book review


the shack a novel by william p. young

A Polish friend of mine has started a book club in Baku, and I am so grateful! It’s forced me to hop back on the reading wagon. I’m also more motivated to read carefully, think about a novel’s themes and context, and underline moving passages.

I’ve also discovered that my most popular blog posts are for my book reviews. It’s funny because after reading mind-blowing book reviews from the New York Times–they are my standard–my reviews come nowhere near theirs. Mine are short, quick, shallow and almost general because I refuse to put spoilers.

Our next reading assignment is on “The Shack” by William P. Young, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in God and/or spirituality to read this book. Yes, it is a Christian book, and it is a little American-touchy-feel-good-sappy, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking. It also forces readers to ask questions.

The novel is centered around Mackenzie Allen Philips, a devout father, who loses his youngest daughter, Missy. She is brutally murdered and found in an abandoned shack. As a result, Mackenzie becomes very depressed and angry with God.

Here’s why I think you should it read it–

1. The book emotionally hooks you in. The first third of the book tells the story of how Missy is kidnapped and brutally murdered. I’m a first grade teacher and I read the book during the Sandy Hook mass murder, which happened to coincide with an internal crisis. I completely related with Mackenzie’s “great sadness” and anger. He was a good father. A hero. He always tried to do the right thing. How could something so horrid, inhuman, undeserving, happen to his daughter and family? I cried for hours as I read through the first few chapters, which means that I imagined myself in Mackenzie’s shoes. I WAS RIGHT THERE! For a reader who has a mild case of ADD, I would say that Young is an excellent writer because he was able to make me fully empathize with his protagonist through the storytelling and dialogue.

2. It asks the age-old question–How can a God that is good allow suffering? Many people, including myself, fear suffering. If I don’t get what I want, am I still loved by God? If I am going through pain, why would a God that is good allow it to happen? The book offers interesting answers that will make you think.

3. It focuses on man’s relationship with God. Many religions around the world focus on ritual and doing good deeds. In the story, we see Mackenzie questioning God. Mackenzie is allowed to be angry with God. Sometimes people want to be the good “believer”. I’m using the word “believer” because I think this book can be read by anyone from any religion. Sometimes we are afraid of questioning God and shaking our fists at Him because, at least in my case, I want to be the “good Christian”. But when God invites us into relationship with Him and we say yes, sometimes, like any human relationship, we get upset and frustrated. The awesome thing with God is He is big enough to take our anger and this is depicted in the book.

4. William P. Young depicts God in an out-of-the-box way. Most of us picture our Heavenly Father as a man who takes care of us. The way Young describes God is in some ways almost laughable. (I won’t spoil it for you!) I also experienced an inner tension because of a gender stereotype that I grew up with.

5. The book ends with hope. Mackenzie’s circumstance didn’t change but his heart did. Young quotes Oswald Chambers at the beginning of chapter 18–Faith never knows where it is being led, but it knows and loves the One who is leading.

49_above the smog

Photo taken from www.amazon.com

Photo taken from http://www.amazon.com

We’ve been using Stepping Up: A Journey through the Psalms of Ascent for the past few weeks in bible study. I highly highly recommend this book to any Christian woman who desires a deeper relationship with God. I also recommend that it be used as a bible study guide.

The workbook takes us through Psalms 120 to 134. It is an interactive book which asks you to read and study the bible, as well as discern how you can apply God’s word in your life. The book comes with a DVD where Beth Moore shares her insights into the Psalms of Ascent. Her talks are full of substance. You can tell that she studied God’s Word within its historical context.

Here is why I think you should read this book:

1. Beth Moore’s writing reads like a conversation. Her language is simple and engaging. I feel like I’m sitting right next to her as I read the book.

2. In spite of the simple language, the book is full of substance. I learned a lot about the historical context of the psalms of ascent, which made me understand God’s word in a deeper way.

3. It’s led me into a deeper relationship with God. I learned how to pray on my knees, face down, to my King of Kings. Somehow, this made me realize how awesome God is, and how worthy He is. I can’t explain in this in any rational manner. It’s an intimacy that you can only experience when you try it out. Once you see God s the King of Kings, everything, problems, negative emotions, all of it, shrink.

