Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Shack

I found this book on the top of the New York Times Best Seller list… I read the back cover and bought it immediately.

The Shack (By William Paul Young) begins with Mack Phillips, four years after the death of his beloved daughter, Missy. Mack’s wife, son and daughter are all still struggling with Missy’s tragic murder, but Mack is still deeply wounded by what he calls The Great Sadness, and not coping very well at all.

Missy was killed after being abducted from a camping trip… her body was never recovered, but her blood stained clothes were found in a shack not far from where her family was camping.

That’s when he receives a mysterious note inviting him to The Shack for a weekend, signed by “Papa,” his wife’s name for God. Not sure if he is being taunted by Missy’s murderer, he sets out for The Shack ready to fight … but he finds something much more different.

When he arrives, The Shack is transformed into a beautiful cottage by a lake. No longer run-down and stained with Missy’s blood, Mack walks in to the smell of food and warmth. There, he meets Papa, Jesus and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit). Here, Mack is encouraged to confront his own fears and The Great Sadness.

He spends the weekend in the comfort of these individuals and learns that conventional religious teachings rarely hold up the truth of God’s wisdom and compassion, Jesus’ sacrifice and how the Holy Spirit means that we are literally never alone in the world.

Simply put, this book changed my life. The story behind the book is very heartfelt and very sad, but it challenges so much of what I thought religion to be for most of my life. Young is brilliant. He narrates the book as Mack’s friend, and even shows up in the story in third person.

While the characters of God (aka “Papa”), Jesus and Sarayu are almost comical at times, it’s very much a challenge to how we visualize the Holy Trinity in our lives. I had a discussion with some girlfriends who had a problem with Papa being a big, black woman, but the essence of that is what the whole book is challenging: appearances and expectations aren’t always what they seem. The idea of God being a big black woman parallels the ideas that our religious conceptions might not always be right. It’s beautifully done.

As long as a reader reads this with an open mind, they will close this book with a better understanding of “The Big Picture.” An appreciation as to why God doesn’t intervene when bad things happen, and that God is always there through the good, the bad and the ugly, even when you don’t want “Him” to be.

My favorite part is the scene where Mack is in the cave and gets to see Missy with his other kids. It is such a complete tear-jerker, that you will need the tissues when you begin reading it.

You NEED to read this one. It is a wise, well-thought out sermon, and once you’ve read it, you’ll never feel alone again. Even if you’re not particularly religious, it still has an amazing message.

A line that I loved:
"Don't ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak." ~ Papa

Next Review: Vanishing Acts (another Jodi book!)

PS. A HUGE thank you to Carly for our awesome new background. She's amazing!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: Second Glance

So you’ll notice that I fell in love with My Sister’s Keeper, and that Jodi Picoult has one new very big fan. Second Glance was the second novel of hers that I read, and once again, I wasn’t disappointed. I stood in the aisle at Barnes and Noble staring at all her covers and was no more decisive on which one to read next… so my amazing husband read the back of this one and told me to go with this one. He knows me so well!

Synopsis: I wanted to go into detail in the plot of this book, but there is so much to this that it would’ve taken away from the actual review. So again, my synopsis doesn’t contain spoilers.

The book is an interesting one: a ghost story--entwined with a love story--entwined with the study of eugenics. Picoult actually wrote this one before My Sister’s Keeper—and it was the research for Second Glance that actually gave her the inspiration for MSK.

You’ll first meet Ross, a deeply depressed man who lost his fiancĂ©e, Aimee, in a car crash. He considered himself invincible after attempting suicide unsuccessfully several times—including standing outside in a thunderstorm and getting struck by lightning. Instead of dying to get closer to Aimee, he turns to ghost hunting to try and find her.

When a new strip mall begins building over a supposed ancient Indian burial ground, he is summoned to help find and get rid of the ghosts causing trouble throughout the town. With the help of Ross’s sister, Shelby, and Shelby’s son, Ethan, he gets to work. This is where he meets the beautiful and mysterious Lia, who brings him back to life (so to speak). When he discovers a decades-old murder on the land in which he is investigating, he and his family get to work.

You’ll get to meet many different characters in this richly done plot… including Ruby, Meredith and Lucy, a family whose story eventually meets up with Ross and Lia’s.

