Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Theology tells us that man is depraved (Definition: “morally corrupt, wicked”). Every human is born with original sin. Yet despite man’s depravity from birth, the world is not wholly evil – it does not, has not degenerated into utter chaos and anarchy. Why is this?

Theology has an explanation for that as well. Common Grace is the grace of God that is present for all men, whether they believe the gospel or not. Common grace is responsible for all the good that unregenerate sinners do, and for the restraint of evil through means such as conscience or societal constraints.

But what if man’s innate evil were NOT constrained? What if it had free will to do whatever it chooses without fear of conscience or law?

If this were true of the whole world, surely the world would not last long – everyone would murder everyone and, after a brief period of chaos, all humanity would be obliterated (and that’s just speaking of the natural course of unrestrained sin, without discussing God’s judgment upon sin.)

But what if it was just one man who was evil without constraint? What if, indeed, one were able to split himself into two, with one half unrestrained evil and the other half still the restrained recipient of common grace?

This is the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (even if Stevenson chooses not to couch it in such explicitly theological terms.)

Does this surprise you?

It certainly surprised me.

The names “Dr. Jekyll” and “Mr. Hyde” are so well-known, so frequently thrown around to mean simply two separate personalities that I believed this book to be about multiple personality disorder. In fact, I’m almost certain I read something once that described J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smeagol/Gollum character a continuation of the literary fascination with multiple personality disorder typified by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet this book is quite emphatically NOT about multiple personality disorder. It’s about unrestrained sin and trying to find a way to avoid the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7:21 “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Except that Dr. Jekyll wants to find a wholly natural solution to this problem (apart from the supernatural answer God gives to the problem of sin at work in our bodies: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25a ESV)

Discovering that this book was not what I’d expected was an altogether pleasant surprise. Also a pleasant surprise, this is a short book, coming in right around 100 pages, and quite readable. As a result, I highly recommend it to people such as myself – people who are pressed for time but who want to think deeply about the human condition and who desire to be “well-read”.

Rating: 5 stars
Category: Classic fiction
Synopsis: Dr. Jekyll tries to separate his “evil” side from his “good” side, with unexpected results.
Recommendation: Highly recommended

Book Review: She is Mine by Stephanie Fast

Written in the third person, Stephanie Fast’s She is Mine reads like a novel. Written in three parts, it unfolds like a play.

It’s the story of the daughter of a Korean woman and an American serviceman. She never knew her father – he didn’t know her mother was pregnant. She was rejected by her mother’s family, said to have brought dishonor on her family. She was abandoned by her mother.

Five year old Yoon Myoung figures that if she travels along the railroad tracks – the railroad tracks that took her away from her mother – she’ll find her way back, back into her mother’s arms. So she walks the tracks, eating roots of grasses then insects and trapped animals. She steals. She is beaten and chased off. She is abused.

I couldn’t put this book down. The story was so compelling, so well-told. As I turned page after page on horror after horror, I almost forgot that this isn’t a story Fast invented. It’s a story she lived.

She is Mine reads like a novel, unfolds like a play – but it’s really an autobiography.

And while it’s the story of an abandoned child, of unspeakable horrors, it’s also the story of hope. It’s the story of a God who sees sparrows and war-orphans, who weeps when the sparrow falls from the sky and who rescues orphans from pits. It’s the story of a God who sees the outcast and declares “She is Mine”.

She is Mine is told in the third person because, the author tells us: “While this is the story of my life, it differs only in cultural details from the stories of the innumerable nameless and faceless orphans around the world today.”

Reading She is Mine pierced my heart. It undid me. I cried practically from the first page to the last.

I cried because life is precious. People are important. Yet there is so much pain, so much injustice, so much horror in the world. She is Mine didn’t shrink back from sharing that pain, that injustice, that horror.

I might have been tempted to close the book. You may be tempted to not pick it up. We don’t like to see pain, injustice, horror. We like happy tears, not anguished ones. We like to read of the human spirit conquering, not being crushed.

