Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: The Great Believers

Yale Tishman is at a turning point in his career. If he can get a group of paintings donated to his Chicago gallery, it will be his biggest success yet. But his personal life is not as hopeful--his friends are dying from AIDS and no one knows how to grieve or who will be the next to be diagnosed. He finds comfort in the unlikely friendship of his friend Nico's younger sister Fiona. Thirty years later, Fiona is desperately searching Paris for her daughter. She thought Claire was lost to a cult, but now she will do anything to reconnect with her daughter and try to make amends for the ways she failed her.

I've been intrigued by Rebecca Makkai's writing for a long time. Not every story of hers works for me, but she weaves some kind of literary magic that makes me willing to try again. With this book, she has written herself into a tough situation because every book about a group of gay friends finds itself compared to the devastating A Little Life. The wonderful news is that this book holds its own--there is a perfect balance here between a specific moment in time and the intimate details of any person's life.

Both Yale and Fiona are incredibly invested in what is happening around them, as friends, relatives, and lovers are dying from AIDS. They show how life continues in spite of loss and tragedy, because there are fights with family and you still have to make that appointment and get to work on time. But there is a specter hanging over everyday life as characters wonder if a cough is just a cough or feeling tired means that something insidious is inside your body. The costs are more than physical--there is immense pressure on the ones left behind, the ones who say goodbye over and over again and must keep the memories of their friends alive.

In my reading lately, I'm finding many good books where I am excited to keep reading, anxious to find out what happens to the characters, and invited into another time and place by careful writing. But the books that stand out for me are the ones that are just enough--the author takes us into someone's life and knows when to close the curtain and force us to go back out into the world. The Great Believers is one of those stories. I spent the perfect amount of time with Yale and Fiona and I grew to care for them. Now I am ready to leave them behind and return to my own life, prepared to be a bit kinder and pay attention a bit more because our time with the people we love is a finite gift.

The Great Believers
By Rebecca Makkai
Viking June 2018
432 pages
Read via Netgalley

Also by Rebecca Makkai: The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Bread and Wine

Lent is seen as a time for reflection. Many people give something up as they think about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In the weeks leading up to Easter, many Christians spend more time than usual in prayer and study. Bread and Wine would be a great starting place. These 72 readings come from writers throughout Christian history and across the theological spectrum, including Kathleen Norris, Oswald Chambers, Barbara Brown Taylor, John Donne, Christina Rossetti, Watchman Nee, Madeleine L'Engle, Saint Augustine, and Mother Teresa.

In a perfect world, I would have finished reading this collection of devotions during Lent and written my review right around Easter. Unfortunately, I finished it in May and am just reviewing it now. This is definitely not the kind of book you can race through. Many of the selections require some time to think about deeper commitment during Lent, the temptation and crucifixion of Christ, and the new life we experience because of Easter. As with any collection, different selections will resonate with different readers but the diversity in this book ensures that there is something for everyone.

This would be an excellent resource for any church. Pastors and teachers could certainly draw from this volume during Lent and any Christian will find new ways to think about Lent and Easter and new writers to inspire and teach them.

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Plough Publishing House November 2014
430 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: Smoke and Iron

Jess Brightwell has deliberately put himself in danger by delivering himself to the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. Pretending to be his twin brother, he offers an intriguing business deal between the Library and his family of smugglers. Jess hopes to work from the inside of the library to bring its deadly reign toppling down. Meanwhile, Morgan is imprisoned in a tower in the library, their mentor Wolfe is a prisoner, and Dario, Thomas, Khalila, and Santi have been betrayed and are on their way to certain death. In this fourth book, our heroes have to convince others to join their resistance--they have seen the evil the Library can perpetrate. Will anyone join them to stand against the Archivist Magister?

I have to confess I initially thought that Smoke and Iron would be the final book in this series and groaned a little when I saw that there would be a fifth book. But as I read the story, another one seemed like a great idea. Rachel Caine's world is so fascinating and it's easy to see how she could create another series or two about the origins of the Library and the people who swear to protect it.

Happily, this isn't a book where the epic creation of countries and societies makes up for lackluster characters. Caine has put together a large cast of characters, but it's never difficult to remember who is who and each one grows and changes as the story progresses. The characters have specific strengths, but they also have some big flaws that could ruin everything.

Rachel Caine has written a great series with a world that comes to life before your eyes and characters you have to cheer along their journey. I will certainly be reading the final book to find out what happens to this unlikely bunch of people who will fight to the end for the fate of the Library and for each other.

Smoke and Iron
The Great Library #4
By Rachel Caine
Berkley July 2018
448 pages
Read via Netgalley