Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Living Courageously

Living Courageously: You Can Face Anything, Just Do It Afraid by Joyce Meyer
FaithWords: 9/16/2014

ebook, 272 pages
ISBN-13:
9781455517480
www.joycemeyer.org

Fear commonly affects our ability to live fully, holding us back from what enriches our lives and the lives of others. But our quality of life will improve when we learn how to be courageous in the face of fear.
In LIVING COURAGEOUSLY, Joyce Meyer explains how, as Christians, we can overcome the paralyzing power of fear by calling upon the Lord. "Fear not" is written throughout the Bible. God knows His children will be confronted with fear, but He can help us resist it.
It is your inherited right as a child of God to live life to the fullest and to enjoy it. Joyce will encourage you to be expectant as you learn to conquer fear, become all God wants you to be, and do all He wants you to do. With a blend of personal insight and inspiring Scripture, this book will help you employ the power of God to overcome fear and achieve your best.

My Thoughts:
 

Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer is a very highly recommended book that encourages us on the path to live a victorious and courageous Christian life.

The complete title of Living Courageously: You Can Face Anything, Just Do It Afraid explains the basis for this sure-to-be-a-best-seller by Joyce Meyer. She points out that God has promised to go before us and bring us through life victoriously as we obey Him, so we should be living boldly instead of fearfully. Even though we are free, that doesn’t mean that we will never experience or be confronted by fear. It does mean that we do not need to allow it to rule our lives, and if we have to do or face something we fear, we can do it afraid, knowing God goes before us.

Meyer correctly points out that the inherent nature of God is that He is good, He is good all the time, and He will work all things together for our good. We need to live out lives in a positive manner. It is time for us to seriously consider everything that God is doing to protect, provide and help us - our every breath is a gift from God.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 gives the reader an "understanding of what fear is, where it comes from, what your attitude toward it should be, and how you can overcome it."
Part 2 discusses some of the more prominent fears that people experience. Even though your specific fear may not be discussed, Meyer provides the key to the tools you need to defeat it. "The best attitude you can have toward fear is, 'I will not fear, and I will do what I need or want to do even if I have to do it afraid!'"

Meyer has a down to earth, conversational style of writing that is easy to follow and understand which makes her teaching very accessible to many people. She shares with candor and honesty several painful, emotional times where fear has ruled her life, but is clear to also credit God for helping her overcome her fear. Meyer is a wonderful teacher and backs up her every thought with scripture. This will be a great resource for a group Bible study.

Excerpt


Contents:
PART 1
Chapter 1: Say Good-Bye to Fear
Chapter 2: Right and Wrong Fear
Chapter 3: The Source of Fear
Chapter 4: Phobias
Chapter 5: Cultivating Courage
Chapter 6: Insecurity
 Chapter 7: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Chapter 8: The Creative Power of Fear and Faith
PART 2
Chapter 9: The Fear of Lack
Chapter 10: The Fear of Losing Control
Chapter 11: The Fear of Not Being Wanted
Chapter 12: The Fear of Being Inadequate
Chapter 13: I Am Afraid I Am Not Doing Enough
Chapter 14: The Fear of Man
Chapter 15: The Fear of the Unknown
Chapter 16: The Fear of Making Mistakes
Chapter 17: The Fear of God’s Anger and Judgment
Chapter 18: The Fear of Intimacy
Chapter 19: Are You Passing Your Fears on to Your Children?
Chapter 20: The Fear of Death
Chapter 21: Do It Afraid!
Scriptures to Help You Overcome Fear
Scriptures About the Power of Faith
Notes

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
FaithWords for review purposes.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stone Mattress

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Knopf Doubleday: 9/16/2014
eBook, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385539128
margaretatwood.ca


A collection of highly imaginative short pieces that speak to our times with deadly accuracy. Vintage Atwood creativity, intelligence, and humor: think Alias Grace.
Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9  billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.
My Thoughts:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood is a very highly recommended collection of 9 tales from an extraordinarily adept writer who has stunning insights into the human psyche. 


It's always been a pleasure to read Atwood's novels so I have been looking forward to her latest collection of short stories, or tales, Stone Mattress. Unabashedly, I loved this collection.  The tales mainly feature aging characters, with one exception. The first three stories are linked through the characters. Several of the stories feature aging writers.