But the pain, the injustice, the horror is not reason to close our eyes, to close the book, to tune out the voices of need.

Jesus didn’t. He saw the pain, the injustice, the horror. And he stepped down into it. He bowed under the yoke, was beaten and defiled. Why? So He could lift us, His people, out.

And He calls His people to do the same.

It would be easier to shut our eyes to the plight of the orphan, to busy ourselves with little petty things. But it is not the way God calls His church to live.

If you will let it, Stephanie Fast’s She is Mine could be a tool God uses to open your eyes to the pain of this world, could be a tool God uses to compel you to step into that pain, could be a tool God uses to lift another out.

Will you read this book? Will you let your heart be moved? Will you let your reading compel you to ask God what you can do? Will you listen and obey when He speaks?

I pray that you will.

Rating: 5 stars
Category: Autobiography
Synopsis: The story of a Korean war-orphan, abandoned, abused, and ultimately accepted.
Recommendation: Everyone should read this book.

I received this book from the author thanks to Carrie’s generosity and passion for this story. All opinions are my own – including the opinion that you should head to Amazon (I don’t get anything from them) and order this book right away.

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

“It’s a good book?” Daniel asks me, as the dozenth chuckle emerges from my lips. He’s stopped asking me what’s so funny, as the humor is lost without context.

Yes, it’s a good book. It’s a reader’s book. Full of references to other stories, calls to tropes, twists on standard tales. It’s a reflective book without being self-conscious.

I laughed. By the end, I cried.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about a bookseller, a widower with defined literary tastes who rather wants to run his bookstore to the ground while killing himself with drink. Now that Nic is dead, what has he to live for?

But a valuable book goes missing while he’s passed out drunk one night – and now his “insurance” is gone. It takes a stolen book, an unlikely friendship, and an abandoned child – but slowly, A.J. Fikry’s life starts to take on meaning again.

Each chapter opens with a book review of sorts: a blurb A.J. wrote about a book or a short story, hinting at what made that story important to him and worth reading to others. While I’d read only a few of the highlighted stories, Fikry’s descriptions were rich – and the connection between the stories he read and the stories he lived most interesting.

“It is so simple.
Maya…I have figured it all out–
The words you can’t find, you borrow.

We read to know we’re not alone.
We read because we are alone.
We read and we are not alone.
We are not alone.

My life is in these books–
Read these and know my heart.

We are not quite novels–
We are not quite short stories–
In the end, we are collected works.

This novel is sure to resonate with other readers as it resonated with me. I recommend it.

My recommendation is not without caveats, however. My readers will want to be aware that this book contains a few expletives and several instances of non-explicit sexual immorality.

Rating: 5 stars
Category: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Widowed bookseller A.J. Fikry is ready to give up on life when a stolen book, an unlikely friendship, and an abandoned child change his course completely.
Recommendation: A book lovers book – if your life has been changed by the stories you’ve read (and vice versa), you’re likely to enjoy this book.

Book Review: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

I’ve been reading and enjoying Georgette Heyer since my early teenage years, but until this month, I could not have pointed out a particular Heyer book as my favorite. I am now happy to announce that Cotillion has filled that long open spot.

The rich but notoriously tight-fisted Matthew Penicuik has summoned his four grandnephews to his country home, declaring that he intends to settle his will. Almost everyone understands what this means. Penicuik intends to settle his fortune on his ward, Miss Kitty Charing – and intends that one of his grandnephews marry her. In fact, he so intends that one of his grandnephews marry her that he makes her inheriting conditional upon this term. If she does not marry one of the four, Uncle Matthew will leave his fortune to charity, leaving Kitty penniless and his nephews without any portion of his estate.

