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Interviews | September 2, 2014

Jill Owens: IMG David Mitchell: The Interview

David MitchellDavid Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
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    The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell 9781400065677


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Melinda Ott has commented on (132) products.

The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
The Story of Land and Sea

Melinda Ott, September 18, 2014

There are books that are suspenseful or romantic or funny....The Story of Land and Sea is beautiful.

I was immediately drawn in by Smith's writing. Her voice is surprisingly lyrical for a debut author and, if nothing else, I'm glad that this book introduced me to her work. She was able to vividly recreate the world of late 18th-century North Carolina so well that it made me homesick for the years I spent living in that part of the country.

The characters quickly became dear to my heart. We have John, the ex-Pirate (yes!) turned soldier, his vivacious wife Helen, his spunky daughter Tab, and his widowed father-in-law, Asa. Along with this family, we have Moll, the slave given to Helen when they were both children, and her oldest son, Davy. Each and every character came to life as I read and I fell a bit in love with each and every one of them.

This book is more a study than it is a story. Smith takes her time to really delve into each and every relationship in this book--and not a single one of them is simple. However, in exchange, this is not a strongly-plotted novel. Personally, I'm fine with that--I would choose a character-driven book over a plot-driven book any day of the week.

However, because of that, I feel I can't give this book the 5 stars that it was for me. I suspect that some readers may be frustrated with the less-developed plot, especially if they are more interested in the story than the characters. On the other hand, those who put more stock in well developed characters and setting would likely fall in love with this book as I did.
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Wives of the Patriarchs #03: Rachel by Jill Eileen Smith
Wives of the Patriarchs #03: Rachel

Melinda Ott, September 8, 2014

I chose this book almost completely out of curiosity. I had previous read Michal by Jill Eileen Smith and I liked her premise of basing books on wives of notable Old Testament men, but I wasn't sure how she would handle this one.

The story of Rachel and Leah is well known, but here is a very high-level run down for anyone not familiar with the story from the book of Genesis. Jacob, who is a sort of shifty fellow in his own right, flees Canaan for the land of Uncle Laban. There, he sees Rachel and falls in love with her. He works out a deal with her father, Laban (yes, they were cousins--but who wasn't?) that he will work for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel. He does his time, gets married and the following morning when he lifts the veil---there is Rachel's older sister, Leah. Leah is described as having "beautiful eyes" in the Bible, while Rachel is just plain beautiful. Jacob is not exactly happy about this, but agrees to work for another 7 years for Laban to marry Rachel as well. So, now he's married to two sisters, but only loves one. God takes pity on Leah and "opens" her womb and she starts giving birth to son after son after son (which of course would make someone question Jacob's "eyes only for Rachel" policy). Rachel realizes she is barren, so she gives Jacob her maid Billah to have sons in her stead. Leah, not to be outdone, then gives Jacob her maid Zilpah for more sons--while herself still having children--and a full blown baby making war ensues. Rachel does end up giving birth to Joseph, who becomes a major Patriarch and the subject of a Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, as well as Benjamin. All in all, Jacob ends up with 13 acknowledged children--12 sons and 1 daughter--from Leah, Rachel, and their maids. (And, of course, family dysfunction carries on...and on...and on...)

So, this is a story of lots and lots of, well, sex. And that is not exactly something you see a lot of in Christian fiction. It is also a story of a lot of really uncomfortable family dynamics, which isn't always fun for the reader. I was really curious to see how Smith handled this, and to my view, she wasn't completely successful.

I will come right about and admit that part of my problem was that I just didn't like how she told this story. Jacob, who has a history of his own scheming (I won't go into it--it's all there in the Book of Genesis) comes across as a lily-white saint. There are some vague references to stealing his brother's birthright, but Smith seems to gloss over that. Frankly, I think he would have been more interesting if Smith had stuck closer to how the Bible's version of him.

Before reading this book, I was firmly in the "Team Leah" camp and this book did nothing to change that. I found the character of Rachel to be childish long past the point when her character should have been behaving in such a way. And, I realize this is petty on my part, but it annoyed me every time that Smith referred to Rachel's beautiful eyes. Yeesh! That is the only thing Leah had and you give it to Rachel?

Smith does a good job of sticking to the scripture but, and this is probably the only time I will every say this, I wish she had taken a bit of artistic liberty in one area. The "rape" of Dinah comes up at the end of this book--where it does in the Bible--and it is just too big of an event to not devote quite of bit time and energy to. I would have been more than happy to forgive that omission from this story.

I will say that Smith does an admirable job of trying to get this story into the "Christian Fiction" genre. Ironically, this book is not overtly "Christian"--what I mean is that a non-Christian reader could read it without feeling they were being preached to or having to struggle with beliefs they may not share.

