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Reviewed for THC Reviews A couple of years back, I remember reading an article online about a California couple, she, a liberal peace activist and he,Reviewed for THC Reviews A couple of years back, I remember reading an article online about a California couple, she, a liberal peace activist and he, a soldier in Iraq. I remember being both baffled and intrigued by such a dichotomous marriage. While I can no longer remember exactly where I read the article and cannot say with absolute certainty that it was about Sophia Raday and her husband, it doesn't seem likely that there would be that many couples out there who would fit such a profile. So, when I saw Love in Condition Yellow on the GoodReads First Reads program, I immediately knew I wanted to read it to learn more about this unusual relationship. Anyone who knows me well is quite aware that I'm a sucker for a great love story, and Love in Condition Yellow is definitely that. This book is certainly no grand, idealized fairy tale romance, but I have no qualms in saying that it is far better than most romance novels I've read. There is simply nothing that touches my heart more than a true story of someone who has found their soulmate. At it's core, Love in Condition Yellow is a story of unconditional love and acceptance, but it also delves much deeper than that. It is about one woman's journey to find a sense of self as an individual within a partnership, and perhaps even more importantly about the resolution of conflict in relationships, which is what builds a truly strong marriage. Coincidentally, many of the biggest issues that separate Sophia and Barrett are also the issues that tend to separate the citizens of our country, so there are many simple but powerful concepts that can be learned from their union which if more people were willing to implement, could revolutionize our nation and perhaps even the world.
In Love in Condition Yellow, Sophia Raday chronicles her and her husband's relationship from their first meeting in the '90s, through their dating years, and the early years of their marriage, all the way up until Barrett was deployed to Iraq in 2007. What instantly struck me is how ordinary this couple's struggles are. What marriage hasn't dealt with hurt feelings, divvying up of childcare and household responsibilities, job stress and perhaps the wife even feeling that her husband works too much, miscarriage, difficult family members or friends, and many other day to day problems? I have been through most of these things at some point in life myself, and so I couldn't help but relate to them in a very real and tangible way. What makes Sophia and Barrett different though are the extraordinary differences in their ideals and beliefs, and how they are still able to live with each other harmoniously and keep the peace in their household. The thing that Ms. Raday brings out so beautifully is their secret for this, which is a deep mutual respect for one another and most importantly, communication. Even though they argue like any other couple, Sophia and Barrett always find a way back to a place where they can communicate their true feelings, hopes, dreams and even doubts to one another in a non-hurtful and productive way. This in turn leads to them being able to appreciate each other's opinions even if they don't agree, which is truly impressive to me and has inspired me to expand upon these principles in my own marriage.
Like Ms. Raday, I too am an idealist who prides myself in being open-minded, but like she was when she met Barrett, I too have been challenged by her words as to just how open-minded I truly am. I realized while reading this book that I have a normal human tendency to dismiss the “other side” as being silly or unreasonable, when in reality they have reasons for what they believe just like I do. Through her story, Ms. Raday has encouraged me to look more closely for that middle ground of mutual respect. In my opinion, much of this concept has been lost not just in marriages, but in our everyday dealings with people in general. In my opinion, we certainly don't have to agree with someone in order to respect them as a fellow human being. As I read the book, I was constantly reminded of Al Gore's quote: “...that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.” I have to say that Sophia and Barrett are a shining example of this principle in action.
Reading Love in Condition Yellow was also a very intensely emotional experience for me on a personal level. I related to Sophia in so many ways: her drive to be a good student; her desire to be a good wife and mother; her search for a sense of self and greater meaning in her life; even her loneliness when faced first, with being the only liberal in a sea of conservatives while spending a year on the campus of the Army War College and later, with the flip side of being the only military wife of a soldier deployed to Iraq in Berkeley. The author also has a wonderful way with actually seeing both sides of the coin, perhaps not always immediately, but after introspection or new life challenges, she always seems to come into a fullness of understanding what someone who disagreed with her was feeling at that moment. Whatever story Ms. Raday was relating about her life or marriage, she did it in such a vivid way, I believe that I was able to feel everything that she was feeling whether it be the positives of love, joy and happiness or the negatives of frustration, pain and disappointment. Everything is brought to life with a simple, stark honesty as well as genuineness, grace, humanity and even humor that was refreshing to read.
Normally, I read non-fiction books at a much slower pace than fiction novels, because they can often be on the dry side and just usually don't engross me in the same way. That was certainly not the case with this book. I was immediately sucked in from the very first pages and could have easily devoured it in very short order if time had permitted. As it was, I finished it in only four days which is quite fast for a slow reader like me. Ms. Raday's slice of life snippets all flowed together like the current of a gentle stream to create a complete and compelling story. She write in a very easy conversational style that made me feel like I was sitting down to have tea and talk with an old friend. I may have picked up Love in Condition Yellow hoping for a good romantic read, and I certainly got a truly beautiful and satisfying love story. Much more importantly though, I turned the final page with the sense that I had just read a profoundly thought-provoking book that I will likely be pondering for a long time to come. Needless to say, I was completely enthralled by Ms. Raday's writing style and incredibly impressed with this debut book which has already found a spot on my keeper shelf. I don't know if she has more books in the works, but I certainly hope so. If she does publish another, I will happily be the first in line to read it....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews *=Newest review posted for this anthology.
The Princess by Gunnar Mattsson – I found the Reader's Digest anthology which conReviewed for THC Reviews *=Newest review posted for this anthology.
The Princess by Gunnar Mattsson – I found the Reader's Digest anthology which contains this story in a box of old books, and decided to read The Princess partly because it fit a reading challenge I was working on and partly because it sounded interesting. I usually like true stories about individuals who overcome challenges in their lives and being a romance novel addict, I'm particularly fond of true love stories too. This condensed version of The Princess partially fit the bill on both counts. It is a memoir of the author's relationship with his wife who he refers to as “The Princess” and her battle with and miraculous recovery from Hodgkin's disease. It is indeed a story about the indomitability of the human spirit and how love really can overcome all. It appears that the author credits their love for one another and his wife's adoration of the child she gave birth to in the midst of her health crisis as the driving factors in her recovery.
I really liked the story, but my main problem with this shortened version is that the editors seemed to pare it down to bare-bones facts. I just couldn't seem to help wanting to know more, most importantly, what would compel a man to propose marriage to a woman who had been told she was going to die in a matter of a few short months and also what would make her accept and then be eager to have a child. It seemed from the cover blurb that this would be a fascinating love story, but I suspect it may have lost some of it's poignancy in the editing process. I guess this isn't too surprising considering that this story is only ¼ the size of the original book. I'd never read a Reader's Digest condensed version before, but this one left me with several unanswered questions and simply wanting a bit more. I can say that it at least peaked my interest in trying to find the original version of The Princess, and I will certainly complete the remaining stories in the anthology just to see if they all feel like something is missing. I also discovered that a movie was made based on the book, which might be interesting to search out as well. Star Rating: ***1/2
At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower – I believe I read a short biography of Dwight Eisenhower when I was a kid, but my memories of it are pretty fuzzy, and beyond that, I can't say that I knew a great deal about our 34th president. Reading this book certainly helped add to my knowledge, and I really liked getting a first-hand account. To my recollection, the most famous Eisenhower campaign slogan was, “I like Ike,” and after reading At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, I am prepared to echo that sentiment. Mr. Eisenhower came across as a very down-to-earth, congenial and genuinely likable guy. As the title might suggest, the book is written in a very conversational style which felt like sitting down with an old friend who was relating various stories from his life. I most enjoyed the tales about his childhood, family history, and time at West Point, as well as some of the things he did after World War II.
