@readathon prep: the stack!

Oh my goodness, I feel like this has been the most productive week in my book blogging life! I published three reviews today – all three books I’ve read this year! That seems like a lot but I wrote one review of a book I read at the beginning of the year, the second review I modified from a review on my primary blog (kristaonpurpose), and the third I reviewed as soon as I finished the last page.

#proudascanbe

(Ok, total rabbit trail but it makes me both smile and cringe that hashtagging in blog posts is a real thing.)

A couple of days ago I did a “how am I prepping?” post for the 24 Hour Readathon that’s taking this place. I’m just popping in with an updated!

Location
I will for sure be at my parents’ house! With internet access besides my phone! Granted, I have my ten-year-old sister and two of her little buddies who are spending the night, plus three nutso dogs, to content with, but where there is a will there is a way.

Media
I think this is pretty much the same. Yes to twitter, blogging, and instagram. Very limited to facebook and texting.

And now… drum roll… the reason why we do the readathon…

BOOKS! (books are below after lots of boring, mathy analysis)
I’ve been so excited to pick out what books I want to set aside for this, my very first, complete readathon, but I’m dog sitting and trying to be careful with how much I spend on gas so I forced myself to wait until tonight, when I had a class near my house, to pick out my books. Here’s what I’m aiming for. I am not a fast reader, just a consistent one. That said, I don’t anticipate finishing all six of the books below. Two, maybe three if all goes well.

What are my books, you ask? Here you go!
IMG_1951The end. Haha, just kidding! A little about the books before I go. I don’t want to hurt their feelings!IMG_1958This picture is terrible but my phone and computer weren’t playing nicely. I have never read The Phantom Tollbooth but have always wanted to so here I go! I thought this would be a fun, more simple read since it’s geared toward a younger audience. (Not that I think that means it’s easy – just a good change of pace!)

From GoodReads:

Milo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life.

IMG_1946Saw Girls in White Dresses while doing my daily browse in the Paperback Store part of Barnes & Noble’s website. Into my cart it went, and into my reading pile it is.

From GoodReads:

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working at a mailing-list company, dizzy with the mixed signals of a boss who claims she’s on a diet but has Isabella file all morning if she forgets to bring her a chocolate muffin. Mary thinks she might cry with happiness when she finally meets a nice guy who loves his mother, only to realize he’ll never love Mary quite as much. And Lauren, a waitress at a Midtown bar, swears up and down she won’t fall for the sleazy bartender—a promise that his dirty blond curls and perfect vodka sodas make hard to keep.

IMG_1947It’s like they picked the most heart-breaking cover possible for Unsaid and placed it strategically at Target where they knew I’d see it. And since I can’t ever unsee it, I’ll read it.

From GoodReads:

As a veterinarian, Helena had mercifully escorted thousands of animals to the other side. Now, having died herself, she finds that it is not so easy to move on. She is terrified that her 37 years of life were meaningless, error-ridden, and forgettable. So Helena haunts– and is haunted by– the life she left behind. Meanwhile, David, her shattered attorney husband, struggles with grief and the demands of caring for her houseful of damaged and beloved animals. But it is her absence from her last project, Cindy– a chimpanzee who may unlock the mystery of communication and consciousness– that will have the greatest impact on all of them.

When Cindy is scheduled for a research experiment that will undoubtedly take her life, David must call upon everything he has learned from Helena to save her. In the explosive courtroom drama that follows, all the threads of Helena’s life entwine and tear as Helena and David confront their mistakes, grief, and loss, and discover the only way to save Cindy is to understand what it really means to be human.

IMG_1948I am a giant fan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I bought Joy in the Morning not long after I finished it. For the last week I’ve been calling this ATGIB‘s sequel, but it’s not – it’s a book independent of the other’s plot. I’m really excited to make good headway into it this weekend!

From GoodReads:

In Brooklyn, New York, in 1927, Carl Brown and Annie McGairy meet and fall in love. Though only eighteen, Annie travels alone to the Midwestern university where Carl is studying law to marry him. Little did they know how difficult their first year of marriage would be, in a faraway place with little money and few friends. But Carl and Annie come to realize that the struggles and uncertainty of poverty and hardship can be overcome by the strength of a loving, loyal relationship.

