The Bette Davis Club, by Jane Lotter

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We’re cautioned not to go grocery shopping when we’re hungry. In that same vein I would also say be careful about choosing a new book in the middle of the night.

That is exactly what I did two nights ago, during a fitful sleep with much tossing, turning, and long periods of wakefulness. In an attempt to occupy my mind I drifted over to the Prime Reading section on Amazon, saw a cute book cover and was dazzled by its 4.5 out of 5 star reviews. After downloading it, I was seduced by its sentimental introduction by the author’s daughter, talking about the book’s posthumous publishing. Her mother, always a writer but never quite an author, had finished the book right before she died and, in a labor of love, her grieving family had it published.

All of these things create a certain amount of expectation in a reader, even a sleep-deprived reader in the middle of the night. But, like most things, The Bette Davis Club took on a new appearance in the light of day. It was, sadly, unflattering.

I found the plot to be ridiculous, with asinine characters and writing that is both distracted and desperate. The protagonist, Margo Just, alternately but with the same amount of determination, bathes herself in self-pity and gin martinis. While the story begins with Margo trying to find her niece–an immature runaway bride–it diverges two thirds of the way to take the reader down a completely different path. Suddenly we’re transported back thirty years to a nineteen year old Margo falling in love with an older man. Then, just as quickly, we’re zapped back into the present to tie the original plot up with a tidy little bow. Meanwhile, Margo’s final transformation is as unlikely as the journey it took for her to arrive there.

When I finished the book it was with a simultaneous eye roll and a sigh of relief.

In the “they can’t all be winners” category… 4/10 Stars

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Life Below Stairs, by Alison Maloney

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Even though it has been two years since it’s been off the air, I’ve been mourning the completion of Downton Abbey lately and will probably re-watch my DVDs soon. In the meantime, Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants has been a fun, quick, informative read.

The whole idea of an upstairs/downstairs lifestyle is very foreign and outdated, but still fascinating. Until reading this book, it never occurred to me how the lack of modern appliances necessitated large amounts of servants in houses that were almost kingdoms unto themselves. However, just like when reading about famous frontiersmen and women, I was reminded that everything took longer in a time when there was no electricity, no washing machines, dishwashers, and often–no indoor plumbing.

I have new appreciation for shows such as Downton Abbey because of the nuances in servants’ characters: the obvious hierarchy among those below stairs, the fierce protection of their jobs, the back-biting and work politics , the sleeplessness, the importance of character references, and the huge amount of rules and restrictions.

And yet, for many, it was either a tireless life in service or abject poverty.

For a poor and unskilled person, but one with great personal potential and a high work ethic, going into service was a terrific opportunity. And, unlike today’s minimum wage jobs, service provided room and board and sometimes, a chance for advancement.

It makes one stop and think how many people today would leap at such a chance, despite the hardships.

This book reads almost like a interesting text book. It is very well organized and uses great “word economy.” There is no fluff, just an outline of the way things used to be in a time now gone. If this is a period in history that interests you, I recommend it.

9.5/10 Stars

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok

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I always have an extra amount of respect for an author who treats his/her reader as an intelligent being, who does not pound a heavy-handed agenda into the reader’s head, but presents a “buffet” of ideas, if you will, that the reader can choose from and decide which is right or wrong. At the very least, allowing the reader to choose the idea or philosophy with which he/she is most comfortable. (Right or wrong is so often subjective.)

Chaim Potok does this in his brilliant novel, The Chosen. The backdrop is different sects in Judaism at the end of World War II. And, unlike the previous book I reviewed here that was about a mother/daughter relationship, The Chosen looks deeply into father/son relationships. But it does more than that. It puts two teenage boys together in an unlikely way and poses many questions:

  • Who is being raised the right way by his father? (Is there a right way?)
  • Who is “the chosen?” (And…chosen for what?)
  • Are we born with a soul? Or is it something that grows within us by the choices we make?
  • And, when it comes to being devout in religion, how much is too much?

