Thursday, April 28, 2011

Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real
by Todd Burpo

This is a very quick read telling the story of an (almost) four year old boy's journey to Heaven and what he experienced there. It's told through his father's eyes as the details of his experience are revealed bit by bit in a childlike way. Of course it's a childlike way, it's the experience of a child.

To me the story was at once hopeful, exciting and disturbing. While I ask myself, how can I doubt the experience of one so young and innocent, and to know that Heaven does exist, it also causes me to question my own beliefs of the afterlife and what I should expect when the time comes.

If you have an interest in this type of story, I urge you to read this book. It only takes a day or two and you can decide for yourself what is real.

I give this book three of five shots. It's not a bad read, but in some odd way I was expecting something a little more earth shattering. I'd love to hear what others have thought.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Same Kind of Different as Me

Same Kind of Different as Me
By Ron Hall and Denver Moore

*This is my previous review from Visual Bookshelf

This book is wonderful. I picked it up shortly after it was published when I was working at B&N. I noticed it in the biography section and was drawn to it from the first time I saw it. Interestingly, when I finished the book this evening I noticed the back cover listed the genre as religion/spirituality, not the "simple" biography I expected to read.

The authors of the book are two men from very different American cultures. They tell the stories of their lives, chapter by chapter in their own voices, and how their relationship came to be, including Ron Hall's wife's major role in the tale. Indeed the story revolves around her faith, not only in God, but in people no matter who they are or where they come from. The story is full of Christian faith, yet is not preachy. It's presented simply as part of who these people are.

I would recommend this book to everyone whether you have God in your life or not, whether you are Christian or of another faith. The story is incredibly powerful and shares a message for all people whether they share the authors' perspective of God or not. Prepare to be amazed at what you can find when you ignore the obvious and look to the being within.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

*This is my review posted previously on Visual Bookshelf

This book was totally an enjoyable read for me. I owned it for a long time before I actually got around to reading it and now I wonder why I waited so long. It might be because I had a preconceived idea of what a "time traveler" would be.

Henry isn't a futuristic alien type being journeying from future to present to past to save lives and change history, but simply a very average person who unavoidably vanishes out of his present into the past or future, usually of his own life. His appearance in unknown places at unknown times is very inconvenient and dangerous for him, as only his body makes the journey, not his clothes. Finding himself unexpectedly naked in the past or future requires him to become a thief of clothing, develop the ability to break into (or out of) any home or location he may land.

The story is told in Henry's voice and the voice of his wife, Clare. It's a story about their meeting and their love for each other in the past, present & future. Both characters have experiences in his/her life that the other has not lived yet. It's a very intriguing story, well told and compelling.

Addendum: If you have seen the movie and not read the book, I urge you to read the book which fills in so much information and detail. It answers so many questions that were not answered in the movie. Once again, the book is so much better!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

*Note: I read this book quite some time ago and reviewed it on a book site. This is my review from that time. I wanted to add it to this blog since this is where I do all my book reviews now.

I love this book! I wasn't so sure I would like it and only picked it up because a cross country friend said she was reading it and said I should too. It's written letter style as correspondences between characters. That is the part I thought I might find tedious, but did not. My only criticism would be that although the personalities of the characters was established nicely through the letters, their voices were not. All the letters were too well written, not as variable as each character's individual voice would be.

The era is 1946 post WWII. The story revolves around an author looking for a book to write. By chance a man on Guernsey Island off Great Britain contacts her by finding her name inscribed in a book she no longer owns. She begins corresponding with him and the members of his book club and eventually moves to the island to research the story she wants to write.

There is no huge plot cliffhanger but rather a tender story of how WWII touched the lives of the inhabitants of the island and how they survived it. I found it hard to put down. Recommend!!

