Thursday, September 24, 2015

In the Blood

In the BloodIn the Blood, by Lisa Unger

This was my summer light read; I took it with me to Florida in August.

It was a psychological thriller about a troubled, hard-to-believe protagonist and psychopaths in her life. Perhaps too many coincidences and unlikely events, but if you can suspend belief, it's worth a read.

I would read more from this author.

Skeletons at the Feast

Skeletons at the FeastSkeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast takes place shortly before the second world war ends, told from the perspective of Anna, a wealthy Prussian woman in love with Callum, a Scottish POW; Uri, a Jewish man on the run and in disguise; and a French Jewish woman in a concentration camp. Previously I knew very little about the Prussian people, and the story includes Anna's family's journey west to escape the invading Russians. Bohjalian always does such an excellent job portraying layers of complexity in his characters and situations, and this book is no different.

Some readers have balked at the violence and disturbing imagery in this book, but people, it was war. The Holocaust. A completely brutal time in our history. Based on a diary Bohjalian received from a friend whose grandmother grew up on a farm in East Prussia, the book addresses the dark side of Europe during the war...those who became Nazi party members and emulated Hitler while refusing to acknowledge what was really going on around them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rapture Practice

Rapture PracticeRapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler

Aaron Hartzler grew up in an extremely conservative, religious home, where just disagreeing with his parents was tantamount to being seduced by Satan. For example, one day the young, fashion-conscious Aaron wanted to go to church without wearing socks with his Sperry Topsiders (because that's what you do). His father commanded him to put socks on, and Aaron resisted...and thus ensued a huge power struggle, with his father pouring on the guilt and shame...over a lack of socks.

I had to laugh when I read that Aaron got in trouble at his conservative Christian school for singing a Sandi Patty song! She was popular back when I hung out with some evangelical Christians in college, but apparently she fell from grace after she got divorced and had an affair.

Aaron is gay, but as a child he didn't know that. He felt himself drawn to fashion, theater, and music...and he also felt himself desperately torn between wanting to please his parents and wanting to express himself, in spite of his strict evangelical upbringing.

I found myself getting really annoyed with his parents, who on one occasion told Aaron he couldn't be in his school play because he had pop music tapes in his car (or some such extreme infringement of their rules). The book ends before Aaron comes out to his parents, so we don't learn how they reacted to the news...but follow-up research indicates he's still in touch with them, so that's good.

My book group enjoyed this book, and many commented on how Aaron deeply loved his parents in spite of their deep religiosity and their strict demands on him.

I'm curious to read Part 2 of his memoir!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

Still trying to catch up on my book reviews...this was my July book club selection.

Patrick Ness and Jim Kay collaborated on this illustrated novel based on an idea by novelist Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer. As Ness said in his author's note, "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time."

A Monster Calls refers to the visits in young Conor's bedroom. Conor's mother is battling cancer, and as he and his family members struggle to adjust to her worsening condition, a huge yew tree outside of his bedroom comes to life and tells him a series of stories. "Stories are wild creatures," the monster said. "When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

The monster is the only creature who's listening to Conor and speaking to him honestly. His father arrives from the U.S. for an incredibly brief visit and has created a new family where Conor doesn't have a place, and his parents skirt around the fact that his mother is dying. He's sent to stay with his grandmother, who is overly strict and controlling and doesn't seem to appreciate him. His classmates either bully him or pity him because of his sick mom. The monster's the only one who understands the fear and rage inside of his head.

My book group debated whether the monster was real or if it was all in Conor's head. I disagreed with a few others; I believe the monster was real. This is, after all, a young adult fantasy novel. The monster teaches Conor things no one else could. And helps him get in touch with feelings that he didn't know he had. We had an interesting conversation about the way our culture handles illness and dying, both in the U.S. and the UK, where the novel is based. People in the UK are much more likely to tamp down feelings and suppress them, and therapy is often not considered to be necessary. Stiff upper lip and all that!

A Monster Calls is a beautiful tale of loss and love. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

I'd been wanting to read this book for awhile, but a friend suggested that my husband read it first...he bought it in Ashland on our 25th wedding anniversary trip, and it did seem to be a little bit life changing! Soon after we returned home, he went through his clothing and discarded several garbage bags full...including his rowing singlet (tank top) from the mid-1980s...which was in shreds. 

By the time I read the book and started my same process, I didn't discard as many items of clothing as he did, mostly because I'd stayed on top of the discarding process over the years...but I still ended up with two to three bags. It's hard to think about clothing items "sparking joy" when they don't fit you any more. In some cases, I found the experience to be depressing! Last week I went through my jewelry and got rid of 20 necklaces, 25 pairs of earrings, and 10 bracelets. 

Marie Kondo is a bit extreme in some of her methods, and she clearly does NOT have children...I expect our process to take a lot longer and be much more complicated than the expected six months. It's hard to imagine kitchen items, appliances, tools, household items, and books "sparking joy." But the process is a great guidelines...just needs to be taken with a LARGE dose of salt!

I'm looking forward to continuing the process...books next. And then tackling the huge mess that is our office. 

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, by Cynthia Bourgeault

Mary Magdalene was a prophet, a seer, a disciple to disciples. Great historical reclaiming of this amazing woman.