Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#16: Harmony (Carolyn Parkhurst)

 This week, I returned to novels with Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst. I decided to pick this one up based on a review I heard on the podcast “All the Books.” I liked the fast-paced writing and the intricate story, but I found myself getting annoyed with the novel as I got closer to the end. Once I was within 100 pages of the end, I was just ready for this reading experience to be over.

Harmony tells the story of the Hammond family. Josh and Alexandria Hammond live in metropolitan Washington, D.C. with their daughters Iris and Tilly. At first glance, everything appears normal, but something is just not quite “right” with Tilly, the older of the girls. Her intellectual skills are far superior to those of her peers, but her social skills are the cause of much harassment at the hands of her classmates. Tilly is obsessed with vulgarities, constantly requires precise explanations of mundane daily occurrences, and will often be found licking various surfaces. While she does not exhibit the traditional symptoms, medical and psychological professionals place her condition on the autism spectrum.

Tilly’s behavior becomes more challenging for her family and teachers. In an act of desperation, her mother seeks out the advice of a child-rearing guru, Scott Bean. Alexandria does her best to vet Mr. Bean before buying into his advice entirely. Her initial description of Scott Bean expressed ideas that I have longed hope people would understand:  “He has training in education and speech pathology. Your [Alexandria’s] age, but he doesn’t seem to be married or have kids of his own. Which raises a couple of question marks for you, but you’ve met enough good childless teachers (and enough bad parents) to know that raising kids isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for understanding how they work.” (Harmony, 106) For the record, that is where any similarity between me and the character Scott Bean ends!

Scott becomes a valued resource for Alexandria as Tilly’s behavior spirals downward. Ultimately, Scott recommends that the Hammond family join him at a new camp in rural New Hampshire that he is establishing for families in crisis. The Hammonds sell off their possessions and make the journey to New England, removing themselves from society’s reach while living off the land in an effort to commune with nature. Camp Harmony, as Scott has christened the plot of New Hampshire woodland, at first appears to be a mix of a camping experience and commune. Quickly, it becomes clear that something unusual — perhaps sinister — is happening in the woods surrounding the camp….and Tilly and Iris are in the thick of it.

Harmony was a great exploration of the vastness of autism and the impact the illness can have on families. The book’s strange mix of family drama and thriller felt contrived to me at times. I will not spoil the ending, but I will tell you this….I HATED the ending and wanted a clearer resolution to the issue of Scott Bean. And that’s where I struggle with this review…..I was fascinated with the book until the plot began to wrap up. By that point, I was invested in the characters and felt that Parkhurst whimped out without giving the reader the satisfying conclusion they deserved.

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Update: Titles 13 & 14

This summer has not seen regular blogging from me on any avenue. Now that I’m finally getting over nasty sinus infections and regaining strength in my hand, I’m hoping to get back to normal and return to blogging and reading.  Here’s what I’ve read most recently.

#13: Chasing Fireflies (Charles Martin). A young boy is found next to a rural railroad track while the car he was traveling in burns in flames, the casuality of an apparent suicide. The child has suffered horrible trauma, marked by the lashes on his back and the evident malnourishment he has withstood. Is it any wonder that the child does not speak either? The only question is if he is incapable of talking or simply choosing not to. Chasing Fireflies is a beautifully written story about the healing power of love, our search for identity and belonging, and a fresh look at what it takes to make up a “family” in our modern world. This is definitely a story to read when your faith in humanity needs to be restored.

#14: 11th Hour (James Patterson). It was time to return to the stories of the Women’s Murder Club series. In this installment, drug dealers are being taken out systematically throughout the city. It seems as though their killer has personal knowledge of them and their movements. When the SFPD realizes that the murder weapon is a missing gun from the evidence room, the force must face a frightening reality — one of their own uniformed brothers has gone rogue! Every member of the vice squad as well as homicide that had access to the evidence room is a suspect. Lindsey is putting more on the line than just her own life, too….she must think about the child she is carrying while trying to repair the strain that her new marriage to Joe is already facing. Patterson returns to true form with this intriguing and engrossing story. My hope for the upcoming stories in the series is finally being restored.

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#12: Most Wanted (Lisa Scottoline)

Lisa Scottoline is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors when I’m looking for something interesting and fun to read. Every Fifteen Minutes was one of my favorite books that I read in the spring and Most Wanted certainly lived up to my expectations. Not only was the story fast-paced and told quite well, but the novel also raised issues that have been discussed and debated for hundreds of years.

Christine and Marcus have struggled to have a child since the earliest years of their marriage. Since Marcus’ health issues are discovered to be the problem, the pair decide to use an anonymous donor in their insemination procedure. Now that Christine is carrying a healthy child, the couple has become very excited for their new arrival. 

