10 August 2007

Reviews – A Bigger Life and Son of a Witch

I picked up A Bigger Life by Annette Smith because of its high standing in Novel Journey circles. And because the subject matter is related to my current WIP.
Joel Carpenter lost is wife because of a stupid mistake. Now a single dad, he copes with raising a child part-time and dealing with a life he never expected to have, and that ain’t good. He misses his wife, Kari, and wants a do-over. Then comes his hardest test, and Joel learns that more than freedom, he wants forgiveness.
Kudos to NavPress for going out on a limb in the CBA world with the subject material: a man who has an affair. Besides that, he’s not a Christian (although there’s a Christian presence of love and hope with the characters that surround him), he smokes, and he occasionally drinks (although not in front of the kids, mind you). The book is good in character development, and once I got to page 140, I was drawn in.
Downside: you have to be faithful to the 90% backstory for the first 139 pages. The story itself doesn’t start until after that. I was okay with that for the most part. My primary question is can I feel the character.
Yes, I felt the character with his East Texas redneck accent. Although, let’s be honest here. Joel was not so much of a guy as much as he was the guy women want a guy to be. Does that make sense? There were several things that one of my crit partners, had I sent a story like this to him, would have told me, “That’s not how a guy thinks!” and I would have had the guy burp or something. Or stop taking all the blame on himself and thinking his ex-wife was and is perfect.
One more thing to watch out for: it gets preachy. A lot of characters talking about how life hasn’t turned out right and what Jesus means to me, and it didn’t always feel natural. I felt the book was strong when it showed Christ’s love active in Christians but weak in some of the conversations before that.
It’s contemporary fiction, but it reads like women’s contemporary fiction, though there’s a guy protag. I know, I know. I don’t make sense. But it’s more like Lisa Samson than it is Richard Russo.
Overall, I’d recommend it. The story flows. It’s hard. I cried. But there’s a beauty in it. There’s love and commitment and reconciliation. Oh, one more thing. For some reason, perhaps due to user error, I couldn't find it on Amazon. Sorry, folks. But it's pubbed by NavPress, if that helps.

Now, on to Son of a Witch (which, come on, is just a downright fun title). This one I read because I loved the musical Wicked, which is the other side to The Wizard of Oz. Son of a Witch is about a boy who might be Elphaba’s (the Wicked Witch of the West) son. Or he might not be. It’s a journey of him discovering himself through discovering his past, but more discovering himself by his choices. I struggled with some things because I hadn’t read the novel Wicked but counted on seeing the musical, so I had to piece together aspects that were different. If you haven’t done either, you need to read Wicked first.
The story is good. I enjoyed it. The character still echoes in my brain, which is always a good sign. It was creative, although not as much so as Wicked. The end was excellent, I felt. It didn’t tie up all the loose parts to make it a Cinderella happily-ever-after, but in the discovery, it is happy.
But it was also political, a little too obviously so for my tastes. Just goes to show that it isn’t just Christian writers who are preachy.
I enjoyed it. I found myself in “one more chapter” mode for most of the book, another good sign. Let me find out what’s around the next bend, then I’ll put it down. Of course, the next bend leads you to the next, and before you know it, you’ve taken a much longer lunch break than you meant.
If you want to read this book, and I think it’s worth it especially if you like fairy tales and fantasy (although there’s not a very big presence of magic in it), say so in the comments. There’s one thing I’d warn you about, although it’s not worth mentioning in this post.


Real Live Preacher said...

Hey Heather,

I've heard of Son of a Witch, and was thinking of reading it. A Bigger Life is new to me. I must say, I like thinking of a woman trying to figure out how a man thinks. Would you care to give us an example of this from the book? I probably won't read it, but I'm interested in the places where you think he doesn't react like a man.

Jenn said...

I read Wicked and thought it contained an amazingly well-developed world, although it seemed the me the question it was trying to ask (and answer) got copped out on at the end. (My feeling about the last Matrix movie, too.) But I liked it enough to be curious about the sequel, so I was interested to read your take. I think I probably will read the book at some point.

Heather said...

A Bigger Life: A lot of what didn't feel guy-ish, or felt more like how a woman wants a guy to act and think, and maybe I'm wrong, is after the divorce, he maintained that his ex had done nothing wrong and that it was all is fault. Granted, he made a pretty dramatic mistake (I'm sure you can guess what), and in the backstory, he would say what he was frustrated with, but then he would say it was all her fault and none of hers. And he didn't fight his ex at all for custody issues but accepted anything she wanted and paid child support without raising a fuss (even though she made more money than he did). They got along fine, very polite, no one did anything out of hurt.
It's hard to find a specific section, but when his best friend from high school visits, a friend (girl) whom he hasn't seen in years, they immediately begin these deep conversations, finishing each others sentences of "like you lost who you are or who you aren't." It's possible, I guess. But he seemed a little too willing to talk and talk about his deep feelings and fears and struggles.
But like I said, still a good book. I still liked it.
Son of a Witch: there is some homosexuality in there. Nothing graphic. I felt like it was part of the gratuitious politics. So for those of you who don't care for that, there it is.

Gina said...

Hey Heather, thanks for the mention and picking up A Bigger Life. I respectfully disagree with your take on her not nailing the male pov. I think she absolutely did. He was all talky feely with the one girl 'cause he was lusting her. I think the most impressive thing about A Bigger Life was the way she nailed the male pov. Now, I'm not a male, but I would have believed the book was written by a guy if her name wasn't on the cover.

Oh, I loved that book! Thanks for mentioning it.

Heather said...

Thanks for stopping by, Gina. You may be absolutely right. I'm not a guy, so I guess I can't know until a guy says yay or nay on that one. And I did love the book, regardless.

Gina said...

I know what you mean, Heather. I don't know any guys except one who've read it. I'd love to know what some men think. Anyway, thanks for covering it!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Good point about non-Christian fiction being preachy. Most people are trying to make some point, but secular writers aren't often criticized for it!

I compared and contrasted Wicked the musical and the book on my site (reading the book also because I loved the show), and found that the musical was much more creative than the book. If you have any questions about the story in the book, feel free to email me (the plotline was quite different). I haven't read Son of Wicked, because I found Wicked to be too crude for my tastes, but now I'm a bit curious.