Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

✰✰✰✰½ When Samuel Lake drives his family to the annual Moses family reunion in Arkansas, little do they realize how drastically their lives are about to change. Samuel is a minister with a calling. Unfortunately his unconventional methods have left him without a church for the next year. Coincidentally, a family tragedy at the reunion convinces Samuel Lake and his family to stay in Arkansas for a year. As Samuel, his wife, Willadee, and their three children Noble, Swan, and Bienville become accustomed to their new home with Grandma Calla, it is Willadee who holds the family together as Samuel tries to find his way again.

Meanwhile, eleven year old Swan makes it her mission to defend an abused little boy named Blade, who lives on a neighboring farm. Blade's father, horse trainer Ras Ballenger, is a brutally violent man who uses violence to get what he wants from both the horses he trains and the people he encounters. As the violence escalates, Swan sets out to save Blade believing that God will grant this miracle. Swan's mission sets a whole series of explosive events in motion that once begun can't be stopped.

Before the year has passed, many of the characters in this novel will have faced their greatest and darkest fears. The Lake family's faith will be tested like never before and only their faith in God, their love for one another, and a miracle can save them.

The Bottom Line: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is the best book I've read so far this year. While the beginning smolders, the story quickly heats up as the reader is drawn into the lives of the well developed characters. Wingfield transports the reader to Arkansas in 1956 and takes you on a journey that includes the joys of love and the depths of despair. I laughed and cried along with the characters. Although this novel covers some very difficult topics, don't let the violence turn you away from this book. While sensitive readers may want to pass this one by, this powerfully written, well-crafted novel is a compelling read. I very highly recommend it for mature readers who enjoy books about family relationships, faith, and courage. It's a classic tale of good versus evil, and this book has it all. Wingfield's debut novel is a success, and I'm looking forward to reading her future works. The characters in this novel will stay with me for a long time.

Also, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake would make an excellent pick for book discussion groups. Wingfield has woven together many story lines in this novel and there are layers of meaning within.

Details: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Paperback published by Random House in 2011. 352 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34409-8 Note: I received a complimentary Advance  Reader's Edition from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book Review: Moonwalking with Einstein:The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

✰✰✰ When science journalist Joshua Foer went to the 2005 U.S. Memory Championship as an observer, little did he know then that just a year later, he would find himself competing in the finals as a mental athlete. Moonwalking with Einstein is the story of Foer's journey to learn the art of memory in a world dependent on both the printed and electronic word. After all, why should we bother with the science of remembering when information about everything is at our fingertips? With just the click of a mouse, we can have the answers instantaneously.

Nevertheless, Foer makes the argument for the benefits of learning the science of remembering. This fascinating book blends the following together seamlessly: 1.) historical information, 2.) the science of memorization, 3.) anecdotes, and 4.) Foer's personal narrative as he sets out to compete in the U.S. memory championships. While the anecdotes were memorable, it was interesting reading about Foer's transformation from journalist to mental athlete. With a little bit of hard work, Foer proves that anyone can learn these techniques.

The Bottom Line: This is an easy read for anyone interested in the science of memory. The material is presented in a straightforward, easy-to-read fashion. While this is not a self-help book, Foer has included several techniques which can be learned by anyone to improve their ability to remember. However, these skills are not quick fixes; the techniques do take time to perfect. Recommended for those interested in memory and brain science. All in all, this book would make a great addition to college bound reading lists. 

On a side note, I read this book for my book club. Foer's use of a conversational writing style is easy to digest and discuss. Our group had an excellent discussion, but we couldn't help wonder what Foer's next project will be. For others interested in using this for a book club, you can find discussion questions at LitLovers and Bestsellers.

Details: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. Hardcover published by Penguin Group in 2011. 320 p. ISBN: 978-1-59420-229-2