Picoult uses the back and forth character interaction in a similar way as My Sister’s Keeper. The difference she makes from this book, however, is that instead of each chapter as a new character, she skips around within the chapters. It’s a little distracting in the beginning when you have no idea who is narrating, but doesn’t take long to get acquainted with.

This is a three-part book: books one and three in present day, and book two in the past. There are many parallels with what happens in book two and how it shows in book one.

The premise of the ghost story is a little hokey, I must admit. In fact, the solving of the murder makes me think of a riddle that you’d be able to pick up on very easily. Regardless, Picoult’s books are so well written that you connect with each character and you’re easily rooting for everyone involved. The story is so well-done, that the ghost story aspect is actually a second-tier plot.

You’ll also really see how each individual family copes with what is handed to them—death, illness, depression, etc. It really grabs hold of the theme of the book: how everybody must deal with love and loss.

Although I did really enjoy this book, it’s my least favorite out of the three (Vanishing Acts review coming soon!). I loved the generational aspect of the story, I even loved the mystery part of it, and I really loved learning about eugenics and how it could have so easily been a dark part of American History—so saying that this is my least favorite is still NOT a bad thing! I would suggest reading it if you like love stories and anything mildly suspenseful.

Next Review: The Shack!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Since Meredith already gave a full plot summary, I'm going to keep this as more of a book club discussion. Things I liked, things I didn't. But WARNING: There will be spoilers in this. Anyone has already read the book, leave comments and feedback!


Okay, so things I liked. I loved reading from the different perspectives of the characters. Simply reading Anna's side makes you think Sarah is a monster. But after reading her perspective of going through Kate's diagnosis, I could do nothing but absolutely relate to her. Having a 2 year old myself, I found myself being unable to judge Sarah because her situation was absolutely unthinkable.

I also liked the bond that seemed to exist between Jesse and Anna. Despite their differences, they shared a lot in that family and Picoult did a great job of showing what I think would be a very accurate relationship in that situation.

I liked the ending. I hate that Anna had to die, but what a great way to end the book. I mean, really... what other outcome or ending would have left you satisfied? And it made me think... after we know that the kidney transplant worked, did some readers change sides? Did people who supported Anna in her medical emancipation suddenly decide against it when they found out the procedure worked? Not that it was relevant any longer, but in a real life scenario (I can only imagine this is what Picoult WANTS us to consider)....

There wasn't much I didn't like about this book. The only thing I could've done without was the side-bar relationship between Campbell and Julia. It was really distracting from the real point of the story, to me. I didn't care what happened between them before while I was reading and at the end, I didn't care if they ended up together at not.

I also didn't like that we never got to hear Kate's side of the story... but at the end you see why it made sense that she wrote it that. It was brilliant writing, really.

As for the issue at hand.. it was a heartbreaking story all the way around. Absolutely heartbreaking. I never took sides with either Sarah or Anna, but when Anna says she's doing this because this is what Kate wants, I have to say that I thought THAT was what was most important.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Notes from a delinquent blogger:

I've read two new books and am currently on the third since My Sister's Keeper. You'll see a couple more from Jodi Picoult on here soon, because after MSK, I fell in love with her writing.

Stay tuned for some more reviews! Coming up from Meredith:
The Shack
Second Glance
Sundays at Tiffany's
Vanishing Acts

And hopefully you'll see your first from Tanya soon enough ;-)


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

First Review! My Sister's Keeper

The way I decide which books to read is interesting. The quote from Friends usually comes to mind: “Are you judging them by their covers, because you’re not supposed to do that.” Sometimes I do! I also sometimes peruse the New York Times Bestseller list because hey, if everyone else is reading these books…

I found out about this book by watching Entertainment Tonight and catching a trailer for its movie due out at the end of June. The trailer roped me in and I was nearly in tears just by watching it. If the book is always better than the movie, and the trailer had me enraptured, I had better get this book!

So I did. And I wasn’t disappointed!


