REVIEW: Flying Changes by Sara Gruen

flying changesFormat:  Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Equine Fiction
ISBN:  978-0-06-124109-3
Published:  2005

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Anxiety rules Annemarie Zimmer’s days—the fear that her relationship with the man she loves is growing stagnant; the fear that equestrian daughter Eva’s dreams of Olympic glory will carry her far away from her mother . . . and into harm’s way. For five months, Annemarie has struggled to make peace with her past. But if she cannot let go, the personal battles she has won and the heights she has achieved will have all been for naught.

It is a time of change at Maple Brook horse farm, when loves must be confronted head-on and fears must be saddled and broken. But it is an unanticipated tragedy that will most drastically alter the fragile world of one remarkable family—even as it flings open gates that have long confined them, enabling them all to finally ride headlong and free.

My Thoughts:

I always find it interesting to read reviews after I have finished a book, especially if I am having a difficult time articulating my reactions to the book. In this case, I found the reviews highly informative, most noticeably because there was very little middle ground on this novel. The vast majority of reviewers either loved it or hated it, so I find myself in the minority here.

I read Riding Lessons immediately prior to Flying Changes, and were it not for the redeeming factors in that book (noted in my review), I may not have pushed forward. That, and unless I truly hate something, I am often compelled to get to the end of the story…and clearly the end of the story was not at the end of Riding Lessons. And I’m glad I did, because this book had, in the end, more to redeem it than Riding Lessons did.

Amazing to me was that I grew to like Mutti, and to understand her better. AnneMarie continued to be a collossally immature trainwreck until very near the end of the book, when a convergence of several factors forced her to step up and be an adult. Thankfully there was a good support system surrounding her, because otherwise it’s hard to fathom that there was any hope she could actually do it. Eva continued in her truant ways, and frankly, it was understandable considering how little her mother seemed capable of mothering her. It was never AnneMarie who dropped the hammer on her, but Mutti (or Dan). I am not an iron-fisted parent by far, but I do believe in setting limits, and disciplining disobedience and defiance, so I found AnneMarie’s inability to handle Eva frustrating, even after accounting for a divorce and a seemingly absent father (who started a new family with his new wife).

Still, in the end, she (AnneMarie) redeemed herself. She got hold of her irrational fear…at least, enough to keep from derailing her daughter’s ambitions. She also pulled herself together when there was no other choice, and considering her track record, I was relieved and gratified by that. Had she not, I am certain I would have heaved the book across the room with curses following. It’s not a ringing endorsement, but if you’re a horse person with a reasonably forgiving nature for irrational, unlikeable characters who may or may not change, then you’ll like this book.

REVIEW: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

the prince of tidesFormat:  Audio CD
Genre:  Fiction / Southern Fiction
ISBN:  978-1-4418-0791-5
Published:  1986 (1988 audio)

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Pat Conroy has created a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.  Spanning forty years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister Savannah, and their struggle to triumph over the dark and tragic legacy of the extraordinary family into which they were born.

Filled with the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina low country as well as the dusty glitter of New York City, The Prince of Tides is Pat Conroy at his best.

My Thoughts:

I am convinced beyond any doubt that Pat Conroy is one of the finest writers living today, and perhaps one of the finest I have had the pleasure to read. This is the book that put Pat Conroy on the literary map, and deservedly so. It is an epic story, and I don’t mean in the “beyond awesome” sense of this generation’s iteration of epic, but in the true definition of the word. It is a work of art, a story that tells of exciting events and adventures, a story “extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.” (Merriam-Webster) This is certainly true in the good and happy sense, but even more true in the bad, dark and disturbing sense. The story sprawls the decades of the Wingo children’s lives, hitting expected highs, but also dipping to horrifically disturbing lows. Maudlin & melodramatic? Perhaps so, but there isn’t a single thing that Pat Conroy could conceive in his mind where something more maudlin, more dramatic, more horrific, more disturbing has not occurred time and again in real life. It has been said many times that fiction contains truth, and Conroy’s fiction portrays the truths of life, ugly or otherwise, in language that penetrates my soul.

REVIEW: Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil

needles and pearlsFormat:  Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Chick Lit
ISBN:  978-1-4013-4129-9
Published:  2010

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Slip one …A year after her husband’s death, Jo Mackenzie is finally starting to get the hang of being a single parent.

Knit two together …The boys are thriving in their new seaside home, the wool shop is starting to do well and despite two weddings, an in-school knitting project and Trevor the Wonder Dog coming to stay, she’s just about keeping her head above water.

