Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Becoming Mrs. LewisBecoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

This is a fictional novel based on Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.

My Review

Didn’t finish this one. I just couldn’t get past the fact that this is a work of fiction. While the people in the book actually existed, the picture that the author paints of them is all her own creative work. Sure some of the events actually happened, but the responses and feelings of the people that you see in this book are completely the author’s ideas. And while the author’s writing is engaging and entertaining, it didn’t work for me when what I really wanted was to know the real people better. Even the letters between Joy and C.S. Lewis, which are such a huge part of their developing relationship, are completely faked by the author. I tried getting into a mindset where I could read the book as pure fiction, but I was reminded too frequently that these were real people; and I couldn’t help wondering if they would approve of their portrayal in this book? Which just made me want to pick up a biography rather than spending time on the fiction. And that’s what I plan to do.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older would be most interested in this book, I think.  I didn’t read the whole thing, but what I did read wasn’t necessarily “action packed.” It was more about personal discovery, character and relationship development.  I know the events that occurred later in Joy Davidman’s life, so I imagine the book gets more dramatic as it goes with some difficult facts of life to deal with, which would be another reason more mature readers would do better with this book.

Appropriateness: There was infidelity and drinking discussed in the portion of the book I read, but nothing explicit or glorified. However, deep down I think I do object to the author fictionalizing these real people so much. Though I know she did her research so if anyone has deep insight into who these people were it’s probably her. For me her interpretation came across too much like a soap opera; these great people in history felt minimized by becoming characters.  I would have preferred they stay more “real.”

Other Book Recommendations: I plan to read And God Came In by Lyle Wesley Dorsett, a biography of Joy Davidman. If you are interested in people like Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis I think you would also enjoy Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  The writing style of this book reminded me some of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.

The Spy

The SpyThe Spy by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless. Within months she was the most celebrated woman in the city. As a dancer, she shocked and delighted audiences; as a courtesan, she bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.

But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. In 1917, she was arrested and accused of espionage. Told in Mata Hari’s voice through her final letter, The Spy is the story of a woman who dared to defy convention and who paid the ultimate price.

My Review

I couldn’t get very far into this one before the details of rape and abuse were just too much. I picked The Spy up because I really enjoyed Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I thought with the uplifting and even Christian theme in that book certainly Coelho could tell the life story of a prostitute convicted of treason with some class and delicacy. Unfortunately, for me the first chapters of The Spy felt more like an excuse to romanticize sexual abuse rather than an effort to present truth, fact, or history.

“A Novel” is clearly printed on the front cover so I should have been expecting this to read like fiction, but because it’s main subject is the life of a real person I was expecting a more biographical feel.

The narrator in the introduction of the book sets up Mata Hari as a hero. Then in the first chapter Coelho begins to tell the story through Mata Hari’s own voice; unfortunately with the voice he gives her she comes off as completely selfish, even narcissistic. She certainly was a “broken” person which is understandable given the abuses she endured, but Coelho’s choice in presentation of her life events and her reactions to them left me unimpressed and sad. I didn’t feel like cheering for her as a hero; I felt pity that a traumatized woman didn’t get the help she deserved.

Through Coelho’s characterization of her, Mata Hari says, “My only crime was to be an independent woman.” I find it sad that Coelho would equate self-destructive choices from a victim of abuse with independence and heroism. Since I didn’t actually finish the book I guess it’s possible that the author actually finds her heroic for other reasons, but based on the first few chapters I was pretty sure his ideas of heroism and mine are very different. I don’t know much about Mata Hari (I had hoped this book would help me learn more), so I can’t really say whether she was heroic or not, selfish or not, but I don’t think Coelho’s book is going to give me an accurate picture of this complicated woman.

Age Recommendation: With the sexual content I would say this for mature adult readers.

Appropriateness: I found the author’s choice of how to present the sexual content very inappropriate and I would not recommend this book.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Mata Hari’s story I have found several nonfiction options on Goodreads that you should try before picking up this book. I am interested in reading Mata Hari: The Controversial Life and Legacy of World War I’s Most Famous Spy  by Charles Rivers Editors.

If you are interested in historical (or historically based) heroism I recommend The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, or Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

Cash Valley

Cash ValleyCash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

When FBI Agent Alex Travis receives an anonymous phone call one morning in 1954 with a tip concerning the now cold case of the Cache County Bank robbery, it has his undivided attention. The tip leads Travis to the top of the secluded Green canyon in Logan, Utah, where he meets a young man named Jack Pepper.  Jack’s story spans two years from the time of the robbery, and involves his girlfriend, Kate Austin, and the crime of the century for the Cache valley. Travis must decide if he is dealing with the suspects or the victims of one of the largest bank robberies in U.S. history.

