Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Bookshelf

Angel by Mary E. Kingsley

Angel is a coming of age story set in the 1970's.  She lives with her mother, paternal grandmother, and hasn't seen her father since she was a baby.  In her mind her father is romanticized because of her ignorance. Things start unraveling and coming to light when he calls out of the blue and announces he is coming home.  Suddenly everyone is acting a little strange and Angel sets out to find out why.
While the book description focuses on the father part of Angel's story I felt like the book was much more about her coming of age than anything else.  Her father's part in her story was actually a small piece as far as I could see.  Yes, the whole book centers around Angel trying to find out information on her Dad but what happens while she is doing that is where I think the real story happens.
Kingsley's first book was well-written, moved along at a decent pace, and had enough character development. I have no real complaints about it.  Parts of it did feel draggy for me but then again, I've been super tired lately so that just may be me and not the book.  :)




Breaking Pride by Heather Bixler

This was really more of a booklet than a book. So for me it was a super quick read.  The chapters are short and easy to read.  Bixler's unpacking of pride and how to break it was good. Very simplistic, especially for a newer Christian but good.  Basics are always good.  The funny thing about pride is that if you think you don't have it or say you don't then you need to be broken of it.  We all have pride.  Not in the same areas but we all have it.  And we all need to be broken of it.  Bixler's book(let) helps the reader begin the journey if they haven't already started.



A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

This has been on my "to read" list for awhile so I decided it was time to get around to it.  A few years ago it was "the" book in the church I used to attend.  That's initially how it landed on my list.  Now that I have read it I think maybe the leadership at that church needs to read it again because it seems the lessons they were focused on from the book didn't exactly "take"...but that's a different story for a different time.  :)
Regardless.
First of all it is short! I'm getting off easy this month by reading a whole bunch of small books, or booklets as I like to call them.  I didn't realize it was not a lengthy read and actually I am glad.  The topic that Edwards discusses is one that is best kept short so the reader can process in their own way.  Edwards tackles the topic of brokenness in his telling of three kings.  Specifically the three kings are Saul, David, and Absalom.  I didn't know this picking up the book and was interested at the timing of this read since our home church has been in 1 and 2 Samuel the past few months.  I've been studying the lives and stories of these three kings already for quite some time.  In storytelling form, with some liberties as to tone/emotion/etc, Edwards relays the differences between the three kings and their approaches to the throne.  One king out of three allowed brokenness in his life, the other two did not.  Edwards prompts the reader to think through their own approach to brokenness and their own response to it.  Sprinkled throughout this fictional telling of a biblical event Edwards gives the readers nuggets to ponder about authority, brokenness, pride, humility, and probably more I didn't pick up on or am not remembering.
It was a good book but didn't knock my socks off.  I'm wondering if some of the liberties Edwards took, while I can appreciate them, didn't sit quite right with me. But when all is said and done those are really neither here nor there in the big picture of this topic on brokenness.  It's an important topic and one that a believer in God should be practicing in their own life.




The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first novel was spectacular.  It was a beautiful telling of Victoria, a new 18 year old who has lived her entire life in the foster system.  At 18 Victoria is emancipated and set free from the system.  The only thing she really cares about or softens her spirit is flowers.  Through a series of events Victoria is discovered to be able to speak using flowers.  They have their own language and she in in tune to their meanings.  While we read about her life at 18 we also get the back story on her life in the system.  There was only one person in 18 years who Victoria wanted to commit herself to but that ended poorly and we learn of the story and regret that lingers on her many years later.  When she meets up with someone who has an inkling of her past she is torn between truth and present.  Eventually the two will collide and then what will she do?
Diffenbaugh's book touches on several themes and in such a seamless and beautiful way that you don't realize how many places she is taking you. She touches on the theme of motherhood, both blood and adoptive. She also touches on the theme of mentoring, which I loved.  Her use of Renata in Victoria's life is the vehicle for this particular theme.  She portrays the message of belief - if you take the time to believe in someone how can that change them, and perhaps you, for the better?  She also weaves in the element of unconditional love.  It's hard for people to accept when their baggage gets in the way but she writes it in beautifully.  I thought this book was great, I'm looking forward to what else Diffenbaugh offers.




