Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Lost Hours, by Karen White

thelosthoursThe Lost Hours is a novel about Piper Mills, a former equestrian champion who hasn’t ridden a horse since a devastating accident six years ago, when she was an Olympic hopeful. Piper’s parents died when she was a child, and when the grandparents who raised her both die, Piper begins a journey of self-discovery that will lead her through the secrets of her grandmother’s past and into her own future.

This is an easy, compelling read which moved quickly and held my interest.  The author’s technique of switching from Piper’s first person point of view to the third-person perspective of two other characters, Lilian and Helen, was jarring at first but I soon got used to it.

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The Girl She Used to Be, by David Cristofano

girl-she-used-to-beThe Girl She Used to Be is built on a fascinating concept.  Melody Grace McCartney has been in the Witness Protection Program ever since she was six years old, when she and her parents accidentally witnessed a brutal Mafia murder.  Since then, she’s been constantly on the move, from one bland American small town to the next, changing identities, never able to put down roots.  Because Melody has no past, she is unable to have a future or even much of a present.

By the time the story opens, she’s twenty-six and her parents are dead.  Melody has gotten in the habit of using the witness protection program as an escape valve when her life gets boring.  As the novel begins, Melody (currently Sandra) once again calls the FBI to let them know that she’s been receiving (imaginary) threats on her life, and immediately she is whisked away yet again to begin another new life.

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Heart and Soul, by Maeve Binchy

heartandsoulYou can always rely on Maeve Binchy for a good, satisfying, heartwarming read.  I’ve complained in a previous review that some of her latest novels, though categorized as novels rather than short story collections, are really more like collections of linked short stories.  Heart and Soul follows a similar pattern, focusing on the staff and patients at a Dublin cardiac care clinic through the first year of the clinic’s operation. The book follows several storylines as various characters interact and deal with their own different kinds of “heart problems.”

I’m slowly starting to realize that Binchy’s last several books — going back at least as far as Evening Class to include Scarlet Feather, Quentin’s, Nights of Rain and Stars, Whitethorn Woods and possibly others I haven’t read, are all linked together, with characters from one book appearing in another and storylines left unresolved in an earlier book quietly picked up and completed in the next, sometimes on the fringes of the main action.  These books together have created a community of characters, a microcosm of a modern-day Dublin that is, of course, romanticized but not lacking in realism either.

There was enough continuity between the different characters’ stories in Heart and Soul that I was able to enjoy the whole thing as a novel even while jumping from one story to another, and the book actually made me want to go back and reread some of the earlier ones to follow the characters’ story arcs more completely.  I’ve decided to stop mourning the era of Maeve’s earlier novels, like Echoes and Circle of Friends, and embrace what she’s doing in her newer books, because I like that sense of the characters forming a huge extended family and their lives touching each other’s lives.  As always, a satisfying though not challenging read.

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The Devil’s Brood, by Sharon Kay Penman

devilsbroodWell, to me Sharon Kay Penman is and will always be the Queen of Historical Fiction, so let’s get that out of the way right up front. This is the third of her novels about the ill-starred marriage of two medieval powerhouses, Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitane.  This one, as the title suggests, deals mainly with their four sons: Hal, Richard, Geoffrey and John, who spent most of their young adulthood at war with each other and their father before two of them died, leaving Richard and John to hate each other for the rest of their natural lives. Throw in a famously romantic love-match that ends with Henry keeping Eleanor in prison for the last 16 years of their marriage, and you’ve got a family that really puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”

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The Passion of Mary-Margaret, by Lisa Samson

marymargaretOne of my ongoing reader complaints is that there isn’t enough good Christian fiction. (I am, of course, doing what I can to remedy that personally).  That, of course, leads to the inevitable question “What do you mean by Christian fiction?” There’s “fiction written by Christians,” which could include an awful lot of mainstream fiction; “fiction written by Christians explicitly including Christian themes, but addresed to a mainstream audience,” of which I think Marilynne Robinson’s books are the best current example, and then there’s what most people mean when they say “Christian fiction”: fiction written by Christians, for Christians, including explicitly Christian themes and subject matter and published by Christian publishing houses.  And it’s in this latter category that we find, sadly, a lot of bad writing.

I think there’s room in the writing/publishing world for Christians to be writing in all three of these categories, but I do lament the fact that we don’t see more high-quality writing coming out of the “by Christians, for Christians” category of books published by Christian presses.  I’ve said before that I think Lisa Samson might be a shining exception to that rule, and now, having read The Passion of Mary-Margaret, I’m sure of it.

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Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris

acediaAcedia, in case you didn’t know, is a word that fourth-century Christian monks used to describe a temptation that’s difficult to translate into modern English.  The word has been used in lots of ways and contexts since, although it’s fallen out of common use: it’s closely allied to, though not identical with, the Deadly Sin of Sloth, and attempts to explain the concept in a modern context relate acedia to: boredom, laziness, ennui, even depression.  It’s a tough concept to explain, but not so difficult to recognize — especially for the reader to recognize aspects of her own struggles in Norris’s book, which is part memoir, part reflection on the meaning of acedia and its relevance for the twenty-first century.

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10-10-10 by Suzy Welch

101010I’m not normally one for self-help books, but when my friend Christine reviewed this one at her site Three Deep Breaths and then loaned me her copy, I gave it a try.  It’s a short, light, very readable book in which Suzy Welch, who is among other things a columnist for O magazine, lays out a simple decision-making strategy she calls 10-10-10.

Here’ s the premise: when faced with a decision, you ask yourself, “What will be the results of this decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? In 10 years?” The time frames themselves are completely arbitrary; the point is to look at the results of a decision in terms of the short, medium, and long-range effects, and clarify, according to your values, what is the best choice for you.

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