Monday, January 5, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Is there a way to write a review without a spoiler? The book elicited a strong emotional response which is always difficult to see through in order to write a review. There were moments of Me Since You by Laura Weiss.

The book begins with Finch and Violet on the bell tower at their school. Finch talks Violet down then barges into her life by volunteering to be her partner on a school project which involves seeing a couple of marvels of the great state of Indiana. Violet is not a happy camper about this if only for the fact that she has a facade to maintain. But Finch sees that her smile never reaches her eyes. Except once and that's why Finch decides to intervene.

These are two vastly different characters yet they begin the book at the top of the bell tower contemplating suicide independently and at the same time. There is a strong element of comparing and contrasting by the author without her expressly writing it out. Violet is a pretty, bright, popular girl who lost her sister in a car accident. Violet is changed due to the tragedy and uses her extenuating circumstances to not push herself.

Finch's demons are internal, for the most part, although his family dynamics are a contributing factor for his depression. The aspect that was new for a book like this one is that the author writes the character in a bipolar cycle, although this is not cemented until later in the book. Finch talks of disappearing and going to Sleep. The Sleep is not literal but a place where he loses himself.

Finch is interesting, charismatic, and unstable, although he presents himself with confidence and stability, he changes personas often, trying them on like a different coat or shoes. He then discards them when he believes they no longer work. Nobody really knows Finch and the reader gains a greater understanding of external and internal forces that push these two characters to the brink of mortality. While Finch's relationship with Violet develops into something unique and stabilizing, the reader enjoys the healing power of friendship and acceptance for Violet. In contrast, the reader watches Finch through his bipolar spiral and feels the helplessness of an untreated condition.

It is such a heavy and difficult subject to write about and, I think what really pushed my emotional buttons, was the realization that the book is semi-autobiographical. The author is not writing a book about something removed from herself. She is writing about her personal experience that changed her. She was able to process the experience to a point that she understood enough to see the bright places of her relationships and shared her insights by writing a novel. Honestly, fiction rarely moves me and it ticked me off that I was crying through the end of the book until I realized it wasn't a true fiction novel but a personal experience which means that I get to keep my integrity, private as my tears were. Thanks for that.

There is much more I want to say but I don't want to spoil it because it is a book to be experienced and not summarized.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Grace Unplugged

Grace UnpluggedGrace Unplugged by Melody Carlson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An uplifting book for teens. Parents are not really the bad guys and teenagers are not all trying all manner of rebellion. Grace wants to spread her wings but decides she bit off more than she can chew. Spoiler: Her parents love her and want what is best for her. I really liked it. And not just for that reason. It has a positive message and I'm comfortable giving it to my daughters to read. Grace is a strong protagonist that has her doubts but she holds to her standards.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book based on real women, Sara's and Nina Grimke. Although Nina gains more notoriety in real life, Sarah is the older sister and the protagonist. Told in alternate voices of Sarah then a slave named Hetty, the two protagonists lives divirge in their twenties. Betty's story is mostly fictional, although she did exist. The author contrasts the two women and their caged struggles toward freedom. Sarah's are largely societal but also self imposed. Hetty or Handful is a family slave who is, at times, treated brutally. Very well written book.

Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival by Laurence Gonzales

Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and SurvivalFlight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival by Laurence Gonzales
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Suppose you are a huge sports fan of a particular football team. Suppose that team is playing in the NFL championship. Your team is up 1 point, they have ball, it's 4th and 1 yard with 2:01 on the clock. The last three plays were run but defense is holding tight. The ball is snapped to the quarterback who fakes a pass then throws a real pass too long for the receiver. The ball is intercepted and the opposing team runs the ball forty yards for a touch down. Rather than kick for the extra point, they complete a 2 point conversion. Your team gets the ball again and the quarter back is sacked three times and fumbles on fourth down. The opposing team has the ball, it's snapped and the quarterback takes a knee.

Who lost the game? A good coach will commend the team, praise the quarterback for the first half, then concentrate on the game holistically without singling out any player. It is a team sport and took nearly three hours to play out on the field, after all. The fans remember the overthrown ball, the sacks, and the fumble. The coach disaggregates all of the plays throughout the game.

