Review of Heaven My Home by Attica Locke! #bookreview #advancedreaderscopyRead More
Publication Date: October 2nd, 2018
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Why I Read This: Many thanks to Netgalley and Random House for sending Advanced Reader Copies. I’ve been looking forward to this book as soon as I heard about it- Picoult is one of my favorite authors.
Page Count: 356
Synopsis: From Amazon-The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.
Opening Sentence: "The Center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory.”
My Thoughts: This is my favorite Picoult book to date. That’s saying a lot, because my previous favorite, Nineteen Minutes, has held the top stop for over 10 years. If you’ve ever read anything by Picoult before, you know she doesn’t shy away from discussing hot button issues. She’s covered stem cells, school shootings, racism, religion… but the events in A Spark of Light takes things to a whole new level.
It’s a hostage situation at a woman’s health clinical in the south. The clinic provides many services, but they are the last abortion provider in the state of Mississippi, making them a target. To enter, the employees and the patients have to endure harassment from pro-life picketers. Both sides are passionate- but the Center’s main objective is to provide health services to the women who are in need. The book opens in an active shooter situation. Picoult’s ability to create tension was second to none- the story is told in reverse, so we know who’s been shot, who’s been killed, and are left with a cliffhanger as to how everything is going to end. But ultimately this isn’t a plot driven story- it’s about the people. There is a wide range of characters- Wren, a young girl who is there with her aunt. The doctor who has his personal reasons for being passionate about his cause, despite it being in opposition to his religious beliefs. A pro-lifer in disguise, trying to get dirt on the clinical to support her narrative. The shooter’s daughter, who wants nothing more than to be the girl her father thinks she is. And a number of others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Picoult uses a lot of irony to drive the story, but this isn’t her first rodeo and it’s well done. For example- the hostage negotiator’s daughter is inside. A key character who is staunchly opposed to the clinic has had an abortion of her own. A seemingly well off nurse takes care of babies, but isn’t sure if she wants to have her own. Still, this book made me think. Since it’s told in reverse, you know the events that took place but I was constantly picking up on new information and feeing a sense of dread for what was coming. This isn’t a black and white issue. I know what side of the narrative I fall down upon, but I do there there are a lot of grey areas and these points are well presented throughout the story.
No matter which side of the debate you fall on, I recommend this. Yes, it’s political. It probably leans more pro choice than pro life. But at the very least, this will make you examine your viewpoint and can serve as a conversation starter. If you like for your current fiction to have staying power and be of the moment, then this might work for you.
Quote: "He looked into the eyes of each of the women. Warriors, every one of them…They were stronger than any men he’d ever known. For sure, they were stronger than the male politicians who were so terrified of them that they designed laws specifically to keep women down.”
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Publication Date: February 6th, 2018
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Page Count: 320 pages
Why I read it: I saw it on Netgalley and loved what I saw. A black man being wrongfully incarcerated is unfortunately not new news, but I was drawn in to the synopsis and wanted to explore effect it had on one couple.
First Sentence: "There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don't."
Synopsis: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward--with hope and pain--into the future.
My Thoughts: This is one of those books that I had to step away from a bit and digest before reviewing. The story is told from three separate POVs: from that of Celestial, the wife, Roy, the husband, and Andre, the childhood friend. You will love them and hate them each at different times. After about a year and a half of marriage, Roy is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Celestial knows he didn't commit this crime because she was with him when the crime took place. But none of this mattered. We get to learn about their relationship largely through their letters to one another. At first, I was thrown off by the lack of dates on the letters, but I came to understand that the lack of dates was probably a choice. We see time as Roy sees time, through the changes in Celestial. It was so interesting to see how much of Roy's identity was wrapped up in things: his degree, his job, his relationship, his shoes. He scraped and fought so hard for these things, but none of these accomplishments saved him from getting wrongly incarcerated. He does get released after several years, and comes to find out that everything has changed. This is a book about family, obligation, and choices- the choices that we want to make and those that are forced upon us.
The writing was incredible. Jones was able to quickly draw me into the relationship and get me to care about and empathize with the characters right from the beginning. There was beautiful description of time and place that was evocative without being distracting. Jones describes racism in American via her characters in a very straightforward way. I can see this book being read 50 years from now as a study to see what life was like in America for people of color in the South in this decade. The fathers in this story were some of my favorite characters- Big Roy and his devotion to his wife and Celestial's dad refusing to give her a free pass. I know it sounds heavy handed, and it was sad in many places. But it was also a hell of a pleasure to read. Get your hands on this one. It'll definitely be on my favorite books of the year list.
Favorite Quote: "Memory is a queer creature, an eccentric curator."
Companion Read: The New Jim Crowe
Rating: 5/5 This is why I read- I love human stories like this.
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If you're anything like me, you have just finished listening to the podcast S-Town and you're irrevocably in the midst of a podcast hangover. A podcast hangover mirrors a book hangover, but is almost worse, since there are a million fantastic books available and uncovering a podcast like this is like catching lightning in a bottle. It's a feat nearly impossible to replicate (I'm looking at you, Serial Season 2).
