The Reading List

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

Alishia, 17, works at the Harrow Road Library in London and lives with her brother, Aiden, and their chronically unwell mother who can't be left alone. Mukesh, a senior, is grieving the loss of his beloved wife, Naina, while trying to fend off three grown daughters determined to run his life. 

While working in the library, Alishia finds a handwritten note with the words "In case you need it" written across the top and then a list of books - 

She has no idea who wrote the list or why but she tucks it away in case someone comes looking for it. In the meantime when Mukesh, who has never been much of a reader, comes to the library looking for a book recommendation, Alisha is stressed and irritable with him. Later, regretting how she treated him, she decides to read the first book on the list and if it's good, then maybe she will recommend it to Mukesh. 

As they and a few others begin reading through the list, they find the words and actions of the books' characters affecting how they see themselves and how they respond to the people around them. The books change them individually, but also start a friendship between Alishia and Mukesh that will become important to them, their families, and to the library.  

I listened to an audio version and was sorry when it came to an end. Not that the ending is sad, it actually comes to quite a satisfying conclusion, but I miss the rhythm of Mukesh's accent and even Mukesh himself. He's a loveable character, and Alishia, when you get to know her and her life, is someone you'll root for, too. Really there's nobody to dislike in this story, oh maybe a little at first but they all redeem themselves in the end - and isn't that refreshing?

It's a lovely story that thankfully avoids becoming too sweet or sentimental. Alishia and Mukesh struggle with difficult situations in their lives that are both relatable and realisticly written. I suppose there are moments when Mukesh seems a little too good to be true, but I'd like to believe there are men like him in the world so I'm buying it. 

I would have liked a bit more discussion about the books, but as it was I enjoyed it very much. So much, in fact, that I think I'll get a hard copy for my shelf so I can loan it out to some of the other readers in my life.

The Sacred Romance

 The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis & John Eldredge

This was my second time though this one and I feel I got more out of it this time. It's funny how you can read the same book at different stages of life and they'll mean completley different things to you. I've been cataloguing my books this winter and have found several that need re-reading simply because so much has changed since I first read them. I've changed, and I want to see what they have to say to me where I am, and who I am, now. 

The Sacred Romance speaks of the longing we all have to be cherished by someone, and how God woos us to come to hIm for that deep love that we so need. The authors tell stories from their own lives and the lives of others to illustrate how we settle for lesser things and miss out on the best love story of all.  

They talk about what they call "the arrows", the hits we take throughout our lives that try to convince us we are forgotten or abandoned, alone. When we look at the arrows that have hurt us and made us question the goodness - or even the existence - of God, we can begin to see where we've made wrong assumptions about him and to understand that he has been with us the whole time. 

The book's subtitle is "Drawing Closer to the Heart of God". It's a phrase so often used in the advertising of books, music, spiritual retreats, etc., that I've become numb to the words and don't pay them much attention anymore. My ususal thought is yeah, yeah, they all say that. I don't know what drew me to this book years ago, but I can tell you that what it offers is real. I have drawn closer to the heart of God through it, and it's become one of those special books that I can pick up anytime and find encouragement just by reading what I've underlined previously.  

This is a book I can recommend wholeheartly; I hope you will read it and be blessed.

All New People

 All New People by Anne Lamott

I read the first half of this wondering where it was going and what it was about, but eventually realized I was missing the point. It's the well-meaning, messed-up characters that are the story here.    

Nan Goodman, recently divorced, comes back to her hometown in California and takes us through her memories of growing up in the turbulent 1960s. Her family is as peculiar as every family is when seen from the inside. Her father is a tempermental writer who never finds the level of success he hoped for, her kind and compassionate mother a devout Christian suffering with bouts of depression, and her brother somewhat of a rebel who dabbles in drugs. 

There is some plot in that her alcoholic Uncle Ed has a brief affair with Natalie, the best friend of Nan's mother, leaving Ed living with guilt and his wife, Pam, trying to find a way to live with the betrayal. Nan's parents have old ties to communism that seep into the story now and then, and Nan finds a friend in the ill-fated Pru, a young woman who comes to a gruesome and untimely end. So yes, a plot, but the best part of this book is Nan's insightful perspective on the people and situations around her. 

There are hints of trauma in her childhood that aren't fully explained and her growing-up years were filled with problems, but she narrates it all in a voice that never gives in to sentimentalism. I think that's why I liked it. She tells you about her life but doesn't play to your emotions; she leaves how you feel about it up to you. And the characters are all likeable, or if not quite, then understandable. You want them to succeed.       

The title comes from something Nan's father said to her:

"'Why do we make it all seem like a crisis, over and over again? Why do we worry it all to death, like dogs with socks or chew-toys? Look at it this way,' he said to me. 'In a hundred years? - All new people.'"

Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing culture, All New People is an encouragement to keep on keeping on. Life is the thing and yes, it's hard and it's messy, but it goes on, and so can we. 

