C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 1940
Number of Pages: 176
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 7th August 2016 – 11th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.12
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Todd Hasak-Lowy – Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You

Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You

I had such high hopes for this book as it looked like quite an interesting idea – a book written entirely in lists. But at some point, I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for 8 months, so it definitely left me feeling cold. In fact, I only picked it up again because I was fed up of seeing it in my ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, and by the end it felt more like a hard slog than an enjoyable experience.

The premise definitely didn’t live up to the hype. There were so many pages that had less than 20 words on which made the book feel like much more effort than it was worth. And then some pages weren’t really lists at all. In some cases, it seemed like the author had really had to try hard to find a way to get an actual plot into a list format, so some of the list headings were very contrived.

As well as my misgivings about the structure of the book, the plot also felt disappointing too. We are reading from the perspective of Darren, a (frankly spoilt) fifteen year old boy whose parents have just split up after his dad has announced he is gay. I just couldn’t put myself into Darren’s shoes, he just felt whiny and a tad pathetic to me. He winds up on a road trip with a girl called Zoey, who then vanishes into thin air, and he spends the rest of the book pining for her, all the while dragging along a poor girl who thinks she is his girlfriend.

I can’t really write much more about this book, as I don’t want it to turn into a diatribe. I’ll just finish by saying that while I enjoyed the premise, I just feel like it was let down by the execution. 600 pages that could easily have been condensed down to 100.

My Rating: 2/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 656
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 15th April 2016 – 8th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.08
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Barney Norris – Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

First book of 2017! I’ve just set up my Goodreads reading challenge for this year at a lofty 52 books, the same target as 2016, which I managed to fail by a whole 20 books. But I will be better this year, I received so many books for Christmas that I’m desperate to read and I’m determined that I will read them all!

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the book I picked as my first. When I read the blurb in Waterstones, I had great ideas about the contents of the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first chapter almost made me put the book down altogether, the language was so pretentious that I didn’t think I’d be able to stick with it. It felt like the author was using grandiose words and sentences for the sake of it, rather than to enhance the descriptions of the enchanting place he chose as the location for his novel, the quiet city where rivers intertwine, just like the lives of the people we are about to meet.

Then I turned into the second chapter and I couldn’t have been more shocked by the change in tone. From these grand words and lofty ideas to a woman as common as muck. It was such a change that I could have been convinced that a printing error had put two different books together.

And while I liked this new character more than the first chapter, there were parts that bugged me incredibly. I found the bad language used by the character unnecessary and over the top. Every time I read those words, it made me wince inside, and I found it hard to continue reading. I know that we are supposed to take from this that Rita had lived a hard life and she didn’t take any nonsense, but it completely stopped me from relating to her.

We are also introduced to other characters (as one might guess from the title of the book). I found the schoolboy completely relateable and his grief made me want to reach through the pages and cuddle him. Similarly the old farmer who has just lost his wife. His grief was so palpable and his situation so heartbreaking, it made me want to cry for him.

The army wife, I found her so annoyingly self-absorbed and whiny that I couldn’t feel any empathy for her situation. Yes, her husband is away and her son is at boarding school, but she’s so obsessed with how abandoned she is that she doesn’t stop to think about how she can improve that situation, or what her potential actions mean for those around her.

Then the fifth and final character, a security guard at the Old Sarum English Heritage site. He’s such a minor part in the book that it hardly feels like he should be mentioned here, but if only to complain about the return to pretentious language and flowery ideas that I found completely annoying.

The blurb of the book starts:

“One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide…”

This is what drew me in to want to read the book, but the crash isn’t mentioned until we’re well into the book, and even then, some characters have such a minor involvement in the crash that it feels like a very tenuous link. I just didn’t feel like the five lives really ‘collided’, so much as minorly bumped, and I felt let down by my own expectations for the book.

It’s not that I hated the book, there were many parts that I liked, I just didn’t feel connection to the story in the way that I had hoped. I’ll leave you with a quote from the first chapter which I liked when I read it:

“What I see when I watch Salisbury Cathedral cutting the air is a diagram of prayer, the hope at the centre of my life expressed as the burning arrow of the spire shot into the sky, asking us to look up beyond the everyday, see the size and possibility and quietness of the landscape, and imagine something greater than we are.”