If you are still reading after my football story, know that it was an analogy. What the author of this book does beautifully is twofold; the crash of 232 is personalized as he retells the stories of the victims on the airplane. Know this much - they were all victims and suffered greatly from the experience even those few who were uninjured. The reader is taken through the grueling forty some odd minutes from the time the engine blew and the fan disk damaged the hydraulic lines, to the harrowing crash on the runway then continues to the aftermath - clean up then life continued for many. The other chapters interspersed in the book explores, in fascinating detail, the journey of making a DC10, the chemistry of forging the perfect titanium, and measures put into place to maximize safety.

Like the fans of the football team, many want an easy scapegoat; the last person that touched the ball or checked the engine fan disk integrity. The truth of the matter is that the crash in 1989 of Flight 232 was a rare confluence of circumstances (an irregularity in the titanium, multiple checks that missed the resulting slow growing crack, the architecture of the DC10, the fact that it is impossible to fly a DC10 without hydraulics, etc.) that resulted in a catastrophic event.

There is a third element to the book that is miraculous. Another rare confluence of circumstances that resulted in the survival of one third of the people on that airplane that crashed on an airfield in Iowa, that nearly just had a rough landing but instead, without hydraulics and manipulated mostly by throttle by a passenger who happened to be a flight instructor, the copilot who instinctively pushed in a throttle that prevented the plane from spiraling, the airfield situated in farmland, and many other miracles that added up to people surviving.

The book details the landing, the dip of the right wing, the resulting nose to the ground and tail perpendicular to the ground, the breaking apart like the Titanic, the fireball, the sounds, the smoke, the smells, and even the dissonance of the beautiful sunny day. The details are uplifting and heart wrenching. The book is very well researched then explained in terms that even the non chemistry person can understand. I'll admit to cheating a bit. I googled the crash. Someone caught it on tape. An unusual feat in 1989. Go look at the images. Pull up the short video of the crash then come right back.

I'll wait for you. Go ahead. But come back.

Go on.

Are you back?

Good. Now I will reiterate that people survived. Don't get me wrong. It was a a horrific catastrophe. 112 people died. Yet 186 people lived. Many walked out of the plane and out of the cornfields. So bad was the crash, when some walked out of the fields, first responders yelled at them for being too close to a major catastrophe, what are they doing wandering around an old aiffield, anyway. They weren't expecting any survivors.

So well researched is this book that I completely agree with the author's conclusion. Like a good coach who knows every member of his team, the author disaggregates the information and the fault does not solely rest on the last person that checked the engine fan disk. Conversely, the miracle of flight 232 can not be solely attributed to any one person. Building and flying the DC-10 was a team effort. Bringing it down in the safest manner on two engines, no hydraulics, and a couple of holes in the ship took a team of capable, skilled, and, I'd add, inspired team of people.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who is Glendower and why do I still care? I really don't know that I do. Gansey has become more boring and his impending doom is still on Blue's conscience. On the other hand, I've grown more accustomed to the verbal volleys between the characters and I'm finally starting to like some of them more than just in a passing matter. Although I still haven't connected much with the main characters like I wish I had.

But it's going slowly again and my eyes are glazing over when Orla, a cousin, subtly enters the boat and jumps in the man made lake which prompts Blue to yell an exasperation and jump in which prompts Ronan to laugh which I found very entertaining. But then it slowed down again. Sigh. But then another character was written into the book that delighted me named Jesse. He's huge and because he is huge, his voice IS ALWAYS YELLING. And he only eats spaghettios but makes a decent cup of tea. It's these subtle details that tickle me.

A few more questions are answered but many more introduced or befuddle me. For instance, why can Ronan tame one nightmare yet the others are still trying to kill him? Among other questions that don't make sense to me. But I'm still reading.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

The House We Grew Up InThe House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Writing is excellent. The story is just weird. It's the story of a family and skates right around the edges of incest without quite crossing over. I was weird. That's the best I can do.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story HourThe Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

The book is a surprising story of how two dissimilar women of unequal status and "caste," had they been in India, share commonalities, after all. The book is named for Maggie's profession, a therapist and the way she explains it to an immigrant woman who has recently attempted suicide. The Indian woman does not understand and figures it is a sort of friendship and steps over the boundaries time and again until the two are friends of a sort. Yet the divide is ever present in that one sees the other as a maternal figure, unshakable and wise. Turns out, all of the characters are fallible and human.

The stories told are from the perspective of the Indian woman's childhood but also somewhat allegorical. I'm still thinking about the stories. The bottom line is that both women carry the wounds of their childhood and attempt to compensate in sometimes destructive ways. I loved the author's voice and writing style. There was some wonderful wit with the cultural divide and nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout. Deeper than I had anticipated. I liked it quite a bit.