Tag Archives: literature

Christian books

I have a love-hate relationship with Christian fiction.

I read tons of Christian fiction when I was growing up, but I also read tons of general fiction, from both the children’s and general collections at my local library. I grew up, as it were, on Janette Oke and the like — this is what was available. But even as a tween I grew tired of these books.

For many years I abstained from reading Christian fiction, because most of it (that I picked up, anyway) fit this mold of overwrought, very predictable, very safe, very *very*. Everything tied up with a bow. Everything concluded. No mystery, no room for wonder or doubt.

I still go to Christian fiction when I want a safe read.

In the past couple years, though, my frustration with what is Christian fiction has only grown. Sure, I’ve found a few authors I respect and whose works I want to devour. River Jordan springs to mind, and I’ve only read one of her books!

One more example of greatness: Wounded: A Love Story by Claudia Mair Burney.

But what I’ve more largely found is that the books I want to find, to read — that I’ll love — are really hard to find. I want books that deal with faith, but books in which nothing is a foregone conclusion. Books that challenge me, books that expand my world rather than shrink it. The only place I’ve reliably found these books, so far, is the Image Journal list. Which is why I’ve made it my aim to read all the books on the list. And in most cases, I hope to read much more broadly of each author listed. But this list only contains books published in the 1900s. Many of the authors listed therein are dead, not writing new books. So where do I go to consistently find books like this being published now?

Christian fiction *could* be the place for these books. Right now it’s not, though. And maybe it shouldn’t be. But that’s a discussion for another day.

For now, though, I guess I’ll keep on ‘kissing a lot of frogs …’ to find the great books.

NOTE: I was inspired to get these thoughts down, and published, by My Friend Amy’s post Christian Fiction: What Is Going On? It’s excellent. You should read it. It’s probably more useful, more productive, than this one.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books, a Putnam imprint, 2009), 464 pages

Through the alternating viewpoints of Skeeter, a recent college graduate who’s back at home and struggling to find her place; Aibileen, who works as house help for Skeeter’s friend Elizabeth; and Aibileen’s sass-mouthed friend Minny (also a maid), we get a picture of Jackson, Mississippi, 1962-1964. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement as it’s taught in schools — Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counter — The Help paints the situation from a different perspective.

Like The Book Thief, this is one I’ve known I wanted to read for ages. I’ve heard amazing things about it, but unfortunately it took me awhile to get my hands on it and read it. Once again, I wasn’t disappointed by the hype.

I love this book. This isn’t really surprising to me, since it has so many elements that I frequently love in a book. Certainly, some very tough situations are presented to the reader. I love this book enough that I’m having trouble putting my praise into words. I have no complaints. An awesome book.

Filled with triumphs and moments of deep sadness, The Help is ultimately a hope-filled story.

If you haven’t read The Help yet, why not? If you have read it, how do you feel about it now, a little more removed from it?

About the author
The Help is Stockett’s debut novel. Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and received a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Alabama. She lives in Atlanta.

Other reviews (more raves!)
The Book Lady’s Blog
At Home with Books
S. Krishna’s Books
Maw Books
One Person’s Journey through a World of Books

Want still more reviews? Check out the Book Blogs Search Engine.

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I checked this book out from the library. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

angel's gameThe Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Doubleday, June 16, 2009 USA), 544 pages

The Angel’s Game is set in the same world as The Shadow of the Wind, a dark, foreboding Barcelona. This book takes place a couple decades before Shadow, in the 1920s. It’s only kind of a prequel, though. Both books could stand alone. (I don’t know why you’d read one and not the other, though!) David Martin, our main character, is a writer. As a youngster, he started out as an assistant at a local newspaper, but one well-known writer takes him under his wing, recognizes his talent, and gets him his big break.

The dark, gothic tale underscores the various strata of society, stars The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere and Sons bookshop, threads of a mystery, love, and friendship.

I was excited to read this, coming on the heels of me finally experiencing (and loving!) Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind.

This book is darker, more gory than The Shadow of the Wind; more cynical, too.

Ruiz Zafón’s writing is lovely. Gorgeous, brilliant. It sings.

I found Zafon’s words describing the book’s place in relation to The Shadow of the Wind helpful:

Years ago, when I began working on my fifth novel, The Shadow of the Wind, I started toying around with the idea of creating a fictional universe that would be articulated through four interconnected stories in which we would meet some of the same characters at different times in their lives, and see them from different perspectives where many plots and subplots would tie around in knots for the reader to untie. It sounds somewhat pretentious, but my idea was to add a twist to the story and provide the reader with what I hoped would be a stimulating and playful reading experience. Since these books were, in part, about the world of literature, books, reading and language, I thought it would be interesting to use the different novels to explore those themes through different angles and to add new layers to the meaning of the stories.