After Uncle Matthew announces his intentions to the two of his four nephews who answered the summons, he leaves his nephews with Kitty in the drawing room. Dim-witted Lord Dolphinton, at his mother’s behest, announces to Kitty that he is an earl and therefore a desirable match. Kitty clearly sees the designs of Lady Dolphinton behind this proposal and graciously declines Dolph’s offer – much to his delight. At this, the Reverend Hugh Rattray announces his own suit. He, of course, has no desire for the money, but does not wish for Kitty to end up penniless – and since neither Freddy nor Jack have shown up to press their own suits, he shall do the honors. Kitty summarily rejects this offer too and decides to run away, so humiliating is this whole situation.

But in the course of her running away, she happens upon “Cousin Freddy” who is a bit late in coming to hear his uncle’s announcement. He received the message late and hadn’t intended to go anyway since he had no interest in his great-uncle’s fortune (and no thought that the way of obtaining it would be to marry Kitty.) Yet when Cousin Freddy ran into Cousin Jack at a club, Jack had convinced Freddy that he really ought to go. When Kitty runs into Freddy, she at first berates him for coming – she had thought better of him than to angle after her for money – and then begs him to become engaged to her once she realizes that he had no intention of offering for her.

Her would be her chance, she thought. If she were betrothed to Freddy, she could go to London to visit his mother and enjoy a month-long reprieve from her tiresome life in the country. She could at last see the town – and perhaps, well, see… But no, of course, she had no desire to see Jack. That was not at all the plan. Although…betrothed to Freddy, she could perhaps prove to Jack that she wasn’t just waiting for him to offer for her in his own sweet time.

Thus begins a delightful romp of sham engagements and secret engagements and attractions that can never turn into engagements. That said, it’s not a super-sappy romance full of long speeches and loverly looks. Instead, it’s like watching a complicated country dance, in which partners are always switching and the usual comedies of unmatched partners arise.

I highly recommend this particular Heyer title.

Rating: 5 stars
Category: Regency Romance
Synopsis: Country-bred orphaned Kitty embarks upon a month in London under the watchful eye of her faux-fiance
Recommendation: If you like romances or Heyer or comedy – or if you’ve been told you should read Heyer at some point – this is the book for you.

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I read this book as a part of Amy’s Armchair Cybils. Rose Under Fire was a finalist for the young adult fiction category. Sadly, it did not win, but I think it definitely deserves its position as a finalist.

It starts with a funeral and a report–the funeral of a fellow Air Transport Auxillary pilot, the report Rose must write because she saw the pilot’s failed landing.

How will Rose write about this report? In a way, she feels responsible. She had flown that plane before, the pilot who died hadn’t. She’d briefed the dead pilot on flying that plane. She’d let the other pilot take off first with Rose following behind. But the conversation Rose had with the mechanic who inspected the crashed plane complicates the matter. The plane had been damaged prior to landing. It’d had contact with something. The mechanic thought the pilot had tried tipping a buzz bomb–knocking it off course so it’d explode in an empty field instead of a city where it could injure people.

Rose becomes obsessed with the buzz bombs. They aren’t just buzzing overhead, going silent, and then knocking out whole city blocks–they’re getting much closer. Her colleague is dead. Her bus ride on her day off is spent on the floor of the bus for fear of one falling on them. She finds two boys playing with one undetonated one and orders them away, is left holding a fuse in her hand. She dreams of her little brother with his arm blown off by a buzz bomb fuse.

She talks to her fellow pilots about the buzz bombs, about this “tipping” thing. What are the mechanics? How does one do it? How does one not injure her plane like their colleague did?

Not that she’s likely to encounter a buzz bomb. The allies are advancing, have taken back France. She’s just transporting, not likely to be anywhere near the lines from which the bombs are launched.

Until she is. And a buzz bomb comes near. And she can chase it, can tip it.

And she gets caught by two German planes who escort her back to Germany.

Ravensbruck. The pilot who flew her to prison regards it as just a pilot’s navigation point. Rose finds that it’s so much more. Once there, she experiences unthinkable horrors, sees even worse.

