Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin & Alex Malarkey

Book Details:
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
By Kevin & Alex Malarkey
Genre: Christian Non-fiction
Published 2010, Tyndale House Publishers
Hardback, 224 pages
ISBN: 9781414336060

          In 2004, the author and his six-year-old son, Alex, were in a horrific accident that left Alex paralyzed. When Alex awoke from a coma, not only had the most severe of his spinal injuries been healed without medical intervention, but he had an incredible story to share of entering heaven and meeting Jesus.
I find I don't even really want to critique this book, so much as praise everything about it. The trauma that Alex endured in his accident was unbelievable, yet God decided he should live as a testament to God's miraculous power - and that is exactly what this book serves as. Furthermore, I also drew wisdom from the attitude of Alex's grandpa - that someone else is always in worse circumstances than I am, as well as the many excerpts from Kevin's pastor Robin Ricks, who provided a unique perspective filled with Biblical references.
The pictures in the middle of the book helped to give me a visual reference for what the Malarkey family endured, and the many quotes from others that were present as each event described in the book also helped to give a well-rounded view of all that was occurring.
What I loved most of all was how concerned Alex was that everyone realized that this was not about him, but about God. I find that I completely agree with one of the women in the book when she explained that she just could not feel sorry for this blessed boy. I also found it interesting that at one point Alex explained that he saw Don Piper in heaven, too, who wrote the book 90 Minutes in Heaven. Kevin showed the man's photo to Alex, to which Alex responded that he only saw him there for hour and half - so I will be reading that book next!
This book really was amazing to read. From everything I have learned about heaven from the Bible, I can't help but believe that the story this boy and his father tells is true. Reading about how each detail of their lives is watched over and taken care of with miraculous results can only give me hope in my own life and circumstances.

The Cover: The cover is simple, with the silhouette of a boy in a wheelchair against the background of angels' wings - very lovely.

First Line: "We were made for so much more than the things of this world."
I love this opening, because it is exactly what I believe about mankind.

Favorite Quote: "And so the real question is not, What is it like to be in a wheelchair? The question is, What is God like when you're in a wheelchair?"

Read For: TBR Pile Challenge, Read Your Own Books Challenge

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.*

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Book Details:
Water for Elephants
By Sara Gruen
Genre: Fiction
Published 2007, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Paperback, 335 pages
ISBN: 9781565125605

          As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
This is one of those books that I read because I loved the movie first. So, I was quite surprised when I read how the book begins - with the murder of one of the main characters. When I further realized that August does not own the Benzini Brothers, I began to see the movie as its own story separate from the book.
Jacob is by far the most interesting character of the book, especially since he tells the story as an old man in a nursing home - and has the wisdom and experience to go with his age. His emotions are infectious and I longed to sit down with him and listen to all of his stories in person way before I finished the book.
August is the kind of villain that is confusing in his evil deeds - he has schizophrenia - which makes it somewhat unfair to dislike him so much. His irrational behavior has been exploited for the almighty dollar by Uncle Al - but the real villain tends to fade into the background.
Marlena is beautiful to the point of angelic, very little of what she does can be considered wrong in any way, as she is a victim struggling for freedom for most of the book. She approaches August's mood swings with the same caution due a wild animal, and remains faithful to him despite her personal feelings, and does not leave until he first betrays her. Considering how women today will leave their husbands for any reason, I admire her strong morals.
The background is set during the Great Depression, which made for many intense situations as the circus struggled to profit, as well as the survival of the cast of characters. Though I studied this period in American history, the direct experience gave me a clearer idea of the desperation of people alive during this time - how easily morals could be put on hold for the sake of another mouthful of food or another coin in the pocket. So many men of the circus would work without pay for the promise of another meal and unending hope that life could still improve.
Rosie, the elephant, is also one of the most fascinating characters in the book. She proved to be only one example of how animals were exploited to the point of cruelty for profit. I could not help wondering where the animal activists were.
Needless to say, this book sparked many conversations and inspired many moments of personal contemplation for me. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it.

The Cover: This was the cover that was on my copy of the book, though I think I would have preferred the original cover. Though it matches the movie, there are many things here that contrast with the book - the couple's hair colors and Rosie's headpiece are the most obvious.

Favorite Quote: “When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm--you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it.”

