Historical

Book Review: The Help

The Help
Author: 
Stockett, Kathryn
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

After watching the critically acclaimed movie I could not help but read Kathryn Stocket’s book, The Help. Watching the movie before reading the book is something I rarely do, and I knew the book would be better in this case, but I underestimated just how good the book would be.

The Help takes place in the 1960s and is a about a girl named Skeeter who wants to write a book about the African Americans who help in white households. However, different chapters are narrated by different characters so each character has somewhat their own story within the story.

This may be a bold statement, but The Help is my favorite book I have ever read. As an avid reader, I loved how long the book was. The book did not seem to end and the characters were so interesting, I didn’t want it to. Stocket’s writing abilities are phenomenal and the fact that each character was so distinctly different from one another was very impressive. I enjoyed the different chapters being narrated by different characters so much since I got to see what each character was thinking and feeling. I also loved the descriptions in the book. It wasn’t so descriptive that it got boring but
it also wasn’t so little that you couldn’t picture the situation. It was the perfect amount and it added to the reality of the story so well.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, especially for long summer reading. The only thing that I can think of that wasn’t great about the book were two specific chapters. They weren’t awful, I just felt that the book could have easily done without them. But obviously they didn’t really take away from the story and I still adore this book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Ashlyn P.

Book Review: Ghost Hawk

Ghost Hawk
Author: 
Cooper, Susan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ghost Hawk is about a native American boy named Little hawk returning to his village after a 3 month ceremony were boys survive in the woods alone and come back a man after three months, when he returns to his village he finds that most of every one is dead, except his grandmother named Suncatcher. Suncatcher tells Little Hawk that the white mans plague came in and killed most of the village. Then leaping Turtle returns, a friend of Little Hawk. So Little hawk, Suncatcher, and Leaping Turtle go out to find the other survivors. After the reunion Little Hawk meets John, a white 10 year settler from England, these two become friends but when John's father gets stuck under a fallen tree, Little Hawk tries to help but the English soldiers mistake it for an attack. Read the book to find out was happens next.

Reviewer's Name: 
Brendan M.

Book Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

The Map of Salt and Stars
Author: 
Joukhadar, Jennifer Zeynab
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

You know you have come across an extraordinary book when you find yourself thinking about its beautiful story and characters several months after you have first read it. I first read this beautiful novel back in February when I received an ARC of it from the publisher, and today I still think of the book and its beautiful characters of Nour and her family as they flee their homeland, Syria in 2011, and become refugees venturing across several middle eastern countries as the situation becomes more and more unstable and the violence ever more brutal. Shifting between past and present, in a second duel story-line that takes places more than 800 years earlier in Medieval Syria, Jennifer Zeynab also tells a harrowing tale of a girl named Rawiya, her desire to see the world, her very real clash with supernatural myth, and her adventures with a famous cartographer.

Jennifer Joukhadar through the fictional characters of Nour and her family, discusses a relevant and timely topic of the experience of many refugees that flee persecution and violence. She also does it in a way, that is, for the most part, unbiased choosing to focus instead on the everyday human experience of a family, instead of political ideology, which is very refreshing in today’s global climate.

The atmospheric and beautiful prose are a delight to read as we get to experience the world the way Nour and Rawiya saw it through beauty, sorrow, color and light. The character development of Nour, as her personal identity and her idea of what home is shifts as her journey progresses through time and years, is especially strong as she reflects on all she has lost and gained. Though the character development of Rawiya, shows a progression and change as her journeys around the world challenges and changes her perspective on life, I do not think it was as strong as the story of Nour and her family. And though Rawiya’s story-line was beautiful and entertaining, I felt it sometimes took away, from what I think of, as the central story-line of Nour and her family’s refugee experience.

That issue aside, this novel which is rich with historical and mythical detail, was in my opinion, several steps above the rest as it tackled a relevant, continuous, and difficult issue with beauty, grace and a truly memorable story. This novel, it has been said, does for Syrian Refugees what the Kite Runner did for Afghan refugees and in my opinion, it is a fair and correct comparison.

