Year 4, Book 78

78. The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
This book was incredibly tedious to get through and not really what I was expecting based on the title. As opposed to the Case for God I would have called it the history of religion. At least to me it didn’t seem to focus very much on God. Only peripherally as she went through seemingly every single religious idea and their thoughts on God and also science in many cases since the beginning of time all the way up through today. Obviously with covering that many ideas there is limited space to get into any detail on the movements, and I just didn’t find myself getting much out of this book at all. It’s a shame because I’ve really enjoyed some of Armstrong’s other books on religion. This one just didn’t work for me though. I give it 3 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 77

77. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
This is a very short novel written about the Japanese internment camps during WWII. There are 5 chapters told by members of an unnamed family. The first by the mother, the second by the daughter, the third by the son, the fourth by a mix of those three, and the final chapter by the father who has been separated from his family the entire time. The book has some haunting details in it, but like most books where the characters remain anonymous I had a hard time relating to them and getting drawn into the story. It is a quick read though and does cause you to stop and think about that horrible situation in our nation’s history, so I would recommend it. This book was Loyola’s common text for freshmen this year and I saw the author speak about it, which I actually found far more compelling than her book. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 76

76. Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
I expected this to be more of a travel writing book than it actually turned out to be. The book is written in alternating chapters by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. The backdrop for the story is various trips they took together to Greece and France, but those places are really just the setting for self-examinations that they share with us. Sue Monk Kidd’s chapters focus on her mid-life crisis of dealing with menopause and what that means to her as a woman. It’s very based in mythology and rather esoteric. I liked Ann Kidd Taylor’s chapters better probably both because they were not so steeped in tedious mythology and because I can better relate to the quarter-life crisis issues she was experiencing. It was an okay book, and I did admire their relationship, but it was not the fun travel read that I was expecting. It was very melancholy for most of the book. I give it 5 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 75

75. The Shack by William P. Young
I have had a ton of people marvel about the wonders of this book to me. It’s a Christian fiction book that uses the experiences of the main character Mackenzie to elucidate the holy trinity. The first third of the book was kind of a crime fiction type novel with the story of Mackenzie’s daughter begin abducted during a family camping trip, which leads him to doubt God. The last two-thirds of the book are some supernatural experience in which he meets God (who is an African-American woman named Papa), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (an Asian woman named Sarayu) at the shack where his daughter’s killer was found. They help him come to terms with what happened as well as teach him about who they are. I found the crime part gripping but once we switched over to the rest of the book I found it tedious and boring. All the people raving about it claim that it has given them new perspective, etc. I either already had the perspective or didn’t get nearly as enlightened while reading this book because it did a whole lot of nothing for me. I give it 3 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 74

74. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
I absolutely adored Niffenegger’s first book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, so I was very excited to read her newest novel. For the first 60 pages I was in love with this book. It was everything I hoped it would be. The beginning chapters had so much heart and wonderful turn of phrase. Then the ghost showed up and everything went downhill. The story starts with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She leaves her flat in London to the twin daughters of her own estranged twin sister with the condition that they must live in the flat for one year before they are allowed to sell it and that their parents are not be allowed in the flat. There are two other flats in the building containing the other major characters of the book. The flat below contains Robert, Elspeth’s younger lover, who is writing his thesis on Highgate Cemetary, which borders the flat. The flat above contains Martin a man crippled by OCD, whose wife of 25 years leaves him in the beginning chapters to return to her native Amsterdam as she is no longer able to live within the confines of Martin’s OCD. The beginning chapters detailing the Robert’s loss of Elspeth and the separation of Martin and Marijke were beautiful. The introduction of Elspeth’s nieces Julia and Valentina and the bizarre stipulation of their inheritance leaves an intriguing mystery about what happened between Elspeth and her twin Edie to result in this absolute estrangement. The book at this point had such potential, but then Julia and Valentina come to live in the flat and discover the ghost of Elspeth living there as well. Then things go from bad to worse with a ridiculously contrived plot that turns the novel into a farce. I won’t share what that plot is in case you actually care to read the book as I wouldn’t want to give anything away. I’m horribly disappointed in this book, not because it didn’t live up to The Time Traveler’s Wife, but because it didn’t live up to itself. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 73

73. July and August by Nancy Clark
This is the book one of my book clubs was reading for November. The story revolves around an extended family who all seem to descend upon the remaining family matriarch, a spinster aunt named Lily, for the months of July and August. The setting is a small town in Massachusetts named Towne. Some of the characters do actually live in Towne, but the majority of them seem to have some reason to come visit and then some seemingly contrived reason about why they can spend 2 months sitting around this town where they don’t live helping Lily out at her farm stand. The whole book just felt really shallow to me. It bothered me that all these people were randomly stepping out of their lives for 2 months to hang around with each other, and there were a lot of characters so you never really got more than a cursory glimpse at any one of them. The author has written a couple other books that I’m not familiar with, but that based on the titles I suspect may have featured some of the characters. In which case some of the back story alluded to may have occurred in previous novels. As it is I sort of felt like I was abruptly dropped into these characters lives and was reading the second half of a story. I don’t know if the answer is in the previous books or not, but at any rate I definitely felt like I was missing something while reading this book. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 72

72. Closing Time: A Memoir by Joe Queenan
I picked this book up randomly at the library when I was there to get another book I had placed on hold. Now I kind of wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t a completely horrible book, but for some reason I found it rather tedious to read. I’m not sure why. The story is of the author’s life growing up poor in Philadelphia with an alcoholic father and a mother who didn’t much care to be a mother. He mostly focuses on his relationship with his father and the men his life who he used as surrogate father figures due to his father’s failings. He does have some interesting if not conflicting insights about poor people. As someone who grew up in poverty and is now very well off he seems to both equally blame them for being in the situation they are while also admitting that the experience of their lives and the system keeps them where they are. I give the book 4 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 71

71. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
I was excited to read this new book by Sarah Waters as her novel previous to this one, The Night Watch, was one of my favorite reads of the year. Unfortunately this book didn’t live up to my hopes for it.

Like The Night Watch, The Little Stranger is set soon after the end of WWII in England. The similarities end there however. The story revolves around 4 main characters: Mrs. Ayres the elderly matron of a once large and glorious estate named Hundreds, which has fallen on hard times since the war, her two grown children Roderick and Caroline, and Dr. Faraday. Dr. Faraday’s mother was once a maid at Hundreds when he was a child, and the house always fascinated him. He is called to Hundreds in his capacity as a doctor and winds up becoming quite involved with the Ayres family and Hundreds Hall. Many mysterious things begin to happen at the house and it appears as if it may be haunted a conclusion all its inhabitants come to, while Dr. Faraday continues to try and rationalize all the mysterious happenings at the house.

Waters writing is excellent in the book, which is what kept me reading even as the story fell somewhat short for me. The relationship between the characters interested me, but when the story became more and more about the haunting I became less and less interested. Also I felt the story lacked a good conclusion or explanation for what really happened. I guess in some ways it is left up to interpretation, but I wanted a definite answer about what really happened.

As I do enjoy her actual writing style though I think I will check out her earlier novels set in the Victorian era. I give this one a 6 out of 10.