Not surprisingly, the largest part of the narrative was about Mr. Eisenhower's military service, which was still interesting, but in general, military stuff isn't my favorite thing to read about, not to mention, a big swath of his time in the Army was spent in administration and overseeing of training exercises which isn't terribly exciting. It seemed like every time he requested a more interesting position, the powers-that-be turned him down, until he finally received command of the American forces in Europe during World War II. These parts were still as well written as the rest of the book, and would probably be of great interest to those who like military history. There were some intriguing tidbits about the famous American Generals MacArthur, Pershing, Marshall, Patton, and Bradley, but overall, my main interests simply lie elsewhere. The one thing about these parts though that really struck me was the harsh reality of long separations for couples/families who are in the armed forces. I really admire Mamie (and all military wives) for her patience in being apart from her husband for such lengthy periods of time and the frequent moves. It took well over 35 years of marriage before she even had a house she could truly call her own (now that's patient ;-)).
There were some laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes about a couple of incidents of mischievous behavior at West Point which earned Mr. Eisenhower disciplinary action. In fact, he seemed to be pretty contrary overall, ending up with lots of demerits. I enjoyed the fun tales of his boyhood, and was interested to discover that he was a lover of history from an early age just like myself. His romance with Mamie and the relating of how his family shaped his life were touching. I was also amused to find out that Mr. Eisenhower was a consummate gambler who would bet on just about anything and rarely lost. I liked that he didn't push his son to follow his footsteps into the military, but instead talked to him about the advantages of both military and civilian careers and then let him make his own decision. I was most impressed though that Mr. Eisenhower didn't seem to be influenced by money or promotions. He simply tried to enjoy life as it was handed to him and do the right thing. He didn't even really seem to want to run for President, but after several years, was persuaded into it by persistent friends. I was also interested to learn that Mr. Eisenhower was the president of Columbia University, and played a major role in the formation of NATO. The book stops right before his presidency though, so there isn't really any details of his time in the White House. This condensed version appears to be less than half the size of the original tome, but in my opinion, the editing wasn't as glaring as it was in the first story of this anthology. I'm not sure if I would seek out the full-length version of At Ease because of the large amount of narrative on military life, but overall, this abridged version was enjoyable and has definitely stirred my interest in finding out more about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Star Rating: ****
The Least One by Borden Deal – The Least One is a heartwarming family drama and coming of age story that takes place in a tiny farming community with the inauspicious name of Bugscuffle Bottoms in the post-Depression era American South. It paints a vivid portrait of the hardscrabble life of sharecroppers during that time, and is told from the first-person perspective of a twelve-year-old boy who doesn't have a name other than Boy. I don't know that I've ever read a historical story that takes place in the 1930's, so that alone was pretty interesting. As I read the book, I was struck by how realistic everything seemed, almost as though it was a memoir instead of fiction. I was quite surprised to discover in the author's bio at the end that, while he categorized the story as fictional, it was based in part on real events in his life.
I really liked all the Swords. They were a loving family who looked out for each other with the parents being stern but knowing how to teach difficult life lessons in a gentler way. They were also hard-working with each member of the family pulling their own weight and doing what needed to be done in order to survive. Boy's father, Lee, was a good man who had fallen on hard times, but was determined to pull himself up by his bootstraps and provide for his family. Boy's mother, Jimmie, could be rather difficult and never truly liked Bugscuffle Bottoms, but it was obvious that she cared deeply for her family and would do whatever it took to ensure their wellbeing. I also admired her pluckiness especially when she went to their landlord with a business proposition, when that was normally a man's place, and was determined not to leave without cutting a deal. Boy's older brother, John, was a taciturn young man with an underlying warmth about him. He really stepped up to the plate to be the man of the house when their father was injured and unable to work.
Boy is pretty much like most twelve-year-old boys. He's very curious, intelligent, playful and talkative. He also has a deep love of books and a tendency to be a bit of dreamer. Sometimes, he makes careless decisions without thinking, which lead to disastrous consequences, but I found it easy to forgive him because he always seemed to glean some very important lessons from his actions. He also learns many things from simply living life. I enjoyed following along on his journey to finding a name for himself. His father had refused to name his sons when they were born, because he himself had been saddled with a name he hated and went by his middle name. Instead he was waiting for his sons to pick their own names. A stubborn battle of wills ensues between Boy and his father over the naming issue. I could definitely relate to Boy's frustration over his father not giving him a name like other kids, and although I haven't run across anyone in real-life who has refused to name their kids, at least Lee's reasons made some sense to me. The whole wanting of a name is the running theme throughout the book, so I was a little disappointed by how that wrapped up. Still, once I read the author's note at the end, I understood why he wrote it the way he did even if I might have wished for it to end otherwise.
Overall, The Least One was a surprisingly enjoyable read that embodied the warmth of a family unit and the wry humor that sometimes ensues from that closeness. In addition to giving the impression of a memoir it also had the feel of a young adult novel, because of being told by a boy. It would definitely be appropriate for teens as there is little objectionable material in it other than a few mild profanities and a couple of minor, veiled sexual references. It might appeal to fans of books such as Tom Sawyer, the Little House on the Prairie series, or Bridge to Terabithia. I could see some similarities between these stories and The Least One, but at its heart this novel is just a nice, feel-good, coming-of-age story that was a very pleasant read. I have to say that the editors did a good job with this abridged version, as it flowed quite well and I never really felt like anything was missing. Star Rating: ****
Currahee! by Donald R. Burgett - Not being a huge fan of wartime and military history, I don't know if I would have picked up a book like Currahee! independently, but with this abridged version being found in this anthology, I couldn't resist reading it for the sake of completing the book. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging it was. Donald R. Burgett definitely seems to have a talent for story-telling, as many times, I felt like I was right there with him in the heat of battle. Although the wartime events certainly weren't easy to read about, they were still very interesting, and I feel like I learned some things not only about WWII paratroopers, but also about the Battle of Normandy.
It seems that paratrooper training was pretty brutal and the job itself was incredibly dangerous, so much so that that one of the author's training officers told all the recruits that they probably wouldn't live through the war. As it turns out several never even made it into combat, but were killed during training. The war itself was a horrific thing, and even though the narrative doesn't go into great detail, there were times that my stomach was churning at the mere thought of human beings inflicting that sort of violence and pain on one another. It almost seems that the author and his comrades had to virtually dehumanize the enemy in order to fight them, and cut off their emotions in order to leave their fallen brothers behind. I can't imagine having to do that, so I greatly respect the men and women who have fought for our freedom down through the ages. When Civil War General William T. Sherman said, “War is hell.” he certainly had the right of it.
After reading this account, I have to say that Mr. Burgett was certainly an incredibly lucky man. So many times he was nearly killed, not the least of which was when a grenade exploded right next to him, yet somehow he managed to live to tell his amazing tales. I found it extremely ironic that he and all the men from his small barracks room #13 in England actually survived Normandy. Currahee! is a story that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in military history, particularly involving WWII and paratroopers. I generally enjoyed it in spite of this not being a favorite topic. This abridged version appears to be a little less than half the length of the original book, but it was edited fairly well, as there were only a few times that I felt like the narrative jumped forward a bit too quickly. Star Rating: ****
*The Walking Stick by Winston Graham - The Walking Stick was a distinctly different story than any I've read before. It has elements of romance and suspense, both of which can be palpably felt, but I would definitely not categorize it as genre fiction. Instead, it seemed to have a more literary leaning both in its plot and writing style. The book started out a little slow for me with it having a rather passive, impersonal feel in spite of its first-person narration. The author seemed to have a “just the facts” approach with a rather clipped writing style, but what I initially saw as a weakness eventually grew on me. His abbreviated sentences which weren't really even sentences at all, but merely words and phrases, soon flowed into an odd sort of haiku which ended up having a very poetic feel. I also couldn't help but sense that the walking stick itself was a metaphor for something bigger that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Overall, The Walking Stick was an unusual and interesting story.
