Friday, September 26, 2014

Beginning ~ with a fatal accident

Change of Heart ~ by Jodi Picoult, 2008, fiction
In the beginning, I believed in second chances.  How else could I account for the fact that years ago, right after the accident — when the smoke cleared and the car had stopped tumbling end over end to rest upside down in a ditch — I was still alive; I could hear Elizabeth, my little girl, crying?  The police officer who had pulled me out of the car rode with me to the hospital to have my broken leg set, with Elizabeth — completely unhurt, a miracle — sitting on his lap the whole time.  He'd held my hand when I was taken to identify my husband Jack's body.  He came to the funeral.  He showed up at my door to personally inform me when the drunk driver who ran us off the road was arrested.
Those are the first lines, and here's the publisher's description of the book:
One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart.  Now her life is a waiting game.  Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice.  In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.  For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises.  The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world.  In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him.  Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire.  But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TWOsday ~ banned books week

Thanks, Bookfool, for reminding me it's Banned Books Week.  Here are TWO books that have been banned that I really enjoyed reading.  Click on the titles to see what I've said about these books in other years.

Little Black Sambo ~ by Helen Bannerman, 1899
Banned in Japan (1988–2005) to quell "political
threats to boycott Japanese cultural exports."

The Lorax ~ by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Suess Geisel), 1971
Banned in the Laytonville, California School District on
the grounds that this book "criminalizes the forestry industry."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beginning ~ with never a war

Four Ways to Forgiveness ~ by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1995, science fiction
"On the planet O there has not been a war for five thousand years," she read, "and on Gethen there has never been a war."
I found this book in a box I was unpacking in my new apartment.  One of the joys of moving is finding books (and occasionally other things) that I don't remember ever seeing before.  I don't think I bought this, so likely it was a book in a free bin at a used book store.  I would have picked it up because I think Ursula K. Le Guin is an excellent writer, but I don't remember this particular book at all.  Here's what the book, published nineteen years ago, is all about.
At the far end of our universe, on the twin planets of Werel and Yeowe, all humankind is divided into "assets" and "owners," tradition and liberation are at war, and freedom takes many forms.  Here is a society as complex and troubled as any on our world, peopled with unforgettable characters struggling to become fully human.  For the disgraced revolutionary Abberkam, the callow "space brat" Solly, the haughty soldier Teyeo, and the Ekumen historian and Hainish exile Havzhiva, freedom and duty both begin in the heart, and success as well as failure has its costs.  In this stunning collection of four intimately interconnected novellas, Ursula K. Le Guin returns to the great themes that have made her one of America's most honored and respected authors.
All four stories are set in the future and deal with the planets Yeowe and Werel, both members of the Ekumen, a collective of planets used by Le Guin as part of the background for many novels and short stories in her Hainish Cycle.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Practice meditation

One of the steps of Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path is to practice meditation.  Having taught religions of the world at Chattanooga State Community College for nearly a decade, I'm aware of that as I learn to meditate with a group of people from my new church.  And then I ran across this section (from page 38) as I was reading a book I recently bought from the library book sale.  The narrator was in China to adopt a baby girl and was traveling in a small group of families.
As the group moves through the site, I keep thinking of the people just arrested outside the Forbidden City.  They were arrested for meditating.  Actually, they were arrested for being members of a group deemed a "cult" by the Chinese government, as most religions have been. ...

Just yesterday I meditated in the shadow of the Great Wall of China, and today I will do so within the walls of the Forbidden City.  I will practice with a delicious sense of subversion, knowing that no one can stop me, and in a spirit of solidarity with those just arrested.  I do not close my eyes as I usually do, to remain unobtrusive, and yet a young man in military uniform stops talking with his comrades and watches me as I stand away from the group, looking out over the courtyard.  Something about me has alerted his attention, but as I am doing nothing that can be deemed inappropriate, he loses interest and begins talking again with his friends.

As my breath slows and my focus of attention shifts from the outer world to the inner world, I can still see everything that surrounds me, but also, at the same time, can see with my inner vision.  Never before have I experienced this, to be fully aware of the external world simultaneously, without effort.  Perhaps it is this place, I think, this void, that produces a type of heightened perception...
How odd that people can be arrested for meditating.  And yet it's something that Buddhists and Christians and people of other religions and no religions do.  This is something else I need to erase from my mind when I breathe deeply and relax into meditation.

Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother's Journey to Adoption in China ~ by Beth Nonte Russell, 2007, memoir (China)
Steeped in Chinese culture, Forever Lily is an extraordinary account of a life-changing, wholly unexpected love.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Five ~ thinking "beach"

This morning (12th)
RevKarla brings us today's Friday Five, which she calls "Random."

1.  If you could sneak away anywhere this weekend, right now, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?
Except for the fact that this is the last day they'll be there, I'd join my twin daughters who are vacationing together this week at Orange Beach, Alabama.  Their photos (texted and on Facebook) show they're having a grand time, reading, watching the sun come up, and painting with watercolors.
Yesterday morning (11th)
2.  What is for lunch today?  (RevKarla says, "One of the very first FF I ever played asked this.")
Lunch is over, and I had beef pot roast.
3.  Along that first-FF-RevKarla-ever-played theme, what are you wearing today?
I'm wearing my "retirement uniform" of jeans, tee-shirt, and comfortable slip-on shoes.  When I went out (see #4), I added a long-sleeved denim shirt because it is only 58*F today at mid-afternoon in St. Louis.  My daughters seem to be wearing swimwear in this photo from a couple of days ago.
Day before yesterday (10th)
4.  Along the Today Theme, what are you doing today?
I took two neighbors to the library and and grocery store.  We live in a high-rise for seniors, and neither of the women has a car.  As I said in my earlier post today, "I not only still drive my car, but go at least weekly to the nearest library."
5.  Along the random theme, what is your favorite scent, and why?
Back in February, I told you Friday Fivers about the scent of hyacinths taking me back to my sandbox in my grandmother's back yard, so today I'll think about the scent of the ocean along the Gulf Coast where my daughters have been frolicking.  Do they look 54 to you?  Maybe it's just my "motherly eyes" seeing them more like four or five years old.
Sunrise three days ago (9th)

Beginning ~ with a late-night knock on the door

The Cat, the Vagabond, and the Victim ~ by Leann Sweeney, 2014, mystery (South Carolina)
Visitors don't often knock on my front door at eleven o'clock at night.  But my friend Allison Cuddahee from the local no-kill shelter had called me in a panic to ask a favor.  She arrived thirty minutes later bearing a gift.
I may be becoming "the library lady" around my new apartments.  It's a place for seniors, and many of them no longer drive.  I not only still drive my car, but go at least weekly to the nearest library.  I got this book for one of the ladies on my floor, but I may have to read it before I give it to her.  Don't worry — she still has one or two I got her last time, plus the six or seven delivered to her from the U-City Library the other day.  And I'm a fast reader.  Here's a summary of the book from the back cover:
When Clyde the cat travels two hundred miles back home only to find his former owner dead, the story makes national news.  While everyone seems eager to tell Clyde’s incredible tale, someone needs to step up to care for him.  Because the media attention is creating chaos at the local shelter, cat quilter Jillian Hart agrees to foster the loyal orange tabby, hoping his location is kept secret.  But while the media circus around Clyde continues, Jillian learns the real story behind his owner’s death — he was murdered.  Why would an eldery man already dying from a serious illness become a murder victim?  As the local police search for an answer, Clyde makes another escape.  Jillian is drawn into the case when she finds Clyde has returned to his home again — and he’s found another body.  When the motive behind these murders is finally revealed, Jillian understands Clyde is in danger of becoming the next victim, and she must help find the killer before the claws really come out.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BTT (#44) ~ my recommendations

Deb at Booking Through Thursday asks today's question:
"If a friend asks you to recommend a really good book — good writing, good characters, good story — but with no other qualifications, what would you recommend?"
Actually, I'll name two.  I read this first one a few days ago and give it a 10 of 10.  The other is also a 10/10, that I read in August.