Alphinland - Constance is a writer whose recently deceased husband's voice guides her through her day. She also reflects about Gavin, an ex-lover from her youth.
Revenant -  Gavin, a pretentious, curmudgeonly elderly poet is disgruntled with life.
Dark Lady - We meet Jorrie, a former lover of Gavin.
Lusus Naturae - "When demons are required someone will always be found to supply the part, and whether you step forward or are pushed is all the same in the end."
The Freeze-Dried Groom - A man finds a corpse in a storage locker he has bought.
I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth - Three friends discuss life and their interconnected past misadventures.
The Dead Hand Loves You - An older writer who sold shares of his first book when young resents the three friends involved.
Stone Mattress - A woman meets her rapist from 50 years ago and plots her revenge.
Torching the Dusties - An elderly nursing home resident has lost her sight and must rely on a friend to guide her.


Don't let the theme of elderly protagonists prevent you from picking up this collection. Atwood is intelligent, politically and socially astute, and a superlative writer. In other words, Margaret Atwood rocks. This is a short story collection that should not be missed.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.


Margaret Atwood Interview

Saturday, September 13, 2014

In Certain Circles

In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower 
Text Publishing Company: 9/9/2014
eBook, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781922182296

In Certain Circles is the novel Elizabeth Harrower wrote after the release of The Watch Tower. The author withdrew this novel before publication in 1971, and it has languished in a library for four decades.
In Certain Circles is an intense psychological drama about family and love, tyranny, and freedom. Set amid the lush gardens and grand stone houses that line the north side of Sydney Harbour, it follows the lives of four unforgettable characters whose fates are intertwined.

My Thoughts:

In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower is a recommended historical novel that is an examination of both character and social class.

In Certain Circles open right after WWII in Sydney, Australia and we meet the Howard family and the two Quayle siblings. The Howard's are a wealthy family who live in a large stone house on the north side of Sydney Harbor. Both parents are biologists and well known. Their son, Russel, has returned from the war and their 17 year old daughter, Zoe believes she deserves the praise written about her.

"She and Russell were greatly taken notice of. Russell was never affected by the propaganda, having a life of his own from the start; Zoe took attention and praise for granted, as though they were part of the public utilities, like running water and electricity. She was quite sated with the interest turned on her, but did not think it unjustified. World-weary as any international success, so confident that few opinions could move her, fearless, seventeen..."

Stephen and Anna Quayle have lived dramatically different lives. After the death of their parents they have been brought up in Parramatta by an uncle who is overly preoccupied with caring for his neurotic wife. Now Stephen, a born pessimist, is a salesman, something Russell doesn't judge, but Zoe finds incredulous. Anna is still living with her uncle but is sure to wind up  being "one of those clerks, working to eat." However, since Stephen is not immediately taken with Zoe and doesn't find her unfailingly charming at all, Zoe finds herself attracted to him.

The novel is divided up into three parts. The first part is after WWII, when we are introduced to the characters (above), the second opens 8 years later, and the third part is in the 1960s.The attitudes of most of the female characters is that they will certainly give up their lives to support their husbands in any way they possible. I think In Certain Circles will appeal to those who enjoy period pieces and  novels that deal with social class differences.

This is a novel that was written to be published in 1971, but was never released until now. Fans of Harrower's other novels will want to read In Certain Circles. While the writing is excellent and the characters basically well developed with discernment regarding their motives and behaviors, I was unable to fully immerse myself in this novel. Perhaps this is because I never connected with the characters at the start, at which point I found Stephen a complete jerk and the younger Zoe an over-privileged jerk. 



Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Text Publishing Company for review purposes.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ballroom

Ballroom by Alice Simpson
HarperCollins: 9/23/2014
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062323033
www.alicesimpson.com/home/ballroom.html


A beautiful debut, Ballroom follows a group of strangers, united by a desire to escape their complicated lives (if only for a few hours each week) at a New York City dance hall that’s about to close its doors for good.
The Ballroom used to be a place to see and be seen, but the years have taken their toll, and by the end of the 1990s this Manhattan dance hall, just off Union Square, is a husk of its former self. A small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way to the worn parquet floor every Sunday evening: although they each have their private reasons for returning again and again to the Ballroom, they are united by a shared desire to seek solace from reality, if only for a few hours, within its walls—and in the magic of dance.
Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, who seduces the women he meets at the Ballroom to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Lonely bachelor Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if he can only get Sarah to notice him and see that he is in love with her. Obsessed with his building superintendent’s beautiful daughter, Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn is convinced that together they will find the happiness that has eluded him throughout his life. And Maria, who—thanks in part to Harry’s instruction and encouragement—is one of the stars of Sunday nights at the Ballroom along with her partner, Angel Morez, has a dream of her own that her brokenhearted father refuses to accept or understand.
My Thoughts:


Ballroom by Alice Simpson is a recommended novel only for those who enjoy character studies of the disagreeable and ballroom dancing.

