Book Love

Book review: Rooms by James Rubart

Rooms by James Rubart book coverWhat if you walked into a home and found physical representations of your soul – even the parts you thought you’d hidden away or dealt with long ago? What if you also realized that the more you explored this house – which you’re drawn to in so many ways that you can’t stay away – the more pieces of the life you’re happy with fall away?

That’s what happens in Rooms, which is a bit of an oldie (published in 2010), but still worth the read. Here’s the back cover description:

On a rainy spring day in Seattle, young software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a cryptic, twenty-five-year-old letter from a great uncle he never knew. It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast that will turn his world inside out. Suspecting a prank, Micah arrives at Cannon Beach to discover a stunning brand new nine-thousand square foot house. And after meeting Sarah Sabin at a nearby ice cream shop, he has two reasons to visit the beach every weekend.

When bizarre things start happening in the rooms of the home, Micah suspects they have some connection to his enigmatic new friend, Rick, the town mechanic. But Rick will only say the house is spiritual. This unnerves Micah because his faith slipped away like the tide years ago, and he wants to keep it that way. But as he slowly discovers, the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul, which God uses to heal Micah’s darkest wounds and lead him into an astonishing new destiny.

I’ll be the first to admit that I read fiction for fun and as an escape, not necessarily to dig deep and think about things in my personal life. But while Rooms was a good read, it also was good fodder for some personal reflection.

What kinds of dreams or hopes did I have years ago that have been forgotten in the busyness of “adulting”? What if I could sit down and literally have an out-loud conversation with the voice in my head? Whose voice would I be talking to? And then there’s the biggest question of all: If I could walk into a place that represents my heart, what would it be like?

Those are some heavy questions, but they show one of the many ways that Christian fiction is different from so many other titles on the shelves: They can teach you lessons about yourself and your faith if you’re open to the possibility.

So what did I learn from Rooms? It’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing, but I do have a lot rolling around in my mind. I’m glad I found this book buried in all the others on my Kindle; I’ll be looking at some other title from James Rubart now.

Your turn: What’s one of the best books you’ve read lately? Or, what’s a lesson you’ve learned from a novel?

Book Love

Book Review: The Discovery

Last week I posted a photo of some books from my to-read stack. Today I’m going to share my review of one of those books, The Discovery by Dan Walsh.

The DiscoveryI’ve read two of Walsh’s previous novels, The Unfinished Gift and The Homecoming. They were both set in the World War II era, so The Discovery is a bit different from those because it’s set in modern times. But – Walsh still shares his love of WWII tales with us because The Discovery actually is a story within a story.

Here’s part of the back cover blurb:

When aspiring writer Michael Warner inherits his grandfather’s venerable Charleston estate, he settles in to write his first novel. But within the confines of the stately home, he discovers an unpublished manuscript that his grandfather, a literary giant whose novels sold in the millions, had kept hidden from everyone – but which he clearly intended Michael to find. As he delves deep into the exciting tale about spies and sabotage, Michael discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well.

So … an aspiring novelist, a story set in Charleston, and some spies and sabotage. The combination hooked me from the get-go.

DSC00893 (1)
The top of the St. Augustine, Fla., lighthouse. I learned a lot about World War II spies when we visited a few years ago. Some of those same things were in The Discovery.

You’re about 60 pages into the book before Michael comes across his grandfather’s hidden manuscript. From there, The Discovery alternates between Michael’s present-day life and the story within the old manuscript – which you read along with Michael in its entirety. I felt like the “hidden” story dragged a bit in a few places, but it wasn’t so bad that I wanted to stop reading. I think it was partly because I anticipated some things and was ready for them to happen. But at least I didn’t jump to the ending to make sure things worked out like I wanted.

Basic fiction tools like flashbacks and back story can be tricky to work into a story, and what Walsh attempted here was much bigger than that. But he managed to pull it off and reward his readers with not one enjoyable story, but two. If you’re looking for a novel about young love during World War II that stays more “light” than “grim,” The Discovery could be worth checking out.

Your turn: What good World War II novels have you read? Do you have a favorite author who writes about that time frame?

And … I had the chance to interview Dan Walsh on the Novel Pastimes blog when his debut novel, The Unfinished Gift, was released. You can read Day 1 of the interview here and Day 2 here.