Leaving the reader pondering all of these questions (and more) is, in my opinion, the mark of high-quality writing. Why? Because Life rarely ties things up in a neat little package.

While getting more invested in the story, I started to think of other great books that have two male protagonists who are very different, brought together in odd circumstances and who forge a deep friendship or a bond that is created out of curiosity for one another. After brainstorming, I realized there are many:

  • A Separate Peace, by Jon Knowles (Which takes place during the same time period as The Chosen. It’s been years since I’ve read it, and I’m currently listening to the audio version.)
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Bridehead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Strangely, as many books as there are with these types of characters, there is no specific genre name given to them–and there should be–because they are unique types of stories.

The two in The Chosen are Reuven Malter (modern Orthodox) and Danny Saunders (Hasidic,) brought together, ironically, by a baseball game, the all-American sport. If you created a Venn diagram on these two boys it would be fascinating, because they have much in common. Their differences, however, are what drive the story forward, and their respective fathers are the heightened versions of those differences.

Chaim Potok does a marvelous job of bringing both sets of fathers and sons to life. Their influences, emotions, thoughts, victories, and defeats all feel very authentic. Whether for a book club, a class discussion, or individual enlightenment, The Chosen is worth your time.

10/10 Stars

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

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We all have chapters in our lives. Oft times Life itself is moving too quickly to dwell on those chapters–or even recognize them. But there are other times when Life forces us to not only dwell and recognize, but to revisit, analyze, regret, wonder, and forgive.

Lucy Barton is in the hospital and having one of those forced-upon moments. Her condition is serious, but just vague enough to leave her concerned about her future. Serious enough for her mother to visit and stay at her bedside for several days. Not only does a new chapter begin, but now Lucy has a companion–sometimes an opponent–in her nostalgia.

And, like any mother-daughter relationship, this one has its own brand of unique complications: the love, the selective memory, the needs, the power struggles, the guilt, the role reversals, and so many other subtle but strong elements that many women can relate to as mothers, daughters, or both.

While other books exhibit their brilliance in interwoven plots and complex characters, My Name is Lucy Barton exhibits its brilliance in its simplicity. It’s seeming simplicity. Elizabeth Strout has touched on female emotions in an understated, but extremely powerful way–just a woman flipping through the chapters in her life, remembering events that shaped her (some mundane, others not,) acknowledging people who influenced her, and owning her decisions through it all.

The nature vs. nurture debate is not solved, but perpetuated, forcing the reader to delve into his/her own life and wonder “how much of my life is because of my choices?” and “how much of my life is because of the choices of others?”

9.5/10 Stars

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan

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Three couples. Three time periods. A handful of colorful supporting characters.

And maybe…a little bit of fantasy.

If this book was a movie on a shelf, I would have a difficult time choosing its genre. Comedy? Drama? Romance? Philosophy? “Yes” to all because it incorporates all of those things. But it is also a quirky, creative tapestry of characters and their individual stories, woven together into a very unusual, but clever, novel.

At its heart, The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan, centers around Anthony Peardew and his lost love, an event which becomes the catalyst for everything that follows. The rest of the characters, even those who occupy more of the plot, orbit this initial story-line. Each is introduced in a methodical and timely way. All are sympathetic, with fully explored personalities.

What impressed me was that, despite the layers of plots and subplots, the novel was not confusing. Ruth Hogan’s writing is not just clever, but beautiful. The reader empathizes with every loss and every victory because, on some level, we’ve all had similar experiences.

Both the “keeper” and the “things” in the title are subject to discussion. While there are certainly actual objects that qualify as “things,” there are also plenty of abstracts. The key is to allow the story to carry you, the reader, through its ebb and flow, allowing all things to be revealed in time.

It is a worthwhile journey.