Cast off …But boys, babies and best friends certainly make life a lot more interesting. Can Jo cope when things get really complicated? Because if knitting truly does keep you sane when your life starts to unravel then it looks like Jo is going to need much bigger needles.

My Thoughts:

Funny, I didn’t expect to like this book more than The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, but I did. Perhaps Gil McNeil hit her stride with this one. Perhaps it was due to several (somewhat unexpected) details that I really liked. Regardless, this one is better.

I won’t give away details, but I will say that I appreciated so much the fact that Jo Mackenzie is character who is growing. I do not enjoy characters who are all they are going to be from the very beginning, and do not learn from mistakes or gain at least some sort of wisdom from their existence. Jo (thankfully) is not that kind of character…at least not so far. She is not given to airs, she seems solid & grounded, and she doesn’t take the easy way out of problems (nor advise her friends to do so). That is refreshing, especially given that this is sort of a departure from what is societally popular right now. She also speaks her mind, and when the occasion warrants it, will put others in their place when they have crossed the line. She gets this trait honestly, and I truly love it, in large part because she also knows when to hold her tongue.

When I read Beach Street Knitting Society, I didn’t realize it was a series, but I’m a sucker for series when they have characters I enjoy. Despite the fluffiness of the books, I do like the characters, and frankly, they provide a nice break from the heavy reading I’m doing this year (and there is plenty of that). Of course, the cliffhanger ending (cue major emotional manipulation) makes it a bit difficult to stop at this point, knowing there are plot resolutions out there that I have not read. I’m glad I finally got around to it.

REVIEW: The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

beach street knitting societyFormat:  Trade Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Chick Lit
ISBN:  978-1-4013-4122-0
Published:  2009

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

For every woman who has ever dreamed of starting over, or being a better mother, or just knitting a really nice scarf . . . Jo Mackenzie needs a fresh start.  Newly widowed with two young sons and a perilous bank balance, she leaves the bustle of London to take over her beloved Gran’s wool shop in her sleepy seaside hometown.  There, she finds unexpected comfort in a “Stitch and Bitch” knitting group that meets every week to trade gossip, and, occasionally, a new stitch.  When a man enters Jo’s life, the knitting club has even more trouble confining the conversation to knit one, purl two.  The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club is an uplifting, winning tale about the healing power of friendship and new beginnings.

My Thoughts:

I rated this book 3.5 stars…I didn’t love it (for good reason), but I definitely liked it a lot. It was a quick, light read that was great for the holiday break. McNeil’s style reminded me of Elizabeth Buchan and Elizabeth Noble in many ways, but most particularly in the lead female character. She was strong and likable, had flaws that the reader could identify with, and was successfully moving forward from a losing a spouse (who was a wanker, but still). All in all, it was a good story that had me kind of wishing I could move to a small town on the coast and run a yarn shop. Of course, learning to knit would help.

As much as I enjoyed the book (and I did), I kept stumbling over how the author presented fatherhood. With the exception of one good guy, who was both a devoted husband and father, her attitude about fathers seemed to be that they were not only expendable, but they were really a nuisance, and actually ended up bollixing things up entirely. She presented men as great for dating (and for shagging), and evening marrying (if that’s your thing), but pretty much useless for parenting. I despise this point of view, because it not only diminishes men in general, but it also diminishes what women should expect from a partner, and it diminishes respect for good men…because the flippant attitude that men are useless becomes so pervasive.

That being said, this didn’t ruin the book for me. The author wasn’t heavy-handed with this view, but it was overt and matter-of-fact, and assumed that all men were the same in this regard. Still, there was much to enjoy, including knitting as the theme throughout. Every time a read a book is built around knitting, it makes me want to try it (again), so that in itself was enough to balance it out. I will read the sequel.

GoThereFor.com | Busting a book buying myth

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There’s a dangerous myth I keep hearing amongst Christians. And the place I hear it most is when I’m standing at a conference bookstall trying to interest people in Matthias Media’s books and resources.

It’s the myth that we really ought to finish reading all the books on our bookshelves before we buy more.

Such a sentiment seems almost godly and prudent.And I suppose in some ways it could be viewed that way.

But—and with the caveat that you need to bear in mind that I work in marketing for a book publishing company—I want to suggest it’s nonsense. Here are three reasons why:

(1) It’s not all about you!

Of course, one of the main reasons to buy a book is to benefit you. But it’s not the only reason. Books can help other people too, right?

So you see a good book at a good price. Broaden your purchase criteria. Don’t just think “Would I like to read this book?”. Ask yourself “Would this book help anyone I know?” or even “Would this be a good book to have on my shelf in case it would be helpful to someone including me in the future?”