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next series #2)

 Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde

This was fun! It's the second in the Thursday Next series, the first of which (The Eyre Affair) I enjoyed so much that I doubted the second could be as good - but it was. 

It's difficult to catagorize this series with a genre - it's mystery,  it's fantasy/science fiction, it's humour, and it's my favourite genre-without-a-name: 'books about books'.  

Thursday Next is a female detective who solves literary crimes by physically  entering books from which characters have been kidnapped, artifacts stolen, or lines rewritten. The plot whips you  into and out of the books on the shelves of the most amazing library you could ever imagine, a library with a talking cat who guards the books - and has an attitude.

To give you a better idea of what it's like, I'm going to quote a longer than normal passage and hope I don't get into trouble with copyright people. If I'm asked to take it down, I'll of course do so. 

"'What on earth is a grammasite?' I asked, looking nervously about in case the strange-looking creature should return.

'A parasitic life-form that lives inside books and feeds on grammar,' explained Havisham. 'I'm no expert, but that one looked suspiciously like an adjectivore. Can you see the gunport it was feeding on?'


'Describe it to me.'

I looked at the gunport and frowned. I had expected it to be old or or wooden or rotten or wet, but it wasn't. But then it wasn't sterile or blank or empty either - it was simply a gunport, nothing more nor less.

'The adjectivore feeds on the adjectives describing the noun,' explained Havisham, 'but it generally leaves the noun intact.'"

This conversation was held while Havisham and Thursday were inside Great Expectations trying to fix a plot hole. Miss Havisham, a character in the novel they're trying to fix, is also an agent for Jurisfiction, enforcing literary law   

And that should give you some idea how wacky the world of these books is. They are wildly imaginative and unlike anything I've read before. I'd like to dive right into the third one, but with only eight in the series I'll probably hoard them for a while. I want to make them last.

The House at the Edge of Night

 The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

This story follows the lives of the Esposito family over four generations from 1914 to 2009. The setting is the tiny, fictional island of Castellamare, located somewhere off the east coast of Sicily across from the town of Syracuse.

Amedeo Esposito comes to the island to practice medicine, meets and marries his wife Pina and they take up residence in "casa al bordo del notte" - the house at the edge of night. It lies just outside the village, where the lights from the houses taper off and the darkness thickens, and it is this house that becomes the center of life on the island. First there's the story of Amedeo and Pina with their three sons and a daughter; then the next generation of the daughter, Maria-Grazia with her husband and two sons; and finally the story of one of Maria's sons and his daughter. The bar/cafe the family run on the main floor of their home is the scene of much of the village's drama and Maria becomes the keeper of many of the island's secrets.   

Castellamare is far enough away from the mainland to be untroubled by most of what goes on there. Steeped in their own ways of doing things they are not much bothered by how they are done anywhere else. But even isolated as they are, they cannot escape the effects of the two wars and the economic booms and failures that shake the rest of the world. These wider events together with the smaller and more immediate doings of the island's people, the rivalries, romances, scandals, joys and sorrows of life in a small community, tell a rich and satisfying story. The characters are relatable - some of them a little weird and perhaps the more relatable for that - and the island setting mesmerizing, the sound of the sea the background music to the entire novel.

It's a bit lengthy - 415 pages in my copy- but that allows the story to be told in depth and lets the reader really get to know the characters and the place. It's a great story, a well told, epic tale of island life.   

Amazing Grace

 Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris 

I'm not sure how to articulate my thoughts, or even what they are really, about this book of essays chronicling the author's return to the Christian church and her struggles with the 'vocabulary of faith'.  

She attended church as a child but grew away from it in her teens. As an adult she began to feel drawn back to it but was hindered by the faith words she had always found difficult to understand - words like judgement, grace, sin, salvation, faith, dogma, sinner, and evangelism. In short chapters - I no longer have the book but there might have been 60-70 - titled with the troublesome words, she explains how she has come to terms with them. Throughout the book she refers to her involvement with a local monastery and all that she has learned there, and to her family influencing both her stepping away from and returning to the church. 

There's a lot of interesting reading here, though I admit to finding myself confused at times. Granted she knows far more church history than I do and is much better at putting her thoughts into words, so some of the difficulty is my own.  She writes a lot about her spiritual heritage and what it has taught her about living out her faith in modern world, a life that in some ways is an admirable example for the rest of us. Yet it isn't clear if she believes in an actual heaven or hell, something the Bible leaves no question about, and she seems quite set against "evangelicals" and the term "born again", though the Bible is clear that Jesus himself said "You must be born again." 

I appreciated her openness and her gifted writing, I just didn't find many answers here. And maybe that's the point after all, that we each need to find our own answers and our own path to "the Way, the Truth and the Life". I believe there is only one God and one way to Him, through faith in His son, Jesus Christ, but I also believe there are as many journeys to finding Jesus as there are people who do. The important thing is not how we come to faith in Christ, but that we do. This book may help some with the hurdles on their own particular journey.