Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

A Spark of Light (Jodi Picoult)

Spark of LightThe novel had been sitting in my TBR pile for several months. I had made several attempts to start, but life always tended to get in the way. That’s actually a fairly accurate summary of my 2019 reading life — everything else always seems to get in the way of my reading. When Spring Break arrived, I realized this was my opportunity to escape into the world of Jodi Picoult again and explore A Spark of Light.

A Spark of Light is set in Jackson, Mississippi and traces the events of a single day at The Center – a reproductive health center… abortion provider. George Goddard enters the bright orange building, asks what they did to his baby, and pulls out a handgun. Shots are fired. Blood is shed. Professionals and patients in The Center now find themselves as hostages. Hugh McElroy, the police negotiator celebrating his 40th birthday, is called to the scene in an effort to end the standoff before the SWAT team is sent in. Once he arrives at the scene, Hugh makes an unsettling discovery. Two of the women in The Center are his older sister, Bex, and his 15-year-old daughter, Wren.

In typical Picoult fashion, A Spark of Light is a gripping tale. The narrative shifts between character perspectives throughout each chapter that explores the events of each hour of the fateful day at The Center. Surprisingly to this reader, the timeline emerges in a reverse-chronological fashion, exposing many of the causes of previously seen events. Picoult’s characters are beautifully drawn and are anything but one-dimensional. Just as you think you understand a woman’s choices, you learn that there is more to her back story that is vitally important.

Is this novel about abortion rights? Yes and no. Of course, the issue is present throughout the book with its views of providers, patients, and protestors. However, I didn’t feel as though I was reading a treatise on the issue of abortion in the US. (When you read the author’s note at the end of the book, Picoult’s views on the topic become much clearer in case there is any doubt though.) Instead, the novel itself was an examination of humanity and how a cast of characters may respond to the abortion debate while attempting to explain how they might have arrived at their view. While I did not always agree with Picoult’s characterization of some groups, I thought that she ultimately managed to treat all considered equally and with respect.

I’m always fascinated by the titles of novels. The use of A Spark of Light is explained in the closing chapters of the book. While traveling to The Center from his Atlanta home, Dr. Ward (the central abortion provider of the story) is catching up on his reading of medical journals. In one of his articles, researchers have observed that at the moment of fertilization, a rush of calcium into the egg caused the release of zinc. As the zinc exited the egg, it attached to fluorescent molecules, creating a tiny spark of light.

Once again, Jodi Picoult has produced a fascinating novel that addresses a topic that is relevant to our culture. She examines the issue from both sides of the argument with grace and clarity. By inserting heart and the human condition, Picoult shows that things are not always as black and white as we might initially perceive. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.

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#18: The Betrayal (Helen Dunmore)

Set in Stalin’s Russia, The Betrayal is a sweeping drama that centers around the tragic illness of child who loses his leg due to cancer.  Despite the doctor’s best efforts, the child succumbs to the illness and dies.  The saga addresses universal themes of parental responsibility, the corruption that comes with power, and medical ethics while providing interesting historical commentary on the Soviet regime that was respected and feared.

Helen Dunmore’s prose is exquisite, transporting the reader from the regal dance halls of Leningrad to the hellish nightmare of Moscow’s interrogation rooms and infamous prison cells.  Dunmore is certainly a gifted writer who I look forward to visiting again in the near future.

5 of 5 stars!

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#16: The Tortilla Curtain (T.C. Boyle)


Now that THAT is out of the way, let me explain why I adored this book.  Set in the canyons and hills of Woodland Hills, California, the novel takes a fresh look at the pursuit of the American dream.  Through the lives of two couples — a wealthy American couple and a homeless pair of illegal immigrants struggling to make their way in a foreign society — Boyle beautifully explores the similarities despite their individual struggles.  Reminiscent of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I would recommend that teachers and book lovers of all types take the time to read The Tortilla Curtain in order to be challenged and inspired.

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#15: Jesus Boy (Preston L. Allen)

ImageSchool is out for summer, so that means I actually had time to read an actual book!  Jesus Boy told the story of the members of The Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters church located in central Florida.  This congregation is filled with talented members who all struggle with their own frailty, immorality, and sinfulness.  Despite its title, the novel is NOT intended for a Christian audience.  Filled with humor and stereotype, Allen’s novel explores the charismatic church movement of the African-American community with a sharp — and often irreverent — tongue.

