I finally finished the second part of my book challenge I’ve been working on. I was going in the order I had organized everything into, but then I discovered my dad had given me the wrong title AND the wrong author for his, and then when I corrected it I still couldn’t find it, and then I reread Lord of the Rings because I thought “I’ve got time!” when I didn’t, and then I finally picked the nonfiction book from the next section and am just going to swap those a bit.
As a reminder, here are the 5 categories: Nonfiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book by a Famous Author, Modern Fiction, and Something Unusual. (Disclaimer: Sometimes “famous author” means “author who is famous for something other than this book”. In this case, Mike Foley is apparently a famous wrestler.) Here we go!
6. MISTER GOD, THIS IS ANNA by FYNN
(suggested by Kristin Dubois, “character story”)
This was definitely a sweet story. It has two different types of storytelling that it bounces back and forth between: dialogue of conversations between Fynn and Anna, and Fynn’s narrative describing Anna. Understanding that this was a true story made sense in the way that it’s written; the main guy is clearly very enamored with this mysterious girl who came from a rough background but is wanting to find joy in all forms of life without talking about her past, and he writes as such. The conversational pieces are fun, and there are some theological discussions that are a good mix of “girl wise beyond her years” and “girl being a little girl”.
I think my main problem is that the narrative part, at least to me, feels a bit too “telling instead of showing”. Anna becomes a Mary Sue in the eyes of the author, someone who can do no wrong and who he gushes about continuously as if she is Pollyanna, Shirley Temple and Annie Warbucks all wrapped into one. To be fair, based on the conversations she IS a pretty unique child. I’m sure knowing someone that mysterious and special personally, especially for a limited time, would lead me to want to share how much I loved them with anyone who cared to hear my story. But as someone who never knew her (and who often finds it hard to get into kids on paper because it feels like an adult trying to write a cute kid instead of a cute kid just being cute), I think the book having so many chapters of Fynn describing how special she is was a bit much as far as storytelling goes.
But while stories about awesome and precocious kids aren’t usually my forte, she was definitely a great choice for a “character story”. She was creative and sweet and thoughtful, and I did enjoy reading through their conversations together. It was also something I definitely wouldn’t have normally picked out, so getting something so different was fun.
QUOTE: “Why do we go to church, Fynn?”
“To understand Mister God more.”
“To understand Mister God less.”
“Wait a blessed minute… you’re flipped!”
“No I’m not.”
“You most certainly are.”
“No. You go to church to make Mister God really, really big. When you make Mister God really, really, really big, then you really, really don’t understand God–then you do.”
7. TIETAM BROWN by MICK FOLEY
(suggested by Wayne Little, “lesser known book by a famous author”)
This is DEFINITELY an odd book. At first I had no idea what to think of it as I was reading it. It’s incredibly raunchy because the father of the main character is insane and very inappropriate, so that content was always a little hard to get through. But the main character was just so likeable. As it went on, I just really needed him to be okay and to have a good ending. He has been surrounded by cruelty and betrayal and abuse all his life, and as the story progressed and he goes from weird life to flashbacks of horrible life to better life to worse life to hopeful life to “what’s going on?” life, he remains humble and positive and fairly discerning of which people are good and bad. He definitely has his quirks, and “the rage” is obviously a concerning plot point, but he is surprisingly well-adjusted given what little time he has spent with non-horrible people.
If I had picked it out on my own and started reading it outside of the book challenge, I probably would’ve been turned off by the R-ratedness and put it down. (It’s a lot more work to get through an inappropriate book than it is a movie just because it lasts so much longer.) But the main character was worth the wait. I had hope for him at the end, and he found the right people to stay connected to.
P.S. (PREPARE for SPOILERS) I was confused by the final chapter/epilogue, and felt like maybe I was missing something in that person’s name that should’ve given me a clue to what that final twist was? Should I have known the name of Masters, and why was he thrown in there? If he’s a famous psychotic therapist, than it makes a bit more sense. If he’s not, than that part was rather abrupt with little explanation as to what happened and why Andy keeps finding himself in these situations. But anyway, he got out and is going to find Holly and Terri, so that’s the important thing. END SPOILERS
QUOTE: “But on this Christmas Day, I did think of Holly. Her saying ‘people can change’ and ‘I’m living proof’. Confessing her past and declaring it dead. But sometimes old ghosts don’t die as easy as that. Skeletons that bang on the closet door until they’re let out. Because I know old bones sometimes follow me still.”
8. PASSENGER by ALEXANDRA BRACKEN
(suggested by Kaitlyn Nicole Willaims, “modern fiction”)
(I am writing this review after much time has passed from reading it, so it might not be as precise and detailed as if I had written it when it was fresh in my memory.)
This book has a sequel (Wayfarer) which I also read to complete the story, but the first book is the main one I have to review, which is good because I liked that one better. This story has a fairly complicated time travel system that I had to figure out, and I think it got more complicated in the second book than the first. The first book was an introduction to the timelines, but it also focused very much on the growing emotional intimacy between the two main characters. I did enjoy that; I thought they were good characters and the author did a nice job of building up the chemistry in a way that worked for me. I know that at some point they got a bit Bella-and-Edward-Tris-and-Four-competing-for-who-loves-who-more drama, which can get a bit annoying, but that might not’ve happened until book 2, I can’t remember. I did get really confused by the plot points in Wayfarer, but if I just ignored what I couldn’t understand and focused on the parts that I could, it was pretty good.