9.5/10 Stars

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach

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I always thought I had a fairly strong stomach when it came to the medical field, until I read this book. I also did it an injustice by listening to the audio version of When Breath Becomes Air, a philosophical approach to death that is so beautifully written, any other book I was reading at the time could only pale in comparison.

The smart thing to do is review Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

There is no doubt that the journey of a human cadaver is fascinating. This book talks about all of the different possible routes a body donated to science can take, with a lot of details about those routes. We all know that medical students work on cadavers, but did you know that working physicians do too? They are used to practice procedures before doing them on a live person.  But cadavers are also used for studies on decomposition in different environments–that was a fun, grisly chapter–and as crash test dummies in cars.

You learn about when cadavers were first used, the ethical ramifications, and alternatives where cadavers aren’t even necessary to hone a doctor’s skills. You will also learn about the embalming process and its history. (That was pretty interesting.)

Some things about donating your body to science: It doesn’t go to waste, it will be treated as a gift, and it benefits the future. If you don’t think about where it is going and what might happen to it, you’ll be fine.

All in all, the book is intriguing. There’s plenty to learn and much humor infused throughout without being disrespectful. Who knows? It might even make you rethink your future wishes…when that melancholy event occurs.

8.5/10 Stars

 

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

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I’m going to do something I’ve never done on this site, which is to reveal my rating for a book at the beginning of its review. When Breath Becomes Air has earned a solid 10, pure and simple. We’ll work backwards from there.

Let me also say that nothing keeps me away from reading a book or seeing a movie more than “hype” surrounding it. The little cynic in me says, “OK, prove it.” So often the material does not live up to the hype, and who wants that disappointment? There has been a lot of that with this book. Ergo my cautious avoidance and wary delayed approach.

When it became available as an audio book on the local online library site, I downloaded it, but with the condition that it was competing with two other books already on my iPhone. “We’ll see how good it is,” I thought.

A few days ago, with the audio version accompanying me on a 130 mile drive, my opinion changed completely. Suddenly, I was glued to the journey of Dr. Kalanithi, an accomplished neurosurgeon in California who was about to start his surgical residency and, almost simultaneously, was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer.

Lung cancer for a non-smoker seems especially cruel, even more so for someone with such a promising future ahead. The second son of a family of doctors, Paul had received two Bachelor’s Degrees from Stanford, a Master’s from Cambridge, and his MD from Yale. His work was highly regarded and his medical papers were winning awards.  What of this spectacularly unfair turn of events?

One of the words Paul uses frequently is “trajectory.” In regards to his career, his marriage, the possibility (or not) of children, his faith (or lack thereof,) and his future, his trajectory would have to be reset. Not just once, but over and over again.

Now, about my rating. I do not give a “10” lightly. Only a handful of books have qualified. Like other “10” books I’ve read, When Breath Becomes Air never lost my attention. But, more importantly, it is exquisitely written. Not a word or sentence out of place, perfect word economy, and every thought expressed is done so with quality and depth. This is no accident. The author himself once considered writing as a full-time profession.

Instead, it is his legacy.

I highly, highly recommend When Breath Becomes Air. It is eye-opening, witty, fascinating, and majestic. You will not be disappointed.

With all my heart– 10/10 Stars!!

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake, by Sandra Byrd

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Like so many new college graduates, Lexi Stuart is at a crossroads. She has to choose between her passions and jobs that are lucrative, and she is floundering. Others in her life seem to be reaching new milestones and she is not. It’s a position in which lots of young people find themselves.

In the meantime, Lexi, a self-proclaimed “Francophile,” has found work at a cute French bakery and cafe. She’s living with her parents, not dating but open to possibilities, and reexamining her relationship with God.

As expected, Lexi has a lot of choices to make. New situations are constantly spiraling toward her that require reactions and decisions. Through it all the reader is in her head as she navigates the road of Life over several months.

