Saturday, March 28, 2009

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace


Leo Tolstoy

A New Translation by Anthony Briggs

Front Flap: "At a lavish party in St. Petersburg in 1805, amid the glittering crystal and chandeliers, the room buzzes with talk of the prospect of war. Soon battle and terror will engulf the country, and the destinies of its people will be changed forever. War and Peace has as its backdrop Napoleon's invasion of Russia and at its heart three of literature's most memorable characters: Pierre Bezukhov, a quixotic young man in search of life's meaning; Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a cynical intellectual transformed by suffering in war; and the bewitching Natasha Rostov, whose impulsiveness threatens to destroy her happiness. As they seek fulfillment, fall in love, make mistakes, and become scarred by conflict in different ways, these characters and their stories interweave with those of a huge cast, from aristocrats to peasants, from soldiers to Napoleon himself. Battles, love affairs, births, deaths, changing family fortunes, unforgettable scenes of wolf hunts, Russian dancing, starlit troika rides, the great comet of 1812--the entire spectrum of human life is here in all its grandeur and imperfection."

I just finished reading "War and Peace" and just have to say -- Wow! What a ride! When I started reading the book, I had never read anything by Leo Tolstoy, nor did I have any preconceived ideas about the story. From the very beginning I was captured and couldn't put the book down. I started it on Saturday, March 21st at 8:10 p.m (Father made me write it down) and finished it this morning at 8:53 a.m. I would have finished it last night, but the Epilogue was blowing my mind and I decided to read it while my brain was fresh.

The Anthony Briggs translation stays faithful to the original Russian but takes out all the thee's, thou's and thy's for easier reading. Also included is a list of characters in the back of the book you can refer to, because there are many, many characters and if you don't pay close attention, it is easy to get them confused.

Tolstoy blends history with fiction to create an interesting, educational, classical story about war, love, family, and power. In the latter part of the story Tolstoy mixes in his analysis of the actions of Napoleon, Alexander and the people surrounding them. The Russian Commander in Chief, Kutozov was one particular person whom Tolstoy felt should have been honored over Napoleon.

"For Russian historians (strange and terrible to relate) Napoleon, the least significant instrument of history, who never once in any place, not even in exile, displayed a trace of human virtue, is an object of admiration and enthusiasm; he is one of their 'great men'.

By contrast, Kutozov, the man who from start to finish during his period of command in 1812, from Borodino to Vilna, never once let himself down by word or deed, an unparalleled example of self sacrifice and the ability to see today's events with tomorrow's significance, this Kutuzov is conceived of by the same historians as a rather pathetic, nondescript character, and any mention of him in relation to the year 1812 always causes a stir of embarrassment.

And yet it is difficult to think of any historical figure whose activity shows a greater determination to focus continually on a single aim. It is difficult to imagine a more noble aim, or one more closely attuned to the will of an entire nation. And it would be even more difficult to find an example anywhere in history of a historical personage accomplishing his declared aim more completely than Kutuzov did after total commitment to it in 1812." pg 1208

In the Epilogue, Tolstoy analyzes how historians apply the actions of one person and represent it as the action of an entire people. He discusses the actions of Napoleon, the question of power and whether power is taken by one person or given to that person by a select few or the masses.

"How did these individuals compel whole nations to act in accordance with their will?" pg 1317

What is the meaning of power and what happens if no one follows that power. What is the meaning of free will and if people are influenced by the actions of those around them or if it is all meant to be. His examination of the events of 1812 is very interesting and gives you much to think about.

Not only did I fall in love with the characters, I was fascinated by the whole story, how events unfolded and one person's actions affected not just one person, but everyone.

Highly recommended!

Friday, March 27, 2009


"A Treasury of Peter Rabbit and Other Stories" by Beatrix Potter

This book has several stories. One being The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
The story begins,
Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were - Flopsy,
and Peter,
Peter gets in all kinds of trouble when he goes to Mr. McGregor's garden. He loses his suit of clothes and his shoes. He also gets all wet when he hides in a watering can. He does eventually get out of the garden and goes back home to his mother.

"The Tail of Benjamin Bunny" is the next story in this book. The story begins,

One morning a little rabbit sat on a bank.
He pricked his ears and listened to the trit-trot, trit-trot of a pony.
A gig was coming along the road; it was driven by Mr. McGregor, and beside him sat Mrs.
McGregor in her best bonnet.

