That Night by Chevy Stevens
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 384 pages)
“As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison. Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.”
I don’t think I would recommend this book, while the writing is decent and I really liked the other book I read by her (Still Missing) the story fell a little short of the mark. I also did not like the narrator for this audiobook so that might have had an effect as well, it contributed to my annoyance with the main character Toni. The ending was a pretty big let down as well.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
(Penguin Classics, 1987, 160 pages)
I found John Bunyan’s 17th century religious autobiography fascinating for a number of reasons. Here are a couple of them. First and foremost, it is of interest for the way that it biographically parallels the journey of the character Christian in Bunyan’s famous work of allegorical fiction The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s own conversion and struggle for a sense of security in salvation are articulated in language that, at points (as helpfully pointed out by the editor), is used almost verbatim to describe characters and scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Second, Bunyan’s account gives a window into the tumultuous religious climate of early modern England. As a “dissenting” preacher – a Christian minister who worked outside the structure of the Church of England – Bunyan was imprisoned by the government for years at a time. These stakes help to make sense of the agonizing that accompanies the long process of Bunyan’s conversion.
The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans
(Simon & Schuster, 2014, 251 pages)
One day in November Elise Dutton is approached in the food court by a man named Nicholas Derr. They have never met but she recognizes him because he works in the same building as her. He has a crazy proposition for her, he would like her to be his pretend girlfriend through Christmas. They would attend all of their holiday parties together so neither of them would have to go alone. Elise has had a life filled with tragedy that has caused her heartache and guilt but she surprises herself by agreeing to go along with his proposal. During this fake relationship she is finding love and joy again. While their relationship is progressing, the truth of her past as well as his is slowly revealed. Will their relationship be able to withstand the struggles they have in dealing with life’s difficult circumstances?
Evans does a nice job of building the characters along with the relationship between Elise and Nicholas. The story tugs at your heart while pulling you in. There are so many life lessons in this heartwarming story including the importance of not only forgiving others but also being able to forgive yourself. This is a wonderful Christmas story for the holidays.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
(Candlewick Press, 2009, 201 pages)
The Magician’s Elephant is a story about a ten year old boy named Peter who lost his parents and sister. He is being raised by a man who served in the military with his father in the small town of Baltese. He is not completely convinced that his sister has died. He discovers that a fortune teller has set up a tent in the town square and decides to ask her a question that he needs to know the answer to… is his sister still alive? She tells him that not only is she alive but an elephant is going to be the one to show him the way to her. Although the news does not make much sense to him, he is determined to figure out exactly what she meant.
I read this book along with my eight year old son. It was a little over his reading level but nonetheless it was such a delightful story it was well worth the time and effort he put into reading it. We both thought it was a magically delightful story about the power of forgiveness and the importance of love for family and friends. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for story to share with young readers so they can have an understanding that anything is possible and to never lose hope.
The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
(Eerdmans, 2015, 256 pages)
In The Revelatory Body, Luke Timothy Johnson makes the case that theological reflection is incomplete if it deals only with the written word. Careful attention must also be paid to the human, bodily experiences of play, pain, work, and aging. These experiences tell us things about the divine that we cannot garner from texts alone. Johnson’s book is packed with wisdom and good sense. An extended review should appear in the Advent 2015 print issue of The Englewood Review of Books.
The Martian by Andy Weir
(Broadway Books, 2014, 387 pages)
For the first time ever, six astronauts have landed on Mars. On day six of their mission a dust storm blows in and in the attempt to get back to their ship, things go awry. One man, Mark Watney, is presumed dead and they make the difficult decision to leave him behind in order for the rest of the crew to survive only to find out later that he is alive!
You might think a novel that is about a man stranded on Mars and NASA working on a rescue mission to save him might not be all that entertaining but this book was far from a snoozer. I was captivated immediately. The book goes back and forth between NASA’s strategic planning to save him and Watney’s daily journal entries.
Andy Weir used his in-depth knowledge about space and space travel when writing this novel. Parts of the story read kind of complicated with the problem solving such as word problems and scientific calculations, but it added realism to the scenarios Watney and NASA were facing.
Watney’s extremely sarcastic and space nerd personality shows through in his daily journal entries. In his overwhelming desire to keep himself alive in hopes of being rescued, he never loses his sense of humor. This is what made the novel for me. I am not a science nerd myself but still found this to be a gripping and humorous story that was not easy to put down.
This novel part of SCC’s book club and I am very anxious to hear what others have to say.
You can also check out Julia’s review of this title.
Cross My Heart by James Patterson
(Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 419 pages)
Detective Alex Cross loves solving crimes, but he loves his family too. His children, wife, and Nana Mama are his pride and joy. He would do anything to protect them from danger. While Cross is hot on the trail of multiple crimes, he is unaware that someone is after him. The assailant is busy plotting to abduct his family members one by one as he works to commit the perfect crime. Patterson paints vivid images of the family that has been uprooted due to renovations on the family house. Cross receives images on his cell phone depicting gruesome murders of his family members, which causes him to lose control. However, things are not as they appear and the story ends with the reader dangling to find out what has really happened to the Cross family.