I’ll try and give this Duology a reread sometime and see if the overall story clicks with me stronger than it did, because it’s probably going to sit in the “enjoyed-for-sure-but-twas-too-much-story-building-to-really-decide-if-it-was-amazing-or-not” category. But I liked parts of it a lot and was glad to get introduced to a short series like that.
QUOTE: “But what if it doesn’t work? What if we can’t sort everything out in your time? Your era is one small sliver of time compared to all eternity—there is only one small place you and I can be safe together. But even so, how long would it be before missing home and our loved ones became unbearable to one of us? It all ends the same way, with us breaking apart. Isn’t it better to have done with it now?”
“No,” she said stubbornly. “We could find a place. We could make our own.”
9. THINNER THAN THOU by KIT REED
(suggested by Holly Taylor-Vrhel, “something unusual”.)
Well! This book wasn’t what I expected. It’s a dystopian book about society focusing so much on looks that it’s practically a religion, though it’s much more like a cult; you’re following about 6 different people in 4 different scenarios and bouncing back and forth between their perspectives until they all connect at the very end and bring down the villain. It was definitely kind of intense, and very uncomfortable in parts, but that IS the point. I appreciated the many different aspects of unhealthy-body-image representation; the push push push for losing weight that instantly turns to horror if you go too far, so there’s basically this slim to nonexistent window to live in, and of course that’s only for a small period of time. Then you have the ridiculous eating contests (that chapter was GROSS) and the food/weight porn. It was disturbing and intriguing and not a book I would ever read again, but I got what it was trying to say.
I am NOT one to say that “we could be living in this society now” because I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that; it is a dystopian story, after all, so it’s supposed to be over-the-top to get the point across. But you could tell where they were initially drawing from with references to our culture.
I DID feel at times that it got a little preachy, particularly with the final march and the mental italics. It felt like that was the part where the author was like “now I can give my lecture on everything I feel about this subject!”. I’m not saying it was a wrong choice, it just felt a bit much.
This is a book that I probably wouldn’t have finished if I had picked it up on my own, but it was quite an interesting one to have under my belt.
QUOTE: There are no saving graces in this place, no sweet touches, no woman’s hand like a scented scarf trailing across your face. Nothing but hunger and the discipline and the Reverend Earl’s promises that we sold everything to pay for, the glamour of life in the Afterfat.
And all I can think about is food.
Did you ever get exactly what you want and find out it’s not what you wanted at all?
10. THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY by AJ JACOBS
(suggested by Jennie Allred, “nonfiction”)
My sister told me about this book years ago, so I had an idea of what the premise was, but it was definitely worth reading on my own. An agnostic writer takes it upon himself to delve wholeheartedly into understanding the Bible (as well as the modern Christian and Jewish religions) by “living Biblically” for a year (as the title states): an intriguing experiment that leads to some great written up responses about religion, spirituality and people who follow it!
He separates the year by months; each month is a chapter, and each chapter is broken up by various day entries. He makes things mostly manageable for himself by printing out all the “rules” in the Bible early but then focusing on different aspects throughout the year. I think it’s the first 9 months of the year that he focuses on the Old Testament, and the last several on the New. So let’s say that one day he focuses on “not telling lies”, which he then does his best to make into a habit, after working out all the kinks; then he adds on “being thankful” another day, until he has trained himself to watch his words both directions. By the time he gets to the end of the book/year, he has a full-length wild beard, wears only white, and has well-practiced and strict modes of talking, eating, thinking, dressing, and behaving.
Much of the book was focused on him trying to work in the bizarre rituals from the Old Testament, so that was fun to hear his take on all of that. He was also really good about talking to as many different people as he could; he searched for extremists who followed specific verses to the letter, from snake-handlers to Amish to Hassidic Jews. He wore down a Jehovah’s Witness and met with the New York City Atheists club and visited with Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis. He had multiple mentors and did thorough research and got insight from everywhere he could find it. I really respect his whole-hearted attitude with which he thrust himself into this experiment.
I think he was also very fair. While obviously I have a different view on religion than he does (and he’s still basically agnostic by the end of the book), he was really open-minded as he went through all of these rituals and prayers that didn’t mean anything to him personally, as he talked to all of these people who passionately believe some crazy-sounding things. I liked whenever he found something to admire about the Bible/religion, and he brought up some legitimate questions as well. It was really interesting to get a perspective on the Bible from someone who doesn’t even know if he believes that God exists. He was respectful, honest, and very funny. Following his journey was intriguing, and it was definitely a good read.
QUOTE (I forgot to find a quote before returning my book, so I’m grabbing two short ones from Goodreads):
“When I get it home and start to read it, the first thing I notice is that Warren has copyrighted the phrase “Purpose-driven.” It has a little ® after it. This makes me angry. Did Jesus copyright “Turn the Other Cheek”®? Did Moses trademark “Let My People Go?”™”
“Ezekiel and his fellow prophets have become my heroes. They were fearless. They literalized metaphors. They turned their lives into protest pieces. They proved that, in the name of truth, sometimes you can’t be afraid to take a left turn from polite society and look absurd.”