I thought it rather uncommon to have a male author writing in the first-person female perspective, but having everything coming from Deborah's point of view was a pretty ingenious way to write this novel. The main protagonist, Deborah Dainton is a unique character as well. She is a young woman who is fair of face, but as a polio survivor she is lame in one leg. Her looks can raise the interest of young men, but when they see her limping along, leaning on her walking stick, they usually end up turning away. At twenty-six, she is quite innocent and has never been in a real relationship. She was also raised in a comfortable, and one could possibly even say privileged, environment. All of this plays into her fascination with lowly artist, Leigh Hartley, when she meets him at a party thrown by her sister. At first, Deborah keeps herself at a distance from Leigh which I think was a sub-conscious way of protecting herself, as she's very self-conscious about her disability. Initially, it is so pronounced that she doesn't even seem to like Leigh which made me wonder why she was even going out with him. She does slowly warm up to him though, and eventually, I was able to sense that she had truly fallen in love with this man. I believe it was her love and perhaps gratitude for Leigh helping her to feel alive again which fueled her being willing to do things she otherwise might not have. However, there were still times when I wasn't 100% certain of how an upstanding young woman like Deborah could allow herself to become involved in such questionable dealings. Her willingly living with a married man was eyebrow raising enough for the time in which it was written (1960s), but then she agreed to an illegal venture which started out as something simple (or so she thought) and ended with her being fully involved in the scheme. Still, it was a fascinating character study which did, on some level, draw me in. I think perhaps some of the weaknesses in the character development might have been a result of the editing for this abridged edition.
Deborah's love interest, Leigh Hartley, is a very earthy and direct kind of guy. He definitely doesn't mince words and is quite persistent and charming in his attempts to get Deborah to go out with him and eventually become his lover. On the surface, he certainly seems to care about Deborah and pushes her to expand her boundaries and not allow her disability to define her capabilities. I could relate to Leigh's sense of inadequacy over having the ability to paint, but apparently not having a true talent for expressing himself through his art. At first glance, he appears to be the perfect boyfriend for Deborah, but it quickly come to light that he hasn't been entirely straightforward about his marital status which almost immediately puts into question what other things he might not have been honest about. In spite of me questioning his veracity early on, I still didn't anticipate just how dishonest he'd been which led to some plot surprises for me.
There were a few other places in the narrative besides Deborah's character development where I had the distinct feeling that something was missing, which again, I think was a result of the editing. Overall though, The Walking Stick was an interesting departure from my usual reading tastes while still embodying some of the elements that I enjoy in genre fiction. I enjoyed a lot of the little details about safe-cracking and the clever bypassing of the security system during the jewelry heist. All in all, once the pace picked up, it was a fun little read that I probably wouldn't have picked up without it being part of this anthology. Interestingly enough, The Walking Stick was made into a movie way back in 1970, but sadly, it doesn't appear to be available for home viewing which is too bad. I think it might be enjoyable to watch this story brought to life on the screen. Star Rating: ****...more
Ever since now-President Obama burst onto the national political scene several years ago, I have been closely following his career. I can't recall exaEver since now-President Obama burst onto the national political scene several years ago, I have been closely following his career. I can't recall exactly when I first saw his wife, Michelle, but right from the start, she impressed me as being a confident, eloquent, poised lady who was also a great wife, mother and career woman. When I saw Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope in the book section of our local grocery/department store chain, I thought it looked like a good book to read for me to gain more information and insights into the woman I had come to admire. Unfortunately, the book didn't turn out to be quite what I had expected, nor as good as I had hoped.
By her own admission, the author wrote the book rather hurriedly. Because her publisher was eager to release the book in e-book format in time for the peak of the presidential campaign season, they only allowed her a couple of months from start to finish to write it. Only a few more days were allowed after the election for editing to reflect those results, before the print version was released. In my opinion, there were places where the rush showed, particularly in the repetition. I have no problem with an author reiterating something for the sake of emphasis, but I seemed to keep seeing some of the same quotes and information over and over, not only between chapters, but sometime within the same chapter. Elizabeth Lightfoot has worked as a newspaper and magazine columnist, but from what I can tell, this was her first book. In my opinion, each chapter of the book read more like a newspaper or magazine article than a section from a biographical tome. The author also had a tendency to editorialize quite a bit, frequently inserting her own reflections and opinions which didn't particularly seem appropriate for a biography. These types of comments fit the preface quite well which brought back some fond memories of my own from the campaign season, some of which mirrored the author's experiences. However, placing personal asides into the narrative of the book, to my way of thinking, caused it to become something entirely different, a book that was part biography of Michelle Obama and part memoir of the author's experiences.
In all honesty, Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope seemed to be less about Michelle Obama and more about the campaign season in general. Granted the first few chapters focus mainly on Michelle and her background, but even during those sections, Ms. Lightfoot seemed to veer off onto rabbit trials discussing things that were somewhat related to Mrs. Obama (eg. the history of blacks at Princeton), but were not things that she had directly influenced. As the book progressed, the chapters seemed to be less and less about Michelle herself, and more about the presidential campaign. There were some of these chapters where I think Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and John and Cindy McCain received as many mentions as Mrs. Obama. The author does engage in some discourse on how Michelle Obama affected, and was affected by, the campaign, but there just wasn't enough about the woman herself to suit me. I did enjoy the chapter on motherhood and family life, probably because this is the area in which I relate to Michelle the most. On the flip side, the chapter on fashion wasn't quite my cup of tea. While I do think that Mrs. Obama always looks beautiful and well put together, I'm simply more interested in a person's personality than what they wear. The last 25 pages or so contain extensive bibliographical notes on the author's sources for the book, and a complete index.
Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't a great one either. It didn't really give me the kind of insights into her character that I was hoping for, which is probably understandable given that the author was not able to interview Michelle personally. Most of the information that was shared were things that I already knew about Mrs. Obama. In fact, I think I've gotten a better feel for the woman herself through my own casual "research" and watching interviews with her. This book might be useful to anyone who knows little or nothing about Michelle Obama (or anyone who might have been living in a cave during the 2008 presidential campaign season ;-)), but those readers like myself, who have been following the Obamas closely for years, will probably not learn anything new here. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Although I've seen most of the Star Trek movies and several episodes of the various Trek TV shows, I can't really call myselfReviewed for THC Reviews Although I've seen most of the Star Trek movies and several episodes of the various Trek TV shows, I can't really call myself a true Trekkie. I didn't even watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I became a fan of Wil Wheaton, the geek, rather than Wil Wheaton, the Star Trek actor. Several years ago, my husband told me that Wil was hanging out on Slashdot, one of his favorite sites at the time, and I couldn't help but think how cool it was that a celebrity was chatting with the masses on a public website. Over time, my husband would occasionally mention things that Wil said or something he was working on, which I guess kept him in the back of my mind, until one day, I found him on my favorite website, GoodReads. After reading a few of his blog posts, I couldn't believe how funny and relatable this guy was. I enjoyed them so much, I immediately put all of his books on my TBR list.
