Monday, March 30, 2015

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: Parallels Better than Expected

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: March 10, 2015
Category: Fiction
Source: I received a galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

I had a sole reason for requesting The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen when I first heard the title. I'm a huge fan of layered and paralleled stories. Layered stories being stories that are written to tag onto an original, and often popular, story. Paralleled stories being new stories that match pieces of an older story, and therefore, retell it in a different time and place while keeping the original meaning and themes. Taking place in 1999, I knew Parssinen's Mercy Louis story would serve as a parallel story. To what, you ask? Oh that's a dangerous question to ask an English teacher on a roll.

Mercy Louis, although spelled differently, rang immediately of Mercy Lewis from the Salem witch trials (please note the spelling difference between Louis the character and Lewis the actual historical figure). The actual Mercy Lewis appears in this historical event; and therefore, as a character in The Crucible, a most popular drama by Arthur Miller, in which he plays out the proceedings of the 1692-93 Salem witch trials and, in essence, its history repeat of McCarthyism in the 1950s. I had just finished reading The Crucible with three American Lit classes and was about to begin with two Honors English 9 classes. Yes, by the time I picked up this ARC, I had read The Crucible, from beginning to end, FIVE times in the first two months of 2015 and watched the Daniel Day Lewis movie as many times. More than fresh in my mind, I couldn't pass up The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, whose cover art features a single length of taut but fraying rope with numerous hands hanging on. Witch trials indeed, hangings and all, metaphorical or otherwise.

If you'd like a quick summary of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, Amazon's is sufficient (except for the last line of it. I think it' I'd like to focus here on things that are beyond mere summary but, at the same time, aren't plot spoilers. Also, these parallels are not needed to enjoy the story. (For the sake of discussion and because of Miller's research in the writing of The Crucible, I refer to and use  his play as historically accurate.)

Author Keija Parssinen didn't disappoint as far as parallels are concerned. Right off the bat familiar names came at me. Wealthy Beau Putnam and his daughter Annie parallel the real life Thomas Putnam (and daughter Ruth), whose "seed have peopled the province" (Miller 28). There is even a disturbed Mrs. Putnam who is relatable to mother and wife Ann Putnam of Salem. Another spot on parallel in Parssinen's book is the reverend. Parssinen has Mercy describe the Reverend Parris as a man whose "pride might cause him trouble" (loc 839). The pride of the historical Reverend Parris became a fulcrum on which the Salem witch trials moved into action. Many other names parallel on smaller levels.

Besides character likenesses, religion plays a large role in The Unraveling of Mercy Louis. Like the Puritans of The Crucible, there are two sides to the church represented in Parssinen's book: the ordinary believers and the over the top, aka fanatics. Mercy Louis finds herself stuck between the two sides. She believes in God and the many things she's been taught of him, and yet, intuitively knows that the extreme measures of her grandmother are not necessarily of God. I appreciated this view from Mercy because it shows that people can live a Christian life without claiming perfection or becoming the stereotyped right wing Christian fanatic. 

This is actually what I liked most about Mercy Louis and this book. Mercy Louis struggles with living out her Christianity, even though she does believe in it. She does things she regrets. She's unsure where lines are drawn or why they are drawn where they are. That is so true to life! People are not perfect - we all mess it up, regardless of what we believe. It doesn't mean we can't be forgiven and it doesn't mean we can't try again or start over. And in the end, Mercy Louis is the true example of a Christian in the grace and mercy she extends to everyone around her, including her fanatical grandmother. 

Looking at this topic of truth and fanaticism, it is definitely paralleled in The Crucible (and even other Puritan stories such as The Scarlet Letter). There is a half a town of major hypocrites, but also plenty of truly good people trying to live a decent Christian life in Salem, such as John Proctor, Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse. These three die as martyrs, dying for the very faith by which they lived. In the Daniel Day Lewis movie of The Crucible, these three go to the gallows reciting the Lord's Prayer, which contains a line asking for forgiveness and forgiving all those who sin against them. The further parallel between these stories is that of Jesus, who first forgave the very people crucifying him.

I'm not sure if The Unraveling of Mercy Louis was meant to be so realistically Christian or simply parallel a popular piece of literature. All I can think is finally, a secular book that represents Christianity as it can be and should be. Thank you so much Keija Parssinen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

Read The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen this week. The review will be up tomorrow, but in the meantime, I found some really dead on quotes! A couple here that "wow-Ed" me this week.

