The Shack by William P. Young

There have been quite a few people coming into the store asking about this book so I decided to read it to see what the buzz was all about.  It’s a short book, but not necessarily an easy read.  The meat of the book is a series of theological discussions between the main character, Mack, and the members of the holy trinity.

Mack has suffered a horrible personal tragedy and has been trying to cope with the sadness and anger he and his family feels as a result of it.  He returns to the scene of the tragedy in an attempt to make sense of things and finds himself spending a life and heart-changing weekend with God.

I think that what a person takes from this book will depend largely on what their beliefs already are and their own spiritual questions and challenges.    The book tackles issues like forgiveness, judgment, obedience, faith, love and what God wants in terms of his relationships with people.  The discussions can get pretty deep, despite the author’s attempt to keep them simple, and I suspect that the ones that are going to make the most sense to each individual reader are the ones that are the most relevant in their lives.  I can’t really comment on the various discussions I’ve seen online regarding the deviation of traditional interpretation of scripture.  Some people are appaled by it, others find it refreshing.  I thought some of the ideas were interesting, but it’s important to remember that it is just one person’s interpretation.  After finishing the book I felt sort of sad and empty…not exactly what I’d hope to feel after reading a book that is supposed to be inspiring.

While I was reading this book I was reminded of another book I read, not too long ago, titled Joshua by Joseph F. Girzone.  The character Joshua is Jesus living in modern times.  I couldn’t help comparing the two books and I found Joshua to be much easier to understand and digest.  It also seemed to be more universal as a message for people of many beliefs whereas The Shack depends on a certain specific understanding of Christian theology.  Joshua lacks the drama and suspense of The Shack but I still found it more inspiring and motivational, perhaps because Joshua the character was more approachable, less supernatural and shared general messages on how to be a good person.  Such lessons are relevant for everyone, regardless of religious beliefs.

Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game.  In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five…In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered.  You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed.  You can walk a mile.  You can sew a hem.  In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.  In nineteen minutes you can get revenge.”

When this book was recommended to me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read it or not.  The only synopsis I was given was that it was about a school shooting, so I knew it wasn’t going to be one of those “feel-good” books.  But I read it anyway, and I was right…definitely a severe lack of warm fuzzies.  There were other emotions involved in reading it, though — frustration, anger, some blinking back of tears — and for that reason I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed the book, although I do feel comfortable saying that it’s a good book.

If there’s a message to be taken from Nineteen Minutes, I think it’s that in tragedies of this nature, the net of blame is far-cast.  In varying degrees the parents, friends, teachers and fellow students of the shooter have a hand in his disfunction.  The characters in this book spend a lot of time blaming themselves and each other and I think Picoult hopes to make people aware of the effects that their actions have on others.  In a way the book is a big ol’ BE NICE TO EACH OTHER lesson.  It’s unfortunate that the subject matter is so relevant, but this may be a book that is important for both teenagers and adults to read and talk about.

I was unfamiliar with Jodi Picoult before reading this novel, and in terms of her writing, I think this was possibly the most seamless book I’ve ever read.  This is remarkable because the book follows about ten different characters simultaneously during a time period that spans eighteen years, and which is not presented chronologically.  Sound confusing?  I know, you’d think it would be, but somehow it flows very easily.  I never felt like I was at a good point to put the book down.  For this reason I think I’ll have to look up another of her novels…maybe she’s got one about sunshine and flowers.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Inheritance Cycle: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Ayup, the Inheritance Trilogy has become the Inheritance Cycle…Christopher Paolini decided to split Brisingr into two separate volumes!  You can see him talk about it here :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuI3psxQ-cc

Book 3, Brisingr, will be available for purchase on September 20, 2008.  Remarkably, Paolini wrote most of Eragon when he was just fifteen years old.  The book was published when he was only nineteen and the second volume was written and published just a couple years later.  As one might expect, Eragon occasionally belies the author’s youth by utilizing a handful of “high fantasy” cliches.  (Of course, my criticism is served with a heavy dallop of both humility and sheepishness, having yet to write my own multi-volume fantasy epic….)  The story, however, transcends any writing immaturity and by the middle of Eragon, I was hooked.  As a follow-up, Eldest continues the engrossing storyline and Paolini’s writing is as good or better than his fantasy genre’s peers.

The series tells the story of Eragon, a farmer boy who lives with his uncle and cousin outside of the small village Carvahall.  The violent and treacherous King Galbatorix rules the Empire with an oppresive iron fist.  The Varden, a secretive rebel group are gathering strength to make their move against the King.  During this time of political unrest Eragon finds a mysterious stone while hunting in the nearby mountains.  Realizing that it is something special, he takes it home where he quickly realizes the stone is actually a dragon egg as the baby dragon hatches and bonds with Eragon, making him the first new Dragon Rider in many years.  This surprising twist of fate forces Eragon to flee from Carvahall as the King’s agents come looking for him.  Under the tutelage of wise and secretive Brom and the protection of his dragon, Saphira, Eragon soon realizes that he is destined for a path that he never could have imagined, influenced by elves, dwarves, heroes, magic and werecats (had to mention the werecats, they’re my favorite).

The books in the Inheritance Cycle are rich with the history and culture of Paolini’s realm, Alagaesia, but not burdensome, making it a great series for both young readers and veteran fantasy lovers alike.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls

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 Okay, these books are just plain FUN (for boys and girls of all ages).

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden was published in the UK in June 2006 and was an immediate success.  It is a guidebook covering about 80 topics including making a go-cart, basic first aid, making secret inks, coin tricks and how to play chess.  Also included are famous quotes, battles, sports statistics and answers to basic science questions that every boy should know.

Not long after, Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz wrote a similar volume for girls entitled The Daring Book for Girls.  The girls’ version includes instructions on friendship bracelets, making a willow whistle, how to paddle a canoe and negotiating a salary.  It also includes information about influential females throughout history and addresses basic math, science and grammar questions.

Some reviewers have criticized these books for encouraging dangerous activities (for example, there’s a section devoted to hunting and cooking a rabbit in the boys’ book and instructions on making a lemon-powered clock in the girls’ book) but others praise them for countering the “Playstation Culture.”  Grown-up boys and girls will enjoy these books just as much as the younger ones by reminding them of things from their own childhoods.  They are pretty good refreshers on grammar and history, too.

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

In the late 1800s, Gemma Doyle is a 16 year old English girl who has lived with her family in India all her life. She longs to go to school near London where she can participate in the glamour and revelry associated with her coming of age in society. Although her parents have always insisted in keeping Gemma away from London culture, a terrible twist of fate finds Gemma enrolled in Spence Acadamy, an English school for girls.

As Gemma settles in and begins making friends, she discovers there is a secret history to Spence involving a mystical and powerful Order of women. Gemma also soon realizes that she has powers of her own which she cannot completely control. Gemma struggles to understand them and to uncover the mysteries of the past involving Spence, the Order and her mother.

The story in the Gemma Doyle trilogy is imaginative and captivating, but what I really enjoyed, and what I feel the real strength of these books are, is the detail in which the author, Libba Bray, illustrates Victorian London society and the role women play within it. The second book especially, which takes place during Christmastime in London, is so rich with Victorian culture that it’s easy to get swept up into the thrill of holiday balls, shopping, teas, hopeful debutantes and courting propriety. Woven throughout is Bray’s macabre mystery, a dollop of romance and a strong feminist message: Gemma struggles with the societal expectation that she fashion herself into a suitable wife as well as the pull of the independent, dangerous nature of the women of the Order.

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing