The Snow Child

The Snow Child

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Summary: After Jack and Mabel suffer the loss of their unborn child, they escape to the Alaskan wilderness to grieve and avoid the comments and pity from those around them.  The Alaskan wilderness at the turn of the century, however, is a much harsher landscape than they dreamed for their farm.  One particularly cold evening as a fresh snow blankets their home, Mabel and Jack decide to build a girl out of the snow.  The next morning, Jack notices the snow-girl gone, including the hat and mittens they used to build her.  He is startled later to see a young child mysteriously appear and disappear over the next few weeks wearing that same scarf and mittens.  Jack and Mabel both realize their loneliness could play into this “vision” but are also bothered at how real this girl seems.

For our February selection, our group chose a perfect winter mood book.  Ivey’s description of the Alaskan landscape, particularly in the winter was beautiful and hard at the same time.  The opening line sets the stage very well: “Mabel had known there would be silence.  That was the point, after all.  No infants cooing or wailing.  No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane,  no pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor.  All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind, and in their place there would be silence.”

I’ve heard of Alaskan winter days that only have  a few short hours of sunlight.  Just the thought makes my heart ache a bit.  But when trying to escape the deep grief Mabel suffered, I could imagine why this move would make sense.  At times this book battled hard topics.  Grief strangles people so differently and it was interesting to explore this through the eyes of Mabel and Jack.

And yet.

Even in suffering you can see a subtle glimmer.  Honestly, if you weren’t suffering, you might not even see the glimmer because you aren’t looking so intently for the bit of hope your heart so desperately needs.  This book isn’t all despair.  Our group loved the dynamics with neighbors Esther and George and the transformation in the relationship between Mabel and Jack as the story progresses.  How one soul can change the course of another is astonishing.

Though I tend to read pretty widely, I was initially put off by the “fantasy” description.  I don’t really love creatures that don’t exist and worlds that are bizarre.  This, however, did not feel unbelievable.  In fact, my favorite part of our great book club discussion centered around this fact.

Personally, The Snow Child hit a homerun.  Ivey’s description of the Alaskan wilderness and relationships among the characters was so beautifully done.  Surprisingly, this was Ivey’s first novel and I look forward to reading more from her.  For others in our group, mostly everyone enjoyed it with all the symbolism and literary “clues” woven throughout (we love having English teachers in our group!).  Everyone agreed it was a bit slow to start and then picked up steam toward the end.  Though I enjoyed the setting for a Chicago winter, I think some people dreaded picking the book up to be reminded what was out their front door.

The Snow Child is a perfect for a winter read, offers opportunities for lively discussion and a little mystery.  Be sure to check out this fantastic title for your next pick!

For other book reviews, click here.

What is your feeling about fantasy books?  Do you like to read a book that matches your setting/season/time period?

Little Women

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Genre: Fiction, Classic

Summary:  Set in Civil War New England, Little Women is the story of the March family, particularly daughters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.  While their father is away, they must endure the hardships of wartime and create their own adventures.  This beloved classic has been beloved by many for years.

Overhearing a conversation between bookworms, I became intrigued when one said she was reading a book that fit the season.  She said it made the reading experience a bit richer because you feel the chill of the wind and the snow.  So, for the season after New Years, I decided to do some investigating.  We had the month off from our book club and I wanted to try out a “seasonal” book.  One list suggested: Little Women.

This really was a perfect choice for me.  I had never read it, I owned a vintage copy that was my mother’s (or maybe my grandmother’s?) and it seemed the perfect book to cozy up with over the holiday, especially since the opening scene is Christmas Day.

I’ll admit, I don’t often choose classics or too many books older than 15 years.  Since I have started reading so widely (which I love!) I feel like there are just too many choices to “go backwards”.  But I do feel that winter is such a great time to consider moving out of our comfort zone in this way because the season seems to give us a bit more time to tackle books that may take more time or attention span.

