Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#32: The Memory Thief (Emily Colin)

At Christmas dinner, my nephew-in-law (Is that the correct term for the man who married my niece?) asked if he could expect to see my 32nd book review completed before the end of the year. I wasn't completely sure I would make it since I was suffering from brain damage a broken pinkie toe and didn't feel very intellectual at the moment. I'm happy to say that I DID finish the book on the last day of 2012, which allows me to proudly say that I topped last year's number of books read by 1. (Nothing like waiting until the last minute to mark another resolution off of the list!)

The Memory Thief is the first novel of author Emily Colin. The book traces the story of Maddie and her young son, Gabe. Maddie was married to a mountain climber, Aidan, who was killed in a Alaskan climbing accident and his body has not been recovered. On the same day as Aidan's accident, Nicholas, a teacher in North Carolina, was involved in an automobile accident. Though Nicholas survived, his memory has been completely wiped clean. He now begins to experience memories of another life — the life of Aidan.

With lots of twists, turns, and surprise developments, The Memory Thief is definitely a page-turner that keeps the reader guessing how things will ultimately work out for everyone involved. The primary characters of Maddie, Nicholas, Aidan, and JC (Aidan's best friend and fellow climber) are beautifully developed with charm, wit, and compassion. I found myself sad to leave these new-found friends behind when I reached the final pages of the novel. I won't be surprised if Emily Colin publishes another work that continues the story of these exquisite characters.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I must point out what I perceived as a few of its flaws. It seems that there is a trend in mainstream fiction at the moment to tell stories from multiple perspectives, shifting narrators with each chapter. I enjoy the use of this technique, but found myself confused by the shifts occasionally. For instance, when a chapter attributed to Nicholas begins with a dream he is seeing from Aidan's perspective, the duality of the narration made the storyline unclear and perplexing. As I continued reading, I became aware of Colin's use of italics to signal these occurrences; even though I was aware of them, it didn't necessarily make them easier to handle.

Secondly, I'm not certain Colin was always aware of the intended audience. The story essentially is one of the timelessness of love and was character driven from the beginning. Thrust into the story line were extensive descriptions of romantic escapades in Maddie's life. While I understand the reason for including these episodes in the story itself, I found myself wondering why a cheap romance novel had been slipped into this beautiful love story. While the scenes certainly raised the temperature of this Colorado-based story, the steaminess left this reader feeling dirty and that the romance was becoming nothing more than a tawdry roll in the sheets. Along the same lines, I found some of the language used off-putting. I know that words have power to express emotion (that's why I love to read and write), but I found the use of mundane vulgarity in intense scenes lessened their impact….especially after reading some wonderfully crafted sentences leading up to the climax. In many ways, it felt as though Colin was taking the easy way out of dealing with authentic emotion.

Lastly, I must admit that the idea of possession (a term which was finally used on p. 372 of the novel) made me a little uncomfortable. By the time the author clearly identified what was going on, I was so near the end of the story that I needed to know how things were going to turn out. The only thing that made me feel a “little” better was that it was not suggested as an evil possession; rather it was a individual's spirit attempting to bring closure to situations before moving into the afterlife. Morally, it's still not something I am entirely comfortable with, but I must admit that I enjoyed reading the novel as a work of fiction. I will be interested to see if this metaphysical trend continues in Colin's future works. Personally, I hope not.

I enjoy exploring the first works of authors. Based upon my experience with The Memory Thief, I am looking forwarding to reading Emily Colin's next novel.

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#31: Illusion (Frank Peretti)

I have never been one who enjoyed much science fiction. Additionally, I have found myself disappointed by most Christian fiction I have read over the years. Recently, while in the bookstore, I noticed Illusion by Frank Peretti. This was a title I hadn’t seen before so after a quick read of the synopsis, I decided to add this book to my reading list. Why? The plot sparked my interest and I had never read any of Peretti’s previous books. (*gasp*)

Illusion is a complex story of the magician team of Mandy and Dane. The two married as young adults and experienced a lifetime of love that was cut short when Mandy was tragically killed in a horrific car accident. Dane moves to Idaho where he and his late wife had planned to retire when he comes across a young female magician in town who shows promise and is in need of work. Dane can’t ignore the fact that the young lady (who goes by the name of Eloise) bears a striking resemblance to his late wife when the two first met! In the world of Peretti’s imagination, medical and military intrigue abound and time travel is possible. Mandy lives as a result of the power of the Machine, but an uncertain future awaits as she tests the Machine’s power and unethical people attempt to gain control of it.