Daily life is a struggle for survival. Physically, yes–but so much more. How does one not despair when stuck amidst maggots, when propping up dead compatriots so that the numbers can match during roll call, when left to the mercy of hellish guards and insufficient food?

Only the few who resist the temptation to despair will survive. Despair means certain death.

How will Rose fare under fire?

It’s difficult to describe a book so rich in historical details, so emotionally compelling, so horrific and so lovely.

Rose Under Fire is not an easy book to read. Ravensbruck is described in stomach-turning detail. One can sense the desperation, the horror of that time and place. One is forced to come to grips with the fact that this- this is what fallen humans can do, have done, could do again.

Davene does a much better job than I ever could of expressing the emotion and thoughts this book evoked.

“But tonight, I feel as if the veil has been lifted, and I’ve glimpsed anew what life is and has been like for so many people born into circumstances so much more difficult than mine. That chasm is so wide that I can’t even mentally reconcile it, but I can–and I will, every single day–say thank you for this life I’ve been given.”

If you haven’t read this book yet, you should. You will find yourself torn up over the reality of sin and injustice, thankful for the life you have now, and prayerful that justice and peace would reign someday over the earth (as it will, we have this blessed hope, when our Lord returns.)

Rating: 5 Stars
Category: YA Historical Fiction
Synopsis: After “tipping” a buzz bomb from the sky, Rose, a fearless Air Transport Auxillary pilot, finds herself in Ravensbruck witness to and victim of unspeakable horrors.
Recommendation: Read this.

Book Review: “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

When we were looking for a book to read for the new bookclub a few friends were forming, I suggested Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I had to look up the description of the book in order to suggest it, since I didn’t have any idea what the actual content of the book was.

I just remember Amy declaring that it was going to be the best book she’d read in 2012-despite having read it at the very beginning of the year. And I remember Carrie reading it and loving it. And Janet. It ended up on both of the Lisas’ (Lisa Writes and Lisa Notes) lists of best books read in 2011. Barbara said it was excellent. In other words, almost every blogger I know and respect absolutely loved this book.

Now I know why.

So that you’re not as clueless as I was when I suggested this book to my club friends, I’ll give you a bit of a summary before I start raving. Unbroken tells the true story of Louie Zamperini, a neighborhood rascal turned Olympic runner turned B-24 bomber turned castaway turned POW turned alcoholic turned… This man’s life is astounding. After every section, I kept expecting this to be the end of the story, but it kept going. When Louie almost breaks the 4 minute mile, I think that he’s reached the pinnacle of his life…but his story has only just begun. When he survives for what seems like forever on a raft in the Pacific Ocean without food, I think he’s reached the height of human endurance…but his trial has only just begun. When he survives the terrible existence of being an undocumented Japanese POW, I think that his troubles are finally over…but he will now find himself battling with his worst foe yet. The subtitle of this volume is absolutely right. This is “a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption.”

In no particular order, here are a few (not all) the reasons why this book is one of the best books I’ve ever read–and why it’ll be tough for us to beat it as a book club read:

  1. It’s an absolutely riveting story of an endlessly fascinating man
  2. The author does a wonderful job of weaving together historical details, human details, quotes from endless interviews, and memorabilia to make a compelling book that’s difficult to put down.
  3. It highlights the Pacific theater of World War II–a fascinating but often-glossed-over side of WWII
  4. It is rich with thematic elements–sibling relationships, teamwork, mind over matter, human dignity, the ethics of war. (Not that the author tries to propagandize. She doesn’t opine on the topics, it’s just that the story raises questions ripe for reflection or book club discussion.)
  5. God “accidentally” shows up. This is not a religious work and the author doesn’t even appear that curious about religion, much less be a fan of spiritual things, but she can’t help but report what happened. And the truth is that the story of Louie Zamperini’s life isn’t complete without the God who saved him from his worst enemy yet.

