Friday, August 12, 2011

All God's Creatures

Author:  Carolyn McSparren
Publisher:  Belle Books
Review written by Kimberly Ledsome

All God's CreaturesAll God's Creatures chronicles the life of Maggie McClain, a female veterinarian whose mother wished for her a southern debutante life. She became a vet after rescuing a small puppy who was clinging to life.  The night she rescued this puppy changed her life forever.  From struggling through veterinarian school in the sixties and being one of only two female students, to marrying, opening her  own practice and dealing with the ups and downs of life in her practice, this book is so inspirational.  The stories about the animals are heartfelt as Maggie stuggles to be accepted by the famous horse breeders and the old toothless farmers.  The stories had me laughing and crying. After losing her husband she tries wholeheartedly to find herself and in the end finds out what she knew all along - who she really is.  A must read!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality

Blue Like Jazz (Special Edition with dvd & study guide)Blue Like Jazz:  Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Author, Donald Miller
publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2003

Here is another book that I listened to rather than actually read.  Generally, I don't like listening to a philosophy type book as compared to actually reading one.  When I read I like to underline sentences and write notes in the margins.  This is one, though, flows very well. I never felt a need for a pen.  There are no footnotes - which helps with the listening-and the reader clearly announces the title of each section.
     In the book, Donald Miller uses his own formation from young adulthood to the present as a means of discussing various Christian topics such as evangelism, worship, caring for the poor and plenty of others that define who we are as individual people and as Christians.  
   Miller is judgmental, but only of himself.  He sees himself, like most of us probably should, as self-centered and weak, needing the guidance of others and God.  He has allowed this guidance to come from all over with some of his most enlightening sources to be non-Christian people.  Miller is quick to point out that sometimes it is non-Christians who show the most "Christian" characteristics  of aiding the needy and acceptance of all of God's people.  While he definitely doesn't see these people as having all the answers, he recognizes that many Christians and Christian groups can get caught up in being with each other rather than being open to experiences with people unlike themselves. 
       Much of the book focuses on Love.  We must love others unconditionally because all people are God's. God created us all, God loves us all; so to love God means we love all God's people.  he points out that this is often not easy. Miller says that when he is going to meet someone new he intentionally reminds himself to love that person, not just with his words and outward actions, but with his inward thoughts, as well. 
     For Miller, "spirituality" is how we react to God.  He believes that Love must be the guide for all aspects of our spirituality - how we worship, how we interact with others, how we think of ourselves.  This last is not the least important.  Referring to the scriptural commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, Miller understands that we must first love ourselves.  This means that we overcome our self-concern and love ourselves as God made us. That doesn't mean, according to Miller that we stop trying to be better, but that we do love ourselves right now as we are.  
    Spirituality is a journey.  It is at the end of the book that I finally caught on to the "jazz" analogy.   Like jazz, spirituality is fluid. 
     I, personally,  see the analogy in that we, like jazz musicians, follow a general theme or melody then go with it in a way that fits our own skills and creativity.  We mesh ourselves with God's plan. We work with others - the band-to accomplish the "song" not knowing for sure where the music will lead us or when it will end. We must be ready for anything.  We must be ready to play when asked. We hone our skills whether it be hitting the notes on a saxophone,  teaching others, or building a building, we must use these skills to make God's "music" happen
     I recommend this book for anyone, including non christians, particularly someone thinking about how they fit into the world outside themselves. 
     I have only touched on a few of the issues Don Miller discusses in Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality There is much more that will enlighten and entertain. The narrative flows easily. The reader does not need to look up anything or know any Biblical background to enjoy this book.  
   If you do read (or listen) to it, I would love some comments on what you thought of it.  Did it inspire you?  Did it sound like nonsense?  Were you bored or led on through the chapters?  I've linked, below, to copies in hardback, paperback and audio.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Heaven Is For Real

Author: Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2010
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackReview written by: Brenda Sharp

I just finished HEAVEN IS FOR REAL by Todd Burpo and I highly recommend it. It is a very quick, easy read by the father of a not-yet-four year old who was temporarily dead on the operating table, came back, and over weeks, months, years, slowly divulged things about heaven and lost family members that he had no possible way of knowing about. Not a preachy, adult minister-speak book, but one out of the mouth of a babe.

