Changing Our Mind

 Changing Our Mind by David P. Gushee

As with Why Not Women I'll begin by saying I am not a Biblical scholar, nor have I done extensive personal study of the Bible's stance on same-sex marriage. I've always taken a few verses at face value and drawn my conclusions from those, which was comfortable because most of the people I know had come to the same conclusions, and if a question was raised those verses seemed to clearly answer it. 

Recently I've been challenged to at least consider other viewpoints, not to change my beliefs but simply to listen to those who have drawn other conclusions from what the Bible says. And so I read Changing Our Mind, praying to not be swayed from the truth by fine-sounding arguments. (Col. 2:4). I want to know and believe the truth, whatever it may be. 

It was well written and thorough in its explanations, but when I came to the end of it a lot of things still weren't clear to me. Then I read the section at the back entitled "Response to Critics", where the author talked about things I'd never before considered. I'm still not sure where I stand on every question, but my perspective has been changed. I won't go into a lot of detail because I think it's better for each one to read it and think through it themselves, but when he asked us to look at the situation in light of other, similar issues we once took a firm stance on and have now reconsidered, I found wisdom - truth - in that and it has helped me in thinking about this. There's simply no getting around the fact that we have changed our position on women going to church with their heads uncovered, women speaking in church, divorced couples being accepted into membership, and divorced people being accepted as pastors. 

Even if after prayer and study we are unable to accept same-sex marriage within the church - and we must each heed our own conscience - we can find Biblical encouragement to love and treat with dignity those who do. The bottom line for Christians is always love, for it is the way of Christ.  

After I've had some time to digest all I've read in this book, I'll read it again to see if I can get a little more clarity on things I'm still unsure about. He presents an honest challenge, not for those looking to back-up what they already believe, but for those of us who are sincerely conflicted about this issue. If that's you, Changing Our Mind might be of help.

Sleeping Murder and 7 Mondays

 Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple takes on an eighteen year old mystery when a young woman, Glenda, has unnerving flashbacks after moving into the house where she lived as a child. Her father's young wife disappeared years ago and was rumored to have run off with another man, but her husband believed himself guilty of murdering her and Glenda has had a brief flashback of a dead body on the front hall floor. Glenda and her husband, alarmed but intrigued, are happy to have Miss Marple's assistance with a quiet investigation into who knew what and when, and how it all fits together. 

I'm afraid didn't find it particularly interesting, but I do like the Miss Marple stories generally. This was a bit flat, with a lot of repetitive conversations and characters who weren't quite likeable. Not one of the better ones.       

7 Mondays by Students of Mount A. University

This is Vol. 27 of a journal showcasing literary and photographic art by students of Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. I haven't read any of the previous volumes, in fact I didn't know of their existence, but I was kindly given this one by a friend and found it interesting. I'm not an avid fan of modern poetry - I can seldom unravel the cryptic language to get to the message beneath - but there were some interesting ones here. 

One in particular called Dear Mr. Irving is addressed to the family of mill owners cutting down our New Brunswick forests. In it the narrator, a tree, reminds them that we need trees to cleanse the air and help us breathe, and warns what the consequences might be if too many are lost. It makes a good point, but I know too little about the situation to know if the scenario suggested is a real possibility. I've read about the Irving company re-planting trees and working at forest management, but how effective those efforts are against what is being taken from the forests I don't know. 

Again, I didn't understand some of these poems, but I am glad the students have the opportunity to put their art out there. Poetry often doesn't get a fighting chance, so it's nice to see it still being written and read.

A Quiet Life

 A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

A Quiet Life is a gentle, but affecting story of three grieving people whose lives, intersecting in quite ordinary ways, are profoundly changed when they let the others in.

Ella waits anxiously to hear from the police any word on her little girl's whereabouts after she was pulled from school and taken away by her father months ago. Now living in a run-down apartment because she couldn't afford to keep their home without her husband's income, she works one job at a bridal salon, and another delivering newspapers in the early morning hours to make ends meet.

Chuck is one of her delivery customers. She sees his light on early every morning and wonders about him and why he isn't sleeping at this hour. Inside, Chuck is drowning in grief over the loss of his beloved wife, can't sleep, and can't work out how to live without her.

Kirsten works at Rescue Ranch, taking care of the animals, arranging adoptions and managing the office. She stays busy, but none of it fills the emptiness caused by the loss of her father eight months prior, killed in a gas station shooting, a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm writing this some weeks after reading it and can't quite remember how she is connected to the others but it does all make sense when you read it. 

This was a hopeful story with characters who felt real and drew an emotional response, mostly. I didn't quite understand Kerstin, but it takes all kinds to make a world, even a fictional one. As the title suggests, it's a story of three people quietly struggling to find a way to carry on when it seems impossible. What goes on in their heads and their hearts as they find their way, together and individually, back to living again is what good stories are made of. 

A very nice read.  

