Monday, May 27, 2013

"Big Stone Gap" by Adriana Trigiani

First off, the author's name is a mouthful!  Can you say that five times fast?  I can't.  Oye!

This is a darling story about 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan, who lives in the small Appalachian town Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  She's resigned her role in life to be the town's summer play director, pharmacist, and spinster.  But shortly after her mother's death, secrets about Ave Maria and her mother begin to surface, changing how Ave perceives who she is, who were parents were, and where she came from.  With new understanding about herself, Ave has to decide what to with the new version of herself.

This book was thoroughly entertaining.  I've talked about a book drawing me in, like water being absorbed into a sponge.  This book did it from page one.  The characters are genuinely characters!  Each one is unique and genuine and play their role in the town.  I loved the quirkiness of the town population, the genuine feel of community.  

I loved Ave.  I'm a 32-year-old married woman, but there were many things I could relate to with Ave.  It's a woman thing.  No matter where we live or our situation in life, there are things we're going to relate to.  I'm a woman and I love a romance story that exists for the sake of the romance, for the chase and the mystery and drama.  This story dives into family relationships, and I found a lot of truth in what Ave discovers about a grown-up child's relationship with his/her parents.

I love what Ave learns about her Italian heritage.  My grandmother was a first-generation Italian-American, and a lot of the things Trigiani describes as Italian characteristics I have often seen in myself, such as being very expressive and talking with my hands.  Little things like that my husband doesn't understand about me, but I don't know how to communicate with the world without those habits!  hah!

I enjoyed everything about this book.  For the sensitive reader, I'll warn you there are some sexually suggestive passages, mild language, and pre-marital intimacy.  

There are three more books about Ave Maria:  "Big Cherry Holler," "Milk Glass Moon," and "Home to Big Stone Gap."  I'd love to read more about Ave.  As I've learned more about Trigiani, I'm excited by the number of highly acclaimed books she's written--and I'm surprised I've never heard of her before.  I think this is an author I'd like to explore more.  You should, too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

I took AP US History in high school, but I don't remember much at all what I learned about WWII.  And what tidbits I do remember all evolve around the European side of it.  Sadly, most of what I know about America's involvement in the Pacific side of WWII comes from the 2001 movie "Pearl Harbor."  Yup, my familiarity with history is pretty sad.

After several recommendations, I finally decided to try "Unbroken."  I actually had it loaded on my iPod for months and months, but didn't start listening to it until a few weeks ago.  It was a wonderful reading by actor Edward Hermann (I recognized his voice, but looked over his filmography and the only movie of his I've seen is "Overboard"--funny I remember his voice from such an obscure and long-ago appearance).  

"Unbroken" is the life story of Louis Zamperini, a first-generation American born of Italian parents.  He was a hellion as a boy, causing his parents great amounts of angst and frustration.  As a young man, his older brother Pete trained him up as a runner, and he found state- and nation-wide recognition for his achievements on the track, ultimately forming him into an Olympic runner in the Berlin games of 1936.

With the onset of the war Louis was called up to serve as a bombardier and served several successful missions over the Pacific.  One sad day his plane was gunned down and he and two of his crewmen were stranded on a raft in the ocean for 47 days.  They were taken prisoners of war by the Japanese, and the following years of interrogation and POW camps where horrific and difficult to comprehend.  But the Japanese lost and Louis finally went home, believed dead by the military for years.  

His post-war recovery was gruesome, but he finally found hope in Jesus Christ through a tent revival by none other than Billy Graham.  He repaired his life and committed himself to helping troubled boys, much like his brother had helped him when he was young.

The strongest impression I got from this book was, "How much more can a man live through?"  I listened to the audio book, like I've mentioned, and it had a total of 214 tracks.  I kept watching as I progressed through the story as it got more and more incredible, stretching the imagination almost by the minute.  And then I'd see how many tracks were left in the story, my jaw dropping to see how much of the story was left to be told.  Again and again I wondered what else a man could endure and still survive.

I'm not prone to tears when I read, but "Unbroken" brought me close so many times.  The Bird.  That's all I will say.  This book will change the way you think about humanity.

Click here to read Micaela's review of "Unbroken."

Monday, May 6, 2013

"A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park

Tree-ear is an orphaned boy living under a bridge with his older friend in a village of Korea known for it's beautiful and unique celadon pottery. He is fascinated by the potter's art, especially the work of one potter in particular- Min.

This book was a pleasant and easy read, but I felt like it was a little bit too predictable. It seemed to be on a more simplistic plane than most Newbery books that I've read. I wonder if the award was given based off the cultural aspect of the novel. I did enjoy getting a little peek into the Korean culture and I could picture the pottery vividly in my mind. I would love to see some! I think the message of the book is that with hard work, strong morals and good ethics, that you can find yourself and have a sense of belonging in the world. At least that's what I got out of it. :)

Definitely not a 5 star book in my opinion, but if you're looking for an entertaining and quick read, then I'd say try it.