Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Dear John

December 26, 2008

Dear John
By Nicholas Sparks
276 Pages
Finished 12/26/08

Summary:

An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life–until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart. But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. “Dear John,” the letter read…and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love—and face the hardest decision of his life.

There’s not much to say about this one….if you’ve read one Nicholas Sparks novel, you’ve read them all. That’s not to say that they aren’t enjoyable, but they are somewhat predictable and generally cheesy. Dear John was the same. While not my favorite Sparks novel to date, it was an easy read and good enough to get my recommendation.

2008 Page Count: 10,898

Book Review: Grace

December 21, 2008

Grace
By Richard Paul Evans
311 Pages
Finished 12/20/08

Summary:

Grace is the story of a young runaway girl and the boy who hides her from a frightening world too large and unfathomable for him to comprehend. It is also about two brothers and the love that binds them together through difficult times. In some ways this is the most autobiographical of all my novels. When I was eight-years-old my father lost his job and we moved from our beautiful home in California to a rundown, rat-infested home in a poor neighborhood, like the one I describe in the story. Most of all, Grace is a story of a young couple learning to love.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Richard Paul Evans is one of my favorite authors. He really knows how to tell a good story! His newest novel, Grace, was another great read. I’ve heard many reviews that label Grace as Evans’ best novel to date. While it doesn’t quite reach that status for me, I did enjoy it a lot and devoured it in just over one day.

2008 Page Count: 10,622

Book Review: The Christmas Sweater

December 18, 2008

The Christmas Sweater
By Glenn Beck
273 Pages
Finished 12/18/08

Summary:

When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. Although his life had gotten harder—and money tighter—since his father died and the family bakery closed…Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to have his dream bike gleaming beside their modest Christmas tree that magical morning.

What he got from her instead was a sweater. “A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater” that young Eddie left in a crumpled ball in the corner of his room.

Scarred deeply by the realization that kids don’t always get what they want, and too young to understand that he already owned life’s most valuable treasures, that Christmas morning was the beginning of Eddie’s dark and painful journey on the road to manhood. It will take wrestling with himself, his faith, and his family—and the guidance of a mysterious neighbor named Russell—to help Eddie find his path through the storm clouds of life and finally see the real significance of that simple gift his mother had crafted by hand with love in her heart.

Based on a deeply personal true story, The Christmas Sweater is a warm and poignant tale of family, faith and forgiveness that offers us a glimpse of our own lives—while also making us question if we really know what’s most important in them.

I put this book on hold at the library several weeks ago, and the line was long enough that I was sure I wouldn’t have a chance to read it until after Christmas. But, it came in a couple of days ago–lucky me! I enjoy holiday books and The Christmas Sweater was no exception. The based-on-a-true-story element gives the message being taught an even deeper meaning. I related to Eddie as I remembered the stubborn days of my youth….I’m sure my mom can recount more than one instance when I was acting selfishly and stubbornly stood my “I’m right, you’re wrong” ground. Hopefully I’ve grown up some since then 😉 . No matter the season, The Christmas Sweater is a book worth picking up and reading!

2008 Page Count: 10,311

Book Review: Tara Road

December 14, 2008

Tara Road
By Maeve Binchy
502 pages
Finished 12/14/08

Summary:

Ria Lynch and Marilyn Vine have never met. Their lives have almost nothing in common. Ria lives in a big ramshackle house in Tara Road, Dublin, which is filled day and night with the family and friends on whom she depends. Marilyn lives in a college town in Connecticut, New England, absorbed in her career, an independent and private woman who is very much her own person.

Two more unlikely friends would be hard to find. Yet a chance phone call brings them together and they decide to exchange homes for the summer. Ria goes to America in the hope that the change will give her space and courage to sort out the huge crisis in her life that is threatening to destroy her. Marilyn goes to Ireland to recover in peace and quiet from the tragedy which she keeps secret from the world, little realising that Tara Road will prove to be the least quiet place on earth.

They borrow each other’s houses, and during the course of that magical summer they find themselves borrowing something of each other’s lives, until a story which began with loss and suffering grows into a story of discovery, unexpected friendship and new hope. By the time Ria and Marilyn eventually meet, they find that they have altered the course of each other’s lives for ever.

I read Tara Road several years ago while I was in college. I remembered liking it quite a bit, so I thought I’d try it again. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed the second time around. I do like Maeve Binchy as an author. She generally takes you through a long period of time in her books, and you build up quite a bit of history with the characters. For that reason, I often feel a bit sad when I come to the end of her books because it feels like I’m leaving friends behind. I felt that way the first time I read Tara Road, and while I felt it again this time, it wasn’t nearly as strong. The premise of this story is a good one…two strangers exchanging homes to get away from some of their troubles for a short time….but I had forgotten how much adultery this book contained (nothing graphic, but very prevalent) and that’s what ruined it for me this time. I enjoyed the characters and the majority of the storyline, but overall I just don’t feel the same about Tara Road as I did back in my college years. I feel like events in the book could have been accomplished without involving so much unfaithfulness, and for that reason, I’m not putting it on my keep list.