Dark Witch by Nora Roberts
(Berkley, 2013, 342 pages)
Iona Sheehan is desperate to find her roots and her place in life. She decides to quit her job, sell her belongings, and take her grandmother’s advice to fly to Ireland and start anew. She books a week-long stay in the old castle that now serves as a luxurious hotel. She plans on pampering herself and taking in some scenery. She ventures out on her first day to find her cousins, Branna and Connor O’Dwyer. Along the way she encounters a huge dog, but later finds out that he belongs to Branna and was sent to fetch her. Branna embraces Iona, offers to find her a job in the horse stables, and encourages Iona to move in when her time runs out at the castle.
Iona soon realizes that her cousins possess mystical powers. She had been told stories of the Dark Witch, her ancestor, by her grandmother, but she begins to understand that there is a reason and a purpose for which she has been drawn to Ireland. Iona’s arrival means that the three cousins will be able to join forces against the dark one, Cabhan. However, before the summer solstice, Iona will learn the trade of witchcraft and fall in love with a horseman. This is book 1 of the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Riverhead Books, 2015, 323 pages)
I admit, I started reading this bestseller because I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. The basic plot begins with a woman (Rachel) noticing a couple (she nicknames them Jason and Jess), who she sees daily through her window on the train. She invents a bucolic narrative of their life in direct contrast to her own unfortunate current reality. All is not well, though, when the woman (Megan) mysteriously disappears and the woman’s husband (Scott) becomes a suspect in her disappearance.
As the book progressed I became disturbed, disgusted, and disappointed with it (not necessarily in that order). Most of the characters were either vile, pathetic, or otherwise annoying – and though there were plenty of exciting plot twists, particularly at the end, I was glad to finish this book – both because I wanted to find out what happened, and I also simply tired of reading it. I enjoyed the actual writing; author Paula Hawkins spins a very vivid story in which the characters come alive. I grew so very tired, however, of “protagonist” Rachel’s alcoholism and mourning for her failed marriage with so little growth. (As I tend to read fiction for entertainment, I realize that my not being overly entertained doesn’t mean the book isn’t good – but if you read more for entertainment than for the literary experience itself, you, too, may be ready for this book to be done.)
Other reviewers have noted themes related to female empowerment throughout this book. The book tends to deftly paint some of those issues without offering much in the way of their resolution. I felt grief for the characters, particularly Rachel and Megan, as I kept hoping they would do something redemptive.
All the above said, The Girl on the Train is still an incredibly engrossing novel. I appreciated it very much for its great writing and skillfully-told story from multiple moments and points of view – but if you prefer your reading to have unambiguous characters and a story with just a little conflict, save this one for a day on which you feel you can be more at peace with humanity’s inevitable shortcomings.
You can also check out reviews of this title from Julia and Theresa.
Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason, with Lee Gruenfeld
(Villard, 2005, 384 pages)
The thrill of a jewelry heist is, for those of us uninterested in prison or any other trappings that may come with that territory, one to be experienced vicariously. Lucky for us, Bill Mason (with Lee Gruenfeld) provides his readers with hours of excitement in Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. In this page-turner, Mason generously lets us into his mind and life from his somewhat troubled adolescence on the wrong side of the tracks through to his harrowing moment of retirement as a notorious jewel thief. The book moves from the inner drama of what led him to his avocation as a jewel thief, to the outer drama of the heists themselves, from secret and elite Shaker Heights, Ohio clubs to equal parts Florida beaches and prisons.
Mason’s account of his life of sparkling crime tends to be more gritty and less glamorous than some fictional accounts of jewel thievery, though the amounts of money with which he deals may raise the eyebrows of some of us with less-well-padded bank accounts. Mason considers, however, the human cost of his exploits – mostly to his family, but also to those from whom he stole jewelry. Readers may find their moral hackles raised at some of what he writes, and some reviewers have remarked upon Mason’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions without necessarily working toward any type of repentant justice regarding his crimes. As a reader of this work, though, my interest in the story was primarily in the first-person perspective of a jewel thief, and less as a tale of redemption. While I may have had my own moral scruples toward his story, I appreciated the apparent candor with which Mason tells it.
Those looking for a redemptive morality tale won’t find it here – Mason, as many of us do, unabashedly rationalizes his actions. While apologetic toward those he relieved of their jewelry, one senses he has given up his life of crime more due to age and a personal need for peace than any idea of it being inherently wrong to rob people. With all that in mind, if you seek the kind of vicarious thrill that comes from reading about someone else’s bad behavior and want to learn more about what it really feels like to commit audacious crimes of this nature, this book certainly delivers the goods.