However, I probably wouldn't recommend this to a non-Christian reader--not because of anything in this book, but because there is a much better book out there. Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which is the story of Dinah, is a fantastic novel that really digs deep into the relationships between all these women and explores the role of women in the days of the Patriarchs. It is not, however, a Christian novel (Diamant herself is Jewish) and it is more graphic than some readers of Christian Fiction would appreciate. It is for those readers I would recommend this book. For me, however, it just didn't work.
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How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

Melinda Ott, September 2, 2014

I picked up this book because I had heard a number of good things about it on a few book podcasts I enjoy. It sounded quirky and fun and a good choice to break up a string of heavier books I'd been working through.

This book was both completely and not at all what I expected. It is original and quirky with a touch of magic realism, which I appreciated. Sometimes the quirks were a bit too much for me, but I loved the "not of the world" aspects of the story. Netzer is also fun to read with a keen sense of humor.

I will say the premise of the book intrigued me more than the actual book. At the end of the day, this is a romantic novel (I wouldn't call it a "romance," as it doesn't fit that genre). There are two story lines happening--the budding romance between Irene and George and the secret plan concocted by their mothers Unfortunately, I think the presence of two plots sort of short changed both. Neither story really went as deep as I would have liked and I never really felt like I got close to any of the characters.

I will readily admit that this might be a case of a book just not being a very good fit for the reader. I have reader friends who I think would really enjoy this book, even though I can't say that I did.
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Henna House by Nomi Eve
Henna House

Melinda Ott, August 28, 2014

I'm really torn about this one. On the one hand, I loved reading about a culture--the Yemeni Jews--about which I knew precisely nothing. I think it is too easy for non-Jewish readers to think that there is only one or two types of Judaism, so I really enjoyed learning about this particular culture. And I think this is the first book I'd ever read that was set in Yemen, so there is that.

I also really loved Eve's writing voice. She's lyrical without getting too wrapped up in her own language. She also strikes a nice balance between explaining culture-specific terms and leaving some for the reader to define for themselves through context. I find that many authors writing about another culture either go one way or the other, so I appreciated that Eve was very moderate in this.

But, there were some technical things about this book that really bothered me. For one thing, I felt like 80% of this book was just backstory for the last 20%. Then, once I hit the point where the story really began, the pace of the book picked up so much it felt like a race to the finish. I do wish that Eve had evened out the tempo of this book so that the reader doesn't feel like the story starts to fly by them right as it starts getting good.

Eve also seemed to have trouble with foreshadowing and extraneous details. There were a number of details that felt like they should be developed into the plot but just never went anywhere. Conversely, the bonafide foreshadowing was very obvious and almost felt like there should be a "dut dut DUN" every time it occured.

There was one other thing that made me very, very uncomfortable about this book. I actually tried to ignore it when evaluating my thoughts of this book, but it ended up coloring how I saw much of the book. At one point in the book, rather early on (which was especially unfortunate as it did color most of the book afterwards for me), there is a rather graphic sexual incident between two prepubescent (ages 10 and 11) children. I have a reasonable tolerance for sexual content in books, but not when it concerns children. To me, it was incredibly inappropriate and, frankly, not even necessary to the story.

So, there are my jumbled thoughts. I honestly don't know if I would recommend this to another reader--there is, after all, much to commend it. However, there are also enough drawbacks to make me question it as a recommendation.
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The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
The House We Grew Up In

Melinda Ott, August 18, 2014

Since it becomes quite obvious early on, I don't think it is a spoiler to say that this book is about, among other things, hoarding. I'm actually rather glad that this wasn't spelled out in the summary because I'm not sure I would have read this book if it was. There are some borderline-hoarders in my family and, well, this isn't a topic that would appeal to me.

That being said, I am so glad that I read this book. Jewell has written a masterpiece with this one--we meet the Bird family, centered around the eccentric mother, Lorelei. Lorelei's children (and husband) are aware of their mother's illness and we see how the ripple effects of that illness show up in her children.

This story is told in sort of a double-flashback. One one layer, we have the oldest daughter Megan and her daughter (and then other members of the family) in the present day. Then, we go back a few months in time to Lorelei's email correspondence with an internet suitor. Finally, we go farther back in time to when the children were growing up and into their adulthood. This structure shouldn't work....but it does! It sounds confusing, but Jewell actually does this quite seamlessly.

I really enjoyed seeing how the characters developed. Each had their own cross to bear and none could escape the effects of Lorelei's illness. I felt that the characters and their evolution were believable--with one exception. Colin's story arc was a bit over the edge for me. It almost felt like Jewell was using him and doing everything in her power to keep a secondary character in the story to catapult part of the greater plot along (if that makes any sense).

Lucikly, Colin's storyline was the only drawback for me and, if it hadn't been for that, I would have given this book 5 stars. I heartily recommend it!
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