Books I am reading

Monday, December 30, 2013

Thirty years ago, Sharon and I were contemporaries

W is for Wasted (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) (Kindle Edition)
Sharon McCone has been a friend for over 30 years. I want to figure out a way to expand the alphabet so that I can keep meeting with her each year. I was about her age when the series began, and she is now the age of my daughter. So I have a sentimental attachment to her.
I don't believe this relationship would have last for me if Sue Grafton was a less skilled writer. Sharon has grown and changed, more and more of her history has been revealed over time, and there are sacrosanct elements that appear over and over.
This books begins with a body found dead on the beach with Sharon's name and phone number on a piece of paper in his pocket. When she goes to the morgue to try to identify this John Doe, she realizes she has never scene before. Sharon has no pending investigations so she decides to put some time into discovering who he is, why he had her name, and how he died.
Asecond plot devlops when a former co-investigator if shot to death. She pays little attention until her former love, Dietz, shows up flaming mad about her referral od him to the murdered PI.
Sharon is more reflective and has less of a hard edge. She is more forgiving, and notices her loneliness more. She is not as sarcastic and more kind and forgiving. Our dear Sharon is growing up. I am a romantic, so I hope she finds her soul mate (or recognizes him if she already knows him) before the series ends.
Iwas in grad school when the series began, and I am now retired. I hope the whole series will be available on Kindle so that I can ready the series over. If you have never read an Alphabet Mystery, I suggest that you start at the beginning of the series. While each book can stand alone, the richness of the characters can be lost if you don't know the history. Another winner in my book. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

     Buckle your seat belt and hang on! This is a bumpy ride with more twists and turns than a roller coaster!
Blaine McCracken and his friends, Johnny Wareagle and Sam Belamo, are back in a fast paced novel of modern day home terrorists exciting religious warfare against American Muslims as a cover for an even more diabolical plan to destroy the government with a weapon of mass destruction. This weapon has gone undiscovered until recently, but was the reason for the Roanoke colony and ship crew of the Mary Celeste disappearance.
     Enter an assassin trained in Russia for Iran, a cult leader offering salvation through mutilation and sex, and government leaders who want to overthrow the current government. McCracken flies all over the country tracking down clues from various bombing sites, the first of which injured his "sons's" son (complicated). As McCracken checks in with an old Vietnam, bong smoking buddy and a retired, sometimes lucid, operative, the plan of the bad guys becomes more and more evident. They all begin to converge on Washington.
     I have never read any of the books by Jon Land, but I will be looking up his other novels. His writing is clear, imaginative and creative. He began the black-ops, spy, out-in-the-cold genre before it was popularized by other authors. His devotion to technical detail makes his books so believable and terrifying. I give The Tenth Circle a resounding 5 stars. Enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stop Hoping...Start Hunting! by Jennifer K Hill

     I do not often read nonfiction unless it is for work, so I am not sure if I would have picked this up on my own, but I am glad I did. Ms Hill is a job recruiter who shares her insights and experiences with job seekers.
     The book follows a logical progression from looking at your reason for job hunting and articulating what you feel is you ideal job, to resume writing, phone interviews, in person interviews, follow-up and starting your new job.      While I didn't learn anything new, Ms Hill has packaged it in a clear, forthright manner with lots of examples to illustrate the points she is making. She strongly emphasizes the need to maintain a positive attitude during a difficult process. Her enthusiasm is contagious! I'm not job hunting, but I updated my resume' and my LinkedIn account. 
     There are two issues that I found a bit annoying, but most others probably wouldn't notice. First, too many sentences ended with a preposition. This is certainly more acceptable currently than when I was taking English classes. But I feel that when you put all the time into researching, outlining and then writing a book, it should reflect the educated intelligence of the writer. 
     The second observation is that too many points were repeated several times throughout the book. While some repetition is understandable, the number of times it occurred felt to me as if Ms Hill was "padding" the writing to turn a monograph into a book.
     My concerns are far outweighed by the excellent advice for job seekers. If you have been out of work, discouraged by little or no responses to you job search, this book is for you! Ms Hill is a knowledgeable cheerleader who will support you right into your ideal job. And the suggestions for developing a positive attitudes is useful for anyone.

Unraveling Raveled

     Raveled by Anne McAneny is an excellent story. It starts slowly and gains momentum as it moves along. Allison Fennimore is called to her small, southern hometown by her brother, Kevin, who is currently in addiction rehab and a ward of the court. Mom has begun "slipping" mentally, and has been troubled for the last 16 years since her husband stood trial for killing a teenage boy, son of the mayor, and accused of also killing a young teenage girl. Kevin want Allison to reopen their father's case. He is haunted by nightmares of the night before the boy was found tied to a bumper in the garage owned by their father, Artie, and shot in the abdomen. 
     Allison is hesitant to stir things up at this point. The trail is cold, and she was only 14 years old when the murders took place. She finds out that the prime players that fateful night are in town cor a class reunion. Allison decides to ask a few people some questions and see if anything new emerges. The town reaction is strong and leads Allison to more purposefully find out what happened that night. Many unforeseen  actions occur as Allison delves deeper. I thought I had figured things out, and then another piece of evidence would prove me wrong.
     This book is well-written, with an adult vocabulary (not dummied down for a 5th grade reading level), multi-layered characters, and, plot worthy of Byzantine twists and turns. I will be looking for Anne McAneny's other books. Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Liz Paxton: Murder Inspector Extraordinaire

