Wednesday, January 14, 2015

BOB Contenders Posted Today!

Battle of the Books

Hey there book fans -
Just a reminder that School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books contenders have been posted today!  I sadly have to admit that I'm only familiar with a few of the titles this year, but BOB last year is how I discovered Eleanor and Park and subsequently fell in love with Rainbow Rowell, so trust me, BOB is good stuff.  I'm planning to read as much of the list as humanly possible and follow along with the competition.  Who's going to join me??

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Unglued

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

I have this goal to read one Christian book a month this year (or actually starting in November of 2014).  So I started with Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst.  I can't really tell you why I started with this one.  I think it may have been because I had gotten partway through it before and then put it down when life got crazy and we moved, and I hate the sense of leaving anything unfinished, so I figured I should start over and read the whole thing.  But that really doesn't explain why I picked it up first.

I bring this up because while the book was fine, I guess, I just didn't really get a lot out of it.  And I firmly believe that with Christian books especially, you have to read them at the right season of your life for them to really speak to you.  This is why I have some Christian books that I have owned for a couple of years and actually really WANT to read but haven't opened up yet, because I have this feeling that it's not quite the right season yet.  But I digress.

Anyway, I can't really argue with anything that Lysa TerKeurst said.  Her main premise was that most of us, when faced with intense emotions (particularly anger), become either stuffers or exploders.  Me, I think I'm both in certain circumstances and with certain people.  From there, she advises prayer, turning to Scripture, and working out a plan of dealing with our emotions in advance for dealing with those times of emotional stress.  All very sensible.  And very good advice.  And yet it really just didn't speak to me.  I mean, I agreed with everything she said, but it didn't stir any kind of emotional reaction in me--which, for a book about emotions, seemed a little off.

The only part of the book that did stir anything in me was the fact that TerKeurst is one of those Christian authors that talks directly to her reader by saying things like "we're on this journey together" and "oh, what fun we'll have!"  She also calls the reader (clearly female) things like "dear sister" and "sweet friend."  And while this approach works for thousands of women, it does not work for me.  So that stirred some annoyance in me.  Which is unfortunate, as the advice the book offered was quite sensible.

So overall, this one wasn't a win for me.  Like I said, probably just the wrong season of my life to read it.  I'll probably stick it back on the shelf and try it again when the season is right.

Book Review: Five Days Left

Five Days Left

I read Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer for a book club that I belong to.  I actually read a galley copy because a woman in my club knows the author somehow, but the book has been published, so you should all be able to get a hold of it even without connections. :)

For starters, I'd like to point out the blurb on the front cover.  It was written by Jodi Picoult and reads, "... this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented author."  I wholeheartedly agree.  Julie Lawson Timmer is AWESOME.  If I could write like her, I wouldn't need my 40x40 list to challenge me to write a novel.  I would just churn one out because the inside of my head was bursting with awesome stories that had to be told.  I hope to see many, many more novels by Julie Lawson Timmer.  Secondly, I have no idea how a new author managed to get an endorsement from Jodi Picoult, but she was the PERFECT choice.  Anyone who likes Jodi Picoult's books will love Five Days Left.  No, there are no dead children in Five Days Left (my friend Andrea claims that at least one child dies in every Jodi Picoult novel), but there are a few lawyers (although they don't figure as heavily into the story as they usually do into Picoult's) and the beautiful writing style is very similar.  So if you're a Picoult fan but are searching for something fresh, I'd highly recommend Five Days Left.

This novel really tells two stories.  While the stories run parallel to each other, they only touch each other briefly.  Before reading it, I didn't really understand how Timmer was going to make that work, but she pulls it off beautifully.

Story #1: Mara Nichols has been highly driven and successful all her life.  She has set goals for herself and achieved them.  She has been wildly successful at everything she has set her mind to.  But now her career as an attorney has come to a premature end.  Everything, it seems, is coming to an end.  Because four years ago, she was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, and she can't seem to fight it any longer.  She's losing control of her body.  She's no fool.  She knows how she will waste away for years to come as a result of the disease, until she no longer even knows who she is, a vegetable left in wasted skin.  She doesn't want that, not for herself or for her husband Tom or their precious adopted daughter, Lakshmi, age 5.  She doesn't ever want Laks to be ashamed of her.  So Mara summons her courage to achieve one last unthinkable goal, motivated by her love for her family.