IMG_1949I am a huge Flannery O’Connor fan and this collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, has two of my favorites: the title story and “The River.” All so sad, which is kind of why I love her writing.

From GoodReads:

This now-classic book revealed Flannery O’Connor to be one of the most original and provocative writers to emerge from the South. Her apocalyptic vision of life is expressed through grotesque, often comic, situations in which the principal character faces a problem of salvation: the grandmother, in the title story, confronting the murderous Misfit; a neglected four-year-old boy looking for the Kingdom of Christ in the fast-flowing waters of the river; General Sash, about to meet the final enemy.
IMG_1950I’ll probably try to make Firefly Lane my first read because it’s the longest and Picoult’s writing is beautiful but tends to change POVs often so I’ll need fresh eyes and a rested brain to keep track of what I’m reading! There’s a sequel to this that I accidentally bought, not knowing it had a book before it, and I have purposefully waited to read it until reading this first. So here I go!
From GoodReads:
In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all—beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness.

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship—jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

There you go! That’s my pile. Comment so I can check out yours!

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I’ll be going shopping for snacks soon (probably Wednesday), so expect that awesome update!

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Book review: Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider

18126822Tsh Oxenreider, author of the deceptively-titled* Notes from a Blue Bike, is a Christian mom, author, and blogger. She used to write a SimpleMom.net but the way her business was set up changed and you can find her at The Art of Simple. This is supposed to be a book that deals with living slowly and more intentionally, making time for the things that matter to you and eliminating from your life the things that don’t.

I really appreciate that this book isn’t simply a 200+ redo of her blog because that’s annoying when bloggers to do. Tsh instead capitalizes on the central theme of her blog – simple living – and attempts to tackle it more thoroughly in book form. Unfortunately, there are several reasons I don’t really think she achieves this goal.

  1. Structure Issue #1: The chapters are so short. Maybe that’s because her main goal is to keep the whole book simple, and initially she does this well as she breaks the book into five sections based on the five things she and her husband have claimed as important in their lives: food, work, education, travel, and entertainment. I loved that concept because she really broke down what her family valued and she kept it basic. It’s when she got into the meat of chapter that she lost her steam, because there isn’t any meat there. The chapters are typically 2-4 pages and just when you think she’s going to get to something deep and meaningful, she’s moved on to a separate chapters. These read more as anecdotes from life than advice on simple living.
  2. Structure Issue #2:  The chapters are divided by location. The Oxenreider family loves travel and has lived in a lot of different places. There’s even a really cool map at the beginning of the book. While it’s awesome to see their love of travel in action, breaking up the chapters in this way doesn’t help in telling a story about simple living because it seems so hurried and jerky. If I want to read about simple living, I don’t want to feel like I’m being jarred.

Those criticisms aside, there were parts of the book that I really liked a lot, especially the entire section on education. Although her family isn’t homeschooling this season, Tsh talks a lot about the decision on how to educate her three kids and how what’s right one year might not be right the next – and she speaks from experience, having both homeschooled and sent to public school. I have always maintained that when I have kids, I will homeschool them (as long as it’s what is best for them and not a selfish decision on my part) and Tsh really validated some of those thoughts. In fact, at one point I felt like she could be describing me:

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. I had felt I was a creative person when I was in the public school system, but looking back, I realize I was never really encouraged to tap into my creativity and stretch my boundaries. My grades were good enough to put me in the top guarder of my graduating class, but by the time I tossed that cap in the air, I was tired of school… I don’t doubt any of my teachers intentionally left me in a malaise, but I do wonder how much more of a curious student of life I’d be today if I’d been given the tools that fit me best when I was younger.

I didn’t graduate school feeling tired of it but more annoyed by it because I could feel the tension of creativity and the desire to create in me and aside from two English teachers, my creative side was rarely, if ever, encouraged. I do often think how I would have benefited from nontraditional education that honed in on my creative skills and love of reading as a child and teenager. Tsh does a good job of explaining how this is important to her family and how she educates her kid.

