Book Review: Heaven is for Real

•September 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I will not be giving out spoilers in this, or any other, review.

Author: Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

Summary: This is the true story of four-year-old Colton who went through a life-saving surgery, and, during it, slipped from consciousness and went to Heaven for a few brief moments. He survives the ordeal and begins to tell his parents about the experience over the course of a few months, from his view of the doctors operating on him to seeing his great-grandfather in Heaven.

Review: I reserve this statement for a good handful of books sometimes, but I can more honestly say that this is a book that I would never pick up and read without someone pushing me to do it. I borrowed the book from my friend’s mother who was adamant that I read it.

My main concern with the book is that no four-year-old talks the way that Colton does. I have a problem with accounts written by someone else, especially by a biased party like a family member. Skepticism immediately surfaces – how do I know this guy isn’t embellishing what his son is saying? I kept thinking about how Colton’s experience took place over the course of three minutes. Three minutes. During the next few months (and later years), he can supposedly recount that brief window in time in great detail: what the angels wore, what Jesus wore, conversations between his dead family members, and even details about his family that were supposedly never told to him. This child is four years old, and I have a hard time believing that he is able to recall this sort of information. Human memories are faulty; we know this. Eyewitness testimonies are not even wholly reliable in police reports, and this young child seems to be recalling these stories in a category of detail I would contribute to a much older kid – say a twelve or thirteen year old, if not older. It is not, by an means, in skepticism of religion that I state this as I am trying to make this review as unbiased as possible. I am merely doubtful of the power of human memory, especially in a child as young as Colton.

He also claims to have seen his mother calling other people during his surgery and his father praying in another room. This out-of-body experience, to me, seems like something this child could discern simply by how he has been raised. Colton has grown up in a Christian family – his mother is the head of a ministry and his father is a pastor. I find it entirely possible that he knows exactly how his parents would act while he is in surgery. Of course his father would pray for him. Of course his mother would be calling others to form a prayer chain for him. It is the first thing Christians turn to in times of crisis and need: prayer. There is a high possibility that he could have overheard his mother or father or even another member of the congregation speak about the prayers. A child hears and picks up on more than we give them credit for (something I am finding out more and more).

What disturbed me as well is that, according to Colton, only Christians can get into this Heaven he is describing. As such, all others – be they of another religion, agnostic or atheist and no matter how good they are – have no access to this paradise when they die. Conveniently, however, his miscarried sister who was never born to be baptized as a Christian was in Heaven. This seems to be a contradiction to me.

Colton’s views of Heaven are entirely cookie-cutter. His father stresses throughout the book that they never imposed images on their son during Sunday school. However, Colton eagerly describes Jesus with a beard, children seated on Jesus’ lap, people with wings and halos. From what I can recall from my own Sunday school experiences, there are near-identical images of what they teach the kids and what are pictured in children’s bibles. Ask any child, and they will give you the exact same imagery. It is no great mystery that Jesus “really, really loves children.” These are staples of Sunday school educations. Colton describes the markers on Jesus’ palms and feet. Am I really going to take Colton’s words as truth when he says that Jesus’ palms bore the wounds of the nails? It has been scientifically proven that it is impossible for him to be crucified there because his palms would never be able to hold up the weight of the body.

Perhaps I am being too much of a cynic. I began this book with a great deal of skepticism, and it did nothing to alleviate any of it by the end. It seems too sensationalized to be taken with anything more than a grain of salt. It is a heart-felt novel; I felt for the struggles of the family, and I do not mean to downplay their personal testimony. I believe they are sincere people whose son experienced some faith-affirming things. I just do not think this novel could lead anyone to become a believer if they were doubting the validity of religion.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: The Lovely Bones

•August 26, 2011 • 3 Comments

I will not be giving out spoilers in this, or any other, review.

Author: Alice Sebold

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is murdered brutally in her own neighborhood by and is adjusting to her life in Heaven when the book starts. The book is told through her perspective as she watches life on Earth go by with her father trying desperately to solve her murder.

Review: I picked this book up because it came highly recommended by a friend, and all of you probably know the infamy around this novel by now. It sparked a movie and so much love for it that I took a shot in the dark and found the book at the local Goodwill for a pretty amazing price. On a quick side note: Goodwill is an excellent place to find books on a budget (especially a student budget). Alright, with that shameless plug out of the way, I am sad to say that this book goes into the growing pile of books on my closet floor that were great disappointments. It turns out the greatness of the book was more hype than anything else.

Three things were too glaringly upsetting for me to look over:

  1. The narrative is the very first one. To me, it just seemed like the author chose it just to choose it without making it into a viable part of the plot development. I would have loved to see this premise of a supernatural being (i.e. Susie’s ghost/angel/spirit) looking down on earthly events put to better use. Susie’s perspective on the events is just surprisingly lacking and narrow throughout the novel.
  2. I understand that Alice Sebold was aiming for this to be a coming-to-terms-with-death sort of novel; I don’t believe she accomplished that at all. This is where the narrative, again, obstructs this. Susie can’t get into the heads of everyone; she wouldn’t know what they’re thinking, how they’re coping, or any of what we’d expect to see from a family dealing with such a tragedy in their lives.
  3. This third one perhaps upset me the most out of the entire book: at a point in the story, Susie is given the opportunity to enter the body of a friend or loved one on earth, and I would think she’d choose her father. She would choose him and lead him to her murderer. Does she do that? No. Instead, Susie enters the body of her friend as she is having a sexual (albeit very vivid) encounter with a teenage boy. Does it strike anyone as strange and bizarre that a girl that died due to a sexualized act of violence would choose this as a moment for her brief return to Earth? I was highly disturbed by this.
Final Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
I really wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone I know. I’ve heard, though, that the movie is quite good, but I’m a bit fearful of watching it as well. Any of you dear readers seen it before?

