshed out, her story is engaging, her use of bees and how they connect the story is spot on, and her conclusions are realistic. 

Toxic Faith: Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

A good dialogue from professionals about one type of addiction: religious addiction.  The authors are believers in God so they have a basis from which to speak about this addiction that is probably much more prevalent and widespread than most people would think.
The main author, Stephen Arterburn, is well known in Christian circles for his radio shows, New Life Treatment Centers and various other books he has authored (Every Man's Battle, Healing is a Choice to name a couple).  As happens in Christianity the need and use of trained psychologists is a controversial topic and so Arterburn finds himself often in the midst of controversy due to his training and his treatment centers, etc.  However, the man has solid information that has been helpful and healing to many, many people.  In this title Arterburn and his co-author, Felton, take what is true about any kind of addiction behavior and symptoms and correlate it to religion.  It makes SO much sense and reading the book the reader can see how religion even becomes an addiction.  In fact most readers will probably be able to see someone they know and/or love described in the book or perhaps themselves described!
The title caught my eye as well as the fact that it has been sitting on my parents bookshelf for years, probably since it was released in 1991.  So I'm reviewing the 1991 edition, it has since been updated and edited - the length of it has been cut by about 75 pages.  As I was reading the original edition I found myself wishing I had the updated in my hands.  The original edition is good, lots and lots of info, but it is too long.  I'm tempted to flip through an updated copy and see what they nixed - my guess is the point still gets made.
Regardless of the length, one chapter was literally 50 pages long (1991 edition), the book presents solid information about what this particular addiction looks like, behaves like, sounds like and how we can avoid it and how people can overcome it.  I recommend the book but I recommend the updated edition (yellow cover).

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

The Castaways is about a group of friends who have to live life after 2 of their members die in a tragic accident.  Their story is told by each one of them and combines past and present to bring us up to speed.  Hilderbrand does a seamless job of weaving together the past and present in each character's voice, the reader never feels confused about who is talking and what part of the story they are telling. The Castaways tell the story of Tess and Greg and their friendship with them as they also reveal their own private torture about the part they each feel they played in the deaths of Tess and Greg.  This book is a vivid portrait of friendships woven so tightly together that sometimes love looks like hate, it takes the reader through the realities of grief and the journey of finding the way back from grief, and it displays how true love can be and is healing. I really enjoyed this book. 


Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Oh my gosh I loved this book.  It's been on my "to read" list for a couple of years and I finally got to it and I'm so glad I did!  Gilmore's debut novel is a really wonderful story. 
Catherine Grace Cline, PK (Preachers Kid), is the voice of this coming of age story set in Georgia in the early 1970's.  Every Saturday she sits at the local DQ, licks a Dilly Bar, and plots her way out of Ringgold, population 1,923.  She'd like to make it population 1,922.  The book is written in Catherine's voice and is so true to life that you feel like you are reading a memoir rather than a work of fiction.  Gilmore cleverly titles all chapters after Catherine's experience with the Holy Bible and her current life status. 
I don't want to say much more because I don't want to give away all the parts of this book that delight the reader.  I will say this, READ IT!  It's so wonderful and such an easy read.  You don't want to put it down because Catherine's story is so compelling. 

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Wow. I am speechless.  What an excellent read.  What an amazing work of fiction.  It was clever, it was well-written, it was engaging. I devoured it. S.J. Watson's debut novel hit all the perfect "notes".
Christine wakes everyday to no memory. She has to be told and re-told by her husband what her story is and what has happened.  But what if he isn't telling the truth?  What if he's only telling partial truth?  How would she even know?  What if he is telling the truth?  How would she even know? 
I can't say anymore because to try to dissect it without spilling all the details is almost impossible for me.  This book was so good I'm still in awe hours after reading it.  Not sure I understand the negative reviews.  Crazy good book!

Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

Not My Daughter tackles a topic that gets a whiff of media attention every now and then - pacts.
In this book a group of 17 year old seniors all end up pregnant within weeks of each other and it comes out that they made a pact to all get and be pregnant together and then raise their babies together.  Seemed so easy and cut and dry to them. Never mind the boys who fathered, unknowingly, the babies.  Never mind their siblings who would have to endure teasing and scorn.  Never mind their parents who had raised them to make better decisions and themselves are now being accused of being horrible parents. Never mind that pregnancy takes a toll on the body.  Never mind that their age doesn't make them exempt from complications of pregnancy.  Never mind, never mind, never mind...
The book, I felt, also ended up highlighting a major problem with today's teenagers.  They actually think and believe they are adults already and capable of making adult decisions.  Except they aren't and they can't!  Part of being an adult is using your life experience to weigh in on your decision making process, of looking at pros and cons and deciding if the cons are worth the price, anticipating "what ifs", of realizing that what you do may and probably does bear "consequences" for someone else - what you do isn't contained to just you, it affects other people.  All of those facts about being an adult shine brightly in this book as the story unfolds and one of the pregnant girls, who with her mom serves to be the main characters of the book, keeps saying, "But this wasn't supposed to happen!"  Guess what little girl?  Nobody ever knows what will happen but life experience and maturity certainly help us weigh those kinds of "what ifs".
The book also addresses parenting.  What makes a "good" and "bad" parent?  Heated debates are contained within the pages that seem as if Delinsky had listened in on an actual debate about the matter.  People actually say some of the stuff she includes.
As with most of her books, Delinsky writes a good story, an easy one to pick up and a hard one to put down.