Thank you to the publisher Touchstone Books for an ARC of this beautiful novel for review! If you have not yet, please put this book on your holds list, it is so beautiful!

Reviewer's Name: 
Tawnie

Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Author: 
Twain, Mark
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Mark Twain's beloved nineteenth-century novel is a thrill. Tom Sawyer is the story of a boy that everyone can relate to. From being bored in Sunday school to playing pranks on the teacher to running away and playing pirates, Tom Sawyer is full of boyhood adventures. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is filled with comedy, warmth, and youthful innocence. However, below the surface, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is about young boys facing the cruel adult world. This novel is truly a classic and can be enjoyed by all ages, especially upper elementary, middle schoolers, and high schoolers.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf
Author: 
Graudin, Ryan
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Wolf by Wolf takes place in an alternate reality where the United States never fought in World War II, and Hitler was left undefeated. The book focuses on a jewish girl named Yael. She had been experimented on while in a internment camp. As a result of being experimented on she can change her appearance . Years after her escape she plans to kill Hitler. Looking and acting as Adele Wolfe Yael enters a race known as the Axis Tour. The Axis Tour was cross continental motorcycle race, with rough terrain, and many other challenges. Yael hopes to win the Axis Tour and have the chance to dance with Hitler. This dance could be her chance to kill Hitler. Will Yael survive the challenges of the Axis Tour? Will she win the Axis Tour? Most importantly, doe shse kill Hitler? All of these questions are answer in Wolf by Wolf.

I was recommended this book by friends so many times I had to read it. Ryan Graudin developed Yael's background slowly, revealing more about her throughout the book. Just when you think you know Yael you discover more of her past, and learn about a new "wolf". While I did enjoy the slow development of Yael's background I disliked the beginning of the book. The Axis Tour didn't start until until a few chapters into the book. Which made the book boring at first. However once the Axis Tour portion of the book began the plot became more interesting and complex. While the book focuses on Yael I also enjoyed Felix Wolfe, and Luka Lowe. Yael's relationships with both Luka and Felix make the book more realistic and the plot more complicated.Once the book reached its climax I couldn't put it down. I had to know how it ended. If you are interested in a book with a balance of good characters and action this perfect for you. If your read this book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Reviewer's Name: 
McKenzie W.

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
Author: 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Rich with symbolism and human feeling, the compassionate author leads us to consider deepest plumes of human sentiment. We are artfully led by the hand into the inner corridors of human hearts, where we are taught to stare down passion, shame, despair, revenge and finally courage.

First, we are compelled to walk around in a world where there is no forgiveness. We are removed from the fresh and life-giving promises of scripture to a stale and unrelenting universe, a universe in which once you have sinned in certain ways, you are branded for life. Hawthorne’s world takes the world of Jesus and turns it upside down. Where Jesus welcomed the repentant prostitutes and the reformed tax collectors and had his very harshest words for the proud, exacting Pharisees, in Hawthorne’s world the town’s peoples’ sins of unforgiveness and pride are smugly overlooked.
Hawthorne’s world does to us what all good fiction ought to do: it causes us to shudder. We feel instinctively the cruelty of the sentence placed upon the young woman and the baby, although we acknowledge her sin. This should lead us to praise our God for the forgiveness and grace that is so freely offered us in scripture. As the Pharisees ask Jesus what they should do with the woman caught in the act of adultery (and where, I always wonder, is the man?), we should know his response: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7

Yet we come to appreciate the large-heartedness of Jesus all the more as we come to live in the world of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne, understanding the longing that we all feel to be welcomed and loved unconditionally within a society of people, haunts us with the solitary and scorned life Hester Prynne is relinquished to. As we sink deep into the mire of her forlorn pit, our hearts should soar all the more with the blessed promises of our great God:
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:12,13

As we walk around in Hester Prynne’s world, we know what it would be like to be separated from Christ, to be alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, to be cut off from the promises of God. And yet we rejoice, because we know by faith that Hawthorne’s world is a skewed, twisted world, bearing no resemblance to the true community of faith.