Just a Geek was a great mix of entertaining and inspiring. Wil is a normal, down-to-earth kind of guy, who just happens to be trying to make a living in Hollywood, but experiences many of the same day to day struggles that I, and most other people I know, go through all the time. I think it's easy for fans to forget that actors are people with problems too, and this book certainly brings that truth home in a very positive and real way. As the subtitle of the book says, Wil tells his story with unflinching honesty. He pulls no punches in relating his feelings about other people and the way he's been treated by the Hollywood powers-that-be, but he is also completely honest about his own foibles which gives the book proper balance. I loved his self-deprecating humor, and felt like I was going on the emotional journey of self-discovery right along with him. My favorite chapter was “The Wesley Dialogues” where Wil recounts how he finally came to terms with the role that Wesley Crusher and Star Trek played in his life and the decisions he made surrounding those things. Reading about him finally putting those demons to rest was very poignant and inspiring, and I think that anyone who has ever struggled with the search for a sense of self could definitely relate. The romantic in me also couldn't help but admire Wil's comments about his wife. Rarely have I seen a man shower his mate with such genuine praise and affection. He is obviously a man who is crazy in love which is extremely cool in my book.;-)
Just a Geek is not a book that is merely for geeks. In fact, there is very little in it that would be accessible solely to geeks. While a large part of the book details Wil's experiences with Star Trek, one wouldn't have to be a fan of the show to appreciate it. The narrative is full of humor, honesty and emotions that I think just about anyone could relate to. As memoirs go, I found it to be a very enjoyable and entertaining read that I plan to place on my keeper shelf. Mr. Wheaton without a doubt has a talent for story-telling, and I very much look forward to reading his other works....more
I found Amazing Grace to be a very informative biography of William Wilberforce, arguably the main person responsible for the abolition of the slave tI found Amazing Grace to be a very informative biography of William Wilberforce, arguably the main person responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain and a name that should be more well-known than it is. Not too surprisingly, it also takes a historical look at that campaign, and the entire process the abolitionists went through to finally achieve their goal. Mr. Wilberforce was a man of strong faith, and the author focuses a lot on how that faith informed his decision to become involved in the abolition movement. I had already developed an admiration for Mr. Wilberforce after watching the movie Amazing Grace, and this book only strengthened my esteem, as it goes into much more detail. It might be worth mentioning that William Wilberforce was nowhere near as tall as Ioan Gruffudd, the actor who portrayed him. In fact, he was a mere slip of a man who was rather sickly his entire life, which makes his accomplishments all the more impressive to me.
William Wilberforce may have been small, but he had a huge personality and was famous for his oratory skills both in and out of Parliament. He was also quite well-loved and had many whom he counted as friends. In fact, this is really the only thing about the book that was troublesome to me: Mr. Wilberforce had so many acquaintances and there were so many other people involved in the abolition movement that I had difficulty keeping all the names straight and finally had to give up. Even though it was a small part of the overall story, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I really enjoyed the bits about Mr. Wilberforce's meeting and courtship of his wife, Barbara, who was seventeen years his junior. It seems the couple fell in love at first sight and had a whirlwind romance, but it ended up being a strong union which produced six children. This book contained a lot of information for me to digest and I ended up doing so over about seven months which is why my review isn't as detailed as it normally would be, but I did find it to be a very interesting read and one that I could highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement in Great Britain....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One Dog at a Time is part war story, part dog story that is by turns both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The authReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" One Dog at a Time is part war story, part dog story that is by turns both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The author was a Royal Marine deployed to a remote village in Afghanistan. He is obviously a dog lover, but he didn't set out to become a caretaker for the strays of Afghanistan. They simply found and befriended him along the way. In many ways, I think that caring for the dogs became something of an escape for Pen (and many other soldiers and marines on the front) from the rigors of fighting. It helps to give them a sense of normalcy and a little companionship in the midst of a war zone.
The resilience of these animals and their intuitive sixth sense about which humans can be trusted is utterly amazing. Nowzad, the first dog Pen rescued had been used as a fighting dog by the first group of Afghan National Police (ANP) who shared their compound. It absolutely broke my heart to learn how the dogs ears and tails are lopped off without anesthetic all for the sake of them fighting for sport. I was astounded by how quickly Nowzad began to warm up to Pen after the abuse he'd suffered and probably never having had much positive contact with humans. When the shelling started, he somehow managed to jump a high fence, looking for Pen. In spite of becoming best buds with Pen, Nowzad could understandably still be somewhat unpredictable around other people. I could really sense Pen's frustration over not having enough time to work with Nowzad to unlearn his fighting training. More than once I thought Nowzad might come to a heartbreaking end, because of his history of fighting and seemingly not being able to trust anyone but Pen. Somehow the author was able to look past all this and see the potential in him and give him a chance at a better life.
The other dogs, twenty-one in all, somehow found Pen. More than once, he was sure his comrades wouldn't believe that he hadn't purposely brought them into the compound. The dogs just seemed to instinctively know that there was someone inside those walls who would help them. The second dog, RPG, followed Pen to his duty post in the wee hours of the morning, running around him in circles, just wanting someone to play with him. Then there was Jena, the pregnant mom who was being used as a breeder by the ANP. Later even more dogs joined the group including Tali, another momma dog with six puppies and AK, a female dog who'd been bitten by a snake. Then there were Dushka and Patches, two dogs who stayed outside the compound but who often accompanied the marines during their patrols. The way Dushka, another fighting dog, followed their cues, moving when they moved and crouching when they crouched was just too cute. It's amazing how these dogs who were essentially wild street dogs with little experience around humans can pick up on these things so easily. It shows what intelligent creatures they really are and that they have emotions too.
Some of the military operations passages moved a little slowly for me, not that the author goes into great detail with these parts but simply because military stuff isn't a primary reading interest for me. However, I was intrigued by the times where they experienced some interactions with the Afghan people. The little children who begged for pens and candy from the marines was equally as heartbreaking as the dog stories. The second group of ANP who came to share their compound were much better than the first. Pen and some of his men were actually able to make friends with them, and even though they still found Pen and “his dogs” to be funny, they helped out with them in more ways than one. It was also interesting to see how the marines spent Christmas day.
I was quite saddened to learn that not all the dogs found happy endings, but as the title suggests, perhaps it's enough to save just one dog at a time. I really admire the author's compassionate heart for the animals and his tenacity in trying to give them a better life. Pen has now started a charity, Nowzad Dogs, to help rescue more strays from Afghanistan and Iraq, and is also helping his fellow service members to bring home the dogs that they have befriended too. Overall, I really enjoyed One Dog at a Time and look forward to reading the sequel, No Place Like Home which details the author's efforts to assist more dogs in finding forever homes....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" This was a very difficult review to write. It can be challenging to critique any book, but it's especially hard whReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" This was a very difficult review to write. It can be challenging to critique any book, but it's especially hard when that book is the author's own narrative. Still, I couldn't help coming away from reading Jew in Jail with rather mixed feelings, and I hope that I can explain those feelings without sounding overly judgmental. For starters, when I received the book for review, I somehow mistakenly got the impression that the author had suffered from prejudicial treatment while in prison due to his ethnicity and religion which wasn't really the case. He did fight an ongoing battle to be placed in another facility which had a larger Jewish population, but at first, he, by his own admission, was doing it mostly to be closer to his family. When first arrested, Mr. Goldstein acknowledged that he hadn't even been an observant Jew of late, and ended up being one of those prisoners who reconnected with his faith while serving his time. I do believe that as time passed he became more faithful to his religion and genuinely did want to move to another prison in order to be even more observant by being in a larger group of his fellow Jews. Although the author does contend that he believed his Constitutional Rights were being violated by the powers-that-be in the prison system not granting his repeated requests for transfer due to religious reasons, he does not at any point claim that they were singling him out for such treatment. However inadequate they might have been, the prison system did have rabbis who came fairly regularly to every facility where the author spent time, so with this potential prejudice set aside, Jew in Jail simply becomes one man's narrative of his experiences with the judicial and penal systems.
