As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

I was blessed to grow up in a family of readers, and I hope to be reading as long as my 106-year old great-grandma. Books are my great escape, and I can't imagine going a day without one. Happily, my husband tolerates my addiction - I'm a lucky girl!

The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson

The Lost Boys Symphony - Mark Ferguson

This was a book that probably should not have worked for me. It's the story of a young man whose descent into mental illness is marked by the appearance of two future selves interrupting his present, and the two friends who try to save him. It's chaotic, and unpredictable, and genre-fluid, and honestly the three main characters were pretty unlikable for a lot of the book. It was also one of the most insightful looks into mental illness, and into being a friend of someone with a mental illness, that I've ever read. It's hard to even recommend because it's so unusual, but I honestly couldn't put it down.

Epitaph: A Novel of the OK Corral by Mary Doria Russell

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral - Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell has made me like a western. Didn't think it could be done. But I absolutely devoured her two books about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, their friends, family, and loves during the time of Dodge, Tombstone, and the OK Corral. Russell has a way of bringing to light the hurts, joys, secrets and dreams of her characters that makes them so memorable you don't want their stories to end. I highly recommend all of her work - even this one, and even if you don't like westerns!

Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley

Stones of Remembrance - Julie Presley

After several years of book blogging, I found two general rules that most of the bloggers *I* knew held two - don't read self-published work, and don't read Christian romance. So when I was given the chance to read this novel, I honestly thought about it for a bit first - and then something told me to give it a try. Sure glad I did.

 

Stones of Remembrance is a lovely novel. It has engaging, sympathetic main characters, and a plot that feels like it might actually be true. It avoids many of the problems I generally have with Christian fiction by portraying it's heroine neither as excessively pure nor perfectly holy. Allaya speaks and acts like a real person, in a real situation, and that was refreshing. I appreciated that the romance between Allaya and Finn made logical sense in its progression - it didn't feel rushed or orchestrated solely for the purposes of the story. It was emotionally compelling, and I have to admit to spilling a few tears during the reading of the book.

 

While not perfect - there are a few spots that felt like additional editing might have improved on the story; and in several sections the main characters talk directly to God, which I know will make some readers uncomfortable - this was an excellent example of the Christian romance genre. If more authors could write stories like this, I would happily read them. I will absolutely read more by this author. If this is a genre you enjoy, I highly recommend this novel!

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The Siege - Helen Dunmore

This was a heavy novel. It was full of beautiful writing, and there were glimpses of hope, but I don't think categorizing it as anything but bleak would be an honest assessment. The siege of Leningrad was a horrifying situation, and Dunmore doesn't try to glamorize or gloss over the plight of the Russians struggling to stay alive. As the book progresses, and their hold on life becomes more tenuous, the novel itself seems to slow down - to become less grounded in real events and more dreamlike. Anna's struggle to trek just a few blocks in the snow takes pages, mirroring for the reader how exhausting and terrifying it would feel to her. I sense this book could be a tough sell for some readers, but I was really drawn to its intensity.

 

Like the best historical fiction, it served to make me more interested in reading accounts of the time in which it took place. I don't know that I've ever read fiction (or nonfiction) set during this particular part of WWII, and it made me definitely interested to find more books about this siege.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea - Chang-rae Lee

I was absolutely hooked on this novel from the first chapter. From the unreliable narrator to the plucky, mystifying heroine, this world had me in it's grip and didn't let go. It was surprising to me that the writing was so good - I don't often include genre fiction in the same category as literary fiction. This was a fascinating blending of the two. As such, it was at times not as plot-heavy as some genre readers might want, but I found myself completely enthralled. The ending was heartbreaking and yet hopeful, with plenty of unanswered questions to keep readers thinking after the last page had been turned. Another that could definitely be on my list of favorites this year.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila - Marilynne Robinson

Guys, this was SOOO good. I love books like this, that are chewy and rich and thoughtful and wise in funny and surprising ways. I have NOT read the other two books in Robinson's trilogy, but I certainly will. Lila is such an incredible character - scrappy, and strong, and wise in ways I didn't expect. Her relationship with Rev. Ames was so beautiful, and so absolutely true - I loved the ways they challenged each other to think and believe more. I held my breath through the last 100 pages, because I didn't want this story to end. I can't imagine this will not be on my list of favorite books of 2015.

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz

Saint Odd - Dean Koontz

A pretty mixed bag for me on this one - on an emotional level, it was satisfying, and I did cry for the last 15 pages or so. It's been a long investment in this character, and saying goodbye was bittersweet. As far as plot goes, however, the whole novel felt convoluted and rushed - there seemed to be a lack of motive, a lot of confusing detail, and a general sense that the actual story of the novel wasn't the author's top priority. It made me feel sad, a bit, because the characters that Koontz has created over the course of the series really deserved a better send-off. I would say if you are not already invested in Odd, I would probably pass on this novel.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand

I had a lot of reasons to be interested in this book, not in the least being that my grandpa served in the Pacific Theater during WWII. I think the war in Europe often overshadows the war in the Pacific, so whenever I see something set in that area of the world I'm interested. And then, of course, to have this be such an epic true story makes it an even more rewarding read.