One of the moods that struck me was the pure atmosphere of homeyness that is created in the story.  Though you feel the needs around them and the sacrifices made during war time, the March family becomes immediately endearing because of their devotion and love for each other.  I am certain this is one of the major reasons for its popularity.

There were also moments where I chuckled out loud for their blunt honesty (Meg: “I’m so fond of luxury.”) and very true analysis of the human condition (Jo: She had cherished her anger till it grew strong, and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do, unless cast out at once.).  The deep commitment to honor and family and kindness were a beautiful theme woven throughout.

Finally, this lovely book had moments that reminded me how far we’ve come!  (Marriage without parent approval?!?)  Lack of game-playing in courtship.  Purely sensible living: “It’s not half so sensible to leave legacies when one dies as it is to use the money wisely while alive, and enjoy making one’s fellow creatures happy with it.”

Heartwarming, lovely and classic, you will not be disappointed when you pick this up.

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

Who can believe that 2017 is coming to a close already?!?  Each year since about 2014 I have set a goal for myself in regards to books.   I loved to read, but didn’t really have any direction.  Choosing books was done by wandering the aisles of the library or book store at the airport and searching for a cover that looked intriguing.  (Yes, I totally judge and buy books because of their cover!)

Since then, I have become much more strategic.  Reading widely is important to me, but also enjoyable.  This year I read fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, memoir, nonfiction, Christian nonfiction, parenting, self-help, young adult, and even business.  This list is not meant to brag at all, but just a reminder that you may have read more than you thought because you might not have included a book you read for work. And not to mention, were you even aware of all the different categories?

I can, and do, read multiple books at a time as much for the “palate cleanser” aspect as also for my differences in mood.  Disappointingly I won’t meet my goal this year, but I do think it has been a great year for reading!  Book choices were struggling in the beginning but ended on a very strong note.  Even though I already had a gift guide, these would all make excellent gifts for the holidays this year!  Without further ado, here are My Favorite Books for 2017!

HISTORICAL FICTION

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins–This fictional account of a traveling gypsy boy in Ireland captured me.  Cummins has an amazing ability to portray the mind of an 11 year old boy, his deep connection and love of his grandfather and deep desire to be like everyone else his age.  Part coming of age, part historical fiction, this beautiful novel transported me to a time and place I may never see but left me feeling as if I traveled the road with them.  Full review here.

THRILLER

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

The Tears of Dark Water  by Corban Addison–Though I didn’t do a full review on the blog, I did add this to my gift guide because I liked it so much.  Smart, thought-provoking and page-turning, the thriller aspect wasn’t wasted on lack of depth.  Told from three perspectives, this book has stayed with me much longer than I anticipated.  Short review here.

NONFICTION

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi–Kalanithi’s moving memoir of fighting to live his life after being told of his terminal cancer diagnosis.  The irony, though, was that at the time he was in his final days of completing residency for neurosurgery.  He was an expert in his field, helping people live and yet he quickly became the dying patient.  Deeply moving and hopeful.  Full review here.

INSPIRATIONAL/CHRISTIAN LIVING

The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson      TIE!         The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson–Part practical tips for creating a welcoming and warm home, part philosophy of why family is important, I loved the way the Clarkson women offered tips but encouraged the reader to find their own rituals, rhythms and routines that make up their family culture.  Beautifully written (and that cover!) and great content.  Full review here.

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell–Beautiful call to action by someone who was tired of not knowing her neighbors…so she did something about it.  A few recipes (good ones!), practical tips and motivational inspiration for you to create a stronger community where you live.  Another beautiful cover!!  Full review here.

If you would like to follow the books I read throughout the year, be sure to follow me here on Goodreads.  If you would also like to set up your own account and track your books, it is a great motivator!  Be on the lookout for more book club info coming in 2018!

What were your favorite reads of 2017?  Do you track your books and reading?  What is your preferred system?

Book Club Selections 2017

Happy Friday everyone!

