Friday, October 22, 2021

Review: The King of Infinite Space

Jackson Dane has died and turned his son Benjamin's world upside down. Ben's mother has remarried, he's seeing his lost love Lia in his dreams again, he's not sure who he can count on, and no one knows what will happen to the theatre empire his father built. His best friend Horatio comes to help, and the two start to wonder if Ben's father actually committed suicide. Lia is working at the Three Sisters' Floral Boutique and starting to suspect that there may be something strange about her employers. None of them can predict what will happen at the theatre's annual gala, as they discover truths about themselves and what really happened to Jackson Dane. 

If you know your Shakespeare, you recognized right away that The King of Infinite Space is a retelling of Hamlet. Trying to bring a new spin to a beloved Shakespearean play is a tricky endeavor, but Lyndsay Faye rises to the occasion (as she usually does). Instead of just working with one play, she pulls in characters and elements from multiple Shakespearean tales. This story is imbued with all the darkness and longing of the original work, but it is still accessible to people who have never seen the play. 

The reader gets to experience multiple points of view, as readers hear from Lia (Ophelia), Benjamin, and Horatio. Each of these characters is given new depth and angles. Ben is a philosophy student who is equally charming and manic as he wonders about the purpose of life and love. Horatio, a political science professor, is an anchor and balance for Ben's swings. Lia is an artist, who is trying to decide just how much she wants to depend on her relationship with Ben. 

Lyndsay Faye writes beautifully; her descriptions both bring New York City and the New World's Stage Theatre to vivid life. You can't help but root for and care for these characters, even as they make decisions that will definitely end badly. The King of Infinite Space is a book for anyone who loves Hamlet, anyone who loves a mystery (and yes, there are twists even for those who know the play well), and for anyone who loves a good story about the tragedies and yearnings of life. 

The King of Infinite Space
By Lyndsay Faye
G.P. Putnam's Sons August 2021
381 pages
Read via Netgalley

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Nonfiction Mini Reviews: It's Not Your Turn and Share Your Stuff

There are some seasons of life when it seems everyone other than you is finding success. And you? You are still waiting for that phone call, that breakthrough, or that promotion. In It's Not Your Turn, Heather Thompson Day teaches us that time spent waiting does not have to be time wasted. This author is not talking about waiting hypothetically; she shares times in her own life when she was the one waiting. 

It's hard to see what is happening in our lives with clarity because we have so much access to the curated version of everyone else's lives. God wants to change our hearts and our circumstances, but that only happens when we remove ourselves from the competition no one else knew was happening. Alongside stories from her own life, Day reminds us that not getting our breakthrough right away might just mean we aren't ready yet--we need more time or experience or insight than we have right now. Trials and waiting are good, even holy, work. 

The difficulty of writing a book like this is that it is hard to give one-size-fits-all advice on life. Some parts of this book feel like a Christian living book, while others are closer to pop psychology. In some chapters, Day urges readers to be content with the small things and then encourages them to network and expand in other chapters. But I think this book will be helpful for some people. Day does a good job of reminding us that God is still in charge and we can grow and be blessed in the process of waiting for the next breakthrough. 

It's Not Your Turn
What to Do While You're Waiting for Your Breakthrough 
By Heather Thompson Day
IVP June 2021
216 pages
Read via Netgalley 

When you are a child, friendships are easy. You walk up to the other child waiting to use the slide or hang their backpack in their cubby and ask if they want to be friends. Then you run off to play blocks together and all is well. But for grownups, it can be a bit more challenging. Laura Tremaine had moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles and was searching for real friends. She started by writing a blog and confessing the truth of her life as a new mom. Sharing online led to sharing in person, and Tremaine stumbled upon a magic formula for building relationships--ask good questions, listen well, and share your own stuff first. 

Laura Tremaine provides readers with ten questions to help their relationships go from casual to deep. She shares her own answers to those questions about who she is, what she is afraid of, what broke her, and who taught her how to be. Tremaine is very open about her own successes and struggles, and this book truly reads like a friend telling you stories about their life.

This book is part memoir and part guidebook, as Tremaine transitions to a discussion at the end of each chapter by providing readers with things to discuss with their friends. Share Your Stuff could be a valuable guide for the person looking to deepen their friendships.

Share Your Stuff. I'll Go First.
10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level
By Laura Tremaine
Zondervan February 2021
224 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, October 18, 2021

Review: No Cure for Being Human

We live in a culture that promises that we can control our lives--we can get that dream job, lose those pesky ten pounds, and find love if we just follow certain steps. But of course, nothing is certain. Kate Bowler was 35 years old when she was told she had stage four colon cancer and just a fourteen percent chance of living for the next two years. Like the professor and scholar that she is, she set off to figure out how to live when life is precious but not guaranteed.

This is Kate's second book about her experiences with cancer (you should also read her book Everything Happens for a Reason). No Cure For Being Human focuses on her time in a clinical trial, when she got on a plane to Georgia every week to receive harsh drugs that might save her life. A large part of this narrative is Kate trying to understand what it means to be a good patient when her doctors leave her in the dark about a test result or her mother begs her to rest. 

Reading Kate Bowler's words feels like a gift each and every time because she gives us all permission to admit that we are not in control. She is brilliant, hilarious, and earnest, like when she recalls arguing with the manager of a hospital gift shop about selling books that promise she will get better. Just a few pages later, she writes about leaving the hospital and tearfully asking her dad how she will know she is living the right way in light of her limited time. 

In writing this review, I basically re-read this book and wrote down lines from every other page. This book recognizes that sometimes having faith is not enough. We need to speak out loud the reality that we are scared that we won't have enough time, that we won't accomplish everything we hoped to, that our children or friends won't know how much we loved them. While most of us are not wondering if we will see next year, the reality is that time is finite for all of us. "No matter how carefully we schedule our days, master our emotions, and try to wring our best life now from our better selves, we cannot solve the problem of finitude. We will always want more." If we focus on this truth instead of the catchy slogans about living our best life, will we actually see what is important? Kate Bowler (and I) think we just might. 

No Cure for Being Human
(And Other Truths I Needed to Hear)
By Kate Bowler
Random House September 2021
224 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Throughout time, an unlikely group of people are united by their interest in a single text: an ancient Greek tale about a shepherd named Aethon who turns into different creatures and travels to a city in the clouds. In the future, a young woman is all alone on a spaceship and painstakingly recording the tale of Aethon. In 2020, an elderly man prepares to put on a play of Aethon's adventures with a group of children, unaware of the danger waiting on the lower level of the library. And in the 15th century, a young girl finds comfort in the tale of Aethon as the city of Constantinople is under siege. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr carefully weaves these lives together to remind us all about the importance of story and how we are all connected.

Anthony Doerr found great acclaim in 2014 with his book All the Light We Cannot See. If you enjoyed that book, you will find multiple points of view, a sweeping epic, and beautiful writing in Cloud Cuckoo Land too. In fact, his newest book is even more sweeping with five storylines (plus the text about Aethon) that will take you across centuries and countries. 

As a reader, your tolerance for epics may vary. I found this book to be a very engaging read, but I also thought it was a bit long and too neatly wrapped up. Doerr is trying to say some very specific things here, but I wonder if it would have been even more powerful if there were fewer perspectives and some things were left unresolved.  

Cloud Cuckoo Land is not a casual reading experience. At almost 700 pages, a reader has to commit to this journey with these characters and trust that Doerr will carry them through it. But if you can do that, it's worthwhile to experience this love letter to stories that asks why we keep stories alive and why that matters.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
By Anthony Doerr
Scribner September 2021
656 pages
Read via Netgalley