At first I thought this could be done in one book, but soon I realized it would make Shadow of the Wind a monster novel, and in many ways, destroy the structure I was trying to design for it. I realized I would have to write four different novels. They would be stand-alone stories that could be read in any order. I saw them as a Chinese box of stories with four doors of entry, a labyrinth of fictions that could be explored in many directions, entirely or in parts, and that could provide the reader with an additional layer of enjoyment and play. These novels would have a central axis, the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, set against the backdrop of a highly stylized, gothic and mysterious Barcelona. Since each novel was going to be complex and difficult to write, I decided to take one at a time and see how the experiment evolved on its own in an organic way.

It all sounds very complicated, but it is not. At the end of the day, these are just stories that share a universe, a tone and some central themes and characters. You don’t need to care or know about any of this stuff to enjoy them. One of the fun things about this process was it allowed me to give each book a different personality. Thus, if Shadow of the Wind is the nice, good girl in the family, The Angel’s Game would be the wicked gothic stepsister. Some readers often ask me if The Angel’s Game is a prequel or a sequel. The answer is: none of these things, and all of the above. Essentially The Angel’s Game is a new book, a stand-alone story that you can fully enjoy and understand on its own. But if you have already read The Shadow of the Wind, or you decide to read it afterwards, you’ll find new meanings and connections that I hope will enhance your experience with these characters and their adventures.

The Angel’s Game has many games inside, one of them with the reader. It is a book designed to make you step into the storytelling process and become a part of it. In other words, the wicked, gothic chick wants your blood. Beware. Maybe, without realizing, I ended up writing a monster book after all … Don’t say I didn’t warn you, courageous reader. I’ll see you on the other side. —Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I love the idea of a “Chinese box of stories with four doors of entry, a labyrinth of fictions that could be explored in many directions, entirely or in parts.” And I agree that the personality of this book is quite different than that of The Shadow of the Wind.

I loved this book. I probably enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind more, but I fervently wish Ruiz Zafón wrote faster!

Ruiz Zafón divides his time between Barcelona and Los Angeles. The Angel’s Game website.

Other reviews:
The Book Lady’s Blog
The Book Catapult
Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

shadow of the windThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001; translation: 2004 by Lucia Graves), 487 pages

The Shadow of the Wind opens in 1945 as 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, son of a Barcelona bookseller, visit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time (on the morning of the day he awakes having forgotten what his departed mother looked like). Sempere is allowed to take one book home with him, agreeing to take responsibility for the book being remembered. The book he chooses, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, keeps him spellbound. When he learns that Carax grew up in Barcelona and that all other known copies of the book (all books by Carax, for that matter) have been burned by a mysterious figure, his interest in the story only grows. But as Sempere digs, the questions only grow more numerous.

This book was recommended to me by a reading friend, years ago. I had it waiting in my TBR pile for just a couple months, but moved it way up when I received an advance copy of Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game (a prequel to Shadow of the Wind, due out June 16, 2009).

Burning question: How come no one told me this was a book within a book story? I trusted my friend’s recommendation, but I think I might have been more urgent in my pursuit of this volume if I’d known that it’s a story within a story within a story.

I was hooked from the first paragraph.

The writing is beautiful. Probably not the most beautiful language I’ve ever read, but lovely indeed. It begs to be read slowly. The Barcelona setting really shines. I want to visit.

I would call this a gothic novel, but it’s not as dark as I would expect gothic novels to be. It’s definitely literary fiction. It reminds me, at least in some ways, to the movie Pan’s Labyrinth (use of imagery, perhaps?). I appreciated that the author doesn’t spoon feed the reader. He assumes a certain level of intelligence (or attention to detail, in this case), which only makes it better.

A grand, sweeping tale, beautifully told. I loved this book.

Other reviews:
A Dribble of Ink
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews
Jen’s Book Thoughts
Books and So Many More Books
The Biblio Brat

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

scoop-waughScoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938), 336 pages

Scoop follows William Boot, minor nature column writer, as he’s sent by the Daily Beast in London to cover an impending war in a fictionalized East African country (now Ethiopia).

It’s written in short mini-chapters, sometimes less than a page long.

At the beginning, the pacing (and the content, at least to a certain degree) reminded me of Gilmore Girls. At about the 100-page mark, I was reminded of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (in writing style and content); this was the more enduring comparison. Obviously, I’ve got this wrong; Waugh wrote before either of these things I’m comparing this to was created. Either way, this is definitely satire, of journalism. Written in a deadpan style.

I laughed and laughed. I smiled often while reading this book.

I posted a quote from this book last week.

This is my first Waugh. It won’t be my last. (Brideshead Revisited is on deck, although I’ve heard Brideshead is very different than Scoop.)

