Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

I love good historical fiction. The kind where the author spends a lot of time in research to really bring the reader into the time period. Sandra Gulland is that kind of an author. I read her Josephine B. trilogy (based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte) a few years back and loved it. This newer selection, Mistress of the Sun, is based on the life of Louise de La Vallière who became the mistress of King Louis XIV of France (known as the Sun King). Gulland has the ability to write in such a way that you feel like you know exactly what life in 17th Century France would be like. She is detailed enough to be accurate, but not in such a way that it becomes tedious and boring. The story itself is interesting as Louise (better known as Petite) is a most unlikely mistress. She is born of low nobility, interested in more masculine pursuits (such as horses, dogs and hunting) and walks with a limp. She is an innocent, having been raised partially in a convent, and knows not very much of how the intregues of court life works. I commend Gulland on her research right up to the letter to readers at the end, explaining all the characters she left out that would have been relavant, but also would bog up the story with too many people. Great read.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day After Night by Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant doesn't write many novels. But when she does, they are very, very good. This one was no exception. It is the highly readable tale of 4 women, Jewish survivors of WWII. They have immigrated to the promised land in Palastine, only to discover a new kind of prison. They are being held at Atlit, a British prison for illegal immigrants. This is based on a real, historical story. It doesn't sound like a pleasant book to pick up (who wants to read about prisoners and the atrocities of war-time?) but it is much better than that. Trust me, this is worth reading. Fantastic!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Insatiable by Meg Cabot

I had a rare opportunity to look through the shelves of Chapters last week, uninterrupted. If you have small children yourself you will know what a treat this is. I jotted down many titles that looked interesting to me and then filled a long request order through the library system. Meg Cabot's newest offering was the first to come in. This was a book picked on author merit, I have to admit, I didn't read the jacket beforehand. Once I started in, I just wanted to sigh and say, "Oh Meg, Vampires, really?" Is everyone jumping in on the vampire bandwagon? The funny thing is is that the main character in this book, Meena, thinks so too. So there is a little facetiousness going on here. Meena is a writer at a soap opera who can't believe that the powers that be want to start vampire story lines. It's the last thing in the world she has interest in writing about. Of course you know there's going to be more to this vampire thing than just that. And there is.
If you are on the vampire bandwagon, by all means read this one. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I thought it was okay. There are other books by Cabot that are so much better (Heather Wells series, Boy series...) and much more worth your time. But it wasn't a waste of time either. It was enjoyable in a, 'please don't take any of this seriously' kind of way.

The Builders by Maeve Binchy

I was surprised and delighted to discover this little novella. I thought I had read all of Maeve Binchy's stories, and now here was one more. This little story was published as part of a series featuring Irish writers a few years back. It's has the characteristic charm of other short stories I've read by Maeve Binchy. Being a short story, it is a fairly quick read, but it's amazing how much can be found in so few pages. This is the story of Nan, a lady in her sixties with grown children who develops a friendship with Gerry, the builder working on the house next door. It's really so much more than that because if you know Ms. Binchy's style at all you know that what is on the surface is just the beginning.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury

Unlocked is Karen Kingsbury's offering to shed light on the world of autism. The story centers on Holden Harris, a non-verbal autistic teenager. He becomes reunited with his childhood friend Ella. Ella is now a pretty, popular teenager. She does not remember Holden as her mother stopped their friendship once Holden slipped into autism. She does become interested in who he is now, especially once learning how close they were as small children. Ella is also musical. She is the lead in the school musical, which is how she and Holden become re-aquainted. He loves music, it's what he hears in his head all day long.
I loved that Kingsbury uses music as an integral part of her story. I've taught classroom music for several years. Reading this reminded me of a brother and sister I taught, both autistic, both captivated by music. For the sister, music class was the only part of her day where you wouldn't neccesarily be able to pick her out as being 'different' from her peers. For the brother, he was fixated on the piano. We let him use by piano outside of my teaching time. I was fortunate to hear him one day. This child who had no musical background (save class with me) was naturally composing and using arpeggios. It was from teaching these two that helped convince me that music therapy can be such an amazing tool for autistic people.
That being said, I did have a few beefs with this book. The first was Kingsbury's use of inferring that vaccines were the cause of Holden's autism. While that has certainly been a popular theory, it is also a well researched one. The medical field have disproved vaccines as a cause for autism. As more and more parents are opting out of vaccinating their children out of fear, more and more harmful diseases that were once considered rare are now popping up again. I do think that it was irresponsible of Kingsbury to perpetuate this theory further. I would love to read a book just once where the vaccine theory is not used as a possible cause of the character's autism.
My other beef was just how 'good' Ella is. Considering the family background that Kingsbury has given her and the peer situations around her, Ella is remarkably well-adjusted. I think this is an unrealistic portrayal of a teenage girl. It just seems too good. I find that a lot with Kingsbury's writing. The easy answer. The naturally good. I find her books are highly readable, but quick reads, with not as much meat on them as there could be. I'd love to see something a little deeper than this.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

"Don't judge this book by the cover" is what my friend Krista said to me when she lent me her copy of this book about 10 years ago. The old cover was very Romance Novel looking. The new cover is much better I think. This is one of my favorite books. I had been missing my copy of it for quite some time (and still don't know who I lent it to). I found a copy in my church library and just thrilled at it once again. It is inspired by the story of Hosea and Gomer in the Old Testament. For those who don't know, the prophet Hosea was told by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute. She kept running away from him and betraying him, but each time he brought her home and continued to love her.
Francine Rivers sets this story in California during the gold rush of the 1850's. Michael Hosea is a farmer who falls in love with Angel, a prostitute who would have nothing to do with him if she could. This is a story that also shows the incredible love that God has for us. It is extremely well written and I just love it. Fantastic. *if any one of you has my copy of this, I'd love to have it back