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Saturday, April 27, 2013

STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach



STIFF: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers    by Mary Roach

For anyone interested in the “messy” part of human science, this is the book for you. Mary Roach has a unique sense of humor that makes her off beat topics fun to read.  You will learn many facts while being  amused and bemused.  

STIFF tells what happens to the human body after death whether that death is natural or not. You will discover how long decomposition takes and exactly what happens.  You will find out who did the first autopsy and the first anatomical dissection and why those activities were and continue to be important. Roach covers plane crashes and gun shots and automobile crashes among other ways humans die. She discusses funeral practices and all the other topics dealing with death that you might (or might not) have ever wondered about.

The style is straightforward, no medical background is necessary. Teenage boys will love it. Girls will be grossed out and parents may be dismayed, but everyone will learn something – rather painlessly

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline



ORPHAN TRAIN   by Christina Baker Kline

5 stars of 5

This novel will appeal to both teens and adults.  Orphan Train tells two interlocking stories. The first concerns a frustrated, angry teen who has been bounced around the foster care system from one uncaring “home” to another, unloved and generally unwanted. Molly, half Indian, has stolen a library book and is now forced to do 50 hours of community service. Through her boyfriend she finds herself helping Vivian, a 90 year old woman who wants help “clearing out” her attic of a lifetime’s worth of boxes and mementos.
Vivian’s story, told in flashback and the more fleshed out of the two stories, is that of an Irish immigrant child orphaned and then sent from New York to the Midwest on one of the “Orphan Trains” organized by the Children’s Aid Society. The children are often no more than “cheap labor” to the receiving families and this is Vivian’s fate.
Realistic in both tales, the novel gives a vivid and accurate portrait of life for unwanted children in two eras.  Mother/daughter book groups will find much to discuss - family, adoption, family services, poverty, child labor, education, faith, “acting out”, tattoos, belonging – among others.  Adults will likely find Vivian’s story easier to relate to, especially the topic of adoption and seeking one’s birth family.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ORDINARY GRACE by WIlliam Kent Krueger



Frank, a thirteen year old on the cusp of manhood, is the main character in William K Krueger’s book “Ordinary Grace.” On its surface it is a tale of death - a murder, an accident, in war, stupidly or deliberately done, of age or illness. On a much deeper level it is the story of a family, the love that binds them together and the faith that sustains them.  This is not an explicitly “Christian” book and yet you will finish the book and know why faith is and what it is. 

Krueger uses words in wonderful and unique ways to evoke a time and place that will live with you long after you finish reading this book.  His description of a mother’s sorrow is expressed “She was flesh without spirit, eyes without sight” (page 182) and setting sun “was caught in the branches of the trees and the light across the lawns was yellow-orange and broken (page 133). 

This is a lovely book. Now that I have finished it, I want to read it again – only slowly so I can savor each word.  His writing is believable. You know that is just what each character would say or do or think. His metaphors and similes are precise and unique and exactly right, yet they do not make think “oh, he learned that lesson on metaphor well.” Instead you are simply lost in the time, the place and the character.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ALL WOMAN AND SPRINGTIME by Brandon Jones



A mesmerizing book that many will find hard to read. 

Gi, the main character, changes from a brutalized, terrified 10 year old to a near catatonic teen to a woman of untapped strength in this tale of a North Korean girl condemned and then rescued from a concentration camp. She finds a friend in the orphanage but when it is their time to leave the orphanage and strike out on their own, they are betrayed by Il-Sun’s lover and sold into trafficking in South Korea.  When they try to escape they are transported to the US in a sealed container on a ship and become sex slaves. Eventually Gi is able to escape and finds a new life because of her ability with numbers. 
North Korea and human trafficking are shown graphically, but not exploitively. The sex (and there is indeed sex) is used to convey the horror and terror of young girls trapped in a life they cannot escape.  I read this nearly 400 page book in just two days, compelled to keep reading and sorry when the book ended.  Although horrifying, the book is also a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. Americans may find themselves seeing the homeless and immigrants with a sense of unease and guilt after reading this book.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME by Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash has a way with words. He can make you see a rain storm or love with equal clarity. In A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME he has written a beautiful elegy for love and death, faith and fear, condemnation and redemption. Told in three very different voices, the tale unfolds in starts and pauses and then backtracks on to itself.  Occasionally Cash loses his way and the story loses momentum. But stick with him because in the pulsing end, you will know you have found a wonderful new voice.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME follows the inhabitants of a small back country Appalachian community.  They include an outsider Sheriff and the drunk the sheriff blames for his son's death, the drunk's son and his church obsessed wife, their two young sons - one a mute, a spellbinding preacher with a hidden past and the area's "healer" woman.   Cash is point perfect in detailing the culture of Appalachia, the speech patterns of his characters and an atmosphere of foreboding.

Book groups will find a wealth of topics including family dynamics, faith and faith that becomes oppressive, guilt and how it can poison relationships, fear of the unknown, outsiders, understanding disabilities, alcoholism, infidelity, and secrets.