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| 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.

 

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 

Book Review| The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Book Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife

by Diane Ackerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman  is a high interest nonfiction account of the German invasion of Warsaw told from the perspective of Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. Diane Ackerman skillfully weaves together historical events of both horror and beauty.

The Zabinski’s, Active in the Polish underground, used the zoo as an unusual hiding place while attempting to carry on with the care of the animals, operating of the facilities as usual, and raising their children. Tales of the animals and the day to day operation of the zoo during this occupation break up the recounting of the people and their struggle to survive. Ackerman depicts the life and people of the Warsaw ghetto, giving us a glimpse into the terrible history.

A vast number of people passed through the zoo, and this book is brimming with anecdotes, bringing to life the characters. The narrative is full of interesting details on how people avoided detection and the extraordinary lengths and methods taken.

Ackerman delves into the history of the German mindset and recounted some of the experiments carried out by the Nazis. This retelling of history is not as graphic as others I have read, but the ideology exposed chills the soul.

The ZooKeeper’s Wife is a story of compassion and daring, and a story of real lives saved and lost. I would classify this as a necessary history, an exposition of humanity both good and evil. Well worth the read.

I listened to the audiobook on CDs. The book seemed to have a slow start, but the narrative garnered more of my interest as I listened.

Highly recommended.

Winner of the 2008 Orion Award

Lit Lover’s Reading Guide for The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author Website

Visit The National WWII Museum online here to listen to more first hand accounts of WWII.

Book Review|White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America

White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America

by Nancy Isenberg

white-trash

 

All of our lives, as Americans, we have been told we live in the land of opportunity. If you work hard, magically the kingdom of the land of endless opportunities will open to you.

Nancy Isenberg challenges that belief by examining the roots of the American class system to discover why the American dream has been unattainable for many citizens.

Far from being a classless society, America is plagued by class divisions. Why is that? Isenberg answers at least some of those questions. White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America attempts to address the issues spawned by a class system set in place at the beginning of our nation with the American British colonies. This is a daunting task but Isenberg does a fair job of bringing the topic of America’s  marginalized underclass to our attention.

Tracing how our American societal hierarchy influences a myriad of attitudes and beliefs,  Eisenberg examines the consequences on racism, class structure, poverty, politics, and entertainment. Viewing these topics through the lens of the largely ignored class structure firmly entrenched in American society may challenge what you think you know.

This is not a dry textbook approach, and packs a lot of history into a small package. It is far from boring. When I finished reading this book I wanted to talk about it. I would like to read more books on these issues to get more perspectives and interpretations of American class structure and the struggle to achieve equality.

I would recommend this book for everyone.

If you are interested in American history, class structure, politics, social history, or race relations. You may want to read this book.

White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America

is a book about class divisions, containing terminology and references to incidents in our history many would rather forget, including but not limited to, racial tensions, mistreatment of the poor, political scandals, social injustice, and the like.

C-Span Q&A with Nancy Isenberg White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America 

Nancy Isenberg’s Website

 

Book Review|Switched On by John Elder Robison

 

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Book Review of Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison

In a quest for emotional intelligence, John Elder Robison agreed to allow neuroscientists to experiment on his brain. In this memoir that reminds one of Flowers for Algernon, Robison tells us about his experience with TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and the resulting effects on his emotions and life.

Imagine your world being turned upside down by a sudden awareness that things are not at all the way you thought they were. Scales drop from your eyes. You connect with people in a way you never have before. Things are different, sharper. But there is a caveat. You  see that sometimes ‘friends’ are most definitely not friends at all. Childhood memories are now viewed with disturbing clarity. The gift you so sought after, to become more perceptive, is now yours but the beauty so desired and expected isn’t the only thing this new found ability to see emotion reveals.

I was moved by Switched On in a way no other memoir has touched me. This is truly a unique experience that Robison has shared.

After the reception his book, Look Me In the Eye, John Elder Robison was approached to participate in a research study. Scientists wanted to measure the plasticity of the brain, in other words, how the brain can adapt, change, and ‘rewire’ itself. They also sought results about cognitive therapies and how that might affect the brain. The idea was to see if TMS could be used to effect the difficulties autistic people have reading the emotions and nonverbal communication of others.

People on the autism spectrum are not unemotional or uncaring. They do have difficulty reading people, understanding, and responding in the expected way to situations. This is something that people are expected to come by naturally, but this skill seems particularly elusive to people on the spectrum.

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change, chronicles the unexpected and far reaching results of this research study. Robison underwent moments of amazing emotional awakening and others of devastation as a result of the sudden onslaught of awareness.

This memoir leaves us with more questions than answers about the future of TMS for therapeutic uses. Delving into this area of research raises a multitude of ethical questions.

“The thing is, not all differences lead to disability. Some lead to exceptionality. And we don’t necessarily know enough to tell one from the other. Yet we are on the verge of acting on that incomplete knowledge right now in the area of autism.”

Switched On left me feeling conflicted. It offers hope for future understanding and therapies, but is, in part, a cautionary tale. We would do well to take heed. At the same time, there were tremendous gains for Robison. This book has given me a deeper understanding of why someone might be willing to try these kinds of treatments.

I like Robison’s writing style. I find his books to be easy to read and entertaining, while at the same time providing information. In this particular book he does tend to stray into areas that are a bit technical for me, but his down-to-earth style kept me engaged with the story throughout. This book was a fascinating read and I finished it quickly.

I recommend this book for anyone curious about TMS, autism, or for anyone interested in a good memoir.

I also suggest Robison’s first book, Look Me in The Eye, or another of his books, Be Different, both of which I found to be very encouraging and informative. This recent book is a bit different than the two I have previously read since it deals with medical research, but Robison’s engaging story telling style remains. In Switched On Robison has given readers the opportunity to gain further insights into his autistic journey.

Listen as John Elder Robison talks about his experience on NPR “Here and Now.”

Read my review of John Elder Robinson’s memoir Look Me in the Eye here.