Spoiler-LESS Synopsis: This unique and politically relevant story is told through the eyes of several different people. The main character, Anna Fitzgerald, is 13 years old and was born with the specific purpose of saving her sister, Kate’s life. Kate has been suffering from APL, a rare form of leukemia, since she was two years old. When her parents (Sara and Brian) realize neither they nor their son, Jesse, are matches for donating, they genetically engineer Anna to be a donor.

It started directly after Anna’s birth, with the cord blood donation. When Kate relapsed, Anna was there to donate again with bone marrow. Now, at sixteen, Kate’s kidneys are beginning to fail, and her only chance of survival is getting a kidney from her sister, the harvest child.

Though Anna and Kate share a unique bond, Anna has had enough of her fears and her pain being ignored by her parents. She decides to sue them for rights to her own body, despite the consequences to her sister and entire family. She elicits the help of local celebrity attorney, Campbell Alexander. Her guardian ad litem, Julia Romano, also joins to review Anna’s story along with all the family members. (A sub-plot to this novel is flashbacks of a previous and intense love shared between Campbell and Julia.)

All in all, the book is told through each character, with Kate only giving her point of view in the epilogue.

(For a better snap-shot of the plot, check out the trailer for the movie, HERE!)

My Review: While a political agenda could possibly be entwined in this novel, Jodi Picoult does an outstanding job of solely focusing on the Fitzgerald family, and how they are affected by their circumstances. This actually kept me reading the book, because the right vs. wrong aspect is really second-tier in it.

The character chapters are often very short, which can sometimes delay the development of the actual story. Especially since there are six constant characters adding to it. That, along with the transparent nature of the troubled-older son, Jesse, are the only complaints I have with this book. It takes about 100 pages to really get into, but you’ll keep asking yourself, “What is Anna going to do?!”

The trial at the end of the novel reveals a special twist that will truly endear you to Anna and why she is doing what she is doing. You’ll also develop your own opinions on Sara Fitzgerald. She seems to only be worried about Kate and ignores her two other children, but again reveals how she struggles from day to day heartbreak, and how she truly loves and values all of her children.

Despite my earlier complaints, I do love this book because of the different perspectives coming from it. The family matters are heart wrenching, and it’s interesting to catch a glimpse into such a family’s life. You’ll also constantly be thanking your lucky stars to never be put in such a sad and relationship-rifting position!

No doubt, this book is a tearjerker. Picoult’s eloquent writing and subject matter WILL have you reaching for the tissues, and if you’re like me, you’ll be crying long after the last page.

Do I suggest this book? Absolutely!


So, that’s my first review. This was actually a difficult review to write, since I mailed the book to Tanya before I had a chance to write it! I’m sure the nature of these reviews will change over time.

I’m not claiming to be an official reviewer of the written word, so I’d love to get feedback! Do you want to see more or less summary (spoilers, perhaps)? Should I delve into my opinions more?

I want this blog to also be a forum for your opinions on these books as well! If you’ve read My Sister’s Keeper, leave a comment!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tanya's Fave Five

As you’ll notice, I’m far behind Meredith in updating my list of Faves and you should probably just consider that a trend you’ll have to get used to. My schedule doesn’t ever stop me from reading, but it does sometimes slow me down and prevent me from having the free time to write or talk about the books I loved or hated. Yes, loved or hated. I’m not usually a “somewhere in the middle” kind of gal and you’ll notice that as well. And you’ll probably love or hate that about me. Clear as mud?

My husband and I have been debating lately (not uncommon at all), about what makes good music. I think it was you, Meredith, who once said that whatever made your toes tap was good music. I love it. My taste in music is similar to my taste in b
ooks in that I like what I like. It doesn’t have to be the best-written literature since Hemingway, but just something that evokes emotion from me and keeps me turning the pages (so, yes, that means I loved the Twilight books). The best books are the ones that make you actually feel lost when they end. Which is why I’m a big fan of series—there’s always something more.

Ok, list of Top 5 Faves.

1. A Land Remembered. (Patrick Smith) – I always try to convey how much I loved this book by telling people that I had to read this book as a summer read for 11th grade English and after our presentation on the book, our teacher gave us the option of donating the book or doing an assignment on it, and I chose the assignment. It’s the story of three generations of a Florida family battling hardships of the frontier and how they go from being dirt-poor to wealthy real estate tycoons. Throughout the book you’ll fall absolutely in love with the characters as if they were your own ancestors and you’ll see them fight off starvation, hurricanes (before the days of the weatherman giving you three weeks notice), freezes, rustlers, and the loss of their own family members. This is the only one of my top 5 books that is “in order.” For the last 10 years, this has been my favorite book—I made my mom and my husband read it, btw. Mer, you’re next.

