Book Review|You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

 

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is a short collection of short stories following different characters. The thread weaving the stories together is that they are either servicemen  or the wives of servicemen of Fort Hood, Texas.

The book immediately grabbed my attention from the first page and never let go.

Gritty and realistic, each chapter gives the reader a glimpse into the experiences of military life for those serving in Iraq and for the families left behind waiting for their loved ones to come home.

I completed the book in one sitting. I found the stories fascinating and so well written that I wished it had been longer, even though some of the scenes were disturbing at times. The depictions of characters and their actions felt true to life.

Fallon is a writer to watch.

This was a book chosen by a local library book club.

Topics

War, violence, graphic descriptions, profanity, incident of verbal sexual harassment, infidelity, abandonment, spousal abuse, alcohol, death.

Click here for Lit Lovers Book Guide for You Know When the Men Are Gone.

Click here for another reading guide from Book Browse for this novel.

Find out more about the author at Siobhan Fallon’s website here.

 

Book Review|Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Set in 2030, Free to Fall by Lauren Miller is a young adult dystopian novel in which “The Doubt”, a small inner voice, is labeled as mental illness and medicated away in those who cannot ignore it. In this world, nearly everyone has an app on their phone called Lux. Lux keeps track of all data and helps the user with every decision, major to minor. This setting is ripe for the unfolding tale of high tech social engineering.

Sixteen year old Aurora “Rory” Vaughn is accepted to Theden Academy, an exclusive college prep boarding school. Rory and her friends are addicted to social media, selfies, and coffee. 

The characters struggle with the typical teen issues ranging from dieting to dating, as well as the school work load you would expect at a private prep school. Secret societies, teen angst, conspiracies, mysteries, betrayal, and romance keep the action flowing while the characters grapple with moral questions brought up in Free to Fall. I liked the allusions and themes from The Bible and Paradise Lost woven throughout.

The first time I read Free to Fall, I was stuck by the eerie parallel of current social behaviors and the technological advances we have made that make this imagined world a little too plausible for comfort.

Highly recommended for teens and up. This is an excellent book for discussion.

Some language, kissing, intimacy and heavy petting (not graphic), secret society, simulated death and violence, mind control, drinking, death of parents

Click here for a discussion guide for Free to Fall with Bible verse references from Embracing the Detour.

Visit Lauren Miller’s author website here. 

Watch the trailer for Free to Fall.

 

Netflix Series Review| Anne With an E

I wanted to love the new Netflix series, Anne with an E, and it is a good show, but since I am a big Anne of Green Gables fan, my expectations were high. At our house, Anne of Green Gables was our go to movie for slumber parties. This Netflix version is definitely not that happy little girl movie of my daughter’s childhood.

I liked this series, but it left me feeling as if a huge part of the story was missing.

I discovered the CBC 1985 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on PBS during the wee morning hours of caring for a newborn. All of my children have been raised on the series. Eager to see what new writers might do, I attempted to put aside my feelings for my old favorite.

The first two episodes had me crying over Anne’s plight and ready to watch more. By the fourth episode, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good show, but I’m not sure this is one worth revisiting year after year as in the case of the earlier 1985 Anne Of Green Gables adaptation or the books by L.M. Montgomery.

The cinematography is wonderful, with gorgeous sweeping views and evocative shots. Amybeth McNulty plays Anne Shirley with depth and passion. I would watch the series simply for her performance.

In this new series, we get a peek into the past of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Geraldine James as Mirilla and RH Thomson as Matthew do a marvelous job playing the parts they were given. The brother and sister get their own story lines and character development. I felt a certain kinship with Marilla as she struggled with her emotions, but missed the familiar pithy remarks and personality.

Matthew is cast in a more heroic role, shown riding a horse along the coastline. There are other situations where he is allowed to be an obvious protector, showing his devotion to Anne. While I enjoyed the idea of Matthew as a knight in shining armor riding along a shore and overcoming great obstacles to rescue his Anne, I had to wonder, what was wrong with the quiet, steady love that Matthew Cuthbert had in his previous depiction?