4. If you’re thinking of putting structure into your daily bible reading, this is the perfect guide. I’m the type of woman who needs structure to keep motivated and get things done. This book helped me read my bible everyday.

04_pilot wife

Awashed with relief,
words to describe what I’ve been feeling these past two days.
Awashed with relief.
There’s this song in my heart,
and a new openness to live my next chapter.
Been holding to old characters,
even if they’ve jumped off the pages long time ago.
Suicide.

So today,
I’m awashed with relief.
Done with death,
ready to get on with life,
Baku, best place.
Here. Now.

Found several groups, new, budding, blooming friendships.
Love working with Azeris,
and have also found an interesting conglomerate of people from various continents.
Walks of life.

My heart is open, singing,
visions of new doors opening.
New positive characters,
full of love.
How could I have kept myself in the limited?
Characters, lost lines.

So I’ve joined this book club,
which a Polish friend initiated.
Our first meeting was on “Ali and Nino”,
our next on “The Shack”.
Perhaps I’ll write about them another time,
both books I recommend.

I found “The Pilot’s Wife” in Chiraq.
Not sure if I liked it.
It’s about Kathryn,
pilot’s wife duh.
She finds out about double life husband leading,
overused plot,
of personal and political betrayal.
But this is not what the story is about.
It’s an introspective rendition of Kathryn’s emotions,
as she crawls without choice,
from grief, to betrayal, to not being able to grieve at all.
For the man she thought she knew.
The language lyrical. Contagious.
Riddled with fog mood.

Line from novel resonates with me today.
Scene: she is on a boat, fisherman rowing across ocean,
place where she drops wedding ring.
Intentionally.
To be relieved of love, she thought, was to give up a terrible burden.

Letting go always means death.

But the wind whispers,
It is only death here. On the other side of the glass door, there is a room where you will see your loved ones again. The way they were when it was all new.

And that is the burden of love,
stuck in inextricable maze.
It always hopes.
Beyond death.

But today I woke up,
awashed with relief.
Ready to swim,
heart open
eyes open
arms open
along the waves of the Caspian.

This is the third book in the Hunger Games Series, and I’m afraid, not my favorite. But not because the plot or characters weren’t compelling. I just found myself feeling low in part 3, which is appropriately entitled The Assassin.

The book started out well enough with Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, waking up in District 13, an underground rebel District in the fictional country of Panem. She discovers that her mentor Haymitch was working closely with President Coin, the rebel leader. Katniss also discovers that she was a pawn all along in the war between the Capitol and District 13. The fact that she symbolized the Mockingjay gave people hope and a reason to rebel against the Capitol, which exploited the other districts and mistreated people.

Katniss is once again reunited with Gail, her hunting partner and love interest in the Hunger Games. They are very much alike because both of them are warriors that are driven by their anger and hate. They train, plot and fight together, as well as fight each other. Peeta, Katniss’s love interest in Hunger Games and Changing Fire, was tortured in the Capitol, his mind warped with fake memories that lead him to almost murder Katniss because he believed that she was a propagator of war.

The love triangle between Katniss, Gail and Peeta magnifies in this book. At one point Gail declares that Katniss will eventually choose the one she can survive with. This is my favorite part of Mockingjay, and perhaps the whole series. In the end, Katniss does choose one of them, but I won’t tell lest I spoil it for you. The unconditional love that this man shows for her in spite of the fact that she’s damaged, moved me to tears.

But alas, the love triangle is not what Mockingjay is about. Propaganda is described in an entertaining almost reality-type-show way with the costumes and scripts and characters who play directors. The mind games and power struggles mirror real life politics.

Towards the end of the story (and this is why the book depressed me) many of the main characters are depicted as traumatized war victims that are beyond repair. Images of booze, drugs, unkempt hair and incoherent mumbling pervade these last chapters. The symptoms of damage and trauma hit too near to home for me. I originally read this story to get back on the reading wagon. For entertainment. As an escape! But instead, I found myself relating to the pain and trauma that uncontrollable circumstances, such as war, can bring.