 (This second link is for the Kindle edition for those of you who would like to read it from your smart phone or kindle.  I love to have a book on my phone to read while I'm waiting in line, or otherwise needing to "kill" time.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author: James Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetPublisher: Ballantine Books, 2009

 Happily satisfied, I have just this moment finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  The story easily lived up to its name for it is a mix of bitter and sweet well combined to produce a good literary meal.

We first meet Henry, our leading man, in the winter of his years, standing in front of the Panama Hotel in Seattle, Washington.  During renovation, the Panama reveals what it has been hiding since world War II. Workers have found, in the hotel's basement, hundreds of suitcases and boxes left by Japanese families that were relocated to internment camps. The people were only allowed two suitcases each.  That didn't leave room for photo albums, wedding dresses, family heirlooms and other items the American government deemed unnecessary.  After this discovery, we  travel back and forth with Henry between the present and an earlier time when, at age twelve, he a resident of Chinatown with a button attached to his coat that says, "I am Chinese."  Henry's father makes him wear the button so that people do not mistake him for Japanese.
    Henry's young life is not happy.  He is hated by his classmates at the all-white school he attends for being different.   Chinese children make fun of him for attending the "white" school rather than the neighborhood Chinese school.  He has become "uppity" in their eyes, not really Chinese anymore.  He doesn't fit in anywhere, not even at home where his father insists that he speak only "American" even though neither of Henry's parents understand much English.  He can only be himself with his adult friend, Sheldon.  Sheldon is a weathered musician, playing the jazz that Henry loves. On the street, Sheldon and his saxophone play the background music for Henry's life.
    Henry's life changes when he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl who comes to Henry's school. Like Henry Keiko is a scholarship student which means that she works in the kitchen with him at lunch and helps him clean up after school.
    If you know your history, then you know what happens to Keiko and her family. Even though her parents were born in America - her father is a Seattle lawyer- they are sent with all the other Japanese to the prison camps.
    Throughout the book, Henry searches for his life.  In his old age he feels lost like the jazz recording by the great musician, Oscar Holden for which Henry continually searches. It is a record that he knows exists, though many people doubt it.
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about discovering who you are. It is about what defines each person? What leads our actions? Is it our culture, our parents, our geography, our place in history or is it something more?
     James Ford has told a good story, avoiding being overly sentimental or preachy. He hasn't forced any moral judgment on us, the readers, telling us both sides of the stories involved.  It is easy to see this story as a movie.  The musical score will have to be jazz, the Seattle jazz that had its own personality in the forties. Read the book first so that when the movie is made you will be ready.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eat This Book

a conversation in the art of spiritual reading
By Eugene H. Peterson
Publishes by Wlliam B. Eerdmans 2006.