All that said though, my mixed feelings had little to do with any disappointment over my own preconceived notions. The story was admittedly interesting right from the start, but the further I read, the more self-centered it seemed to become. I realize that this is always true to some degree with any memoir, but there were times when I felt like Mr. Goldstein rarely was able to look outside of himself at the people around him without criticizing them for one thing or another. The book often felt like a series of complaints about instances in which he felt he was treated unfairly and how he chose to respond to those things. I understand that there is a political hierarchy within the prison system and one must learn how to play the game and fight for their own rights or risk being branded a weakling and constantly suffer abuse. Still, I think that one must choose their battles wisely, and I wasn't always convinced that the author had done that.
Firstly, at no point did Mr. Goldstein deny that he had committed the crimes of which he was accused, only that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time. While I understand that he may have gotten a raw deal in his court proceedings, some of that was his own doing, not only by committing the crimes in the first place, but also through a series of errors in judgment. These mistakes included but were not limited to confessing to the police (not once but three times) without counsel present, not pressing harder on the issue of being under the influence, and most importantly, not requesting new counsel when his assigned public defender was obviously either an incompetent boob or “in bed” with the prosecutor, all of which ultimately led to him pleading guilty instead of standing trial. However, everyone makes mistakes, and the author does often admit his own flaws, but it doesn't usually stop him from seeming to turn the blame back on someone else eventually.
As to his time in prison, I have no doubt that Mr. Goldstein was harassed at times by both his fellow inmates, as well as some guards. As to the other prisoners, the author seems to have been able to handle himself pretty well. As for the guards, it's a sad fact of prison life that many of the people in these jobs are narcissists who, when placed in such a position of power choose to misuse it. There were some cases, such as when his personal journal was confiscated as contraband, where I felt that the author was well within his rights to fight it, but there were other times when, by his own admission, he simply let his temper get the best of him and had he kept his mouth shut, he might have avoided getting into trouble. There were even a few times that he confessed to, in essence, “gaming” the system, and while I can appreciate his candidness, these little episodes of dishonesty made it more difficult to sympathize when the real trouble came about. The author is also very direct in his opinions of nearly everyone he meets, and at times, I wasn't quite sure how to take that. Occasionally, he seems to be joking, but more often than not, he appears serious. Oftentimes, his comments seemed to come off with an air of superiority. While I'm sure some of these people who were the targets of the name-calling and biting commentary deserved it, I wasn't so certain that others did. Having been made fun of a great deal in my life, I'm pretty sensitive about such things, even when directed at someone else, and prefer to see a bit more diplomacy employed.
Ultimately, it's not my place to judge this man's experiences, and that's not what I'm trying to do. On some level, I understand his reasons for doing the things he did, but I think I could have been even more sympathetic if he'd included more personal narrative. The author states that he had addiction problems long before this incident, and I often found myself wondering what caused this kind of a downward spiral until he finally hit rock bottom. He also admits to having committed a previous robbery for which he only received probation, but he only really mentions it in conjunction with why he got such a stiff sentence the second time around. Periodically, throughout the book Mr. Goldstein says that he realizes he wouldn't be in whatever situation he finds himself if he hadn't broken the law and often expresses his regrets. I have no doubt that he's sorry for what he did, but more often than not his remorse centers on the grief he caused his family rather than his victims. It's certainly admirable for him to be apologetic to, and infinitely appreciative of, his loving family, and understandable that he would focus on them since his father passed away seven months after his arrest. However, it might have been nice for him to express more contrition toward his victims as well and perhaps even a desire to offer them some sort of restitution upon his release. If he did, it's not something that was mentioned in this book. The last thing I would have liked to see was more self-reflection. Aside from mentioning his attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and other support and vocational programs, the author discusses very little about his actual recovery. I couldn't help wondering why he didn't seem to suffer any side effects from withdrawal, and his transformation appeared to be almost instantaneous. I just think it would have been helpful to understand his state of mind and what kind of mental and emotional adjustments he had to make to succeed.
If Mr. Goldstein meant Jew in Jail to be an angry rant against the judicial and penal system, it rings rather hollow to me. He would have had to take the high road himself every single time and cite more cases than his own to convince me of widespread abuses. The harsh reality is that prison is not a nice place to be under any circumstances, and sometimes it may seem unfair or even unjust, so in that respect, his story does not seem to be all that different than what I imagine most guys face behind bars. However, the author does raise some valid issues regarding the prison system and the possible need for reforms, especially when guards or others in charge appear to be misusing their power.
Jew in Jail works much better as one man's journal of day-to-day prison life and his own personal journey, and in that capacity, it is an intriguing story worth reading. I learned quite a lot about the inner workings of prison life that I didn't know, and was rather surprised by how well the book held my interest. The author is a good writer with an engaging style that made this lengthy tome an easy read. However, I think he could have used a good editor as he has a tendency to write in run-on sentences and be a bit repetitive. Overall though, it was pretty well put together. I admire Mr. Goldstein for his tenacity. He's like a dog with a bone and just doesn't give up even when it might be prudent to do so. I sincerely wish him all the best and hope he's been able to put that dogged persistence to good use on the outside staying clean and sober and starting a new life, which seems to be the case.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Meaning of Matthew is the story of the life and heart-breaking, violent death of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 as tolReviewed for THC Reviews The Meaning of Matthew is the story of the life and heart-breaking, violent death of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 as told by his mother Judy Shepard. Matthew's story caused a firestorm of media attention because he was gay and his murder was deemed a hate crime against his sexual orientation. In large part, it was Matthew's death that began to bring greater attention to the LGBT community and the prejudices they face.
As I read this book, I was struck by how incredibly normal the Shepard family were. They were, and in many ways still are, a typical American family. They worked and raised children, celebrated special occasions and took family vacations. There was nothing about them which would have predicted what happened to them. But then, it usually is the most ordinary of people who find themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances that not only change their lives, but also the lives of others by shedding light into darkness.
Matthew sounds like he was a really lovely young man, a kind, caring, empathetic person who was always willing to lend a hand or befriend someone in need. He is remembered as being friendly, and someone who his peers were comfortable talking to, especially when they had problems. Matthew wasn't perfect though. He had his share of teen angst and troubles. I think that things really started to go downhill for him when he was attacked and gang raped in the streets of Morocco during a trip there with some classmates. He never really fully recovered from that incident, and afterwards, had a lot of emotional issues including PTSD and severe depression. He also started drinking heavily and wasn't taking his medications as prescribed. I can only imagine the terror he must have felt when his murderers abducted him. It would be incredibly frightening under any circumstances, but must have been doubly so because of what he'd been through before.
As a mom, I really sensed and understood Judy's frustration at not being able to help Matt get out of the destructive behavior he was in. I think there's a very fine line between helping a person help themselves and doing everything for them which is unhealthy. It appears that she and her husband did their best to help Matt, but he just wasn't ready, or able, to do what needed to be done to get better at that time. I felt very deeply for Matt. I get the feeling that he was probably trying to mask the pain of the rape and a certain degree of confusion about his sexual orientation by abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. It's so very sad that some people are never quite able to get out of that kind of destructive cycle. It's sadder still to know that at the time of his death, Matthew seemed to be trying to turn over a new leaf, but his efforts were snuffed out prematurely.
I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been for Judy and Dennis when Matthew passed away. It's hard enough to loose a child, but to have to go through that kind of pain under the intense glare of a media frenzy must have been excruciating. On top of that, they had to deal with Fred Phelp's "church" coming to protest at the memorial service, which caused the need for bomb sniffing dogs, a SWAT team, and Dennis having to wear a bullet-proof vest to a press conference. It all must have felt extremely surreal, like they'd just walked into the middle of complete chaos, when all they really wanted to do was just say goodbye to their son. Thankfully, Matt's murderers were arrested pretty quickly, but then the Shepard family had to deal with their trials. During one of the proceedings, the defense attorney essentially tried to paint Matt as the guilty party merely because of his sexual orientation or because he may have possibly hit on one of the men. If I were Judy, I probably would have been a basket case, but she somehow managed to handle everything with grace and dignity.