Did the book end with hope? All I can say is it wasn’t the Hollywood ending I was craving for.

In her acknowledgements, Suzzane Collins writes–“Special love to my late father, Michael Collins, who laid the groundwork for this series with his deep commitment to educating his children on war and peace.” I couldn’t help but think that I wish I were a middle school teacher using an interdisciplinary approach. This is an entertaining book that could be used as a springboard to deeper discussions on actual case studies of war, their causes and impact. I’m sure that adolescents will find the setting and characters compelling enough to transfer the concepts they learn in Mockingjay to analyze wars, and perhaps choose peace, should they one day find themselves in a position to do so.

Nobody ever talks about Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. It is the middle child of the series, the one which needs to fight its way for recognition.

After the other day’s pigeon poop stress, I did my necessary household chores then curled up in bed with Catching Fire.

Here are five reasons why I think you should read it:

1. It’s entertaining. If you’re looking at jumping back into the reading bandwagon, the second book of the The Hunger Games trilogy is perfect. Although the beginning is a little bit slow because the author spends a lot of time telling us about Panem’s (the setting’s) history, it picks up in the middle and the third part is an absolute page turner! As I was reading, I felt like I was watching a reality show!

2. It reads like a film. If you close your eyes and picture the setting Suzanne Collin’s describes, it is vivid, colorful, futuristic. The costumes the character Cinna designs-wedding gowns turning into smoke and mockingjays-are absolutely riveting! The auditorium where the Hunger Games takes place is full of clocks, forests and lightning bolts–the perfect escape from the reality of pigeon poop!

3. There are conflicts on many levels, the perfect ingredient for drama! There’s a conflict between the Capitol and Panem’s ordinary citizens. There’s a conflict between President Snow and Katniss, the protagonist. There’s a conflict between Peeta, Katniss’s love interest, and Katniss. Peeta’s intention is to keep Katniss alive during the Games, and Katniss’s purpose is to keep Peeta alive. Who wins? Not going to tell you…

4. I’m no pop-culture fan, but… The Hunger Games film is coming out this March in the US. (Not sure when it’s coming out in Mumbai.) It would be good to see and compare the book to the film adaptation

5. As a writer, I like Suzanne Collins because she can connect to her audience through a compelling character, simple language, and imagination. I can certainly learn to do the same.

I can now highlight and link another book on my Leftover Book Challenge. Two books in one month! Not bad for someone who has a fairly tight schedule.

I do admit to now cheating on my Leftover Book Challenge and treating myself to Mockingjay (and Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, but that’s another story), the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy! So now as I curl up on my couch with a Kingfisher and Mockingjay, I’ll let you know how this goes!

In a previous post, I talked about the Leftover Book Challenge–a self challenge to finish the unread books on my shelf. I am happy to say that I’ve finished my first book–The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins!

My Pinay friend, Aleta, gave me the book as a thank you gift when she visited me in Mumbai last year. Thank you, Aleta! This book is a definite page turner!

The story is reminiscent of the reality show “Survivor” except that it’s set in the future and the characters are fighting for their lives! I can’t get enough of Katniss Everdeen, from how she paraded around in her fire outfit, to her shooting acumen, and to her naivete at how beautiful and talented she is. I like how the author Suzanne Collins gets into her head, and takes us on a journey of how Katniss strategizes to win the audience as well as the Hunger Games.

Peeta is the man every woman wants, the man who fights for his love. Although, I actually like Gale more, Katniss’s best friend, the one she goes hunting with. I have a feeling that The Hunger Games, book one of the trilogy, has just planted the foundation for a future love triangle.

The language in The Hunger Games is also very poetic. The descriptions are clear and it’s an easy read (it’s written for adolescents, actually) but it’s good writing, something I haven’t had in quite some time! It’s also a good first book to read if you want to get back into the reading bandwagon.

I’ve started reading Catching Fire, book two of the trilogy, and I already I’m hungry for more! Five thumbs up for the Hunger Games. Thank you, Aleta, for gifting me with these two books. I’m hoping that Catching Fire will just be as good as the first installation of the trilogy.