Kubrick's Game

Kubrick's Game by Derek Taylor Kent

It's been a while since I've read a page-turner and I forgot how much fun they are. This was exciting, if slightly baffling in spots.

15 years after Stanley Kubrik's death, several students at different film schools receive a letter from him with a cryptic message they must decipher. Once they do, it leads to a further clue and then another, with increasingly difficult challenges that will test their knowledge, deductive capabilities, and physical and mental courage.  

Deciphering the messages involves many hours of watching Kubrick's movies, searching for hidden symbols or connections to other movies and then racing to whatever location those things reveal before competing teams get there. It's quite a complex game that I could more or less follow, until close to the end where I got completely lost for several pages. After that it sorts itself out as the game wraps up and comes to a not totally unexpected, reasonably satisfying, ending.

It left me with questions, but then page-turners are all about action-packed plots, not tying up details. This plot is pretty wild, taking turns that elicited a number of right-out-loud "Yikes!". The main character is Shaun, an 18 year old film-wiz on the autism spectrum, whose straightforward manner and difficulty relating to people endeared himself to me right from the start. Some of the others, though interesting, are written with less depth and so are less relatable.  But again, this one is about plot.

I learned a good deal more about Stanley Kubrick's movies than I ever knew before, which you'd think would have tempted me to watch or re-watch some of them, but no. He was brilliant and made movies chock full of symbolism and other tricks to send your brain into overdrive, but with this book I think I've had my fill, for now anyway. His most recognizable titles are Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, all of which are used within the game. You don't need to be familiar with them to enjoy the book, but if I was to read it again I'd watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange first.

O Come Ye Back to Ireland - Our First Year in County Clare

O Come Ye Back To Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen

Travel memoirs are some of my favourite books, especially those about moving to a distant place, full of observations about the new country and the people and way of life there. I've come across very few that weren't wonderfully entertaining. 

Niall had lived in Ireland as a child, and Christine's family had history there as well. Uprooting from New York and settling in rural Ireland would be a dramatic change of lifestyle, but to both it felt like "going home" in some ways. On arrival the practicalities of life were quick to displace any romantic idea of country life they'd carried with them, but through all the ups and downs - and there were such downs -  their determination and the generous help of their salt-of-the-earth neighbours, carried them through.

From learning how to cut peat for their winter's fuel, dancing at a ceilidh and starting a local theater group, to raising (and having to slaughter) their own chickens, they paint a picture of Irish country living that made me alternatively envious and dismayed. But, oh, the wonderful people. You could live anywhere and face anything with good-hearted people like that around you.  

Persistent heavy rain and fog darkened their first summer (the worst summer in decades, the radio told them), and I admit to finding those chapters of rain after rain after rain a bit tedious in the reading, at the same time feeling guilty for even thinking that. I had only to read it while they suffered real hardship that summer. The only excuse I can offer is that similar dreary conditions outside my own window the entire time I was reading this book had me longing for sunshine somewhere.  

I did enjoy spending this time among the lovely people and places I've always wanted to visit. Though my travel book shelf is already crammed and I have to be picky about what can stay and what must go, this one will stay.


Demon Copperhead and Wuthering Heights

 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a contemporary re-telling of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, with many parallels to the original but told with so much swearing and salacious language that it got tiring. I have a reasonably high tolerance for vulgarity, probably higher than it should be, but this one is a bit much. I've always found good writers able to get their point across without resorting to detailed descriptions of sex and constant cursing. Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent writer, and as a member of my book club put it, “She’s better than this.” I’ve heard the argument that such language makes the story realistic, and maybe it does, though I’m sure people in Dickens’ time swore like sailors and he made David Copperfield painfully realistic without it.   

Demon’s story is heart-wrenching for sure, and a tragic picture of what kids in the foster system can endure. The story is great, I just got tired of the cursing and sex talk. Call me old-fashioned – I’ll take it as a compliment – but I don’t like my reading this gritty. Life is more than gritty enough as it is.

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I read this years ago and remembered it for its good writing and dark tone. Lately it’s become quite popular again – or maybe it always has been and I just haven’t been paying attention – and I’m hearing people say what a beautiful story of romance it is, it’s their favourite book, they read it every year, etc. My memory of it was so completely different I thought I’d better read it again.

 I am completely baffled. Where is the romance, the beauty? Catherine and Heathcliff are in love, yes, but it’s more of a selfish obsession than anything. They are both awful people who do awful things to everyone but each other. His cruelty and abuse of others would land him in prison today. 

There are a few romantic (when taken out of context) quotes, but only a few, and everything in between is great writing of a horrible story. How anyone can see it as a beautiful love story or want to read it every year is beyond me. But, then, many things are beyond me, and isn't it our differences that make people, and life, and reading so interesting?

 "In literature as in love it is astonishing what is chosen by others." 
  Andre Maurois

The Null Prophecy

 The Null Prophecy by Michael Guillen

A science fiction novel with an interesting premise but  characters who come across as not quite real.

