Faith and Fiction Roundtable: Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

ForbiddenForbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
Published by Center Street, an imprint of Hachette
Review copy provided by the publisher

In the not too distant future, the leaders of the free world have somehow built a world in which emotions do not exist. The only emotion people have the ability to feel is fear – which is perfect, because it keeps everyone afraid of what might happen if their leaders were ousted, and it keeps them in complete oblivion as to the possibility of living with actual feelings. But one day, a young man named Rom is accosted by an older man and handed a vial of blood that, when consumed, will give him the ability to feel emotions – essentially bringing his soul to life. But at what cost?

I haven’t ever read anything by Ted Dekker, but I’ve been seeing his books around for as long as I can remember. So when the Faith and Fiction Roundtable chose Forbidden as our next selection, I was excited to dive into Dekker’s work (and Tosca Lee’s, of course, although I am less familiar with her previous novels than with Dekker’s). I can definitely say that I enjoyed the experience of reading this novel, and although I won’t count it as a favorite by any means, I’m intrigued enough by the story to  want to read the sequel upon its release.

There were two huge aspects of the novel that I found to be discussion-worthy. The first, which is something that Hannah pointed out too, is that Dekker and Lee did an excellent job illustrating how important emotions are to our humanity. I am, by nature, an extremely emotional person – the kind of person you see described as “wearing her heart on her sleeve”. I tend to get my feelings hurt easily, I tend to care deeply about things that others might not spend one iota of time thinking about, and sometimes my emotions get in the way of what needs to be accomplished in my life (for example, career-wise). I’ve always thought of this as a negative part of my personality, especially in the sense that emotions don’t mix well with the industry in which I am employed. But I was cheered by how clear Forbidden showed how valuable emotions really are. And how, if we were to lose our ability to feel, everything that is essentially human about us would be gone too. It’s true – the fact that we can feel love, pain, sadness, etc., is an essential part of being human, and I loved how much the book reminded me that it is okay to be emotional at times. It makes me human.

The second aspect of Forbidden that was discussion-worthy, and this one I admit I didn’t talk about with the Roundtable participants, is the idea of using fear as a tool to manipulate the public. In this world, there is only one emotion which is fear, but that allows the people to be completely under their leaders’ spell. This reminded me a lot of the way sometimes politicians in the US – and the media, too – will use fear as a tactic to manipulate people’s thought processes and help them make decisions. Fear is a huge motivator for people, especially when it comes to things that are truly important (such as their kids’ education, keeping a job, being able to retire, etc.) and time and time again I have seen politicians use fear to encourage the public to vote their way. It always saddens me, and it saddens me even more that people fall for it. So I have to admit that this world created by Dekker and Lee didn’t seem all that far-fetched to me. The part where people have zero emotions wasn’t realistic, true. But the part where people allowed the fear instilled in them by their leaders to motivate their decisions? So possible. And scary.

Anyway, Forbidden was an interesting novel that gave me much food for thought. I would recommend the book, but keep in mind it’s very dystopian in nature and not exactly the most realistic of novels. And there is a bit of blood and gore. But I did enjoy it and will be reading the sequel when it is released.

Please visit the other participants of The Faith and Fiction Roundtable to see what they thought of the book!

Book Hooked Blog | Book Journey | Books and Movies | Crazy for Books | Ignorant Historian | Linus’ Blanket | My Friend Amy | My Random Thoughts | Roving Reads | Semicolon | The 3 R’s | Tina’s Book Reviews | Victorious Cafe | Wordlily

The Beach Trees by Karen White

The Beach TreesThe Beach Trees by Karen White
Published by NAL Trade, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist

When Julie Holt was twelve years old, her younger sister disappeared, changing Julie as a person irrevocably. As a young woman, Julie meets a struggling artist named Monica, and the two women form an immediate and super close friendship. When Monica tragically dies from heart failure, she leaves Julie in charge of her five-year-old son Beau, with instructions for Julie to take Beau to her family’s beach house in Biloxi, a home that has been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and needs expensive repairs. In spending time with Monica’s family, who she ran away from years ago, Julie gets a better understanding of her friend and begins to heal from her own wounds as well.

