I have one thing to say about tiny informal reviews. I don't mind it when you write them, but I feel like I'm cheating when I write them. That said, the time frame on my review backlog is just really ridiculous, and this month is crazy busy, so I'm cheating, but I promise I'll make cutesy categories and keep it interesting for you, mmkay?
Review Pitch Fail - Once upon a time, someone sent me a pitch for a review copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I thought, "Hmm, sounds interesting" then instead of answering the e-mail, I wandered off to look at shiny things until a later date at which it would have seemed indecent to reply. Stupid me. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those rare books narrated by an animal that doesn't bury readers in cheese. Enzo, the furry narrator in question, is a wise old soul of a dog whose love, loyalty, and understanding illuminate the realities of a family, Enzo's family, much better than any human narrator could possibly aspire to do. Told as he looks back over his life with race car driver Denny Swift, Denny's wife Eve, and the couple's daughter Zoe, Enzo tells a terribly honest version of a life fraught with joys and hardships. Through Enzo, Stein draws out each character's most admirable qualities but without shying away from or making excuses for their weaknesses either. The Art of Racing in the Rain is funny and touching and had me in tears by the end. Enzo is the dog we all imagine and wish our own dogs could be when we look into their eyes and wonder just how much they understand.
Dystopian Delight - In Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Rhine Ellery lives in a world where a virus allows males to live only until age 25 and females only to age 20. To sustain the population and ostensibly to find a cure, girls are being forced into polygamous marriages with those young men with the means to purchase a few wives. Rhine herself is robbed from the life she is eking out with her twin brother Rowan to become one of four brides to Linden Ashby, son of a sinister doctor who will use whatever nefarious means necessary to conduct his research. Wither is a vivid and, at times, frighteningly possible tale of a world where girls are again only valued for the offspring they produce. Though the story takes place almost entirely in the Florida mansion in which Rhine and her sister wives are held captive, the setting leaps off the page, portraying just the sort of forgotten paradise that might tempt girls to forget their lives and embrace a life of virtual enslavement. Rhine and her sister wives Jenna, Cecily, and Rose are compelling characters who are well fleshed out and sympathetic. Even Linden, a sensitive architect wrapped up in a mess hardly of his own making, inspires sympathy from the reader lending credence to the difficulty of Rhine's choice whether to surrender to this luxurious life that's been forced upon her or to flee back to the life she knew. If good stories and/or dystopia are your thing, Wither is not to be missed. This is one book I'm glad is a part of a series!
Christian Non-fiction? How did you get here? - When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a Christian perspective on helping the poor that might well stand to benefit anyone, Christian or otherwise, who has tried to help someone they perceive to be less well-off then themselves. In today's world where the prevailing method of helping people is an impersonal rubber stamp of "I built X many houses and schools" or "I helped get food to X many children" that serves the giver more than the recipient, Corbett and Fikkert ask us to consider spending the time necessary to tailor our help to a community's needs and, even more, incorporate those being helped into the process so that they will be empowered to seek and maintain lasting change for their communities even after the outside help leaves. Corbett and Fikkert's book wisely advises its readers to always consider themselves to be just as needy in one way or another as the people they are helping thus avoiding the almost-inevitable God complex, the unwelcome guest that always comes along with our better intentions of helping people who have been rendered unable to help themselves. When Helping Hurts is a definite must-read for anyone who wants to create lasting and empowering benefit from the help they have to offer those less fortunate.
Okay, 3 reviewlettes in one day seems like plenty. Especially since they aren't that short. What did you expect? They're short for me. It was surprisingly painless, and I feel much like much less of a cheat than I expected. I could get used to this.... ;-)