Scientists are predicting the sun will soon experience a solar storm so intense the EMP will cause blackouts, damage to technological infrastructure, and even disruption of essential services. But it gets worse...with large gaps now in the earth's magnetosphere, certain spots around the globe are unprotected and could suffer horrible loss of life and property. (I didn't check the science on any of this, just accepted it as a reasonably credible scenario for disaster. Have no idea if it actually is.) 

There are skeptics who deny it all and insist there is no danger, but others who believe it a such a momentous event that it will herald no less than the Second Coming of Christ. One man, who believes himself responsible for the damage to the earth's magnetic shield, hopes he and his super-powerful new machine/boat/thing, which he's named "Hero", can save the day. He can't stop the sun from erupting, but just maybe, he, with the help of an intrepid reporter and her unwavering faith, can at least limit the damage.

This book's dramatic style of dialogue sometimes made me think of tv shows from the 50s and 60s, shows like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, not a bad thing at all. They were good shows. But in places it felt forced, and the characters lacked relatability, never developing into more than made-up people in a story.

It builds tension with each chapter heading counting down the days and hours left, so I had to finish it to see how it would end, but with writing that is mediocre at best I can't say it's a great book, just not bad.


Beatrice and Croc Harry

 Beatrice and Crock Harry by Lawrence Hill

Beatrice, age 11, wakes up in a treehouse knowing only her first name. She has no idea how she came to be there, where she's from, or what her life was like before. As she explores the forest outside the treehouse she meets Croc Harry, a huge, turquoise - "the favourite colour of any reasonable person" - crocodile; an annoying speckled rabbit called Horace Harrison Junior the Third; Fuzzy, a bright blue tarantula; Killjoy, a lemur hairdresser/ dentist; and Ms. Rainbow, a rainbow who talks. In the Argilia forest all creatures can talk.

From Ms. Rainbow, Beatrice learns that she must pass several tests to get out of the forest and back to where she came from. But first she has to find the hidden clues, making her way through adventures comical, fantastical. and sometimes perilous.

The story begins in a fairly light tone, then weightier elements are introduced as Beatrice's memories start to come back. The last few chapters are darker as the awful truth of what happened to her becomes clear. In the end though, wrongs are righted and all turns out well. Sort of - I still have questions about some of it.

Themes of social justice, racial prejudice and reconciliation are prominent, handled I think in a way appropriate for most children. Beatrice learns to stand up for herself, and for others who are being treated unfairly, and she forgives the one who has done her great harm, making of him a friend rather than an enemy. 

What I love about this story - which was written for Middle School age - is that it's full of book references and wonderful, wacky words. In Beatrice's treehouse there is a large dictionary called "The St. Lawrence Dictionary of Only the Best Words, Real and Concocted", a portion of which is included at the back of the book. Some of these words are used and mulled over by the characters, but be sure to read through the rest of it because it's a lot of fun.

Lawrence Hill, an exceptional writer, has written a children's book both light-hearted and serious, entertaining and educating. I can't say I loved everything about it, but my few hesitations aside, it's an imaginative story with a number of opportunities for talking to children about difficult, but very current, realities.  


Filling the Void - Capitalism, Emotion and Social Media

 Filling the Void by Marcus Gilroy-Ware 

Capitalism, emotion, and social media - it seemed an odd combination, but after reading this I can see the connections, and that has been both enlightening and disturbing.

"There is an awful lot invested in social media maintaining their perceptions as innocent, fun, social, and above all, harmless. We shouldn't be so sure." 

This book was published in 2017, and in the years since we have indeed learned it is not harmless, and surely not all innocent. But the author asks us now to consider not only the effect it's having on us, but also how we created the "void" that it fills, how we came to be psychologically ready to succumb to it no matter the eventual cost. 

"Rather than speculating about what it is that technology makes us feel or do, we would do well to start asking what it is in us that makes us find any given technology - or action within that technology such as 'liking' something - appealing". He suggests we are using social media to find something that is lacking in our lives, or simply to avoid those lives. "By allowing the user to encounter a stream of novel media stimuli from familiar sources, the timeline facilitates an easy way to feel something other than the emotions that the user would otherwise be experiencing at that moment in time"

This doesn't even scratch the surface of what he has to say. I could keep quoting - I think I highlighted half the book - but you'd do better to read it yourself. It's well written, citing many studies with dates and titles so you can check his stats yourself. He isn't trying to convince us not to use social media so much as to be aware that they are also using us. Social media companies are in business for profit, not our well-being no matter what their slogans may say, and "as the increasingly common saying about digital services goes, 'if it's free, you're the product'." 

It's an interesting perspective and an enlightening read.


David Copperfield

 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The narrator, David, begins by stating his intention to recount the story of his life. This he does, from the moment of his birth, through a happy few years with his mother and his nurse, Peggity (his father died before he was born), and then painful years of neglect and abuse. His mother meets and marries Mr. Murdstone, a cold, mean, punishment of a man who will rigidly control everything they say and do.