I’ve done a terrible job of summing up this book–and a similarly terrible job of expressing why I loved it so much.

But please, forgive the poor ramblings of a woman who can’t quite figure out how to put things into words–and pick up a copy of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. You will not be disappointed.

Rating:5 Stars
Synopsis:The overwhelmingly powerful, fantastically told story of Louis Zamperini’s life as an Olympian, an airman, a castaway, a POW, an alcoholic, and a redeemed man.
Recommendation: As Carrie put it: “So why, exactly, are you still sitting here?” Buy it, borrow it, steal it*; but READ it.

*That’s an expression. Please don’t actually steal this book. Whoever you stole it from will never forgive you.

“Communication: Key to Your Marriage” by H. Norman Wright

Most of my reading over the past month has fallen under one narrow category: premarital counseling.

Daniel and I were assigned four books to read in eight weeks time–which means we’ve been busy reading–and much of our reading has felt like the modern-day tale of a thirsty man trying to drink out of a fire hydrant.

Communication: Key to Your Marriage by H. Norman Wright has certainly felt that way.

It’s not hard to figure out what Communication is about–but, lest you think you’ve heard everything you need to know about communication… This book is special.

What makes this book so special is that there are questions every couple of pages all the way throughout–questions that don’t have to be discussed with your spouse, but ones that really should be discussed with your spouse.

For example, Wright discusses levels of conversation and then asks about each level: “When does this type of conversation occur in your marriage? Which of you tends to use this style of conversation most?”

After discussing obstacles to listening, Wright asks: “Of the nine obstacles to listening that were listed, which three will you select to work on this week? Which three would your spouse like you to work on? Discuss your lists to discover how you can assist one another.”

In addition to “standard” communication fare, Wright discusses sex differences in communication and personality differences in communication. I nodded my head and “Mmm-hmm”-ed my way through this section of the book, noting place after place where either my femaleness or my personality affects how I communicate. This was also where I felt like a desperately thirsty woman drinking from a fire hydrant.

Daniel and I had a wonderful time discussing the first three or four chapters bit by bit. But with only a couple of days before our next premarital counseling session, we still had a half dozen chapters to go–so we settled in on the couch for an evening of marathon reading.

Unfortunately, Daniel and I read at different paces–and we had so much to read that we just simply couldn’t stop every two pages to discuss.

Hence my (I think our) resolve to revisit this book after we are married, when we have plenty of time to talk through our different communication styles and preferences.

We’ve already benefited from some of the concepts within–and I have little doubt that Communication (both the book and the, uh, concept) will be a great resource for our marriage.

Rating:5 Stars
Category:Marital Communication
Synopsis:H. Norman Wright helps couples learn to communicate well in order to form a stronger marriage
Recommendation: This is definitely a worthwhile book for couples to work their way through–whether they think they have communication “issues” or not. (For the record, Daniel and I feel that we communicate pretty well with one another–but we still have plenty of room for improvement.)

Book Review: “What Would Your Character Do?” by Maisel and Maisel

I’m sure I’m not the only avid reader who has an idea rolling around in their head for a book they intend to write someday.

As is befitting a catholic reader such as myself, I have a whole raft of ideas for dozens of very different books.

Several are novels. One, I think, has the potential to actually be a decently interesting novel.

Of course, everyone has a novel idea in their head. The knack is getting it into print.

Which is why I try to snatch time here and there (these days, it’s rare) to bang out a few hundred words on this one novel that seems to show the most promise.

The problem is, while I’ve got an interesting-ish plot, I discovered not too far in that I really didn’t have a character. At least, not a character who wasn’t me.

Which is where you’ve found me out. Most of my plots start with me trying on a different life and playing “dress-up” in my imagination.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this until you try turning it into a novel. Face it, a novel with me as the heroine is just not a good idea.

Which is where Eric Maisel and Ann Maisel’s What Would Your Character Do? comes in.