I actually listened to this book rather than read it which seems a bit ironic for a book about how to read the Bible.  If you are just interested in reading it "lightly," audio is a fine way to go but if you are like me and and enjoy taking notes, underlining and rereading passages, then this book needs to be "eaten" in its printed form.
    The author, Eugene Peterson, is responsible for The Message, considered to be a paraphrase of the Bible,  mostly a translation, but putting Biblical scripture in vernacular or "everyday" English.  In Eat This Book a conversation in the art of spiritual reading, Peterson now teaches how to go about reading the Bible, no what translation you choose.
   The book, to me could be divided into three main parts. The first section explains how to read scripture  and could be applied to most other spiritual material.When we read the Bible, Peterson urges us to do more than just read the words, even to go beyond reading. The author uses a wonderful analogy to help us understand what he means by "eat this book." He wants us to read the Bible as a dog chews on a bone.  The dog holds the bone closely and gnaws it from every angle. He licks, chews, slobbers on and utterly relishes the bone, turning it in all directions to be sure that nothing is missed.  The dog chews the bone with its whole being, completely involved in the endeavor.
    The second part of the book delves into how the came Bible was written originally, translated into latin then  it touches on various translations and their translators.  Being a lover of history, especially history of language, I particularly enjoyed this section of the book.
    Peterson next explains to us how and why he came to write his own translation, The Message. While I don't necessarily disagree with with his reasoning, at times it does seem that, at this point, he is mostly promoting his own translation. I could have easily skimmed over this part if I were reading a printed book rather than listening to the audio version.
    The title of the book comes from the tenth chapter of The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible where the angel tells John, (its author) to "take it and eat it." when talking about the book the angel is writing.
   Peterson returns to the theme of "eating the book" with a good wrap up of what he has written. Once I had finished Eat This Book I was glad I had read it and I have found that I have quoted it several times. Whether you are experienced with Biblical scripture or are a novice, just discovering the Word, then you can get inspiration from Peterson's book.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Yellow House: A Novel

By: Patricia Falvey
published by: Irish Books LC 2006

    In my last entry I told you that I had started reading this book.  The great thing was that I put it on my Droid phone so I could read it whenever I was waiting in line, while Jeff filled the car with gas or while lying in bed, flat on my back.
As a disclaimer, I must tell you that I like history and I like reading about Ireland so The Yellow House already had a couple points in its favor.
    Very little of the book actually takes part in the yellow house that gives us the book's title. More than an actual place, the yellow house serves as a memory and a goal for the novel's main character, Eileen O'Neill,  inheritor of the tragic O'Neill history. Eileen sees herself as responsible for bringing honor to her O'Neill ancestors by bringing her family up out of tragedy.
    The Yellow House: A Novel is true to the larger Irish story, full of tragic disaster, passionate love and joyous music. Through it all we learn about County Ulster in Northern Ireland, first, as part of a united Ireland under British rule then as a central point for the violence of The Troubles as Catholic Irish people sought Home Rule and independence from Great Britain.
    Eileen loses her family to death, madness and dispersion. As she fights alongside her countrymen to win back the things she loves along with rejoining the character that defines her, she faces love and passion (not necessarily together) discrimination, hard work and true friendship. Through it all,  Eileen never let go of the music that is within her and ties her to her father and all the O'Neills that came before.
     I urge others to read The Yellow House: A Novel and to read it with a backdrop of Irish music to help set the mood for it seems that whatever the Irish do and wherever their descendants go, their music travels with them.
   As a follow-up I will soon read The Linen Queen also by Patricia Falvey for a more in-depth look into Protestant-Catholic relationships and a look at a predominant industry of the early twentieth Century in Northern Ireland, starting in 1913.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Yellow House: A Novel

Author: Patricia Falvey

At my sister's reccomendation, I have just started The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.  The Book's setting begins in 1902 in Northern Ireland. So far it is interesting, if a bit depressing.  I expect the novel to cover "The Troubles" on Northern Ireland with a focus on the relationship between Protestants and Catholics under British rule.

I am just beginning the third chapter and will write again once I've finished the book.  If anyone wants to read along with me, we can discuss it in the comment section of this entry.  Just don't give away future chapters or I will be sorely disappointed.  