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Meredith is Silver Girl, she lives a privileged life with her husband, an investments banker...and a crook.  The problem is Silver Girl doesn't know her husband is a crook and one day he, and the Feds, reveal that he has stolen 50 billion dollars from his clients.  Think Bernie Madoff.
As you can imagine Meredith's life spins out of control and all eyes are on her as people think she was in on the scam due to her "loving" husband putting her fingerprints all over 15 million dollars 3 days before he gets arrested. The problem with Meredith's lifestyle is that she has no real friends, nobody who can come to her side and give her some support...except for Connie whom she has known for a lifetime but had a falling out with a few years back.
This is the story of both Meredith and Connie finding their way back from deep waters to healing.
It's the second Hilderbrand book I've read and as with the other one she doesn't write in chapters but in character voice.  This book is written strictly from Meredith and Connie's perspectives.  While I liked the story line, the character development, and the setting the book lagged a bit in parts.  I think some tighter editing would have been beneficial and not detracted from the content of the book.  It was a lengthy novel that could have had a more lasting impact with some tightening.  But all in all, I liked the book and I like Hilderbrand's style and story lines.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh tackles a controversial subject in "Faith".  Sheila's oldest brother, Arthur (Art), is a Catholic priest and has been accused of what so many other priests are being accused of, molestation.  Father Art's family is left reeling in the wake of this news as Art maintains a calm and a peace about him and refuses to acknowledge or deny the charge.
The book is written in Sheila's voice and written as a memoir of sorts, about 2 years after the charge.  She has become privy to a lot of details about Art, the family involved in the charge, and her own family that the general public and in fact the Catholic church don't know.
By the end of the book, and the conclusion of the matter, we have a deeper understanding of Art and we, along with some of the most important people, know the truth.  And truth is what will set us free...if we allow it.
This is the first novel of Haigh's I have read and she does a good job with character development, staying true to the culture of the character, and keeping the story moving forward and not growing stagnant.  She also, in this particular book, taps in to the Irish Catholic culture of the East Coast and does a good job of representing them accurately.  It was an engaging read.  I wouldn't say it's a favorite book of mine and you may not hear me rant and rave about it but it was really good and I'm certainly glad I picked it up.

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher

WOW.  A necessary read for anyone who has girls, preferably read it before they hit puberty! My sister-in-love recommended I read it since I have two girls and I am really glad she recommended it!
I will say that upon reading it my thoughts focused on my oldest daughter who is just about done with her middle school years and I am so grateful.  She is the healthy, balanced girl described in the book.  Confident of who she is and her beliefs on a variety of topics she has not just survived the oft turbulent middle school years but she has THRIVED in them.  Now we are preparing to enter into a second season of middle school with our youngest and I can only hope she does as well in her own ways.
Reading this book made me realize the ways in which we as a society have devalued and degraded our girls.  We have done them a huge disservice as a whole society.  I knew this on a few levels but reading personal stories of many girls in this book made me aware of it on several more levels.  It also, without explicitly stating it, highlights a huge need to teach our young boys and young men how to be real men and not what the media, etc says they should be.
We are losing a vital part of our society when we allow girls to believe lies about themselves and when we do not allow them to be who they are but try to shove them into a box created by media, mass advertising/marketing, etc.  Read this book, you will not regret it.  It will highlight ways you can make a difference in the lives of girls or affirm the ways in which you are interacting with girls or a little of both!  The best outcome of reading this book is you walk away recognizing where you are doing some things right and realizing where you can improve.
Written in the earlier 1990's the book is still relevant but needs to be updated as since it's publications times have gotten even more complicated and harder to navigate as a young person, maybe more so for young ladies.  I'd love to see Pipher go back through it and update it for the 2000's.
Have girls?  Read this book.  Seriously.


Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

A story that brings back together three college best friends. Pen, Cat, and Will were joined at the hip back in their college days and then Cat broke them up after college for reasons that 6-8 years later seem ridiculous.  That's what life experience will do - teach you what's ridiculous and what's not.  For the college 10 year reunion both Pen and Will get a vague email from Cat asking them to come and meet her for she needs them.  Cat's pull is so magnetic that neither can ignore the request and they end up at the reunion but Cat doesn't.  What happens then is a falling back together after falling apart.
This is the first book of de los Santos I've read and I enjoyed it.  Her writing was good and engaging although a bit predictable in terms of story line and conclusion.  Had the book not have ended the way it did I would have been shocked.  It was predictable and I knew how certain topics would conclude the minute they were introduced into the story.
But it was a pleasant read and I will probably give her other titles a shot at some point.

