Thursday, September 18, 2014

Posted for Me?

I was gobsmacked the other morning when I logged onto Facebook and saw that Bryce had updated his profile picture:

After thinking about it for much of the morning, I triumphantly explained my wonder to John. "He must have done it for me!" I asserted. "He hasn't updated his profile on Facebook since he took a junior high picture. He told me that none of his friends are even on Facebook anymore, preferring to use Instagram. He posted that picture JUST FOR ME!"

Later that afternoon, I received an email from Bryce asking if I could pick him up on Friday night after the initiation for a Fraternity that he has been accepted into. It is Madisyn's birthday and he wants to get home in time to deliver flowers to her before the evening is over. A short while later, he sent another e-mail briefly declaring "that's why I updated my Facebook profile because most of the information for the Fraternity events will be posted on their Facebook page and I will need to keep up with it."

HA! So much for my idea that he posted the photo specifically for me! Delusions of grandeur!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: One Thousand White Women

The author states that the germ for this novel grew out of "an actual historical event: in 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother's tribe, this seemed to the Cheyenne to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man's world." In attempting to determine whether such a suggestion ever really was made, I could not find conclusive evidence on-line to either support or detract from the assertion. Regardless, such a contingency of brides never really entered the Cheyenne tribal fold, so the novel is an entirely fictitious answer to the question of "what if the government had indeed supported this idea by sending a covert group of women to meet the demands of the Cheyenne?" Many great novels spring from such "what if" questions.

It is quite clear that the author immersed himself in research for this book and has presented an authentic vision for life on the prairies in this difficult time for Native Americans. It is presented as the journals of one May Dodd, a woman whose own parents had her institutionalized for loving a man they felt was beneath her, thus branding her "promiscuous," which was ample cause for incarceration in a mental institution at that time. The pages of the book purport to chronicle her adventure as she volunteers (in exchange for freedom from the insane asylum) to participate in the "Brides for Indians" initiative. She tells of the hardships, the bonds of friendship formed, and the love interest discovered on her journey to the Indians. She is torn between two worlds - the world of the white man, where she has suffered betrayals and atrocities, and the world of the Cheyenne tribe, where beauty lies alongside hideous brutality. I appreciated that the author chose to cast each side with positive and negative attributes, not glorifying one side or the other, but revealing human weaknesses and strengths equally.

The book offers up much fodder for discussion (making it an excellent book club choice): Is it believable to think that a government could support such an underhanded mission? Who were the real savages in the story? To what depths do both sides stoop in this battle for ownership and dominance over the land? Is May Dodd a hero or victim? What role does religion play in society? or restated, Why does every culture, including savage ones, construct some system of beliefs concerning a higher power? Moreover, how much missionary effort is, in actuality, a thinly-veiled exercise in ethnocentrism? To what extent was the story believable or unbelievable?

For my part, I would have to say that at the beginning I was merely slogging along because it was a book club selection, but toward the middle, I began to really care about the characters and feel an investment in what might or might not happen for them. The beginning tended to drag a bit for me and several of the characters felt like stereotypes. Moreover, it was clearly written by a man because I would find it difficult to believe that a woman would have filled a journal intended for the eyes of her offspring with titillating details about her sex life or graphically represented episodes of rape. Really? Still, overall, it felt like a mostly worthwhile read and I would say that I got some positive things from the book, if not just a chance to immerse myself in what life might have been like in those times and regions. It would certainly be of interest to those who are interested in fictionalized accounts of Indian/Caucasian interactions based on historical research. And again, kudos to the author for coming up with a plausible and enticing "what if" question.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Person Called You

It was the final part of the subtitle of this book which grabbed my attention - The Person Called You: Why You're Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life. I've been hovering around this question for so long now, I begin to despair that I will ever really know what I should do with the rest of my life. Somehow, I just want the perfect job to jump into my lap without really doing the hard work of going out and making my future happen. Laziness, I know.

As helpful as this book was, I would probably gain so much more if I went through the process he provides at the end of the book (tasks to help you identify your "giftedness"). It isn't that I don't have the time to do that. I merely think I'm already pretty tuned in to my giftedness. The hard part for me is knowing where exactly to use that giftedness and how to tap into a satisfying job while still allowing time for my writing (which is a big part of my giftedness, I believe). Moreover, it is clear that motivation is an issue for me. (My husband wants me to take a job as an instructional aide at the local primary school, a job I used to really enjoy back when we lived in DeKalb. I'm just not sure that is what I want to do, especially when it would require a full-time commitment. My thought is to go back and train to become a school librarian - this would allow contact with students, interaction with faculty, and immersion into some of my favorite things, books and recommendations of books. However, I'm kind of stalled out in thinking about any of it, focusing more on November, when I will write another novel, this time perhaps a women's novel.)