The Story Hour ~ by Thrity Umrigar, 2014, fiction (USA and India), 10/10
It struck me as a bit strange that an experienced psychologist's professional detachment disintegrated when she began to work with a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself.   Lakshmi was cut off from her family in India, desperately lonely, and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man.  Moved by her plight, Maggie decided the despondent woman needed a friend, not a shrink.  Their conflicting expectations took the story to places I never expected.  Oh, yes, the book definitely held my attention as these two women made surprising choices that, actually, made sense within the context of their very different worlds.
Goodnight June ~ by Sarah Jio, 2014, fiction (Seattle, Washington), 10/10
I finished this novel in a couple of days and rated it a 10 out of 10 because I couldn't put it down.  If you want to read more about it, I shared the book's first lines, here.  I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoyed the beloved children's book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  The author imagines a bookstore owner who was "Brownie's" friend and the inspiration for her moon book.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TWOsday ~ books for two classes

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee ~ by Bart D. Ehrman, 2014
Ehrman reveals how Jesus’s divinity became dogma in the first few centuries of the early church.  The claim at the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God.  But this is not what the original disciples believed during Jesus’s lifetime — and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself.  How Jesus Became God tells the story of an idea that shaped Christianity, and of the evolution of a belief that looked very different in the fourth century than it did in the first.  Ehrman reveals how an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee, who was crucified for crimes against the state, came to be thought of as equal with the one God Almighty, Creator of all things.  But how did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God?  In a book that took eight years to research and write, Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection.  Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death — alive again — did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God.  And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today.
Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, Revised Edition ~ by John McQuiston II, 2011
This book holds timeless appeal for readers who hunger for a meaningful and creatively balanced framework for life.  It offers a simple blueprint, based on the Rule of St. Benedict, to order one's time and create physical and inner space, to step back from the demands and pressures of the moment, and to step into a place of peace.
Once again, it's TWOsdays.  I'll be studying these TWO  books for seven weeks.  My Sunday morning class is viewing Bart Ehrman's video lectures on How Jesus Became God and then discussing it.  I bought the book and read the first chapter before our first session.  I'm not sure how many others in the class also plan to read the book, but I'm definitely a reader.

The church provided each of us a copy of the small revised edition of McQuiston's Always We Begin Again, and we were to read the first 20 pages before meeting tonight at the St. Louis Bread Company in the Loop near the church.  Others are meeting on Sunday mornings, but I can't be in two places at the same time, so I chose to meet with the Tuesday evening group for this one.  We were told that St. Benedict and McQuiston have wise, “middle way” practical suggestions for living, which we participants will discuss and practice.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Beginning ~ with debates

Debates are raging today about the role of religions in public life, and it is not difficult to see why.  First, religions — Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and so on — are growing numerically, and their members worldwide are increasingly unwilling to keep their convictions and practices limited to the private sphere of family or religious community.  Instead, they want these convictgions and practices to shape public life.
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good ~ by Miroslav Volf, 2011
Debates rage today about the role of religion in public life.  As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, various religions come to inhabit the same space.  But how do they live together, especially when each wants to shape the public realm according to the dictates of its own sacred texts and traditions?  How does the Christian faith relate in the religious pluralism of contemporary public life?  Renowned theologian Miroslav Volf argues that there is no single way Christian faith relates to culture as a whole.  He explores major issues on the frontlines of faith today, addressing questions such as:
  • In what way does the Christian faith come to malfunction in the contemporary world, and how should we counter these malfunctions?
  • What should a Christian's main concern be when it comes to living well in the world today?
  • How should we go about realizing a vision for human flourishing in relation to other faiths and under the roof of a single state?
Covering such timely issues as witness in a multifaith society and political engagement in a pluralistic world, this compelling book highlights things Christians can do to serve the common good.
This book was given to me by my new friend Betty, who plucked it off her shelf and handed it to me.  It has now been added to my toppling TBR pile.  If you are a book blogger, you probably already know TBR stands for "To Be Read."

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Library Loot ~ September 3-9