The Beach Trees is exactly the type of novel I’ve come to expect from Karen White. The characters are realistic, their stories will break your heart, but in the end things are much better than when the book began. I love her novels because they feel so real, but they are also feel-good at the same time. The Beach Trees was exactly that and I enjoyed it from start to finish.

The book really has two storylines. The first is Julie’s story, as she’s getting to know Monica’s family, trying to decide whether to rebuild the family home in Biloxi, and taking care of Beau. The second is of Monica’s great-grandmother, Aimee, and it’s a story that is a huge foundation of Monica’s life. This history is key to Julie getting to a deeper understanding of her friend Monica’s life. I personally loved both, and couldn’t pick a favorite if I was asked.

As always, Karen White’s characters are drawn exceptionally well, and I related to them immediately, Julie in particular. It seemed such a cruel dose of fate that she was handed – first her sister disappeared, and then the woman who she came to think of as a sister died in such a tragic way – but she took the circumstances she was given and did the best she could with them. She was responsible for a five-year-old, after all, and even though she was grieving for her friend, she managed to be there for Beau in every possible way. She really was the kind of character I am inspired by – I’m not sure I could be as strong as she was under the same circumstances. Not only that, but Julie as a character was genuine. I believed her and I wanted to keep reading more about her, to get to know her even better as the book went on.

Another thing that Karen White always manages to pull off, and was no different in The Beach Trees, is a truly complete sense of place. As I was reading the book, I could smell the salty ocean air and hear the seagulls chirping in the background. I formed a complete picture in my mind of the beach house that needed extensive repairs, and of the scenery surrounding it. She also managed to capture the emotions of a post-Katrina area exceedingly well, as I could feel how proud the residents of the area were of their city, how attached they were to its history, and how strongly they felt that a hurricane would absolutely not cause them to leave their home. They would continue to rebuild, and create new roots, in this place that they loved so much. And I completely felt that sentiment through the pages of this novel.

I have come to expect greatness from Karen White and The Beach Trees did not disappoint. Honestly I am at the point now with her novels where I feel like a broken record because they are all so fabulous, and I would recommend just about anything she writes, so just add The Beach Trees to that list. Highly recommended.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

imageSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Published by Bloomsbury
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Fourteen-year-old Esch, who has just found out that she’s pregnant, is simply trying to keep things at home together when she and her family learn of the hurricane that is about to hit their home in Bois Savage, Mississippi. Esch’s father, a man who spends most of his time drinking, is concerned about the hurricane and tries to get she and her three brothers to board up windows and get the canned goods together in preparation. Her brother Randall begins this process, her brother Junior tries but is too young to do much, but her brother Skeetah is too busy nursing his pit bull fighter, China, back to health after the birth of her puppies. As this family struggles to pull themselves together, the hurricane becomes the backdrop for all the trials they regularly face in day-to-day life.

Salvage the Bones is unlike any novel I’ve read before. It is so honest, so raw, and at times so painful that I wanted to close the book and run away, but ultimately I was deeply moved by this story. Esch and her family crawled into my heart and their struggles were so palpable that I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and lift them out.

This book is not an easy read. It broke my heart a million times over. China, Skeetah’s pit bull, is a fighting dog and as a person who loves pit bulls and has some very close family and friends who have pits as pets, the whole dogfighting business makes me extremely angry. So it was not the best for me to be reading about people fighting these precious, intelligent, loving, sweet animals. This was probably the most difficult aspect of the book for me, although the family does experience the actual hurricane and that portion of the book was hard to read too. Just know that while this story is not an easy one to read, it is certainly rewarding in the end.