Sandra Byrd, the author, as created a character who is quite realistic. Lexi is a level-headed girl from a solid family, but she isn’t perfect. She’s young enough to still experience plenty of uncertainty, but grounded enough to know her ultimate goals. The problems are the where, the when, and with who.

This could be classified as “light” Christian fiction. It is enjoyable without being heavy-handed. Characters are likable, personable, and very human in their challenges and actions. And, despite her challenges, Lexi is never over-dramatic or narcissistic.

Let Them Eat Cake is Book 1 of 3 in Sandra Byrd’s French Twist Series. I feel invested enough in Lexi Stuart to root for her happiness and curious enough to see what happens next in her life.

8.5/10 Stars

Book 2: Bon Appétit

Book 3: Pièce de Résistance

Whirligig, by Paul Fleischman

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When I came to the end of Whirligig, a book I listened to on Overdrive’s audio app, I was surprised to learn that it was published 20 years ago. Why? Because the protagonist, Brent Bishop, is the poster child for the modern depressed teen. Despite a privileged upbringing, he has no sense of identity, no hobbies or skills, and measures his self-worth against the yardstick of popularity. Life has no real purpose and he is connected to no one and nothing.

It’s a sad way to live, but when you meet Brent’ parents, who drift forward through life in much the same way, the person he is becoming makes more sense. As such, Brent is an unhappy person, but when all of your energy goes towards yourself, it is any wonder?

The themes of the book are connection, redemption, and self-discovery. Unfortunately, it takes a horrible tragedy to put Brent on the path to these things. A life with much promise is snuffed out due to his selfishness and, as restitution, he must take a journey around the country, building and placing four whirligigs in honor of the life he carelessly took. Suddenly he is compelled to create, to interact, to observe, and most importantly, to think of others and how we’re all part of a larger plan.

Yesterday, two-thirds into the book, I read a cynical review on Goodreads from a woman who was appalled at the book’s message, which she interpreted as an “angsty teenage boy” using the death of someone else “as motivation for their own self-discovery.” And, while there may be some truth to this, I see most of Brent’s angst as a result of his upbringing. Little of his parents’ energy has gone into teaching him to care, to love, to show compassion for others, or to do anything really worth-while. Until he’s forced to do something for someone else, he merely exists. It’s a sad commentary on the way so many people live, perpetuating that purposeless state through their children.

The book is far from flawless, but it has heart. Aimed at teenage readers, it’s core message is one you hope they will recognize, learn from, and carry into the future.

8/10 Stars

 

Watch Me, by Anjelica Huston

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It was through an odd series of steps that I happened upon Anjelica Huston’s memoir, Watch Me. As a chronic “looker upper”–someone who is constantly looking up words, people, historic events–and even more intrigued when they are intertwined, I ended up checking out the audio book through our local online library.

Part of the third generation of a Hollywood dynasty, Huston has lived an extraordinary life. But the elegant, statuesque woman on the book’s cover was not always that way. Once upon a time she was a quiet, self-conscious teenager who had a lonely childhood and shrank in the shadow of her famous father. I saw proof of this while watching her first interview on YouTube. The composure that has become synonymous with Anjelica Huston was nowhere to be seen.

Watch Me is the second of two memoirs, and it picks up just when Anjelica’s life starts getting interesting. Still, it took years for her to carve her own way in the notoriously cutthroat arena of show business. Her last name opened doors, but it didn’t always keep them open, and it created huge expectations that, as a young actress, she couldn’t always fulfill.

As someone who had a fairly “normal” childhood, it was a bit daunting to hear the amount of famous people Huston has known. She has met and known people from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the modern day. Her 17 year relationship with Jack Nicholson is discussed at length, as are other significant personal connections that defined her as a woman and an actress.

By the end, though, I felt she was a friend who had just shared some of her greatest triumphs and saddest losses. She has a delicate femininity despite her strong appearance and she loves adjectives. Her voice trembles with emotion as she reads about her parents’ deaths and her husband’s final illness. You almost feel you’re reliving those moments with her. It’s clear she has no regrets, realizes the blessings and curses that accompany fame, and still holds on to the memory of loved ones with wistful nostalgia .

