that time again: BOOK REVIEW!

 My other book reviews:

review of "Loving the Little Years"
review of "In Praise of Stay at Home Moms"  

Most of the books in this review were recommended to me in previous reviews I have posted. I LOVE good recommendations, so keep 'em coming. And if I don't love a book you love, or review it differently than you would have, it's all good: we all take our coffee a little differently too. I think that's why I love sharing coffee and books with people-- they are two things that can reveal a personality. 

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was a bit different than most books I gravitate towards, but it came recommended from someone that knows my taste. The book, set in Mississippi if you didn't guess ;), centers around two unlikely boyhood friends, Larry and Silas. But when tragedy struck the small town, and Larry was the last one seen with a now missing girl, their friendship broke. More than twenty years later we meet the characters: Larry lives an isolated life, always assumed but never found guilty of the girl's disappearance, and Silas returns to the town as a police officer. Another girl disappears and the two are finally drawn back to each other and must confront the past while trying to figure out the present. 

I don't typically read mysteries of any sort, but this one kept me interested and the suspense was intriguing. Set in the south, I knew there would be some dialect, and dialect writing seems to be tough to do well. Though I wasn't in love with the dialogue, it wasn't distracting. The characters were very well developed, which caused me to feel moments of disgrace, agony, fear, panic as I was feeling things for them. There were definitely some intense moments, as well as some language, and I didn't love how everything ended, but I appreciated that such a "messy" story didn't end "neatly." Overall I enjoyed reading it and it kept my interest. 

A few lines that stood out to me:
Despite the cold the boy wore threadbare jeans and a white shirt and his mother a blue dress the wind curved over her body. 

He started to run, afraid, not of the darkness coming, but of the anger scratching in his ribs. 

When Kelle Hampton gave birth to her second daughter, Nella, it did not take long for the doctor's to diagnose Down Syndrome. Bloom is the chronicle of her journey into a life she did not expect, but learns to love. 

The photography in this book is truly incredible, and adds volumes to the story of Nella's birth and first year of life. It was easy for me to get swept into the story, and there were moments it was very emotional to read. She wrote with honesty and vulnerability about her early grief, and I appreciated that. It's hard to write a critique on memoirs because it is simply someone else's story. I love memoirs, and I enjoyed this book quite a bit. But something was lacking a little for me. Hampton is a blogger, and I have read and enjoyed her blog from time to time. She has a fun writing voice that reads very conversationally that works well for a blog. But it was a bit much for a nearly 300 page book. That coupled with some, what I will call, theological differences made this book good not great, for me. It was a quick read, and easy to pick up and put down, and sometimes it is nice to have a book like that. 

This book!!! I actually have had several people recommend this to me and just never took the time to read it. But I'm so very glad I finally did. Unbroken is the story of a man named Louis Zamperini, a young Olympic athlete who was drawn into the second great war as a bombardier. After his aircraft goes down in the Pacific, he is left to fight for his life with little more than a raft, an entire set of broken ribs, and his fierce and spirited resolve. Sharks, starvation, and the beating sun prove to be the lesser of the evils he faces, as the Japanese "rescue" him from his peril, only to beat him down further as a prisoner of war. Goodreads summarizes what he faces: "Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. He fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will." 

I started this book thinking it would be a bit of a labor to finish. I was soon proved wrong. I fell in love with Zamperini. I had a hard time putting the book down, because putting it down meant leaving Louie in some perilous situation-- the only way I could help him out was to keep turning pages. It got to the point I was taking the book everywhere I went: I would be pumping gas and hop back in the car to cram a few pages in before the pump clicked off, or I would read a paragraph or two while brushing my teeth. I took it to a wedding! [I didn't read it during the ceremony though]. I started reading it out loud to Brent just so I didn't feel bad not talking to him while we were in the car, and soon he was sucked into the story as well. 

Not only is it well written ["His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee."], but it is one of those nonfiction stories that would make a horrible fictional novel because it would be too far fetched to believe.  I also love Zamperini's undeniable faith at the end of it all: "When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him." It is long, and there are moments where it is so detailed that it gets a little heavy, but overall I would highly recommend this book, especially to anyone who has any interest at all in WWII.  

The Poisonwood Bible is the reason this review post has been so long in coming: I don't quite know how I feel about it. I'll start by saying: I'm glad I read this book. It is the story of a Southern Baptist Missionary family, led by the father, Nathan Price, that heads to the Congo in 1959. It is told from the perspective of the rest of the Price family: Nathan's wife, Orleanna, and his four daughters- Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. 

