The Healing by Jonathan Odell

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As I sit to write a review on this book, I’m still not sure how I feel about it exactly. And I suppose that’s ok with me.

imagesThe Healing begins with Gran Gran helping Violet, a young girl who’s mother has just passed away. Gran Gran fears that Violet’s body will heal, but her mind will remain broken. The only thing that seems to calm her is hearing the old stories. So Gran Gran tells her story to the girl, beginning around the time of her birth as a slave. The book jumps backwards and forwards between the two time periods, always in a manner that is easily followed. The story captured me. The characters and I didn’t really speak the same language, but they made themselves understood nonetheless.

I’ve said before that I don’t like being told how to think about something, and I felt that way about this book. That I was being coached in the ways of Polly’s religion. Polly is a slave that bursts onto the scene when a doctor is needed for the slaves. The master buys her and then basically does whatever she tells him to do. In return, she heals a group of slaves that previously had no hope of survival. She takes Granada on as an apprentice and proceeds to teach her how to be herself. There are so many pearls of wisdom woven through this book; about being who you were created to be, not who you’ve been told you are; about freedom being something you find in your mind before it is realized physically; about family and belonging and healing. But, there was too much “my god is better than your god” for me to be completely comfortable.

Another thing that I often wonder with historical fiction is how much of people’s attitudes and thoughts are shaped by current standards and thoughts. There were so many times that I thought the slaves acted like servants rather than slaves. As if they had freedoms that I didn’t understand slaves to have.

But always I go back to the parts that I loved, and this line at the end when Gran Gran is describing a group of boys is one of my favorite things of all, “…self assured yet with faces fixed in innocent wonder. The Lord could show Himself at any second and they would see Him first, for He was already in their eyes.” Lines like this kept me reading in expectation. That Jonathan Odell would understand everyday things, while approaching them in a way that highlights something new and amazing.

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

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What Alice forgotWhat Alice Forgot” opens with Alice Love regaining conciousness on the floor of a gym. We meander through her daydreams and memories of being 29, newly pregnant, and madly in love with her husband. But when she wakes up, she is told that she is 39, with three children and going through a nasty divorce. “That was the day Alice Mary Love went to the gym and carelessly misplaced a decade of her life.”

We follow Alice as she navigates this new life. Because she believes she is 29, she sees the world as fresh and new and beautiful. But the life she is dropped into has lost all of those qualities, and it is up to her to puzzle out why. However, all of the people that she turned to a decade before have been alienated to some degree by one thing or another.

The whole time I was reading this book, I was intrigued by the premise of it. Alice is able to objectively evaluate the choices she made for a decade. And it is the kinder, gentler version of herself analyzing everything. Not the cynical 39 year old near divorcee! At one point, Alice’s sister Elisabeth tells her this: “Maybe this memory loss is sort of a good thing because it will help you see things more objectively without your mind being cluttered with everything that’s happened over the last ten years. And once you get your memory back, you’ll still have a different perspective and you and Nick will be able to work things out without all the fighting.”

I love a book that challenges me to think differently and this one does just that. Liane Moriarty seems to be shouting, “Just let go of your bitterness and hurt for a moment and really think about what you’re doing!” So often we hold onto the past as if it’s all we have, when what we really need to do is learn from it and live for today. So I challenge you to read this book. Remind yourself of simpler times. Take a long hard look at your life and see if there are things that need to be changed. If you’re like me, you’ll be inspired to be kinder by following the example of Alice Love.

 

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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“What do you seek in these shelves?”  Clay Jannon walks into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore and isMr-Penumbras-24-hr-Bookstore greeted with just this question. What he’s looking for is a job. What he finds is an adventure. Marked by strange customers, tall bookshelves and lots of hours leftover to think and plan.

I loved this book. I was a bit worried when Jannon breaks one of the rules laid out for him by Penumbra, but instead of being in trouble for the indiscretion, he is rewarded for his curiosity. Once that happened, I was able to relax and enjoy the adventure without the fear that our beloved hero would disappoint his mentor.

This is a fun book. It takes you on an adventure that melds the generations gone before with the technology of today. It challenges you to see the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Instead of always looking for something greater that has been left to you by someone else, look around at what you have. Appreciate it. Life your life fully. Don’t waste your days stuck trying to figure out someone else’s journey. Live your own. And be aware of what you are doing.

“I pushed the bookstore’s glass door. It made a bell tinkle brightly up above, and I stepped slowly through. I did not realize at the time what an important threshold I had just crossed.”

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

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the-gods-of-guilt“I took a right on First and saw the Town Cars parked along the sidewalk. There were six of them in line like a funeral procession, their drivers gathered together on the sidewalk, shooting the breeze and waiting. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but ever since the movie, a whole contingent of Lincoln lawyers had cropped up and routinely crowded the curbs outside the courthouses of L.A. I was both proud and annoyed. I had heard more than a few times that there were other lawyers out there saying they were the inspiration for the film. On top of that, I had jumped into the wrong Lincoln at least three times in the past month.” -Mickey Haller

I love a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Especially when said book is well written and entertaining in many different ways. Mickey Haller gets a call to defend a man accused of murder only to find out that the victim was a former client of his. A woman he had relocated years earlier, who then returned home even though it was unsafe. The accused maintains his innocence, and claims that he was referred by the victim herself.