Hacked is the debut novel of Geri Hosier. I felt I was on a literary roller coaster for the first 20% of the book. The protagonist was a lady and all of a sudden turned into a potty mouth. She was a self-assured, strong woman, a cop, and became all batting lashes around the object of her affections. But then it seemed to take off and I couldn't put it down.
Liz Paxton is the head of London's largest murder squad, and her best friend is the publisher of a leading London paper. So there is plenty of glamour. What initially appears to be a revenge killing becomes ever more complicated. Enter one Afghan war hero, a Russian underworld boss, a very nasty bad man, and international intrigue ensues.
There was more brutal behavior than I tend to want spelled out, but that's just my preference. The story was a bit formulaic: beautiful cop; mysterious, handsome war hero; super bad, bad guy. It was a little too obvious that the war hero was more than he claimed to be.
This book is advertised as the beginning of the series. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing as the story progressed, and will definitely check out the next installment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A family saga of wine and whinning

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

A Bordeaux Dynasty: A Novel

Françoise Bourdin 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Refreshing, Creative Teens; not just a young adult read.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by  Kate Hattemer

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

I enjoyed the book very much. I am a sucker for anyone who stands up for what is "right", for stories of friendship, and for intelligent, creative young people. I was a bit put off initially by the three "beginnings" to the story, but as it progressed, I realized the creative approach to sharing background information. And the three endings provided a way to gather the threads together.

I loved the self-effacing Ethan, the intellectual geek Jackson, and the bold Elizabeth. I was very disappointed in Luke's changes, but that just demonstrated how invested I became with the characters. 
I loved the study of Ezra Pound's Cantos and the juxtaposition of the students' ContraCantos. The parallel was very powerful. And I was never taught half the information about punctuation and English form when I was in high school.
My only "hesitation" about promoting this book wholeheartedly is that I wonder how many teens are self-reflecting enough, intellectual enough, and have a broad enough vocabulary to enjoy this book. I know there are teens very much like the Vigilantes but are there enough to make this a best seller. And I doubt there are very many 12 year olds who would be able to "get into" this book.
Because of all the different layers in this story, many adults will thoroughly enjoy this book, and I hope it is marketed for adults as well as teens.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Finding My Identity In Christ

My Identity In Christ

On Sunday, Oct 13, 2013, I was listening to the NPR program Ted Radio Hour. The topic was Identities. There were excerpts from 4 Ted Talks. The link for this program is:
There are several themes that caught my attention: At the end of my essay, I have highlighted the most pertinent sentences for me from each speaker in this program, and, I have included surrounding material to help give my highlights context. Please goe to the page: Spirituality to read the entire article.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Nice New England Lawyer Follows a Trail Through Time

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

Death at Charity's Point: 1 (The Brady Coyne Mysteries) [Kindle Edition]
William G. Tapply

This is a reprint of the first in the Brady Coyne series, written almost 30 years ago. The story has held up over time. You have to think back to the early 80's and realize they didn't have cell phones to whip out, and folks were not connected by the Internet.

Brady Coyne is a Boston lawyer with just enough ambition and enough luck to have fallen into a lucrative practice serving the super-rich elderly. He draws up wills, fights minor battles, and does a lot of hand holding to earn his money. One of his clients, Florence Gresham has never needed nor wanted hand-holding; not when her elder son died in Vietnam, not when her husband committed suicide. But when she was told her younger son, George, jumps off of a cliff near the school where he taught, she is sure it is not true. She asks Brady to investigate, even though he is concerned this is the beginning of a break with reality for Florence. When Florence offers to pay him 10% of George's insurance, Brady feels enticed enough to help Florence find the truth.

Brady talks to the medical examiner, the police chief, and several faculty at the prep school where George taught. No one seemed to know him well, but all agreed that the behavior didn't seem in line with what they did know of George, and, none had noted a downturn of his always dour demeanor.

In helping Florence to clear out George's apartment on campus, Brady finds a paper written by one of his students. Having only rated a "C" grade, Brady was curious why the perfectionist George had kept it. Brady also sees that George has been doing some research on the same topic as the student paper: the bombings in 1971 by radical groups wanting to overthrow the government.

Brady ploddingly follows each piece of a clue he can muster up, as we get to know several students and faculty at George's school, and the day-to-day life of Brady's law practice. There are interesting people, and enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. I give this book 4 stars for being well-written, moving forward (though slowly at times), and developing some interesting characters. I will be interested to see which ones become regulars in subsequent stories.

For those who like well thought out characters, a nice lawyer with little ambition, and little to no gore, this book is for you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dreams of Being a Secret Agent

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

Noah's Rainy Day by Sandra Brannan is the 4th book in a series. I have not read the first three books, and had no problem following the story. It easily could be a stand-alone book, so don't worry if you haven't read the previous books in the series.

