2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

What a magical book this was – and to think, I struggled in the beginning and almost put it down!

I love misfit-makes-good stories, and when you add in a little semi-contemporary history and family drama, it usually marks something I will enjoy. This was that, but so much more. The writing is lovely, evocative and tough to read at times because of the emotion and stress it evokes. Sam Hill’s life is anything but ordinary, from the day he first opens his red eyes to the final pages of the book – what makes it extraordinary is the masterful way that Dugoni manages to translate his life into a series of relatable events, even when they don’t resemble anything the reader has actually experienced…

The book reminded me of one of my favorite of last year’s books – The Summer that Melted Everything. If you haven’t read it, do – then read this one. You’ll notice similarities not only in the exceptionally great writing in both, but also in the tragedy that underpins both of the books’ unusual heroes. It’s a good similarity – not at all a feeling of copying or redundancy, but one of inspiration at the magic in the world and heartfelt sadness at the way that magic is all too often misunderstood, beaten down, and ignored…

There was more than a little religion in the story. In fact, I wouldn’t think it out of place to categorize it as Christian fiction, even though it wasn’t. As a lapsed Catholic myself, I sometimes have a tough time with that – religion is often used as a weapon in fiction, and that has never been something I’ve enjoyed reading. Here though, Dugoni uses faith – both the presence and the absence/questioning of it – as a way of illuminating Sam’s life, shining a light (quite literally, at times) on episodes and characters such that you find yourself viewing them from multiple angles in a way that deepens the experience of reading.

Dugoni’s writing style is spot-on perfect – he manages to shift his prose with the mood and events of the story, without it ever feeling choppy or forced. At times the story is sparse, delicate, brazen, and evocative – but always poignant and heartfelt. The transitions are smooth and feel utterly natural, shifting through the panoply of human emotion and life experience in the way that our own minds and hearts do. It was glorious to read as a result. I was thoroughly moved and wholeheartedly enjoyed this one, and Dugoni is definitely on my watch list now.

I won my review copy in the GoodReads drawing, and am exceedingly thankful that I did!

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