David is sent away to school, where he is befriended by an older boy, James Steerforth, whose charming facade convinces David he has found a true friend. He hasn't. Then David's mother dies unexpectedly and Murdstone, refusing to pay for any further schooling, puts David to work in one of his counting houses. Neglected, alone, and still a child - David runs away, searching for an Aunt he's hoping will take him in. 

She does, and in his new life with her he continues his education, meets the lovely Agnes, with whom he will grow up as sister and brother, and is introduced to the unsettling Uriah Heep, surely one the of the most obnoxious of Dickens', or anyone else's, villains.  

The story is lengthy, 716 pages in my copy, but with a large cast of characters there is rarely a dull moment. Several different story lines to follow means someone is always in difficulty of some sort, keeping the reader turning pages expectantly. Well, I wasn't exactly turning pages because my copy was very poor, with lines of text so jammed together that it hurt my eyes and forced me to switch to an audio version.  

Now, let me tell you about this audio book. I do still prefer the printed page, but I've discovered in the past few years the luxury of being read to. It's true I've experienced some narration so awful I couldn't finish a book, but most of the time I feel priveleged to have someone tell me a story. This one - David Copperfield narrated by Richard Armitage - was something special. He doesn't just read it, he acts - inhabits really - every single role. Each character has his own voice, particular manner of speaking, and distinct personality. It's a one-man play. I was mesmerized.

And moved - I've never been so moved by Dickens as I was listening to this. The scene where Dora lies dying as she and David whisper their final words to each other was gut-wrenching, and the shipwreck scene was so vivid, so immediate, that I found myself pushing back in the chair to get out of the way. I've never heard anything like this. I knew Richard Armitage to be a great actor but it doesn't always follow that they'll be a good narrator and I have been disappointed with a few. But this one - this one was stunning.

Wonderful book. Superlative narration.

The Last Chance Library

 The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson

A small town library is threatened with closure by a town council looking to cash in on the interest of a property developer. Some of the library's patrons stage a "sit-in" to protest and the town rallies around them, but the council isn't backing down. Even after a council member is found to be involved in an underhanded scheme to influence the votes, the library's future is not assured. The fate of the staff and the people who love the library remains in the hands of a cash-strapped council.

The plot had potential, but the characters could have been fleshed out more and some of their interactions didn't make a lot of sense. Too many unlikely scenarios, but it's entertaining enough if you're looking for a little light reading.   

The Imperfects and My Fine Fellow

The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson

A story of three siblings, Ashley, Jake, and Beck; their estranged mother, Deborah; and their elderly grandmother, Helen. After Helen passes away they are stunned to find themselves inheriting a broach worth millions. It contains the 'Florentine Diamond', 137 carats, a jewel missing from the Austrian Empire for over a hundred years. Investigating how it came to be in Helen's possession, and who it legally belongs to now, will take them on a journey they could never have imagined and will reveal a story that just might help this dysfunctional group function as a family again.

A good story with well-constructed, relatable characters and solid writing. And - bonus - I learned a bit about Hapsburg history and how diamonds are rated.


My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen

A light - very light - tale of romance and the culinary arts. With the plot, the characters and the dialogue all seeming somewhat improbable, I didn't find it great reading. Nice cover though.

First Among Sequels

 

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

This 5th novel in the Thursday Next series picks up the story fourteen years after the end of book 4, Something Rotten. Thursday works for a carpet business now that SpecOps has been disbanded, at least that's what she tells her family. Her husband, Landon, is back after being "eradicated" for a few years and they now have three children: Friday, the surly 16 yr old son; Tuesday, the brilliant 13 yr old daughter; and Jenny, the 11yr old who never seems to be anyplace you'd expect her to be. 

The carpet business is really a front for Jurisfiction: "Jurisfiction is the name given to the policing agency within books. Working with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of Text Grand Central, the Prose Resource Operatives at Jurisfiction work tirelessly to maintain the continuity of the narrative within the pages of all the books ever written." Thursday is accompanied on her assignments in Book World by a trainee she's to evaluate for suitability as an agent, an awkward job due to the trainee being a version of herself, Thursday 5, the character in the 5th book of the series written about the original Thursday and her work (that's the fictional 5th book within Book World, not the real 5th book in our real world. Confused Intrigued yet?)

Thursday 1-4, all one character because she didn't change in any way through books 1-4, is wreaking havoc in Book World, imitating the real Thursday and using her authority to accomplish her own nefarious purposes. Meanwhile another situation needs Thursday's attention: someone is attempting to replace classic literature with tv reality shows. If successful, those books will disappear forever, and with the first show already in production, something has to be done to stop them fast.

