Well, I did better than I ever thought I would. I only chose four books for The Spring Reading Thing 2010 challenge (see March 21st post) because spring is the busiest time of year for me. I didn't think I would get through the four on my list by the June 20th deadline, and technically I didn't. I ended up adding a couple of books to my list and bumped one off for awhile (wasn't in the mood for that one). I'll list and review below, but I want to thank Katrina at Callapidder Days (http://callapidderdays.com/) for "hosting" this reading challenge. It pushed me to read more and made my busy spring much more rewarding. It's great to see so many people involved in the challenge (more than 150). I can't wait to read the reviews of some of the other participants. I'm afraid my "to-read" list will now be longer than my expected life-span will allow. So many books...so little time.
1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
It took me awhile to get into this book, but I ended up liking it more than I thought I was going to. There are thirteen stories interwoven together in a small town in Maine, with the one character, Olive Kitteridge, playing a part (sometimes a really small part) in each one of the stories. It's really like reading a book of short stories instead of a novel. Olive is a difficult character to like. She's a rude, crass, opinionated, wounded, rejected, pessimistic, retired seventh grade math teacher. But, by the end, she seemed like a relative we all have but don't understand. Olive would have made me very nervous if I were in the same room with her, but I would want to be in the same room with her so I wouldn't miss anything interesting that happened. Strout does an excellent job of developing this deeply flawed, but genuine, woman. You hurt for her at times, but you know she's mainly living with the consequences of her choices. You see glimpses of goodness and kindness in her. I didn't love this book, but I'm glad I read it and met Olive Kitteridge.
2. Love and War: Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed Of by John and Stasi Eldredge
Okay, this is the one I moved off the list. I'm sure it is wonderful, but I just wasn't in the mood for this type of book. I wanted to read fiction in the spring, and that's what I did. I plan to read this soon and I'll post something about it when I do.
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I found this book to be absolutely charming and very touching. The entire story is told through letters (which took some getting used to). I love historical fiction and I especially liked that this book told such an unknown WWII story (well, unknown in America for sure) about the German occupation of the island of Guernsey. This is definitely a book for book-lovers considering a literary society is what brings the characters together and later draws in Juliet, the main character and a writer. It is a story about the love of literature and the bonds between people during heartbreaking times. It made me wish letters were a bigger part of modern life (as I'm sure the U.S. Post Office would agree). There's something about waiting for a letter to arrive, holding it, folding it, keeping it, and reading it again years later. What email can boast the same? This book made me want to buy stationary, work on my penmanship, and visit Guernsey. Maybe I'll do all three. It's very cliche, but I laughed and I cried. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful book.
4. Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist
I just love Deeanne Gist's books. I've read them all and was looking forward to the release of her latest romantic historical novel. All of Gist's novels are "Christian" historical fiction, but they are in no way preachy and she does a lot of research to get the historic storyline as close to right as possible. While the end is usually predictable, the fun is the trip the characters take to get to the end. While I did not enjoy Maid to Match as much as I did Gist's other romantic novels (particularly A Bride Most Begrudging), I definitely found myself caught up in the story. This is a fun, light-hearted, quick read. We all need a few of those in our bookshelves. Just a warning: this book will make you want to plan a trip to The Biltmore in Ashville, NC. I've been before, so I could place some of the rooms Gist uses in the story. I think having been to the Biltmore made this book better. If you have a chance to go, you certainly should...and then read (or reread) this book.
Now for the two I didn't have on my original list. Who knew I'd have time to throw these in the mix.
5. The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
I think I'm past the Nicholas Sparks stage in my life. There was a time when I read his books as soon as they were published, but after several years away from them I think I'm ready to move on. I read Dear John in January and really didn't like it at all. My female students were reading The Last Song in droves, so I thought I'd give it a chance. It was definitely better than Dear John, but I just didn't enjoy it at all. Sparks aims at making the reader cry, and I've cried while reading a lot of his books (absolutely sobbed---like ugly cry sobbed---in The Notebook and A Walk To Remember) but this one just didn't get me. I, as the reader, felt rushed to accept the relationships between the characters (Ronnie & Blaze, Ronnie & her Dad, Ronnie & Will) and I just didn't buy it--it seemed too forced to me. I don't want to give the story away if you're planning on reading it, so I'll just leave it at that. It's certainly a quick read and Sparks is a good writer. But for me, it's going to take a lot to keep The Last Song from being my last Sparks book.
6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
I never intended to start this book for this challenge, but somehow it just wiggled its way to the top of the to-read stack. It's a daunting one at 974 pages about cathedral building in medieval England. The building of the cathedral serves as a cornerstone to explore the lives of an intriguing cast of characters and how life was lived at this point in history...and it wasn't often pretty. I was captured by the first revealing line, "The young boys came early to the hanging." This book is not for the faint-of-heart. It is brutal, violent, and shockingly explicit at times. But, at it's heart, it is a story filled with hope and the unwillingness of the human spirit to give up. This is a book of good, but flawed, "ordinary" people doing extraordinary things against forces of true evil. Tragedy followed by triumph, followed by tragedy, followed by triumph. The story spans about fifty years with no letting up on the action--it's a real page turner (which is a good thing since there are 974 of them). I lost a lot of sleep trying to get to a good stopping place--there aren't many. The characters are well defined and the storyline is, at times, amazing. Follett is an riveting storyteller and I want to read the sequel to Pillars soon.
And the winner is.....
It's close between Pillars and Guernsey as my favorite read this spring, but I may have to go with Pillars. It's just epic and sweeping and shocking and awesome and amazing. It's also overwhelming and heavy (I mean actually heavy--weighty, not just a heavy topic). Guernsey is charming and funny and sweet and British--and I do love the British (except for a few BP executives right now). Why don't you read both and let me know which you liked better. :)
Now, onto my summer reading list. Talk about daunting---so many books stacked on the to-read shelf. It's a good thing summer has just gotten started. Happy reading!
"I cannot live without books." --Thomas Jefferson
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