8.5/10 Stars

 

Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

bartoletti-terrible-typhoid-maryWhen I was an elementary school student in Southern California and discovering for myself which books I enjoyed, I often gravitated towards biographies. Some of my favorites were biographies on Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Harry Houdini, and Harriet Tubman. I still remember the covers of each of those books, all of which were worn with use. (In fact, the Helen Keller biography still sits in the bookcase next to me, as do many other childhood favorites.)

I mention this because I know that Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, would’ve been added to the group. It’s exactly the kind of biography I would’ve read again and again. Not only is it a fascinating true story, but it’s also extremely thorough, and written so well that everyone involved is brought to life. The reader is immersed in colorful descriptions and an interesting cast of characters, who just happen to be real people. (Dr. S. Josephine Baker, one of the first female doctors in the United States, is also prominently featured.) We can just imagine the increasing rage building on Mary Mallon‘s face when Health Department employee, George Soper, finally tracked her down and tried to explain that she was a carrier of Typhoid and was making others ill. We can also imagine the scene where she chased him–and others after him–out of her kitchen with knives and a few choice words.

Mary Mallon’s story is captivating for many reasons and the author covers them all. As the first “healthy carrier” discovered (but not the last,) many important human rights issues are brought to the surface. Did the government have the right to arrest and quarantine Mary when, technically, she had not broken any laws? Did it have the right to insist that Mary give samples of her blood and bodily waste? Were Mary’s stubbornness and violent temper the reasons she was singled out and forced into decades of isolation? Could her situation have been avoided?

The historical period of this real-life drama created other dilemmas. There were hoards of new immigrants flooding into New York City at the time. Sanitation was becoming more of a challenge as population increased. Indoor plumbing, daily baths, and sewers were not yet the norm. The idea that microscopic germs cause disease was also extremely new. (Vaccinations were even newer.) Germ theory was a difficult concept to explain and a source of skepticism among the masses.  And Mary Mallon, a proud, hard-working Irish immigrant who worked her way up the domestic ladder to become a cook for elite families, refused to hear that she wasn’t clean and that she had infected the households who ate her meals. But where do her rights begin and end? Doesn’t the Health Department have a responsibility to stop the spread of disease and prevent an epidemic?

Adults, young adults, and elementary school children will enjoy Terrible Typhoid Mary. It’s the perfect marriage of writer and subject. Teachers and home-school parents will also appreciate the author’s comprehensive bibliography, a terrific example of citing primary and secondary sources that could even be used in a separate lesson. As a biography for school-age readers, this one is as good as it gets.

A well-deserved 10/10 Stars

Every Day, by David Levithan

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In 16 years of life, “A,” an entity who is neither male or female, has lived every day in a different body. The name “A” is self given. That, an email address, and a favorite book are the only consistencies A knows. Everything else is a mysterious, Quantum Leap-style existence, with no relationships, no family, no connections.

Enter Rhiannon. On the day A inhabits the body of Justin, Rhiannon’s self-absorbed boyfriend, A connects. The dilemma is clear. How do you maintain a relationship, let alone explain your unique situation, when tomorrow is always uncertain? Uncertainties exist for all of us, but the variety of bodies, lives, families, distances, mental/physical health situations, and transportation options dictate the level of control A has in pursuing this connection.

With no rules and no explanation as to why A is destined to live this way, A has had to create rules. Try not to derail the life of who you are inhabiting too much. Try to be responsible with a body that is not your own. Embrace goodness. If possible, try to leave the person a bit better than when you arrived, even inserting some happy memories once in a while.

Seeing glimpses of so many lives has given A a bit of an advantage in some ways, but has also created some severe deprivations. If there is any positive lesson to be learned from witnessing A’s struggles, it is the importance of stability and loving relationships in a person’s life.