Hawthorne’s character Dimmesdale is as unlike to Christ as nearly any man can be. Dimmesdale’s portrayal of failed manhood is so epic, I can scarcely think of another rival in literature. Here we see a man so small, so petty, so devoid of the smallest scrap of courage or courtesy, that he sits back passively allowing a woman to not only care for, love, and instruct his child alone, but also do so while laboring under the unrelenting sorrow of his shame. He sees this woman daily scorned, reviled, despised, belittled, made an object of while he walks around enjoying his position of influence and respect in others’ eyes. The fact that his sin daily eats away at him till his health is completely deteriorated does not make him any less pathetic in my eyes. No, he is the more pathetic for it. For he shows none of the manly dominance over human affairs that God gave to Adam when he blessed him and gave him dominion over the world. Instead, Dimmesdale is a peon, a victim of circumstance, a shadow of man, resigned to say simply “come what may,”
devoid of action and refusing to take responsibility at every turn.

What a striking contrast to our mighty savior. It is the man Jesus Who in all things takes the initiative. Jesus takes the shame for sins He never committed. Jesus stands up and takes our punishment. Jesus bears all our sorrow and our shame. Jesus, though perfect, identified himself with the lowly, with sinners and allowed himself to be crucified in the most undignified and hideous fashion, next to violent criminals. Jesus, instead of leaving a woman to lonely sorrow while he enjoyed respect, became a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. (Is. 56)

Is the Scarlet Letter a book for today? Why else does abortion flourish today except that we are plagued with a generation of Arthur Dimmesdales walking our streets? We have everywhere men who will not take responsibility for their actions and protect the children they have carelessly fathered.
Instead, they take their women to the clinic in the shadows and leave them to the abortionist scalpel, which brands hearts with a letter so hot and scarring, only the red-hot blood of Christ will heal.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Gilead

Gilead
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I feel the same way about this book as I do certain of my favorite foods: I absolutely love it but I can understand why someone else wouldn't. The very distinctness of this book is what makes it so lovely. If you're looking for an action-packed page-turner, keep looking. This is a book to be savored.

On the pages of Gilead, I was confronted with the transcendence, the miracle that is everyday life. The author beckoned me to see the smallest detail of existence as a thing to be cherished. I found myself deeply moved by the quiet steadiness of a man who had lived in one small, inconsequential town his whole life. He wrote no great books, and made no national waves, but he was faithful and content. What a concept! Yet he fought real battles! They were the struggles he waged in his own heart. For instance, he fought hard to love the wayward son of his best friend who had caused the family so much grief for decades, and had now returned. But in the end, he rose as a victor, and gave a blessing so moving it could change the course of a life. He had struggled for decades with loneliness. While his best friend had a household of eight kids, he had remained wifeless and childless for years after his first wife had died in childbirth. But this eventually served only as a platform to make him a stronger and more sensitive man--a man able to love more deeply because of all his heartache. All of this is described so skillfully, so carefully, that the reader cannot help but love all that the author loves. And what else is a good story for if not to capture the affections?

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Home

Home
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book is not some trite, feel-good, cliche-gushing, sappy-ending kind of book. I'd say rather, Robinson portrays a little love for Flannery O'Connor in her writing. But a reader must remember that an author writes this way, not always to be dark for darkness sake (like Poe), but to sketch the world as she believes it really is. Home portrays the world as a messy place, with the messiest of all places on earth being the human heart.