The story centers on Liv Bergan, and, her nephew, Noah. She is an FBI agent fresh out of the training academy at Quantico, stationed in the Boulder, CO office. She is living with her sister and her family, including 11 year old Noah and 9 year old Emily. Noah has Cerebral Palsy and is not able to walk, control his limbs, or talk. He and Emily have worked out a personal system for spelling words so that he can communicate. 

On Christmas Eve, a child traveling alone disappears at the Denver airport between flights. Liv is called in to help find the child. She is the handler for Beulah, a trained tracking dog. Beulah eventually tracks the child to the airport parking garage, where the sent ends.

While the FBI is painstakingly piecing together information about the child, Noah is at home trying to understand who the child is that is visiting his reclusive next door neighbor.

For the rest of the story, you will have to read the book.

Things I liked: As a former therapist, I loved Noah. He is bright and interesting, trapped in a limited functioning body. His inner ruminations make it clear how frustrated he feels by people who assume his mind is as crippled as his body. He is bullied by being called names, having his lunch stolen at school, and shunned by most of his class mates at school. But he perseveres.

I like Noah's sister, Emily, who loves her brother and understands him better than anyone else. I find the painstaking spelling system so difficult and time consuming, I can't imagine anyone actually using it, but I love the idea of the siblings working together to communicate.

The writing is suspenseful with some things predictable but many surprises as well. I was compelled to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

Things I wasn't so thrilled about: early on in the book, Noah ruminates about his lot in life too often and for too long. The repetition became boring, to me. There were times when Liv obsessed on things for too long, and both of these brought the story to stand-stills. Fortunately, this stopped once the action in the story got moving.

I also didn't like Liv waffling between the two men to whom she was attracted. Some of this is probably better understood by reading the early books in the series. But her remunating about them seemed very immature for her age; more like someone in high school.

I will definitely read the next book in the series and give this author and series another chance. With my reservations, I still very much enjoyed the overall mystery and am glad that I read it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Like, man, Sarah of the Moon captures an era

My Central Tucson Book Club has Sarah of the Moon for this month's selection. Even though I will not be there to share with them, I decided to read it, in order to be with them in spirit. I had no idea what it was about or what I was getting into.

It is an excellent, well written book. I had never heard of Randy Mixter before, but I genuinely wonder why because his writing is exceptionally gifted. Within a very few pages, I was completely pulled into the story, to the degree that I did not feel I was reading but was watching a movie.

This is the story of Alex, a young man doing a summer internship for a Baltimore newspaper. The time is 1967 (I was 17 years old, between my high school junior and senior years). The major setting is the Haight-Ashbury area in San Francisco. Alex comes to SF to write weekly stories for his Baltimore paper, trying to give the "straight" adult (whole different meaning back then!) a picture of the Summer of Love and the counterculture scene. This is the setting.

The story is about Alex's coming of age, learning to accept people who are very different from him, to understand how this culture grew, and to find his own place in the world. Alex moves in to a house that his editor pays the rent on for his nephew. The scene of his entry into the house is quite funny, picturing out totally out of place Alex is. As Alex gets to know the houseguests (as they are called), we get to know them as individuals. At first, they are painted by a broad brush of "hippies". But over time we realize they each have their own story and are not so very different than "straight" young people.
I give this book 5 Stars! It is literature, well-written, interesting and an historic record of a life-changing era in the history of this country.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No Show: A Person's Worst Nightmare

No Show is the story of an English scientist (Terry Sheffield) who fell in love while on vacation, met with Sarah several subsequent times, married her in Las Vegas, and is relocating to CA to live with Sarah. He arrives at SFO, but Sarah is not there to meet her. The rest of the book is Terry's journey to find his wife.
I have a mixed response to this book, and from other reviews, I am not alone. The premise of the story is interesting and full of intrigue. But the characters often come across as caricatures, with predictable good guy/bad guy traits. Terry is befriended by an arcade owner, Oscar, and their dialogue is repetitive and oftens drags on too long. And there are two mysteries that emerge, but are eventually not related. The second theme seems to be more of a red herring than a necessary element. And I found the ending personally dissatisfying. But I am someone who always wants to good guys to win, and real life often does not follow this inner wish.
With all that said, I still enjoyed the book and recommend it. It is tense and surprising throughout the story, it is believable and drew me into the desire to find Sarah. I give it 3 1/2 stars. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

I follow 149 series, plus enjoy many stand alone novels and read and review books about to be published. I say this to explain why some of my reviews are years past publications dates.

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny is a case in point. This is #5 in the series, published in 2009.

I love this series. Chief Inspector Gamache heads a detective team from the Sûreté du Québec. He has investigated several murders in and around the village of Three Pines, south of Quebec. During these investigations we have met the inhabitants, gotten to know their hopes and dreams, and their flaws and heartbreaks. They are an eclectic groups, arriving in Three Pines through many paths.
The Brutal Telling begins with a body being found in the local bistro. No one seems to know him. As the Sûreté du Québec team investigates, a feud comes to light between Olivier, the owner of the bistro and a B & B, and, the owner of a new spa in the area. The reader is privy to information about a friendship between Olivier and a recluse living deep in the woods. As Gamache digs deeper, he begins to wonder how Olivier has been able to afford his purchase and remodeling of the bistro and the B & B.
As some of the less appealing sides of some of the residents of Three Pines came to light, I had very mixed feelings. People I had grown to care about had darker behaviors than I wanted to face. I was compelled to keep reading because I had to know how it all turned out, but I was disquieted at the same time. I have come to appreciate the more realistic portrayal of these people. Ms. Penny makes the village seem more real and less of the fairy tale the first four books seemed to show.
I do recommend that if you have not read any of this series that you start at the beginning: Still Life. 
I feel that Ms Penny is masterful in creating a place and situations and characters of which you want to be a part. This is a five star recommendation!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Story Within a Story

