Fiction · Julia P · Quick Read! · Relationships · Young Adult

Counting by 7s | by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
(Dial, 2013, 384 pages)

I loved this book for so many reasons – I wouldn’t even no where to begin. Counting by 7s follows 12-year-old Willow Chance as she starts at her new middle school. Willow is adopted and she’s… unique. Her parents have adapted to their daughter and her interests because, truth be told, Willow is something of a genius. She has her quirks, but they suit her and they serve their purpose.

Willow manages to acquire some new people in her life as she finds her world taking an unexpected turn. These are people with their own struggles but who who want only the best for her, and she for them. Told from a variety of points of view we see the clarity through which Willow views her own life. We meet her first real (and best) friend, Mai (who Willow quickly learns Vietnamese to talk to); Quang-ho, Mai’s brother who treats Willow the way any older brother would; Pattie, Mai’s mom and nail salon owner; Dell, Willow’s guidance counselor who has a number of internal struggles he’s gradually trying to figure out; and Jairo, a taxi driver whose life Willow manages to change in ways he never could have expected. All these characters have some impact on each other and Willow, and it was a pleasure to read the way this whole story played out.

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Andrew S · Essays · Non-Fiction

When I Was a Child I Read Books | by Marilynne Robinson

When I Was a Child I Read Books

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, 224 pages)

In the title essay of this collection, Robinson reflects on the culture of the western United States, the way that it shaped her childhood, and subsequently, her fiction. She believes that in the west, “lonesome is a word with strongly positive connotations” (88). This theme is carried throughout the collection as Robinson meditates on the elusive distinctiveness of human nature and the inherent value and mystery of each individual who bears this nature. Paradoxically, the majority of these essays deal with the question of what makes a good society. Robinson does a remarkable job of showing how the two concerns are interwoven.

In “Imagination and Community,” Robinson argues that the imaginative skills needed to write good fiction are some of the same skills needed for the proper functioning of a democratic state. Her definition of democracy is well worth quoting: “Democracy, in its essence and genius, is imaginative love for and identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement” (280). “Austerity as Ideology” bemoans a current political and economic trend of reducing human beings to purely rational consumers at the expense of funding for education and other endeavors which speak to the depths of the human experience. Following one of her favorite approaches to contemporary cultural issues, Robinson reexamines old and, to her mind, misread texts in order to mine traditional wisdom to address current problems. In this volume it is Moses, the Old Testament, and the laws that make up much of the Torah which she looks to, upending the modern view of these texts as violent, severe, and outdated in order to demonstrate that they exhibit a vision of a society that requires generous provisions for the poor, the alien, and the disadvantaged.

Each one of these essays is both challenging and beautiful as Robinson brings her learned perspective to religious, political, scientific, and cultural questions. She has a knack for combining particular and detailed historical sketches, metaphysical and poetic meditations, and personal experiences to form trenchant critiques of contemporary culture. However, in shaping these criticisms, she also manages to convey a sense of the beauty and mystery of the world we live in and the collective human capacity to navigate it so remarkably and yet so fallibly.

This collection will be of particular interest to those who have read and appreciated Robinson’s fiction. It grants the opportunity to see how the concerns and themes of a novelist are honed and shaped. However, even those who haven’t read Housekeeping, Gilead, or Home will appreciate these essays, so long as they bring an interest in the big questions of what it means to live well as both individuals and as a society.

Fiction · Julia P · Quick Read! · Relationships · Romance

Nowhere but Home | by Liza Palmer

Nowhere but Home

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer
(William Morrow Paperbacks, 2013, 384 pages)

Queen Elizabeth Wake, who goes by “Queenie” for obvious reasons, has just been fired from her most recent job as a chef at a New York hotel restaurant. She has worked all over the U.S. but this recent firing caught her off-guard. Unsure where to go she calls her older sister and decides it might be worthwhile for her to take a pit-stop in her hometown of North Star, Texas. She hasn’t been there in more than ten years and while she’s excited to see her sister and nephew, she’s not looking forward to going back to a world where her family is viewed as trash.

Queenie’s mother had something of a reputation for being the town slut. Unfortunately that reputation was passed on to her kids, so no matter what they did or how hard they tried to be accepted in their small town, the stigma remained. Because of this Queenie was never allowed to openly date her true love, Everett, because he came from one of the wealthiest families in town. She had to watch him marry someone else, despite knowing she was the one he loved. Now that she’s back Queenie is trying to figure out what she wants to get out of life. While she’s thinking her friend’s husband gets her a job at the local prison cooking last meals for the prisoners about to be executed. This is obviously a difficult thing to do and while Queenie at first enjoys the opportunity to make something amazing to send these prisoners “on their way” she soon gets in her head and has a hard time thinking about the people she’s cooking for and knowing it will be their last meal on this earth.

This is a book about second chances and coming out of someone else’s shadow to shine on your own. This was a quick, enjoyable read. I’m glad I picked it up on a whim at the library.