In Ballroom, a debut novel, we meet a cast of characters who gather to dance at The Ballroom. All of them are loyal patrons who love to dance, even if for most of them it is simple a way to escape their sad, dreary lives and create superficial connection with others. We also meet 65 year old Harry Korn who has been teaching 20 year old Maria how to dance since she was a child. Harry is under the illusion that he and Maria will run off together when she turns 21. Maria has a dance partner, Angel, and they are winning trophies together even as Maria finishes college and heads off to grad school. Sarah is a lonely woman searching for love with a dance partner, while Joseph is a lonely man who thinks his dream of a family will be realized through a dance partner at the Ballroom. Gabriel is a man who is seducing women he meets to escape from his real life.

While Simpson does a good job at characterization, I couldn't relate to or sympathize with even one of these characters. They are all so sad and unlikeable, even young Maria, and desperately wanting to change their lives but totally ineffectual and impotent to do anything concrete. Frankly, I found the whole Harry and Maria plot line repulsive, disgusting, and creepy, which might have worked had Simpson used that feeling in the plot, but, alas, she doesn't.

This is one of those novels where the quality of the writing is good, the characters are there, but then nothing is really done with them. We learn about their past, and their dreams, but then nothing is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. There is no big dramatic ending or plot twist.

The opening of each chapter is prefaced by quotes from old school books on ballroom dancing etiquette and the whole story is infused with dance. Those who enjoy ballroom dancing and can see how the steps in each dance can mirror life might find Ballroom a more satisfying novel than I did.


If you visit Alice Simpson's website you will see that Ballroom began as an Artist Book and you can see a picture of the cover and one of the exquisite watercolors. In fact, I am much more impressed and in awe of her art work than this novel.
 

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 


TLC Ballroom Tour





Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf Doubleday: 9/9/2014
eBook, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385353304
www.emilymandel.com

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
 
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
 
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
 
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Thoughts:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a very highly recommended fresh take on a pre- and post-apocalyptic novel.

Station Eleven opens with the death from an apparent heart attack of an actor, Arthur Leander, while he is onstage performing King Lear in Toronto. Jeevan Chaudary, who would like to be an EMT, jumps up to help him. He later notices child actress, Kirsten Raymonde, watching in the wings, and sits with her until her handler arrives. This was the night that the Georgia Flu hits. With one of the fastest incubation periods ever seen, the spread of the flu marks the start of a deadly pandemic that will leave few survivors. 

Twenty years later Kirsten is now traveling and performing with the caravans of the Traveling Symphony, an itinerant troop of musicians and actors who travel to sparsely populated small towns to play classical music and perform Shakespearean plays. The land is dangerous, though, and a new man who calls himself a prophet is on the loose.

Mandel deftly juxtaposes the present day hard-scrabble existence of the survivors with flashbacks on the past life of the actor Arthur Leander. There are several characters who all have a connection to Leander and the sections of the novel that deal with his life pre-apocalypse show all those connections. These sections stand in stark contrast with the current conditions and what happens to people after his death. The contrast between the privileged celebrity past with the grim present is well handled and gives Station Eleven a unique outlook on its exploration of destiny in a genre that is getting crowded with lesser contenders.

The title of the novel comes from a graphic novel Leander's first wife, Miranda, makes and later prints off in a limited edition. Leander gives copies to young Kirsten, who still has them 20 years later in the post-apocalyptic sections.

Station Eleven is an extremely well written and all-consuming novel that never lags and should keep you captivated to the end. Those who enjoy literary fiction should appreciate this along with the fans of dystopian fiction. We can have art simply for art's sake - and know that art has value that may not be measurable but, perhaps, can endure even the collapse of civilization. In this end of the known world, art, music, poetry, and theater all survive in some remnants.

The chapter on an "Incomplete List" of what was gone should get everyone thinking about what would be gone. Currently with the Ebola outbreak (and seriously, does anyone really think we have heard the right numbers of those who have died?) a global pandemic could spread easier than ever and an extremely unknown virulent strain of the flu crossing over requires no great stretch of the imagination.

(The only question I had was I did wonder at one point why Kristen would be scavenging and decide to wear a silk dress she found rather than taking it for a costume and look for some jeans to wear.)