2008 Page Count:  10,038

Book Review: The Christmas Box Miracle

December 4, 2008

The Christmas Box Miracle
By Richard Paul Evans
261 Pages
Finished 12/4/08

Summary:

In The Christmas Box Miracle, Evans takes us back to his early days as the seventh of eight children, the sixth of seven boys, in an upper middle-class Mormon family living the American Dream in Arcadia, California. Undergoing a reversal of fortune when his father lost his job and was unemployed for nearly a year, Evans recalls the family’s moves to Idaho and ultimately, Salt Lake City. These relocations were to be the first of many, as the family’s finances ebbed and flowed through the years. The difficulties of these moves were compounded by his mother’s bouts with depression and severe PMS. A condition that was later treatable, but left Evans with a true sensitivity to the plights of others. Tracing his path from high school newspaper journalist, and missionary in Taiwan to entrepreneur, political campaign strategist, advertising executive, and first-time author, Evans recounts the challenges – financial, emotional, and spiritual – that he faced. But each of these undertakings were often motivated by his drive and passion of the time. He talks of his marriage to his wife, Keri, and of the birth of their daughters and how they inspired him to write The Christmas Box.

A couple of years after I began my yearly reading of The Christmas Box, I stumbled upon this little companion volume in the bargain section of the bookstore for just a couple of dollars. I thought perhaps that it was a continuation of the story, so I was surprised when I started reading to find that it was actually the telling of Richard Paul Evans’ experience of writing The Christmas Box. I LOVE this book…..almost as much as The Christmas Box itself, and I read it each year as well. I have to keep a box of tissues nearby because it evokes tears in nearly every chapter. It’s such an amazing story, and if you don’t believe in miracles after finishing this book, you probably never will. If you enjoyed The Christmas Box, I highly recommend that you get your hands on this book as well!

2008 Page Count: 9797

Book Review: The Christmas Box

December 3, 2008

The Christmas Box
By Richard Paul Evans
125 pages
Finished 12/2/08

As has been my personal tradition since 2003, I kick off the Christmas season by reading The Christmas Box. This book is one of my very favorites of all time. Each time I read it, I feel a renewed desire to bring my focus back home. I think every parent who has lost a child understands when I say that we have an extra dose of appreciation for the children we are privileged to raise in this life. We’d give anything to have that opportunity with our angels. When I lose my patience with my kids, it helps to remind myself what a blessing it is to even have a reason to lose my patience. Oh, how I’d love the chance to scold Zoey over doing something naughty! Reading The Christmas Box is one of those wonderful reminders for me.

It seems that each time I read this book, a line or two stands out to me. There were a couple this year. The first, “Sunday was not proclaimed the ‘day of rest’ by a mother with a family to ready for church, but such is the irony of piousness”, gave me a chuckle because I feel like it sums up my year of Sundays. We’ve had 9 am church this year and it’s a challenge to get everyone up and ready and still be on time. I have to admit that I have a smidge of pride over the fact that we’ve been late only a couple of times this year, and we usually get there with plenty of time to spare!

The second is one of the letters in the box:

December 6, 1916

My Beloved One,

Another Christmas season has come. The time of joy and peace. Yet how great a void still remains in my heart. They say that time heals all wounds. But even as wounds heal, they leave scars, token reminders of the pain. Remember me, my love. Remember my love.

My wounds are no longer raw and overwhelmingly painful. But, I notice my scars much more at times such as Christmas. There are 6 stockings hanging over the fireplace each year, but only 5 of them will ever be filled. The void in my heart will always remain, but I’m so grateful that time has made it easier to deal with.

At just 125 pages, The Christmas Box is an easy book to read in an evening. It’s inspirational and uplifting and is sure to bring a special spirit into your heart at a time when we sometimes forget what the first gift of Christmas was.

2008 Page Count: 9536

Book Review: A Town Like Alice

November 29, 2008

A Town Like Alice
By Nevil Schute
277 pages
Finished 11/28/08

Summary:

A Town Like Alice tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese “death march” in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her–even at the cost of his life.

This is one of those “don’t judge a book by its cover” reads. My SIL Carla sent me home with a huge bag of books to read several months ago, and I kept putting this one aside based on the fact that it just didn’t look that appealing. The pitifully short summary on the back of the book didn’t help much either. But, I did find this book to be quite enjoyable. The first half of the book, when you follow the main character Jean through her experience during WWII, really captured my attention. I found that the writing stimulated my imagination, and I had so many images of what things looked like as they took place. The last half of the book was enjoyable as well, but did seem to be a little long-winded….at times I felt like the author could have landed at his destination without including so many day-by-day details of the characters’ lives. But, all in all, I was happy with the way this book turned out–much better than my expectations held!