Christine’s happiness is marred in the blink of an eye. While attending a baby shower, she catches a glimpse of a man in a CNN news report that looks strangely familiar. The good looking blonde man has been arrested in connection with a series of murders of nurses in the area. Why does he look so familiar? Christine finally realizes that the serial killer bears a striking resemblance to the donor photograph that was provided by the sperm bank. 

Most Wanted follows Christine’s turmoil as she attempts to determine if the prisoner is truly the biological father of the child she is carrying. Are the serial killer’s violent tendencies something that will be passed genetically to her unborn child? Can she protect the baby from an uncertain future just by loving him? Will Christine and Marcus ever be able to see the baby as anything other than the child of a psychopath? Scottoline weaves a fascinating thriller with a loving look at the modern “family” in all of its forms while exploring the “nature vs. nurture” debate as well as the role of science in modern society.

This book is fascinating and certainly one that should not be missed! Great read!

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Books #9 and #10

When finals hit this week, I felt as though I finally had more of my own time back. What did that mean? READING! Here’s a quick summary of the two books that I finished this week.

#9: Lit-Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives (David Denby). I started reading this fascinating book while in Albuquerque over Easter break. Denby explores sophomore English classes at three schools in New England to discover how they encourage students to become lifelong readers. Much of the focus is spent with Sean Leon’s class in New York City’s Beacon School. By departing from the traditional reading lists (with the blessings of his administrators), Leon challenges students to discuss important issues while realizing that literature continues to speak to our modern situations regardless of how “old” the story might actually be. Students read the expected authors — Hawthorne, Huxley, Orwell, and Faulkner. What is surprising is the inclusion of Plath, Hesse, Vonnegut, Dostoevsky, and Sartre among others. Mr. Leon’s students didn’t just “read” these works either; they struggled with the themes and entered into the settings and wrestled with the authors’ messages for contemporary society.

I found Lit-Up fascinating. When I first began my academic journey, I seriously considered pursuing a career as a high school English teacher. Looking back, I realize that the decision was triggered by my conflict with music professors who I refused to allow to have the death grip they were maintaining over my life. Thankfully, I saw the light and found my way back into the music field. However, my passion for literature and literacy remains. Do I think this model would work for every student? Probably not. However, I do think that Lit-Up reveals the impact a gifted, passionate educator can have on a group of students when they are given the academic freedom to follow the unscripted path that is dictated by the class’ interest and understanding. I’m tired of hearing about teachers being forced to “teach to the test.” Our students do not fit a nicely-formatted pattern; neither should their curriculum.


#10: The 9th Judgment (James Patterson). As the end of the week rolled around, I realized that I needed a physical book to hold in my hands, but it also needed to be a novel that I could finish before returning to Arkansas for the summer. I made a impromptu trip to the Unger Library and decided to return to my reading of the Women’s Murder Club series. I flew through this episode because I simply could not put the book down. This installment of Patterson’s series focuses on the Lipstick Killer that is haunting San Francisco with his mysterious messages of FWC and the realization that his targets are mothers and their young children. Claire, our strong medical examiner, recommends that the women of the city arm themselves in order to assure their safety while Lindsey finds herself as the only member of the police force that the lunatic serial killer will communicate with. This page-turner will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the read and ends with a cliff hanger that will force the audience to quickly dive into the next book in the series. (I’m already planning a trip to the library as soon as I get home…..because I’ve got to know what happens next for Lindsey!)

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#8: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)

My reading life has been a bit slow so far this year, so when I found myself with some free time to dive into a novel, I wanted to make sure that I found something that was well-written and moving. That means I returned to My Library Shelf project and began reading Please Look After Mom, a touching story of love, loss, and family.

As you might guess from the cover art and the author’s name, the novel is set in South Korea. Mom and Dad are country people whose four children have moved to urban areas to pursue their careers. As the parents travel to Seoul by train, the two become separated in the busy train station and Mom is lost. The novel now revolves around the family’s efforts to locate their missing mother in this massive and fast-paced city.

As each child participates in the frantic search, the children reflect upon their relationship with Mom as well as numerous interactions with her throughout their lives. How did they fail to notice that she was becoming sicker with each passing day? Why did her questions frustrate them? Were they ashamed of her? Did they view her as an inconvenience and a nuisance instead of a treasure and source of wisdom?

Please Look After Mom came into my life while I was already struggling with being separated from my own parents. The novel’s messages have continued to resonate with me in light of my mother’s health challenges in the past week. (Thankfully my family was not facing that crisis while I was reading the novel; I’m certain that would have sent me over the cliff!) Shin’s novel is not an easy read. The English translation can sometimes be cumbersome while attempting to maintain as much of its distinctly Korean aspects as possible. Despite its occasional awkwardness, Please Look After Mom was a beautiful story of love, regret, and hope that is common to all families and will definitely stay with this reader for many years to come.