Salvage the Bones elicited so many emotions in me as I was reading it. I was so frustrated by Esch’s father’s inability (or unwillingness) to take care of his family properly. Esch essentially raised her youngest brother, Junior, on her own after their mother died during his childbirth. I was so angry at the boy who got Esch pregnant as he didn’t care for her at all and was, in the most clear and simple case of this I’ve seen in fiction, just using her for sex. I was heartbroken and mad about the fighting dogs. But mostly, the book made me feel an overwhelming sadness, the overwhelming feeling that this family just could not get it together, that things would never turn around for them. Their situation was just so upsetting, so heartbreaking, that I couldn’t help but feel despair while reading about it. In fact, toward the middle of the novel there is a dogfighting scene, at which point I burst into tears and didn’t stop crying until the end of the book. It affected me that much.

Salvage the Bones is an excellent, haunting novel that brought me to tears. Not much about this book is hopeful or happy, but there is a glimmer of something there at the end that makes it all worth the journey through this family’s pain. This novel absolutely broke my heart, but at the same time I can’t help but recommend that you read it too.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

The Wordy ShipmatesThe Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

The Wordy Shipmates takes a different approach to America’s Puritan history. Instead of being dry or boring, a list of facts and information about that period of time, Vowell uses humor and sarcasm to detail the 1600′s journey of the Massachusetts Bay colonists.  She explains the differences between the Plymouth Puritans and the Massachusetts Puritans in a way that helps the reader see how crucial these differences really were. While this book isn’t a traditional history book by any means, the history is very clear even through the wittiness that Vowell brings to the table.

It feels like I’ve been wanting to read one of Sarah Vowell’s books forever. I’d also heard that she is great in audio, so when I realized that The Wordy Shipmates is available in that format, I decided to listen to it in my car. Listening to this book was an interesting experience because I’m still not sure quite how I felt about it. There were aspects of the book I liked, others not so much.

I definitely enjoyed the fact that Sarah Vowell has moments of hilarity. Several times while listening to the book, I caught myself laughing out loud. The way she connects history with jokes is something I’ve never really seen before and it definitely kept me entertained. In addition, I did learn quite a bit about the Puritans. In school, I really only remember studying Christopher Columbus and all of that (which of course, you later learn is mostly BS) and I had only a vague understanding of the Puritans, especially the fact that there were two distinct groups of them with very different ideals. So that was interesting.

I hate to admit this, but one thing I didn’t like was the fact that Vowell narrates the book herself. Something about her voice really grated on my nerves, and while I appreciate the fact that I felt more connected to her since she was reading it to me, I honestly just didn’t take to her voice. The other issue I had was that occasionally my mind would wander while listening, and I can only attribute this to the fact that The Wordy Shipmates just didn’t keep me riveted enough to hold my attention. Usually I enjoy nonfiction in audiobook format, but this was one of those cases where it didn’t keep me interested enough. This could very well be my own fault, but either way it hampered my enjoyment of the book.

So, overall what did I think of The Wordy Shipmates? Even though I listened to the audiobook, I would probably recommend reading it in print. The book is funny and does a good job explaining this part of history in an entertaining way, but there were aspects of the book I didn’t love. So read it, but with caution.

The Grief of Others by Leah Hagar Cohen

The Grief of OthersThe Grief of Others by Leah Hagar Cohen
Published  by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

The Ryrie family has suffered the tragic loss of a baby just a few days after his birth. Mother and father Ricky and John are trying to desperately maintain normalcy in their family, despite the fact that their marriage is falling apart and neither one of them has figured out how to deal with their grief. Their older child, thirteen-year-old Paul, is an outcast at his school and dealing with his own grief in some interesting ways. Their younger daughter, Biscuit, is confused about why her baby brother never came home from the hospital and begins acting out to display her confusion and anger. When an unexpected family member arrives at their front door, the Ryrie family must come together and try to understand what one another is feeling, as their family dynamic is unraveling rather quickly.

The Grief of Others is a beautifully written novel about one family’s inability to heal from a devastating loss. Each member of the family is dealing with this loss in their own way; some more healthy and productive than others. The other big issue in the novel is that Ricky kept a huge secret from John throughout her pregnancy, a secret which later comes back to haunt her and one which causes John to look at her completely differently after he finds out.