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer is a novel that reads like a biography. The premise is bazaar, but plausible, and, since the author writes as himself, gives the reader a sense of this being a true story. It is a thriller that is slow paced most of the time. It is an indictment on the current state of publishing, and skewers the "big house" publishers for the ways authors are treated. It is a sociological exploration of what makes people (especially, but not exclusively, authors) tick, and, what it would take to sell one's soul to the devil.

A one-book-wonder author, is approached by a more prolific author with a tale that is told in installments. The story pulls in references to many famous authors such as J D Salinger, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote to B. Traven. It explores what constitutes inspiration, practicality of profit, "formula" writing, and delving into one's own creativity. 

As an overly cautious person, I found the risks that each author takes foolhardy, but I was compelled to keep reading. I had to know how it all turned out. 

The book is well written, intriguing, and very original. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves thrillers, psychological explorations, and social commentary. This book has it all.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R King

     I have read several books in the Mary Russel series by Laurie R King. I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. So when I had an opportunity to preview The Bones of Paris, I agreed. I was not disappointed.
    The setting is Paris during the summer and early fall of 1929. The story takes place mostly in Montparnasse and Montmartre, areas of ex patriots from England and America and the art community of Paris. The lead character, Harris Stuyvesant, is a former FBI agent working as a private detective across Europe. He has been hired to look for a young American women who has been missing since the end of March. He has a personal vested interest in finding her because he had had a brief affair with her, and had wanted to reconnect and develop a more long-term relationship. He was conflicted because he was also in love with a women he met in England and had wanted to marry. But after a terrible event, she did not want to see anyone and did not want to pursue their relationship.
     There are many colorful people and locations, both real and part of Ms King's imagination. She has woven together a highly suspenseful story, beautiful and hideous settings, and participants from quirky to psychotic. Paris is as much a character in the story as any of the people.
    This book is intelligent, challenging, filled with interesting (at times frightful) characters and a story with more twist and turns than a ride in the Alps. If you like mystery and suspense, historical settings and colorful characters, this book is for you.

     As an aside, Harris reminded me of the venerable Toby Peters of the mysteries by Stuart M Kaminsky: hard-headed, a tough exterior with a romantic heart, and continually charging into physically abusing situations to find the person in distress.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Life of Freedom

Please check out my Spirituality page for my latest post. please use these links to comment or ask questions.

As is true with all comments, I will not post comments or questions that are abusive, use foul language or mean-spirited. This is a place to play nice. ;-)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Penguin Pool Murder: a fun, vacation read

This book was written in 1938 and reads like a 30's movie. I could hear the "tough guy" accents and the "doll's" flirtatious "innocents". Some attitudes and words were not politically correct, something I wouldn't excuse in a current book, but take time and culture into account with this book. In my mind's eye, I could see the art deco style of the museum and other buildings mentioned.
The mystery was clever and took interesting twists and turns. The repartee between school teacher Hildegarde Withers and Detective Oscar Piper was fun, sexist on his part and not talking it on her part, and mildly reminiscent of Topper, Tom and Tuppence, and Hepburn and Tracey. 
I found this interesting enough, I am planning to buy the next book in the series to see if it improves in complexity. For a quick, light read, it was entertaining, perfect for a summer vacation read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review of Death of Time

I have always been intrigued by stories of time travel. I have often wished that I could time travel, and I love to see what new way of travel has been invented by each author.
Ms Price starts the story with a 21st C divorced woman, self-employed, with 2 young children. She lives in Oakland and takes periodic forays into San Francisco. She begins to have odd dreams, and over a few days begins to sense she is entering into another time in San Francisco. I found the first 20% of the book a bit tedious and slow. Ms Price put so much time into describing what Robin was seeing and experiencing, but was very short on plot movement. If I hadn't made a commitment to write a review, I may not have finished the book. But I am very glad I stuck with it.
Robin begins to recognize that she enters into another body when she awakens in 1900. Without giving away any more of the plot, I found the story to be creative and interesting, filled with heart-pounding moments, and episodes of caring and sensitivity. Robin searches for her purpose in moving between the two time periods, and learns that her actions can have effects that she cannot foresee. She and her love interest in 1900, move cautiously to try to prevent a catastrophe caused by 2 people trying to rob a bank. I found it very satisfying that their first few attempts did not turn out as they had hoped, and, the consequences increase with each attempt to intervene. From a gentle strolling pace, the story begins to gradually accelerate until it becomes a heart-pounding race to save the potential victims. And as the story concludes, Ms Pace creates a very satisfying full circle to the story.
This is one I highly recommend. Another review alludes to other books in this series, and, if tru, I will be first in line to get the next book!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Provence, France, Wine & Food, and Murder