Benjamin and Peter have gone back to Mr. McGregor's garden to get Peter's clothes. They get trapped under a basket with a cat sitting on top. Old Mr. Bunny comes along and saves Benjamin and Peter by trapping the cat in the greenhouse. Old Mr. Bunny takes Benjamin out of the basket by his ears and whipped him with a little switch, then takes Peter out and the handkerchief with the onions.

"The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin"

This is a Tale about a tail - a tail that belonged to a little red squirrel, and his name was Nutkin.

Nukin and the other squirrels went to Owl Island to get some nuts. They took some mice as an offering for Old Brown, he is the owl, and put them on his doorstep. But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He was always telling riddles to Old Brown.

"Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!
A little wee man in a red, red coat!
A staff in his hand, and a stone in his throat;
If you'll tell me this riddle, I'll give you
a groat."
And so Nutkin kept telling riddles until Old Brown got very tired of it. He was going to skin and eat Nutkin when Nukin pulled very hard and broke his tail. Nutkin doesn't tell riddles anymore!

"The Tale of Two Bad Mice"

Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll's house; it was red
brick with white windows, and it had real muslin curtains and a front
door and a chimney.

The mice make a terrible mess of the doll house. They got very upset the food was plastic, so they went about tearing up things in the doll house. They took all the feathers out of a bolster and made themselves a feather bed. They proceeded to take items from the doll house to their home. The girls that owned the dollhouse dressed one of the dolls up in a policeman's outfit. But the mice paid them back for everything they broke and took with an old crooked sixpence found under the hearth rug.

"The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher"

Once upon a time there was a frog called Mr. Jeremy Fisher;
he lived in a little damp house amongst the buttercups
at the edge of a pond.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher goes fishing one day to catch some minnows for lunch. He is having company for lunch, Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton. Mr. Jeremy Fisher puts on his Macintosh and a pair of old shiny galoshes, he took his rod and basket and sets off to catch some minnows. Instead of catching minnows he catches little Jack Sharp the stickleback, covered with spines! Instead of a nice dish of minnows - they had a roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thomas Merton

The Seven Storey Mountain

An Autobiography of Faith

Back Cover:"The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most famous books ever written about a man's search for faith and peace. While still in his early twenties, Merton, an intensely passionate and brilliant man, found that nothing in his worldly life assuaged a growing restlessness. His curiosity about spiritual matters led him first to baptism as a Catholic and ultimately to entry into a Trappist monastery--'the four walls of my new freedom.' There he wrote this extraordinary testament, a unique spiritual autobiography of a man who withdrew from the world only after he had fully immersed himself in it. In the half century since its original publication, The Seven Storey Mountain has been recognized as one of the most influential religious works of our time. Translated into more than twenty languages, it has touched millions of lives."

I discovered "The Seven Storey Mountain" a couple years ago when researching Catholic conversion stories for my first Nano book "Floating on the Surface" in which I converted my main character to Catholic. I had came across several interesting books including Thomas Merton's and truthfully, even though I have been Catholic all my life, had never heard of him. I didn't get around to reading it until now.

It is definitely an interesting study of his life, especially since it is written from his perspective after he became a Trappist monk. When he first joined the Trappist, his desire was to leave his old life behind, including his life as a writer and forget all about it. However, the abbot encouraged Thomas not only to keep writing poems and stories, but to write the story of his life.

His parents, who were both artists, did not raise him with an particular religious upbringing. His 'pop' (grandfather) disliked 'catholic' and 'Jews' so essentially he was raised with a fear of Catholics and did everything he could to avoid them and the church. Merton was a young man who liked women, drinking, partying, and was very much into materialistic things. But he was restless as well because something was missing in his life. He was deeply introspective and kept searching for truth, dabbling in many lines of thought including communism.

Merton's spiritual awakening was greatly influenced by several things. While he was in college he purchased a book called The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy not realizing it was Catholic philosophy. He decided to read it instead of tossing it away.

