Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ books for Christmas

Books, books, always more books.  The nice thing about having a roomy is that I also get to read the books she gets, and she gets to read mine.  Here are the latest arrivals, as gifts and as book orders she or I placed.

The Dovekeepers ~ by Alice Hoffman, 2011, fiction (Israel)
Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.  Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.  Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death.  Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed.  Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier.  Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.  The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.  All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
In the Country of the Young ~ by Lisa Carey, 2000, fiction (Maine)
On a stormy November night in 1848, a ship carrying more than a hundred Irish emigrants ran aground twenty miles off the coast of Maine.  Many were saved, but some were not — including a young girl who died crying out the name of her brother.  In the present day, the artist Oisin MacDara lives in self-imposed exile on Tiranogue — the small island where the shipwrecked Irish settled.  The past is Oisin's curse, as memories of the twin sister who died tragically when he was a boy haunt him still.  Then on a quiet All Hallows' Eve, a restless spirit is beckoned into his home by a candle flickering in the window:  the ghost of the girl whose brief life ended on Tiranogue's shore more than a century earlier.  In Oisin's house she seeks comfort and warmth, and a chance at the life that was denied her so long ago.   For a lonely man chained by painful memories, nothing will ever be the same again.
The Mermaids Singing ~ by Lisa Carey, 1998, fiction (Ireland)
Somewhere off the west coast of Ireland lies Inis Murúch — the Island of the Mermaids — a world where myth is more powerful that truth and where the sea sings with the healing and haunting voices of women.  Lisa Carey weaves together the voices and lives of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women.  Years ago, Clíona — strong, proud, and practical — sailed for Boston, determined to one day come home.  But when the time came to return to Inis Murúch, her daughter Grace — fierce, beautiful, and brazenly sexual — resented her mother's isolated, unfamiliar world.  Though entranced by the sea and its healing powers, Grace became desperate to escape the confines of the island, one day stealing away with her small daughter Graínne.  Now Graínne — motherless at fifteen after Grace's death — is about to be taken back across the ocean by Clíona, repeating the journey her mother was forced to make years before.  She goes to meet a father she has never known, her heart pulled between a life where she no longer belongs and a family she cannot remember.  On the rocky shore of Inis Murúch, she waits for her father and begins to discover her own sexual identity even as she struggles to understand the forces that have torn her family apart.
Leaving Home ~ by Anita Brookner, 2005, fiction (France)
At twenty-six, Emma Roberts comes to the painful realization that if she is ever to become truly independent, she must leave her comfortable London flat and venture into the wider world.  This entails not only breaking free from a claustrophobic relationship with her mother, but also shedding her inherited tendency toward melancholy.  Once settled in a small Paris hotel, Emma befriends Franoise Desnoyers, a vibrant young woman who offers Emma a glimpse into a turbulent life so different from her own.  In this exquisite new novel of self-discovery, Booker Prize-winner Anita Brookner addresses one of the great dramas of our lives:  growing up and leaving home.
The Septembers of Shiraz ~ by Dalia Sofer, 2007, fiction (Iran), 8/10
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. As Isaac navigates the terrors of prison, and his wife feverishly searches for him, his children struggle with the realization that their family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
The First Phone Call from Heaven ~ by Mitch Albom, 2013, fiction (Michigan), 9/10
One morning in the small town of Coldwater, Michigan, the phones start ringing.  The voices say they are calling from heaven.  Is it the greatest miracle ever?  Or some cruel hoax?  As news of these strange calls spreads, outsiders flock to Coldwater to be a part of it.  At the same time, a disgraced pilot named Sully Harding returns to Coldwater from prison to discover his hometown gripped by "miracle fever."  Even his young son carries a toy phone, hoping to hear from his mother in heaven.  As the calls increase, and proof of an afterlife begins to surface, the town — and the world — transforms.  Only Sully, convinced there is nothing beyond this sad life, digs into the phenomenon, determined to disprove it for his child and his own broken heart.
The Case for God ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2009
Armstrong provides a balanced, nuanced understanding of the role religion plays in human life and the trajectory of faith in modern times.  Why has God become incredible?  Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?  Moving from the Paleolithic Age to the present, Armstrong details the lengths to which humankind has gone to experience a sacred reality that it called God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao.  She examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith.  With her trademark depth of knowledge and profound insight, Armstrong elucidates how the changing world has necessarily altered the importance of religion at both societal and individual levels.  And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for structuring a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age.
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010
In this important and thought-provoking work, Karen Armstrong — one of the most original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world — provides an impassioned and practical guide to helping us make the world a more compassionate place.  The twelve steps she suggests are listed below.  She shares concrete methods to help us cultivate and expand our capacity for compassion and provides a reading list to encourage us to “hear one another’s narratives.”  She teaches us that becoming a compassionate human being is a lifelong project and a journey filled with rewards.
The First Step: Learn About Compassion
The Second Step: Look at Your Own World
The Third Step: Compassion for Yourself
The Fourth Step: Empathy
The Fifth Step: Mindfulness
The Sixth Step: Action
The Seventh Step: How Little We Know
The Eighth Step: How Should We Speak to One Another?
The Ninth Step: Concern for Everybody
The Tenth Step: Knowledge
The Eleventh Step: Recognition
The Twelfth Step: Love Your Enemies
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2 comments:

Barbara Bartels said...

What a great list of books. Some I did not know about. I think I would like to look up the Karen Armstrong one on compassion.

Harvee said...

I really liked The First Phone Call from Heaven. Haven't read any of the others, all good reads.