 

I think if I didn't know that this was a true story, I'd pan it a bit for being unbelievable - the sequence of events that make up Zamparini's life just seem incredible, and his ability to survive and ultimately forgive make for compelling reading. I did feel like there were a few points - in the beginning particularly - where the narrative was a bit slow, but I can forgive those small issues in light of an otherwise wonderful book. This was definitely a story I won't soon forget. Highly recommended.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler

I started out writing that I thought Anne Tyler was an under-appreciated writer, and then I remember that she won a Pulitzer, so perhaps that's not exactly the correct term.

 

I think people don't realize the skill it takes to write her novels. While I haven't read all her work, the common thread, for me, is that she writes about ordinary people in ordinary situations. She doesn't write Jodi Picoult novels - these are the "headline-of-the-month" type stories; they also aren't thrillers, or mysteries, or any of those other types of books that sell a bajilion copies. This is just an ordinary family, doing ordinary things, with ordinary conflicts and troubles. And somehow in Tyler's hands, their story becomes utterly fascinating. She has a way of taking characters that are not the most likable - sometimes even pretty distasteful - and teasing out the bit of humanity that allows her readers to sympathize with even the hardest cases.

 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant isn't really about anything - and yet somehow, it's about everything. Recommended.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children Act - Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan can write some of the most gorgeous prose, but sometimes it seems like the emotion behind those words is somehow missing. I felt like this novel specifically was building to some sort of climax that was never quite realized - we had the big, emotional moment, and then the book was just done. There were events that should have made me feel all sorts of things, but I felt held apart from them, and couldn't ever quite engage completely. Of course, as always, the writing itself is beautiful, and the story was interesting, although I would have liked to feel more connection.

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

God and the Gay Christian: What the Bible Says--and Doesn't Say--About Homosexuality - Matthew Vines

I found myself quite impressed with this book. Vines makes thoughtful and reasoned arguments for his belief that committed, same-sex relationships are not condemned by the Bible. I specifically appreciated how clear it was that this is a man who has a deep respect for the Biblical text, and has carefully studied to find an answer he believes to be true, not just the answer he wants to be right. Will it still be a hard sell for most conservative Evangelical Christians? Certainly. But I think Vines has earned the right to be heard, and his clear and well-researched thesis deserves a place at the table. Important stuff, this. (To be clear - I agree with Mr. Vines' conclusions, and am grateful to him for his work.)

Book Thoughts - Unexpected Places by V.K. Black

Unexpected Places - V.K. Black

I unfortunately didn't enjoy this story particularly well. I thought the events of the story seemed implausible at best, and while I don't read this genre for it's tight plotting, I do need the story to at least seem like it could be possible. It just didn't seem believable to me, and that made it less than enjoyable for me.

 

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Book Thoughts - Life Could Be Verse by Kirk Douglas

Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters - Kirk Douglas

I read this book purely for the novelty of it - a famous actor writing poetry? Who doesn't want to know what THAT sounds like? And let's be honest - I don't expect him to be a contender for Poet Laureate any time soon. But the poems are sweet and heartfelt, and each carries with it a snapshot of what has been a fantastically complex and interesting life. My only real complaint is that I wish the book had been longer - Douglas comes across as warm and funny, and I would have enjoyed hearing more stories from his 97 years. Recommended for Kirk Douglas fans or Hollywood fans.

 

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Book Thoughts - The Blank Canvas by Amanda Black

The Blank Canvas (An Apartment Novel Book 2) - Amanda Black

I thought this was a very satisfying ending to Lily and Ethan's story. I was worried about the pacing with the two main characters apart - most of what made The Apartment so great was the fantastic chemistry between the couple - but the author quickly alleviated my worries and gave her readers a well-paced, sexy and emotional story. I am particularly impressed with the author's ability to write characters that feel totally believable, and instantly sympathetic. This was so far outside of my life experience, and yet I could absolutely understand Lily's impulses and reactions. I'm completely sold on this author, and can't wait to read what she writes next.

Book Thoughts - The Apartment by Amanda Black

The Apartment (An Apartment Novel Book 1) - Amanda Black

Wow, did I enjoy the crap out of this book. When I decide to read a romance novel, what I'm really looking for is escape - I want to read something completely unlike my actual life, with situations that I would never find myself in. And boy, oh boy, did this fit the bill.

Hot, brooding stranger? Check. Potentially ill-advised sexual exploration? Check. Rich, funny, nearly irritatingly perfect friends? Check. It's the combination I need for a perfect bit of escapism, and this novel hit all the right buttons. The main characters were realistically flawed, and I found myself rooting for their romance from the beginning. I couldn't stop turning the pages, because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

This was a great piece of fun, sexy entertainment, and I can't wait to read the next installment.

(I received a copy of this novel in ebook form from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Book Thoughts - Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesa Lia Block

Love in the Time of Global Warming - Francesca Lia Block

This YA novel was a fairly loose retelling of The Odyssey, and it didn't work all that well for me. I thought the writing was lovely, but I didn't particularly care for the story as Block told it. I thought it was difficult to follow, and there were certain plot elements that seemed to be added more to have something to say about a "hot topic" issue than to really further the action of the plot. I will read more by this author, but probably not more in this sequence.

Currently reading

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women
Sarah Bessey
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Jonathan Morris, Karen Armstrong