"I discovered a entirely new concept of God--a concept which showed me at once that the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training." pg 189
After reading this book, he read as many catholic books as he could find. Within a year and a half of reading this book, Thomas decided to convert. While working on his Thesis which was based on the Poems of William Blake, his poetry and religious ideas:

"As Blake worked himself into my system, I became more and more conscious of the necessity of a vital faith, and the total unreality and unsubstantiality of the dead, selfish rationalism which had been freezing my mind and will for the last seven years. By the time the summer was over, I was to become conscious of the fact that the only way to live was to live in a world that was charged with the presence and reality of God." pg 208
One night while reading a book about Gerard Hopkins and his decision to become Catholic, Merton was struck with a strong conviction to become Catholic. Months after his baptism, he desired to become a priest. It is amusing as he learns about the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Benedictines and systematically eliminates each one because one has too many rules or they have to sleep in a common dormitory or they aren't allowed to eat meat. He initially disliked the idea of becoming a Trappist monk because among other things:

"Dan said, 'Do you think you would like that kind of life?"

"Oh no,' I said, 'not a chance! That's not for me! I'd never be able to stand it, It would kill me in a week. Besides, I have to have meat. I can't get along without meat, I need it for my health." pg 289
Once he learned to listen to God's will and not his own, did he find the happiness he sought. Three years after his baptism he entered into the Trappist life at the Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky. But it doesn't end there as he talks about life in the Monastery and his growth in God and faith. Merton's story is truly inspirational and educational as we follow his life, his search for happiness and his spiritual awakening. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weeks 8 and 9

The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town, by Andrew Ross

Celebration, USA: Living in Disney’s Brave New Town, by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

Grade: B for both

I’ve been interested in planned communities and utopian endeavors for a very long time, but the town of Celebration is particularly fascinating. Celebration, for those of you who don’t know, was planned and built by Disney; it reminds me of what might happen if Thomas Kinkade got enamored with New Urbanism.

Both of these books were written in the late nineties, right after Celebration was established (I’m digging around now to find a more recent book on the same topic, since I’m curious to see how the town has fared ten years later). Both of them were good if not outstanding. (Those are old-style Bs: above average.) Frantz and Collins are journalists, and it shows; their prose is readable, but too consciously entertaining, and their account is low on critical reflection. (Also they talk about “pixie dust” way, way too much.)

Andrew Ross is an academic, so his cultural criticism is a little more pointed, but whenever I read Ross I have the same reaction: he’s so elitist, even when he’s trying to appreciate the Common Man, that I just want to hit him over the head with a copy of People.

I’m still mulling over exactly what I think about the whole Celebration enterprise. Both books talk a lot about how people moved to Celebration because they wanted to move backwards, not forwards; to recapture some sort of lost nostalgic past when things were better; to recapture the 1950s, only with better technology and (presumably) civil rights. I’m sure there’s some truth to this, but any planned community is a utopian endeavour; I think I’d like to read up a little more on Levittown or Seaside or Columbia in order to see just how Disney’s involvement ramped up this expectation.

One of the most contentious elements in Celebration was the school, which turned out to be the place where utopian dreams and nasty reality smacked into each other with the most force. The school was designed to be innovative and cutting edge–so innovative and cutting edge that it veered into chaos, didn’t provide grades or transcripts, and generally made parents so nervous about their children’s progress that they fled in droves. Fascinating to read about this from two different points of view–the journalists (married to each other, with two school-aged children) were among the parents agitating for reform, while Andrew Ross (single, an academic by training) concludes that the school would have been just fine if the uninformed, rabble-rousing parents had minded their own business and let the educational experts run the show.

“Nick and Becky brought home little homework, and there were few tests,” the parents write. “We were asked to trust the teachers to an unusual degree, and not everything we saw inspired trust….One of Nick’s nine-week goals was to learn to read more slowly because he kept getting ahead of his reading group in class.” (Insert sound of me hyperventilating at this point.)

Ross, on the other hand, writes, “Teacher-parent meetings were dominated by exasperated complaints, usually from male parents, based on badly digested information or opinion. Seemingly oblivous to the reasoning behind the teaching methods, parents posed the same questions again and again: ‘Why aren’t you teaching my son the basics?’ ‘How is he going to know your basic history, your basic geography?’ ‘Who’s teaching my child to diagram a sentence?’” These all seem like completely worthless queries to Ross; he concludes that the parent dissatisfaction with the school (remember, this is a school with open classrooms which at one point had two teachers supervising a group of over eighty middle-school students with no texts and no written curricula–the students were expected to come up with their own learning objectives and carry them out) stems from American anti-intellectualism, that the parents had “little enthusiasm for knowledge that offers no immediate practical use.” When the school finally buckled to parent demands and agreed to provide textbooks and standard grades (in large part so that high school students would be able to apply to college), Ross chalks the changes up to “the Disney training philosophy that ‘the customer is always right.’”