The setting feels realistic, less scrubbed up; a genuineness which I liked.

Against the backdrop of Anne’s dire past we come to understand why a simple farmhouse takes on such an attractive hue in Anne’s eyes.

A series of flashbacks is provided to explain away her quirkiness and tendency to indulge in flights of fancy. Her need to escape is driven by angst rather than imagination. The contrast between the practical world and Anne’s “tragical” notions have been stripped away. Everything is dramatic. In this version, there are few moments of humor, the very thing that helped define Anne and bring her to life.

This is a darker, grittier version. I assume this is in an attempt to be more realistic. I don’t know if this actually works, because real life is rarely a constant unfolding of dramatic, emotional events. Real life is fraught with common practicality. I love emotional fiction, and consider a story good if it provokes a tear or two, but I kept waiting for the humor that never showed up. There is a “delight factor” I enjoyed in the books and the 1985 series missing from this series. Anne with an E has a different worldview than the Anne of Green Gables series or the books by L. M. Montgomery.

I think that some  of the scenes in this new television series added depth to the characters, and would work quite well with the established story. My struggle came where it veered off too far from the original writings. Yes, I am one of those people. Always read the book first!

The show had its moments. If a second series is produced, I may or may not watch. I am more likely to re-read the books than watch another season of Anne With an E.

While not my first recommendation as an adaptation of Anne’s story, it does have worth as entertainment. In my opinion, when compared to Anne of Green Gables too much of the positive is overshadowed by the shortcomings in this particular adaptation. Some of the messages that have been inserted into this version of Anne’s story seem a bit heavy-handed to me. Even though it is entertaining, Anne with an E doesn’t have the same take away value as its hard-to-follow, beloved predecessor.

Watch the trailer for the Netflix series Anne With an E.

You can download a free copy of the original book, Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery, at Project Gutenberg here.

Book Review| A Window to the World by Susan Meissner

 

Megan and Jen are best friends, enjoying a typical childhood. Then one day Jen is snatched when the girls are out riding their bikes.

The novel, A Window to the World by Susan Meissner, follows Megan from young girlhood as she grows into an adult, showing how this one terrible event impacts every decision she makes from the moment of the kidnapping. Nightmares haunt her and fear colors her world.

I expected the story to focus on Jen, or her parents, but instead, Meissner told the story of the child left behind. This was a different angle for an abduction story.  I was interested in the story told from the perspective of Megan, although the kidnapping and my desire to know What happened to Jen! was always in the back of my mind. Just about the time I was starting to worry maybe I would never find out, the question was answered. Good storytelling.

This is an inspirational read with Biblical truths at its core. I liked Meissner’s writing style and my attention never flagged throughout the book. This was an easy to read, high interest novel. I listened to the audio book on CDs narrated by Tavia Gilbert. The recording and reading was well done and easy to listen to. It was a good weekend novel.

 Find out more about Susan Meissner’s books at her website here. 

 

Book Review| Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

 

Sugar

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

“I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.”

“I know how to swim, but I feel like I’m drowning.”

I loved this young adult novel. I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was drawn into the plot. Sugar’s story resonated with me, and I am glad a friend recommended this novel. 

Sugar is a 17-year-old girl with an eating disorder. Home life is fraught with abuse both mental and physical. Sugar is a good girl. She tries with all her might to please her family, but they are never satisfied. She eats to fill the painful void left by rejection.

Other readers have mentioned that the middle of the novel dragged, but I didn’t notice this. I felt the story moved along at a sufficient pace and it kept my interest throughout. It actually kept me awake when I should have gone to bed!

Sugar was a quick read.  Deirdre Riordan Hall’s storytelling style is somewhat straightforward, but the story line and characters were engaging. I found myself rooting for Sugar.