Maybe like me, you have seen Matthew McConaughey play the Lincoln layer in the movie that is referred to in this book! Maybe that is enough reason for you to pick up the book and have a read. But, if it’s not, then let me give you a few more reasons.

1. A varied cast of characters, none quite like another, so that you will absolutely fall in love with at least one of them. My favorite is the driver Earl. Loyal, tough with a heart of gold. You know the type.

2. A story that never lags, but keeps your interest no matter how long it takes you to read.

3. The tension of whether there would be a happy ending or not. Of course I thought there would be, but then something would go wrong and I’d be in doubt. Then, just when I again assured myself that it would end well, something would happen to make me doubt my story predicting abilities, not to mention my faith that Michael Connelly would write the ending that I wanted.

If you want more reasons, go read it yourself. Seriously, you’re going to love it. Have I steered you wrong yet? (If I have, I’m ever so very sorry!)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Immortal Life HLI was pretty excited to read this book. I had heard about it a couple times so when I found it at a book fair, I grabbed it right up. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.

When Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951, some of the cancerous cells were sent to a lab where they became the first human cells to be kept alive and reproduce on their own. They were called the first immortal human cells. Using the first two letters of her first and last names, they were named HeLa. Because of their incredible growth rate, they were used in medical research around the globe. HeLa cells have been in some way involved in just about every medical advance since 1951.

The rest of this story comes decades later when Henrietta’s family hears that their mother/wife’s cells have been used in all this research. They spend much time and energy worrying if their mother is actually being kept alive somewhere, and also how they can get compensated for the use of her cells after all this time.

So many people have enjoyed this book that if you have planned to read it, you still should! You may enjoy it. But alas, I did not.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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stripedpyjamasBruno is nine years old when his father is transferred to a new job. The German family packs up their belongings and moves to Out-With. The first time Bruno looks out his new bedroom window and sees the low huts with so many people all milling about in striped pyjamas, you realize that his childlike mind has changed Auschwitz into Out-With; and that his father is the commandante of a concentration camp and that he has no idea what any of it means.

I loved the innocence that a child’s vocabulary brought to such a dark part of history. Listen to his description of Hitler, “The Fury was far shorter than Father and not, Bruno supposed, quite as strong. He had dark hair, which was cut quite short, and a tiny moustache- so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.” His little thoughts were enchanting and I found myself smiling and giggling along with him.

There were times that his ignorance broke my heart, and times when I was glad he had no idea what was going on around him.

Overall it was a good book. It made you think differently about things, and wonder what life was like on both sides of the fence. The only thing I disagreed with a bit was that it seemed to me that the majority of the people wished they weren’t Nazis. There was one particularly unkind guard at the camp, but other than that, most of the adults disagreed with Bruno’s father. Or were not proud of what they were doing. And it seemed to me that if the Nazis were anything, it was proud. It seems unlikely to me that the 9 year old son of a commandante would be so ignorant of the Nazi ideals. Maybe I’m wrong, but the book seems apologetically Nazi and in my mind, that is an oxymoron. The Nazis did not apologize. They thought they were right.

I would recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” to anybody. It was sad, as you’d expect a book about Auschwitz to be, but the sadness was tempered a bit by the imagination and thoughts of a little boy trying to figure life out.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

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The Wild Girl” is a dark and beautiful book that reminds me of King Solomon’s words:Image

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Dortchen Wild grew up next door to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and is one of their main sources for the fables and tales that were rewritten and published to make sure the world didn’t forget the old stories that had been told from generation to generation before them.

The story begins as any good fairy tale does, with young love and adventure and excitement. But, soon, the dark realities of life in the early 1800s in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel set in. With war in the background and hunger and poverty in the foreground, we read the story of Dortchen who has to battle evil even in her own home.

Near the beginning of the book, Dortchen and Wilhelm are talking about the power that words have. “He said that words have a remarkable power. The word “God” is only three letters, yet how much meaning is in those three letters? It’s vast, unimaginable. Think of the word “liberty”. Only seven letters, yet it changed a whole country and looks like it might change the world.” This sort of thinking sets up the whole premise of the book. How often do we speak or read words and stories without really examining the meaning behind them. We accept them at face value without delving into the depths that are contained inside. Kate Forsyth does that sort of digging for us, though, and this book is a possible insight into the lives of Wilhelm and Dortchen. She never says that this is their story. But, she lets you know that it could have been. Just as it is the story of so many before and after them.

The book left me with a heavy heart, but it’s the kind of heaviness that reminds me that people are broken and hurting and we need to hear their cries for help, no matter how they are disguised. I didn’t want to put it down. I read it every chance I got hoping for redemption and a happily ever after. I won’t tell you if those come or not. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and you will be glad you did. Enjoy your foray into the tales of your childhood. See how they have changed through the years, and the circumstances that created them, and what may have changed them.