I’m glad I read the book, but don’t offer it as a recommendation for others.  2 out of 5 stars.

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#10: The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

Things were too relaxing to update my blog last week while I was on vacation. This week has been insanely busy dealing with demands that I ignored while away, so I’ve got a few novels to catch you up on.

Just before heading to Biloxi, Mississippi for a few days, I decided to give in to peer pressure (primarily coming from my niece) and read the first volume of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy. The timing was also rather intentional as the movie was also scheduled to premiere at the end of the week.

I went into my reading expecting to have a negative impression of the book. After all, the central plot is based upon a fight-to-the-death competition pitting teen against teen. Imagine my surprise when I dove into the story and discovered that the competition serves as a backdrop for a remarkable story of love, courage, strength, and moral fortitude. Rather than spoiling the work for anyone that has not read the work yet, I’ll simply say that it comes with a high recommendation from me.

Additionally, I would encourage parents to read the novel themselves. While there is a sizeable amount of violence in the novel (which is thankfully not depicted graphically in the movie, garnering it an appropriate rating of PG), the deaths are treated with dignity and respect for human life from the heroine, Katniss. There are numerous opportunities for parents to dialogue with their teen regarding important issues such as peer pressure and how to respond when your moral code conflicts with a government’s demands. While I do not consider any of the characters to be a Christ figure in the novel, there are several incidents that do display characteristics beneficial to a Christian teen.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games. I look forward to reading the remaining novels in the trilogy and hope that the dignity and virtues found in book one continue throughout the series.

4.5 of 5 stars!


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#9: Body of Lies (Iris Johansen)

The latest installment in my audio book adventure was Body of Lies. The best thing I can say about this book: it passed the time while I was driving.  The plot was trite and felt as though I have read it in a million other works.  Admittedly, I am not terribly upset since this is the first unsatisfying audio book of the year. With a week of travel ahead of me, I’ll pick up a couple of books for the road and move right ahead.

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#8: Lone Wolf (Jodi Picoult)

Once again, Jodi Picoult comes through with another amazing read!  Lone Wolf is the story of a family facing a difficult decision after a car accident leaves the father in a coma. The daughter holds out hope for a full recovery; the estranged son returns from Thailand after a six year absence and fights for the right to terminate life support. Through all the twists and turns, these siblings ultimately discover that they have a lot in common with the wolf packs that their father spent his life researching — most notably that nothing is more important than family.

My only regret after finishing this novel is that I have to wait another year to read Picoult’s next finely crafted novel.  While the anticipation is killing me, I look forward to it, knowing that it will be another piece to add to my “must read” list.

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#3: One Summer (David Baldacci)

One Summer started out as a book that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.  The novel tells the story of a young couple with three children facing a harsh reality.  The father, a veteran, has a terminal disease and is expecting to die at any moment.  In a cruel turn of events, his wife is in a tragic car accident, leaving her husband and children behind.

Baldacci’s writing in the first half of the novel is splendid.  The father’s struggle to accept his own approaching death, feelings of helplessness as his children are relocated with family around the country, and his triumphant return to health are powerfully crafted.  Once the family is reunited and settle for the summer in South Carolina, the novel seemed to lose some of its forward momentum and drive.

What I had hoped would be an inviting, heart-felt novel turned out to be a lazy beach read.  I’m no worse for the wear, but my life is no better for reading it either.

My rating:  2.5 out of 5.

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#2: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Tom Franklin)

The bar for quality reading this year has been set very high!  Tom Franklin’s novel tells the story of two men, Larry and Silas, who grew up together in southeastern Mississippi.  Silas is a black boy; Larry is white. As they grow, their lives take different paths.

Years ago, a young girl suddenly disappeared after going on a date with Larry.  Everyone assumes that Larry was responsible for her disappearance and death, but he was never tried due to a lack of evidence.  Now another girl has gone missing and Larry is the prime suspect.  Silas has returned to the deep South as a police officer in the small town, investigating the kidnapping.

Is Larry a monster or a misunderstood introvert?  Does Silas know more about the situation than he is telling?  

The novel is a fascinating read with lots of unexpected twists and turns along the way.  Be advised, dear reader, that the book is intended for a mature audience and includes vulgarity throughout.  (If you are easily offended by language, this may not be the book for you.)

My review:  4 1/2 out of 5……incredible story, wonderful writing and engrossing.


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