Fiction · Jean R · Mystery · Quick Read!

Found | by H. Terrell Griffin

Found

Found: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin
(Oceanview Publishing, 2013, 325 pages)

Found: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin is a complicated novel about the seemingly unrelated cases of a murder of an older man and the possible murder of a younger woman. Detective J. D. Duncan of the Longboat Key (Florida) Police Department is assigned to solve the murder of the older man. J. D.’s college friend is the younger woman who is presumed dead. Matt Royal is a retired lawyer and J. D.’s “sweetie” who helps her with her cases.

Found’s plot has quite a few twists for a novel of less than 350 pages. The plot weaves in these elements: a U-boat sinking in 1942, drug deals, money laundering, a German document, several murders, and long lost relatives. All of those elements are set in and around the small Florida town of Longboat Key where Matt Royal lives.

Found is the eighth novel in the Matt Royal series. It is the first Matt Royal mystery that I’ve read. I didn’t feel like I needed to read any of the other Matt Royal mysteries to understand what was going on in this novel. Found is a fast read. While I normally like complicated plots, this novel left me feeling like it was just okay. Maybe there was just one too many twists for me.

Fiction · Quick Read! · Relationships · Sadie J

Sam’s Letters to Jennifer | by James Patterson

Sam's Letters to Jennifer

Sam’s Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson
(Little, Brown and Company, 2004, 336 pages)

Jennifer has had a tough couple of years since losing her husband Danny and her main supporter is her grandmother, Sam. So Jennifer is devastated when she learns that Sam fell in her home and has slipped into a coma. Jennifer immediately packs a bag so she can be by her grandmother’s side. When Jennifer arrives at Sam’s house, she finds stacks of letters addressed to Jennifer explaining that Sam has decided to tell Jennifer her story the best way she could. Jennifer begins to read the letters slowly as she waits for Sam to come out of her coma. Jennifer is also surprised to reconnect with a childhood friend, Brendon, who’s summer mantra is to live each day to the fullest and starts to bring Jennifer along for the ride.

I thought this was a sweet book that could probably be read in a day. The chapters move fast between present day and Sam telling Jennifer her story. I thought the themes were well represented which were to tell your story to the next generation and to never give up on your relationships. That being said, it was a tad cheesy for me and it was the dialogue that sent me over the edge. It really kills me when character’s dialogue just doesn’t seem genuine or remotely believable. But the story was light and easy to read.

Fiction · Sadie J

Visitation Street | by Ivy Pchoda

Visitation Street

Visitation Street by Ivy Pchoda
(Dennis Lehane Books/Ecco, 2013, 320 pages)

Val and June are just looking for some adventure in Red Hook when they decide to take a float on the bay with their bright pink raft. The next morning, Jonathan, a teacher at the girls’ school, finds Val unconscious underneath a dock but June is nowhere to be found. The police start to suspect Cree, who is one of the few boys left in Red Hook to ever be shook down, as Cree visits the bay often to sit on his father’s boat who was murdered when Cree was younger. Cree is helped by the mysterious Ren who won’t mention much about his past only that he wants to help Cree. June’s disappearance from the bay is mysterious but even more so by how if effects the people of Red Hook she didn’t even know.

I was excited to pick this book up as I’ve heard a lot of hype about it but I was a little disappointed. I think I was expecting more of a mystery novel with some action in it but the novel instead explored the unknown links between people in a single town. If I had started reading it from that point of view, I don’t think I would have been turning each page waiting for the excitement. My favorite character was Ren. He was so mysterious, yet people blindly trusted him. I thought that was an interesting theme that could have been explored more. Also I found it hard to sympathize with Val and June, especially seeing their attitude to each other before they went floating. As a reader, I could see June becoming bored with Val’s friendship and Val seemed to thrive by putting herself in dangerous situations.

Andrew S · Fiction · Juvenile · Religion

Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life | by Peter J. Leithart

Wise Words

Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life by Peter J. Leithart
(Canon Press, 2003, 134 pages)

These modern fairy tales are written in the tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales, and each story illustrates a passage from the biblical book of Proverbs. The stories are loaded with traditional fairy tale characters and themes. Some show the trials and triumphs of good characters while some are darker, chronicling the demise of bad characters. To my mind, Leithart strikes just the right balance between happy endings and slightly grisly elements in order to keep kids interested. My daughter loved these stories, and since they each take about five to ten minutes to read aloud they are good bedtime reading.

Leithart is a theologian whose scholarly work covers a range of disciplines, including the convergence of literature and theology. This book makes for an interesting example of how theological concerns can inform the structure and message of children’s literature. Some of the stories suffer from morals which override the narrative – in these instances, the point being made by the story becomes more important than the story itself, and the result is that the story can become unnecessarily complex. For the most part, however, the stories move crisply and keep the reader eager to see what comes next.