Tag Archives: Book Review

The Push

As the possessor of an active imagination, I’ve already read books and thought how cool it would be to live the story, imagining myself in it or doing something similar. Not often do I really wish to have that life. However, reading Tommy Caldwell’s book definitely woke something different in me, and while I don’t want all his experiences, I do wish I had the freedom and money and talent to climb whatever whenever.

I first heard about Tommy Caldwell in 2014, when he and Kevin Jorgeson climbed the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. And even though that was something I only knew about from a friend, I followed the last half closely, and when I found out Caldwell was going to write a book, I awaited its release with lots of excitement.

In The Push, Caldwell talks about growing up outdoors with his family, doing challenging climbs and mountaineering feats with his dad at young ages. He relates his experience of being a hostage in Kyrgyzstan and how that affected his life for years after, and how, in a way, it led to his passion/obsession with the Dawn Wall.

Caldwell’s story is one of perseverance, if nothing else. He dedicated seven years to the Dawn Wall, unable or unwilling to give up without successfully completing it. Nestled inside his honest, somewhat cavalier writing are some quality truths about failure as a tool to inspire greater success.

I appreciated his honesty as well in regards to how various things in his life truly affected him. Caldwell uses his book as a means of reflection, admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers and that his choices may not always have been stellar. But his honesty prompts a feeling of self-reflection in his readers, or at least in me.

Even though, having followed the climb as it happened, I knew how he story ultimately ended. Yet the book is so much more than the story of climbing the Dawn Wall, it’s the story of how Caldwell developed a need for the Dawn Wall, and how upon completion, he understood what was behind the need.

It’s an exciting, fun, and funny read. And whether you climb or don’t climb, it’s worth the time.

The Light Between Oceans

I know this book got really popular when the movie was announced and came out, so when I got the chance, I snagged a copy so I could see what the buzz was all about.

The book begins with Tom and Isabel Sherbourne discovering a dinghy washed ashore with a dead man and a baby inside. Having lost a third baby only weeks before, Isabel convinces her husband to keep the child. Lightkeepers on a remote island and committed to three-year stints, Isabel and Tom say the baby is theirs, knowing it will be some time before they get shore leave and anyone meets the baby.

From there, the story floats back in time, establishing Tom as a military man who served in World War I and showing his upstanding character. When Tom and Isabel meet, they are instantly drawn to each other, and end up marrying.

The story then picks up where it left off in the beginning, and we see them raising the baby–a little girl they name Lucy. But while life on the island is wonderful, when they return for shore leave, things get more complicated, and thus starts a string of events that takes them down a painful and unintended road, and they must face the consequences of having kept the baby, and consider whether their actions were right.

The story starts out kind of slow and it isn’t an action-packed, dramatic story. Instead, as is fitting with its themes, it is a methodical story that establishes its characters and gives reasoning behind their actions. This story largely deals in grey areas of motives, and it challenges readers to deeper thought. Although readers can understand and sympathize with the Sherbournes in the beginning, as the story progresses, you second guess, and you find yourself caught up in the same questions all the characters wrestle with: what is best for Lucy?

This book deals with some heavy stuff, and it hits you right in the heart, for sure. But it’s a good read and a good story, and worth the time to read.

Last Hope Island

I’ve always been a fan of history, and World War II history in particular. So Lynn Olson’s Last Hope Island was a natural pick for me.

I’ll confess straight off though, I want quite as impressed as I’d expected to be. I was expecting a little more action, more description of battles or escapes.

That said, I still enjoyed the book. It was a close look at Britain and its relationship with several occupied countries via the governments in exile that took up residence in Britain.

It was also a close look at how those nations played key roles in the Allied win.  From spies and resistance fighters to exiled troops and politicians, countries including the Netherlands, Poland, and France, though occupied, made significant contributions that turned the tide of the war.

What I really enjoyed were the few snapshots into the lives of unsung heros, people like Andree De Jongh and Jeannie Rousseau, and other women and men who risked their lives for the cause. I found, as I read, several people that I’m now very interested in researching. Their lives and stories, in addition to just being fascinating, could also fuel some really interesting historical fiction.

Some parts of the book, though, are hard to read. It’s hard to understand the justifications for some actions, and without living it, I’d say impossible to pass any kind of judgment. But you can learn a lot about empathy from reading it.

This book is definitely a must read for history buffs, and I would say an easy enough read for anyone wanting to dip their toes in. It’s not a one-week read, for many people, I think, but it’s certainly worth the read.

The Stars are Fire

Sometimes, it’s just nice to sit down with a book and know within the first few pages or chapters that it will be a quick read.

That’s how it was with The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve.

The story follows Grace Holland, a woman in her mid-20s who is married with two children. Her life has settled into a predictable and respectable routine when it’s upset by fire. In October 1947, fire breaks out on the coast of Maine, where Grace and her family lives. In its aftermath, she must find her inner strength, not just once, but day after day.

Based on true events, Shreve weaves a story of deep emotion. With Grace, we experience sadness and joy. We can understand how trapped she feels, and how scared. And we can understand the freedom she gets when she discovers there is more to her than she knew.