Story #2: Scott Coffman is a middle school teacher and basketball coach.  He and his wife Laurie have spent the last year fostering an 8-year-old boy named Curtis while his biological mother has been in prison.  Scott loves Curtis with all his heart and the idea of returning him to his mother is tearing him up.  But Laurie is pregnant with their own much-anticipated first child, a girl, and is ready to get their own lives back.  How can Scott can goodbye, especially when Curtis's mother keeps adding complications?

Scott and Mara don't know each other in real life, but they do occasionally "talk" online on a website designed for nontraditional families.  This is how the two stories intersect, and while it's a tenuous tie, it absolutely works in Timmer's hands.  The novel counts down from five days to zero as both Mara and Scott struggle with the time that is left with their loved ones, both wondering if they can cheat fate to get more.  This book does a beautiful job illustrating the power of family, even in its nontraditional forms.  I highly recommend it and will be looking for more from Julie Lawson Timmer!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: Point of Retreat

Point of Retreat (Slammed, #2)

Oh Colleen Hoover, how I love you.  Slammed was such a diamond in the rough, unlike anything I had ever read before.  And its sequel, Point of Retreat, did not disappoint.

It picks up pretty much where the epilogue of Slammed left off, at Will and Layken's second Christmas together.  Will is in graduate school and Lake is in college.  They are both raising their brothers.  They are still living separately, across the street from each other, but are in a deeply committed relationship.  And much like in Slammed, shortly after the book begins, life begins throwing curveballs at them mercilessly.

Now, it's not as bad as in Slammed.  Pretty much nothing could be.  (SPOILER ALERT)  This book features the reappearance of Will's ex-girlfriend, which causes Lake to realize how very little she knows about Will's life before she appeared in it.  She says that she needs him to prove that he loves her for HER, not just for the circumstances that they are in--which I get.  And he proves it beautifully, as only Will Cooper can.

And then further tragedy strikes.  I'm not going to do full-on spoilery here, but only say that I thought that the drama in the second half of the book was not fully necessary.  And if it was necessary, then I guess I thought it wasn't developed deeply enough.  I mean, the ex-girlfriend thing got a solid 2/3 of the novel, and that only got 1/3 or less?  Hmm.  Could have been a novel of its own.  Just saying.

But aside from my frustration there, I loved the rest.  Kel and Caulder gain a female sidekick, Kirsten, in this book.  While I was initially unsure about her, I came to love her by the end of the book.  She added SO MUCH.  Especially the use of the word "butterfly" as the substitute for a curse word, which I think I may need to work into my everyday vocabulary.  I also loved Kirsten's mom, Julia, who added so much to the story with her wisdom.  Will and Lake have precious few actual adults in their lives, and Julia really steps in to care for them without being intrusive.  I loved how she was just completely quirky and yet incredibly caring.

A slight complaint would be that while Eddie and Gavin are present throughout the story and do have plenty going on in their lives, I felt like they were somehow lacking in this book.  Eddie just seemed like a colorless version of herself.  I'm hoping for more of them in This Girl, the third installment in this series.

And, of course, there's the poetry.  In this book, Will extends his love of slam poetry to the younger generation, including Caulder and Kirsten.  So, so awesome.  I cannot say enough good things about the slam poetry included in this book.  It simply makes the book.  Love, love, love.

As for age on this one..... you may all be shocked, but I did actually have to venture in to the "grown up" section of my local library to check it out.  While Slammed might sneak under the radar as YA because Layken is in high school, Point of Retreat has no such confusion.  It's definitely a real, true, adult novel, just regular old fiction.  If you want to get really technical, I would actually classify it as "new adult," since the characters are in college and struggling with the issues of becoming adults.  But until that genre becomes more widely known, you'll find it in your fiction section section.