This, folks, is why home schooling is on the rise.

There are many great schools out there, with dedicated and skillful teachers. But if you’re unlucky enough to run into a Ross-style educator, convinced that parents are unqualified to have any opinions on what and how their children learn, you may find yourself doing what a number of the Celebration families did. Yanking your kids out and teaching them at home

Weeks 10 and 11

I’m still pursuing the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, but the last few books haven’t inspired me to write lengthy reflections, so this is more along the lines of an update.

Weeks 10 and 11:

Books: While I Was Gone, by Sue Miller, and Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, by Kathryn Joyce.

Grade: B for both

I seem to be on a run of pretty-good-but-didn’t-knock-my-socks-off books. I picked up the Sue Miller novel because it was on sale at my local library and I remembered liking The Good Mother when I read it, years and years ago. (I didn’t realize until after I got it home that it was an Oprah selection–I tend to avoid these out of sheer middle-brow snobbery.) Sue Miller does marital unhappiness with absolute brilliance. Contentment, not nearly as vivid.

Quiverfull had its points. I’m not going to “review” it in part because it isn’t the book I would have written on the same topic, and I personally loathe it when a reviewer criticizes one of my books for that reason. (It happens fairly frequently.) It’s very much a book of outside reporting: I would have liked to see much more analysis of the phenomenon that Joyce chronicles, but she takes the position of an observer rather than a cultural critic. Any outsider account is bound to appear un-nuanced to those who have more of an insider point of view, and that’s certainly true of this book. Joyce does point out clearly the extent to which many home school venues and circles have been taken over by a movement with a very specific theological agenda–one which has nothing to do with good educational practice–and that’s a useful thing for home schoolers, particularly new ones, to be aware of.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


"Airborn" by Kenneth Oppel

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

Wonderful book!! I was a little skeptical when I read the above paragraph on the back of the book. It sounded a lot like a fantasy. I'm not really too found of those kind of books. But I kept reading and got hooked! The writing is very good and is very descriptive. I felt like I was aboard the Aurora! The beautiful creatures seem all too real. The time frame of this book could be from the past or the future.



Novelization by Eric Wilson

Back cover: "Inside burning buildings, Captain Caleb Holt lives by the firefighter's adage: Never Leave Your Partner. Yet at home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules. Growing up, his wife Catherine always dreamed of marrying a loving, brave firefighter...just like her father. Now, after 7 years of marriage, she wonders when she stopped being 'good enough.' Countless arguments and anger have them wanting to move on to something with more sparks.

As they prepare for divorce, Caleb's father challenges him to commit to a 40-day experiment. "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees, for his father's sake more than for his marriage. Surprised by what he discovers about the meaning of love, Caleb realizes that his wife and marriage are worth fighting for. His job is to rescue others. Now Captain Holt is ready to face his toughest job ever...rescuing his wife's heart."

Fireproof by Eric Wilson is very well done and captured my attention. At the beginning of the story Caleb has become very selfish, only looking out for his wants and needs. He puts his life on the line everyday fighting fires and thinks his wife should appreciate that fact and give him slack and not expect him to do anything around the house. He and his wife have grown apart and she is tired of trying. Caleb reaches out to his father who gives him a book "The Love Dare." The Love Dare" (which has been made into a real book) challenges Caleb to complete a dare each day, to do something nice for his wife, in addition to scripture and statements of principles to read. Caleb grudgingly starts the dare, but comes to comes to realize how his actions have helped contribute to the failure of their marriage and struggles to change in order to save it.

But Catherine is also at fault and as Caleb struggles to change, Catherine struggles to stay faithful and find the strength to accept Caleb back. In the process, they discover that marriage includes God and having faith, not only in him, but each other. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader


Alan Bennett

As part of another challenge, the Martel Harper "What is Stephen Harper Reading" challenge I read "the Uncommon Reader" By Alan Bennett. It is a novella of 128 pages about the queen discovering reading and how her life and those around her are affected.

Front Flap: "When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J.R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her new found obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading intially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large."

It is quite comically as the palace staff scrambles to figure out what is going on with the queen and their distrust of Norman when the Queen promotes him from the kitchen to her personal page. The Queen soon comes to find her routine boring and takes every opportunity to read, including 'having a cold' so she can stay in bed and read. The receiving lines now become a challenge for her equerries (personal attendants) who proffer suggested subjects to attendees to talk about with the Queen. Once she deviates from standard questions to asking "what have you been reading lately" the equerries scramble to try and find books to suggest to folks.