Death in the Vines has just been published. As an amateur reviewer, I received a free copy. I did not initially realize that this book was the third one in a series. But I had no difficulty completely enjoying this story.
It takes place in Provence, France, and area about which I know almost nothing. So the cultural practices and scenery descriptions were wonderful. I felt as if I had literally seen a small glimpse into the area, and I would definitely like to visit it now.
The story inter-weaves three plot lines in a masterful manner. There are a series of rare wine thefts at one winery, there are two disappearances of an elderly lady that ends with her being found dead after her second disappearance, and, there seems to be a serial killer starting a spree. 
One knows there are interactive relationships between these three plots, but it is not clear in what ways until the very end.
One element that I liked especially is that all the plot lines were not resolved in a neat package at the end, but each one resolved in it's own time over the last third of the book. 
I am highly recommending this book. It is a good piece of literature. It is a finely crafted mystery. There are interesting, multi-layered characters. And then there is the setting of Aix-en-Provence, the wine country, and small town life. I am going to find the first two books in the series and finish those as well!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: The Gifted by Gail Bowen

     The Gifted is the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen, a renown Canadian author. It is due out on Aug 13, 2013. I have the privilege of reading it early in order to post a review. I am a volunteer reviewer.
      The book focuses on Joanne, her husband, Zack Shreve, and their daughter, Taylor. Taylor has come to live with Joanne and Zack through partially reveal circumstances that have probably been more fully explained in earlier books in the series. Taylor is a soon-to-be 15 year old with considerable artistic talent. She is the birth daughter of a famous artist and there is much concern by Joanne and Zack that Taylor follows a much less destructive path that her mother.
     The story is set in Regina, Saskatchewan, and the beauty of the area is deftly folded into the narrative. Taylor has had two paintings chosen for a charity art auction, her first public showing. She is well aware of her birth mother's life and talent, and is very afraid of not living up to her mother's standards. (Her mother died when she was only 4 years old, and came to live with Joanne and Zack when she was 11 years old.) 
     Taylor's model for one of the paintings is a 19 year old fellow artist in the same art school. At the art auction, it becomes obvious to all that he is having an affair with the sponsor of the auction. Taylor is clearly upset. Her parents are concerned because little is know about him and he is beginning to have a strong influence over Taylor. When the older woman is found dead Joanne and Zack confront the older woman's husband, one of Zack's best friends. Who killed the socialite? Zack's friend? The young model/lover? And how can Joanne and Zack shield Taylor form all the gossip and danger?
     This is not a high-speed chase, bloody, action story. This is an exploration of who is "family", how the past informs the present, what friendship means, and can our love protect those we love. Ms Bowen is a skilled writer. She is explores family dynamics, informed parenting, life-style decisions, and the gray areas between "good" and "evil". I was "hooked" very early on in the book and followed all the twist and turns with interest, at times, anxiety, and always a desire to find out how all is resolved. It felt as if I was watching a movie; I was very much drawn into the story.
    I highly recommend that if you like a good mystery without all the gore and violence, you read The Gifted. It is available for pre-order.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Orphan Master's Son: A Review

The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson, is one of the most compelling books I have ever read. It is the story of a man's journey from childhood throughout his entire life. It is a story of North Korea in the recent past. It is a story of evil, brutality, the human need to connect with others, the meaning of love, and ultimate triumph.
This book is not for the faint of heart. In it, unspeakable atrocities are described in vivid detail. What is more disturbing to me, is the cold determination of the abusers, and their ability to justify what they do in the name of loyalty and national security. It makes me weep for the slippery slope we have embarked upon in our own country. Photos of our own soldiers torturing and humiliating captured "enemies" too often came to mind.

But Mr. Johnson is a master storyteller, weaving glimpses of hope, humanity, and even love, into the story so that one is compelled to continue. I began to feel I was in the story, and it was very hard to put it down to do mundane things like laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner. It is easy to see why he won a Pulitzer prize for this book.  The picture of North Korean life reinforced my gratitude for living in this wonderful country, but it also highlighted areas where we have so much to improve: the poverty and lack of decent education of so many of our citizens, the high rate of people incarcerated compared to the rest of the Western world, and the level of violence in our country. There are large areas of our country where people live with just as much fear and despair as the citizens of North Korea. This book has compelled me to do more to work toward improvement here at home.
I highly recommend this book, but warn that it is not an "easy" read. I had to pray constantly as I read; for the millions (billions?) of people throughout the world for whom the life described is a reality, for the wisdom to see whatever part I play in creating this awful reality, and for the courage to work toward peace and safety for all.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fear of Aging

I had a very vivid dream last night, so vivid I wanted to call my friend and make sure she wasn't really angry with me. Let me explain:

Grandma Stengl 1955
In my dream one of my best friends had hired me to help her with a PR project for her business. We had discussed the possibility a few times, but I was now "officially" meeting with her to get started.
She mentioned an idea we had floated at an earlier discussion, and I could remember none of the details. I asked her to refresh my memory, and she was rather short with me, saying something to the effect that had our pervious meetings been a waste of time. I was taken aback since we usually got along very well. I chalked it up to her having a bad day. But as we proceeded, it became obvious we had gone into a lot of detail in our previous chats, and I remembered none of it. My friend ended up walking away in disgust.
And then I woke up.
After my first thought that I needed to call my friend for reassurance, I realized how foolish that was, and, began to think about what it meant to me. It was all very obvious. My friend represented my competent, professional self, and I represented my current fears. I have been having greater and greater memory problems. I can't think of common, everyday words several times a day. I have always been bad with names of people I only see occasionally, but now it is happening with people I know well but don't see very often.
I have a fairly deep fear of developing dementia. I can't imagine the hell it must be for a productive person to gradually forget how to do things and who people are. My biggest, deepest fear is that I would lose my relationship with God and not recognize His presence with me or experience His comfort any more. And I certainly do not want to lose touch with my family and friends. ANd I don't want to put them through the heart-wrenching experience of my body still being present but the person they know and love not being there anymore.
My current walking program is partly to help stave off dementia as long as possible. I know I have good genes. My grandmother was alert and mentally "present" until a few days before her death. Pretty much the same with my mother. My dad died very young (52), but his mother lived into her 90's and still recognized her children when she died. So Alzheimer's does not run in the family. But I also know that physical and mental activity help decrease the chances of developing dementia.
It is my spiritual fear that runs the deepest. I do not want to let fear run my life, so I keep asking God for faith to believe He will be with me no matter where my life turns. And I am comforted by that, because I know there has never been a moment in my life thus far where He has abandoned me; even in those times when I didn't "feel" His presence, I knew on a deeper level that He was there. I am going to trust that this will be true until I take my dying breath. And then, I will be with Him!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hope Strikes Again

I have been hooked by Maggie Hope. This is the third book in the series, and I think they just keep getting better. There needs to be a suspension of belief for all the coincidences that place Maggie in an ideal position to serve in the British intelligence, and, that she has the particular (and unusual) set of skills to make her useful. She is moving up the hierarchy in her spy craft, and this time she is sent into Germany on a quick delivery of radio tubes and the planting of a receiver device for eavesdropping, but ends up staying longer than originally planned, putting her life and her "handler's" life in jeopardy. And the on-going intrigue with her parents just keeps getting more and more complicated.
If you like period stories (WWII), intrigue, strong women and danger, this is the book for you. Publishing date in May 21, but can be pre-ordered now.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Equal Opportunity Death Review

This is the first book in the Vejay Haskell series. Years ago I read several books in the Julie Smith series and thoroughly enjoyed them.

This book starts with an introduction to the main character and the town in which she lives. I felt that Ms Dunlap did a skilled job of blending the needed background information into the telling of the story. Then gradually all the characters are introduced. And the town is laid out. All very skillfully.

Vejay is an interesting woman: an escapee of the San Francisco pace and pressures. She is now a meter reader for the utility company. She is strong, fit, and attractive.

The plot was well crafted. It took many twists and turns, keeping me interested and engaged. I did not foresee the ending until almost the end of the book.  I have a mental formula for evaluating the books I read, from pedestrian/formulaic to intriguing/edge of the seat. An Equal Opportunity Death sneaks up on you; very placid initially, picking up momentum as it goes, much like the ever rising Russian River in the story.

I enjoyed the book and will read others in the series, but there is a BUT… I found Vejay a bit annoying at times. For someone so accomplished and self-reliant, she could be incredibly immature (her opening argument with Frank, the character who is murdered), and ignorant (taking dangerous risks on her own). What is it about smart women that cause them to think they know better than the police in a case? I know, there wouldn’t be a story without Vejay going off on her own. But I know there are other authors who keep suspense alive without the main character acting as ignorantly as Vejay does. (China Bayles, Maisie Dobbs, Maxie of Maxie and Stretch, to name a few) I found myself annoyed with her immaturity or know-it-all attitude to completely immerse myself in the book.

I class this book in the “fun but not profound” category. If you enjoy mysteries and location-linked stories, this one is for you.

Friday, March 15, 2013

To Dream or Not to Dream

About a week ago, I woke up with a strong sense that my next life project was to open a bookstore here in the artsy community in southern Arizona where I live part-time (for now!). I have been praying for over a year for clarity about what I am to do with my life once we move here full-time. I went back to school at age 30, after my two children were born, and then I worked as a therapist/counselor/group home director for the next 28 years. Two years ago, I "retired". I was burned out physically and emotionally. (another long story for another day).

All that is to say that I was a bit dumbfounded when the idea of a bookstore came to mind. I love books. I read everyday as much as I possibly can. When I am near the end of a book, I lose sleep finishing it before I close my eyes. I become wrapped up in the lives of the characters, and I often become the protagonist in my mind.

My love of books came from my mother. She was an English teacher by training and vocation (in her later years), and our home was covered in books and magazines. There was a floor-to-ceiling corner bookcase in our dining room filled with books, and there was a half-size book case in the corner of our living room filled with paperback books, magazines and our beloved World Book Encyclopedia. 

When my husband and I had our first child, my mother always bought books for him. And as he grew older, she would read to him. She bought beautiful illustrated books on the animal and insect kingdoms, story books about whatever topic was occupying his attention at the time.