I really admire Judy's ability to write a book that was very fair and balanced. She never tried to paint her son as a perfect angel, and in doing so, she presented a portrait of a young man who was very real and human for all his faults and foibles. She also could have easily used this book as a platform to rail against the unfairness of it all. I have no doubt that she asked, “Why my son?” many times, but here she simply presented the story as it unfolded. She also could have ripped into a number of different people for various reasons, but she always chose to take the high road and look at things in a more positive light instead. Even though Judy stuck to the facts and tried to keep her emotions in check, I still couldn't help tearing up several times while reading this book.
I would highly recommend The Meaning of Matthew to anyone who is interested in learning more about LGBT issues and hate crimes. I also think it would be a good book for teaching teens to be more understanding to their LGBT peers. Other than the sensitive nature of the story itself, there is nothing in the book which would be objectionable for a mature YA audience. It can often be difficult to see the good in bad things, but this is one case where I think a lot of good has come from tragic circumstances. I think that Matthew's death, as unfair and horrible as it was, helped to open the lines of communication and opened doors for many in the LGBT community. I wholeheartedly believe that Matthew would be proud to know that his life, and death, have had such a positive impact in the world, because that's just the kind of person he was....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Night is a gripping first-person narrative of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel chronicles his life from the time the German soldiersReviewed for THC Reviews Night is a gripping first-person narrative of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel chronicles his life from the time the German soldiers invaded his hometown and started gathering the Jews together in ghettos through his experiences in several different concentration camps, including the notorious Auschwitz and Buchenwald, until he and his fellow prisoners were liberated. This relatively short volume packs a powerful emotional wallop that goes straight into the reader's soul. I didn't even realize how deeply it was affecting me until I spent a restless night, having bad dreams after finishing it, and yet, I think every person should pick this up at least once in their lifetime. I didn't feel that most of the story was rendered in a particularly graphic way. It's more the edge-of-your-seat tension and the fact that I have a pretty well-developed imagination that made this book so intense for me. My teenage son, however, seemed to have no trouble reading it for his literature class. Each reader's reaction will vary depending on their ability to distance themselves from the subject matter.
When the story opens, I was struck by how the Jews in Mr Wiesel's hometown didn't believe the reports of a man who had escaped from the Nazis. They either dismissed him as a madman or refused to believe that the Nazis would make it to their town. I guess perhaps it's human nature to not be able to fathom acts of such barbarism. I found it ironic that when the German soldiers did finally come to town, they temporarily lodged in the homes of some Jews and even treated them nicely, just before carting them off to the concentration camps. Once in the camps, it was strange how some of their fellow prisoners in supervisory positions could sometimes be nearly as cruel as the SS officers themselves. It was also very sad how family members could sometimes turn on one another. Even Mr. Wiesel confessed to occasionally having thoughts of survival possibly being easier for him if he didn't have the responsibility of his father to care for. Existence in the camps became nothing more than a desperate fight for individual survival in which family ties often were rendered meaningless.
Through Mr. Wiesel's simple, yet powerful words, I was able to gain a small sense of the sheer terror that he and the other thousands of prisoners in the concentration camps must have experienced. Stark fear emanates off the pages every time there was a selection or some other threat to their lives, as does the anger, especially at God for not putting a stop to such evil. Mr. Wiesel speaks very poignantly about loosing his faith in God after the atrocities he witnessed. He writes of how one of his first experiences in the camps was seeing babies and children burned alive and that it still haunts him, and I can certainly understand why. The mere image his words evoked in my mind deeply affected me as well and is something I would never want to witness first hand. It's no wonder he tried to trick himself into believing they were already dead, because the mind simply cannot cope with things like this that are too horrific to logically understand. The last days in the camps before liberation finally arrived and the death of Elie's father are very vividly rendered. I could feel the sense of hopelessness permeating the air, and how many simply gave up on life and couldn't go on, even though they could hear the sounds of the Russian army advancing on the German front.
Night is written essentially as a series of short vignettes of the author's experiences, which is more consistent with how one would expect a person's memory to be. There are some details he deliberately chose to leave out, such as his state of mind after his father died, which I can fully respect, but there were a couple of other omissions that were mildly disappointing, eg. it's clear that his father, mother, and little sister died, but he doesn't overtly tell what became of his other two sisters (I found out via the Internet that they also survived). However, this was a minor thing in another otherwise incredibly stirring and eloquent story of survival against all odds. I would characterize this book as a must read for everyone from mature teens on up. It is my fervent belief that in order to not repeat the horrific events of the past, we must never forget them, and one way to keep these memories alive is to explore the stories of those who prevailed against this oppressive evil....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces is author Marie Maiden's inspirational memoir that is primarily about herReviewed for THC Reviews You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces is author Marie Maiden's inspirational memoir that is primarily about her eighteen year search for her father and how that affected her life, both before and after locating him. Her story is a relatively short one. It only took me a couple of hours to read, but she manages to pack quite a bit into its sixty-four pages. It begins with an explanation of how, in the course of trying to find her father, she first found her heritage, which traces back to slaves on the plantations of Virginia in the 1800's. In the first couple of chapters Ms. Maiden chronicles many of the details she discovered about her ancestry and some historical facts from that era. Being a history buff, this part was very interesting from a historical perspective, but I didn't feel like it gave me much insight into how, or if, discovering this information affected her on a personal level or contributed to her later emotional healing.
From there the author takes us through her early life growing up and the difficulties of becoming the teenage mother of a handicapped child. During this time she felt her father's absence keenly. He had left the family when she was very young, so she had no real memories of him, only what little information she'd gleaned from her mother. I really admire her for finishing school and continuing on to college in spite of the challenges of doing so with a small child. I also can appreciate how hard it must have been to make the loving choice to eventually allow someone better capable of the task to raise that child. After one failed marriage and a string of failed dating relationships, Ms. Maiden met a woman who invited her to church, and that's when things really started to change for her. Feeling a strong need to do so, she began searching for her father in earnest. I really have to give her credit for sheer persistence. It took many years, lots of phone calls, and thousands of letters to finally make some contacts with people who actually knew her dad. Although by then, the man himself had already passed on, leaving no chance of a happy father/daughter reunion, she was able to learn about him from his friends and family members, many of whom welcomed her.
Once this task was accomplished and she had found all the missing pieces of the puzzle of her life, everything seemed to fall into place for her, to where she finally felt that the healing could begin. In the latter chapters, the author discusses how God really began to move and change her for the better. I have to say that I was very impressed with her self-awareness, and her willingness to apologize and ask forgiveness from others she had wronged in the past. This is a very difficult thing for most of us to do. I also appreciated how she talked about constantly renewing our minds. I recently read something similar in another book, but it's a truth of which I always seem to need reminding. Maybe God is trying to tell me something?:-)
Overall, I enjoyed You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces. The story moves at a pretty fast pace, and I never felt bored at all. In general, I thought it was well-written, although a little more attention could have been paid to editing as I found some repetition in wording. I also have a feeling that many readers will balk at the nearly $20 cover price for a paperback book that is essentially novella length (and I can't blame them), but it is a very worthwhile read. Perhaps the author will eventually be able to release it in e-book format for a cheaper price, which I think would make it possible for her to reach a much broader reader base. All in all though, despite any small misgivings, I found You Cannot Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces to be an inspiring little book that I think would help others who might have experienced similar circumstances in their lives.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Miracles from Heaven is the inspiring story of a chronically ill little girl whose condition was life-threatening but who founReviewed for THC Reviews Miracles from Heaven is the inspiring story of a chronically ill little girl whose condition was life-threatening but who found miraculous healing. I'm so grateful to have two relatively healthy kids. I honestly can't imagine the anxiety and heartbreak of having a child with chronic health problems. My husband's little cousin has a rare disease that isn't unlike Annabel's, and my heart breaks every time I see her mom posting on Facebook about another hospitalization or surgery. I can imagine the stress takes a toll on the entire family, and it requires some really strong parents and a strong child to endure for so long. I have so much respect for people in this situation, including the Beams. They did their utmost to make life as normal as possible, not only for Annabel, but also for their two healthy daughters, yet the reality is that their life was anything but normal. I greatly admire them all for their emotional strength and for holding up through a devastating situation with grace and dignity. Even during the parts of the book that really tug at the heartstrings, I felt calm, comforted by the presence of God, and wondered if this is how the author felt or how Annabel felt. Based on certain parts of the story, I would say probably not all the time (after all they're only human), yet somehow Ms. Beam managed to convey that sense of calm throughout.