2. The Outsiders. (S.E. Hinton) – Apparently while other kids were having fun in school and tolerating the assigned reading, I was being a big dork and loving all of the books. You really can’t help but fall in love with Pony Boy and get lost in the social-class war he and his friends battle every day. Pony Boy is a “Greaser” who comes from a broken home, no money and way of life that means literally fighting respect. He and his friends battle with the “Socs” (short for Socials) a group who has money and social prowess. One night Johnny kills a Soc in a fight and Pony Boy struggles with the ethics of murder and standing by your friends. When you finish the book, look up how old the author was when she wrote it. You won’t believe it.

3. Roots. (Alex Haley) – I figured I’d lump of the school readings together. I mean, if more than 10 years later these books are so memorable to me, they’ve gotta be good, right? There’s no short way to describe Roots, except to say that is a heart- and gut-wrenching (based on a) true story of a slave and his family from the time he was kidnapped in Africa, through the next seven generations. It’s ridiculously long, and at the end you will be so disappointed that it is over.

4. Lucky. (Alice Sebold) – This is the non-fiction, memoir counterpart to The Lovely Bones that Meredith has in her top 5. Sebold is a great writer and story-teller for sure. She was raped as a college freshman, but the police said she was "lucky." At least she wasn't murdered and dismembered like the girl before her. The memoir starts with her violent attack and then spins into remembering her life previous and facing her life head-on afterwards (struggles with addiction and all). I read this just out of college it was very personal for me because I realized how truly LUCKY my friends and I were to have never faced something so evil.

5. The Stephanie Plum Novels. (Janet Evanovich) – What a crack up series. The whole series is special to me because I had stopped reading for so long and this one, recommended by a neighbor, got me hooked again. I read 17 books in this series (yep, it’s a long one) last summer and haven’t stopped “inhaling” them since. Evanovich captures the true definition of writing physical comedy. Not writing about it, but writing it. The books are easy reads, will absolutely make you laugh out loud and are favorites of women I personally know from the ages of 20 something to 70 something and everywhere in between. Personal faves include books 4 and 8.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Fave Five

In thinking about this blog, I decided it might be a good way for readers to get to know us. Since this blog is based on books, what better way to know us than to see our list of faves?!

1. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden). I’m finding myself losing words regarding this book, which nearly defeats the purpose of this site! The story of the woman who became the world-famous geisha, Sayuri, is so captivating, it’s easy to forget that this book is a work of fiction.

2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). Little needs to be said about a classic. The love story of Elizabeth and Darcy transcends most countries and all ages, and has been the inspiration in a lot of today’s movies, books and television. It even adds a bit of humor that you wouldn’t expect from the Georgian era.

3. Something Borrowed (Emily Giffin). I’ve read this book and the one below three times each. It’s a movie-like read. The subject of cheating is always touchy, with the heroine (Rachel) having an affair with her best friend, Darcy’s fiancĂ©. Emily Giffin, however, does it in a way that makes the reader root for love no matter how it happens.

4. Something Blue (Emily Giffin). The sequel to the above is told through the eyes of the woman scorned, Darcy. Picking up the pieces of her ego, the reader sees Darcy grow from vengeful into a reflective 180. Giffin ties both story-lines up nicely in another round of “chick-lit.”

5. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold). Alice Sebold has had a dark enough past to channel such a tragic story, yet she’s able to do so with a unique perspective on death and the loved ones left behind. Amazing.

There you have it, my top five favorite books…for now! At the risk of making this post much too long to be worth reading, I didn’t do any of these books real justice. Each copy is well worn on my bookshelves because they’re all that good!

I have an eclectic taste in books. I’m a fan of the easy, fun chick lit, but I’m also down for a good tear or two—whether it’s a love story or a tragic one. It’s for this reason that you’ll probably see a wide variety of genres on my end!

(First review coming soon!)