If anything, the book has made me want to visit Salisbury and see for myself the ‘burning arrow of the spire’.

My Rating: 3/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st January 2017 – 2nd January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.74
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Anna Kendrick – Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little Nobody

This book encompasses two things that I love. Autobiographies and Anna Kendrick. Since I first saw her in Twilight (don’t judge), I’ve loved her as an actress, and I’ve always thought she’s a very relateable person and very funny (especially on Twitter).

Thankfully, her book didn’t spoil the picture of her that I’d created in my mind, I laughed out loud constantly and hard. She’s brutally honest the whole way through the book, not putting on a front to say ‘oh look at how perfect my life is and how easy I found it to become a famous actress’. She details the low points with a humour and a frankness that I found surprising – unlike some other memoirs I’ve read which felt fake somehow – I’m looking at you, Lena Dunham.

From her upbringing in Maine, through to her move to LA and all the bits in between, Anna gives you an insight into the ‘real’ life of an actress, showing you behind the glamour of the film-sets and the red carpets to see what it’s really like – hint, it’s not as glamorous as you would think. But you also see a whole lot of ‘Anna the person’ as well as ‘Anna the actress’, giving you insights into how she grew up (hint – she’s just like you and me!)

The whole book felt like you were sat down having a conversation with a friend, not forced or staged, just a very natural flow of words, which I heard in Kendrick’s voice in my head. She’s kept her way of speaking in the book rather than polishing up the words and that made it so easy to read, I read the whole thing in two sittings, unable to put the book down, even when my fiance was dying to go out for lunch – I just had to read the last 50 pages!

As you can probably tell, I really loved this book and would whole-heartedly recommend it if you’ve seen Kendrick in films and liked her, or if you just want a behind the scenes look at Hollywood. Fantastic!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 271
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 30th December 2016 – 31st December 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
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Emma Jane Kirby – The Optician of Lampedusa

The Optician of Lampedusa

For all those people who think that ‘immigrants are coming over here to get our benefits and our jobs’. For all those people who say that they are stupid to risk their lives coming over here. For all those people who think the migrant crisis can be ignored. For all those people who couldn’t care less. This book is for you. And it is essential reading.

For this book is not an easy read. It’s not a nice fluffy bedtime story that is going to leave you feeling warm and cosy inside. It’s a harrowing tale of one man’s experience with a group of migrants. A single group out of the many who have endured the same fate.

The optician has been looking forward to the summer boat trip with his friends for ages, and as he wakes up after the first night at sea, he curses the seagulls who are shrieking all too loud. But as he gets out of bed and drinks his first cup of coffee, he realises that those sounds are not seagulls, but the shrieks of dying people screaming for help. And so the optician’s nightmare begins.

We’ve all heard on the news about the sinking of migrant boats, but it can feel distant and hard to understand the true horror. But Kirby has done an excellent job of telling the opticians story in a way that is impossible to forget. I sat on the bus openly weeping for an hour yesterday morning because I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, but I also couldn’t forget that this isn’t fiction. It’s real. It’s still happening.

I don’t know what drew me to buying this book, I think it was partially due to the fact that Waterstones are donating £5 to Oxfam for every copy sold, so I thought I’d have nothing to lose. But I can honestly say that this book will haunt me. It’s impossible not to be affected by the beautifully written prose, and I will recommend this book to everyone.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 117
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 16th November 2016 – 18th November 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.28
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Denise Grover Swank – The Substitute

The Substitute

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I decided to read it on a whim while I was stuck in traffic on a bus and I’d forgotten to bring my paperback with me, so I quickly loaded up the top free books list on the Kindle app, and the cover for this one jumped out at me as I’m currently preparing for my wedding next year.

In many ways, this was the perfect romantic story. But the cynical part of me just couldn’t help scoffing that everything seemed to fall into place way too perfectly.

I found Megan’s character a little spineless. I mean, if you’ve split up with your fiance, you should probably tell your parents instead of just flying home for your wedding without a clue what you’re going to do. And going along with the story that a complete stranger is your fiance is completely bonkers.

But although the story was ‘too good to be true’, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by it. There was something so magical about the way that the book had been written that I couldn’t help but keep reading and rooting for Megan and Josh to somehow work things out and end up together.