Things had been lovely and unseasonably warm this last week and then poof!  Fall was gone and Winter arrived with a bang.  I hope you all are enjoying some of your favorite holiday traditions as I have been this week.  For us, that means cocoa for the kids, fires in the fireplace for my husband, and for me, my annual Book Club Holiday Dinner.

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Using all caps above makes it sound formal and fancy, but really it is just a chance for me to celebrate some of my favorite people who join me once a month to celebrate one of my favorite hobbies: reading.

I’m putting the cart before the horse here a bit because I plan to tell you all about my book club, how it started, how it keeps going and how you can start one too!  All this will be coming in 2018, but I decided I wanted to give you a taste of what we read.  You might consider joining us in our selections or start a book club of your own!

This list includes all the titles we read this year.  (If you didn’t find anything on my Gift Guide, consider some of these titles!)  I will also include genre and my rating for those who are curious.  You might also consider following me on Goodreads since this isn’t the full list of books I read this year.  You can be sure, I’m always reading something!  Without further ado, here is our list!

  1.  In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord  (Nonfiction)
    Author McCord (name was changed for protection) left her job in the US to minister to women in Afganistan.  Through her work with an unnamed relief organization, she was able to invest her time and energy getting to know and sharing her faith with the women of Afganistan through rich relationships.  Not only did she learn the culture and rhythms of the Afgani women, she had to learn and abide by the strict rules for her safety.
    Rating: 2 stars
  2. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House  by Kate Anderson Brower (Nonfiction)
    Spanning the presidencies of LBJ through the Obama administration, Brower interviews the staff of the six (!!) floor White House of the last few decades.  Staffers that served the president and First Family dealt with everything from the LBJ’s oddball requests and hot temper to Jackie Kennedy’s emotional moment after her husband’s assassination.  A poignant moment for Hillary and her daughter was noted as well as staff’s reactions to September 11th.  Fascinating, well-researched and thorough from multiple perspectives, the peek into one of the most fascinating jobs in America kept me turning the pages.
    Rating: 4 stars
  3. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Fiction)
    Allan Karlsson is sitting in his room at the retirement community preparing for celebrations of his 100th birthday.  The longer he contemplates the festivities, the more he wants to leave.  So he does.  His “escape” sends the town scrambling and Allan on an adventure almost too ridiculous to imagine.  Quirky, light-hearted and polarizing reviews with readers, this book will leave you laughing or just plain confused.
    Rating: 2 stars
  4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson  (Fiction)
    Retired and widowed Major Pettigrew runs into his neighbor, Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali on the day of Pettigrew’s brother dies.  Pettigrew is so stunned, Mrs. Ali kindly offers to drive him to the services and he finally agrees.  Later when he contemplates her kindness to him, he sets out to thank and repay her.  Though their differences abound, Pettigrew grows to appreciate Mrs. Ali and her kindness.  Their relationship continues to blossom, in spite of Pettigrew’s obnoxious son who disapproves.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Full review here.
  5. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis  (Nonfiction)
    Lewis’s autobiography of sorts, chronicling his early years, particularly those surrounding the death of his mother and his challenging relationship with his father.  He describes his pursuit of Joy and how his schooling and reading helped further his journey.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  6. Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McClain (Historical Fictional, based on a true story)
    Based on the story Out of Africa, the real Beryl Markham is moved to Kenya from England so her father could start a new career as a horse trainer.  Her mother can’t take the change, so she leaves her with her father and returns to England with her little brother.  That left Beryl in the hands of the native tribe sharing the land to raise her.  Beryl deeply felt that abandonment for the rest of her life, chasing after everything to numb the pain.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  7. All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg (Memoir)
    Bragg is a former journalist for the NYT and author, even a Pulitzer award winner.  In this memoir, he tells of his humble upbringing and how he owes all that he is to his mother.  Very southern and I loved this one particularly for sparse prose and fantastic descriptions.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Full review here.
  8. Jellicoe Road by Melinda Marchetta  (Fiction, YA)
    Taylor Markham reluctantly becomes the team leader in the annual battle between the Cadets and the Townies at her boarding school.  She still struggles with her mother abandoning her as a child and now her friend and mentor has gone missing.  Not only that, she learns that her opposing Cadets leader is Jonah Griggs, who brings out the absolute worst in her.  When she starts demanding questions of those around her, she finds even more questions to answer.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Read full review here.
  9. Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Fiction)
    King twists the classic Sherlock Holmes and adds a young but strong-headed and quick-witted Mary.  Not only does she pass all Holmes mind games, she has started beating her of late.  Amused by her and her mind, he begins to include her on his cases when suddenly they must work together to solve a case to keep each other safe.
    Rating: 5 stars
  10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Kalanithi is in his last days before completing schooling for neurosurgery when he discovers he has stage four, terminal lung cancer.  From treating the very sick to becoming one of the sick, he fights to live while his body is dying.  Beautiful, hopeful.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Read full review here.