In this imaginative writing helps book, the authors set up thirty different scenarios for you to plop your character (or characters) into. Then, they have a little quiz (a la women’s magazine personality quizzes) for you to answer about your character’s response to the scenario. The quiz includes an “interpretation” that explores what your character’s responses might say about what kind of a person they are. Next, the authors give some open-ended “what if” questions for you to answer to explore your character’s response to that or similar circumstances.

I completed just one scenario (and didn’t even dig too deeply into the open-eneded “what ifs”)–and already I feel like I know my character much better than I did before. My heroine is shaping into a real live person who isn’t me. And best of all, I’m back to writing (slowly, though-very, very slowly.)

Unlike many books on writing, which I find either distract from writing the story you really want to tell or get you focused on literary analysis instead of writing, this book is actually a useful tool for the writer of fiction (actually, I can see how it might be handy for the memoirist as well…)

I’m putting this on my Amazon wish list and will be periodically checking it out of my library until I finally get around to purchasing it. It’s really that good.

Rating:5 Stars
Category:Writing Reference
Synopsis:“What if” scenarios to plop your characters into
Recommendation: A marvelous writing reference that actually furthers your story. Huzzah for that!

Book Review: “The Diary of Pelly D” by L.J. Adlington

Toni V is just another teen on the demolition crew, working his jackhammer. Day after day he tears up the ruins of City 5 to make way for the new city the general promises.

The rules and regulations say that everything that is found has to be reported. But when Toni V finds a water can with a diary inside, he defies the rules and regulations. He keeps and reads it: The Diary of Pelly D.

Pelly D lives in luxury in City 5. She’s rich, she’s pretty, and she leads the pack at school. Oh–and she has a holographic pool, which is pretty cool.

Pelly D is completely unconcerned about school work or about politics, or really about anything but her own pleasure and popularity–well, except for the little niggling doubts she has about the new gene stamping.

It’s an Atsumisi thing, this “Heritage Clan” thing. According to them, the world is divided into three groups: the haves and the have nots. The haves (Atsumisi and Mazzini) have the gene (even if it’s only turned “on” in the Atsumisi)–the have nots (the Galrezi) don’t.

It starts out innocently, people getting tattoos on their wrists to identify which gene clan they come from. But before long, Pelly D wonders if there might be discrimination on the planet (despite the colonials resolve to not even have a word for discrimination since they were so determined not to let any exist on their new planet.)

I’m not sure what to say about this book. The diary reads a little like Bridget Jones’ Diary (in other words, it’s awful). Reading Pelly D’s self-absorbed rants is painful. It’s a mercy that the author flashes back to Toni V every so often–he’s a breath of fresh air from the drama queen Pelly D.

At the same time, there’s something compelling about this novel. I can see how young adults might enjoy it. And–as far as young adult novels go, it’s relatively clean. There’s some allusions to making out and one not too descriptive sex scene. There’s a divorce that takes second stage to the real storyline. There’s some bullying, some definite rudeness. But it’s not like it’s celebrating deviant behavior.

And the ending. Oh, the ending.

I had to verbally process the entire plot with my little sister after I was done. It was that disturbing.

It was a good disturbing.

The kind that makes you think. The kind that makes you recall history, real events on Earth that resemble the events in the book. The kind that makes you question political correctness and what the world calls peace. The kind that makes you wonder how the evil in the heart of man can be eliminated.

The Diary of Pelly D is bad in that the diary itself is just the sort of thing you’d expect from a self-absorbed queen-of-the-brat-pack teen. The Diary of Pelly D is good in that the story sucks you in and gets you thinking (without you knowing that you’re thinking until you get to the awful, awful end.) It’s good in that the ideas it brings up stick with you, forcing you to grapple with reality.

I’m glad I read it. I’m not quite sure if I recommend it.