The novel has a satisfactory ending, although tragedy (more tragedy!) does visit Sugar’s world. All the ends tie up nicely without it being too gooey-happy in the end. This is an empowering read for girls going through difficult times. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was one of hope. This is a story about rejection, how teens value themselves, and about overcoming.

Sugar’s battles tugged at my heart. This is one I categorize as must read for teens and adults simply because the character spoke volumes to me. It is a deceptively simple tale that delves deep. I found it an emotional read that stuck with me after I turned the last page.

With a caution for younger readers about topics covered, I would highly recommend this book for pre-teens, teens, and adults.

Topics:

Obesity, abuse, abandonment, bullying, assault, attempted rape, contains language, death, mentions of Catholic religion, prayers, rituals.

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks ‘Sugar’ and speaking up against bullies

Author’s Website

 

 

Book Review|The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

 

 

“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urgent within us that spurs us to the pursuit.”

Containing ten short chapters, this book by A.W. Tozer is as relevant to believers today as it was when it was written. Practical and easy to read, The Pursuit of God is comforting and admonishing in turn

Tozer does not pull punches when addressing the church.  I was struck by how applicable Tozer’s writing is to the current issues we face in the church and in our individual lives. Whether we agree with all of his philosophy or not, The Pursuit of God is full of dateless advice for seekers.

There is a certain beauty in the straightforwardness  of Tozer’s prose. It is refreshing. Timeless exhortation and instruction rests between these pages. Plain speaking and simple, but at the same time profound, the writing contained in this small volume is well worth the read.

Each of the 10 chapters ends with a prayer.

This small volume is suitable for individual or group study.

An excellent book to write responses in a personal journal.

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect one. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Project Gutenberg has this book, The Pursuit of God, free here.

Click here for a discussion guide for The Pursuit of God.

 

Book Review| A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald

George MacDonald was a poet, author, preacher, and a mentor of Lewis Carroll. He wrote A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul during his later years.

He wrote a poem a day for a year and the book is divided in such a manner. The poems are short. As I read, on occasion I would read ahead to see the conclusion of the days poem.

I thoroughly enjoyed the daily readings. This is a timeless classic and well worth the read.

A friend recommended this book to me and I am glad she did. I will be rereading this one.

You can download a free copy of A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul from many sites. I got mine from Amazon.com here.

To learn more about George MacDonald you can visit The George MacDonald Society’s website here.

 

Netflix Series Review| 13 Reasons Why

I needed a break from the intense emotions stirred up by my current writing project and decided to take a peek at 13 Reasons Why on Netflix to decompress. This did not exactly work out as planned. 13 Reasons Why  stirs the emotions and I found the story hard to put from my mind.

I debated on whether or not to review it since I don’t usually review television series. At least that’s what I told myself. The truth is, I needed time to recover.

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why is based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher. The book has been on my TBR list for a while, but I have not gotten to it.

Clay Jensen, A teenage boy, receives a box containing thirteen tapes. These were recorded by a girl he had a crush on, Hannah. Hannah committed suicide, and on the tapes she gives her reasons why she killed herself, with each tape naming a person. The Netflix series is divided into thirteen episodes.

I appreciate the series because it draws attention to many of the issues teens face on a daily basis. To an extent, it also echoes the typical high school experience all can relate to. The characters are complicated and the story line pulls you along, but I suggest you give yourself time to process. Don’t slate this one as a continual weekend binge. Take a break between episodes.

I strongly recommend that if your teen wants to watch the series, you watch it with them and discuss the issues. The subject matter will take time to process.

You may want to preview this before you let your teen watch.

This series is rated for mature audiences with depictions of sexual assault and rape, suicide, mental illness, cutting, alcohol abuse, and drugs, language, and depression.

My take away from this series was that we should all be kinder to each other. We are our brother’s keeper regardless of how we try to convince ourselves otherwise. While not all will accept out help, we still need to reach out.

