Friday, June 29, 2012

June 2012 Bookshelf

Becoming Olivia by Roxanne Henke

While Henke does tackle some complex life issues in her series, of which this title is book 3, her books still lack some depth and reality.  I'm assuming this is to keep them clean and marketable in the Christian publishing world.
Olivia, i.e. Libby, is the focus of this book.  However, like the other books in this series there is at least one other person's story that shares equal time with the "main" character.  I'm still confused about this but I've given up trying to figure out why Henke did this.  I wouldn't mind it so much if the title of the book reflected the shared stories of the others.  Anywho...
Olivia has experienced quite a bit of loss in her lifetime and it seems to be catching up with her.  She's started to experience "symptoms" and is on the hunt out find out the source of them.  Olivia's daughter, Emily, is a junior in High School and experiencing that teenager boredom with living in a small town, striving to be well liked, and fitting in.  Dr. Sullivan is battling his demons while trying to counsel others.  Except it doesn't seem to be working out so well.  I related best to Olivia.  I went through a very similar season that she experiences in this book.  Many of Henke's descriptions were spot on for my experience as well.  What I did appreciate about Henke's story of Olivia is she didn't do the "christianese" thing and brush off depression as if it were just having a lack of faith or something.
These books are safe reads, kind of boring but safe nonetheless.




With Love, Libby by Roxanne Henke

The final book in Henke's "Coming Home to Brewster" series.  Of course this means I've read all of them...except number 1.  But I can read it and truly finish the series, it finally came through the library system!
Again Henke tackles a common topic and does so through 3 different characters.  Libby is a character that has appeared consistently in every book - I believe she's a feature character in 3 of the 5 books.
In this particular book Libby, Vicky, and Angie are all dealing with the loss of a dream...or so they think.  Sometimes what we dream is not what God does for us - or sometimes it is and all it takes is patience on our part until the time is right.
The book was okay.  For some reason the end annoyed me, it probably is heartwarming to others.  I just want a little more meat, a little more reality, a little less stereotype in books I read.




After Anne by Roxanne Henke

This is the book that spurred on the other 4 in Henke's "Coming Home to Brewster" series.  It was nice to finally get the background on Olivia and Anne's friendship and why it impacted Olivia (Libby) so much.
At the front of the book I was pretty annoyed with the writing style.  Henke included quite a few sentences that were supposed to serve as foreshadowing but ended up annoying me.  They were not crafted well enough to be a good foreshadow, just an annoying sentence that makes the reader kind of wonder if they are wasting their time reading this book.  Fortunately she quits doing that about 1/3 of the way in.
The book is the story of how powerful friendship can be.  I agree 100%.  Friendship can be be powerful.  Henke has a good idea but the story falls just a little flat.  Olivia is very two-dimensional and I was left feeling more annoyed with her than anything else.  Henke didn't round her out and make her jump off the page. In fact, this seems to be part of her writing style because I think that is partly what annoys me about the other books in the series as well - her characters aren't totally fleshed out so the reader is left with a "flat" character.
The final analysis is I am glad to be done with the series.  I think I've spent enough time in Brewster, ND and I'm ready to move on.  If a series sucks me in I don't mind living in it for as long as the series lasts but with series that are harder to grab on to I feel ancy to get out!  Unfortunately the "Coming Home to Brewster" series left me more ancy to get out than reluctant to leave.




The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

Koomson is one of those authors that feels like a "guilty pleasure".  Her books are all "chick lit" but yet underneath the story line have some depth. Once again I devour one of her books.
Amber, the main character, is addicted to chocolate and running.  Running away from hard situations, conflict with people, etc that is.  She wears trainers but it seems she doesn't use them for the actual physical exercise of running.  One of her best mates, Greg, has decided to change up her life and she's not sure how that's going to play out.  Koomson's tale of Amber and Greg's relationship leaves little to the imagination.  Weaved in is Amber's relationship with her best friend, Jen. As is so common, everyone around us can see the truth much more clearly that we can about the relationships we are in. But eventually we have to see it for ourselves and then we have decisions to make. In Amber's case will chocolate and running help or distract?
British authors crack me up.  I've consistently read three of them and all three focus on cheating, betrayal, and running emotionally from problems.  Those are things that humans across the board do but it is the way in which a British author treats those topics that cracks me up.  They have such a way about them - in their phrasing, how they have their characters approach the issues, etc.  It's quite enjoyable and without fail I finish reading any one of Koomson's books and the voice in my head is distinctly British for a while.  :)




Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

I think I really would like to give it 3.5 stars.  I can't say that I really liked it but I did like it.  Jan Karon takes her amazing character Father Tim and continues his story past life as an Episcopalian Priest in Mitford, NC.  If you haven't read Karon's Mitford series I have 2 questions for you.  1) Have you been hiding under a rock?!?  2) You haven't left yet to check out book 1 from the library?!?  Karon's Mitford series is wonderful.  It is like a warm blanket wrapped around your soul.  After reading book 1 you'll be looking at the map trying to figure out if you can move to Mitford and sit under Father Tim's teachings.  Okay enough about Mitford.
In this new series about Father Tim Karon takes him back to his hometown under the draw of a cryptic note.  He hasn't been back to Holly Springs in 38+ years so he's a bit nervous but goes anyway as the note holds too much potential and he needs to satisfy his curiosity.  His wife, Cynthia, encourages him to go for other reasons - namely healing and closure from the past.
Karon continues Father Tim in all the ways readers have come to love him.  He's warm, wonderful, wise, hospitable, funny, accepting.  What knocked the book down from the potential of 5 stars and even 4 stars is the way in which Karon chose to unpack Father Tim's memories of his life in Holly Springs.  It wasn't attention grabbing for me.  I had a really hard time feeling interested.  Now, that being said, I'm not sure how she could have done it differently and since she's the professional author I'm not going to tell her she should have but it didn't grab my attention like life in Mitford with Father Tim did.  In the end I finished over half of the book in one night because Father Tim is just that wonderful!  He draws you in.  Regardless of story surrounding Father Tim I am certainly happy to be drawn back into his world.