As a reader, I found myself drawn into Peretti’s world. I wanted to know what new twist was around the corner. As a Christian, however, I struggled to find references to truth among the magic. It was not until reading the author’s note at the end that I understood his perspective on the story and the symbolism he intended to convey eternal truth. I suppose Peretti’s success, in my opinion, has come because he is a gifted writer who is also a Christian; he does not write exclusively for a Christian audience (which has always been one of my complaints against Christian fiction in general).

Illusion was not my favorite read of the year by any stretch of the imagination. However, I was introduced to a new author and am intrigued enough that I will probably read some of his other writings in the future.

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#30: One Breath Away (Heather Gudenkauf)

I had forgotten how good it feels to be consumed by a good book and let the rest of the world (and responsibilities) lie dormant for a while. The book that reminded me was One Breath Away. The story centers around a school in the midwest that is in lockdown because an unidentified gunman has entered the 3rd grade classroom of Mrs. Evelyn Oliver. Although the entire community is effected by the events, the narrative focuses on 5 central characters.

At the center of the novel is Augie, a tough teenage girl who finds herself living with her grandparents and younger brother while her mother, Holly, is recovering in an Arizona hospital from 3rd degree burns. Will is Augie’s grandfather who has been estranged from his daughter ever since she left the family farm and never looked back. Will’s crisis is heightened as he realizes that Augie and PJ (the younger brother) are both in danger due to his own decisions — similar to decisions that chased their mother away from him years earlier. Add to the mix the charming Mrs. Oliver and Meg, a local police officer whose daughter is a student in Mrs. Oliver’s 3rd grade class and you have a wonderful formula for a riveting read.

Character development was at the heart of Gudenkauf’s writing. Each chapter shifts point of view between the 5 characters and provides insight into their back story as well as their emotional state. Generally, I really enjoy reading works written in this manner. I found Gudenkauf’s novel a bit jerky in the early stages due to the extremely short chapters. Just as I was settling in with a character, my attention was diverted to a different (and often unrelated) scene.  As the book continued, the story lines began to converge and pulled me in despite its rough start.

As the novel begins to wind down, the plot became sadly predictable and the ending left several threads unresolved — especially those related to the relationships between Will, Augie, and Holly. At its heart, the story’s strength was really about a family in crisis; the novel’s unsatisfactory conclusion is attributed to the author’s choice to make it merely a story about a school hostage crisis.

Even though I wasn’t pleased with the ending, I’d still give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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#29: The Bridge (Karen Kingsbury)

Last week was insanely busy with finals at both Union and MSCC. Needless to say, I was doing a lot of driving to be everywhere I was needed. I decided it was time to grab an audio book and pass the time.

Though I’m not normally a fan of Kingsbury’s work, I found myself greatly enjoying the Christmas story contained in The Bridge. The book tells the story of 2 college students who fall in love as they spend time together in a quaint bookstore. Due to a misunderstanding, the two part ways and their lives move in opposite directions. Fate brings the young lovers together again when the bookstore’s owner faces struggles and the potential of losing his business. What transpires is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

As I listened, I found myself laughing and crying with Kingsbury’s characters. My heart was grabbed by the purity of love presented and the human connection made over a common passion for books. It’s not something I would ever have expected to read….er, listen to……but I must admit that I’m glad I did.  If you are in the mood for a heartwarming Christmas story, I would consider spending a few hours with The Bridge.

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#28: My Reading Life (Pat Conroy)

I really enjoy getting a glimpse into the reading practices of authors and influential people. That’s what drew me to My Reading Life. Author Pat Conroy tells of his earliest experiences with Gone with the Wind at his mother’s knee, his growing love affair with books as a means of escaping his father’s abuse, and his journey learning to write by reading great literature.  Conroy holds a special place in his heart for the teachers, bookstore owners, and publishing representatives who have shaped his love for reading.  He is passionate about great poetry as well as Russian literature.

Rather than attempting to summarize everything I took away from this memoir, I think it would be more appropriate to share one of my favorite passages.  Conroy tells of the role his mother played in making him a reader.  In many ways, his description of his mother reminds me of my mother’s gentle encouragement to read more and more.

“My mother turned me into an insatiable, fanatical reader. It was her gentle urging, her hurt, insistent voice, that led me to discover my identity by taking a working knowledge of the great books with me always.  She wanted me to read everything of value, and she taught me to outread my entire generation, as she had done hers.  I believe, and I think fairly, that I have done that — that I have not only outread my own generation of writers but outread them in such a way that whole secret libraries separate us.  I have tried to read two hundred pages every day of my life since I was a freshman in high school, because I knew that I would come to the writing of books without the weight of culture and learning that a well-established, confidently placed family could offer its children.  I collected those long, melancholy lists of the great books that high school English teachers passed out to college-bound students, and I relied on having consumed those serious litanies of books as a way to ease my way into the literary life.” (Conroy, p. 195)

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