I began taking our son to the library from the time he was born. In those early years, I was the one checking out books, but as he grew older, he began to attend story hour and choose several books to take home. As soon as he was able to print his name, he was able to get his own library card. it was a celebrated day in our home.

In the early years of our marriage, Ted and I could not afford to but books, but as his status in the work place increased, I began to frequent used bookstores and library sales in order to buy books of my own. From the time I went back to school, Ted and I have each had our own study in our home. Mine began to fill with bookcases and books. Ted had 1 bookcase for every three of mine.

As the kids grew older, Ted and I began to travel more, buying a time-share vacation home, and escaping to the sunshine and warmth of Mexico each year. We would take 1/2 a suitcase filled with books for our vacation reading. It became really problematic when we traveled to Europe and our suitcase weight was always too high. I was ecstatic when e-readers became available. For the last 8 years, we traveled with so much less luggage!

So the idea of a bookstore has deep roots in my psyche', but I have never actually considered it before. It seems a strange answer to my prayers about how I can minister and best serve the Lord at this time in my life.

But when I think of a bookstore, I think of cozy reading corners, a group room where book clubs can meet, a literary community center. I can also bring in books to sell that encourage people to think about their purpose in life, how to take better care of themselves, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I can have books that are FUN in order to bring more laughter into the world, and, of course, books for young readers and young adults that can fuel their desire to learn and grow!

So, I am beginning a journey to educate myself on what it would take to open and run a bookstore. I have no idea if this will actually happen, but I feel confident that for now, this is what I need to do. 

Joseph Campbell coined the phrase, "Follow your bliss", and lately I have heard so many people say that you need to occupy your life with work that you love. I loved being a counselor. For the last year, i have tried to image what type of counseling setting I should pursue here in AZ. Nothing grabbed my attention. But the idea of this bookstore has ignited my heart and mind, filled me with energy and excitement for the first time in a long time. May-be as I educate myself on becoming a bookstore owner, God will take me off in a tangential direction. I am open to being led and educated by the One who controls the universe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Health Journey Part II

With my Grandson - Jan 2013

It is now two months after starting my journey to better health. 

I joined the Susan G Koman 3-Day for the Cure in order to give myself a concrete goal for walking. I was only able to 0.25 miles at a time back in Jan. Yesterday, I walked 3 miles. I admit that I had a break in the middle for lunch, but still, 3 miles!

Also, I have lost 19 pounds! WooHoo! I am using meals and supplements that keep my blood sugar even, and help me to build muscle and my metabolism while losing fat. It is a win-win, because as my muscle builds so does my metabolism, which helps burn more fat. I have to be faithful to exercise and eating healthy, but I receive concrete rewards for my efforts.

I have to admit that with all my previous attempts and failures, i was actually beginning to think that as an older person, I just couldn't be successful. But I am here to say, age does not matter!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sharing Our Burdens With God - Lenten Journey

It has been over a month since I last made an entry here. A lot has happened. I was supposed to leave for AZ on Feb 5th, but became very ill and had to postpone my trip until the following Monday. I was still weak and rested most of the first week in AZ.

Then Ted, my husband, and his sister and brother-in-law arrived for a week long visit. Elisa and Randy participated in the Old Lost Dutchman Mine marathon in Apache Junction, AZ, near Phoenix. We had a beautiful weekend there and all traveled back to Tubac, only to be met by cold and periods of rain and some snow. 
I had a few days to clean up and prepare for a friend who came for a week's visit, and is leaving later today. So I have had little time to write.

So where do I begin? The most emotion-filled moment in this past month occured on Ash Wednesday. I attended a women's Bible study from church, and as part of our opening worship, was asked to read a passage from the Presbyterian Women's "Minute for Missions" devotional book.

Wednesday, February 13
Minute for Mission: Ash Wednesday

Our pastor passed out small pieces of paper and pencils as we gathered around a table at the front of the sanctuary. On the table were a large bowl, a small container of ashes, and a flask of oil. We sang and prayed in the candlelight, calling the Holy Spirit into our midst. Then our pastor asked us to consider what burdens we had come into God’s presence carrying. What burdens of anger, pain, or disappointment might be keeping us from being able to follow in Christ’s footsteps? He asked us to write these burdens on our pieces of paper and to pray over them.The burden that came to my mind was my inability to forgive a friend who had hurt me. I knew that the grudge I was holding was keeping me from fullness of life in Christ. I prayed that God would forgive me for my hard-heartedness and allow me to release my hurt and anger. I had to free myself from the desire to judge my friend and allow God to show mercy to us both. As I prayed, I realized that this would be my Lenten journey: to learn to empty out my tendency to judge and allow my heart to be filled with compassion.The pastor lit a small flame by the bowl and invited us to burn our papers in the flame and drop them into the bowl. As each one of us allowed the flames to consume our burdens, they fell together into the bottom of the bowl. Silently our pastor mixed these ashes with the palm ashes from the container and oil from the flask. As we received the ashes on our foreheads, I was keenly aware that in this mark of Christ each of us was carrying a small part of each other’s burdens. No longer separated from Christ by them, and united in Christ with each other, we began our Lenten journey.Cynthia Reggio, M.Div., Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, 2012

I am generally not one who becomes easily tearful, but I had difficulty finishing reading this entry. I was touched by simple ritual that gave a concrete expression to deep feelings of guilt and shame and a way to redeem the feelings by giving them to God.