Complicating her life and her work are an alarming drop in Real World readership rates, future versions of her son appearing regularly, trans-genre taxis that are never available when she needs one to get into a book, and a minotaur who wants...and tries...to kill her. Never a dull moment.     

These books have been classified as science ficiton, comedy, fantasy, absurdist fiction, and any number of other things. For me they're just a ton of fun. Jasper Fforde has built a unique, fantastic world, a total immersion experience. Nothing I tell you will prepare you for the glorious ridiculousness that is Book World. All I can say is pick one up, and jump in.


An Innocent in Newfoundland

An Innocent in Newfoundland by David W. McFadden

The author takes us down the scenic roads of Newfoundland to remote little towns perched on cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. The Trans-Canada Highway can take you across the province more quickly, but thankfully he stayed off the highway, showing us instead interesting, beautiful places we'd have missed otherwise. My favourite travel books are always those that take the reader into the real life of a place, which usually means away from the tourist attractions.

As much as I loved the descriptions of places, the heart of this book is in the conversations he has with people he meets in hotels, coffee shops, bars, etc. Connecting seems to be his superpower. He can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, always knowing what to say to put people at ease. It's a gift, one I've never possessed but greatly admire in an envious, maybe slightly resentful kind of way.

I've come across a few negative reviews of this book that accuse the author of mocking Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders but it didn't strike me that way at all. He will spell out words here and there to show us how they are pronounced on the island, but I think he's pointing out differences, not making fun. He seems to be genuinely interested in the people and their stories. The impressions I'm left with are of a place of spectacular beauty, and of people who are friendly, generous and open-hearted. I can see a lot of people adding Newfoundland to their travel goals after reading this.

What I love about travel books, other than being immersed in the culture of a place I'd like to visit but can't, is the history, the geography, and all the interesting little things there are to learn about a place. For example, I discovered that Newfoundland's official motto is "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God." Having lived all my life in Atlantic Canada, and not very far away, I can't believe I didn't know that. It's a good motto!

And I learned about a Newfoundland passenger ferry, traveling between North Sydney, NS and Port aux Basques, Nl, being torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942. The boat sank and 136 people were killed. That story led me to look up other enemy incursions into Canadian waters and so on, and so on. Every travel book I've ever read has been as much education as entertainment.

So. Entertainment, education, beautiful scenery, great people, a witty narrator - what more could you want? Definitely read this one. 


Be Frank With Me

 Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I very much enjoyed reading this, even while wondering if it wasn't just a little far-fetched. I decided to ignore that voice and keep reading.

When New Yorker Alice, is sent to L.A. by her publisher boss, Mr. Vargas, to assist an author writing a long-awaited second book, she is warned that it's a "prickly" household. M.M. Banning, the author she'll be helping, will spend most of her time holed up in her office, leaving Alice to run the house and care for Banning's 9 year old son, Frank. 

Frank is what Mr. Vargas calls an "odd duck". He's highly intelligent, socially inept, an eccentric dresser, and will lay flat on the floor, stiff and uncommunicative, when overwhelmed by what's going on around him. He's quirky and endearing much of the time, but other times he's simply rude to people and not charming at all. Alice coped with it by indulging him much of the time, which I suppose was the easiest thing since she wouldn't be with him for very long. I wouldn't have had a clue how to relate to him. 

M.M. Banning, herself, is confusing. She seems to have two personalities - one with Alice and another with her son. While she's motherly, warm, and loving to Frank, to Alice she's cold and snarky, mean even. I couldn't figure her out, and eventually got so tired of her bad attitude I didn't want to. 

In spite of those negatives I liked the book. Frank is a fascinating character I came to care about and root for. There's another character, Xander, who has a brief romance with Alice but it's his beautiful bond with Frank that turns out to be one of the most affective parts of the story.

I gave this one four stars on Goodreads which was maybe half a star too much, but 3 didn't seem quite enough. 

Turning Pages

 Turning Pages by John Sargent

Interesting and quite funny at times, this look back at Mr. Sargent's career is told mostly through stories of the famous people he met and worked with and the books that caused a stir at the time. Also part biography, he talks about his childhood and growing up with divorced parents - the book opens with a story about him being thown from a bucking calf at his first rodeo at age 7. 

He worked for a number of well-known Publishers in different capacities, but it's the people he met and the books he worked on, some of them quite controversial, that make this really interesting. Names like Brittany Spears, Barack and Michelle Obama, John Grisham, Jeff Bezos, Edward Snowdon, Sarah Ferguson, and Moncia Lewinsky appear regularly. 

When his company published Fire and Fury, the book chronicling Donald Trump's first 100 days in the White House (as witnessed by a journalist who was there that whole period), the President himself ordered the company to "cease and desist". They published it anyway, because "A sitting president was attemptimg to subvert the First amendment, and freedon of the press was usually the first freedom suspended by authoritarion regimes." I haven't yet read that one, but knowing a bit about how it came to be has me curious. I'll see if my library has a copy.