There is no doubt that David Levithan is a creative writer. I was much more absorbed in this story than with Dash & Lily. The author makes some fascinating choices with the bodies A inhabits.  I still think Levithan walks a tightrope in some of his themes and ideas, but I understand that is his prerogative. But as such, it’s my opinion that parents ought to pre-read his books.

As I mentioned in another review, I am not in the author’s target age demographic. I cannot help but look at his YA novels from an adult perspective. And, while Every Day was not peppered throughout with popular profanities (as in Dash & Lily,)  David Levithan’s strong social opinions took their place. It’s clear he has an unapologetic loathing for many things most people would consider traditional.

As far as plot, my main dissatisfaction with Every Day was the ending. It was horrendous because, in order to know what really happens next, the reader is forced to move on to the sequel, Another Day.  I don’t like feeling forced. (Does anyone?)

A half-hearted (and forced) 8/10 stars.

 

 

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick

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We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

–Oscar Wilde, from Lady Windemere’s Fan

Two of our deepest longings in life, whether we acknowledge them or not, is (1) to be connected to someone or something in a world where it is too easy to feel adrift and (2) to be heard and validated through some means of communication.

Then there is the subject of communication. How do people communicate? Through a specific language, either written or spoken using an alphabet or gestures, like American Sign Language. There’s also Morse Code, Braille, semaphores, hieroglyphics, and many others. Humans have a great need and desire to communicate with one another and have, therefore, created many ways to do so. To be unable to communicate is to be isolated, even in a room full of people.

Enter the two main characters in Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, Rose in 1927’s Hoboken, New Jersey, and Ben in 1977’s Gunflint, Michigan. Two twelve year olds in different cities, fifty years apart. How are they connected?

The way Brian Selznick achieves this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Ben’s story is told through the written word. Rose’s story is told through incredibly impressive and expressive pencil drawings done by the author. The drawings leave no room for misinterpretation.

Despite their differences, both children are on a similar journey with similar challenges. Both are trying desperately to fulfill those longings for connection and communication. The pacing is excellently done using the different modes of storytelling. So excellent, in fact, that the reader is aware of the overlap in the children’s stories as it’s happening (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here.) And, while the story feels like a fantasy, there’s still a sense of it could happen.

There is a lot of potential discussion to be facilitated between teachers and students using Wonderstruck as its source. I think it would work successfully in both a classroom or a home-school setting. Amazon Prime just released the movie version a few days ago, but I believe the movie works better as an addendum to the book. There is a sweetness unique to the book that is lacking in the movie, as well as a layer of truthfulness regarding Ben, because only in the book do we hear his inner dialogue. But I will say the young actress who plays Rose in the movie is mesmerizing to watch.

Overall, I recommend Wonderstruck with confidence. I was even more impressed when I read about the amount of research Brian Selznick employed in its creation. It is an award-winning middle school book, but I think it would be entirely appropriate for younger, emotionally mature children. If a parent or teacher has specific questions before sharing it with school-aged children, please feel free to contact me or leave your question in the comments. I will answer it promptly.

9.5/10 Stars

P.S. A 55-page summary and study guide of Wonderstruck is also available on Amazon, but I have not read it.

 

The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens

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As I review The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, we must first discuss “audience.”

  • There are those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who have great interest in the philosophical workings of their church. They enjoy dissecting, discussing, and analyzing the church to which they belong. They deeply ponder its scriptures, standards, doctrine, and history. By doing this, it only strengthens their testimonies and beliefs. (Many who find great satisfaction in such discussions, including friends of mine, belong to a network called the Mormon Transhumanist Association.)
  • There are other Christians (“other,” because Mormons are also Christians) and non-Christians who are interested in the LDS Church, who perhaps have no desire to become LDS, but are still curious and interested in reading a philosophical approach such as this one.
  • And there are those who make it their life’s work to study religions, either professionally or as a hobby–religions which fall under the umbrella of Christianity, as well as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., but are mostly interested in comparing and contrasting the various faiths and gleaning, what they perceive, as the best qualities of all of them. “Best,” of course, being subjective to the individual.

