Thursday, April 16, 2015

April reads, so far - Falls Like Lightning, The Here and Now, Phenomenal Woman, The Boy on the Wooden Box, The Rescue

Clearly, this has not been a week that I've felt like writing book reviews, so I just decided I'm going to have to just chatter about the books that I've read in April -- none of which feel like they require a detailed review -- then I'll go back to those I want to write about with a little more depth later, whenever the mood strikes me I guess.

I've only read one ARC in April and I already wrote about that: A Reunion of Ghosts. Otherwise, everything I've read has just happened to be what called to me at the moment -- plus one book I read specifically for the purposes of studying structure.

First up was Falls Like Lightning by Shawn Grady. He's a Christian writer but there's very little talk about Christianity; it's more a part of the characterization than a part of the storyline, so there's never any "preachy" aspect to his books, at least in my humble opinion. Falls Like Lightning is the story of a smoke jumper, Silas, and a pilot who flies the jumpers, Elle. At its heart, Falls Like Lightning is a romance but I love Shawn Grady's books primarily for the action. He's a firefighter and paramedic who writes about what he knows best.

Elle is a single parent with a child who has seizures. She's got a limited income and has to balance work and medical appointments; she hasn't got the money to cover a caregiver. Elle and Silas had a relationship in the past but it didn't last. Now, they're stationed together and the attraction is still there. Meanwhile, a few unscrupulous smoke jumpers have discovered a gold stash and are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way -- including Elle and Silas. I love the blend of action, mystery and romance in Grady's books and loved the way he wrapped everything up, but Falls Like Lighting was my least favorite of his books. I still gave it 4 stars and I hope he's got another title coming up, soon, since I've read them all.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares is a young adult book about a girl from a dystopian future. 1,000 people who survived the "blood plague" 90 years in the future (in a world devastated by climate change) have traveled back in time and integrated with the "time natives" in New York. They're not supposed to interact beyond working and attending school together and those who don't strictly follow the rules are taken away or put to death. Naturally, our heroine falls in love. She also encounters a homeless man who tells her she must stop an event from occurring, something that set the stage for the dystopian future from which they came. He doesn't bother to tell her the specifics of what needs to be done.

There are a lot of inconsistencies in The Here and Now that I couldn't make sense of. You learn early on that the blood plague is Dengue Fever, but it's apparently sexually transmitted at some point and then mutates and is spread by a vector (mosquitoes). Since Dengue has been around for a long time and is already mosquito-borne, I couldn't make sense of that. The story probably would have worked better if Brashares had created some unknown disease. AIDS has been eradicated in the future world but they can't get a grip on Dengue? Weird. But, I like time travel and found the story interesting. I just had trouble shutting off my internal editor. I also disliked the fact that the heroine is described as extremely intelligent but the boy she falls for continually has to rescue her. Still, it was a pretty fun read. And, I love the cover.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is a book I checked out from my library because it's National Poetry Month. I have a thick volume of her poetry (maybe the complete works -- I'll have to look) but I just wanted to dip my toes in the water, so to speak. It's a tiny book with only four poems, all of which are about women who keep their chins up and plow on while dealing with adversity. It's absolutely wonderful.

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson is marketed as a children's book but I think that's probably only because it's short. It's the memoir of a man who, as a young boy, was one of the Jews saved by Oskar Schindler. I can't recall who it was that posted an article saying there are far too many stories of the Holocaust for children and not enough other stories of Judaism. Honestly, I agree. As a child, I recall reading a book about a Jewish family that had nothing to do with the Holocaust (although I read a lot of Holocaust books as a youngster); it was simply a typical story of adventure with Judaism as the backdrop: kids being kids, but since they were Jewish, you gleaned an understanding of their everyday lives, the Jewish Sabbath, their eating habits, some of their holidays. It was a lovely, uplifting, sometimes funny story and I wish I remembered the title but I was probably in the 3rd or 4th grade when I read it.

Back to The Boy on the Wooden Box, though. Leon Leyson was the youngest child in a Polish family who simply did not foresee the horror that awaited them. The people in his village had encountered Germans during WWI and found them cordial, so they didn't fear the Nazis and stayed in Poland, hoping the Nazi thing would blow over. Leon's father moved away from their village when a better-paying job became available and for years the family only saw him occasionally. Eventually, they joined him in the city but, soon after, things deteriorated and then the country was invaded by Nazis. It was only because of their work permits that most of the family survived, toward the end saved from certain death by Schindler more than once. Eventually, they emigrated to the U.S. and I was surprised when a single act of kindness after years of abuse caused me to sob pitifully. After all the bad, it was a woman explaining American coins as they traveled on a train across the country that did me in. Horrifying, beautiful, shocking, uplifting -- so many ways to describe this true story.

And, the book I finished last night . . . ohmygosh, I thought I'd never say this . . . was a book by Nicholas Sparks, The Rescue. The first book I ever literally threw at a wall was a Sparks book, Message in a Bottle. I won't go into why that ticked me off in detail, although "man in love who is described as expert sailor going out during small-craft warning" is the bottom line. A second book by Sparks annoyed me for different reasons and I wrote him off completely. So, why did I bother trying him, again? Well, last year my friend Simon mentioned Sparks as an author who writes good stories during the writing workshop I attended and I was shocked but it made me think. He does know how to tell a story. I just personally found his writing manipulative.