"...she is starting to grasp what she was never able to learn from Mama: that there is grace in serving someone who can give you nothing; and that sometimes love is purest in such needs-meeting." 

"How easy it is to ignore contrary evidence when you’ve already made up your mind about a person." 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Annual Chunkster Classic 2015

First, let me establish two facts. One, I like big books, commonly called chunksters. Second, I actually enjoy classics (well, most of them). And so, a few years ago, a new tradition was born. Les Miserables advertised for release in December of 2012. My mom, assuming I had read it I'm sure, wanted to see the movie with me. Now, I have an absolute rule of not watching any movie whose book I may be interested in. Being a chunkster and a classic, I was interested. I had never seen the musical performed, didn't know much about the story actually, yet understood it as a hugely popular piece of literature. So, of course I set out to read Les Mis in November of 2012, before the movie came out.

Up top, a few uses: dog pillow and as a third wheel.
Bottom: seeing the musical in Pittsburgh.
It ended up being a Les Mis marathon. Not only did I read the unabridged version of the book (1400+ pages), but I also wrote a post, saw the movie twice, and attended a performance of the musical in Pittsburgh, all in a matter of a couple months. I even ended up with a small collection of photos I dubbed "The Many Uses of Les Mis," because funny things kept happening in the month I carried the book around. Like my dog using my fat mass market copy as a pillow.

Just a month previous to the Les Mis release in December 2012, Anna Karenina had come out as a rather artistically creative movie mixed with theatrical elements. I read AK in 2007, so a reread was in order. Plus a close book friend wanted to reread and watch, and I had a new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky to try out. So AK became my project in February 2013. Wrote a post, watched the movie, and a tradition was born. 

Since then I've read The Count of Monte Cristo in July of 2013 and Crime and Punishment in July of 2014. (Notice, I got smart and started reading them in the summer, where work wouldn't interfere.) I enjoyed both stories, especially The Count of Monte Cristo, as our culture alludes to it often. But the movie? Blah, if you've read the book.

And this year? I've been wondering which Chunkster Classic to read for 2015. It just so happens that May 1, 2015 has been set as the opening day for the movie Far From the Madding Crowd, which is a classic by Thomas Hardy, published in 1874. Do I want to see it? Yes. So I have to read it. Do I have a copy? Now that's a dumb question.

Readers! Are you a fan of chunskters or Classics...or Classics that are chunksters? Of which classic read are you most proud?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

I randomly picked up a Mitch Albom book the other day. I have all of his books and always enjoy them. Have a Little Faith was no different. Here are a few good quotes I gleaned from its pages.

"And, as is often the case with faith, I thought I was being asked a favor, when in fact I was being given one." Have a Little Faith, by Mitch Albom

"That kind of love - the kind you realize you already have by the life you've created together - that's the kind that lasts." Have a Little Faith, by Mitch Albom

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Enjoying My TBR Challenge

It has been almost three whole months since I started my one reading challenge for the year, and I'm still going strong. I set my personal TBRs I Own Challenge for two reasons: to save money and to read through the never-ending stack of TBRs I own. I have not bought a single book this year. (Yea, read it again, you read it right.) The one allowance I made was that I can request ARCs because they are free and it would be stupid to deny myself free books!

January started off as an instant success with Orphan Train and Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine books. February was even better! Look at these titles: Where'd You Go, Bernadette; Gulp and My Planet (both Mary Roach); and Landline. All big titles and authors I've been wanting to read for so long.

ARCs have been moving along as well. I've been able to read every single one on time - until March anyway. March is crazy month at work because it's the wrap up of the graduation project I'm in charge of for seniors and my classes are usually in the process of research paper writing. My brain is fried by the time I get home...I nap, sit like a zombie in front of the TV, or surf the Internet. It's sad. Books I've started and like just aren't getting the time needed to form valid opinions.

But once March passes, the projects are finished and the papers are graded, it's back to more solid TBR and ARC reading. So hang in there on these one post a week weeks! Can't wait to see where this challenge takes me next.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sisterhood of World Bloggers

Andi over at Estella's Revenge nominated anyone and everyone who wanted to join for the Sisterhood of World Bloggers award. I'm taking her up on it because March is proving to be quite busy and reading is just not happening. Besides, these are fun to do once in awhile.