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Little Bee

Author: Chris Cleave
Published by Simon & Schuster 2008
Review written by Nellie

Little Bee has two voices, that of a Nigerian refugee, a young woman who calls her self, Little Bee and Sarah, a writer from London.
     The lives of these two women collide in a moment of terror on a Nigerian beach. It is a moment that ties their stories together for life.
     The tale is a work of fiction that speaks the truth as it pulls us into the lives of these two women who must each learn her own identity in a world that seeks to define them.
     Little Bee has seen things and experienced events that were supposed to leave no witnesses. It is this experience that causes her to flee from her small world next to the African jungle.  She flees with her older sister just as this world, the world of their childhood, ceases to exist. Her co-conspiritor in the tale is Sarah, a solidly middle class woman making a good living as a trendy magazine editor who sees herself as not quite a wife, not quite a writer not quite a mother.    Their story unfolds as each woman is buffeted about by circumstances that urge her to claim an identity of her own, apart from the men who come after them.
     Little Bee flows easily from page one to the end of the book which is not the end of the story. It is a tale of horror about redemption and the strength of human character which may cause its readers to re-examine their own lives as each of us continues to fine-tune our own identity and how we fit into our world.
   I recommend Little Bee to readers of all ages.  It is would be a good read for a high school woman, though the scenes of horror and short sexual descriptions call for maturity and discretion. With its accompanying study guide it is a good choice for book clubs and discussion groups.


Monday, January 31, 2011

The Last Apocalypse

Author:  James Reston, Jr., published by Doubleday, 1998.
Reviewed by Nellie Howard
In The Last Apocalypse, James Reston, Jr wrote about the world at the turn of the millennium, that is, the turn to 1000 A.D.  This was a time of great transformation in much of the world, causing many Europeans to fear that the world was soon coming to an end.  Viking marauders were ransacking coastal Europe from the Shetland Islands to Ireland, England and the northern coast of France.
At this same time, Al Mansor  began, in his vanity, to bring about the death of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula.  Islam had been a great civilizing force, promoting education in the sciences, algebra and chemistry as well as encouraging literacy among the masses.  Before Al Mansor began investing all power of the Caliphate in himself, there was peace among the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities. The ward that Al Mansor waged to make himself appear powerful brought distrust upon his rule and weakness to the Caliphate in general. He desecrated places and humiliated people  he conquered, resulting in the wrath of Rome which became set on destroying him and Islam.  With the death of Al Mansor, followed by the rule of his son, Islam weakened then withered away in Spain along with the civilization that accompanied it.
Christianity faces its own apocalyptic tendencies as popes ranged from weed to evil. Reston writes that the papal authority’s “dignity and authority was at its lowest point since St. Peter first sat on the papal throne.”  Many saw this corruption of he Church as fulfillment of Biblical prophesies  making ready for the Antichrist, the precursor of the end of days. This combined with many other “signs” lead many to view as eminent the Apocalypse of St. John 13.5.  Nations were at war all over the known world along with the great famine which begun in 970 A.D becoming desperate by the year 1000 A.D.
All these things brought a feeling of great pessimism  to people all over the European continent.
James Reston, Jr. covers these topics with intelligence and understanding, showing no prejudice in the way he deals with the events of the years leading up to the last millennium.
This is a book that is well worth reading for any history buff, student of religion and/or culture and anyone who needs to be reminded that history of the world is  often cyclical and that, as  a civilization, we humans we tend not to learn from our past mistakes.

Author: Dan Brown
Published by Anchor Books 2009
Review by Nellie
Yes,  if you have read Dan Brown’s other novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, this novel will be a bit predictable, but in this case that’s not too bad.  There is Dan Brown’s usual mysterious over-the-top villain and like Angels and Demons, all of the action takes place in about twenty-four hours. Most of the events take place in Washington, D.C. or the surrounding areas. We spend a lot of time in our Nation’s capital but it is time well spent as we learn a bit of history along with some more Mason trivia.
The Lost Symbol keeps you reading. For many people it will be a one sitting read, the kind where you stop only to eat and pee then when you are finally finished, your neck is sore and you feel exhausted like you have actually worked all day.  While it has taken me several days to read, that is only because I’ve been very busy with all the Christmas stuff that must soon be completed.
I held myself back from starting The Lost Symbol because I needed to be sure I was ready for all the mind-boggling rush of clues, trivia and action.  It was worth the wait.  This  book has a few surprises but is never disappointing for Dan Brown fans.  I will gladly pass it on to my friends.