2008 Page Count: 9411

Book Review: Fairest

November 19, 2008

Fairest
By Gail Carson Levine
326 Pages
Finished 11/18/08

Summary:

The fairy Lucinda has once again given a dreadful gift. This time it’s a mysterious magical mirror. The gift is disastrous when it falls into the hands of Aza, who never looks in a mirror if she can help it. In the Kingdom of Ayortha, Aza is most definately not the fairest of them all. Many spurn her. Many scoff at her. She keeps out of sight.

But in a land of singers, Aza has her own gift, one that she’s come by without fary intervention: a voice that can do almost anything, a voice that captivates all who hear it. In Ontio Castle, merry Prince Ijori is drawn to it, and vain Queen Ivi would do anything to remain the fairest in the land.

In this spellbinding tale filled with humor, adventure, romance, and song, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine invites you to join Aza as she discovers how exquisite she truly is.

I figured that since I had such good luck with the last fairytale-ish book I read, I’d move on to another. This one was just OK for me. The storyline was cute, and the reading was easy for the most part. I’ve mentioned before that I have little patience for made-up languages in books, so when I got to the last half of the book and the gnomes and ogres come into the picture, my irritation mounted. I hate it when you have to skip over entire sentences because they are just a jumble of letters strung together, passed off as gnomish. That kind of stuff is why I avoid sci-fi and fairytale books. Given that the front flap says this book is appropriate for ages 8-14, I can cut it some slack. I definately think a girl in that age range would enjoy Fairest.

2008 Page Count: 9460

Book Review: Extras

November 2, 2008

Extras
By Scott Westerfeld
417 pages
Finished 10-30-08

Summary:

It’s a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. “Tech-heads” flaunt their latest gadgets, “kickers” spread gossip and trends, and “surge monkeys” are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it’s all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of American Idol. Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.

As if being fifteen doesn’t suck enough, Aya Fuse’s rank of 451,369 is so low, she’s a total nobody. An extra. Her only chance to escape extra-land is to find a big story to kick–something wild and unexpected.

Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. But the Sly Girls are hiding something bigger–an explosive discovery that may change the face of the brave new world forever. If Aya kicks this story, she’ll be propelled into the world of fame, celebrity…and extreme danger. A world she’s not prepared for.

After finishing the last book of this trilogy, I had decided that I wasn’t going to read Extras. But, Joseph got it from the library recently, and since it was sitting here, I figured I might as well give it a shot. I will say that it’s not the worst of the books, but I didn’t love it. It had a lot more of the brain-missing language in it that drove me nuts in the other books. There were parts of the story line that worked nicely…the idea of Aya coming upon a big story to kick to up her face rank was a good premise….but I didn’t like what that story ended up being. A little too sci-fi for me. And when Tally came onto the scene, she irritated me in a big way. I didn’t have any problem picking this book up to read in the beginning, but by the time I got to the last 50 or so pages, it was really a chore to think about finishing it. I can’t say that I don’t recommend it, because I did encourage Joseph to read it (mainly just so I could get his opinion), and although it wasn’t the worst of the series, it didn’t live up to Uglies.

2008 Page Count: 8752

Book Review: The Darcy Connection

October 21, 2008

The Darcy Connection
By Elizabeth Aston
287 Pages
Finished 10/20/08

Summary:

In The Darcy Connection, Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice is now the Bishop of Ripon, living with his wife, Charlotte, and their two daughters, who have reached marriagable age. The elder, another Charlotte, is extraordinarily beautiful, and her parents hope her looks and connections will ensure a brilliant marriage. Her sister, Eliza, while not as handsome, possesses a lively intelligence that, in Mr. Collins’ opinion, is too like her godmother, Mrs. Darcy.

In London, Charlotte’s beauty wins her many admirers, despite her small fortune. But Eliza’s wit and attempts to interfere in what she considers an unsuitable marriage for her sister infuriate her family and Charlotte’s suitor–until Eliza herself meets her match. New and old fans alike will relish this witty, romantic, thoroughly entertaining novel from a highly talented author.

This most recent adventure from Elizabeth Aston was yet another enjoyable read. Life has been busy, and time for reading scarce, so it did take me some time to really get into the story, and I had expected it to have the same predictability that her other stories have. Much to my surprise, there were a few more twists in the story than usual, and while the ending was another tidy wrap-up, it didn’t feel as abrupt to me as her other books have. And I agree with you Carla–this was one of the better ones!

I’m off to start on Extras, which I know I said I wasn’t going to read. However, Joseph just got it from the library, so as long as it’s here, I might as well give it a shot. At the rate I’m going these days, I’ll be scrambling to hit 10,000 pages by the end of the year! Can I borrow some of yours Sarah….you’ve got to up to what…over 20,000 by now 😆 ?

Total Page Count: 8335