Rating:1 Star/5 Stars
Category:YA Dystopian Fiction
Synopsis:Toni V, a postapocalyptic teen, finds the diary of Pelly D–written before the war that ended the world as she knew it.
Recommendation: Decide for yourself. You can see how I had an awfully hard time even giving it stars–the one star is for the painfully insipid Pelly D’s diary writings, the five stars is for the completed effect of the novel.

Book Review: “The Rest of Her Life” by Laura Moriarty

Leigh arrives home from work one day, vaguely annoyed to find that the recycling can had been overturned and no one had bothered to pick it up. Then she walks into the living room, where her family waits. There was an accident, her husband informs her. Kara was driving. A girl is dead.

They’d tried to call Leigh, but she hadn’t answered. There wasn’t time to try again. He had to comfort their daughter.

The tragedy brings the strained relationship between mother and daughter into sharp relief. Kara turns to Gary, rebuffs Leigh’s attempts at sympathy.

The tragedy brings out the strained relationship between Gary and their precocious son. It tests Leigh and Gary’s marriage. It tests Leigh’s friendship with her best friend, with her community.

It makes Leigh wonder how she managed to get here–alienated from her daughter when she’d tried so hard to be a good mother, to give her daughter everything she hadn’t gotten from her own mother.

The Rest of Her Life is an introspective work, exploring Leigh’s past and present, digging into her thoughts about her marriage, her family, her friendships, her standing in the community.

This was a wonderful book with so many positive qualities that I find it hard to just give a general impression. There are so many things to like, so many things to mention.

I’ll begin with technicalities. I love that Leigh’s story is told in past-tense third person subjective. This point of view is an integral part of the story–and is a breath of fresh air after the spate of first person novels inundating the female marketplace.

The author has an M.A. in Creative Writing, but unlike many an academic artist, she doesn’t try too hard to be groundbreaking with her style. This is a book that follows the conventions of the English language, with capitalization and punctuation exactly where they should be, letting you get on with the story instead of worrying about misunderstanding meaning in the midst of the hodgepodge of “creative” effects.

And what a story it is. Moriarty demonstrates a keen insight into human relationships, teasing out the complexities of Leigh’s relationship with her daughter, her husband, her son, her best friend, her sister, her own mother, the mother of the dead girl.

In Leigh, we see a mother who tries hard to be the mother her mother never was–and who doesn’t understand why her daughter doesn’t appreciate that. We see a mother frustrated because she can’t seem to connect with her teenage daughter, a woman who learns to put aside herself in order to relate to her daughter.

In Leigh and Gary’s marriage, we see a couple who works hard to stay married. We see misunderstandings, frustrations, and accusations–and a choice to keep at it despite all that. I loved that Gary and Leigh’s marriage is neither sensationally awful nor saccharinely good. It’s honest, a rare trait in novels depicting marriage.

I can identify a lot with Leigh, despite our many differences (Let me count the ways…I’m not married, not a mother, not middle aged, not a teacher, not secular, not a product of a broken home…) Leigh is something of a loner, holding herself aloof from many around her. She is compassionate, but often doesn’t know how to express her compassion. Should she write a note, go to the dead girl’s funeral, put her hand on her daughter’s knee in sympathy? She simultaneously enjoys and dreads the gossip her best friend shares with her. She wants to do everything right, has a vision of how her life should look–but finds herself acting and her life looking differently than she’d envisioned.

Leigh is a sympathetic character. Her relationships are real and complex–not just dramatic episodes but full of subtle expectations, longings, comfortability, and differences. Leigh grows, learns, develops through her experiences. The relationships grow through their experiences.

This is novel-craft at its finest.

Rating:5 Stars
Category:General Fiction
Synopsis:When Leigh’s daughter accidentally kills a pedestrian and turns to her dad instead of Leigh for sympathy, Leigh is forced into an introspective review of her relationships with her children, her husband, and her best friends.
Recommendation: Wow. This is a truly good book. I definitely recommend it.