"Unsurprisingly, the audiences got longer and more ragged, with a growing number of her loving subjects going away regretting that they had not performed well and feeling, too, that the monarch had somehow bowled them a googly" pg 41

The Uncommon Reader is an short enjoyable read and I discovered several authors I had never heard of before, plus new phrases and words to look up in the dictionary, which I rarely have to do.

Such as Amanuenis - a person employed to write what another dictates or copy what another has written. More easily said 'a secretary'. The Queen declared herself an Opsimath - a person who becomes a student or learner late in life. The Queen was told to be less Solipsistic - less self absorbed.

In philosophy, Solipsistic also means "the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist." Think about that one for a minute.

Now I'm not only a bibliphile, but an opsimath. :)


Product Description(from Amazon.Com)
Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia—wife of the two-term liberal senator Tom Naughton—is Meri's new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Tom's chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong.

Soon Delia and Meri find themselves leading strangely parallel lives, as they both reckon with the contours and mysteries of marriage: one refined and abraded by years of complicated intimacy, the other barely begun. With precision and a rich vitality, Sue Miller—beloved and bestselling author of While I Was Gone—brings us a highly charged, superlative novel about marriage and forgiveness.

This was a pretty good book. The way the author interweaves Delia and Meri's lives, yet they are a totally different stories. Delia is The Senator's Wife, kind of! Delia and Tom haven't been together as husband and wife for years. They have been lover's. This all happened because of Tom's extra marital affairs. Delia always forgave him, but she couldn't live with him. And Delia always loves Tom.

Meri and Nathan are newly married. And expecting their first child. Meri and Nathan are very young. Meri is totally confused about her life as a wife and mother. She sees herself as not a very maternal mother, this is because of her own upbringing. Her mother was "scatter brained".

As their lives intermingle, it becomes apparent to Meri and Delia that they are somewhat alike! But as one day an innocent occurs between Tom and Meri their lives are changed forever!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Girl She Used To Be

The Girl She Used To Be


David Cristofano

Release Date: March 19, 2009

Back Cover: "When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that is changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promist of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's name, her home, her innocence, and ultimately, her family. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others -- everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself.

So When the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another new town, she's stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovara, the Mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her--the real her--and it's a dangerous thrill that Melody can't resist. He insists that she's just a pawn in the government's war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identify to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary?"

I have to say this was an interesting story. Melody entered into Witsec when she was 6 years and is now 26. She's been in her current home and job as a math teacher at the local school for 18 months now. She is discontent and thinks it is time to move on. So she calls her witsec protector and tells him they have found her. They wisk her off immediately, but Melody finds out her marshall who has protected her for over 20 years is retiring and leaving her in the hands of another. Can he be trusted?

It is the beginning of an adventure when the Marshall moves her to a hotel and Jonathan Bovaro finds her. It seems he has been following her all this time. He offers a way out, freedom from Witsec, and his protection. He is the one sent to kill her, but just doesn't have it in him. He would rather protect her - from the feds, from his family, from everyone. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as witsec 'rescues' her, only to have Jonathan 'rescue her again.

I found her behavior odd, but fascinating. That she would put her trust in the one man who was sent to kill her. The story is well written and captures your interest as you wonder what Melody is going to do next. The story is written in 1st person POV from Melody's perspective. This is a first time I've read anything by David Cristofano and I'll be looking for more books by him in the future. Thank you to Mariam at Hachette Book Group for sending me this book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book # 10 - The Shape of Mercy

The Shape of Mercy


Susan Meissner

Back cover: "Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with her family's expectations and takes a part-time job from 83 year old librarian Abigail Boyles. The mysterious employer asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgment and superstitions. Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy's story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her life, including her relationship with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free of her own perceptions and see who she really is?"

Shape of Mercy is an amazing book, combining the present day life of Lauren with the past life of Mercy, a young girl accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. During the progress of transcribing the diary, Lauren learns about life, herself and relationships. The story captures your attention from the very start and holds it the entire book. I had come across several reviews that described the book as haunting, moving, memorable, compelling, intriguing, exquisite and/or beautiful. I was skeptical, but after reading the book have to agree with all those attributes. It is a moving story that goes straight to the heart and keeps your reading. Highly recommended.