While reading The God Who Weeps, I identified people with interests and pursuits, like those above, as the book’s target audience.

Unfortunately, I do not fall in any of those categories. While I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons,) it is my experience that over-analyzing my faith and Church doctrine also over complicates it and has negative effects on my personal testimony of what I believe to be true. As a result, I usually avoid books such as this one.

That is not saying I don’t recommend The God Who Weeps. There is much good in it. Let’s look simply at the title. The idea of a “God who weeps” is that there is a loving Heavenly Father–an actual FATHER–who cares for us so deeply that our pain is His, our setbacks/worries/challenges/heartbreaks are things He mourns for right along with us.

It is this personalizing of God that I find so attractive and dear about the teachings in the LDS Church. (Among other things.) I feel He knows me individually, hears and answers my prayers, and knows the worries and concerns of my heart.

This Heavenly Father I love so very much is discussed in The God Who Weeps. However, I also feel like the best ideas (those with which I can most identify) are buried under a lot of philosophy and ideas that the authors admit they don’t agree with, but still discuss as a way to promote their original thought: that Mormonism makes sense of life.

So, I have to ask myself, what is the purpose in writing a book like this? To help Mormons feel better about a church they already belong to? To give non-Mormons an analytical perspective?

I would hope that a book like this, at the very least, strengthens the testimony of an LDS Church member. I would also hope that a book like this, at the very least, sparks interest about the LDS Church in someone who is not a member–with the disclaimer that true faith in God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ–as well as discernment about which church is true–may begin by reading a scholarly book like this one, but is actually created and nurtured through sincere scripture study, humble prayer, and a heartfelt witness of the Holy Ghost.

8.5/10 Stars

 

The Blue Castle, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

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One of the most thrilling things when finishing a book is knowing that it has qualified for my “10 Star” list, a list reserved for only the best, in my opinion. When a dear friend mentioned that The Blue Castle was her favorite book I expected to enjoy it, but I did not expect to fall in love with it. Yet, that is exactly what happened. The author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, is best known for Anne of Green Gables and its subsequent series. Yet, I must admit, I enjoyed The Blue Castle’s main character even more. (Please forgive me, Anne Shirley fans!)

I have to care about and feel emotionally invested in a main character in order for me to love a book.  In The Blue Castle, it is Valancy Stirling, a 29 year old “spinster” who lives with her widowed mother and two aunts. They are dour, puritanical, and robotic in all they do, say, and think. Even sneezing in public is a grievous sin. Valancy knows of no other life but this one–this colorless life with no friends and no future.

Why do I love this character? Because, in her longing for something more, she is deserving, quirky, humble, and imaginative. She simply wants what we all want: to be cherished, to be seen as who she really is, and to have a companion who puts her above all others. She is not ambitious or greedy. Her desires, as elusive as they may seem, are simple and valid.

In the meantime, Valancy must live in her head. Only two things bring her comfort while she waits– her John Foster novels, with their color and life and pearls of wisdom: Fear is the original sin, and the thought of her Blue Castle: a metaphor for all the happy, beautiful things currently just out of reach. In her Blue Castle, Valancy is free to think and enjoy without the daily berating she endures from her mother and aunts.

As the reader, you join in this longing and, hope against hope, that Valancy will, somehow, emerge victorious. But how?

At this point, I must resist using spoilers and simply say that The Blue Castle is worth your time. If you are looking for a story that restores your faith in everything, including quality literature and characters that you absolutely fall in love with, this is it. In addition, the writing is like exquisite poetry dripping from your lips as you read it.

A true masterpiece.

A very worthy 10 STARS.