1. Which book in your collection is closest to your heart for sentimental reasons? 

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. The copy I own belonged to one of the best young women I've ever had the privilege to teach, Erin. She had a beautiful personality - always smiling, always uplifting. She passed away suddenly July 2014, just a month and a half after graduating high school. I wrote a tribute to her, mentioning Hyperbole and a Half as the last book we shared together, and when I met her parents a few days later they so thoughtfully brought me her copy. I can't imagine that I will ever have a book more valuable to me.

2. What is your favorite book-related website (outside of blogs)? 

Hmmm...Book Riot is the site I seem to read from most besides people's personal book blogs.

3. In your mind, who is the best dressed character in literature (use your imagination)?

The first to come to mind is Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird. I can see him all done up in his suit, standing before a judge and jury. The weird thing is, the story is taking place during the Great Depression, so he probably wasn't all done up. However, his character is so respectable, compassionate, and wise that he just shines in my mind and it almost doesn't matter what he is actually wearing.

4. Which author would you like to be your BFF?

Jodi Picoult. There are many authors I would choose, but she is the first I thought of when I read this question. I would love to hear about her whole process, from conceiving ideas to putting together a story.

5. What is the scariest book you've ever read? 

I learned at a young age that me and scary don't mesh. So the most I really ever read in the scary genre were Goosebumps books. The covers scared me more than the stories themselves!

6. Long books: rewarding or terrifying?

REWARDING! Love the look, feel, and reading of a big book.  Every year I pick a monster of a classic to read and more often than not, the experience I'm left with is memorable and the book itself a great story.

7. Which book cover in your collection would you love to frame and stick on the wall?

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. A bit abstract maybe, and I'm no artist or interior decorator, but I can just see it hanging on a wall.

8. Which character do you wish could walk off the page and start his or her own blog? 

Severus Snape. My daughter is reading the Harry Potter series for the first time and she is totally trashing Snape. I would love to hear Snape's point of view on many of the events throughout the series. (If you don't know why, you need to read HP already!)

9. Most involving short book or short story you've read? 

I'm not really a short story reader, except when it comes to the classics like The Lady or the Tiger and The Most Dangerous Game (stuff I know from school textbooks mostly). My favorite short book is Of Mice and Men. It's so sad, but rich in theme and history.

10. Do you own any book-related accessories (tote bags, jewelry, scarves, etc.)? 

I own tons and I've written posts on at least bookmarks and clothing. And I even forgot some of my clothing in the clothing post! My newest book-related accessory is my book heartbeat shirt, a recent project of TeeSpring. It's absolutely perfect - says everything about me and books. They are as part of me as my heartbeat!

So that's about it! This was fun. I tag anyone who wants to pick it up and run with it to go right ahead. And Andi wrote pretty darn good questions, so I'd like to see your answers to them as well.

Begin the Week with Words

This quotes shows up in the very beginning of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis. I was quite happy to find a good quote so soon in a story! 

"One day is a slim buffer between six hundred teenagers and summer. Pity the teachers, who themselves have been counting down the days since spring break." The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen

Then again, maybe I'm biased? Approximately 55 school days left for me. Spring break is still two weeks away (two days off)! Is it too soon for a countdown?


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Eleanor & Park Sent Me Back

Romance: I've always categorized it in two ways. Some books are nothing but romance, and these rarely work for me. Others have romance worked into the plot and I can work with that. When I picked up Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I knew there'd be romance, but I wasn't sure to what degree. Especially since I also knew the title characters were teenagers. Eleanor & Park is probably the Rowell book I hear talked about the most, and not from the teenage readers in my classes, so it really made me wonder.

Turns out that maybe Eleanor & Park falls between the two romance categories in which I've placed romances. The story does revolve on the romance, yet it doesn't take over the story either...just what I need, another romance category. Eleanor & Park is about...well, Eleanor and Park. Two teenagers who form an unlikely friendship. Or so they think. From how they describe and think of themselves, I think their friendship was pretty likely. Set apart from others for various reasons, they form quite a bond and experience high school as only a teen can. And it sent me straight back to high school. Memories as fresh as ever.

For those of you who don't know, I basically never left high school. Yes, I graduated, but almost every year since I have been in a high school setting. In college there was always field work that placed me in a local high school; I was an active substitute teacher for two years; and I am currently in year ten of teaching high school English. Besides the fact that my own high school years seemed so emotional to me, watching the same replay in my students and my own kids, keeps it fresh in my mind (with the wisdom of hindsight of course). Teenage-hood being what it is, it doesn't take much to get the emotions flowing. Eleanor & Park plays out that high school romance idea very well. 