I'll leave you with a teaser - the beginning paragraph of Chapter one.

"I've heard the story countless times, how I grasped the delivering doctor's scrubs as he guided me into the Durough family universe of opportunity and duty. My father likes to say I came out of my mother's body insistent on being taken seriously, declaring to the doctor who held my slippery limbs that I was no helpless female unable to forge her way through the world of men."

Book # 9 Promises in Death

Front Flap: "Amarylis Coltraine may have recently transferred to the New York City police force from Atlanta, but she's been a cop long enough to know how to defend herself against an assailant. When she's taken down just steps away from her apartment, killed with her own weapon, for Eve the victim isn't just 'one of us.' Dallas's friend Chief Medical Examiner Morris had started a serious relationship with Coltraine , and from all accounts the two were headed for a happy future together. But someone has put an end to all that. After breaking the news to Morris, Eve starts questioning everyone, including Coltraine's squad, informants, and neighbors, while Eve's husband, Roark, digs into computer data on the dead woman's life back in Atlanta. To their shock, they discover a connection between this case and their own painful, shadowy pasts. The truth will need to be uncovered one layer at a time, starting with the box that arrives at Cop Central addressed to Eve, containing Coltraine's guns, badge, and a note from her killer: "You can have them back. Maybe someday soon, I'll be sending yours to somebody else." But Eve Dallas doesn't take too kindly to personal threats, and she is going to break this case, whatever it takes. And that's a promise."

Promises in Death is the 29th book in the In Death Series and it is excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and Eve's analytical mind as she works her way through the evidence. I was started to get worried, because to be honest, I really didn't enjoy Salvation in Death as much as other books in the series. It just didn't have the punch of the rest of the books. I know every book in a series can't be great, but you just come to expect it from J.D. Robb. My worries have been relieved with Promises in Death. Be prepared to be taken on a roller coaster ride of emotion as Eve searches for Coltraine's killer, worries about Morris and tries to help him through his grief, has to deal with belligerent cops who don't appreciate being questioned (whether they are guilty or not), has a embarrassing encounter shopping for lingerie with Roark for Louise's shower and see's a new side of her female friends she never expected. Highly recommended.

Weeks 8&9: Dorothy Sayers

I read two books by Dorothy Sayers this past week, the mystery novel Gaudy Night, and a short book of essays called Are Women Human?

I had read Gaudy Night before, in fact it was this book that first made me want to learn Latin, so I could figure out what Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane were saying to each other. The novel takes place around 1930 at a women's college in Oxford. The plot hinges on the conflict between academics and and the common man, the mind and the body, the proper place for women, and in fact, whether women are human.

In Are Women Human?, Sayers examines the idea that while men are viewed as both vir and homo, women are always viewed as femina but rarely homo. (I do love the fact that Sayers doesn't hesitate to use Latin.) The essays are dated, many of Sayers' examples deal with issues that we would now view as obvious discrimination, such as news articles about whether women should wear trousers. Nonetheless, the essays are relevant, particularly when Sayers discusses grouping people into catagories, whether women, men, young, old, rich, or poor.

All categories, if they are insisted upon beyond the immediate purpose which they serve, breed class antagonism and disruption in the state, and that is why they are dangerous.

The idea above comes into play in the novel, and as I re-read Gaudy Night, I found many of Sayers' views espoused by the characters. Sayers' books are always many faceted and reading the essays along with the book allowed me to see how much of Sayers' beliefs found their way into the dialogue.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Deeper Water

This is our March book club choice: Deeper Water (Tides of Truth Series, Book 1). I have never read anything by Robert Whitlow so I was wondering what I would find. Then I start it and find out the main character is a young woman in law school who was homeschooled by her mother until high school. And she was raised in a very conservative religious environment with a faith that is very real and very practical. Turns out the story is good, too! The one issue I had with it (which fits in with Heather's post on Sunday) is that it is written in first person. That can be an awkward perspective and while it worked ok in this book, it isn't my favorite way to read a book.

The setting is Georgia. First the western part where Tammy Lynn's family lives. Then Savannah where she gets a job as a summer clerk. The law story was interesting, and the law firm environment was well portrayed, even the other summer clerks. There are differences, but it isn't one Christian girl among an entire cast of heathens. There are differing levels of faith, different types of faith, and folks with enough money to think they don't need faith.