The characters in this novel are incredibly realistic, almost depressingly so. They are each so deep into their grief that they cannot see what the rest of their family members are dealing with. This is particularly troubling for John and Ricky, as they have two small kids who don’t totally understand what happened to their baby brother. The fact that John and Ricky couldn’t help their children grieve, couldn’t even support them emotionally, absolutely broke my heart. This actually made it difficult for me to connect to these characters, as I was so frustrated by their actions. Leah Hagar Cohen did such an excellent job portraying their emotions and making them believable to me, but I still could not connect to either of them because they just made such poor choices when it came to supporting their children emotionally.

As I briefly mentioned, the writing in The Grief of Others is just gorgeous. Leah Hagar Cohen completely draws the reader in with her prose, and I was captivated by this sad story from the moment I turned the first page. Although I had a difficult time with some of the characters, I will say that she effectively got into each of their heads and illustrated their emotional journeys, even the children. By the end of the novel, I felt that I knew this family intimately and although I didn’t love all of them, I certainly felt their pain.

The Grief of Others is a novel that is difficult to forget. The writing is wonderful and although I had a difficult time with some of the characters, ultimately they were incredibly realistic and their grief was palpable. I can definitely recommend this novel.

 

 

 

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

The Year We Left HomeThe Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publicist

The Year We Left Home chronicles the trials and tribulations of an Iowa family over three generations. Eldest daughter Anita is happy as can be on her wedding day, yet as the years go on she becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her husband and their marriage. Her younger brother Ryan, desperate to escape their hometown, moves far away and gets involved with some hippies. And their youngest sister, Torrie, is also dying to escape Iowa, and her drastic departure has huge consequences for everyone.

I didn’t realize that Jean Thompson is more of a short story writer than a novel writer when I accepted this book. But after finishing The Year We Left Home, I can see how her strengths in writing short stories really helped make this book into what it is. Rather than being a concise, flowing novel, this book is really a series of interconnected stories. They all fit together perfectly, and all combined they do create a novel, but the flow is more short story and less novel. Which I happen to enjoy quite a bit, so this is not a negative at all. It just makes the book a little different from your typical family saga type novel.

The biggest strength of this novel, I think, is the characters. Thompson writes fully realized, complex characters with tons of emotional baggage – the kinds of characters that the reader both wants to run from but also can completely relate to. Life is messy, people are messy. People do stupid things, people hurt the ones they love, people act without thinking. And Thompson’s characters do all of these things and because of that they feel like real people. Real people you probably wouldn’t want to be friends with, but real people just the same.

One thing that is difficult to handle in The Year We Left Home is that there is very little joy in the novel. Everyone in this book has a hard life, has made bad decisions and must face the consequences, has been hurt themselves, etc. So it’s hard, as a reader, to keep reading a book where so much of what it contains is sadness. Although the book has a stark, sad feeling, I personally was not bothered by that. It felt realistic to me and because of that, I could take the lack of joy. But be warned – there’s not a whole lot of happiness in this novel.

Also, it’s clear from reading this book that Thompson is a fantastic writer. She really gets into the heads of her characters, exploring their thoughts and emotions in exquisite detail, and her writing is a pleasure to take in. Her dialogue feels real and as I stated before, she creates characters that are completely believable. I would definitely recommend The Year We Left Home. It’s not a perfect book, but the excellent characters and beautiful writing make up for some of its shortfalls.

Weekend Cooking: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

From the Unabridged Compact Disc editionKitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
Published by Random House Audio

Anthony Bourdain is not afraid to tell it like it is, and in Kitchen Confidential he takes the reader behind the scenes into the restaurant industry, showing the gritty, shocking aspects of life in a restaurant kitchen. Using his trademark sarcasm and deadpan hilariousness, Bourdain details his twenty-five years of life in the culinary world.