Some of Sargent's writing is beautiful: "I was completely alone on the lift ride up. The craggy peaks and sheer faces of the Eastern Sierra cast shadows across the snow of their shoulders. The sun's angle deepend the furrows in the bark of the old ponderosa pines. The air was still, the sky a high-altitude blue. The silence of the mountains." There were other places it felt more contrived and sometimes a little self-indulgent. He toots his own horn a bit. 

This one is worth reading for the behind-the-scenes look at some of the titles and authors he was involved with. Some really interesting stories here.


Termination Shock

 Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

The opening scene reveals a small plane, piloted by the Queen of the Netherlands, landing in Texas just as a herd of feral pigs swarm the runway beneath them. The result is a wrecked plane,
a number of injuries, and a very messy tarmac. 

Set in the near future, climate change has raised temperatures and water levels all over the planet. The Dutch Queen and other leaders have been invited to witness a demonstration of new, privately owned technology that could prevent weather disasters and even reverse some of the damage already done. While this sounds good, there is one glitch: what will benefit some areas of the world has the potential to cause major problems for others - and they aren't about to let that happen.

What I liked about this book is the matter-of-fact way climate change problems are addressed. It's realistic - it's likely we're headed for exactly some of the situations described - but there's a lack of hysteria that is refreshing. Problems are squarely faced, disasters borne and plans made to mitigate damage in the future. There's a minimum of angst and a maximum of putting heads together to find solutions.

What I didn't like was not getting to know the characters very well. Granted, it's plot driven, but I do wish I'd been able to feel some connection with one or two of them. They are interesting people, but they kept their distance.

Another thing that didn't appeal to me was all the technical detail about how various things are built and how they function. I found it tedious but expect it will be more interesting to some readers.

Interesting concepts and characters, and a good read, just not quite as riveting as Seveneves, the only other Stephenson novel I've read so far.

The Year of Living Biblically

 The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

This is A.J. Jacobs quest "to live the ultimate biblical life" for a year. He wanted to see what "the most influential book in the world" was all about, if it could change his spiritual status as a long-time agnostic, and to record the experience for a book. It's the first of his I've read, but his very entertaining writing has convinced me to put two more on my library list (The Puzzler, and The Know-It-All).

He began by reading through the Bible and taking note of every command, rule, and bit of wisdom he found. Then, with 72 pages of listed requirements for living, he set out to follow them all and see where it would take him. Knowing he'd need guidance and accountability, he gathered a team of people to be his advisors, including people from the Roman Catholic church, various Jewish sects and several different protestant faiths. 

Though he found some of the rules more than a little ridiculous, he treated the Bible and the people of faith he met with respect always. I appreciated that, and his honesty about the things he found contradictory or simply couldn't understand. I was sometimes perplexed by the things he chose to be completely literal about, but it was his quest, not mine, and there is insight to be gained by seeing it from a non-believer's point of view. 

The result of his year-long experiment is a funny, yet touching book that chronicles not only what he learned about the Bible and religion, but the personal changes it worked in him and in his outlook on life. I won't tell you what those changes were, but I will say the book is both engaging and thought-provolking whether you find yourself in agreement with his conclusions or not.

Why Not Women?

 Why Not Women? by Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton

Let me begin by saying I'm no expert in theology and make no claim to have studied this particular topic in any depth. But I am a woman who has read through the Bible and found the restrictions placed on women in the church contradictory. Parts of it talk about women in what seem to be leadership roles while other parts deny us the right to even speak in the church. How can both be what God wants? 

These two authors thoroughly examine the Old and New Testaments, the place of women in history and culture, and, referring to the orginal languages of Scripture, the possibility that there has been mis-interpretation. I know some will find the very idea offensive, but I tried to see it as a challenge: if I was firm in what I believed there would be little harm in hearing what they had to say, but if I had questions - and I did - then this book might offer some insight.

It gave me a new perspective on some things and though I couldn't agree with everything in it, their 35 pages of references and citations at the back do give a lot of weight to their arguments. Well worth reading.

Hotline

 Hotline by Dmitri Nasrallah

A young woman and her son emigrate to Montreal from war-torn Lebanon after her husband is kidnapped and presumed dead. Struggling to make ends meet and look after her son, she finds the immigrant life not all it was promised to be. 

A French teacher in her own country, she'd been told it would be easy to find work in Canada, but the reality is no one wants to hire a foreign single Mother without references. Desperate, she takes a job with at Nutri-Fort, a weight-loss center, as "A hotline operator, a phone-order taker, a shipper of boxes, an ear whose only purpose in life is to swallow the sadness of strangers."

In their tiny apartment Muna sleeps on the worn sofa, giving her son, Omar, the one bedroom so he'll be rested for school and have a space that gives him some feeling of permanence, of home. Her dreams are filled with memories of her husband, still alive and at her side, talking to her, touching her; her waking hours with wondering what might have happened to him, what might be happening even now. She worries about Omar being alone and unsupervised between the time he gets home from school and when she gets off work, and fears she's beginning to lose him. 

