Andrew S · Biography · Essays · Literature · Memoir · Non-Fiction · Religion

C.S. Lewis and His Circle | edited by Roger White, Judith Wolfe, and Brendan N. Wolfe

C.S. Lewis and His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society
edited by Roger White, Judith Wolfe, and Brendan N. Wolfe
(Oxford University Press, 2015, 288 pages)

Andrew, our resident C.S. Lewis expert, has posted another review! You can check it out at the Englewood Review of Books.

Fiction · Food! · Heather D · In the Library · Relationships

The Glass Kitchen | by Linda Francis Lee

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 375 pages)

The Glass Kitchen is the story of a gal named Portia Cuthcart. Portia and her sisters were raised by their grandmother in Texas after the death of their parents. Her grandmother owned a restaurant called The Glass Kitchen and Portia helped her run it. Portia was always fascinated by the fact that her grandmother would always come up with a different and very elaborate menu every day and inevitably it would suit the needs of her customers. Her grandmother called this magical gift “the knowing” and as it turns out, the gift has been passed down to Portia.

Portia never intended to leave Texas or The Glass Kitchen, but after the death of her grandmother and a failed marriage she is led to New York to be closer to her sisters and to forget about cooking. As she is trying to put the pieces of her life back together and keep cooking out of it, “the knowing” is trying very hard to make its way back into her life.

Linda Francis Lee did a wonderful job with this story. It is sweet, magical, and quirky with lovable characters and so much sensational food! This would be a good choice for foodies who love a story about engaging romance, friendship, and power of family.

Fiction · In the Library · Julia P · Quick Read!

Luckiest Girl Alive | by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
(Simon & Schuster, 2015, 341 pages)

I’m not sure I would have picked up Luckiest Girl Alive if it wasn’t the selection for one of my book clubs. This title is regularly compared to Gone Girl because there are a few similarities: the unlikable protagonist and the overall dark tone of the book. There are some pretty dark/disturbing scenes in the book, one of those being the gang rape of a high school freshman. I won’t give any further information because I was definitely surprised at the direction the book took (you’re not clued into it in the book synopsis at all).

Ani FaNelli works at a Cosmopolitan-style magazine in Manhattan. She is engaged to a handsome man from old money and she is “this close” to having the life she has been striving for since high school. Ani has something of a dark past. After graduating from high school she made the effort to reinvent herself, changing her name and painstakingly transforming herself into someone who seems, in every way, to have come from a high society background. Now Ani is in the position where she is about to revisit an aspect of her past in a high-profile way on her own terms. It’s something she needs to do, even though her fiancé disagrees.

The book flashes back and forth between the present and Ani’s past as a high schooler. The reader only gradually gets clued into what has made Ani into the woman she is today. She’s cold and calculating and it’s only over time that the reader starts to see why.

Knoll does a really good job portraying Ani as snarky and unlikable woman. She’s very much like Gillian Flynn in that way. If you’re looking for an escapist-type of read, this will do it for you because you’ll want to find out what really happened to Ani as a teenager. This much-hyped book surprisingly delivered as far as keeping me on my toes.

Andrew S · Memoir · Non-Fiction · Race

Between the World and Me | by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Spiegel & Grau, 2015, 152 pages)

Reading Between the World and Me feels a bit like eavesdropping. The book is written as an open letter from Coates to his son. It frankly discusses some of the most important issues in American culture in an intensely personal way. By design, it is a communication that we as readers are listening in on. It is a memoir and a report on black life in America that is shot through with anger, wisdom, and warning.

Coates’ overriding message to his son is this: “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage” (103). He illustrates this startling claim by rehearsing the country’s history of slavery, racial prejudice, and violence. More strikingly though, Coates explains how bodily danger has defined his life. From the cautions he had to take walking the streets of his childhood in Baltimore, to the interactions with police that always seem a mere moment from disaster, Coates offers a powerful account of his own experience to support his alarming claims. This is one of the major strengths of the book – it disabuses us of the illusion that we can escape the influence, the stain, of our national sins.

One of Coates’ formative experiences was his time at Howard University, which he calls “The Mecca.” It was there that he became aware just how flexible the term “black” actually is. He realized “that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself” (43). This revelation came through his interaction with other students and through his reading. The description of his college experience, and specifically the library, was my favorite part of the book. As he puts it, “The pursuit of knowledge was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom” (48). This impulse to declare his own curiosities has continued to characterize Coates in his career as a journalist.

The comparisons that have been made between Coates’ book and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, are appropriate. Both men write with eloquent anger, and both use a mastery of words to make vivid the crises of our nation. Baldwin, however, has a degree of self-criticism that Coates seems to lack. As fervent as he gets about the specific racial injustices that have defined America, Baldwin is always aware of the destructive turn that justified anger can easily take. I don’t see quite the same recognition in Coates. Baldwin ends his book with a prophetic warning. If the nation does not put right the systematic wrongs of racial injustice, the fire of judgement will eventually come. Coates ends in resignation. His warning is delivered – as the book was begun – to his son. In a nation where the “American Dream” has often been so destructive, he encourages his son to “Struggle for wisdom… But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion” (151).

