Wednesday, November 23, 2016

December Book Post

Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Title Alert:  this book is NOT about religion or religious faith; it is about the faith in the human spirit to be strong, to withstand tragedy and change and heartbreak, to be able to accept and return love, to survive.  We meet Shelby at age 17, having survived a terrible car crash that left her best friend in a permanently vegetative state.  After months in a psychiatric ward where she is sexually assaulted, her mother rescues her and therein begins to road to recovery.  In order to assuage her guilt, Shelby shaves her head, turns her straight-A student persona into a drug-addicted, aimless, never-leaving-her-basement kind of girl.  Throughout the next ten years, we see Shelby as she tiptoes back into life, with a lot of help: her mother Sue, who sits in a loveless marriage and continues to prod her daughter towards love; Ben, the drug dealer who sees past the bald head and the potential inside both of them; Maravelle, the single mom of three children who shockingly decides Shelby is worth the effort of friendship; and the postcards that come anonymously throughout the years that remind her what life should something, see something, believe something, dream something.  Throw in her adorable dogs that she rescues (okay, she actually steals them into a better life), and Hoffman has once again touched my heart.  Granted, she is one of my favorite authors, but occasionally our favs can let us down...but not this time.  This book is magic.

Hidden Figures by
The movie comes out on Christmas Day this year, so this is a fantastic book to get anyone in your family who loves space, flight, math, physics, and needs some women to admire and idolize.  My father used to hitch rides out to the local airfield just to stare at the planes, he flew bomber planes off of carriers in WWII, and worked on the first lunar orbiter during his time with Boeing; I grew up with stories about NASA, the moonshot, Sputnik, you name it, but I never heard about these courageous black women who changed the face of American engineering and enabled us to set foot on the moon. This book follows three amazing women from the 1930's through the 1960's:  Katherine Johnson, the first woman to have her name on a NASA research report; Dorothy Vaughn, the lead of the West section of computers at the early space and flight research center in Langley, Virginia; and Mary Jackson, who helped America catch up with Russia in the space race.  This book is filled with jaw-dropping stories of discrimination during the Jim Crow era, inspiring tales of women who respectfully, consistently, and strongly continued to demand their place at the table, and admiration for a group of people (politicians, astronauts, engineers, mathematicians, teachers, etc.) who looked past race and gender to create something bigger than humanity.  This book is just plain awesome.

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander
I received this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest evaluation so here it is.  A debut novel for Alexander, this is a solid first outing.  The plot premise is of high-interest, focusing on the Magdalen laundries run by the Catholic nuns in England and Ireland.  Teenage girls who were considered 'loose,' or distractingly pretty, or 'wild,' or all other ridiculously sexist reasons, were signed over to these laundries by their parents and basically imprisoned for the rest of their lives.  Alexander places the story in 1962, with three young women who were residents of a laundry in Dublin:  Teagan (aka Theresa) who catches the eye of a priest so is hidden away lest the priest succumb to her 'wiles,'; Nora (aka Monica), a perfectly normal rebellious teenage girl with alcoholic parents who want perfection; and Lea, an orphaned girl with special gifts who accepts her fate.  This triumvirate form a surprising bond in their prison and scheme to escape the lives set out for them by not only their parents, but the rigid expectations of a very Catholic society.  I read voraciously, finishing in just one day, but was ultimately a tad disappointed.  While realizing the inherent sexism of the time, I felt as if the author also dealt with the characters in a rather stereotypical way; I would have liked to see more authorial courage to deal with grittier themes.  In addition, throwing in some ghosts and religious 'sightings' in the last one third of the book was awkward.  If surrealism is going to be a part of the story, then thread the motif throughout the book; by throwing it in near the end, it seemed a bit of a cop-out.  Ultimately, I think this author has real potential and I look forward to his/her next book.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
If I were to just scratch the surface, this is not my kind of book.  It has guns, and I mean a lot of guns; it begins with a child shooting a gun, chapters about each of the twelve bullet holes placed on Samuel Hawley's body, and minute description of his large gun collection.  However, below the surface, this is a powerful story of a wounded man, both physically and emotionally, loyalty to friends and family, and the unending search for love in this world.  I honestly did not think this book would be as deep as it became; I was figuring a bang-bang, shoot-em-up thriller, but I was so wrong.  The story swerves back and forth in time, spooling out the story of Hawley's life through each of his twelve wounds:  his beginning steps into the criminal world, the marriage and loss of his wife, his complicated relationship with his daughter and mother-in-law, and his search for heroism.  Tinti is a talented author, who uses the threads of Hercules and his twelve labors, the desire to be heroic when one is riddled with flaws, and the call of not only nature but the wisdom in the stars to show each character the way home, both literally and figuratively.  Do not put this book down, do not skim the surface and think it is a thriller - dive deep and swim through this rich and exciting book.  It is well worth your time.

1 comment:

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