The story is written in present tense, but in third person, a unique style that, at first, I wasn’t sold on. But the way Shreve writes, almost as though you’re sharing consciousness with Grace, makes the writing style really work. We’re not just observing everything that happens, we’re experiencing it with Grace, but with the liberty to form our own opinions.

Though it is a quick, relatively short read, the amount of growth we see in Grace is a testament to Shreve’s writing and character development. In the beginning, Grace is a meek housewife, focused on pleasing her husband and rearing her children. By the end of the story, we find a strong, independent woman who, though scared, has the courage to do what she must, for herself and for her children.

A heartwarming book with bits of romance, suspense, adventure and comedy, The Stars are Fire is great for anyone who just wants a good book to read. Be sure to watch for it, hitting bookshelves everywhere this May.

Inferno

Growing up, some of Dan Brown’s books were a little controversial in some circles (my circles, I guess. Specifically, The DaVinci Code, which I’ve still never read). None the less, after seeing the movie, Inferno, I immediately knew the book would be so much better, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Brown returns to what I understand to be a regular character, Robert Langdon, an American art history teacher who finds himself caught up in mystery and intrigue surrounding ancient art. In Inferno, Langdon wakes up in Florence, Italy, with a head wound and no memory of the last two days. But within hours, Langdon is on the run for his life, trying to solve a riddle. If he fails, it will mean the end of the world–at least for some.

Langdon’s antagonist is a radical genius, a scientist obsessed with solving the problem of overpopulation. Brown tackles the issue in an interesting way, instead of painting the issue as black and white, Brown deals in shades of gray (that turn of phrase will never sit quite the same again), and even the end leaves readers to determine for themselves what is right.

Compared to the movie, the book is so very much different, with more twists, turns, and, as I said, ambiguities for the reader to engage with. If you saw and enjoyed the movie, do read the book, it so much better.

Even though I saw the movie first, the book was still an engaging read. With a variety of characters of varying depths and motivations, Brown weaves in some red herrings to keep readers wondering just exactly who is who and who to root for.

Having finally had a taste of Dan Brown’s writing, I’m anxious for more (though, as always, my ever-growing, never-shrinking reading list makes it unlikely that I’ll get to it any time soon). The symbolism, the intrigue and hints of Sherlockian deduction, it’s a book that your brain will thank you for.

A Christmas Carol

Though I’ve always been familiar with the story, this year was the first time I actually read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

The story is, unsurprisingly, just like any of the films (even the Muppet one), with only minor changes to relatively insignificant details.

Scrooge, of course, is the stingy old man whom everyone hates. When he is visited by a ghost and three spirits, he is presented with the opportunity to have a second chance at life, and become a different man.

On the whole, it’s a more cheerful read than my annual Christmas book, “The Christmas Shoes.” And even though I had watched the Muppet Christmas Carol just a few days before, it wasn’t tedious reading the story too.

It’s easy to see why this has become a Christmas classic and tradition. It’s short and sweet, and carries a good message.

If you’ve never taken the time to read the story, it’s worth doing, at least once. It’s the same characters you already love, and probably takes the same amount of time to read as it does to watch. I’m very glad I took the time this year to add it to my list.

Uninvited

When I first saw Lysa TerKeurst’s latest book, “Uninvited Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely” I immediately knew I wanted to read it. Who among us hasn’t felt that way before? And more than that, it seemed to be meeting me exactly where I was/am in life.

I’ll admit, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be that kind of book, I had brief visions of writing a snarky blog post armed with TerKeurst’s words to defend why others are wrong in making me feel unwanted and unloved.

I’m glad that instead, I’m here writing a blog post about how “Uninvited” helped me start to understand how to help myself. I can’t control how other people treat me, view me, or what they think about me. What I can control is how I respond to realities and perceptions, and how I let them influence me.

“Uninvited” is all about rooting yourself in God’s love, understanding that it’s nothing we’ve earned, but something He freely gives and it should be the basis of how we view and understand ourselves. This reading was timed perfectly with a sermon at church that touched on fighting the lies of the world, lies about myself, by being regularly exposed to the truth.

TerKeurst talks about forgiveness as a response to rejection and feeling unloved: “Grace given when it feels least deserved is the only antidote for bitter rot.” She also talks about using your experiences to see and understand what others might be feeling.

She has so many great bits of perspective and she uses them to bolster her message that there are two ways to handle rejection, of any kind. Either by allowing it to define us, or by allowing it to grow us.

“Uninvited” was a great challenge for me, a moment to consider how I’m reacting to life, and whether I’m helping myself along, or just hurting myself more. And, honestly, I’ve been part of my own problem (and, I knew that before I read the book). The challenge, of course, is the quote above, choosing to extend grace and love when it feels least deserved–to others and to myself.

I read this book very quickly, but it warrants a second, slower read, for sure, to be able to really think on the wisdom and pinpoint specific ways to deal with the lonely and left out feelings that come along so regularly.