Something I really appreciated in the education section as well is that Tsh highlights the importance of reading to your kids, regardless of how you school them. Study after study has shown that kids with access to books in their home, even low-income kids, do better in school and go further than kids without. I wish I could hammer this into the head of every adult (even those without kids!) because it is CRUCIAL.

Ultimately, there is value in this book, although I don’t think it exactly sets out to do what it it intends to do.

*Ok, unless I’m a totally oblivious reader this week, I didn’t see any references to the blue bike mentioned in the title until the end. I feel like this book had a kind of deceptive premise as well as title!

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Book Review: Chasing God by Angie Smith

I’m a giant, huge fan of Angie Smith, blogger and speaker extraordinaire. I’ve always appreciated that Angie’s writing is so honest. I’ve been reading her blog since not long after her daughter Audrey was born and died hours later, and she’s always had this incredible gift to capture powerful emotions in her writing – and even better, she’s got an even bigger gift for bringing those emotions back to the Lord. Sometimes I get all kinds of caught up in what I’m feeling and trust me when I say I feel ALL THE THINGS and I spiral out of control with oh the emotion. In those moments, I need to be smacked in the face with a reminder that God is always bigger that whatever I might feel – because my feelings are quick and changing and varied, but the Lord is long-suffering and never changes and remains the same. Angie’s blog and books have always been a smack, a gentle smack but a smack nonetheless, in the face.

Enter Chasing God.

Maybe you’ve never asked the question out loud, but you’ve wondered. You do the things that look good on paper: read your Bible, pray, attend study groups and go to church on Sundays.

But you aren’t convinced you really know Him.

Angie Smith understands, because she had run circles around the same paths searching for Him, frustrated at her lack of progress. And she probably would have continued to do so had it not been for one realization that changed everything.

She wasn’t following God; she was trying to catch up with Him.

And without realizing it, you may be as well.

It’s a distinction that affects every aspect of our lives with Christ, and it begins with learning where we’ve relied more on man’s explanation of God than God Himself.

So many requirements, so many rules, and so much guilt where there is supposed to be freedom. It’s the reason you wonder if you’ve measured up, and the nagging voice that tells you you’re a failure as a Christian.

Three simple words changed everything for Angie, and she believes they can do the same for you.

(From Goodreads)

Honestly, when I first read what the book was about, I really struggled with the concept. Isn’t chasing after God a good thing? After all, if we are chasing Him, we are trying to get to Him. We are trying to know Him. And then I started reading the book and I realized exactly why it was not a good thing. Not a good thing at all.

Because I have been bent over a Bible, looking at His words but not living them.

My heart is one of an academic. I love school and books and learning and everything about education. And that is exactly where I realized I kept finding myself in the God-Krista relationship. I was chasing Him through texts and commentaries and sermons on podcasts. None of these things are bad by themselves, but my heart was in the wrong place.

I wanted to master the content but not the Creator.

(Wow, I feel like that sounded really deep, which means I probably read it somewhere else and am unintentionally stealing it. If you recognize this statement, please let me know and I’ll give credit where credit is due!)

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with the lead pastor at the church where I work. He has an incredible mind for recalling verses from the Bible verbatim in seconds. I do not have this ability. Not at all. It took me six weeks to memorize ONE verse from Pslam 45. I was reflecting on the fact that I wish I could remember verses the way he could when I had this totally random and totally profound realization:

God knew when He was doing when He designed my brain (well, that’s not really that profound). He gave me a love and thirst for words and for knowledge, but He didn’t give me a mind able to recall it after one go-round because then I’d never pick it up again. I’d chase Him until I mastered Him and then I wipe my hands off and smile and feel proud of conquering the subject. He gave me instead a mind that loves to learn but must read and reread and talk about things and reflect on them in order for them to sink in.

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THANK YOU, LORD. For knowing me much better than I’ll ever know myself. Because I know to know You, not just understand You. If that means reading and reading and reading Your Word repeatedly, then I’ll do it.