Then of course, came Annabel's miraculous recovery, which came about in a way that's truly stranger than fiction. As a writer of fiction, I can certainly attest to this, because the scenario is not something that I could have ever come up with in my wildest imaginings. After a particularly difficult bout with her illness that had left her emotionally wrung out, Annabel, who rarely felt up to playing outdoors with her sisters, went out to climb trees. They shinnied up an enormous Cottonwood tree they'd climbed many times before, but this time, the large branch where they liked to sit, started to crack. In an effort to get off the branch quickly, Annabel's sister told her to step inside a hole in the tree which they thought was some kind of depression. Never in a million years would anyone have imagined that the tree was completely hollowed out inside. Little Annabel ended up plummeting thirty feet, head-first to the base of the tree. She was stuck inside for several hours while rescue workers tried to figure out how to get her out. During part of that time, she appeared to be unconscious, and she says that she went to heaven where she talked to Jesus and sat on his lap. Jesus told her it wasn't her time, that he had plans for her and she must go back, but she would be totally fine. Not only did Annabel come out of her experience inside the tree almost entirely unscathed, but after that, the symptoms of her illness began to abate as well until she was completely healed. This of course, if the beauty of God's mysterious ways. We can't always make sense of them, but I can't help wondering if he sometimes does seemingly crazy things like this just to get our attention.
One thing I really admired was how pragmatic the author and her husband, Kevin, were in their approach to Annabel's story of what happened inside the tree. They never pressured her for more details, simply letting her share what she felt like sharing when she felt like sharing it. They never tried to either dissuade or encourage her belief in what occurred. In fact, they themselves weren't entirely sure what to think initially. Soon they started to believe it, but still they were cautious in their optimism that Annabel was getting better. It took more than a year before they were ready to actually start using the word healed to describe what had happened. There are certainly those who expressed some degree of skepticism about what Annabel experienced inside the tree, but as Kevin told an atheist who questioned him about it, the one indisputable fact is that she not only survived a fall that should have left her with severe injuries if not killed her, but she's also now healed of a rare disease that has no cure. Readers can make of that what they choose, but I for one, believe something unexplainable and miraculous happened inside that tree and God had a hand in it. As a little afterthought here, I really like that Christy and Kevin have allowed that tree to stand, despite others encouraging Kevin to cut it down. It would have been a shame to destroy the place where such a beautiful spiritual experience like this occurred.
Every time I pick up a faith-based book, I have a tendency to approach it with a certain degree of trepidation. Even though I am a woman of faith myself, I've read far too many of these types of books, whether fiction or non-fiction, that are preachy or seem to be pushing an agenda that the reader is expected to agree with. I'm thrilled to report that Miracles from Heaven is neither of those things. It's a truly inspiring and spiritually uplifting story that is very gentle in its approach. The writing style is highly engaging, keeping me riveted throughout. But IMHO, the true beauty of the book is that the author doesn't try to force-feed her daughter's story to the reader. She simply presents it as it happened and allows the reader the latitude to draw their own conclusions. Obviously, some will believe it (which I do), while others may not, but she doesn't seem overly concerned or perturbed by that knowledge. That, IMO, is true faith, which in turn is what makes this book so incredibly good and what makes it work. I think people from many different faith traditions could glean encouragement from its gentle message of hope and love. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and thought that it was a stellar debut book. Ms. Beam certainly has a talent for writing, so I hope that she will consider writing more.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’ve had Sara Miles’s book Jesus Freak on my TBR list for a while, but I ended up picking up Take This Bread insteReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’ve had Sara Miles’s book Jesus Freak on my TBR list for a while, but I ended up picking up Take This Bread instead to participate in a book club at the new church I’m attending. Ms. Miles has an easy-to-read writing style that I enjoyed, but even more so than that, I appreciated many of the things she writes about. When I started reading it, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would, because I’m not a foodie, while the author most definitely is. I’m lucky to manage a boxed dinner or a simple meal like spaghetti, while she’s worked in a professional capacity as a chef. Also some of the early parts of the book are about her time as a journalist in Central America during the Nicaraguan civil war, Iran-Contra, etc. These parts were still interesting and I remember some of these events from watching the news as a child, but I had a hard time relating to her adventurousness that even had her getting shot at while pregnant. I admired her for her pluck and grit, but somehow, I couldn’t imagine putting myself in those kinds of circumstances. I also have to admit that during these parts I was a little anxious to get to the main gist of the book, which is her conversion story and subsequent feeding of the poor. However, I will admit that all of Ms. Miles’s experiences were seamlessly tied into these latter events in her life and all were part of her spiritual journey.
The author describes herself as the most unlikely of converts: left-wing, lesbian, raised by devout atheists, disdainful of “religious nuts.” Then one day, for no reason she could discern other than sheer curiosity, she walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, received communion, and had a deeply spiritual experience that changed her forever. I have to admit that I was perhaps a little jealous of this, wondering why I’ve never experienced an epiphany or some wildly spiritual sense of God while receiving communion. But I wasn’t the only one. Others in my book club felt the same way, and some of them think that it might have something to do with us having been in church all our lives, so the sacraments aren’t a big deal to us, just a normal every-Sunday part of service. I also started thinking about it and realized that God can speak to us in a myriad of ways that are as different as the individual themselves. If we have an open heart, he meets us where we are and can use our life’s experiences to help us experience Him. For Ms. Miles, food had always been a big part of her life, from her time working as a cook to sharing strange and sometimes meager food with the people she met on her journeys as a journalist, so it would be natural for communion to affect her differently.
That sharing of bread with strangers around the Lord’s Table at St. Gregory’s eventually morphed into a desire to feed other strangers, and that’s when the author began working to start a food pantry at the church. This is the part that really resonated with me in several ways. First, the way Ms. Miles runs the food pantry is almost unheard of. She requires no proof of need, no proof of residency, no social security number, no signature… Nothing! Just like she was welcomed at the Lord’s Table without regard for her spiritual background, so she welcomed others to the pantry. All they had to do was come and the church would provide free food. Yes, they occasionally ran into problems but worked them out as they came up, and ultimately, the author felt that even a few people “gaming the system” was worth it to get food into hungry bellies. She treated the people who came like human beings, worthy of respect and dignity. In turn, many of them became friends and volunteers at the pantry.