Three Junes by Julia Glass

I actually abandoned the book 2/3 of the way through.  It had become a horrible waste of my time, a tedious read for certain.  You know it's bad when after the first couple of chapters you are wondering how much more you can actually stand to read.
The book lacked depth on all levels.  It was terribly dull. And by dull I mean DULL.  It was so boring, the story didn't capture my attention or heart at all.
The book follows, for the first 2/3, a family from Scotland who has experienced love and loss.  Glass wrote it in this back and forth style of present day and past.  It was very confusing at times.  And it wasn't interesting.  This was a very dull family.  The last section of the book, which I read about 5 pages of before finally calling "Uncle!", was about a woman who somehow gets introduced to one of the family members. WHAT? It's as if Glass herself had tired of the family and felt she needed to introduce new blood to keep the story going until it concluded.
The second section of the book focused the most on one of the sons, Fenno.  A whiny, insecure, shell of a man.  She writes his story in great detail as if the reader actually cares.  Perhaps some of her readers did care, I found myself looking for something to capture my attention while trying to get through Fenno's story.
A waste of my time.  I saw another title of Glass' in the Library and passed it by, I don't think I can subject myself to another dull read.

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

I think this is my first Picoult book.  It's her second book but my first read of her.  I know, I know - how could I have waited THIS long?  :)
It's the story of Paige, who in her youth and inexperience makes a few bad decisions that come back to "haunt" her later - as bad decisions always do.  It's the story of Paige, who has allowed certain lies about herself and her life build up after her Mom abandoned she and her Dad when she was only 5.  It's the story of Paige, who needs to find her voice in this world.
It's also the story of Nicholas, who needs to learn to pick on people his own size (his Dad's great insight).  It's also the story of Nicholas, who needs to learn that everything isn't about him.  It's also the story of Nicholas, who has his own lies and insecurities to conquer.
What happens when two people make a decision to join their lives?  They become each other's triggers.  So it's the story of triggers and finding a way to not let them have power over you any longer.
Picoult has proven herself as an author.  Since this book, published in 1993, she has gone on to write a list of bestsellers.  Her stories contain character development and depth, story lines that could actually be reality, and deft examinations of the human spirit.

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

This title is intriguing because of the time travel possible with the main character.  I don't read a lot of sci-fi which I think time travel usually falls under but I have read and enjoyed a couple of time travel books.  The ever popular and well-written, well-developed Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (What?!?  You haven't read those books?  Cease what you are reading and pick that series up!  It's amazing!) was my first foray into time travel that wasn't so "sci-fi" and I loved it, so ever since then I'm open to other books that are written in a similar vein.
The Other Life fits the criteria.  It's a well-written story about Quinn who knows she has a whole other, different life through the portal in her home.  But she's resisted traveling through all these years until a tragedy strikes her and her family and she uses the other life to escape her real one for a while.  As she travels back and forth she eventually gains answers to some questions she's had for a long time and she's finally figured out which life she really wants to live but as happens with time travel has her time to be in the life she wants run out?  Can she get to who she wants to be with or is the portal closed forever?
Ellen Meister writes a good story.  Quinn is well developed as a character. And one of her lives is very well developed but the other one isn't and that would be my complaint.  Perhaps Meister didn't want the book to be Outlander series length but a little more development with the other life would have been good and made Quinn's choices harder and more complex, something I don't consider to be a bad thing if done well. Regardless I enjoyed the book.

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult


I zipped through the first half of this book like it was easy readin'.  The second half proved, for me, to be much harder to read - kind of tedious, dull, flat.
I felt like Picoult forced the timing of certain relationships in the story and it made me feel very doubtful about the possible realistic aspects to the story.  It also made me doubt the characters genuineness about their sudden change of heart.  Additionally, the last half of the book took place almost exclusively in a court room in which Picoult proved to the reader that she had done her research when it came to law and the particular subject matter being contested.  For me it was too much court room and lawyer speak and seemed to take a sharp turn from what had been a great story line running.  Oh it all related but it was too much, I wanted her to continue to focus more on the characters and their relationships rather than all the legal stuff about a very controversial topic. I'll give Picoult this - she did her research on this topic and for both sides but in the end you can sense what Picoult's own stance on the issue is and she does put the opposing view in a rather stereo-typical light.  Another example, again, of saying that the few speak for all when the truth is the other way around most often. But the loudest get the most attention.
What I did like about all the research Picoult did was it gave me more information for a topic that is very real and controversial these days but I didn't know a lot about. Dr. Suess was right when he said that the more you'll read the more you'll know.
This was just an okay read for me and I was disappointed that it ended up that way since I loved the first half so much.