Literature on the Horizon

•August 23, 2011 • 3 Comments

Hello, everyone! I want to apologize for the lack of activity suddenly assaulting this blog. All of you might have noticed that I’ve taken the “Post a Week 2011” challenge, and I was following that schedule pretty well for the first few weeks. Book reviews were scheduled for once-a-week updates – seeing as that would be a very manageable schedule once school begins once again in about a month – and everything else was planned for any other day,  including quotes and grammar. As you can see, life decided to barge in and completely dominate that entire plan and throw it to the wayside. Not to say that I have not kept up with the reading, because I have, dear readers! Writing the reviews for these said books, on the other hand, is a much different story. For now, I can tell you that there are three drafts sitting in my posts here on WordPress that are in varying degrees of finished. I should have one of them up by tomorrow, so please be on the lookout for that!

With that in mind, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the people that have been commenting and subscribing. I appreciate all of the love you guys are showing. ♥

With that out of the way, here comes the part where this post is legitimately tied to actual books. As I mentioned in the ‘About Susan’ page just to your right, I changed my major to literature a few months ago and got around to registering for the classes when it was my turn. Three literature classes later and a frantic – albeit very satisfying – Amazon shopping spree, I ended up with eighteen (18) books!

‘Tis true! And still I regret nothing!

I got three of four of them at a time in the mail for about a week, and it was better than Christmas. Really, I kid you not. Please feast your eyes on the beauty of the image below because, quite frankly, I never get tired of looking at them. They’re still in this exact same position on my dresser right this very minute. They haven’t moved an inch. No lie.

Gorgeous sight right here!

Book Review: The Club Dumas

•August 10, 2011 • 2 Comments

Note: I will not be giving out spoilers in this, or any other, review.

Author: Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Translated by: Sonia Soto

Summary: Book detective and cunning mercenary Lucas Corso suddenly finds himself with the part of a manuscript of The Three Musketeers by the famous Alexandre Dumas. His job is seemingly simple and something he makes a living out of: authenticate the piece of history to see if it is actually what it seems. However, despite having done this many times already, this manuscript plunges him deeply into a world where the people strangely resemble the characters in Dumas’ famous The Three Musketeers. 

Review: What in the world can I say about this book? It has everything in it to steal my own heart! The summary on the back had me at ‘bibliophile,’ and it makes me long to be exactly what Corso is: a book detective, though the mercenary part has me a little skeptical. I really couldn’t pull that off since I tend to give in to some people a bit too easily… However, I digress!

What first drew me into this book was the juicy, little tidbits about Alexandre Dumas! Reverte incorporates the history of this famous serial writer with ease, weaving this fantastic tale of just how he came to gain so much influence in the literary world. It had me rushing to my local library to look him up in an armful of encyclopedias, and it felt wonderful. It’s been a long time since a book had me doing research about what I’m reading. I was surprised to read that D’Artagnan was, in fact, a real man and a musketeer! He, however, lived and died before Cardinal Richelieu’s time. Ah, as for our villain… He was actually quite good for France, not at all evil like Dumas made him out to be. Did you also know Dumas had a ghost writer for most of his work? No? Well, neither did I!

The plot is fast-paced; you’re immersed in it right from the get-go, and the translation is so flowing and pristine that you’d never realize the book was originally in Spanish. I commend Sonia Soto for the amazing work she did translating for Reverte. Thanks to her excellent translation, I found myself even rooting for such a supposedly ruthless, wolf-like man as Corso. I was expecting, at some points in the book, to completely dislike him – possibly hate him – for what he does, but I was cheering him on as I devoured each page in the novel. The characters truly make a story, and he is one of the best I have ever encountered.

The plot itself takes some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming; it draws you in completely, and you’re working to solve the mystery, not just being swept along with the current. You become Corso as you work to solve the mystery around the Dumas manuscript. That’s the absolute best part of this entire novel: you are in the book detective’s mind, working out the puzzles, making connections in your head and hoping that it coincides with how the story goes when you turn page after page.

There’s so many exceptional points to make about the novel that I find myself hard-pressed to find anything wrong with The Club Dumas. If there was one thing I had to pick out, it’s that, at times, Reverte uses too much history and obscure facts in talking about Dumas et. al. While I found most of it interesting, it also distracted me from what was going on in that particular situation.

Please go out and find this book at any cost! It is simply an amazing thrill ride that won’t disappoint in the slightest.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

User-Friendly

•August 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“A well-produced new book: the look, the smell, the sound, the feel of it in my hands as I open it for the first time. In my opinion, a well-made book is the most beautiful and user-friendly object ever made by human beings.”

– Cordelia Kenn, This is All by Aidan Chambers

(image courtesy of: http://u-think-you-know-me.deviantart.com/art/Books-56464734)

Bibliophiles Everywhere

•July 31, 2011 • 6 Comments

This is our ideal abode. Please send the contractors right away to our homes and proceed to build this modern marvel. No one really needs a living and dining room or even a bedroom; not when you can have book shelves growing from the floor to the ceiling and in every nook and cranny of the room! Even the stairs are shelves – how can this be anything but the epitome of functionality? There is not a single space wasted.

Beautifully Alive

•July 29, 2011 • 1 Comment

“To feel the most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry.”

Gaston Bachelard

(image credit: http://haytraveler.deviantart.com/art/Read-to-Know-We-Are-Not-Alone-220330133)