Jack Boughton has wandered the world for 20 years as the wayward son of a faithful pastor but returns back home, just before his father passes away.
Jack relives much of his childhood as he returns to this home he has been gone from his whole adult life. Here he must face the remembrance of not belonging to something lovely, something he was and still is cut off from. He sees how a darkness in his heart has kept him from the light, the warmth, the fondness of family love. He has been a heartache to his parents and this he hates. But hating oneself is not the same thing as redemption; neither is regret; neither is simply making a physical trip to one’s childhood home, nor caring for your father for the last few weeks of his life. Reminiscing with your little sister and visiting all your old haunts, no, none of these things alone makes for redemption. It is much more complicated than all of that, and can only happen in the heart. Like many good books, the reader is not given a pat, 5-step plan. The path is left ambiguous. But we are only given hints. Jack whispers one of the deepest longings of every human heart, when he says to his father under his breath, “Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (From Genesis 27:34)

There is no tidy reconciliation scene between father and son, although Jack at one point tries to fake a change in his beliefs to ease his father's last days, but his father sees right through it. However, before the book ends, Jack receives a blessing from his namesake, his father’s best friend, and this is where the unexpected power to both forgive and to claim a promise, pierces through the binding darkness that Jack on his own could never have escaped.

A father who loves unconditionally a wayward son, and a life-long family friend who intercedes between a father and a son who love each other but can't understand each other, these two things are among the strongest forces on earth.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow
Author: 
Berry, Wendell
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

We all read in order to see through someone else’s eyes, C. S. Lewis has famously remarked. Jayber Crow is a novel that opens one’s eyes to the little-known world of living in backwoods obscurity, with all its glories and hardships. This is a world that is forever cut off from the majority of city-dwelling America, because one realizes that to truly enter into one such community, one must be born there.

After Jayber’s aunt dies, 11 year-old Jayber is sent to live at an orphanage, but never feels at home. After graduating, he wanders some, taking a job as a barber in a city, but always he feels out of place. Finally, he makes his way back to his tiny hometown where he is immediately recognized, helped, and accepted. Being back there, he feels a connection to his young parents who died when he was 4, and to his loving great aunt who took him in until she died when he was 11. People in the town of Port William remember his kin, and immediately see Jayber as one of them. He never leaves.

Jayber spends his whole life as the town barber, which involves much more than cutting hair. Listening to people’s stories and watching their lives, Jayber becomes part of something greater—a community built on permanence and unconditional love. That’s not to say that all is rosy in this little community. Jayber struggles with questions about God that he can’t find easy answers to. He also deeply loves a girl that ends up in an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful and foolish man, and he grieves for her, wishing more than anything that she could be happy. He grieves for her when her children’s lives bring her much pain through various tragedies. But ultimately, Jayber matures and changes throughout the book by learning the value of honest hard work, contentment and faithfulness to one’s word.
These are truly small-town values that are shown for all their worthiness in a setting that will draw you in and make you thankful for the time you got to spend in Port William, Kentucky.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Middlemarch

Middlemarch
Author: 
Eliot, George
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Few novels have the ability to do several things at once, and do them well:
invoke a strong sense of place, bring characters to brilliant light, create a plot that intrigues, and allow all three of these elements to weave together into a pattern that is simultaneously beautiful, heart-breaking, and resonating with every day life. But Middlemarch achieves these things effortlessly. A small, provincial village, with all its petty pursuits, its bickering, its politics, but also its small acts of heroism, soon has the reader feeling as if he knows this place to well; it could almost be his home.

The real draw of the book however is the depth to which each character becomes known to the reader, known better than we know our friends, and maybe better than we know ourselves. Only a master novelist can peel back the layers of a character's mere actions and reveal the motivations of the heart.
She doesn't just show us unhappy marriages, she shows us why they are unhappy. Pettiness and self-absorbtion consumes some, kindness and devotion are what others live for.

I highly recommend this piece of superb literature for its insight into the relationship of the sexes, and how things can go wrong, and how things can go right. She doesn't shy from the ugliness of relationships, while also showing how much good can be done to one whose heart is devoted to goodness.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Historical