Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Redeeming Love

Redeeming Love
by Francine Rivers

Genre:  Christian Fiction
Published:  7/11/97 by Doubleday Religious
Pages:  464
Format:  paperback
(Don't you love the cover??  There is a more updated cover now available, but this is what the cover of my book looks like, so I thought I would share it!)

My Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Redeeming Love is one of my most favorite books of all time.  I have read it at least ten times, and I never get tired of it.  I don't read a lot of Christian fiction, which may seem odd if you know me.  As a Christian and as a lover of fiction, you would think I would love the combination of those two things in Christian fiction.  Yet for the most part, I find Christian fiction to be cheesy, unrealistic and contrived.  So I generally stay away from it (however I'm not against it completely, if anyone has any GOOD Christian fiction suggestions for me!).  

Francine Rivers has been one exception for me in the world of Christian fiction.  I have read and enjoyed most of her books.  She writes flawed, real characters and intriguing stories, and while her writing can be a little cheesy at times, I still like her work.  She is not afraid to write about the real, sin-filled world and about the everyday struggles of all kinds of people.

Redeeming Love is a retelling of the book of Hosea.  Set during the California Gold Rush, it is the story of a prostitute named Angel and a farmer named Michael Hosea, who is commanded by God to marry Angel.  No matter how unfaithful Angel is, no matter how many times she goes back into the world of prostitution, Michael continues to chase after her.  He never gives up on her and never stops loving her.  The result is not only a beautiful love story but a magnificent picture of God's unconditional love for his people.

If I were to get picky and find something to complain about in this novel, it would be how Rivers feels the need to explain the ways in which this fictional story parallels the biblical story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer.  I understand that Rivers wants her readers to understand her message and the biblical connections it has, however, I think the connections are fairly obvious.  Taking the time to explain the biblical parallels in the novel didn't feel natural to the story.  

This is one of my biggest frustrations with Christian fiction.  When trying to tell a story with a message, many authors work too hard to explain the message in the story, leaving the reader with little room for their own thinking (and often resulting in a story that feels contrived and forced).  While I understand the importance of the message, I want to be able to figure out its meaning on my own and think for myself.  There were times when Jesus used parables to illustrate his message, but he did not always give a clear explanation.  I wish Christian fiction writers would follow this example more frequently, allowing readers to discover the message of the story on their own.

But now I am off on a tangent.  Back to the review at hand, despite my petty complaints, I LOVE this book!  I recommend it to every single person that I know.  I even made my husband read it!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

An Untamed State

An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  5/6/14 by Grove Atlantic
Pages:  368
Format: ebook

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars

I'm fluctuating between 4 and 5 stars on this book.  This is not a book that anyone can say they "liked."  It is brutal and graphic in its descriptions of the horrific things that happened to a woman kidnapped in Haiti.  It was hard to read.  But it was also hard to put down.  I think I will go with 4.5 stars for this one.

Mirielle Jameson is a Haitian woman married to an American man.  Her father is a wealthy businessman in Port au Prince.  Mirielle lives a comfortable life in the USA with her husband and young son.  While visiting her family in Haiti, Mirielle is kidnapped and taken hostage.  Her kidnappers demand a million dollar ransom from her father, and for thirteen days Mirielle is subjected to atrocious sexual abuse from multiple men while she waits for her father to pay the ransom.  

This is a painful and intense book.  The subject matter is not easy and not enjoyable in the least.  But it is a gripping account of one woman's survival and her life in the aftermath.  I spent a week in Haiti on a missions trip, and I observed many of the same contrasts discussed in this book.  Large mansions right next to ramshackle shacks.  The beautiful ocean surrounded by a trash littered beach.  A few extremely wealthy Haitians surrounded by a mass crowd of impoverished people.  So much beauty, and yet so much pain.  Because I have experienced this culture firsthand, this book struck a real chord with me.  As an American, it is easier for me to pretend that the problems of Haiti do not exist.  This book reminded me that they do exist, and they are all too real.

The second part of this novel deals with Mirielle's life after she is released from her kidnappers.  I wasn't expecting it, but this was the more gripping part of the story.  Generally these types of stories end with the climax of the hostage being released.  This story continues and really shines during the time after the kidnapping.  As Mirielle tries to figure out who she is and what she will do now and how she will relate to her husband, as she struggles with PTSD, I had tears in my eyes and lump in my throat through it all.  Her struggle was so real, and I thought this novel showed in the most heartbreaking of ways the lifelong consequences that rape and abuse cause for women.  I am normally not an emotional reader, and I rarely cry while reading novels.  But this one really got to me in the second half, and I could not stop reading until I finished it all.

One complaint I have comes at the end of the novel.  There is one event that happens right at the end that felt way too coincidental and improbable and unnecessary.  I just wish Roxanne Gay would have left that part out of the story.

I would recommend this book with caution, as the subject is difficult.  But if you can handle the brutality of the subject, it is an arresting and engrossing read that will stick with you long after the pages end.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  10/11/14 by Random House
Pages:  288
Format:  Paperback

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars

My book club picked this book to read in December.  It looked like it would be a cute and easy Christmas pick.  It was an easy book to read, but I found it to be much more obnoxious than it was cute.

The premise here is really good:  Lily, who loves Christmas and all that it entails,  leaves a red notebook with clues written inside in a bookstore in NYC.  Dash, who hates Christmas, finds the notebook and leaves a clue himself for Lily to find next.  They continue to play this scavenger hunt game around the city, until eventually they meet in person.

That is when this novel really starts to go downhill.  It's a cute idea, but once Dash and Lily meet in real life, this story just died.  It got really stupid at times, and I just grew more and more annoyed with each turning of the page.

Generally I enjoy this genre of young adult fiction, with clever, witty teenagers who do not talk and write like normal teenagers.  But in the case of Dash and Lily, I felt like the authors tried TOO hard to make it clever and witty.  It just didn't work for me.