So, what is this "giftedness" the author keeps mentioning. Well, it is the sum of what makes you distinctive. It is the little things which bring you pleasure. The times in life where you are firing on all cylinders. The tasks which energize you. The methods by which you function best. Giftedness is what makes you ... well, you!

Bill Hendricks has made his life work the goal of assisting people in defining why they're here and what they were made to do. He is gifted in this endeavor. He gains great pleasure when he succeeds in that task. Thus, a whole book devoted to helping people discern where they fit and what they should be pursuing (not for financial gain, mind you, but in order to be living out the calling which our unique giftedness has prepared us for).

If you are looking for some instruction on determining a direction for your life, this is a fairly decent Christian book for pursuing such a goal (it is not a neutral book ... Christian concepts hold up the framework of his purpose in pursuing this very important subject). It is certainly a different method than the standard personality or aptitude tests which people often turn to. Relying on reflection over the important stories of your life, the author encourages you to isolate and identify the key attributes which you want to tap into in your pursued line of work. Your life stories contain the key to where you should be headed and what you should be doing with your life. This book also provides a great pep talk if you are wondering if your life really matters or makes a difference.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Review: Jack Staples and the Ring of Time

After finishing Mark Batterson's excellent book on prayer, The Circle Maker, and recommending it to everyone who would listen, I was shocked to discover a children's book co-written by Batterson and Joel N. Clark, called Jack Staples and the Ring of Time, available for free download, in exchange for a review, through the Story Cartel website. (It is available there for about another week.) I eagerly snatched it up. I decided to try it out on Sean to also register his response to the book.

From the very outset of the story, the reader is sucked into intense action. Jack Staples is at a circus performance where a young girl walks a tightrope above pouncing lions. When the tightrope breaks and the girl falls to the ground, pandemonium breaks out and eventually the tent catches fire. Jack is miraculously saved by one of the lions (who gave his life, in the fire, to save Jack) and is revealed to be "The Child of Prophecy."

I couldn't read the sentences fast enough. The action moved from event to event with such rapidity that I could barely keep up with the frantic pace of the story. The intensity swept us along like we were on a raging river going over rapids. Sean seemed equally riveted. We read the first 100 pages in a large chunk on Saturday afternoon, then another fifty pages later in the afternoon. Sadly, after that, whenever Sean asked to be read to, he requested the Harry Potter series instead of the Jack Staples book. I can only guess as to why this book didn't hold him.

My thought is that the writing is paced to be just too frantic. I found myself thinking the book needed some comic relief to offset the intensity of action. The characters are well-drawn (including a feisty young girl named Alexia who becomes somewhat of a "wild thing" when her parents die and the curiously-interesting Mrs. Dumphreys, who spouts wisdom and guidance in colorful phrases like "Perseverance and Stupidity may attend the same ball, but Wisdom only dances with one.") and the plot coherent, but the pacing is just too extreme. Moreover, at times it is difficult to keep track of what is going on and where it is all leading. The story shifts back and forth among the characters with the initials of each character presented to clarify which one is the focus at the moment. The tale is fanciful and feels like an elaborate analogy (something intended to be along the lines of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia). It is clearly a battle of good versus evil and the characters fall in line with the Christian understanding of this battle (with a Satan character, The Assassin, and a God figure, The Author). Alexia and Jack are both proclaimed to be children of prophecy, with an unusual twist that foretells one destroying The Awakened and one saving The Awakened, though we do not discover who is responsible for either the destruction or salvation. I liked the image of The Awakened as individuals who have had scales removed from their eyes to see more clearly a multi-dimensional world for which time limits the perspective.

As the pace continued, never letting up, I felt sure we were headed for the final showdown and the resolution of the many questions stirred in the tale. However, I sadly discovered this is just the first installment. To continue the story, I must wait for the next installment, entitled Jack Staples and the City of Shadows. Given the fact that the book was published by David C. Cook, and that Batterson already has an established name in the Christian community, I was surprised to see this book in the Story Cartel offerings. I suppose this is partly because the book is his first venture into fiction ... children's fiction, at that. While I do hope he secures many readers for this interesting tale, I think the rest of the books would benefit from some breathing room for the reader and a bit less frantic pacing. Yes, it was a page-turning book (which is a good thing), but just a bit over-the-top and that is why I'm guessing my seven-year-old lost interest in the tale.

I haven't given up. Perhaps I will try again when the second book comes out (since Sean loves to get engrossed in series fiction). The stories will definitely interest young boys, and girls will likely identify with the strong character of Alexia. There is certainly good fodder for discussion after reading such a tale. Overall, I was quite impressed.

