"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daisies Are Forever, by Liz Tolsma

Daisies are Forever is a story of an American in Germany during World War II.  It is a story of survival, of a group of innocents trying to flee the Soviet occupation of Berlin in the final days of the war.  It is based on the lives of two women - Ruth Lippert, who led a group of ten people to safety; and Lillian Tolsma, who lived in Berlin during the Soviet occupation.

The book really does read like two different stories.  The first half lacks passion, particularly in the dialogue.  The author does an excellent job of description, and the landscape that she paints leaps off the page into the reader's mind.  However, the character development in the beginning is weak, most particularly with Kurt and Audra.  Kurt's motives are not explained enough to make his story plausible, and his story's end seems rushed and too good to be true.  I wasn't able to connect with Gisela and Mitch, the two main characters, as they tried to flee the German countryside to the safety of Berlin.

The second half of the book is a joy to read.  Small wonder, since it is based on the life of the author's grandmother.  The stories she must have told the author heavily influence this last half.  Here, we see characters finally spring to life with the zeal that was missing in the beginning.  We feel their fears, their determination, and their joy.  The love story becomes more believable.  And we get a very real sense of what it was like to live in Berlin just before and during the Soviet occupation in 1945.

The second half of the book is worth the first half.  I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in civilian life during World War II.

Three of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out - The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl

I will start this review by saying that I don't know how to write a review of a book like this.  I found this book through John Green's most excellent The Fault inOur Stars.  And I'm so glad I did.

John Green accomplishes an impossible task in The Fault in Our Stars.  He somehow is able to humanize an unhumanizable (yes, that's a word) subject - childhood cancer.  And he does so in a beautifully written fictional narrative that I highly recommend. 

But Esther Grace Earl quite literally gives us her magnum opus - her diaries, poems, prose, blogs - her life.  And through her, we see life's beauty.  We see God's greatest gift of love as it pours out through the heart of a young lady whose star shines brightly even now, four years after her death from thyroid cancer.

As a child, I read a few books that stand out in my mind as being "cancer books."  But This Star Won't Go Out is not a cancer book.  It's a book of love.  It's a book of kindness, of creativity, of the exuberance of a teenager.  Who also happens to be terminally ill.  And through her love and her relationships with the people around her, we learn that our weaknesses do not have to define us.  We learn that God's love triumphs, even in the most painful circumstances.

I know that everyone will take something different from this book.  But whatever gift you are given as you turn that last page, it will leave you with a different outlook on your life.  Don't let the subject matter frighten you.  Just read it.  You'll be glad you did.

Five out of Five Stars 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Devil Walks in Mattingly, by Billy Coffey

The Devil Walks in Mattingly is an exploration into the lives and regrets of a small town sheriff and his wife.  Both of them are dealing with guilt from their involvement in the twenty-year-old death of a high school classmate. The exact nature of their involvement remains a mystery almost until the end of the book.  It's a Christian book with a supernatural twist, which I find refreshing.

Coffey's writing style is beautiful, even lyrical at times.  I think I fell in love with his style more than I did the plot.  The characters are largely unlikable and lacking in any real emotion until the last quarter of the book.  However, anyone who is walking through such dark shadows as these is not going to be fun to read about.  And because of that, this book is more real than so many other books I've read that aren't in the fantasy genre.  Coffey doesn't write people as we want to see them - he writes people as they truly are, wrinkles and all.

It's all put in perspective by the last quarter of the book, which is one of the most riveting passages I've ever read.  The book ends with a powerful message about grace, forgiveness, and love.  It's a very good read for anyone who has ever felt that their sins can never be forgiven.  And as the devil walks in our world as much as he walks in Mattingly, it's a book that all of us can relate to.

Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.