Addendum. This was Mary Ann Shaffer's first novel and sadly she died in 2008 just before it's publication. I would so have loved to read what other stories she had inside.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper
by Sarah Addison Allen

I believe this is the 4th book by author Sarah Addison Allen. She is one of my favorite "fluff" writers. Her books are are fun and easy to read "feel good" novels. I always enjoy the characters she creates and their lives in North Carolina. There is always someone or something in the story that is enchanted or has some sort of small magical powers, which is why I look forward to her books so much. In this story the magic is more a part of the past and alluded to instead of being a bigger part of the story. I did enjoy that she brought a character from her first book into the story in a small role. Of course it makes me want to go back and re-read her first novel. Since they are very quick reads, I may just do that.

Ms. Allen definitely has a formula she follows, but her reinvention of the story each time keeps me coming back for more.

Willa was raised in a small town and always felt less than equal to her classmates. Her family was one of the founding families of the town as lumber barons of the time. But when the forest was designated a national forest and logging was banned, her family lost their fortune. Although her grandmother was just a teen when this happened, Willa felt that her family was looked upon with pity or disdain. After leaving for college and then returning, she finds her own place in the town and settles down to a quiet life that she believes she was meant to live, keeping pretty much to herself.

The opposite end of the social spectrum is Paxton who has always been one of the rich and popular girls, who's family also went back several generations. She is president of the Ladies Society which her grandmother and Willa's grandmother founded in their late teens with four other local girls. Currently, Paxton is planning a 75th Anniversary Gala for the club to be held in the "Madam" the mansion originally owned and then abandoned for taxes due by Willa's family. Paxton's family has restored the mansion as a hotel/restaurant.

Along with Paxton and Willa, the story includes Paxton's twin brother Colin, who prefers to return to the town only on very short trips and Sebastian, another past classmate who recently returned to the town to replace the dentist who had retired.

Through the events of the story, the re-opening of the Madam, the planning of the gala, a mysterious skull being dug up and more, these characters examine who they were and who they thought they were in high school and who they have become since. The plot is totally predictable, but the story is fun and emotionally satisfying.

Five shots of five, but only if you are not looking for a story of great substance and import. This is for fun and fantasy only!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

by Diana Gabaldon

Like Oh-So-Many books this is one I have had in my possession for a couple of years and just recently brought out to read, encouraged by many friends who are big fans of this series. Working at Barnes & Noble I had shelved this and the others in the series often and took customers to the shelf where they waited for adoption often. Based on the amount of traffic to that particular spot, I finally decided it was a series I needed to give a try. So I bought book one and promptly put it away.

If you've ever seen these books you would understand how daunting they appear. 600+ pages of one story takes a bit of contemplation before tackling. I had contemplated long enough.

This story starts just after WWII in Scotland with Claire and her husband, Frank. They are an English couple that have been separated during the war and are now on a second honeymoon in Scotland. One day, while exploring a stone henge type monument on her own, Claire steps through time back to 1743 Scotland and immediately finds herself in dangerous times among people who distrust her, not knowing where she came from or why she is there. She finally comes to realize that she is no longer in 1945, but 200 years in the past.

Carried off to Castle Leoch of the clan McKenzie she is constantly alert for any opportunity to find her way back to the stones she believes will transport her back to 1945. All the while she is trying to fit in and be accepted by this clan and be as unobtrusive as possible. Her career as a combat nurse in WWII gives her skills and knowledge valuable to her present situation and aids in her acceptance by the clan.

Jamie Fraser is the young warrior and wanted fugitive that rescued Claire from the English when she first arrived in 1743 and carried her off to Castle Leoch. A mutual respect and attraction develops as Claire cares for his recently wounded shoulder and nurses him back to health. Eventually, Jamie & Claire must marry for "political" reasons and to ensure her safety from the English by showing her allegiance to the Scots.

Gabaldon creates a story of historical fiction taking the reader into the Scottish Highlands among the lairds who rule the land and the tenants on those lands. We are invited to live in a hard and often brutal world where Jamie is on guard against being recognized and captured by the English Watch and Claire is seeking a way back to her world in 1945. The twists and turns of the story kept me on my toes with surprises and often painful events. Jamie and Claire are well developed and very real. They fight, argue, make up and care for each other in an honest way and we get to know them intimately as they share their own experiences with each other.