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#2: Return (Karen Kingsbury)

The third book in the Redemption series was my favorite thus far. Return shifts our focus to Luke, the lone son of the Baxter family. Luke’s poor choices and resulting guilt leads him to leave everything behind — his home, his faith, and his family — in order to escape his past. Luke quickly learns that outrunning unconditional love is impossible. This modern telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son will leave readers thinking about their own relationships while coming to a new understanding of the relentless pursuit our Heavenly Father in spite of our failures.

The more I get to know the Baxter family, the more I understand why these books are so highly recommended in the Christian community. I’m already looking forward to continuing the saga and plan to share the books with my family very soon.

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#1: 8th Confession (James Patterson)

A new year brings a new reading goal. If I'm hoping to read 30 books in the next 12 months, I needed to get my nose in a book before things got too crazy. My first selection of 2017 took me back to James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series.

8th Confession was possibly the strangest of the Patterson novels I have read so far. Our murderer used a venomous snake as her weapon of choice while mimicking an earlier string of murders committed by her father. Pet Girl was definitely not the typical villain.

The story of the women makes significant progress in this installment. Lindsey finally gives Joe an answer to his marriage proposal while Yuki and Cindy both begin new relationships.

I'm surprised that I continue to be deeply invested with these characters after so many books, but I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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#25: The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)

The final book of 2016 was another novel from My Library Shelf project. The Rosie Project is a perfect example of why I'm doing the project; it was a book I would have never selected by an author with whom I was totally unfamiliar. The book was a joy.

The Rosie Project featured Don, a genetic scientist who also suffers from an obvious social disorder. In order to find the perfect wife, Don embarks on the Wife Project — complete with questionnaire and website. As Don sifts through the applications submitted to the Project (unbelievable!), he is introduced to Rosie. She is the antithesis of Don's ideal woman, but Rosie quickly challenges his expectations and the two begin a journey to find love that is anything but typical.

All I can say is that it was great to smile as I read of this unlikely couple's experiences together. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel as part of the Library Shelf Project as well.

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Catching Up: Books 23 & 24

I have intended to post about book 23 for several weeks. I even had an outline in my planner. When I finished book 24 and started the next, I knew I had to simply sit down and write! Sorry about the format…..but here's a “two-in-one” post.

#23: 99 Days (Katie Cotugno). This young adult novel was not on my radar at all. I found myself on a Thanksgiving week flight with nothing to read and Bush International had limited offerings. I swallowed my pride, grabbed the paperback, and settled in for my boring layover and flight.

The plot is fairly typical. Molly dated Patrick in high school and fell in love. Everything was great for them until she cheated with Patrick's brother. After confiding in her Mom about the affair, Molly was horrified to realize that her infidelity had become the inspiration for Mom's latest bestseller….and the entire community figured it out as well! To escape the taunts and accusing eyes, Molly enrolled at a boarding school to finish high school and move on with life. Now she finds herself back in her mother's home for 99 days of summer before beginning college in Boston. Her summer will demand that she faces the past and learn to live with her mistakes.

This was not one of my favorite books. Honestly, I finished it as a matter of duty rather than for enjoyment's sake. I found it filled with unnecessarily vulgar language while minimizing the importance of faithfulness in relationships. I felt that the entire book diminished the fact that actions have consequences and essentially undermined the role of parental advice in the life of a young woman. In my opinion, what was presented was an underwhelming novel that is not appropriate for any teen girl who wants to mature with self-respect for herself and her future mate. Overall, 99 Days was a huge disappointment.

#24: Remember (Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley). Book 2 of the Redemption series featuring the Baxter family was another hit. While Kari's story continues, the focus this time is on Ashley. As she deals with her own guilt after her failed experiences in Paris, she learns much about love while working in a senior adult care facility. Against the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Remember addresses the importance of family while considering the impact that tragedy — both personal and national — can have on one's faith. Now that I'm falling in love with this family of characters, I can't wait to get my hands on the next volume and continue the saga with them.

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#22: 7th Heaven (James Patterson)

I needed some fluff in my life as the Thanksgiving holiday approached, so I returned to Patterson's series. I must admit that I quite enjoyed 7th Heaven. I'm not sure if I had grown weary of the Women's Murder Club or if this novel was actually more cohesive. I was enthralled with the intertwined plots featuring teenage arsonists, a creepy journalist, and the mysterious missing boy — the son of the former governor that suffers from a rare heart condition and is now presumed dead after visiting a prostitute.

In typical Patterson fashion, the reader is quickly drawn into each of the storylines. Through an unexpected series of events, the separate stories become one and we are taken on an emotional roller coaster. While we “know” how things will end, the final chapter of 7th Heaven still catches us by surprise.

I'm looking forward to getting back to my Library Shelf project when I return to Plainview, but the detour back to the Women's Murder series was a welcome distraction.

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