Well, that’s a wrap!  I would love to know your thoughts on any of these titles.  If you would like to more about starting a book club or joining one, let me know in the comments!

Are you in a book club?  What has been your favorite read from your group?  If you aren’t in a book club, what type of books would you like to read most?

The Lifegiving Home

The Lifegiving Home:
Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming
by Sally and Sarah Clarkson

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Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living

Summary: Home is where people become who they will be.  Every child learns about the world through experiences, rhythms and rituals taught (or caught) in the home.  Whether it be through food, celebrations, routines or activities, children learn who their parents want them to become by what they do with them at home.

After raising four of her own children, Sally Clarkson has come to the other side of raising her children: enjoying their company as adult friends.  But she would say (as her daughter Sarah would agree) that it was the rituals, routines and rhythms of home that created the environment of comfort, belonging and discipleship that everyone craves.  Sally and Sarah together wrote this book about these rituals, not only to offer ideas as a how-to, but also to explain the why.

This book is separated into two sections Thinking About Home and Seasons of Home.  Thinking About Home sets the stage and reminds us of the importance of the home.  It is not the music lessons, athletic events or foreign languages that will give our kids what they truly need (though none of those things are bad!).  Home is a place that creates an environment of belonging, comfort and rest.  You learn to be loved and to love.  It is supposed to be a haven.  We can so easily be distracted by “all the things” that we forget the most basic need we have.

“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs,  a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to  know that our stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’s righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.”  (Sally Clarkson)

The second section, Seasons of Home, offers ideas for routines and rituals that practically show how Sally and her husband created a special home for her four children.  Because they were missionaries, they knew they wouldn’t ever have home as a place but the things they did together would mean home to them.

As much as I love Pinterest and all that it entails, Sally’s suggestions are far from that or what parenting magazines tell you to do with your children.  I found myself quieted when I read this book and I believe it is Sally’s personality.  She describes a slower, quieter life when she describes the rituals her family does together.  Maybe that is not her everyday, but you can tell she is very intentional about slowing down to notice, ponder, observe, debate and think and just be with her family.

What I also noticed was Sarah’s contribution.  Not only is she a beautiful writer, but she feels such a deep connection to home, though her family lived in multiple states and she now resides in England where she studied at Oxford.  You notice how each child delights in being at home because their parents created such a welcoming space, they always wanted to return.

Finally, the simple and attainable ideas presented for each month are offered as just starting points.  It is made clear, this is how they do things and certainly not the only way.  You are encouraged to find your own rituals and routines that signify who you are as a family.  Though the purpose was very clear: whatever you decide, do all for the glory of God alone.

My rating: 5 stars

Have you read any books about creating your own family culture?  What are some of your favorite resources for creating a welcoming home?

For other book reviews, click here.