I would declare this a camp out all night at the airport book but... just read it and you'll know why I can't go there.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Yesterday's Kin

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress
Tachyon: 9/9/2014
eBook, 192 pages

ISBN-13: 9781616961756

Aliens have landed in New York. After several months of no explanations, they finally reveal the reason for their arrival.
The news is not good.
Geneticist Marianne Jenner is having a career breakthrough, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Her children Elizabeth and Ryan constantly bicker, agreeing only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Her youngest, Noah, is addicted to a drug that keeps temporarily changing his identity. The Jenner family could not be further apart. But between the four of them, the course of human history will be forever altered.
Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster—and not everyone is willing to wait.
My Thoughts:

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress is a highly recommended short novel that succinctly captures a first contact story from the viewpoint of one family - with a twist.

They said they were here making contact for a peace mission. At first the aliens, nicknamed Denebs, were staying in orbit off the earth, but then they asked permission of the UN to set up an embassy off shore from NYC. Then they requested specific visitors to their embassy and they revealed their true reason for making contact. The aliens claim there is a deadly interstellar spore cloud headed for earth and they want to warn earth scientists about it so they can find a cure/vaccination before it arrives in 10 months.

The Denebs are also interested in the genetics research of Marianne Jenner. She recently published a paper on mitochondrial Eve and a new branch of her descendants. The aliens are interested in this research. Jenner is one of the scientists the aliens ask to the embassy. Yesterday's Kin focuses on the contact with the aliens but it also explores Jenner's family and their interactions during this time.

There are pros and cons to Kress' story. This is a good hard science fiction read since Kress does use up-to-date scientific research in her story. She packs a whole lot into 192 pages, which is good for a simple fast read but bad for any sort of extensive character or plot development. Kress does manage to do an excellent job of telling the story and developing her characters in the limited number of pages, but I think it may have been better if there was a bit more development of the narrative. Even while I enjoyed the story a lot, I was left with a few questions. For me at least, the twist at the end was guessed well before anything was revealed.

(I also wondered about the quote "My, people come and go so quickly here," being attributed to Alice in Wonderland, when most people will recognize it from the movie The Wizard of Oz. I'm not sure if it is in both works or not, but perhaps someone knows.)


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Tachyon via Netgalley for review purposes.


Such Good Girls

Such Good Girls by R. D. Rosen
HarperCollins: 9/9/2014
eBook, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062297105
rdrosen.com/such-good-girls/


They defied death by being such good girls—keeping secrets, staying out of sight, and suffering in frightened silence.
Sophie—pictured on the cover—survived the Holocaust without even knowing she was Jewish, while her terrified, widowed mother worked for the Nazis in Poland under the guise of a Christian bookkeeper.
Flora, orphaned by Final Solution, was shuttled through southern France, from convents to the homes of one Christian family after another, unsure of who she really was.
Carla and her family took shelter in the apartment of a Dutch barber, while, one floor below, the man who protected them would cut German soldiers' hair.
Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, Flora Hogman, and Carla Lessing (and her husband, Ed) survived not only the Holocaust—among the mere 10 percent of European Jewish children who did—but their own survival. Each of them ended up in New York, where they slowly emerged from the traumas of their childhoods, devoted their careers to helping others, and played important roles in the groundbreaking 1991 event that, for the first time, brought together the hidden child survivors scattered around the world.
A chance meeting with Sophie sent author R. D. Rosen, a privileged Jewish American child of the suburbs, on a journey to grasp the scope of Nazi extermination of Europe's Jews and to honor hidden children, the very last generation of survivors to have witnessed the Holocaust firsthand.
My Thoughts:

Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust's Hidden Child Survivors by R. D. Rosen is a very highly recommended nonfiction account of several hidden child survivors of the holocaust.

Most people know of Anne Frank, a child hidden for most of WWII who did not survive, but there were other Jewish children who were hidden and survived the Holocaust. In Such Good Girls  R. D. Rosen shares the stories of three woman who survived the holocaust by hiding and how it affected their lives. The book is divided into two parts. The first tells the individual stories of the three girls, one Polish, one French, and one Dutch, and what they had to do and endure in order to survive. The second half of the book explores the lingering effects their childhood trauma has had on them as adults.  The Hidden Child Survivors have been meeting since the 1980s and sharing their stories to add to the Shoah Foundation and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The numerous name changes, constant relocation and moving, the loss of family, heritage and personal identity are all heart breaking. The children may have survived the war, but at a great cost. This is not an exhausting, scholarly account of all the stories, but a selection of three that should highlight the fact that others also endured and were traumatized. Sharing and allowing these stories to reach a wider audience will shed light on a group of survivors that have been neglected in the past.

While this is not an emotionally easy book to read, the information it contains is necessary for us to always keep in mind that this must never happen again, although I know that it is, to other groups of people throughout the world. The book includes 16 pages of pictures, a bibliography, and list of documentaries and films.

 
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  HarperCollins for review purposes.