I knew/know very little about the history of the Belgian Congo and all of its political turmoil, which made this book educational, but also hard to follow to a certain degree. I did like how Africa became its own character through the rich descriptions: "The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight…a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. The forest eats itself and lives forever." The character development is also well done, and the interaction of different perspectives works well. Also it was interesting to read from a strictly American perspective in the beginning, and see it meld into an African perspective. 

The pacing was off for me, though. The book is told over three decades. It took me awhile to really feel invested [about half way, or so], and then right about that time it started to jump years rather quickly. I know Kingsolver had an agenda with this book, and I was disappointed in how she chose to portray missionary work [namely as self-seeking, bible-thumping idiots]. There was one "good" missionary in this book, who I liked, but kind of picked and chose what he accepted or rejected about the bible. 

I did appreciate the ways it made me think beyond my culture and life. One daughter, upon thinking of the stark difference between America and the Congo, says, "Why must some of us deliberate between brands of toothpaste, while others deliberate between damp dirt and bone dust to quiet the fire of an empty stomach lining? There is nothing about the United States I can really explain to this child of another world."  By the end of the book, I did feel invested in the Congolese, where "there's only two ages of people: babies that have to be carried, and people that stand up and fend for themselves. No in-between phase. No such thing as childhood." 

Like I said, I'm glad I read this book. It challenged me to think and it provided good writing and strong characters. However, by the end I felt beat up with Kingsolver's agenda and philosophies. In the afterward she said, "First a novel has to entertain-- that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page." I guess I didn't quite feel that with this book. But I also wouldn't NOT recommend it. If that makes any sense at all?! Sheesh. 

I am just realizing I never wrote a review after I read this book. Which is a CRYING shame, I tell ya. Because this book…oh this book…I get speechless just thinking about it. 
I am going to do a post soon enough about a few of my favorite books…and you can read about it then. Until then, go pick up a copy and figure out the beauty in the words, "Thou mayest…" 

I just asked my facebook friends for some recommendations…and a thousand book titles later, I think I'll have plenty to keep me busy through the rest of the year! But comment here, please! 

Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think? [Please don't be afraid to disagree…remember, books and coffee!]
Have you read any outstanding literature lately? 

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*carrie* said...

I recommended Bloom to you last time. I know what you mean.

Crooked Letter sounds intriguing. It's been a looong time since I read Poisonwood Bible--may have to pick it up again.

Eric read Unbroken and really liked it, but I'm not sure I'm up for it.

And as for how I like my coffee: none. =)

bonbon said...

I just finished Crooked Letter last night at your suggestion. My only problem was that I felt like it was so slow...It took me 100+ pages to get to the point where I felt like the story was really moving. I appreciated the non traditional format of the storyline with all the flashbacks, but felt that the flashbacks were too many and too long for me to really progress. Once I got through the first 100 pages I read the end in probably a day because it picked up so quickly. And I agree with you about the characters- I loved how well rounded and human they were. I ended up feeling for all of them- even the killers.

Unbroken is one of my top ten all time. Absolutely love that book. I heard that Laura Hillenbrand has some disease where she can hardly move/ leave the bed. That's why her books are so extremely detailed and meticulous. I could not believe all the citations and references in Unbroken- it was so thoroughly researched!

I agree with you on Poisonwood Bible about the pace. For me, I felt like the first 75% of the book moved okay and then like it just came to an aprupt stop. I struggled so much to finish the last quarter of the book, where usually that is the last part. Totally agree with you on the way she portrayed missionaries. I read it in my senior year of high school so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I have thought about it re reading it but after your review I think I'll read other stuff first.

I have considered reading Bloom... Maybe I should just take the dive and do it.

Oh and East of Eden is totally one of my favorites. I think Cathy is one of the best villians who ever lived. Totally one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Definitely my fave John Steinbeck book.

What are you top ten all time favorites? I need some recommendations.

Have you read Glass Castle? I'm assuming you have... it's one of my favorites. She also wrote Half Broke Horses- the story of her grandmother which is also very good. I would recommend those if you haven't downed them already.

Also can we one day meet and talk nothing but books for 8 hours?!?

Ellen said...

I had the Poisonwood Bible on my shelf for about a year before, in desperate need of something to read, I opened it and started reading. It was really slow though, so I did something I've never done before. I turned it to the middle and started reading from there. I finished the book at then went back and re-read the first part.

I am reading a book right now called "Call the Midwife" which is a memoir of a 1950s midwife in London slums. It's excellent.
(PS, sorry, my comments are not linked to my email, don't worry about responding)

momiss said...

East of Eden is one of my all time favorites! I like Barbara Kingsolver as a rule but I hear what you're saying with this one in particular. One that I have read recently that I really loved was The Art of Racing In The Rain. Don't get upset that the dog tells the story. You will like it anyway, I think. ;)