I’ve gotten a little off topic here. Chasing God is Angie’s story of how she found herself doing exactly what I was doing, although in different ways. (We do share a strong affinity for highlighters and Post-It notes, however.) I didn’t get what it meant to chase God until Angie explained it… and then I realized how very much I saw myself in her. Through personal stories — which is Angie’s style (very conversational, very real, very connected) — we see developed what it means to chase God. Her writing is witty and powerful and relevant to women in all seasons of life. I cannot praise it highly enough. Some of the (many!) things I have highlighted in my copy include the quotes in these graphics that Angie shared on Facebook and Instagram:

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I think what really hit home the most for me as Angie’s writing unfolded is that for those who seek God, it’s often because we desire to know the answers when the reality is, our minds are finite. We are human, we are being sanctified, and He will only share with us what we need to know. Not all of it. What He sees fit.

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And Angie so succiently reminds readers that it is when we put aside the quest for factual knowledge and see to know, personally and intimately know, God — it’s then that we aren’t looking for Him but instead looking at Him. She clearly explains the difference — and I get it, I really do. Because my relationships with my friends would be so different if I only wanted to know the cut-and-dry details of them instead of spending time with them developing a relationship with them. Why should God be different? He should be my very best friend – and we don’t chase our very best friends.

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Here is the kicker for me: when I find myself chasing God, running breathless in an attempt to catch up to Him — it’s then that I’m relying not on faith but my own power. My power is weak and minimal but God’s is not. When I let go and walk with Him instead of desperately trying to catch up and maybe even beat Him, when my faith is resting firmly on who He is, who He will be — it’s then that I am most satisfied and at peace.

Angie is truly a gifted wordsmith. This book would be incredible for a wide range of women, from those just beginning their walk with the Lord to those seeking to spend time together in a Bible study to accountability partners reading it together and discussing how they are chasing God in their own lives.

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Book Review: Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland

sheep17137922I would like to thank the internet for being my eternal, never-ending book recommendation resource. Even when I’m not actively seeking them, I get them anyway. That’s how I discovered singer-songwriter Ashely Cleveland’s memoir Little Black Sheep. It’s Ashley’s story of coming through drug and alcohol problems and finding her faith. I love a good story from the underdog and was excited to buy this with some gift cards I received for Christmas. Sadly I was disappointed by the book.

While Cleveland certainly went through a lot of destructive, ugly, bad things in her life, and eventually allowed God to change her, this book really doesn’t show that. Her stories are interesting but given the complexity of what she’s dealing with here — addition — everything feels rushed. She goes from childhood additions to adult freedom in 200 pages and it just doesn’t work.

I think the best way to describe my lackluster feelings for this book is that it feels so very clinical. She recites the facts of her life, but there seems to be no personality infused with what she’s saying. It’s as though I’m reading a record of things recorded by an unbiased third party: simply the who, what, when, where, why, and how — and any reflection and emotion is absent or forced.

Further, for a book that is by a Christian author talking about how she really found Jesus, so little of this book seems focused on the “how she found Jesus” part. I don’t think it in any way glorifies drinking, drugs, or sex, but its focus is not well done.

Overall, I don’t recommend, and I am honestly shocked by the very overwhelming number of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads given how very underwhelming this book was.

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It’s that time of year

Okay, first of all, I finished a review about 18 months in the making AND I wrote a brief review of a book I’ve read this year. I can officially say I’ve meet my review blogging quota of the year. Haha.

Now that that’s out of the way, I would just like to say how EXCITED I am to finally, finally be participating fully in the Dewey 24-Hour Readathon. I don’t know when I first heard about his, but it’s been literally years since I have longingly tried to participate. But various things came up or there were already events I’d committed to before I knew the date.

Well. This year I pencilled April 26 in my calendar right away and have continued to keep that day sacred to me. Because I would rather wake up at 4:45 in the morning to start my 24-hour readathon at 5:00 am with people all over the world. In fact, just today a friend sense me a text saying, “Do you wanna do drinks next weekend to celebrate you and Becca’s birthdays?” I said yes, and then it hit me that realistically, the only day we’d be able to meet would be Saturday. I contemplated going out with them, and then I remembered how hard I’ve worked to make this day free to myself… and so I wrote back and said “But Saturday is not going to work. I have all day plans.”