I find Anthony Bourdain absolutely hysterical and I love his dry, witty sense of humor, so when I saw that this book was available on audio (narrated by Bourdain himself) I couldn’t resist. The book was exactly what I was expecting and I’m glad that I read it, although I do need to caution you because the things he has to say really can be shocking and disgusting. I worked in the restaurant industry for years, and although I didn’t spend a ton of time in the kitchen (I was a server and later a bartender) I can tell you for sure that some of the things he describes I personally saw with my own eyes. So, unfortunately, he’s not lying here.

Besides the restaurant stuff, I enjoyed getting a peek into the way Bourdain’s mind works. There was one chapter where he literally runs through an entire average day, in excruciating detail, down to what he’s thinking about at each particular moment, and while this might be boring or annoying to some, I found it quite fascinating. It’s amazing how much detail, effort, and precision goes into running a restaurant kitchen and Bourdain illuminated that very well for the reader. Also, he’s just a touch crazy – in a good, entertaining way – so that made this section especially fun to listen to.

If you’re looking for a funny, truthful look at what really goes on in restaurant kitchens across America, look no further than Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Anthony Bourdain is sarcastic, witty, and scarily truthful as he details his life in the business and the things he’s experienced over his twenty-five years of experience. This audio was very enjoyable for me and I would definitely recommend it.

The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls

The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Thirty-something Bess Gray has resigned herself to a lifetime of being single when she meets handsome, charming, and hilariously funny Rory. Rory and Bess hit it off instantly, and before long, he’s asked for her hand in marriage. Imagine Bess’s shock and surprise when Rory reveals his big secret just after their engagement: he’s already been married eight times. Bess decides that in order to accept his proposal, she needs to get as many facts as possible about these wives. So along with her aging grandparents and her gay best friend, Bess sets out on a journey to meet as many of the wives as possible and get their sides of her future husband’s story.

The Ninth Wife is a story built upon an interesting premise – a woman wants to marry a man but she will literally be his ninth wife – and generally speaking, this novel delivers. There were many things about the book that I enjoyed, and overall it was a nice story with characters I liked and could relate to.

The book grabbed my interest from the start as it is narrated by Rory and Bess in alternating chapters, and when Rory is talking to the reader each chapter is devoted to telling the story of one particular wife, until the reader finally understands his entire marriage history. Later, it’s clear that when Rory is talking to the reader (he uses “you” a lot), he’s actually telling these stories to Bess after he confesses that he’s had eight wives. But either way, it gives the reader a full picture of Rory’s past and actually (this is hard to believe, but trust me on this) he is not such a bad guy. He has a legitimate story for each one of his wives, and it’s not tough to see how he got himself into eight marriages. And the funny thing is, he truly believes in marriage, which is why he’s so eager to get involved in it each time. Rory actually is a very complex character and I really liked him as a person – if he was real, I can see myself getting along famously with him. I liked Bess too although not as much as Rory. I didn’t “get” her quite how I wanted to, I felt that many of her actions were erratic and didn’t make a lot of sense, and I just wanted her to love Rory unconditionally even with his eight marriages. I did like her though, don’t get me wrong. I just liked Rory more.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the second half of the book less than the first half. The second half of the book begins with Bess deciding to make an attempt to meet Rory’s wives, as many as possible (one has passed away, one is in a foreign country, etc., so she can’t meet them all) and while the idea of this was interesting, I didn’t love reading it as much as I would have expected. Plus she’s doing all this in the context of a road trip with her grandparents, and I didn’t particularly connect with her grandparents, so generally these sections were just “eh” for me.

Although parts of The Ninth Wife were just okay, it came together perfectly in the end and I found myself really pleased with how everything worked out. There was one huge coincidence that I did not see coming (and I actually bought it, score one for Stolls) and I loved how that particular story line wrapped up. Overall, I did enjoy The Ninth Wife quite a bit and would recommend it.