 

 

 

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

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Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Summary: Paul Kalanithi was a determined, fiercely smart man that had a fascination with life, philosophy, literature and medicine.  These interests led him to study at Stanford and into neurosurgery.  Medicine gave him the what and the how and literature offered the why.  However, in his final months before completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi discovers he has terminal cancer at the age of thirty-six.  This memoir gives Kalanithi the platform to share with the reader his reason for pursuing neuroscience as his profession and how it aided him in learning to fully live at the end of his life.

There is one concrete, undeniable truth that unites every human being on the earth: no one is immortal and one day, we all will face our own mortality.  Though this is a universal truth, most people do not like to talk about it.

But Dr. Paul Kalanithi was intrigued, even entranced by the human brain as well as finding the meaning of life.  He felt like there seemed to be a connection between the human brain and finding meaning in the world we live in.  “I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion.”

“Like my own patients, I had to face my mortality and try to understand what made my life worth living…Torn between being a doctor and a patient, delving into medical science and and turning back to literature for answers, I struggled, while facing my own death, to rebuild my old life–or perhaps find a new one.”

While discussing this with my book club, someone brought up the truth that Paul changed from being the medical expert in the field of neuroscience to an expert in being a patient heading towards death.  He could explain in medical terms all that was happening, but then he began to experience them.  “It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics suddenly changed when I became one.”

Paul’s pursuit of truth and meaning within the realms of science and literature were fascinating to observe.  His brilliance comes through in his writing, but it is his genuine and authentic humanity that is captivating in the pages.  His honesty and humility about his own mortality are set like a plate in front of you and you cannot escape acknowledging the question he set out to answer: knowing death is imminent, how do you truly live?

My rating: 5 stars

For other book reviews, click here.

What are some ways you focus on truly living in your own life?  Is there anyone in your life that has challenged you to live your life more fully?

Every Last Lie

Every Last Lie
by Mary Kubica


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Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Summary: Clara Solberg is waiting at home with her newborn son for her daughter and husband to return from errands when she hears a knock at her front door.  “There has been an accident,” the police officer says.  Clara’s life falls apart when she hears of her husband’s death but is puzzled when learning her daughter has survived without a scratch.
In the weeks that follow the accident, her daughter Maisie begins having night terrors and talking about “the bad man” that makes Clara believe something else might have happened to her husband.  When Clara starts to ask questions, she finds answers she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear.  But she must keep pressing to find the truth about what…or who…killed her husband.

I was headed on a vacation with my husband for five days.  Alone.  Without packing snacks and toys and a plethora of amusements for toddlers.  It was just going to be the two of us, my book and the beach.

But, therein lies the problem.  What book do I choose?  The decision nearly paralyzes me because I have so many books I want to read.  (To see what I mean, check out my Goodreads profile.  It is so overwhelming, but at the same time, what a delightful problem to have, right?)  In the end, I often choose a thriller in this situation.  The purpose of it being to drive the storyline forward at a pretty quick clip so I knew (hoped) I wouldn’t be bored.

Kubica is definitely a rising star (already risen?) in the thriller genre.  I love that she is local for me (her suburb is right next door to my suburb in Chicago) so she often uses local highways or familiar settings which is fun and adds to the creepy factor.  Also, her format is interesting.  The story follows two characters, Clara the wife in present time and Nick, the husband in the weeks leading up to the accident.  She used this same format in another novel of hers called The Good Girl.  Kubica does a nice job of weaving the two stories together while spinning the web into a cohesive story.

Without giving away too much, Kubica does do a nice job of throwing you off the truth by keeping you guessing.  Her characters are believable and though you might not make some decisions that the character’s do, she writes them in a way that you can sympathize with them.  Though I prefer to have all loose ends tied up at the end of a novel, some might enjoy the ambiguity of this ending.  If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep the pages turning, be sure to check out Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica!

My rating: 3 stars

To read more book reviews, click here.

What are some of your favorite thrillers?  What makes a good thriller for you?