This male author's capacity for viewing life from a wife's and mother's perspective, and for understanding and expressing her emotions, is impressive. Muna's internal dialogue reveals so clearly who she is and how she experiences her loves and losses. Each time I closed the book and glanced at the author's name I was surprised again that it wasn't written by a woman.

Quite a few Lebanese terms are used in the writing but most can easily be figured out from context. I googled some I was curious about and had no trouble finding English equivalents. Other than that the language is uncomplicated and easy to read. I got quite caught up in it and didn't want to put it down, but had to so I wouldn't finish too far ahead of our book club meeting - my aging brain doesn't hold on to things as well as it once did.  

The title I thought was a little misleading, but it seemed more apt after she compared herself to a hotline - connecting her present life to her past, coming to terms with who she was then and who she is now. Still, the real story is not her job but her struggles as a wife, mother, and immigrant. The first part of the book did introduce us to some of her clients, even had me wondering if one of them might become a problem down the road, but later the story veered away from them and focused on Muna, Omar and the missing husband again.  

A poignant, ultimately hopeful story about moving on from a traumatic past and doing whatever it takes to make a new home in a foreign country.

Yes, And

 Yes, And by Cynthia Gunderson

A sweet story about an aimless young man and an irritable old woman finding purpose and comfort in an unexpected friendship.

Toby isn't sure the education he's getting will lead to a life he wants, so he quits - temporarily (maybe) - to see if there is something more worth doing with his life. One day he's out mowing his lawn and notices that the lawn next door is overgrown so he does that one, too.

Jo's becoming hard to get along with as her health declines, and she's suspicious of everyone - including her care-workers - and what they might want from her. When she looks out her window and discovers Toby mowing her lawn she's angry, but a shared interest in her favourite soap opera begins a friendship that will take them on some lively adventures, including roller-skating and a little private detective work. 

Though aspects of the plot seemed unlikely, Jo and Toby were interesting, believable characters and the story moved along at a fair pace. I listened to an audio version, then wished I'd read it instead to maybe get a little more out of it.  

A pleasant story that reminds us all how good it is to have a friend, and that we can all be a friend, even to - maybe especially to - those everyone else writes off. 


The Kitchen House

 The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lavinia McCarten, 6, arrives in America alone, her parents having died on the ship coming from Ireland. With no one to claim her, she is taken as an indentured servant by Captain Pyke of Tall Oaks tobacco plantation, to be raised in the kitchen house by Belle, the Captain's, illegitimate black daughter. Mama Mae, Papa, their children and the other slaves become "Abinia's" family, teaching her how things are done and how to conduct herself when working in the "big house". 

Two narrators, Lavinia and Belle, show us life from the perspectives of a black slave and a white servant. In the beginning their lives are much the same, but as Lavinia grows up her white skin will give her advantages Belle's family will never have. 

When the Captain's wife - Miss Martha - becomes ill and is moved to a hospital in Williamsburg, her sister takes Lavinia with them intending to make a lady of her and find her a husband. After one disasterous engagement is broken off, she begins a courtship with Marshall, the abused in childhhood and now violently disturbed, son of Captain Pyke. 

Marshall and Lavinia marry and return to Tall Oaks, where he has become owner and master after the death of his father. At home his true nature becomes clear and Lavinia begins to realize she is as much his property now as she was his father's as a servant, and there is no way out. 

The book has a large cast of characters and thankfully there are enough good people to make it possible to keep reading about the awful ones. It's a great story, well written, and I do recommend it. Any negative thoughts I have about it are because I've had about all I can take of powerful people doing horrible things to helpless people. Every book I pick up lately seems to be that, and with the news full of the same thing morning, noon and night, I've got to start reading about less deplorable things before I start to hate the whole human race. But, that is my problem, not the book's. 

These two narrators tell a story that, while heart-wrenching, is also tender and beautiful in its portrayal of family and friendship. A very good read.  


The Coming Wave

 The Coming Wave by Mustafa Suleyman

An eye-opening, exciting and terrifying state-of-technology address to anyone who will listen. A prologue written by an AI will send only the first of many shivers up your spine.

The author begins by looking at technological developments in the past and how quickly the demand for new and useful inventions spread. Electricity, automobiles, computers - once the benefits were seen, their proliferation was unstoppable. He believes the AI in development now is also unstoppable and that controls must be put in place before it becomes too advanced for our own good.

Next he tells us where things stand currently and talks about the convergence of "atoms, bits and genes" - how physics, computing, and biology have all developed to a point where they can be used together to create things we can't yet imagine. He says technology is "no longer just a tool, It's going to enhance life, and rival - and surpass - our own intelligence", but .."we cannot know exactly what combinations will result."