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer ~ by Anne-Marie O'Connor, 2012, history
The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it; the notorious artist who painted it; the now vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna that shaped it; and the strange twisted fate that befell it.  The Bloch-Bauers were art patrons, and Adele herself was considered a rebel of fin de si├Ęcle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered "degenerate" in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine "nature").  Klimt made more than a hundred sketches of Adele — simple pencil drawings on thin manila paper.  The Nazis confiscated the portrait of Adele from the Bloch-Bauers' grand palais, and the Austrian government put the painting on display, stripping Adele's Jewish surname from it so that no clues to her identity (nor any hint of her Jewish origins) would be revealed.  Nazi officials called the painting The Lady in Gold and proudly exhibited it in Vienna's Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution.  The painting was inspired by the Byzantine mosaics Klimt had studied in Italy, with their exotic symbols and swirls, the subject an idol in a golden shrine.  Sixty years after it was stolen by the Nazis, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became the subject of a decade-long litigation between the Austrian government and the Bloch-Bauer heirs.  O'Connor explains how and why the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in the case and how the Court's decision had profound ramifications in the art world.
The Story Hour ~ by Thrity Umrigar, 2014, fiction
An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients.  But when she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates.  Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store.  Moved by her plight, Maggie treats Lakshmi in her home office for free, quickly realizing that the despondent woman doesn’t need a shrink; she needs a friend.  Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient have become close friends.  But while their relationship is deeply affectionate, it is also warped by conflicting expectations.  When Maggie and Lakshmi open up and share long-buried secrets, the revelations will jeopardize their close bond, shake their faith in each other, and force them to confront painful choices.
A Good Horse ~ by Jane Smiley, 2010, juvenile fiction (California), 8/10
When eighth grader Abby Lovitt looks out at those pure-gold rolling hills, she knows there’s no place she’d rather be than her family’s ranch — even with all the hard work of tending to nine horses. But some chores are no work at all, like grooming young Jack. At eight months, his rough foal coat has shed out, leaving a smooth, rich silk, like chocolate. As for Black George, such a good horse, it turns out he’s a natural jumper. When he and Abby clear four feet easy as pie, heads start to turn at the ring — buyers’ heads — and Abby knows Daddy won’t turn down a good offer. Then a letter arrives from a private investigator, and suddenly Abby stands to lose not one horse but two. The letter states that Jack’s mare may have been sold to the Lovitts as stolen goods. A mystery unfolds, more surprising than Abby could ever expect. Will she lose her beloved Jack to his rightful owners? Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley raises horses of her own, and her affection and expertise shine through in this inviting horse novel for young readers, set in 1960s California horse country and featuring characters from The Georges and the Jewels.
I read about The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar on Bookfool's blog, heard about The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O'Connor from a new acquaintance, and happened to notice A Good Horse by Jane Smiley while looking for another book at the library.  I didn't know Jane Smiley had written a whole series of books for children about horses.  This is one of them.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TWOsday ~ memoir and mystery

Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother's Journey to Adoption in China ~ by Beth Nonte Russell, 2007, memoir (China)
"Will you take her?" she asks.  When Beth Nonte Russell travels to China to help her friend Alex adopt a baby girl from an orphanage there, she thinks it will be an adventure, a chance to see the world.   But her friend, who had prepared for the adoption for many months, panics soon after being presented with the frail baby, and the situation develops into one of the greatest challenges of Russell's life.  Russell, watching in disbelief as Alex distances herself from the child, cares for the baby — clothing, bathing, and feeding her — and makes her feel secure in the unfamiliar surroundings.  Russell is overwhelmed and disoriented by the unfolding drama and all that she sees in China, and yet amid the emotional turmoil finds herself deeply bonding with the child.  She begins to have dreams of an ancient past — dreams of a young woman who is plucked from the countryside and chosen to be empress, and of the child who is ultimately taken from her.  As it becomes clear that her friend — whose indecisiveness about the adoption has become a torment — won't be bringing the baby home, Russell is amazed to realize that she cannot leave the baby behind and that her dreams have been telling her something significant, giving her the courage to open her heart and bring the child home against all odds.  Steeped in Chinese culture, Forever Lily is an extraordinary account of a life-changing, wholly unexpected love.
Once again, it's TWOsdays.  As before, the TWO things I'm sharing are books.  At the University City Library, I bought a couple of books from the sale shelves.  One is nonfiction, the other fiction.

If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him... ~ by Sharyn McCrumb, 1995, mystery
When forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson becomes the official P.I. for her brother Bill's fledgling Virginia law firm, she quickly takes on two complex cases.  Eleanor Royden, a perfect lawyer's wife for twenty years, has shot her ex-husband and his wife in cold blood.  And Donna Jean Morgan is implicated in the death of her Bible-thumping bigamist husband.  Bill's feminist firebrand partner, A. P. Hill, does her damnedest for Eleanor, an abused wife in denial, and Bill gallantly defends Donna Jean.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth's forensic expertise, including her special knowledge of poisons, gives her the most challenging case of her career.