The Power of When

The Power of When
by Michael Breus, PhD

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Genre: Nonfiction, Personal Development

Summary: After studying circadian rhythms and the world of sleep, Breus discovered that if we do certain things at certain times we can be more effective.  He takes you through four types of people: dolphins, bears, lions and wolves.  Each has character traits that make them who they are and at the same time stating their very different needs for certain activities to take place at certain times.  Certainly each type has overlap and over-generalizations, but the author can pinpoint pretty closely where you land.
Are you a Dolphin?  Dolphins are about 10 percent of the population and are intelligent insomniacs.  Not only are they light sleepers, but they also are wired with nervous energy.
A Lion?  Real lions are morning-oriented optimists that have a medium sleep drive and account for 15-20 percent of the population.
Are you a Bear?  Bears sleep with the rise and fall of the sun, sleep well and make up 50 percent of the population.  They are social and struggle significantly during afternoon hours at work.
Finally, are you a Wolf?  Wolves are nocturnal, creative extroverts with medium sleep drive and take up 15-20 percent of the population.
But why does all this matter?  Breus discovered that a wolf won’t be as successful in the morning at accomplishing goals or asking for a raise as a lion.  Dolphins were noted to avoid risky behaviors and striving for perfection, yet they are happiest when left alone to do their work.  When you know when your body functions at its best, you can make smarter choices in every aspect of your life.  I’m sure you also noticed how much Breus talked about sleep.  Each type needs sleep, but each one needs a different kind.  The Power of When can encourage you to discover the perfect time for every responsibility and pleasure in your life, to make the very most of your time.

Breus’s book gives you a quiz to determine your type, and then once you have identified it, you can simply use the book as a tool to learn your strengths and weaknesses (which you may not have even known you had!).  He helps you determine the best timing for a wide variety of scenarios in your life, such as “the perfect day”, goals for your schedule and the best times for working on relationships, fitness and health, sleep, eating and drinking, work, creativity, money and fun.

Truthfully, it was intriguing to see how my “type” (a Bear) played into my daily life.  His suggestions of delaying my morning coffee (…deep breath…) and keeping my hardest or most difficult tasks in the morning instead of the afternoon made a lot of sense.  It has certainly made me consider shifting a few of my daily tasks around.  If you like learning about how to work more productively, consider checking out The Power of When.  You might learn something new about yourself, your family and the best time to ask for that raise for which you have been pining.

For other book reviews, click here.

The Outside Boy

The Outside Boy
by Jeanine Cummins


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Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: Christopher Hurley (“Christy”) is an 11 year old living as a tinker, a Pavee Gypsy that never stays put very long.  His life shifts dramatically at the death of his beloved grandfather and he still longs to learn more details about his mother who died giving birth to him.  His father has always avoided these conversations but his grandfather seemed to give him one last bit of information about his mother that no one else would.
With the patriarch gone, Christy’s father decides it is time to stop wandering the Irish countryside and give him an education and an opportunity to complete his first Communion.  Christy has always dreamed of being included in the schoolyard games and learning in a classroom but quickly learns his family’s lifestyle might keep him forever an outsider.

Books that fall into your lap that turn out to be everything you hope for?  THAT is why readers read.  My neighbor was looking for my book recommendations for her family vacation.  When she returned, she handed me this book.  Since I lead my own book club and do all the research for finding our books, I feel pretty aware of “popular” books and I was completely unfamiliar with this title or author.  Even better.

Cummins not only has a gift with words, I loved the way she connected everyday things to the overarching story.  For example, in the beginning of the story, Christy helps his Grandda deliver a colt and the mare doesn’t make it through the delivery.  “Maybe I knew the mare was going to die.  Maybe that’s why I felt so connected to the little colt, because my mammy died, too, when I accidentally killed her as I was being born.  I couldn’t help wondering if it was a similar night to this, if everyone waited, wretched and breathless, for the horrible news that was my birth.  Such a common truth: a travelling woman heaving her own soul heavenward while her baby boy slips, squawking and bloody, into the rough and dirty world to take her place.  There’s nothing worse than an ordinary grief.”  It was heartbreaking to see how he would carry the guilt of losing his mother in childbirth.