A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Two things about my reading of this book so "late" in my life.  1) "Everyone" else had to read it when they were in elementary school - it was like required reading or something.  It's a classic.  I never did.  I don't remember it ever being an option to read.  2) It took me until now to read it because I am not a huge fan of the genre fantasy and I would say this book falls into that genre pretty easily. 
So as I slowly continue to read books considered classics but I haven't read yet to date, I decided I was "in the mood" for this one.  I'm glad to have read it and finally understand what all the chatter is about.  That being said, I'm not sure I understand what all the chatter is about.  (And now I hear the screams and cries of millions of devoted fans with outrage for what I just expressed.  Hold on, sheesh!)
Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, along with a new friend Calvin find themselves sucked into time.  A wrinkle in time to be exact.  They get sucked in because of Meg's desire to find her missing Father. L'Engle weaves a strange tale of where her Father is being held captive and how the children must rescue him.  She weaves in vague elements of God and the gospel but they feel so random and ill placed that I was annoyed by their inclusion.  I think she is trying to appeal to the fantasy/sci-fi crowd with God but in my opinion it fell flat.  It didn't add to the story, in fact I felt it rather detracted.  I can see, on vague levels, what she was trying to get the reader to picture but it just didn't work for me.  Now that's me.  It obviously works for millions of others who read this book as children.  BUT have those fans read the book as an adult?  They may find their perspective changed.  It could be, as well, that the fantasy genre really does not float my boat so her use of it detracted for me as well. 
It was an okay read, I can finally say I have read it.  If I'm going to read about "other worldly" things and people though I think I'd rather pick up C.S. Lewis, but that is just my personal preference.





No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohannan

What a great book - a heart and eye-opener.  I've had it sitting on my shelf, which serves as my "to read" queue, for at least a year.  Not avoiding it just waiting until it felt right to read it.  There's actually never a wrong time to read a book like this.
K.P. Yohannan started Gospel for Asia about 32 years ago and the heart behind it was to share the love of Christ with the people of Asia.  Read about this incredible man here.
In this book Yohannan simply shares the stories of slum kids in India who need hope.  He explains simply the complicated caste system that keeps people in poverty and slavery to this very day.  He appropriately makes a campaign to join Gospel for Asia in reaching these kids and their families and providing them hope for a better future. He doesn't sugar coat the reality they live in every day and he doesn't sugar coat our reality as well.  He makes an unashamed plea for us to set aside our excessive affluence to ensure that the "least of these" have the basic necessities.  He reminds the reader that they are humans with hopes, dreams, needing love, and care.  It was a snapshot into life in India and one that may make you want to turn your head but if you don't and choose instead to see you will find you can be one of those making a difference and there will be blessing for you in it as well. Poverty of spirit is a greater problem than the physical poverty in this world.




The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

This book was a well-written, well told story about two sisters who have a mark.  They are marked by their father murdering their mother in their presence when they were young.  To drive home further shame they are then marked by being unwanted by the family that is left behind.  They are swimming upstream, fighting for a "normal" life and every choice they make is one that is tainted or shadowed by the murder of their mother and the imprisonment of their father.
Lulu and Merry are sisters who have witnessed the murder of their mother by their father.  Merry bears even further scars as her father then turned to her and tried to kill her and himself.  Lulu carries internal scars - the guilt of the event.  Left by themselves and unwanted by most of their relatives the girls end up in a orphanage of sorts and have to fight to stay alive there.  As the years pass Lulu does her best to ignore her father's existence in prison and Merry visits him every other week. They both approach the event with very different perspectives but both are driven by guilt.
The book is told in alternating POV's from Lulu and Merry and spans 32 years.  Their father is in prison the majority of the book and he is a subtle manipulator in Merry's life, and by extension Lulu's as well.  He doesn't seem to get, nor want to get, that he damaged his daughter's lives and continues to do so as he doesn't ask for forgiveness nor express sorrow over his actions.  I rather disliked the father and not just because he murdered his wife.  I actually didn't really like either of the girls either but overall I liked the book which just goes to prove that you can like a book and not necessarily like any of the characters.  The story was strong enough to carry the book over what I didn't like about the characters.  I do wonder if what I didn't like about the characters ended up being what I see as major flaws in our social services system.  The girls never received the care and attention they should have after witnessing and being involved in such a horrible event.  There should have been counseling and therapy in place but they got nothing.
The book was good and I will read more from Meyers in the future.




Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

What an interesting, slightly disturbing, and mortifying concept Frankel proposes in her book about life after death!  In Frankel's second novel she explores those that death leaves behind through the use of modern technology.
Sam is a computer geek who matches up other people through the dating website he works for but can't get a date of his own.  Then he creates a perfect method for matchmaking and finds his true love, working on the same floor one department away.  But true love doesn't keep the customers coming back so he gets fired.  He and Meredith are already connected at the heart so this minor setback doesn't phase them but the death of Meredith's Grandma, Livvie, does.  Sam would do anything to ease Meredith's pain and sadness so he creates a way for Meredith and her Grandma to still talk and communicate even though Livvie is no longer alive.  What happens from that is a business catering to those who want to speak with their dead loved, or in some cases unloved, ones.  It's a controversial move but Meredith and Sam believe in its ability to help grieving people say good-bye and let go. But what happens as news spreads of this way to communicate with those not still with us?  Fans and foes of RePose contribute to this journey of exploring the pros and cons of communicating with those who have passed on.
I really found this book's topic to be so intriguing to explore through this fictional account of it. I wonder if this has ever been tried and if it worked even a little bit?  I couldn't help but think of people I love and have lost and how I would feel if I could communicate with them again.  I feel very undecided after reading this fictional exploration.  There is an intrigue there but there is a hesitation and Frankel explores all sides of it in this story of Sam and Meredith.  This was such a good and interesting read.