This is where I was also deeply struck by the fact that Ms. Miles welcomed everyone to help out regardless of who they were. Despite this essentially being a faith-based organization, there was no litmus test for volunteering. Race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability… None of it mattered! Everyone was on equal footing and welcomed into the group. In fact, very few church members were volunteers at the pantry. Most came from the neighborhood, and for many, it empowered them by allowing them to give back in a way that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise due to a lack of finances. As a result of this outpouring of love into the community, Ms. Miles was able to minister not only to hungry people, but to many hurting people as well. Despite not being a trained priest, she was able to pray with people, bless them, give them hope when their own churches, families, friends, etc. had failed them or they were going through terrible circumstances. She even officiated at a wedding.
As Christians, we’re taught that every person is made in the image of God, but I think, all too often, we tend to forget that, especially when faced with someone who is “other.” By that I mean that they don’t line up with our own image of what a person should be, because they have a different skin color, cultural background, religious beliefs, political beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation, or because they have a disability, drug addiction, or criminal record, or because they’re poor or maybe even homeless. I could go on and on with the ways in which we have a tendency to judge others, but something Take This Bread has challenged me to do is to not look at those things that make us different, but to always look for the little piece of God in every person. I think if more people took the time to do that, we could genuinely change the world and really make a difference. The other thing that stunned me about this book is the amount of wastefulness that is present in the US. I’ve always known that we’re a profligate country, but the amount of food that’s going in the garbage or getting plowed under by farmers, when people are starving on the streets is absolutely shameful. I try very hard to be careful not to waste things, but after reading this book, I’ll try even harder. Again, if more people did this, I think we could make our world a much better place. So for these reasons and many others, I found Take This Bread to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and after a great first experience with Sara Miles’s writing, I’ll definitely be checking out her other books.
Note: This book contains some profanity, which readers might not expect from a Christian book and which may offend some. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the author is a lesbian, and she does talk a little about her home life with her partner and daughter, so if this offends, it might not be the book for you....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I was just reading an article last week about how one of the most effective tools for fostering peace, understanding, and empaReviewed for THC Reviews I was just reading an article last week about how one of the most effective tools for fostering peace, understanding, and empathy for those different than ourselves is through the medium of storytelling. As someone who has been a life-long voracious reader, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve learned so much about other people, their cultures, and traditions through reading. Especially when it comes to non-fiction, I often have a tendency to gravitate toward books that are about people or things that are outside my own wheelhouse, because I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about things I don’t know much about. I’ve had a few books written by Muslim women on my TBR list for a while now, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any yet. Then a member of a local Islamic group that shares our church’s fellowship hall to break their daily fasts during Ramadan came to a service one Sunday morning and briefly spoke. Until then, I had no idea that our Christian Bible and the Qur’an share some of the same “characters” and stories. Finding this out piqued my curiosity even further, so when Threading My Prayer Rug was one of the suggested reads for this month’s church book club, I eagerly voted for it. Others in our group were obviously as curious as I was, since it became our latest read. I’m glad it was, because it ended up being a very well-written book that taught me a great deal about the Muslim faith and Pakistani culture that I would highly recommend to anyone who might want to learn about either.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Sabeeha Rehman has a very engaging and conversational writing style that’s easy to read and made me feel like I was sitting down to have tea with her while she regaled me with her life story. Born and raised in Pakistan, she entered into an arranged marriage with a doctor who was performing his residency at a hospital in New York, which of course, meant that she had to uproot her life and move halfway around the world within a month of getting engaged and a mere day or two of officially getting married. The first few chapters of the book cover the engagement and marriage, which was quite fascinating. I previously knew only a little about arranged marriages. With our western sensibilities, I think many Americans would find this practice, at best weird, and at worst atrocious. But at least in the author’s experience it was neither, so seeing it through her eyes helped to make me see it in a whole new light. For her, this was simply an accepted and normal part of her culture. At each step of the process, she had to give her consent, so it wasn’t like she was forced into it either. While it isn’t necessarily something that I would have wanted to go through, it wasn’t nearly the oddity I was expecting. In fact, there was a certain charm and romanticism to it all that I hadn’t expected. As it turns out, the author made a soul mate match that is still going strong forty-five years later. Fast-forwarding a bit, I also liked that the author and her husband, recognizing that their sons had been raised in the US with a different culture, didn’t insist on arranged marriages for them as well. She did engage in a bit of matchmaking to help her oldest son, while her youngest ended up completely doing things his own way, but in both cases, they seemed to have also made excellent matches.
Beyond the issue of arranged marriage, I really enjoyed reading about Ms. Rehman’s assimilation into American culture. There were many things that shocked her upon her initial arrival in New York, but that over time, became much less of an issue. She came here with the intent of only staying for the two years it would take for her husband to complete his residency, but when that time came, she’d fallen in love with America and was starting to make a place for herself and her family in this country. They moved here way back in 1971, so the climate for Muslims was much different back then. They were able to go back and forth freely to their home country to visit relatives and her relatives were able to come to New York to visit them. How times have changed! Even though they are US citizens, born and raised here, both her son and young autistic grandson are both on the “no-fly” list, simply because they have the misfortune of sharing the same names as suspected terrorists, which the author says are as ubiquitous in the Muslim world as John Smith is to Caucasians. Anyway, back when they moved here, there were no mosques in New York, so it was fascinating to see how she managed to connect with other Muslims and start building a community, not only around their shared faith, but also around some shared culture as well. And eventually, they were able to raise the funds to build a mosque, but until then, they met in smaller spaces for their own version of Sunday School.
I also enjoyed how the author weaves the metaphor of threading her prayer rug throughout the narrative. There are so many things about her that changed over time, and part of what I could appreciate the most are her evolving beliefs. She came to this country with a pretty conservative mindset, which has ebbed and flowed over time. Some things which scandalized her in the beginning have become non-issues now, while she herself has become a much-more observant Muslim in her personal life. In those early years, she thought she had been a devout Muslim in Pakistan, only to discover later in life that she really hadn’t been. Wanting her children to know about both their Pakistani culture and the Muslim faith, she set out to learn more about it herself. This led her to begin observing Ramadan and eventually participating in the five daily prayers, and I have to admit that the discipline required to do these things pretty much puts me to shame in my own spiritual life. She became a leader in the Muslim community, which brought her up against some traditionalists with regards to a woman’s place and which isn’t all that different from some Christian churches I’ve attended. Later on, when she wanted a better understanding of what the Qur’an said about women’s roles, she delved into an in-depth study of their holy book, which included an attempt to learn Arabic so she could read it in its original language. Again, this puts me to shame, because that would be like me trying to learn Greek and Hebrew to read the original texts of the Holy Bible. At each step of her journey she would use the metaphor of the patterns in her prayer rug changing to indicate the ways in which she was changing.
Throughout reading Threading My Prayer Rug, I was struck most by just how many similarities that I shared with the author, which seem to transcend culture and faith. During his presidency, Barack Obama often invoked the idea that that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us. I don’t think he was the originator the quote, but it’s a good one in any case. And that is exactly what I felt while reading this book. The author and I may come from very different backgrounds and practice different faiths, but at our core, we want the same things and have the same hopes and dreams for our families and loved ones. I also strongly believe that the only way we are ever going to stop classifying Muslims as “other” is to learn about them and their faith, and this book went a long way toward demystifying those things for me. Sabeeha Rehman is just an ordinary woman dealing with some of the same challenges in life that all of us face. Yet at the same time, because of her name and her faith, she isn’t always made to feel welcome. I was impressed by how she remains upbeat and optimistic in spite of her circumstances, while also being a tireless advocate for interfaith dialogue, peace, and understanding. I can’t begin to express how much I admire her doggedness and the energy with which she approaches life. Being a low-energy, deeply introverted person, I could never do even half of what she’s done in her life, but it’s inspiring nonetheless. I think we all need to take a page from Ms. Rehman’s book and put ourselves out there in the fray of life and fight for what’s important with the same vigor she does....more