Although time travel is important to the story, it's not hugely prevalent in the story beyond the initial travel to the past. Where it does resurface leaves me with questions and causes me to consider what time travel would mean or involve, as it's not well defined in nature within the parameters of this book. I had to question what affect Claire might have on her 1945 life as a result of her actions in 1743. Or does Claire's presence in 1743 have no real impact because maybe she had already impacted the future that she lives in by already having traveled back in time? So many questions. I look forward to the next book as perhaps it may have some answers.

I give this book 5 shots!

Rainwater, by Sandra Brown

by Sandra Brown

Ella is a young single mother with a ten year old autistic boy. She runs a boarding house in depression era Texas, the time of the dust bowl. Her boarders are two elderly sisters and a traveling salesman. She has one room recently vacated.

The town doctor brings by a relative, a man named David Rainwater in the hopes that Ella will rent him the vacant room. Rainwater is terminally ill and won't live long. Although hesitant, Ella is persuaded to allow the man to move in immediately the following day.

The times are hard and made even more difficult by a government program enforced by a *deputy* who is the town bully. When Rainwater moves in he comes to know the hardships of the local people and in his quiet way supports their struggles against their circumstances.

And thus the stage is set.

The story of Rainwater's presence in his landlady's house and the town is tender and hopeful. The events that take place are at once horrible and unexpected. The ending is sad as we know it must be from the start, but it's a good and satisfying ending, nevertheless. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it's characters which were easy to love or hate. I don't think this book is Sandra Brown's "normal" style of writing, but I will definitely seek out another of her books in the future.

You can see a short interview with the author here. (Scroll down the page to the "Barnes & Noble Studio")

My rating is 5 of 5 shots.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd

One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd
by Jim Fergus

This book is historical fiction about the life of Little Wolf, a famous chief of the Cheyenne tribe. Little Wolf traveled to Washington DC to be presented with a peace medal by Ulysses S Grant. In this tale, he suggested to the president that the United States Government give one thousand white women as brides to the Cheyenne people to help assimilate the Cheyennes into the white man's culture. The children of these unions would be raised by the Cheyennes and they believed those children would be accepted in both white & Indian worlds.

Of course the president was aghast and the tribe quickly escorted out of town. But as word of the Chief's suggestion spread, a certain faction of women made it known they were willing to become the wives of these "savage" Indians and thus an agreement was made. Women were "recruited" from insane asylums, prisons, ghettos, etc. The first 100 women were selected and set on a train to the west. Among these women was May Dodd, who's journals are the basis of the book.

I googled Chief Little Wolf to try to determine whether the proposition made to President Grant was factual. I was not able to confirm that part of the story as true, but much of the story built around him, with the exception of the white women that joined his tribe is factual. I applaud Mr. Fergus in his research and the tale he spun around it.

At the onset of the book the story is brought to us by a present day descendant of May Dodd. Very quickly into the story I lost track of what was real and what was fiction and had to revisit some of what I had already read to determine if the author was talking or if his characters were talking. I found his voice in the story to be very believable, his story well written.

Not to be nit-picky, but once the story became the writings from the journals of May Dodd, the writing was a little less believable. A journal, by necessity, has to be looking back on events that just happened and at times it seemed very unlikely that she could be writing about the events that had happened as she did. Aside from that, I found her journals to be a fascinating account of her life as she looked forward to her new freedom from the asylum she'd been locked away in, toward her new life among the savages. She was an intelligent woman and although the prospect of living with the Indians, marrying into the tribe, became more and more frightening the closer she came to that reality, her assimilation into the tribe was recounted with a great appreciation for the people she came to know intimately.

I completely enjoyed this story. The ending was sad in many ways, but in researching Chief Little Wolf, it's true to his story as chief of the Cheyenne, and the story of the American Indians. I understand more than ever the tragedy of what early Americans did to the native people of this country.

I give this book five of five shots.