Read For: Alex Awards Challenge, Just for Fun Challenge

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Book Details:
By Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Young Adult
Published 2012, Simon & Schuster BFYR
Hardback, 341 pages
ISBN: 9781442409071

          Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago - surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.
The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the any means necessary.
In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever.
I found this book to be much grimmer than the first book, Wither. In this book, Rhine and Gabriel spend most of their time trying to escape and running from or to some place. It was rather tiring at times, and I often wondered while I was reading, Don't they need to eat more? Seriously, they subsist on almost no food until they get to the orphanage, and even then, Rhine still seems to have an anorexic-like view of any and all food. Not very realistic for teenagers, in my view.
Moving on. Rhine's behavior while trapped in the carnival showed me that she can be very scatterbrained and disorganized, without any real planning abilities, even though I saw her as just the opposite in the first book. She seemed to just give in as the power of the drug "angel blood" is forced on her and Gabriel to control them. Her lack of motivation was disappointing, to say the least. The little girl she escapes with proves to be one of the most interesting variables in the whole book.
Further events once they escape seem to just delay the inevitable, but they do help to draw a more detailed picture of the world that Rhine comes from - the desperation and depravity that so much of society has sunk to as the hope of its children continues to inexplicably die. The division between those that want to continue looking for a cure and those that don't is clear, but what is not clear for most of the book is what is killing Rhine, who should still have 3 years of life to go. The horrible Vaughn of Wither is like a haunting presence throughout the book, and he has more secrets than even I can fathom.
The romance between Rhine and Gabriel is stagnated without the threat of discovery by Rhine's abandoned husband. Between escaping capture, living on the run, and futilely hunting down Rhine's brother, it has little chance to grow much at all. In fact, Rhine seemed to have more chemistry with another boy at the orphanage than she can maintain with Gabriel. Plus, Gabriel knows nothing about the world outside the mansion and is flung reeling into this life of survival that he could not have been prepared for - I can't help but feel sorry for him.
The most fascinating scene in the book is hinted at on the cover from the tarot card in Rhine's hand, but unfortunately those elements won't be covered until the final, untitled book in 2013. I look forward to a conclusion that more cleanly wraps up this series.

The Cover: The cover is much like the first cover, only the girl is wearing a different dress to match her experiences in the carnival and the carousel horse, along with a tarot card to represent a later experience in her travels. I like it.

First Line: "We run, with water in our shoes and the smell of the ocean clinging to our frozen skin."
I love the imagery of this opening line, and it reminds me of how the previous book ended.

Favorite Quote: “Momentum,' She repeats. 'You can't just stand there if you want something to fly. You have to run.”

Read For: Young Adult Challenge, Dystopia Challenge

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest by Waheed Rabbani

EDIT: This author has repeatedly harassed, belittled, and criticized me for the contents of my review in email, despite my insistence that this is my opinion. Be warned.

Book Details:
Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest
By Waheed Rabbani
Genre: Fiction
Published 2008,
Paperback, 417 pages
ISBN: 9781849231770

          "Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest" is Book I of a trilogy covering India's struggle for freedom from the British Raj.
American Doctor Margaret's sea chest is discovered in a hospital in Delhi. The coffer contains her diaries and other artifacts.
Margaret, despite facing tremendous obstacles, is one of the first American women doctors to graduate in 1850. She marries her Canadian cousin. They travel to serve in the 1854 Crimean war. There they have to not only face hardships of battles, but also endure other conflicts.
The surprise ending of Book I, leaves Margaret in a quandary on whether to seek revenge or to continue on with her journey to India.
The synopsis on the back of the book confused me before I began reading, as it seemed to tell me the plot for the entire trilogy, instead of just this first book. I also struggled with staying interested in the book, as every page is saturated with foreign words and expressions that I needed to look up in the Glossary at the end of the book if I wanted to understand anything. It was quickly apparent that the history of India also played a major role in the plot of this book, as the author spends large chunks of time teaching the reader about India through the thoughts and conversations of the characters.
I felt like the plot really dragged its heels in progressing, and I often got lost in the details, unsure of what I was supposed to be focusing on the most.
In short, I simply could not progress with the book. I stalled on page 72, and I never picked it back up. Maybe I was not in the right frame of mind to read it, maybe it was too intimidating, I don't know, but if I feel like I am forcing myself to read the book when I struggle to stay focused after only a page, then the book is not for me.

The Cover: While the cover image does match the contents of the book, I am rather unimpressed with the cartoon-ish quality of the woman on the cover. Lacking an actual photograph of a woman to represent Doctor Margaret, the cover would have been better without her presence.

First Line: "The full moon hung in a cloudless sky, like a lantern held by an invisible force."
This is beautiful imagery for the first line, though it does little in the way of telling me about the actual plot.

Read For: Outdo Yourself Challenge

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.*
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