But there was clearly something much deeper being touched in me personally.

After three weeks of reflection, I have thought about two memories. The first one has to do with the burden Cynthia Reggio, the author, shared. In the late 70's, my husband and I were part of a house church. The group was very different in background and life experience than Ted and I, and there were frequently times when I felt overwhelmed. I knew that God had led us to this group, and I knew that there was much that God wanted to teach us, but sometimes I wondered if I would survive emotionally.

On one level, I deeply loved each person in the fellowship. They were all very giving, caring people. They worked to share God's Gospel with our immediate community, with our city and with the world.

But there were personality clashes of immense magnitude as well. My frustration and anger were often piqued, and I often felt deeply hurt. Much of this frustration was focused on one particular woman. I didn't know how to interact with her without getting angry, and yet we were working together on a ministry that I felt called to contribute. So many times I prayed for the ability to forgive and let go of the hurt I felt. I spent a lot of time praying that God would change the other woman, but of course, little happened until I started praying that God would change me. Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the deep hurt, the sense of abandonment by God, and then the miraculous healing I experienced once I started asking God to change and heal me.

The other memory evoked by this reflection occurred in the early 90's when I was working at a women's residential addictions recovery program. We actually did a similar exercise. I couldn't structure it as a religious exercise, but I invited the women to write on a slip of paper the one thing for which they felt most guilty about their addiction. We then went outside, and I took an iron skillet from the kitchen and invited each woman to give her burden to her Higher Power, and burn the paper to symbolize that it had been lifted from them.

It was an incredibly sacred moment as each woman burned her piece of paper in the skillet. A few shared what they had written, but most did not. I encouraged them to write about how they felt participating in this ceremony. The next day several women brought their journals and shared what they had written. Many women shared feeling "clean" and "purged from sin" and "forgiven". It was a major turning oint for several women in their road to recovery.

So I ask you, when has God met you in a difficult time and led you to healing and renewal. Lent is an excellent time to reflect on these moments of rebirth that God scatters throughout our lives.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

One Billion Rising

Recently, a friend posted on FaceBook about an event planned for Feb 14: A Billion Women Rising event. It is in support of women around the world to help end abuse and exploitation against women. The article by Joan Chittister that talks about this event is: One Billion Women Rising

I hope you will read the article, and consider getting involved. With all the negative actions in this country toward women, especially during this past election, it is important that people stand up and say that respecting women is a priority!

Look at the movement site and decide what you can do to support bringing justice and respect to women everywhere: One Billion Rising

I haven't danced in years, but I am going to get down and dance on Feb 14. I will be attending the Tucson, AZ events all day long. I invite all of you, women who want to speak out, and, men who want to support them, to find an event near you and join. You can also plan an event if there isn't one near you. 
I hope you will become involved. 

Many years ago, I participated in a "Take Back the Night" event in Philadelphia. It was a movement to speak out against the attacks on women who were just trying to go about their life. Attacks and rapes were happening at an alarming rate: on the subway, in downtown, along neighborhood streets. It was so empowering for 10, 000 women to go down into the subway system in Center City Philly, walk the corridors and platforms. No one dared to bother all of us. There was incredible strength in numbers. Out of that movement, subway platforms were upgraded with better lighting, increased transit police presence, and emergency phones were installed. 
Take Back the Night History

In an atmosphere in our country where it feels as if some people are trying to erase women's rights, it is important to stand up and be counted. Don't just "Like"! Get involved. And blessings to each of you who do.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Before I Was Formed, God Knew

Today's meditation in Disciplines is JEREMIAH 1:4-10, where God tells Jerimiah, 

“Before I shaped you in the womb,
    I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
    I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
    that’s what I had in mind for you.” 

This scripture brought back strong memories I have of God being present with me when I was a very small child, some of which I was still in my crib. I have since come to realize that few people have these types of memories, at least in our culture. Historically Gaelic cultures acknowledge these types of "God awareness" memories in small child, and the "thin places" between this world and seeing God face to face. 

I certainly went through some periods of anger with God (when my father died), and some periods of questioning God's existence (especially during pretty severe postpartum depression after my second child was born). But for the most part, I sought God's Presence throughout my life.

I have always found it comforting when I come across scriptures that remind me that God has known me even before I was born. I am comforted my hearing that God has given me gifts and ministries before I was even born. My frustration has been that God doesn't always easily reveal WHAT I am being called to do and WHERE I am supposed to do it.

Two years ago i retired from my work here in PA, in preparation for moving to AZ, and, because I was burning out physically and emotionally at my job. After two years of preparing our PA home for sale, and setting up our AZ home, I feel more ready to become involved in ministry again. I don't know if God will give me a new job, or have me do volunteer work, but I want to get more involved again. ANd I feel this desire is being stirred in my heart by God.

I do not know what my future holds, but I know that I am in God's hands. I am in a waiting and watching stance, one of my least favorite. I want to "know" what my future holds. But in not knowing the details, I am forced to watch intently for God's movement in my life. I am open and looking. I am paying attention to ways God is piercing through the thin places in my life. And I am grateful that I do not have to figure these things out by myself.