Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is incredibly relevant and timely. Through Star's narrative, Angie Thomas creates a story that is heartbreaking, raw, and real. It could have been ripped right from the headlines as it mirrors so many of the tragic police shootings involving unarmed African Americans. It's a bigger story than that, however. It also explores the issue of identity and how African Americans have to navigate in a society that still sees them as "other," which can be seen in Star's constant shifting between versions of herself depending on who she is with or where she is.

As a white female, there were many parts of this story that I could sympathize with, but not fully emphasize with. I think books like this are important because it gives us a window into what it's really like to be African American in the U.S. today in a way that is accessible to those both within and outside the African American community. And while I will not claim to understand everything, books like The Hate U Give are great conversation starters. I think many people, myself included, want to be allies in this fight, and it starts with greater understanding. Novels like this can help to foster that understanding because it is a truly human story.

The best part of this book is that Star is not just another victim. She's a phoenix rising. She comes through a tragedy and on the other side she is stronger. She finds her voice, her fight, her desire to make the world a better place. The end of this novel is incredibly inspiring and empowering. Star may have lost some friends, but she also gained some unexpected allies, found herself, and a purpose. This is a beautiful book and I hope it will be widely read.

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Review: The Mountain Between Us

The Mountain Between Us The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was rather surprised by this book. Based on the previews and interviews I had seen about the upcoming film, I was anticipating a love story with some adventure thrown in. What I got, was surprisingly more. Yes, this is an adventure/survival story. In fact, a good chunk of it is an adventure/survival story that is suspenseful, desperate, heartbreaking, and at times, humorous. It is also a love story, but what was surprising was how layered and complex the "love story" turned out to be. This is not simply a love story between two people who survive a horrific accident. It is a layered love affair spanning time, distance, and is bigger than just the two main characters.

The plot of this story is so rich. I'll admit that I had a pretty easy time figuring out the twist in the plot, however, the characters took me on such an emotional ride that I didn't lose interest in the story. There is so much to unpack in this novel. It's so much bigger than just surviving and falling in love. It's about loss, forgiveness, second chances, hope, and faith. It was a beautiful story and I found myself a bit haunted by it. I'm hoping the movie is as good as the book.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Confession 1: I love Johnny Depp. I see all of his movies, even the ones that I know are going to be super weird. So naturally, when I heard that he was going to be appearing in the film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express I snatched up a copy of the book as quickly as I could because I always try to read the book before seeing the movie. Confession 2: This is my first Agatha Christie novel and I think I'm in love. I loved this novel from start to finish. I can't believe I've never read any of her novels before, but I'm definitely hooked and will be checking out more of her Hercule Poirot novels.

The novel was well written with just the right balance of mystery and suspense. The cast of characters was interesting and I loved how the murder mystery unfolded. Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery, a title she rightly deserves. I was a little worried about picking up the tenth book in a series without having read the others, but my worry was quickly assuaged. You do not need to read the other novels in the series in order to understand this one. While I was able to piece together some of the mystery, the final outcome was not predictable under revealed by Poirot at the end. I'm excited to check out some of the other books in this series. I may be binge reading them all in the near future...

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Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should start by saying that my first encounter with this story was through the Netflix series. There was a lot of buzz around the series when it first came out, especially amongst the middle school students I teach. After hearing some really mixed reviews, I decided to check the TV series out. I wish I hadn't. While I believe the intention of the series was to engage in a conversation about a really serious issue - mental health, suicide, and its various causes - I found the series to be unnecessarily graphic and gratuitous. There are scenes from that show that I will never be able to unsee and were only there for pure shock value.

After having seen the TV series, I was much less inclined to read the book, which should tell you something, since I am a firm believer that the book is always better. And, truthfully, it was better. It was still a hard book to read. What happens to Hannah is heartbreaking, as it is with anyone who takes their own life. However, the writers of the TV series took a lot of "artistic license" with Jay Asher's novel. The book is not as shocking and gratuitous as the series and because of that, I found it more powerful than the series. There are several things that happen in the TV series that do not happen in the novel or are greatly exaggerated for shock value. The most notable being how Hannah actually commits suicide.