Looking to the future, advanced AI has the potential for enormous good: "They will offer extraordinary new medical advances and clean energy breakthroughs, creating not just new businesses but new industries and quality of life improvements in almost every imaginable area." But there is equal potential for disaster: "We cannot know how quickly an AI will self-improve, or what would happen after a lab accident with some not yet invented piece of biotech....Even if you believe the chance of catastrophe is low, that we are operating blind should give you pause." As he says in the book, powerful new tech will be available to the good guys and the bad guys. ..."ask it to suggest ways of knocking out the freshwater supply, or crashing the stock market, or triggering a nuclear war, or designing the ulimate virus, and it will."

He concludes with a list of ideas for beginning the extremely complicated and difficult process of containtainment. Government, business, tech creators, and the public all have a role to play, starting with taking "a cold hard look at the facts, however uncomfortable". And some of this is uncomfortable, indeed. 

I did find some of it repetitive, but with much of the information being new to me, the repetition turned out to be a help rather than a hindrance. If you have any interest in technology, or the future of life on this planet, you'll want to read Suleyman's mesmerizing book. 

Persuasion

 Persuasion by Jane Austen

Second time for this, previous review here

This audio book was narrated by P.J.Roscoe, whose lovely voice and accent brought it to vibrant life. I heard, not someone simply reading, but the voices of the characters themselves telling me their stories. The nine hours was over too soon. 

Ten years ago, Ann Elliot broke off an engagement because she felt it was the right thing to do for her family. She loved him, and he, her, but she believed duty called her to walk away. Now, ten years later, they cross paths, memories are stirred and tensions rise. Not that there's much tension in Jane Austen's books, but there are questioning glances, bated breaths, and misunderstood meanings galore. Of course, you know how it's going to end, but the journey is fun no matter how many times you take it.

I love this book, though perhaps not as much as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Her writing, the elegant prose, the oh-so-genteel dialogue  - all of that keeps me coming back, though this was the first time I've listened to any of them on audio. I thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of having it read to me.


A Footnote to Plato & Possessing Genius

A Footnote to Plato by Tina Lee Forsee

A Professor of Philosophy at a small New England college is falsely accused of sexual harrassment, i.e. "standing too close to a student". He isn't sure if he has unintentionally done what he was accused of, or if, which is more likely, the current powers that be are using it to push him out. With the investigation heavy on his mind, he takes his students on a field trip to Greece to film an on-line lecture series, and there the truth comes to light. 

A quiet start, but it turned out to be quite a good story. Philisophical discussions (way more interesting than it sounds) draw parallels to the events unfolding in the plot and force you to slow down and think instead of rushing on to see what happens next. I love it when a book does that. The characters are fleshed out people you can connect to emotionally, and the settings - a small town college, and then Greece - are irresistibly appealing. Good reading.   



Possessing Genius by Carolyn Abraham

This is the story of Einstein's brain, and what happened to it after the rest of him was buried. I was hoping to learn how his brain differed from the brains of us lesser mortals and maybe something about brain function in general, but it was mainly about the scientists who had bits of Einstein's in their possession - or very much wanted to. Many wanted to be involved in the research but the man given responsibility for it wasn't keen on sharing. Not an uninteresting  story, just not what I hoped it would be.



Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

 Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

Elderly patriarch Simeon Lee invites his sons, Alfred, George, David, and Harry to gather at Gorston Hall, the family estate, for Christmas. Surprised, as they're far from being a close family, they and their wives discuss the pros and cons and decide, reluctantly, to accept. Upon arrival more surprises await, in the person of a family member no one knew existed, and then a visit from Stephen Farr, the son of Simeon's long-time business partner, who arrives unannounced to meet the man of whom his father had so often spoken.

Once gathered, Simeon, an invalid confined to his room, orders his sons to attend him and with a smug smile tells them he plans to change his will the next day, but doesn't say what the changes will be. After brutishly letting them all know how little he thinks of them, he dismisses them to a sullen dinner and an evening of what-if's and maybes...until a blood-curdling scream is heard from upstairs and they find his dead body, his room trashed in an apparently violent altercation.

Enter Poirot, who is spending a quiet Christmas Eve at the home of Chief Constable Johnson. When the call about Lee's murder comes through, Poirot accompanies Johnson to Gorston and the investigation begins. Through a series of interviews with the family and staff several motives for murder come to light, with a few red herrings slipped in to throw the reader off the scent.

The final scene is a gathering of everyone in the household, where Poirot reveals the true identies of some who are not who they claimed to be, makes a case against each one of them, and finally reveals the name of the murderer.

Looking back at it now I can see clues I missed that might have made me suspect the killer, but as it was I remained oblivious till the very end. I haven't read many of these books and I have to say I find Poirot irritating at times, but I like the way he thinks and I do enjoy being surprised at the end.

My book club chose this for our Christmas book, only to find it wasn't Christmassy at all other than taking place over that week. Even so, it was a pretty good detective story and fans of the genre will enjoy it.



 

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