Books I am reading

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.