News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

Probably 2.5 stars.
Bummer.  I liked Haigh's "Faith" so I was willing to pick up her other titles.  This one seemed intriguing but in the end fell flat for me.
It's a series of short stories about people from the town of Bakerton, PA.  A lot of the people don't live there anymore but return to the town in a variety of ways - whether that's through memories, visits, phone calls, etc.  It spans several years and so we see the town itself change with the passing of time through these people.  One particular character, Joyce, appears in 3 chapters (I believe) so she is the "constant" in the book. The town of Bakerton has its heyday in coal mining but as all coal mining towns seem to do it loses out. And each of the characters in the stories have memories about the town in its heyday.  A couple of the earlier stories have some interesting realizations but overall the book fell flat and I was anxious to be done with it.  I was bored by it and not at all captured.
Jennifer Haigh is a good author, she writes really well.  This particular book just didn't do it for me.  She didn't make the stories nor characters "embraceable" and when an author bores the reader that means they haven't done enough to make the reader care because frankly I just didn't care. I would turn the page to a new chapter/story and skim through to see how many pages I had of the new story and of the book.  Not a great sign for a capturing story.  Also how titles get picked always intrigue me.  The title is not at all representative, in my opinion, of the book.  One story ends with the words of the title but even then I was left scratching my head.  It really makes no sense.  I was thinking, hoping, that the end of the book perhaps all the stories would find their end together and it would end with a "light bulb" moment for the reader but that didn't really happen.  I understand the ending but it still fell flat.  Bummer.




Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock

Wow.  What a good, no great, book.  I've not read anything by Flock before so "Me & Emma" was my introduction.
Carrie Parker and her sister Emma aren't living an ideal life.  Their mom married an abusive man after their Dad was killed.  Most days they try to stay out of the way and out of the house to avoid the several kinds of abuses their step-dad employs.  The girls are outcasts in their hometown of Toast, NC and they dream of running away to a better, different life.  Through all the abuses Carrie and Emma are resilient in spirit and still fight to maintain some sort of dignity and childhood. A series of events leads to a conclusion that frankly the reader, at least this one, can't help but cheer for.
The book is told through Carrie's voice and Flock does an excellent job of crafting an 8 year old who has been forced to grow up too quickly. Through Carrie's voice we learn of her life when her Daddy was still alive and of her life present day with her step-dad. Her memories of her life before are what sustain her in the present and what make her see her Momma differently than how the reader sees her.  Parts of Carrie and Emma's story are disturbing and yet realistic when there is addiction and abuse in a home.  It angered me on all sorts of levels and it should anyone who has a conscience.  But Carrie and Emma's refusal to be beaten down is heartwarming and inspiring.
Written in 2004 Flock waited 8 years to continue Carrie's story in "What happened to my sister" which I didn't figure out was the sequel to "Me & Emma" until I started reading it.  So I stopped, picked up this book and the moment I finished it I picked back up "What happened to my sister".  I am glad I didn't read "Me & Emma" in 2004 and have to wait all these years to finish their story. Flock writes a compelling, moving, heart wrenching story.



What Happened to my Sister by Elizabeth Flock

What a great ending to Carrie and Emma's story.  Flock picks up the story she started in 2004 with "Me & Emma" and finishes it with this novel.
Just as in the first book this one is told in Carrie's voice and she continues the story exactly where it left off in the first book.  She and her Momma are making a new life after the upheaval in their lives.  And in this book some new characters enter the story and what has happened in their world collides with Carrie's.  What surprised me about the story is the time it takes place in.  After 2001 but in book one you never would have guessed it, I was under the impression it took place in the 70's.  Obviously Flock did an excellent job of describing some of the parts of our country that are still very sheltered from the modern world, I was convinced.  Carrie is a strong little girl, determined to defend her Momma who is a drunk and beats her. It is an admirable quality and her strength ends up serving her well in the end.  Her new found friends end up offering her hope and a chance at new life if only first she can discover the truth about her and Emma.
I really liked this second, and I hope final, book about Carrie and Emma.  Elizabeth Flock crafted a compelling, heartbreaking, and heartwarming story.  It is a story of bravery and the courage to not give up on what life could be.