To get the answers, it will take one more trip up the canyon, to the entrance of the Spring Hollow mine, where the daylight ends and the cold dark begins.

My Review

I very much enjoyed the setting and premise of Cash Valley. I have tried to fight my connection to the mountains at times in my life, but I have finally come to accept and relish the fact that my happiness and peace in life is tied to my landscape. And mountains reign supreme in my world. The characters in Cash Valley share my love of wilderness so they felt like pals right away. The Cache Valley area of Utah is particularly beautiful in its wildness and the author captures the feel of that place perfectly.

I was drawn in further by the history in the story. I enjoyed the tidbits of information the author gave about the time period and the location. And I just couldn’t pass up a plot involving a bank robbery in the wild west.

The characters are good people, heroic, but still flawed. I was rooting for the “star-crossed lovers.” The author’s voice is enjoyable. It is neither too flowery and puffed up, or too basic and juvenile. The author has several clever plays on words as well. His writing is perfect for this type of book – good, clean fun and excitement.

The only reason Cash Valley gets 3 stars instead of 4 is that I was disappointed in the method of storytelling use in the first half. For almost 100 pages the plot building and progression is done through characters telling other characters about events that happened in the past. It got a little old and was a little distracting because one of the characters told the events with much more detailed language than I think would be natural in that type of situation. The author also uses interruptions from the other character as a device to build suspense. It worked well the first few times, but after that I felt it distracted more from the flow and no longer achieved the purpose of suspense.

My wish is that the author had used more literary formats and devices than just a character retell and dialogue. Some flashbacks, maybe a written statement from characters, journal entries, or even just starting the story earlier in the events would have helped.

The pacing and flow definitely picked up after the character retelling was completed. It was a rush of excitement to the end.
Age Recommendation: I think ages 15 and up would enjoy and understand this book best.

Appropriateness: Fighting, gun-slinging bandits, thievery, and an intent to rape are part of the plot, but all is written tastefully with no crassness and no glorifying the violence and cruelty. I didn’t find anything offensive.

Other Book Recommendations: If Cash Valley interests you then you should also try Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Relic by Renee Collins, Enna Burning by Shannon Hale, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Charlotte’s Rose by Ann Edwards Cannon.

 

 

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I tend to gush about the books I love, so here comes the gushing. This one is definitely in my top 10 all time favorite books, and probably even makes it into the top 5. Read it. It will make you and your life better.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads (with some of my own edits): January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends and their book club – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This book boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”

My Review

This enchanting historical fiction is so well-written and in such a creative way. My husband and I (before he was my husband) wrote letters to each other for 2 years while he was a missionary, and I love the unique element that brought to our relationship. Getting to know each other through words, through time and through distance is special. This book is written completely in letters between the characters; it’s how Juliet falls in love with her Guernsey friends before she ever meets them. As a reader you fall in love with them all right along with her, in that unique way that comes through sharing letters. You don’t just read about people in this book; you meet them. They come alive and you experience their journey with them rather than reading about it like a spectator.

Each of the main characters takes a turn as narrator when you read the letters written by them, but there is one major character that you don’t “meet” so personally as she never writes a letter. But the writing is so masterfully done that she feels just as real and warm as any of the other Guernsey residents. I was awed by the author’s ability to help me love and care for a character who is only “present” in the past.

The time period is just after WWII and a lot has been written about that time period. But this one is different. Even if you are a WWII expert, don’t pass this one by. One of my favorite historical aspects of it was learning more about life after the war, particularly for those in Europe whose homes had been bombed, who were living in rubble and with very little to help them rebuild their lives. And I had no idea that the island of Guernsey even existed before reading this, and I certainly had no idea it was occupied by the Nazis. Now I want to visit Guernsey just as much as I’d like to see Prince Edward Island or Hogwarts for that matter, all because of the beauty of this book.

Even though war and the pain that it brings are a theme of the book, it still winds up as uplifting and fun. I laughed, I cried, I pondered. I learned and relished every word. I love every theme it presented including the history, the romance, the strength of character, and the power of books and reading in our lives. I have read the book twice so far and I guarantee there will be a third reading. And a 4th, and 5th…

View all my reviews

Age Recommendation: The themes will be best understood by a mature readers. The aspects of war could be too harsh for some as well. So I say this book is for 16 and older.

Appropriateness: There is some profanity. Fornication and homosexuality are in the book but they are not focused on at all. Their mention is so brief and not graphic in the least. So if these things are offensive to you, I still don’t think you would find the book offensive. This is a perfect book club read.

Book Recommendations: If you like this one you should try Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak