Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell

Wow. Just wow.  The novel begins in 2019 at the Arecibo Observatory when the program there picks up a transmittal of music from Alpha Centaury.  The Jesuits are the ones that sponsor a mission to the system and send a team to the planet, Rakhat, to explore. It is clear from the beginning that only one of the team - a priest by the name of Emilio Sandoz - survives the mission and the story is therefore told in flashback, alternating between what happened on the mission and his relating the story in the contemporary time. Sandoz has returned to great controversy because the Jesuits sent the mission without UN oversight and because it ended terribly. Sandoz returns as a shell of the man that he was and we are left to sort out why.
This book was simply amazing.  Doria deals with many heavy subjects in such a terrific way: the benefits and risks in absolute faith in a benevolent God, the role of God in the lives of people who believe and people who don't, and how that would effect interactions with aliens or other sentient human beings. Science fiction is simply the vehicle through which she elected to explore these themes. Very little is spent on how they figure out how to travel through time and space. The struggles of the characters aren't necessarily with the technology but with their own thoughts, beliefs, misconceptions, actions, follies and relationships.  I loved that this was an exploration of what happens when a person tries to do things for the right reasons and yet, things go wrong. GO BUY IT NOW!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Simple Happiness by Jim Ryan

I received this from the publisher to review, as an up front, so I was unsure as to what to expect. But when I started to read it, it was like a breath of fresh air and couldn't have come at a more opportune time - a time when I'm trying to take control of my life and change it in ways that are more positive, starting with the power of positive thought. Jim Ryan is a motivational speaker and he brings that power to his writing and this book in a really wonderful, refreshing way.

The Chapters are very short and can be read one day at a time, almost like you're doing daily meditations. What I would have liked to do and will do going forward is read one a day in the morning and then journal on it that night to see how well the lesson went for that day.  52 could also be a magical number - one devotional per week (for one year of devotionals/meditations). Each chapter has a simple message that may be obvious to some or all of us, but which you (I know that I don't always) listen to or follow enough that it's automatic. This book teaches us to rewire our thoughts in a practical and straightforward manner and Mr. Ryan's writing style was approachable and well suited to this purpose. I didn't feel that he was talking down to me at all. In fact, quite the opposite - I felt that he was talking WITH me and we could exchange ideas on how to make our lives that much more happy. He's definitely not self righteous! All in all, this is a book that I highly recommend as adding to your collection and which I, personally, will be revisiting often in the hopes of learning about myself and how to make myself more positive.

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me - by Jennifer Teege

I have always had a morbid curiosity with the Holocaust.  OK, not just THE Holocaust, but any sort of situation where people can do horrendous things to each other. I make no excuses: I am looking for answers. I want to know WHY people the things that they do.  It helps me to process things that are very difficult and emotional for me. So when I saw this book, I was excited. I was hoping it would give me answers and it provided a woman's account of her struggle to come to terms with who her family members were/are.
Teege discovered, at the age of 38, that her maternal grandfather is Amon Goeth (the Commandant of Plazow and who was made famous by Schindler's List). As a result of her discovery, Teege decides to research her family by traveling to Poland and Israel and attempting to reconnect with her mother Monika (Amon's daughter). Teege writes the book with historian Nikola Sellmar.  Teege documents the personal memoir part of her journey while Sellmar provides us with the historical context in which Teege is courageously struggling. Teege is the daughter of Monika Goeth and a Nigerian student that was living with Monika at the time.  Teege was given up for adoption shortly after her birth. Interestingly, Teege had regular contact with Monika and Monika's mother Ruth but no one ever spoke of the family's history and there is no doubt that Jennifer was loved by her biological mother, biological grandmother and adopted family very much. Obviously, Jennifer never knew Amon, who was executed in the 40's after his trial.

I LOVED how honest and direct this book was. It's hard enough to tell a story like this but to do it as they did was absolutely a wondrous thing to behold. The story starts with Teege's discovery and quickly moves past that salaciousness. She grapples not with how she characterizes her grandfather - she has a really easy time categorizing him as pure evil - but she really struggles with how to characterize her mother and grandmother, and her feelings towards them. They love each other - that much is obvious - but Teege has a difficult time reconciling that love with the seeming apathy both her mother and grandmother had towards the terrible things that her grandfather did.  At times they seem to make excuses for him at best and don't do ANYTHING to stop him at their worst. She struggles with her alienation from her adoptive family and then about how she will be able to face her Israeli friends, who had family members that died in the Holocaust. Were they going to cut her out completely when they realized who her grandfather was and the awful things that he did? What I loved about this book isn't necessarily the answers or lack of answers that it gave.  The beauty was in the journey and it can be a tremendous teaching tool or comfort for anyone that is struggling with the issues that Teege seems to still struggle with.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first novel I read by this author was Americanah and I enjoyed it so I've been looking for another by this author for quite some time.  This is also a novel about Nigeria - specifically, it is about the Nigerian Civil War, which occurred between 1967 and 1970 - and is told from three different perspectives - Ugwu (a servant in a wealthy Nigerian family), Olanna (a wealthy, black Nigerian) and Richard ( a white Englishman). The book jumps about dramatically - and alternates between the period before the war and the period during/just after the war has ended.

Adichie focussed on the war from a purely civilian standpoint - the military and its characters are ancillary at best - and the main characters go from relative wealth to squalor. There are stories of raids, mass murders, genocide and abduction, some of which are experienced by the main characters. I enjoyed that the perspective was that of a civilian one. However, the choppiness of the period changes made it sometimes difficult to follow what was going on and when, so perhaps some of the significance of the story was lost. 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...