Now, of course, there are other matters in the story, ones to which I cannot relate. Eleanor doesn't have a good home life, which leads to complications for her and those around her too. But, watch the news, hear a few stories from local police or educators, and you'll find that these circumstances and worse are common among teenagers and their actions. 

Eleanor & Park has been well received by adults and teens alike and for this I am glad. After reading it I realized it could have been poo-pooed as dramatic teen love despite Eleanor's situation in the story. But I remember what it felt like to be me those years. Even if life wasn't as bad as I thought (and it really wasn't), it felt like it at the time. And that's what mattered. Sometimes being firm - setting a kid straight - is needed, but compassion is always needed, if not more. 

My Rowell reading has been a success thus far! I've found Landline and Eleanor & Park spot on for the opposite ages and times in which they take place. Thank you Rainbow Rowell for being a diverse writer in this manner.

One thing I know - you couldn't pay me to go back to high school. Oh wait, I do get paid to go there. Okay well, as a student, no way. What about you readers? Miss those teen years at all?

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Yes! I actually read a recent release within a decent amount of time after publication! Thanks to Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books for offering me her copy of The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, so I could read this raved about story and not break my personal TBR challenge.

For many readers the obvious draw to The Girl on the Train, just out this past January, is its comparison to Gone Girl. (Read here for a thought provoking post from Shannon at River City Reading about such comparisons being spoilers.) Having read Gone Girl awhile ago and seeing the movie (loving both), I couldn't resist the comparison, even though I know better.

And the result? I loved The Girl on the Train, a story about Rachel, who rides the same train every day and gets to know the surroundings of the trains stops. One neighborhood in particular catches her eye and she makes up lives and names for the people she often sees. One day, as she watches from the stopped train window, she witnesses a scary confrontation between the people she often watches, a husband and wife. And then the wife goes missing. Is Rachel's eye witness any good though? After all, she's just a girl on the train. And she's a drunk...double unreliable narrator whammy.

Of course, the story and characters twist deeper than any brief summary or jacket cover will say. Rachel is the main narration, but we also catch glimpses from Anna, the wife of Rachel's ex-husband, as well as Megan in the months leading up to her disappearance. And while there are definitely psychological and storyline aspects like Gone Girl, it's not quite the same either. It's hard to explain what I mean by that without spoiling too much. I think if you liked one, you'll like the other and vice versa. I thought both were great page turners and I like both books, each for their own qualities. So suffice it to say, I endorse this book as a great read that can stand on its own.

Also, as I was waiting to read it, I ended up collecting a group of reviews that I didn't want to read until after I'd finished the book. And apparently, I'm trying to set a record number of links in one post! Here are the links to those reviews:

Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Sarah's Book Shelves

The Gilmore Guide to Books

Read Lately

Words for Worms

Do you plan on jumping into the hype readers? Or have you already...did you like it?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

A true, single sentence quote today:

"But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself." Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Don't we all? New pockets of things we don't want to be.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Bookseller is Two Thumbs Up

This is my ARC cover. I hope
they keep it for the finale edition.
The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: March 3, 2015
Category: Psychological, Women's Fiction
Source: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

One thing you expect from a book with the word "book" somewhere in the title is mention of beloved real life titles. Such as the main character, Kitty, reading Something Wicked This Way Comes and that fact that her cat is named after Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Other titles relevant to the time period pop up along the way too.

But, this book! I loved it. From beginning to end it held my attention. Kitty Miller is 38, lives in a small duplex, and walks or rides her bike to the bookshop she runs with her best friend Freida. But suddenly, when she falls asleep at night, she slips into a dream world where everything in her life is completely different. The more time she spends there, the more she allows her dream life to come into her real life, until she is unsure which she prefers. And, until pieces of her dream world show up in different ways in her real world. If it comes to a choice, what will she do? How can she possibly choose?

I know that short summary of mine is pretty much all that's said of this book on sites like Amazon, but honestly, not much more can be said. Each step into the dream world is like a new revelation in the journey the reader takes with Kitty. I wouldn't want to ruin that for anyone! But, I highly recommend this book!

What is the last debut novel you loved?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Begin the Week with Words

From my one and only Rainbow Rowell read so far, Landline:

"Just because you love someone," she said, "that doesn't mean your lives will fit together."

"Nobody's lives just fit together," Neal said. "Fitting together is something you work at. It's something you make happen - because you love each other."