Here is the first riveting chapter, read aloud by Joel N. Clark:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Trevor's Recent Art

Poor Trevor is such a boy of fits and passions. For so long, he was completely absorbed in art. He started his own blog and posted things there from time to time. Alas, his blog has been silent for far too long and his followers have dwindled to one (which is neither his mother or grandparent, I should say - but one faithful art enthusiast). He barely thinks of art these days but is more preoccupied with the Jordan's shoes he wants for his birthday (Jays, so he says they're called) and fast cars he thinks are cool.

In cleaning the living room today, I happened upon three drawings he's done recently and thought I would post them. I'd suggest he put them on his blog, but I doubt he'd bite. We shall see.

I love this first one. He said he wanted to put it up on the refrigerator with a small round magnet so that it would look like the guy was hanging.

Then there's a picture of a Lamborghini:

And some other hot car:

I hope he doesn't just abandon his art, the way Bryce has abandoned his drums (doesn't even play them on the weekends when he's home ... and yes, he's been home every weekend since he started at Purdue. He comes to see his girlfriend, not us or his drum set!).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Gathering Shadows

The cover art on Gathering Shadows swept me in. I have never heard of the author's name before, but could tell from a label on the spine that this would be "Inspirational" Christian fiction. I could also tell that it is the first in a series (none of the others have been written since this is a fairly recently released book). I am glad it will be a series, because I will happily enter the world of Sanctuary again. The story was enticing and kept my interest throughout.

When Wynter Evans, a St. Louis television reporter, chances upon a photo from a small, isolated Mennonite town in Missouri, she is in shock. The boy in the photo looks remarkably like an older version of her brother, Ryan, who disappeared nine years ago. Convincing her boss to allow her to follow the trail of a story about tiny, untouched Missouri towns, Wynter longs to follow the clues of sideline research to determine if the boy in the photo is, in fact, her long-lost brother.

The clues are teased out in a gradual manner and the tension builds throughout the story. Wynter Evans clearly is in danger. With each shocking revelation, the reader grows closer to unlocking the key to the mysterious disappearance of her brother.

One of my pet-peeves with Christian fiction is that so often the message is emphasized and over-shadows the story. Thankfully, in this book, the story comes first, with unobtrusive mentions of Christian concepts only occasionally breaking through. It was a well-paced mystery with the extra benefit of reminding the reader of God's love and desire to work in our lives. It also provided the welcome caution against allowing one incident of life to define the rest of our existence and negatively impact our faith in God. This was a beneficial take-away.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

I don't know how to write this review. I want to explain what made the book so enjoyable, but I don't wish to provide any spoilers for those who might be reading the series in order (my recommendation). I had already mentioned before that reading the back cover description on the audio version of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches led me to an important bit of information which was the climax of book five (thus taking away some of the suspense for me). Thus, I will have to talk around the story and not really provide a summary to entice a new reader.

Flavia DeLuce, a precocious eleven year old girl with an enduring love of chemistry, is at it once again, solving murder mysteries. This time there are two dead bodies to deal with and a world of intrigue behind their demise. Moreover, the tale hits a bit closer to home for Flavia. Told with a great deal of emotion, this story outlines the thought-processes of Flavia very well. We get inside her head and her heart. Included in the tale: an appearance by Winston Churchill, a cryptic message ("the gamekeeper is in danger") by a man shortly before he is murdered, a plane ride, an attempt to revive a body, and a secret message written in invisible ink (unearthed ten years later).

I love how all of his titles come from lines within classical works of literature. I love the character of Flavia. I love learning more about chemistry (even if none of it really sticks with me for very long). This is just such a fun detective series with an interesting main character.

I loved the ending of this book and cannot wait to see if Alan Bradley has more stories up his sleeve for Flavia. She is about to embark on a new adventure and it will certainly provide fodder for more intrigue and chemistry lessons. I did google the question of whether or not more Flavia books are in the works. Here is the best answer I found, from Rebekah Scott's review of the book for The Times-News on January 26, 2014:

“The Dead in their Vaulted Arches” is the last in Bradley’s originally planned six novels, and it definitely shows as this book feels like the end of a journey. But he does have another four Flavia titles in the works, so it’s not the end of her adventures. He’s given us another thoroughly entertaining entry in her story, and although each previous book can be read as a standalone novel, “The Dead in their Vaulted Arches” really needs the foundation laid in the earlier titles to fully appreciate everything that Bradley has been building up to.

Besides, it’s much more enjoyable to start from the beginning in “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” with Flavia and follow along with her to see where her journey takes her. And as Flavia prepares for the next chapter in her life, readers should look forward to seeing what is in store for her next.

I am certainly eager to see what is in store for Flavia next as she moves on to this new adventure. I hope the author does indeed write four more Flavia books.