But, it occurred to me that structure is where Sparks excels. Simon was right. His writing may be sappy and trite but he knows what he's doing. So, I read The Rescue specifically for the purpose of examining structure. I still found his writing really annoying. The Rescue is about a contractor and volunteer firefighter who comes across a woman who has just had an accident and whose son has gone missing from the wrecked car. He's haunted by his father's death; she's dedicated to spending her non-working hours working with her development-delayed son. They fall in love but he can't commit. What I really dislike is the way Sparks describes his characters. They are too damned perfect. Taylor, the hero, is a manly man who hunts, is super athletic, can do pretty much any repair job, fights fires and throws himself into the path of danger, etc. But, he also cooks, plays with a developmentally delayed child as if the child is his own, holds back sexually to avoid pressuring the woman till she's ready, gives her massages and babysits when needed, blah, blah. I will never love his writing but he took the story from A to Z in Full Sap Mode and still managed to touch me. I do feel like I learned a lot by writing about each scene (or summarizing chapters). But, I'll never go around telling people they must read a Nicholas Sparks book. Not that he needs my help.

So, that's April, so far. Last month, when I was deeply into the Australian Literature course I took via Coursera (still going, but winding down), I began reading For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke and I've returned to that, now. I stalled when I decided I needed to get going on an ARC and chose A Reunion of Ghosts -- which took me a week to slog through -- but I'm having no trouble picking up where I left off. I also just began reading The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, which came highly recommended by a friend who also loves dystopian reads. It's overdue at the library but we have a noisy storm working its way closer so I'm going to have to shut down and go read. I'm not going out in bad weather. I'd rather pay a fine.

In other news, I need to borrow a goat. It's only April but we've had such a wet spring that our poison ivy level is closer to what's normal in July or August. I just read that goats like poison ivy. Seriously, I need to borrow a goat.

Otherwise, same old, same old around here. What's up in your world?

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  1. If you find a goat, can I borrow him for a little while just for the cuteness factor? :p Glad to see you writing about books! I haven't gotten around to responding to comments yet on my blog, but you hit the nail on the head in what you said in my comments...Like you I miss WANTING to write about books. That's exactly what I've been trying to say I think. In the meantime, I'm just going to do what feels comfortable for now and not force anything.

    If you want a really good childrens book on the holocaust, I recommend Morris Gleitzman's Once. It's the first in a trilogy and I haven't read the other two yet, but Once was so darn good and I've really loved everything I've read by him so far. Two Weeks with the Queen is one of my all time favorite books and if you haven't read that one yet I HIGHLY recommend it!!

    The Here and Now sounds depressing as hell :/ lol....and I don't think I'll ever bring myself to be able to read Nicholas Sparks, lol...but if anyone can get me closer to trying, it's you ;)

    1. You won't believe this but I asked Huzzybuns if he knows anyone with a goat and he said, "Yes. He makes his own goat cheese." I asked if he thought maybe we could borrow a goat to help out with the poison ivy and he was unsure but followed that up with, "He has 10 kids." I said, "Kids, as in young goats or children?" and Huz said, "Maybe both. He's an interesting guy." LOL to borrowing for the cuteness factor. They are so cute, I agree!!

      I'm glad I'm not alone in having lost the desire to write about books but isn't it awful? You're right, though, best not to force it and just write when you feel like it. Maybe someday it will return.

      I'll look up Once and Two Weeks with the Queen, thanks. :)

      The Here and Now isn't depressing, really. It's just . . . I think the challenge of writing about time travel is the fact that there are already some well-established rules about whether or not a person should be allowed to interact at all. Could simply opening a door for someone and talking with that person for 30 seconds keep them from bumping into the person s/he was destined to meet at that precise moment, for example (something that's in Time and Again)? And, the author didn't stick to those rules, but she also didn't actually set her own. So, as a time travel it was inconsistent. Also, there were plot points that didn't entirely work and some messed-up characterization. But, I still enjoyed it. I just think it could have been a better book with a bit of work.

  2. Well you read far more books than I did. Way to go suffering through a Sparks book. I can't. I just can't.

    1. I know. I can't believe I did that. Honestly, I wouldn't have made it through the book if I'd read it for pleasure. I noticed even his fans didn't like that particular book, though, so it probably wasn't the right choice. I'm going to eventually read another one. It might involve a room with mattress wallpaper. Or, it might lead to life in a room with mattress wallpaper.

  3. I'm wondering if the book you read as a child, about a Jewish family, was The All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. I read this one when I was a kid, too. It was part of a series and the stories were just about their everyday life, but included stuff about the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays. I remember loving the books.

    1. I just typed the title into Google images and looked it up . . . it very well could be. I'm going to have to seek out a copy of the first book. That's exactly what it was like - just life and everyday adventures. Oh, how exciting! Thanks so much, Lexi!!!


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