I’d say if you’re looking for a deep and meaningful story, this probably isn’t the book for you, but as a light-hearted feel-good romance, it was perfect.

My Rating: 3/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 350
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 29th September 2016 – 12th October 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.9
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Review: Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections

photo-14So this book was the first of my 100 book challenge, and it took a lot longer than it should to read it, serves me right for picking such a long book to start off with! I need to read one book every 3.5 days on average, but here we are on the 6th January, and I’ve only just finished it.

It took me a long time to get into this book, and I found it really hard to keep up at some points. The book jumped around a lot between the present time and the past, with no indication that the time had changed. I found myself a lot of times having to go back a couple of pages to make sure that I hadn’t missed something obvious.

My favourite books are the ones where I feel connected to the characters, but I just didn’t get any kind of connections to the characters, except Alfred and Enid, who were just such a lovely couple that you couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them and their situation.

As well as jumping forward and backward through time, there was also a lot of switching between characters, so at times it was hard to get a good flow from the story. Most of the book seemed to be about the back story for each of the characters, and about halfway through the book, it suddenly switched to a set of people that hadn’t been mentioned for the last 300 pages. I found it quite strange that it switched so suddenly without an explanation, although it did all became clearer later.

The ending of the book really disappointed me. After the copious amount of detail in the rest of the book, the ending seemed very rushed, and I was left with a feeling like after I read the last Harry Potter book – it felt like the last chapter was added on as an afterthought. The book was already at over 600 pages, so I don’t think it would have harmed to just add a little more detail.

All in all, I would say the book was okay, but definitely not one of my favourites, and probably not one that I will read again for a while.

2-5

Review: Emma Donoghue – Room

Room - Emma Donoghue

This book definitely lived up to all expectations! I started reading it two days ago, and I finished it at lunch time today. It was one of the best books I’ve read for a long time, I couldn’t put it down. The book was written in such a way that you felt like you were connected to the characters, so there were more than a few teary moments.

The book is written from the perspective of 5 year old Jack, who has lived in ‘Room’ all his life. His mother was kidnapped by ‘Old Nick’ when she was 19, and rather than tell Jack, she let him believe that Room was the world, and everything else was just TV. The way that Emma Donoghue described the relationship between Jack and his Mum was simply wonderful, I could almost feel the love coming off the pages.

About half way through the book, they hatch a plan to escape. I started reading this part while I was on my lunch break at work, and I was so annoyed when my  hour was up. During the escape and after, I couldn’t stop turning the pages, I just had to know what was going to happen next. I had my heart in my mouth more than a few times!

Once they had escaped, I was unsure about how the story would go, but the book was so well written that it felt like you were on the journey with them. All the new experiences that they have to go through are so well voiced through Jack, all the new people he has to meet, and getting to know ‘Outside’.

When it got to about 30 pages away from the end, I was really intrigued to see how the book would end, as this is where I am usually most disappointed by books, but I loved the way that Donoghue chose to end the book. The trip back to the room and Jack saying goodbye to everything totally made me cry like a little girl, but for me, that’s the sign of a great book!

5-5

100 Books Reading Challenge 2012

This year, I’ve decided to sign up to Book Chick City’s reading challenge to read 100+ books in a year. I love reading, and I read A LOT, so it’ll be good to see if I can manage 100 books in a year. I’ll be trying to review every book I read (in a bit more detail than I have done in the past), and I’ll be making a list on my 100 book challenge page. If you have any suggestions for books I should read, let me know in the comments – I’m always looking for new ideas.

Now Reading: Emma Donoghue – Room

photo-12The Auschwitz Violin was a really good book, too short for my liking though – one of those books that you just don’t want to end. The story is about a man who has been taken to Auschwitz and is pretending to be a carpenter. When they find out that he is a Luthier, he is set the task of creating a replica of a Stradivarius violin. If he doesn’t do it fast enough, he will be sent to be used for all manner of horrific things that happened in Auschwitz. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading books about World War Two.

My next book is one that my cousin Hannah gave me at Christmas – Room by Emma Donoghue. I’m already 55 pages into it and I love it. The story is a bit strange at the moment, but I’m intrigued to see where it’s going to go.