Book Love

Book Review: The Nightingale

I read a lot of books, but don’t always take the time to tell people about them. I’m hoping to change that this year by getting back in the habit of posting reviews of stories I really enjoy. Who knows? You might find a new author to check out. 🙂

I’m beginning my 2016 reviews with The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

 

The NightingaleAbout the book:
France 1939 — In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious 18-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France — a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.

 

My review:
I think many of us who enjoy historical fiction have read our share of World War II novels, but The Nightingale took me to a place I’ve not been: deep into the war through the eyes of women trying to survive at home under Nazi occupation.

Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but have very little in common beyond their parents. Life was good until their mother died and their father didn’t know how to handle raising two girls in the midst of his grief. He took them to a convent school, which Vianne soon escaped through marriage. Isabelle was too young to have a choice and spent years being moved from one boarding school or convent to another, rarely seeing Vianne or their father.

Kristin Hannah
Author Kristin Hannah

Then war comes to their front door. Living with rations and restrictions is one thing, but learning to live with Nazis overtaking every corner of your town is another. Vianne and Isabelle shift from being ordinary French women to patriots who will do whatever they must to survive and help their families – even when it means doing thing they never dared imagine.

Vianne and Isabelle are so richly drawn that once I got into the book I felt like I was living the events with them instead of just reading. It was a roller coaster of emotions — joy, horror, love, anxiety, terror, tenderness, pain, surprise, reconciliation. But every emotion was realistic, every storyline based on situations people really faced during that time. Fortunately, Hannah manages to balance the horrors of war with little glimpses of hope and just enough intrigue so you don’t put the book down because you’re too depressed to keep reading.

But that doesn’t make The Nightingale any less powerful. In fact, I think the contrasts are part of what make it such a strong book. No matter what your past might be or what kind of person you believe you are, you never truly know how you’ll handle the worst situations imaginable until you’re in them. You can only hope that you’ll still be able to find some positive things to hold onto along the way.

This was the first book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah, and it was thanks to my sister’s recommendation. I’m glad she let me borrow her copy, because it’s one of the most eye-opening novels I’ve ever read. The Nightingale will stay with me for a long time.

For more about Kristin Hannah and her books, here’s where you can find her online:

 

Your turn: Does this sound like a book you might like to read? Or, have you ever read any of Kristin Hannah’s other books? What World War II novel is your favorite?

 

Book Love

Book Review: One Year Alone With God

With Christmas only a few weeks away (!), many of us are starting to think about gifts and are making out those wonderful shopping lists. If you know somoene who enjoys devotional books that help them learn in bite-size pieces on busy days, then check out One Year Alone With God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God by Ava Pennington.

book_oneyearalone_edited.jpgPlenty of books and Bible studies look at the different names of God and what they mean. What sets Ava’s book apart is the way she handles it. One Year Alone With God explores 122 names and attributes of God in three different ways over a period of three days. In the first devotional for each name or attribute, the reader “looks up” as Ava says, to see how and why God describes Himself the way He does. On the second day, the reader “looks in” to see how that name or attribute applies to his own life and how it changes his relationship with God. Finally, on the third day, the reader “looks out” to see how that deeper knowledge of God and himself can be shared with others.

I like the way each name is broken into smaller pieces of study; for me, it seems like it’s easy to read a devotional, spend a few minutes thinking about it, and then go on with my day. One Year Alone With God makes me more conscious of how I can put the things I learn into my everyday life, and I like that. I also like that the devotionals are so short they only take a few minutes to read, but you can also read all three for the same name or attribute if you have time.

Ava_Pennington.jpgAva’s publisher sent me a copy of One Year Alone With God to read and review. I’ve used it for personal study time, with my middle/high school girls at church on Wednesday nights, and as a short devotional as part of ladies night dinner at church. I’ve enjoyed learning new things about the names and attributes of God, especially those I didn’t know much about or don’t think about as much.

I would certainly recommend it, but don’t just take my word for it. Right on the front cover of One Year Alone With God is an endorsement from Kay Arthur herself. And it says, “Can you imagine what will happen if you spend a year, day by day, focusing on your God and Father? May Ava’s devotional deive you to His Word.”

With an endorsement like that, you know there’s something good about the book. Visit Ava’s website for more info, or get your copy online or at a local bookstore.