Bookshelves shouldn’t just be an archive of our past reading. They should be a rich resource stockpile for future ministry. Including multiple copies of some books that we know we will give away or lend frequently.

(2) It’s not about finishing.

I also want to defend the practice of starting books and not finishing them.

Of course authors want you to read their whole book. But if their work is not compelling, and you’re not getting a lot out of reading it, give up! Cut your losses. Honestly, you haven’t invested that much cash in the book—probably less than the average starter or main course at your local Chinese restaurant where you might also wisely decide not to finish what you pay for. Personally, I find it hard to persevere with a book when I find the argument of the first part weak. So I confess to having quite a few books with a bookmark placed about one-third of the way through. But that’s okay. That’s not a reason to give up on books. It’s a reason to try a different one.

(3) Impulse buy ≠ bad.

For many of us who like books, when we stand looking at a shiny new title, with its alluring cover that seductively calls out to us “buy me! read me!”, it is very tempting. And tempting equals bad, right? Well, no. Not necessarily.

By all means, take your time to look carefully beyond the cover because you can’t judge a book… yada yada. Read the chapter titles; flick through and get a feel for what the author’s big idea and trajectory is; check if the writing is engaging; think about the reputation of the author and publisher; if you’re really desperate, you might even read the ‘celebrity pastor’ endorsements.

In other words, don’t ‘impulse buy’ without checking out whether this book seems like a good investment. But on the other hand, the book is there in front of you. It looks helpful. It’s a reasonable price. If you don’t buy it now are you ever likely to buy it and add it to your “resource stockpile for future ministry”?

So, there you have it, bibliophiles: your very own DIY rationalization starter kit.

You’re welcome.

Author: Ian Carmichael

via GoThereFor.com | Busting a book buying myth.

10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists! Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers. All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – definitely my favorite of the year!  I have always been drawn to WWII, and specifically Holocaust, literature.  There is something sadly riveting about it, and I am always struck, even with novels, by the lengths of depravity that human beings are capable of reaching.  Zusak has written a book that will, in my opinion, be a staple in the literary canon, as it is certainly a worthy representative of quality literature in general, and of 20th century fiction in particular.

2.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – I am amazed at the fact that McCullers produced this when she was only 23 years old.  She clearly had wisdom beyond her years, and deeply understood the nature of loneliness.  This is an excellent book…dark and sad certainly,  and McCullers has the ability to draw you in and make you feel like more than just an observer.

3.  Animal Farm by George Orwell – A brilliantly written allegory that is a total and utter indictment of communism.  Everyone should read it.  EVERYONE!  I’m sort of aghast at myself for not having read it until now, and I am m-a-n-y years removed from school.

4.  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – I thoroughly enjoyed this book…much more, in fact, than I thought I would.  Interestingly, in all my years of reading and through both B.A. and M.A. in English, I never heard the term “marriage plot.”  I read a number of the novels referenced by this book, but I do not recall ever discussing the marriage plot, and how it is a prevalent literary convention in Victorian literature.  Either I completely skirted any class that would have addressed it, or it wasn’t covered.  I’m leaning toward the latter.  At any rate, this is a worthy book, and while it is enjoyable on its own, it is better if you’ve read some Victorian lit.

5.  Philippians – easily one of my favorite books of the Bible.

I don’t actually think anything else qualifies as the best of the year so far, so five it is.

The 7 Books in my “Beach Bag” (aka My Summer Reading)

8eb9c-toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

The 7 Books in my “Beach Bag” (aka My Summer Reading)

  1. once upon a time there was youOnce Upon a Time, There was You by Elizabeth Berg – I am currently listening to this, and enjoying it a lot.  Elizabeth Berg ebbs and flows in her writing, and this is one of her better ones. – FINISHED
  2. Ecclesiastes (ESV) – I’m reading my way through the Bible…not on a schedule, just reading through.  This is one of my summer selections.
  3. Isaiah (ESV) – Ditto #2.
  4. the know-it-allThe Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs – It has been languishing on my bookshelf for 2-3 years now, so it’s time, and I’m looking for something light and fun during dog days of summer.
  5. Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid – summer reading for my women’s Bible study group.
  6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – making my way slowly through this book.  Very interesting, but I come and go.  Still, it stays in the current summer rotation.
  7. my own miraculousMy Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson – an ebook original short by one of my favorite southern authors. – FINISHED

I don’t particularly plan ahead on what I’m reading, and the above list contains everything that I am either currently reading or is immediately on deck.  I’ll read more (I hope), but I have no idea what it will be, as I’m very much beholden to my literary mood of the moment.