Fiction · Jean R · Young Adult

Kingdom Keepers: The Return: Book 1: Disney Lands | by Ridley Pearson

Kingdom Keepers: The Return: Book 1: Disney Lands by Ridley Pearson
(Disney-Hyperion, 2015, 352 pages)

Disney Lands by Ridley Pearson is the first book in the new Kingdom Keepers: The Return series. The Kingdom Keepers are a group of five recent high school graduates who worked as holographs for the Disney Parks. In the final book of the original Kingdom Keeper series, the five friends defeat the Disney villains. However, Finn (the leader of the group) insists that their job is not done. There is one more mission to be accomplished. The Kingdom Keepers must find Walt’s pen and return it to its original location. Finn must convince the others to join him in this new adventure which involves time travel and learning something about the history of the Disney Parks.

The epilogue of the final book of the original seven book Kingdom Keepers series suggested that the Kingdom Keeper’s adventures were not over. The second book in this new series entitled Legacy of Secrets is due out April 2016. Since Disney Lands leaves the Kingdom Keepers in the midst of their adventure, I plan on reading the next book.

In this new series, Pearson keeps the tradition that he started in the last series. He has individuals contribute paragraphs to his books. In the last book, I found it distracting. In this book, it was not as noticeable. What I found more distracting in this book was the repetition of lines that I had already read on the previous page. The publisher needs to make a better effort at avoiding mistakes. Despite the printing errors, I enjoyed this book and am glad the Keepers are back.

Andrew S · Non-Fiction · Religion

Unapologetic | by Francis Spufford

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
by Francis Spufford
(HarperOne, 2013, 240 pages)

Francis Spufford is known as an essayist and a book critic, not as a spiritual writer or theologian. Accordingly, his book on the sensibility of Christianity is not so much a defense of Christian doctrine as it is a descriptive exploration of the psychological and emotional viability of Christian belief. This is how Spufford states his thesis: “You can read any number of defenses of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defense of Christian emotions – of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity. The book is called Unapologetic because it isn’t giving an “apologia,” the technical term for a defense of the ideas” (23). Setting aside the issue of the factual truth of Christianity (without dismissing its importance) Spufford examines the emotional logic of the faith.

One of Spufford’s major themes throughout the book is the wisdom and explanatory power of the Christian tradition’s recognition of “the human propensity to f*ck things up,” which he refers to in shorthand throughout the book as the HPtFtU. The word “sin” has lost much of its traditional meaning in contemporary use, but the HPtFtU captures the essence of the Christian notion of original sin as a pervasive condition and a destructive human orientation. For Spufford, this is the basis for Christianity’s realistic view of the world. He goes on to describe experiences and explore issues like the believer’s sense of God’s presence, the problem of evil, the Incarnation, and Christian ethics from this starting point. It is this point – the point of either dramatic or quiet crisis in an individual life – that Spufford begins to reconsider the viability of Christianity’s way of understanding the world.

There are many writers who churn out popular books on religion that ask us to “reimagine” or “redefine” a faith. One of the things that separates Spufford’s book from this field is the fairly traditional character of his faith. While he is progressive on social issues, and critical of fundamentalism in this respect, he asks no one to cast away the old language and formulations of the Christian tradition – simply to set them aside temporarily to consider the tradition from another angle. Spufford’s witty and evocative writing reveals the emotional content of Christian faith to be well worth considering.

Fiction · Stephanie T

Maya’s Notebook | by Isabel Allende

Maya's Notebook

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende
(Harper, 2014, 416 pages)

This life story was told through the eyes of a teenage girl named Maya. She was raised primarily by her paternal grandmother and grandfather, Nini and Popo, who lived in Berkley, California. Nini and her young son (Maya’s father) sought refuge in Canada where she met, fell in love, and married Popo. Years later, the son became an airline pilot who had a fling with a Swedish flight attendant (Maya’s mother). Maya’s mom was not cut out for parenting and returned to Sweden. The son returned home with young Maya and relied on Nini and Popo to rear her.

Maya grew into a teenager who defied authority. She detested school and abused alcohol and drugs. As a runaway she sank deeper and deeper into an abyss where she became a drug distributor and finally a heroin addict. After some time in jail her father helped pay for Maya to enter a rehabilitation program. Maya’s Nini decides to send her granddaughter to the Chilean island of Chiloe, the home of an old anthropologist friend. Maya begins to recover from her addictions and finds peace and love in this quaint Chiloe refuge only to find her life come full circle. Maya reveals a life of grief, abuse, and love in her wonderfully told notebook.