The concept of the book was interesting and I can understand how it would appeal to TV producers. Thirteen tapes, thirteen episodes. Even though the book was broken up this way, I found the narrative easy to follow. I think stories like Thirteen Reasons Why are important, especially when considering the mental health crisis we have in our country today. However, when these stories are mishandled by Hollywood, it glorifies suicide and has the opposite effect. We need to do more as a society to change the hateful rhetoric, promote mental health, stop bullying, reduce stress, and provide affordable treatments without stigma. Books like this can serve as a wonderful launch pad for discussing these difficult issues with our young people, but only if they are handled responsibly. I would recommend the book, but not the TV series.

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Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always find it fascinating when a novel written years or even decades ago can still ring so true when read again by modern readers. This book was originally published in the 1980's, decades after the start of the Women's Movement, but in a decade that saw tremendous advancement and backlash against the struggle for equality and autonomy for women. Sadly, even in 2017, we are still having many of the same conversations that our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters have had before us.

I found Atwood's book to be both intriguing and absolutely terrifying. First, I love dystopian fiction. It is one of the richest genres, in my opinion. It often has the ability to shine the light on social issues and inequalities in a way that is thought-provoking and accessible. The world that Atwood created was so vivid and believable. Given the right catalyst, I could easily see this becoming a reality. As a woman and as a Christian, the world that Atwood created terrified me on so many levels.

These days it feels like every advancement and right that women have managed to secure since winning the right to vote in 1911 is under attack. It feels like everyone and their brother (pun intended here) has an opinion on what I and my fellow females should do with our lives, bodies, and what our role in society should be. Nevermind, what we think, as many of these discussions are happening behind closed doors in rooms full of white men. I also love how politicians and the like will hide behind the "family values" or "Christian values" banner as justification for rolling back the advancements that women have fought so hard for and continue to fight for.

Don't misunderstand. I don't hate men and I'm not some "crazy" feminist. I do consider myself a feminist, but feminism to me has always meant that women have the right to chose. You want to get married and be a stay-at-home-mom? Good for you! You want to be a CEO and run your own business and not have children? Awesome! You want to be a CEO and run your own business and have a family? More power to you! The point is, that every woman should have the right to chose what she wants for her life and should be given the same opportunities as her male counterparts, free of social pressures and judgment. Sadly, we are not there yet. And as a Christian, nothing angers me more than when people justify hatred, bigotry, and oppression with religion. Nothing could be less "Christian."

But I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that Atwood's book is as relevant today as it was when it was published over 30 years ago. I'm excited to watch the series on Hulu (I know, I'm behind the curve!), especially since it has gotten such great reviews and won so many awards. I think books like The Handmaid's Tale are important, especially in today's society, because they serve as a reminder of the need to stay vigilant in the continued battle for equality and how easily it can disappear.

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Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rather enjoyed this third installment of The Mysterious Benedict Society series. I love the characters created by Stewart and they are all back in this novel. Just like the others, this book is full of adventure, mystery, problem-solving, humor, and heart. While the plot was a bit more far-fetched than the others, in the end, I didn't mind as much as I normally would because I love the characters so much that I just went along for the ride. I thought Steward did a good job wrapping up loose ends and I was pleased with the ending.

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Review: A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a dog lover, I firmly believe that dogs do have unique personalities and do feel emotions. There is nothing like the love and loyalty of a dog. The dogs that I have had have truly enriched my life. They are remarkable creatures and I love stories where dogs are the star. They tend to be wonderful stories full of heart and lessons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story from start to finish. W. Bruce Cameron did a wonderful job of getting inside the head of a dog and the narrative felt believable like a dog really was telling the story. I enjoyed how he wove the different incarnations of Bailey together, representing the spectrum of experiences. Some of them were hard to read and it makes me so sad to know that there are people in this world that treat animals with such cruelty. However, there were also some wonderfully uplifting parts of the story. The end is bittersweet but satisfying. If you're a dog lover then this book is worth your time.

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