Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 2013 Bookshelf

Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

It took me approximately 8 days to read 102 pages.  Perhaps the longest time ever for me to read that number of pages.  And they were smaller than the normal page.  The book is narrow and small.  The book is brilliant.  It took me so long to read the book because there was so much good in it to sit and think about for as long as I could or needed to.  The library owns the copy I read, soon I will own a copy because this book needs to be read at minimum 4 times a year.  At the start of every new season why not just give myself a quick refresher?
Anne Lamott outdid herself with this little book.  Little in size, HUGE in content.  She takes the reader through three essential prayers of which the book is titled after.  She respectfully gives the reader space to utter these three essential prayers in their own way and how they choose.  No matter who you may be praying to (God, Mother, Buddha, etc) these three prayers are essential to living life well and in healthy ways.  Don't believe me?  Read Lamott's brilliant book.  There is so much good in this book that it is hard to review it outside of saying something like, "It's amazing just read it." Some are okay with that kind of review.  Others want to know more.  Each section is a lovely and brilliant (I think I have already used that word but it's so fitting) dissection of what that particular prayer may look and sound and even feel like.  I soaked in every word. The way in which Lamott lays out her case is power-packed.  I honestly can't find the words to give a review that is more than, "It's amazing just read it." Seriously.  Just read it.  You will not regret it.




"O" is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

Not bad. Not bad at all.  In this installment the reader gets more of Kinsey's background and history, specifically about husband number one.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. After reading A-N and only getting tiny bits and pieces of what makes Kinsey tick it was nice to get a bigger picture.
In "O" Kinsey's ex-husband, Mickey, turns up in a coma and the LAPD are sniffing around Kinsey in connection.  Problem is she hasn't seen nor heard from him in about 14 years.  Problem is the gun used on him is hers.  This is too much for Kinsey to sit back and ignore so she dives into her own investigation of Mickey and what could have happened.  The reader is introduced to a lot of people from her past life as a STPD and given some info on what makes her tick.  Along the way she investigates the mystery and uncovers the truth.




Humility: The Forgotten Virtue by Wayne A Mack with Joshua Mack

It took a lot of "effort" to procure this book for reading.  My local library system didn't carry it so I had to request it through inner-library loan. Good thing I like Wayne Mack. :) It was worth the "effort" to get this book.  Pretty much anything Wayne Mack writes I will read because I like his style of writing and for the most part his approach to the various topics he has written on.
In this easy-to-read book Mack addresses humility and the lack of it in our lives.  I'm tempted to blame it on the culture of our day BUT pride (the opposite of humility) is a time-traveler and travels throughout the years infecting each generation.  It just may look different in each generation.  Mack clearly and concisely unpacks the luggage of pride to develop its counterpart, humility. While Mack's book is written with the believer of God in mind I found myself thinking how much it crossed over to humans in general, whether they believe in God or not. The characteristic of pride in a person is an infection that will eventually disease all of their relationships, make behaviors unhealthy for normal interaction, build walls of isolation instead of foster community, and more.  Pride says, "It's ALL about me" and guess what? It isn't.  It isn't all about you - whether you believe in God or nothing at all.  It is not all about you.  A person who pursues humility, however, combats pride by interacting in healthy ways with others (i.e. not engaging in blame shifting, not needing to be the center of attention, accepting responsibility for behaviors and words, etc), fostering community instead of building walls, being a source of health in relationships rather than one that is disease ridden, etc.
Mack's book is good, it is very biblical in its verbiage and intents which I personally don't mind at all. There are a few moments of what I call "christianese" near the end of the book but I am grown-up enough to be able to not throw the baby out with the bathwater or disagree with one or two things and still find the book to be an excellent resource on this forgotten virtue.  It definitely gave me stuff to chew on and a refresher on how to be on guard against pride in my own life.  It was also a gracious reminder to me that I won't "arrive" on the issue of pride vs humility in my life this side of heaven but I can certainly fight for humility to be the stronger of the two in my own personal life.



Evidence of Life by Barbara Taylor Sissel

A really good read.  I picked it up on a whim at the library when I was there picking up other books.  (I always have to look "just in case"!)  It has just the right amount of intrigue to get me second guessing what is so clearly true. Sissel does a good job developing the mystery and keeping you guessing.
Abby has sent her husband and daughter off on a weekend camping trip and it ends in disaster. A freak rain storm hits the region and floods it within hours.  Nick and Lindsey, her husband and daughter, are missing.  Search and rescue teams search for weeks but find not even one clue as to where they may be.  Abby's son, Jake, is ready to give it up and accept what seems so clear but Abby can't accept that. She receives mysterious phone calls, out of place acts in her home, and someone is following her.  Slowly she starts uncovering pieces to this mystery but nobody wants to believe her, they all just want her to walk away from what could be the truth.  Are Nick and Lindsey alive or dead?  And will time ever reveal the truth?
This is my first read of Sissel and I liked it a lot.  She has a great writing style, easy to read and engaging. She does a good job developing characters at an appropriate pace.  She has a good grasp of mystery and intrigue.  For me personally she did a great job of making me side with Abby and feel what she was going through and thinking.  This will not be the last Sissel title I read.




Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

I've only read one other Irene Hunt book.  It was a book I still think about to this day, The Lottery Rose. I read it in middle school (I think) for the first time and have read it several times since.  If you haven't read it you should, tell me what you think.  Anyway, all that to say that it never occurred to me to read other Hunt titles until this past year.  I choose this title because it sounded interesting.  And it turns out it was, but in a rather ho-hum kind of way.  Which sounds contradictory, and may be, but isn't.  Let me explain.
Julie and her siblings have lost their mother to an illness and are separated.  She and her brother, Chris, are sent to live with their Aunt Cordelia while big sister, Laura, stays with their Father.  So begins the story of Julie's life living with Aunt Cordelia.  There wasn't any real drama or angst or conflict to propel this story forward.  It was simply a coming of age kind of story. While nothing about the story was especially exciting or interesting it did hold my attention. Kind of strange right?  I think so too.  I'm not sure, exactly, what held my attention but I was interested enough in Julie's story to read to the end.  I will say I am glad it wasn't any longer. I think I was near the end of my interest right about the time the book ended.
This book is interesting to review and consider.  It really wasn't all that great as far as plot goes but Hunt's character development is rich.  I'm not sure if I will read any other titles by Hunt, in my personal opinion I'm not sure she can top The Lottery Rose.




Up and Down by Terry Fallis

I just seem to really like Terry Fallis.  I read his first two breakout novels back in 2011, The Best Laid Plans and The High Road, and knew that I would want to read anything else he publishes.  Lucky for me he published last year with Up and Down.  Fallis' titles aren't carried in my library system so I have to get his books through inter-library loan.  Thank goodness for that option.
In this novel Fallis departs from official politics and focuses on a different kind of politics, the PR world.  David Stewart has just left his job with one of Canada's Ministers to move closer to his dying Mother in Toronto.  A PR firm trying to land a NASA account hires David on given his obsession with space and his previous experience in the field of science and space exploration.  David's never done PR before but how hard can it be, right?  Or maybe wrong.  Fallis gives us an insiders look at a PR firm that employs a land animal they are asking to swim.  As per his other titles, Fallis' David and the other characters he brings along for the ride are likable and engaging.  David's journey through his first run at PR is interesting and fast-paced.
Fallis once again develops characters that the reader can warm right up to or despise and in the manner in which Fallis wants the reader to.  While David isn't near as humorous as Angus from Fallis' other two titles there are still funny moments.  The story was a bit slow going in a few parts but within a page or two picked right back up for me.  Not only does the reader find themselves walking in step with David but this reader (me in this case) fell in love with Landon.  Brilliant character.  Fallis, it seems to me, also continues in this book, and maybe more so than his other two since this one featured joint American and Canadian characters, to dispel false ideas and thoughts about America's neighbor to the North.  We Americans can be pretty insensitive and stupid and I wasn't all offended by his exposure of it.  Once again Fallis crafts a novel I was happy to read.  And once again I state I will be reading whatever else he puts out in the future.




Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I know there are all sorts of hidden political commentaries and theories in this book.  I picked up on a few here and there.  But let's be honest, I'm not that deep and frankly, sometimes I just don't want to be that deep. I've got good friends who love this book and find it thought provoking and delve into the hidden messages. Me? I just read it as a book and found it to be a decent story.  I know, I am so shallow.  But I just don't have the brain power to try and search out all the hidden commentaries in books like these and The Hunger Games.  So if that makes me shallow then it's a fate I'll have to live with.  :)  That being said...
Ender is a Third.  It took me a while to figure out that meant he was the third child born to his family in a society that is under population control.  And because they wanted to have a Third that meant the child could one day belong to the government for their military purposes.  When Ender is 6 he is released from a monitor that had been implanted in his skin since birth and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. He's in the clear. Or not.  Turns out Ender has a lot of potential that the government is interested in and they take him to Battle School where intense training is happening with children for military purposes against an alien species called Buggers that have already threatened Earth in years past.  Thus begins Ender's training for what will ultimately be Ender's Game.
This book was super interesting on levels that didn't have hidden, or not, political commentaries.  It explores bullies, how much children can take on intellectual and physical levels, family relationships, friendships, authority, etc.  It's a *little* unbelievable on a couple of levels, most especially the advanced education a 6 year old has.  That can certainly happen in reality but it is the exception not the norm.  Ender also has a pair of advanced siblings that you would love to believe they can actually do what they set out to do but again, not reality.  It's an exception not a norm.  But perhaps that's part of the point of the book, there are exceptions to the norms.  The book was fairly past paced and the ending before the ending was great.  I did get a little tired of the battle scenes during training but I recognized they were important to the overall story. The movie is out and I'm interested to see the movie and see how closely they follow the book and how they turn this fantasy into something that feels like reality.




Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark

I'm slooooooowly working my way through the Higgins Clark books I somehow missed over the years.  This one was published in 2006.  It was a quick read.
Kelly and Kathy, three year old twin girls, have been kidnapped and are being held for ransom.  The reader gets to know three of the four players in their snatching. The fourth one remains a mystery and is the puppet master of sorts.  Eventually the story whittles away who it could be and it becomes clear but at the beginning you have several suspects.  The weird thing about these girls is their parents can't come anywhere near affording the ransom so what did the snatchers mean by it?  As Higgins Clark develops the story and characters bits and pieces come together although they still didn't make much sense to me when all was exposed.
Higgins Clark is a master of mystery and thrillers but I feel like her age is starting to get the best of her when it comes to her writing.  This book lacked the details that usually make her books so much fun, for me, to read.  It also lacked a certain thrill factor.  Usually with her books I think I've got it all figured out and she's able to totally twist it around on me and surprise me.  That wasn't necessarily the case with this book. But it was still good enough. :)




The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Well.  I abandoned it on page 55.  I kept nodding off while trying to read it and kept flipping through wondering when it would get, well, interesting.  And it didn't seem that was going to happen so I decided there are other things I would rather be reading.  I'm disappointed too because I was looking forward to what the book description promised.  And I'm not saying Norris didn't deliver what was promised but if she did so it was in a style that I couldn't be moved by.  Norris recounts a year spent in Benedictine monasteries.  She had become a Benedictine oblate and takes the reader through her wandering thoughts and experiences.  Part of my problem with the book is Norris' writing style.  I just can't get into it. She is "heady" and wordy.  I feel like she's trying to hard to saturate each moment and remembrance with meaning and her real experiences are muffled. Not all authors are for everyone and clearly Norris is not for me.




A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White

Sometimes you just know when a book is going to be good, when it's going to capture you - even as simple as it may be.  This was that kind of book.  It was also my first read of Susan Rebecca White and I've added her other two titles to my "to read" list because I think I like her.
In this book White gathers up three very different people, from very different backgrounds and life stories, and brings them together in a really seamless and almost divine way. Her character development of Alice, Bobby, and Amelia is done well - so much so that you feel like you know them, you feel empathetic toward their story, you feel like a friend who can see what is coming and you want to be there for them when it arrives.  I feel like White spent more time with Bobby than Alice and Amelia but I certainly don't feel like the two women were ignored.  They all came together in the end.
The book is simple but I found it to be lovely and pleasurable to read.  White's writing is engaging and warming of spirit.  That she centers around food and cooking doesn't hurt either as I am always interested in books that include those. Cooking and eating bring people together in an interaction that can pave paths of relationship.
White paints a story that family isn't always who you are born with or to but who loves you for you.  It's a very warming story of finding ones self and loving others.  I really enjoyed it.




And literally in the eleventh hour I snuck another title in for November!

September Fair by Jess Lourey

I started, and finished, this book quickly.  This book is #5 in a series by Lourey called "Murder-by-Month" but it's the first book of hers, and the series, that I have read.  And it wasn't bad, not at all.  Lourey's girl "detective" is a part-time librarian and part-time newspaper reporter for a small town in Minnesota that just so happens to run across dead bodies quite a bit.  Completely realistic. *wink*
In this installment the Minnesota State Fair is the scene and the dead body is the newly crowned Milkfed Mary, Ashley Pederson. Someone takes Ashley out while she's having her head carved out of butter.  The question is who and why?  Mira James happens to be there covering the State Fair for her town of Battle Lake and since she's already run across dead bodies in the past few months it makes sense for her to investigate this death.  Along for the investigation is the colorful Mrs. Berns and Kennie Rogers from Battle Lake.  As Mira investigates the reader is introduced to a cast of characters, some helpful and others not so much to solving this crime. Lourey also takes the reader on a State Fair food journey, some of it made me want to be sick - Mira too.  Some of the things people think up to eat...ick.  Also, as part of the storyline, Lourey tackles the controversial topic of growth hormones for bovine in this title.  Either she's playing devil's advocate or Lourey herself is a vegan or vegetarian. That part interested me quite a bit.
It seems, since this is book 5, that Lourey is continuing to develop Mira's character and past in this installment.  There are references to things about Mira that if I had started with book 1 would probably make a lot more sense in book 5.  This book was decent enough, like some other series that I use as fillers, that I will pick up the other titles from time to time and see the series through.