The story is told from Tammy's perspective. We learn a lot about her and we see the other characters developed through her eyes. This means we don't always know what their motives are, but even then I came to a few different conclusions from Tammy when deciding who to trust and how sincere some people were.

There is more room for growth and development in this series. I have not read much Christian fiction outside of Francine Rivers, but I have heard some common concerns with the lack of plot or believable characters. I found this a very believable book, watching a woman who is growing in her faith and learning to stand on her own with a firm foundation laid by her parents, and a family turning toGod for the strength and wisdom to let her grow.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Seven Storey Mountain

I actually finished a few books in February. One that I spread out longer than I intended was The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Of course I've meant to read something by Merton for many years and I am glad I finally did.

What I enjoyed was that his faith was so real and his worldview as a result of that. And that also made it convicting because he points out where he settled for just a “nice” life and then when he was disturbed enough to move deeper in and higher up.

Here is an example: “I made the terrible mistake of entering upon the Christian life as if it were merely the natural life invested with a kind of supernatural mode by grace.”

My initial reaction was that I would rather read more of his contemplative work and not have spent 400+ pages going through his life. But since I finished reading it, I have found that it was the story of his life that has been coming back to my thoughts. His last days with his brother during a visit to the monastery, his struggles to come to grips with the faith that was pursuing him, his change from wanting the easiest order so he would know he could “make it” to wanting to give it all to God and walk into a very difficult order as a monk. Perhaps it was best to see it all in the scope of his story told by him.

I loved the introduction where they explain that this is not a deeply researched biography, it is an autobiography so of course the author skips some things and isn’t always exactly right with the order of events. That is exactly how my autobiography would come out, so I could relate. This is what he remembered as the important points and events.

Here is another quote that hit home:

I did not have the humility to care nothing about what people thought or said. I was afraid of their remarks, even kind ones, even approving ones. Indeed, it is a kind of quintessence of pride to hate and fear even the kind and legitimate approval of those who love us! I mean, to resent it as a humiliating patronage.

This quote from the first chapter grabbed me and kept me wanting more from the book. Then he talks about not wanting his little brother hanging around, even though John Paul just loved Tom and wanted to be with him.

“And in a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it. We will to separate ourselves from that love. We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved. Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestedly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives. And we refuse love, and reject society, in so far as it seems, in our own perverse imagination, to imply some obscure kind of humiliation.” p26
I'll be looking for more from Thomas Merton.

It Can't Be My Grave and Bridget Jones's Diary

This has been my week to try to catch up with the rest of you, though I am pretty sure I am not there yet. I read two books last week: a mystery by S. F. X. Dean; It Can't Be My Grave and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. Interestingly, both of these books are written in first-person, a narration style that I have just realized annoys the heck out of me.

It took reading these two books in a space of about four days to make me realize that I loathe this narration style. If I am being generous to myself, I can try to justify this by thinking, "The opportunity for character development other than the main character is just not as available to the writer. So all the other characters seem flat." That makes it sound like it can't possibly be MY own inadequacies that keep me from enjoying this style.

It Can't Be My Grave is about a professor who is in London to do publicity for his new book about John Donne. He meets a businessman who wants him to research the origins of an Elizabethan play which he thinks may have been written by his ancestor. Before he can agree to research, the businessman is murdered. This novel is short, and also short on plot, I think. You don't really care who killed the man; the characters, except for the professor, are one dimensional. The writer does make-up somewhat for the flat plot with well-written dialogue. It is witty and clever, in fact there were times that I was amazed that someone who could write so well couldn't do better with the storyline. All in all, I'd have to give this book a solid B-. I'm not sorry I wasted time on it, but I probably won't look for another by the author.

And then there is Bridget Jones's Diary. I think I was one of the few thirty-something women left in America who had neither read the book not watched the movie. Again, I had my "first-person narrator" issues to work through and again, I think the author had the same problems. One (sort-of) well-developed character, the rest flat and unappealing. To be honest, I really hated this book. At least S. F. X. Dean was honest with his pitiful plot. Fielding swiped hers and is proud of it. That set me thinking about whether Pride and Prejudice is really and truly a universal plot, like Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth, or even Oliver Twist. If it is, I don't think this is a particularly good use of the plot. I don't like Bridget much and I like the other characters even less. My grade for this book: Meh... C-, I guess. I feel generous today.