Why I Love Singlehood by Elisa Lorello and Sarah Girrell

Why I Love Singlehood by Elisa Lorello and Sarah Girrell
Published by AmazonEncore
Review copy provided by the publicist

Eva Perino is happy to be uncoupled. She loves her work – she owns and runs The Grounds, a funky coffee shop in a college town – and she loves having the freedom to spend time with her friends and make her own rules. She’s so happy to be single that she starts a blog titled “Why I Love Singlehood.” However, once she learns of her ex’s recent engagement, she decides its time to at least dip her toe into the dating scene. So begins a journey through online dating, speed dating, and she even gets involved with one of The Grounds’ regular customers. It soon begins clear to Eva that she must decide who exactly she is and what exactly she’s looking for in a partner or this dating thing will never go her way.

I enjoyed Elisa Lorello’s two previous novels, Faking It [my review] and Ordinary World [my review] so I was more than happy to pick up a copy of this collaborative novel. I’m happy to report that Why I Love Singlehood is another fun, engaging chick lit novel with a ton of heart, just like Lorello’s other novels.

Eva is a character that most women will find easy to relate to. She’s had some bad luck when it comes to love – the relationship she thought would end in marriage didn’t work – but she’s not wallowing in self-pity. Instead, she’s looking to the bright side of things, enjoying the wonderful aspects of her life, and relishing in the fact that she can enjoy being single. I appreciated that she acknowledged that a person doesn’t have to be in a relationship to be happy, and that just because someone is in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy – this is something most chick lit novels do not admit.

Eva’s foray into the dating scene provides many hilarious moments for the reader, and also some heartwarming ones. Some of her adventures were quite entertaining, and I must admit to really enjoying being along for this ride.

The ending of the novel was a bit predictable, but satisfying all the same. Eva does go through quite a bit of introspection and self-analysis before finally setting on the right guy for her, and while she does find something resembling love in the end, the lessons she learned about herself are a huge part of the resolution as well.

I’m happy to have picked up Why I Love Singlehood and would definitely recommend it for fans of chick lit type novels.

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

In 1969, when Frances Ellerby is in her early twenties, she’s visiting a friend in Stiltsville, a community of homes on stilts in Biscayne Bay, Florida, when she meets and falls for handsome Dennis DuVal. Within weeks Frances is absolutely smitten with Dennis and leaves her boring life in Atlanta for the exciting and exotic Miami and the home in Stiltsville that comes with her new husband. She and Dennis later have a child, and although their life together isn’t always perfect and they endure many tribulations, it’s these issues that, over time, only bind them closer together.

I’m not sure what made me decide to finally pick up Stiltsville - honestly I think it was the beautiful cover – but I’m so happy that I did. I’d heard a lot about this book for a while, and now that I’ve read it I can see what all the fuss is about. This novel is really a story about a long and mostly happy marriage, and although the book sounds very simple, really it’s so much more than just that.

More than anything else, this is a character study. And while Frances and Dennis are the characters the reader is focusing on, their marriage is almost a character as well. I haven’t read a book in a long time that examined marriage in such an honest way as Stiltsville does. These two characters go through some truly difficult things as a couple, and my emotions were all over the place as I was reading their story. It felt so real to me because it was written so beautifully, but also because these characters got into my heart and stayed there. I rooted for their marriage just as they did, and I worried about it when things got sticky.

The city of Miami was just as much a character in the novel as the people were, as well as the tiny town of Stiltsville. The ocean air, the humidity and heat, and the casual way of living that defines life in South Florida were so easy to understand by reading this novel. I’ve spent a little time in Miami, and although the culture has changed a bit since the time period of this book, I can attest to the fact that Stiltsville gets it right in many ways. The laid-back, lackadaisical attitude of many Floridians was depicted very well in this novel, and I loved getting to step into this way of life as I was reading the book.

I have to say that Stiltsville really got me emotionally. By the end of the novel, I was hanging on to every word and I even shed a few tears in certain places. This novel really does grab you and it made its way into my soul. This truly shows how talented Suanna Daniel is, and I would definitely love to read anything else she writes.

I would highly recommend Stiltsville. There are so many things to love about this novel – great writing, a fully developed sense of place, and characters that will stick with you for a long time.