What am I doing to prepare? Well, to be honest I haven’t done a ton of stuff yet! Life has been so busy and since I work at a church and this weekend is Easter, all things Easter have been my real priority. After I go home tomorrow I plan on taking stock of what I will need for that day. Here are some of my tentative plans:

Books
Well, this is obviously a given for a readathon! But I need to make a pile of books I’ll be reading. I am not a quick reader but I anticipate being able to finish a book I’m in the middle of and maybe get good headway into another book. Here’s my book to-do list:
- charge my nook (gotta have options!)
- look over my unread books and narrow down my selections
- finish two of the books I’m reading right now (totally doable!) before Saturday

Food & drink
I am really going to make a valiant effort to make in through all 24 hours without a nap. If that is going to happen, I will need energy. I’ve got to get some yummy snacks and drinks to supercharge me.
- milk (for coffee at home)
- coffee
- flavored water (I am in LOVE with the Ice Lemonades!)
- pretzels
- carrots
- chips & dip
- hummus
- a little candy!
- make some easy food to reheat, like bacon and scrambled eggs and pasta with sauce

Media
I am planning on being active on this blog and twitter with minimal  Facebook activity and moderate instragram activity. I need to post a graphic and a message mid-week to tell people that I will be unavailable!

Location
I don’t have internet at home, aside from my phone, which is fine for twitter and instagram. But even though I can use the WordPress app, it’s kind of hard to blog consistently throughout the day using it. So I plan on starting the day at home, working my way  to the library at 10, when it opens, until 5, when it closes (snacks packed in my bag!). This will I will have internet access and a comfy place to read (there are tables and places to curl up with a good book). Another option I’m thinking of is spending Friday night at my parents’ house and staying there all day, which will be an easier and far more comfortable option – I’ll just have to make it clear that I’m unavailable. Thankfully they have a spare bedroom I can hole up in, or I can sit outside in the California sunshine!

I think that’s it for now! If you have stumbled across this blog and are participating in the readathon, tell me how you are preparing for it! Can’t wait to read “together” at this time next week!

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Book Review: Until I Say Goodbye: A Book about Living by Susan Spencer-Wendel

goodbye17553448Imagine your body healthy, your life active. Then imagine your body slowly shutting down, one piece at a time, until the only movement you have left is in your right thumb. ALS has taken your body captive but not your joy and not the remaining time you have left. Susan Spencer-Wendel didn’t have to imagine this happening to her because it did happen, and Until I Say Good-Bye is a memoir chronicling her battle with ALS and her plan to live life to its fullest while she still had the ability.

I saw this book in Oprah Magazine last year and put it immediately on my Christmas wish list. I was so very happy to receive it. Spencer-Wendel, a former reporter, uses that right thumb and her iPhone to tap out an entire book, letter by letter, that gives readers an insight into what’s happening in her mind. It is a somewhat painful read because you are acutely aware that Spencer-Wendel is dying. There is no cure for ALS, and the ultimate result of the disease is death. I held my breath during the last few chapters, waiting for an epilogue from Spencer-Wendel’s husband. (To the best of my internet researching ability, I am fairly confident that Spencer-Wendel is still alive.) Thankfully that epilogue never comes, and readers get to enjoy hearing about Spencer-Wendel’s family, how she made the best of her last year of real mobility, and how is coping in the prison that has become her body.

I’ve read a lot of criticism about this book because Spencer-Wendel is relatively well-to-do and has access to the best treatments and had connections to the publishing industry that ultimately helped her get this book published. But I think those criticisms are totally unfair. Are they factual? Well, yes. She had a very successful career as a reporter and during that time, she networked and made a lot of connections that ultimately helped her know the right people in the right places. She has access to doctors that many – most, I would venture to say – people suffering from ALS don’t have access to.

But does that mean her story isn’t worth telling?

Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, she is a real person and she is dying. We are all one day closer to death, but the reality is that Spencer-Wendel has much fewer days than the rest of us. She is a mother. A sister. A wife. A friend. She is young – she turned 48 at the end of 2013. And she is dying of a disease that has taken her body from her, but not her mind. It has not taken her joy and her will to be present while she is alive, and that is a story that so beautifully and graciously tells in the pages of Until I Say Good-Bye.

I love this excerpt from the book. I’ll end with this because it so perfectly sums up this book, what you can learn from a dying woman, and why you should read it:

“I cannot lift my arms to feed myself or hug my children. My muscles are dying, and they cannot return. I will never again be able to move my tongue enough to clearly say, ‘I love you.’

Swiftly, surely, I am dying. 

But I am alive today.”

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Book Review: The Persimmon Tree, Byrce Courtenay

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As a high school senior, I was a very troubled kid. Not “doing drugs/breaking the law/wild and crazy” troubled — but I was living in a deep world of pain and hurt that stemmed from a lot of things and it was really hard for me. It made me feel isolated from my friends, who lives were much more average than mine. When I met this new, excited, young teacher from South Africa who had recently gotten married and was finally allowed to teach in the US, I knew my life would be forever changed.

During the spring semester of my senior year, she had an extra credit book club that met during lunch. While she was looking for a set of books in the library, she came across a novel that takes place in South Africa called The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. We read that book and discussed it, and although I didn’t need the extra credit, I went anyway because it was the one day each week where that dark, painful place I was in ceased to exist.

Over the years, that teacher (who I now call Mom) and I read more of Courtenay’s books: Whitethorn and April Fool’s Day and Tandia and the list goes on. Here’s the thing, though. Americans are kind of stupid about which books of foreign authors they let into this country. Despite the fact that Barnes and Noble consistently sells copies of The Power of One, they don’t stock Courtenay’s other novels, so my mom and I have been left to the mercy of her every-other-year trips home to stock up.

I recently discovered that Audible carries most of Courtenay’s titles in its library so I bought and listened to The Persimmon Tree. I was so happy to have it, but I have tell you, this review is incredibly hard for me to write. The man whose words helped change my life died of stomach cancer on November 22, 2012. I was at Thanksgiving with a friend and my mom as at a different house when she sent me a text: “Bryce Courtenay died today.” In the middle of a warm, happy room, I very nearly started crying. No one else seemed to understand the importance of losing an author whose words have inspired you, but when I told my mom later that night while we were at Black Friday, she got it — because she very nearly cried when she found out, too.

So it’s with a heavy, heavy heart I write this review.

The Persimmon Tree is Courtenay’s usual affair — it’s an epic story of love and loss that has you both cheering and yelling. In many ways, it reminds me so much of the first of Courtney’s books that I ever read, The Power of One. This book begins in 1942, in the middle of WWII, in the Dutch East Indies. Nick Duncan is a butterfly collector in search of one specific, exotic butterfly when he meets beautiful, young Ann van Heerden. The two both must escape as the Japanese come to capture the island, and although they plan to unite in Australia, things don’t go as planned and it is many, many years before they meet again.

Courtenay’s characters in The Persimmon Tree are beautiful created. I think it helped tremendously that I listened to the audiobook version of this book and the reader, Humphrey Bower, is an incredible reader. Every character came to life before me and I felt myself finding reasons to keep listening. Had I been reading this book, the story would have kept me up during the dark hours of the night. Although certain parts of it were formulaic – as I mentioned, it reminds me a lot of The Power of Oneright down to the underdog named Til who Nick befriends (the equivalent of Geel Piet in The Power of One) – it still captivated me. Coutenary’s characters feel like old friends and his settings feel like places I know intimately.

If you are a fan of books that take you around the world, I highly recommend The Persimmon Tree. Its intriguing characters (including a teenage butterfly collector!), strong sense of place, and constant “will they reunite or won’t they?” make it a book that will not leave your mind for a long time. (And if you enjoy in, which I hope you do, there is a sequel called Fishing for Stars).

Most of Courtenary’s books that aren’t available in the United States (at the time I’m posting this, the only one that is readily available at any US bookstore is The Power of One) but are easily obtained using The Book Depository, which has free worldwide shipping.

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