Be the one. The one who is kind. The one who helps. The one who notices.

13 Reasons Why brings up tough issues in addition to teen suicide, and there is talk of a second season.

I’ll be watching.

Did you watch? What did you think?

Book Review|God’s Story, Your Story by Max Lucado

 

God’s Story, Your Story by Max Lucado is a short book, written in a down to earth style.

Lucado has a way of cutting through the rhetoric and allowing me to see the familiar through a different lens, like looking through a suddenly clear lens.

“As God’s story becomes yours, closed doors take on a new meaning. You no longer see them as interruptions of your plan but as indications of God’s plan.”

Sometimes I get used to how things look through my dirty eyeglass lenses without being aware of it until something draws attention to the fact. I clean my glasses and, suddenly, see things clearly. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see before. The daily dirt and grime had simply build up a bit by bit and I hadn’t noticed how it dulled my vision. Reading this book was like that for me.

“Your blocked door doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. Quite the opposite. It’s proof that He does.”

Lucado’s anecdotes give fresh meaning to phrases often used. Real life examples helped me understand Biblical truths in a new way. For example, he relates a story of a man who found himself in a situation where he had to actually fly blind. He had suffered a stroke and lost his vision while flying a plane. Unable to see, struck blind, he had to depend on the voice of another.

“Learn to wait, to be silent, to listen for his voice.”

Lucado is a gifted writer and paints vivid pictures to explain Biblical concepts in an easy to understand and personable style.

“Arm yourself with God’s word. Load your pistol with scriptures and keep a finger on the trigger.”

Every chapter gave me something to think about. I read one chapter a day, taking time to write a response in my journal.

There’s much wisdom in God’s Story, Your Story. am encouraged and blessed.

Relevant and applicable.

Recommended for individual or group study.

 

 

 

 

Book Review|Doesn’t She Look Natural by Angela Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t She Look Natural is one of my favorite Angela Hunt books. I first read this novel several years ago, and it was one worth rereading. I am drawn the emotional journey of the main character. Imagine having your husband divorce you, life turned upside down, only to find that an unknown uncle has died and bequeathed his estate to you. Unfortunately, this windfall turns out to be a broken down funeral home. This is now life for Jennifer Graham, former chief of staff for a Virginia senator.

I enjoyed the humor sprinkled throughout this inspirational novel. The characters stuck with me long after I read the book, fairly seeming to come to life in the pages of this story. I felt myself commiserating with her tragedies and, at times, wishing I could speak directly to her to tell her stop dreaming and face her issues head-on. I suppose this is a good sign, a character who seems real!

This is a lady who has issues with her mom, issues with her ex-husband, and issues with her children as well. Yikes. The setting is perfect for telling the story of the death of Jennifer’s former life and her need to build a new one. The story was an enjoyable read, one I am glad I revisited.

There are some odd POV shifts I found difficult to follow at times when I was listening to it on my Kindle, although I do not recall having any issues with that when I read the print book. Perhaps there was some indication of who was speaking in the print book that did not make it into the Kindle formatting.

Doesn’t She Look Natural is also written in present tense, which seemed a bit awkward. Even so, these two small issues were not enough to distract me from the story.

I absolutely love the title. I’m not sure how much that played into me remembering this book so well. I love stories that tell about a woman’s empowerment and emotional journey, especially if they are flavored with humor and told through the eyes of a true to life, relatable character.

This is inspirational fiction and the Christian element is strong throughout. All in all, aa enjoyable and encouraging feel-good read.

I have to mention I love that the main character’s mother is a red hatter and is active in the Red Hat Society.

This book is free for kindle right now on Amazon here.

Subject Matter:

Mentions of divorce, mentions of infidelity, one incident of the main character slapping her son, mentions of death, funerals, death of ex-husband, mother/daughter issues

Doesn’t She Look Natural is the first in the Fairlawn series.

Author Website