In the Company of Others by Jan Karon

My loyalty to Jan Karon's character Father Tim lands this book at a 3 stars but really it was more just on the "okay" side of things.  It was a tedious read for me.  I missed Father Tim even though he was very present in the book.  For a few years,since this series was released, I stalled on reading it - somehow sensing that I wouldn't take to it the way I did to the Mitford series.  I was right.  It lacks something - a Father Tim flavor I suppose.  What I enjoyed most about the book was Father Tim and Cynthia's interactions with their family back in Mitford while across the pond in Ireland.  The rest felt quite lackluster.
The premise of the book is the long-awaited and much talked about trip to Ireland that Father Tim has been promising Cynthia for 8 years or so. They arrive to drama and immediately are sucked in to the lives of those that surround them.  No surprise there as Father Tim seems to possess an inner magnet that draws people to him.  A good portion of the book is journal entries from the later 1800's that Father Tim and Cynthia are reading and eventually those journal entries shed light on some current day mysteries.  I skimmed the journal entries and at times skipped right past them - they were not at all interesting to me.  I raced to the finish line with this book just wanting to be done so I could move on to something else.
It took me far too long to read this Karon book - she is one I usually devour. I feel so let down in this installment of Father Tim's continuing story.  Should she do another - has she? - I hope it returns Father Tim to his former glory.




The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (translated by Ingrid Christophersen)

What I thought was a fiction book turns out to be a non-fiction book about a real bookseller in Kabul.  And that would be great if he was a man of literary character as one who think a bookseller would be.  But alas, Sultan Khan is not the kind of bookseller I thought the book was based on.
Seierstad explains in the beginning of her book that she lived with the Khan's for many months while crafting this book that showcases the life of a middle class Afghan.
Sultan Khan and his family are some of the more fortunate ones in Afghanistan as they don't go hungry even one day and their shelter is relatively intact and Sultan makes a lot of money running several bookshops in Kabul.  We are introduced to the family character by character as each chapter focuses on someone different.  Through each chapter we learn more about Sultan himself.  Yes, it is romantic and noble that he fought to keep people with reading material during the Taliban's extreme rule but since the fall of the Taliban he has become much more interested in money than in keeping people entertained and informed through the written word.  It is obvious from Seierstad's glimpse into the life of this family that there is much conflict - internally and externally - about living more modern versus living still stuck in the mindset the Taliban forced upon the people.
What this book does is give readers a glimpse into a country that most of us will never step foot in nor have the capacity to truly understand.  We get a glimpse into the culture of Afghanistan and it offends Western sensibilities.  I think I felt most deeply for those Asne featured - whether they were men, women, children - who had deep and daring dreams that were first crushed under the weight of the Taliban and then continue to be crushed under old ways of thinking and relating to others.  She beautifully portrayed the dreams of these people and the way their souls crushed under the loss of the dream. Not that soul crushing is beautiful but the way she aptly described it for the reader drew instant connection between myself and whomever was the featured character for that chapter.
It only gets three stars from me because it was a hard book to read - at times very tedious in its history lessons and Sultan is a hard man to like which made the book seem long and drawn out.  I did close the book with one thought. Afghanistan is a country that will stay stuck in its cycles of poverty, war, abuse, etc as long as it does not begin to soften its heart toward the inhabitants.




The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

I couldn't stop reading this book nor thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.  Richmond sucks you in with her short, easy chapters that make the reader almost as crazy with desire to find the missing child as the Abby, the main character.
Abby, engaged to Jake and soon to be step mom to Emma, finds herself in a nightmare when Emma disappears into the fog one weekend when Abby is in charge of her.  Thus begins a frantic search to find Emma and in the process try to salvage relationship with Jake.  By day 232 Abby finds herself searching for Emma alone in a foreign land.  She refuses to give up a gut instinct that tells her Emma is alive and not dead.
Michelle Richmond weaves a story of what being a real parent looks like and feels like, what being in a relationship where tragedy strikes looks and feels like, and what it costs to not give up on gut instinct.  Just as with the other book of hers that I have read, No One You Know, Richmond takes her characters across many miles as they search out the answers to their questions.  She also includes into her books research about some topic that the main character connects with.  In this book it happens to be memory.
A very captivating and intriguing read.




The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie


A Hercule Poirot mystery that I had not yet read.  I always enjoy Agatha Christie. she was brilliant.  This one was harder for me to follow that other ones I have read.  It felt like a lot of loose ends until the end but perhaps that is the mark of a good mystery.  Either way I had a hard time engaging with it, thus my 3 star rating.
A woman dies on the Blue Train and investigation ensues.  As is normal, the police see and think it one way and Poirot sees it another.  At one point in the book after a discussion between M. Poirot and the police investigator the man says, "You are upsetting our ideas," to which M. Poirot responds, "Mine are not upset."  This is the trademark of Christie's detectives.  They think outside the box and follow all the paths that don't seem to lead to the crime yet clearly do!

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