Anyway, I had something else planned for this week's Four Book Friday, but as soon as I finished S-Town I knew what my next post had to be.
So here I present to you, four books to help you cure your S-Town hangover. There aren't any podcast spoilers here, but I do recommend that you at least get through Chapter II of S-town, just in case. Warning: I'm not promising that these books won't give you a hangover on their own, but at least they'll entertain you in the meantime.
A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara
This is the book that most represents S- Town to me. They're wildly different in setting (S-town is in rural Alabama and A Little Life is set in New York), but the central characters gave me a similar feeling. The main character of S-town is passionate and dark, much like A Little Life's beloved protagonist, Jude. So many people are touched by them and the men have no idea how far they reach. They are both tortured and complicated and we get to know them through the eyes of those around them. (Full review on A Little Life here).
The Humans | Matt Haig
A part of the reason that I liked S-town so much was because it was so layered. On the surface, it looks like a buried murder mixed with political corruption. (It is a little sad that that in and of itself has lost its shock value in today's America). But as you listen through the episodes, you realize there's so much more to the story. There's commentary on the south, America, small towns, millennial, clocks, climate change, sexuality, family... there's even a treasure hunt. Similarly, The Humans appears to be a science fiction story about an extra-terrestrial that lands on Earth to inhabit the body of a mathematics professor, to prevent him from solving a math problem that will ultimately destroy the world. Initially, the alien is unimpressed with us humans (but he does like our peanut butter), but by the end you come to see that this book has so much soul. Both S-town and The Humans use an unlikely central character to tell a far greater tale. The alien's letter to his son also reminds me very much of a letter that shows up late in the podcast.
Hillbilly Elegy | J.D. Vance
S-town is painted so vividly, it's almost a character itself. Throughout the podcast, John's rage toward his hometown simmers. He's a liberal with broad views of the world and finds himself frustrated with the apathy that surrounds him. Hillbilly Elegy comes with very high praise- having been called essential reading and the most important book you'll read about America this year. The author describes himself as a personal marker of proof of success by his family, but shares the story of the rest of his family who were not able to break the cycle of poverty and trauma. This a powerful commentary on the culture that was presented in S-town, but presents it in a different light.
American War | Omar El Akkad
If there's one thing that everyone knew about John it's this: the man was obsessed with climate change. Well, in American War we get to find out what happens when the fossil fuels inevitably run out. It's 2075 and the country is a war zone. Oil is outlawed, Louisiana is mostly underwater, and people are being killed. People are distrusting and hateful and divided. Half of the country wants to address climate change and abandon fossil fuels, but the other half choose to continue to do what was always done and use up the resources. The book is dystopian and extreme, but eerily mirrors some of John's obsessions.
Bonus- Here are the books that are mentioned in the podcast.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Featuring Brokeback Mountain) | Annie Prolux
A Rose For Emily | William Faulkner
The Necklace | Guy de Maupassant
The Lottery | Shirley Jackson
What do you think? Do you have any recommendations?
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In 2017, I've really committed myself to reading more books with substance. I LOVE a breezy memoir or page turning thriller, but I find that I am able to devour these guilt free if I also find ways to work substantive novels into the mix. I thought a good way to do this was to try and complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy "Reading for Growth" list.
The book I chose to complete the "Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner" category was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. (It's also the group pick for the Goodreads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge Group for February). Now, I KNOW you all don't need me to review this book, because it was everywhere in 2016. It was a #1 NY Times Bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Ms. Winfrey herself selected it as a book for her book club. At any rate, I did still want to share my reactions.
I am absolutely a fan of this book, and I feel the praise was well deserved. I recommend that you not read the synopsis. (Actually, that's the way that I prefer to go into most novels- knowing that there are elements I'll like about it and not knowing much else). I read the synopsis on Amazon after I finished the book and was surprised at how much of the plot was given away. The basics: this book a fictional account of a slave named Cora and her attempt to escape from a plantation using the underground railroad. The twist is that this underground railroad is literally a railroad that, with the help of allies, transports anyone that is able to find the secret entrances to the next stop on the line. A fellow slave, Caesar, recruits Cora to escape with him because her mother had escaped years before and he believes her to be good luck. The story unfolds and we follow the two throughout their journey to South Carolina and beyond.
I wouldn't call this a thriller, but I couldn't put it down. I thought this one would be one of those books that was important to read but very tough to get through, but I was so wrong. This book is fiction first, then history. Because of this, it's accessible to all readers. I loved that Colson Whitehead told this story with respect and in a way that doesn't let us forget the horrors that occurred in the segregated South. Whitehead infuses Cora into the worst of situations, all of which are a take on true events (think the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The story was almost Forrest Gump like in this way. Cora is a very well fleshed out character who, despite experiencing horrors that not many of us could imagine, retains a sense of humor and hope. She has become one of my favorite characters and her story will stick with me. The writing is subtle and I will come back to this and read it again. I would have liked to more know about some of the secondary characters. This book reminded me about things that were somehow glossed over in my U.S. History education, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong writing, and/or memorable female protagonists.
There were so many powerful sentences in this book, but a couple stood out to me.
Plantation justice was mean and constant, but the world was indiscriminate.
Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.
Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.