Blue Jacket, War Chief of the Shawnee

By Allan W. Eckert
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 1969
reviewed by Nellie Howard
Blue Jacket is the true story of a white man, Marmaduke Van Swearingen, who was captured, and subsequently adopted by the Shawnee Indians. This is my favorite of Allan Eckert’s historical fiction books. Though all have been good reads, Blue Jacket is a great character book as well as a novel that tells about historical events.  Though he was only seventeen when taken prisoner by the Shawnee, Swearingen quickly adapted to the Shawnee ways. It was easier for him because he had always been interested in Indian ways and had understood the westward expansion of white people from the Indian’s point of view.
Though technically taken his West Virginia home (then Virginia) as a prisoner, Sweringen went willingly. This was partly to secure the safety of his younger brother, but also because of the prospect of being adopted into the Shawnee tribe.
With his new Shawnee name of Weh-yah-ih-hr-sehn-wah, or Blue Jacket, the young man grew in stature among the Shawnee until eventually becoming a war chief  then a full chief.
The story of Blue Jacket is one that not only tells of the battle of the Shawnee to hold on to their ancestral land, but is also the story of a boy becoming a man who chooses his culture, chooses the way he will live and with whom he will live it.
in Blue Jacket, War Chief of the Shawnees, Allan W. Eckert has told a compelling story of a great nation.  For history buffs, this book should be read to know anything of the struggle for this American territory, a large part of which became the Northwest Territory.  It is a story mirrored throughout our country as a new people conquered and tamed a land, leaving no place for the native people who loved it first

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Recipe Club

Author: Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel
Review written by Nellie

     We, the readers, are introduced to the main characters of The Recipe Club through their email correspondence, starting in 2000, as Lilly and Valery are trying to renew their deep friendship which had been cut short by an as-yet-unknown argument. Soon, we are taken back to 1963 when the girls first began  "The Recipe Club," sending a recipe with each letter they wrote.

     Recipes, such as, Ben's Brownie Sundae ("you spell it with an 'e,' not like 'Sunday,' did you know that?" says Val) and Lovelorn Lasagna are included in the book so that the reader may cook the girls' favorites along with them.  My sister-in-law, who gave me the book says that she cooked a few of the recipes, but I haven't yet tried any.

     The book is an easy read, giving us glimpses into the thoughts of these two young girls as they mature into adulthood in very different ways.  Lilly is rebellious and a bit boy crazy, like her mother while Val is a serious student who has trouble making friends.  There are some serious issues dealt with in the book, including sex, love and abortion but there is more than that.  We grow with Lilly and Valerie as they learn about friendship, families and careers, trust and rejection.
   This would be a great read for mature high school readers, which could lead to good class discussions. I think it would be a perfect for mothers and daughters to read, each with her own copy then coming together to talk about what she has read.  It is definitely a girls book, probably not very interesting  to many fellows.  

     Read it yourself and let me know what you think.  

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins
Review Written by Nicole Sathre   

     This was such a great book. I recommend others to read this series as well. I will definitely be re-reading this series. A 16 year old girl, Katniss Everdeen, knows how to survive. Her best friend, Gale, hunts with her outside of the the fence in District 12. There are a total of 13 districts. District 13 is no longer present due to a war happening in Panem. In Panem, there is a Capitol that hosts the Hunger Games every year to make sure the 13 districts know that they are under their control. 1 boy and 1 girl is taken to be a piece of the Hunger Games. The ages available range from 12-18 years old. Katniss' sister, Prim, was chosen for district 12. But Katniss volunteered to take her sister's place instead. The boy's name from District 12 who was also chosen was Pretta. Later on in the story Preeta states that he loves Katniss since the were 5. The entire time the Hunger Games were going on Preeta was doing things so that Katniss would  survive.
     To find out how this all works out you will have to read it for yourself.