Cummins also has a remarkable ability to capture the mind of an 11-year-old boy.  Her descriptions were perfection: “Beano was the next to land, with his sister Kathleen in tow, and I knew it was him even before Martin said, “How’ya Beano,” because he just looked like the sorta fella who’d be called Beano.  He was hard to forget: big and sweaty and shapeless, with hands like two ham hocks sticking out the arms of his tight red jumper.  His black hair was matted acrosst his forehead in what might’ve been an effort at personal grooming.  He even looked to smell like beans.”  At times I laughed out loud, whether at her descriptions, or at the way an eleven year old boy would view the world.

Finally, I loved the charm of the narrator being so young.  His excitement was tangible: “I was sure Saturday would never come.  Something would happen.  I would get hit by a howling train or a runaway heifer before then.  Or I would catch consumption and die on Thursday.  Or maybe I would survive on my deathbed just long enough for Martin to return from the party and tell me all about it before I would cough up my last bloody tumor and expire.”

The Outside Boy is charming and funny and yet it is also gut-wrenching and sad.  The ending wraps up nicely, but not too perfect so as to ruin it.  The story of Christy’s mother propelled the story forward constantly and Cummins’ beautiful prose made me want to read everything she has written.  The Outside Boy has been my favorite fiction book all year and I highly recommend it to anyone.

For other book reviews, click here.

What is something that you discovered as a child that made you grow up a bit?  What was the first great loss of your life?  How did that affect you growing up?

 

 

Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta

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Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Summary: Things seem to just happen to Taylor Markham.  She is seventeen and living at boarding school because her mother abandoned her.  When she reluctantly becomes the leader of the territory wars between the Cadets and the Townies, Hannah, the only seemingly trusted adult she confides in is suddenly just…gone.  She doesn’t like her position in any of it, especially when she sees the leader of the opposing Cadets,  Jonah Griggs.  His leadership brings out the worst in her and they will be spending a LOT of time together.  As the summer unfolds, Taylor is forced to grapple with more questions until she starts to push back to discover the answers she has long searched for.

This is my first experience with Melina Marchetta and I do not often dive into YA fiction.  Marchetta intricately (and brilliantly at times) weaves past, present and sometimes even dreams together.  The text flips between plain and italicized sections, present and future, reality and dream sequences.

This complexity is what shows the expertise of Marchetta but at times it was so confusing!  Continually reading the jacket description kept me moving forward in the story (because it sounded intriguing and straight forward on the jacket!) but the storyline jumped around so much it was difficult keeping things in order.  After discussing the story with our book club, I concluded that I felt the sense of place lacking.  The sense of place might have grounded the context of the big story.

Secondly, I felt the characters weren’t developed enough to differentiate them well.  The story follows 5 kids on Jellicoe Road and since some of their names were nicknames or gender neutral, I kept getting them confused.  (Wait, was this the sister?  Or his girlfriend??  Oh wait, that’s a BOY not a girl???  Ugh!)  Sometimes, Marchetta would differentiate using italics but sometimes she wouldn’t.  (One reviewer said she listened to this on audio and she really didn’t like it for this reason.  It was SO HARD to tell characters-and narrators-apart from each other.  I can completely understand this would make the story even harder to follow).

Jellicoe Road weaves together an amazing story and ties up loose ends, which I appreciate.  Marchetta’s characters are flawed making them believable, the dialogue was good,  and (appropriately) they didn’t necessarily finish “happily ever after.”  The book does address some pretty intense and adult themes but the desire to solve the puzzle made it a great page turner.  Finally, deep loss permeated Taylor’s story but I also loved how the author addresses the importance of how and from whom we can receive love.

Do you have a favorite YA fiction book?  What was the toughest thing you had to experience in high school?

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