Waugh grew up as the son of an editor and publisher. He worked as a journalist for some time.

More about Waugh and his writing:
The Evelyn Waugh Society.
A guided tour of Waugh’s works.

Other reviews:
Reading Matters

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

Don’t forget about my giveaway!

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

charming-billyCharming Billy: A Novel by Alice McDermott (1998 ), 280 pages

Winner of the 1998 National Book Award.

Set in New York, both in New York City and in the Hamptons.

Charming Billy is essentially bookended by the funeral of Billy Lynch. It backtracks to cover the family’s story from the mid-1940s on (plus snippets from earlier as well), starting when the boys, Billy and Dennis, cousins from Irish Catholic homes, get back from World War II. They take a hiatus that summer to restore a much-neglected bungalow in the Hamptons.

The book’s narrator is the unnamed daughter, now grown, of Dennis Lynch.

Right from the first couple pages, this was a welcoming book. The writing is quiet, calm, smooth.

    “My parents, I have to believe, had a marriage that ran the typical course from early infatuation to serious love to affection occasionally diminished by impatience and disagreement, bolstered by interdependence, fanned now and then by fondness, by humor. That they loved each other is a given, I suppose, although I suppose, too, that there were months, maybe years, when their love for one another might have disappeared altogether and their lives proceeded only out of habit or the failure to imagine any other alternative” (page 52).

Really, this book wasn’t sad like I expected it to be, after reading “devastating in its emotional impact,” and “A haunting … work” on the back cover. Even the Amazon review calls it “a devastating account of the power of longing and lies, love’s tenacity, and resignation’s hold.” I disagree, though. I didn’t find Charming BIlly devastating at all. It does contain notes of melancholy, but it’s about a man who died!

It was, at only a couple points, a little difficult to remember what time period I was returning to as the narrative jumped around. This didn’t happen often, though, and it was quickly remedied. Even when this did happen, it wasn’t drastic or jarring to me.

This is a lovely story with rich characters that explores family relationships, truth and lies, love and loss, drinking, alcoholism, work, and the church.

I wanted the book to contain a family tree; I think this would have been very helpful in keeping everyone straight in my mind. (I sometimes couldn’t keep the song by the same name out of my head while reading. I’m guessing that’s intentional.)

This book is on the Image Journal list, a long-term challenge I’ve set for myself.

While I wouldn’t class this as one of the best of the best books I’ve read, it was a good, quiet read.

McDermott has written several other books.

‘Read a book, get out of jail’

We know books can change lives (right?), but courts in nine states have taken that and expanded its reach.

Essay in the New York Times Book Review:

In a scuffed-up college classroom in Dartmouth, Mass., 14 people page through a short story by T.C. Boyle. They debate the date at which the action is set: when was the Chevy Bel Air released, and what was the drinking age in New York State that year? They question moral responsibility: when the three friends in the Bel Air assault a girl, should peer pressure be blamed for their impulse, or hormones, drink, sin? To which the man at the head of our table rejoins: “There’s a kind of complexity to human experience that isn’t always recognized. You try to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, but sometimes both are wrong, right?”

Of the 14 people, a dozen are male. One is an English professor, one is a graduate student, two are judges and two are probation officers. The eight others are convicted criminals who have been granted probation in exchange for attending, and doing the homework for, six twice-monthly seminars on literature. The class is taught through Changing Lives Through Literature, an alternative sentencing program that allows felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club. At each two-hour meeting, students discuss fiction, memoirs and the occasional poem; authors range from Frederick Douglass to John Steinbeck to Toni Morrison, topics from self-­mutilation and family quarrels to the Holocaust and the Montgomery bus boycott. …

Read the full article here.

Hat Tip: Brandilyn Collins, via Twitter on Facebook.

Edited to add: From the comment below: Changing Lives Through Literature’s official website and blog.

In the Deep Midwinter by Robert Clark

deep-midwinterIn the Deep Midwinter: A Novel by Robert Clark (1997), 278 pages

Set primarily in 1949 and 1950, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

I picked up Clark’s book on the recommendation of Gregory Wolfe and (particularly) Sara Zarr.

I finished In the Deep Midwinter in mid-January, and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it. It’s reminding me of Cloudstreet in that respect. It also took me a long time to read — I started it right after Christmas.

The writing is graceful. I can’t quibble with that. Simple, straightforward, and yet still almost majestic at times. But it’s melancholic, too.

This is a novel about relationships, family, faith, choices, right and wrong (and perceptions of the same). It asks tough (but good) questions.

My struggle was with the content; I was blindsided by a couple dark themes in the book.

Because of that, I won’t be delving into more Robert Clark soon (at least without a bit more research into the specific title).

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.