Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: Leaping the Wall

I'm always hesitant to read books by individuals I know personally. I want so desperately to write a glowing review, but feel the necessity of being honest, as well. I never want my honesty to wound the feelings of a friend. Plus, I've had the experience of reading a book by a friend whose writing really could have used a bit more editing before being placed before prospective readers. As I said in a past blog post, I worry that my own writing suffers from the same inability to see weaknesses which plagued his writing. How can I critically review a friend's writing when my own writing bears the need for scrutiny and criticism?

Thus, I tend to avoid reading books by friends. Tragic, I know. But somehow, when this book by my friend Julie Kloster was offered, I saved it to my Kindle for PC files and then let it sit there for quite a while (as I am wont to do). This morning, I spent a small chunk of my day, quickly reading through Leaping the Wall: Practical Ways to Empower Faith During Difficult Times. Even though I am not in the midst of crisis, I found her words to be helpful and inspiring.

This is a book for those "struggling to cling to Jesus in desperate times." Julie begins with open humility, stating that "my sorrows compared to yours may be like gentle rain compared to a hurricane." She goes on to offer words of encouragement parsed with examples from her life and the lives of other Christians who have struggled with the less-than-perfect times when our faith is tested and tried.

Her own story is full of examples of situations requiring faith, storms to weather: the birth of a seriously premature baby, breast cancer, poor health, and eye surgeries. I appreciated the outlines of the history behind three classic hymns: one of my father's favorites, "The Love of God," "Amazing Grace," and "When Peace Like a River." She offers up hope from the brokenness of life.

The writing itself was lovely and the book is so well-written that it is a quick and easy read. Here is an example of her beautifully crafted words:

"The Potter was recreating a masterpiece out of the unsalvageable.... Each piece of brokenness reflected a before unseen characteristic of the beautiful light within. God was working glory and good out of disaster."

If you are looking for words of comfort in the midst of struggle, this would be an excellent book to choose. Each chapter closes with a song to explore, a Bible passage, a memory verse, a reflective question, and a prayer. It could easily be used as a devotional, reading one chapter per day. Whatever your place of struggle, you will find comfort and encouragement in the words of this book.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Bit of This and That

I've been spending most of my reading time getting through an almost five-hundred page book which I have read and reviewed before, The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (which Rolling Stone has just named one of the Best Ever YA Books). It is one of my favorites, so I didn't mind re-reading it and the pacing definitely keeps you going. We had a very nice discussion about the book at my Young at Heart book club and I encouraged the others to finish the series. I was also interested to learn that Lionsgate has purchased the film rights and is supposedly working on creating a film based on the books. Ness mentioned that he has exciting news about the film project, but he cannot share it yet, so I'll be keeping an eye on his blog to find out more news of the movie's progress (plus, it sounds like they will be making a film of one of my other favorites of his, A Monster Calls).

In the meantime, I wanted to provide a link for an excellent blog post about apologies. I found it very useful in thinking about the recent friction between my two youngest boys (a friction which, while lessened, is still with us, despite the trampoline and fresh air, now that we are together so much because of summer break). It outlines a four-part process for apologies which can be taught to kids to help them give authentic apologies. It can be found at

We also stumbled upon this awe-inspiring video of an artist, Belo, creating a mosaic with 66,000 cups of tinted water - a must see:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bryce's Graduation

We had a wonderful day for Bryce's graduation. The gymnasium was packed already when we arrived, so we ended up taking seats in the upper bleachers.

Bryce's paternal grandmother was able to come to attend the ceremony with us. We were very proud of Bryce as he presented the closing remarks. Sorry for the video - I have a hard time holding my hands steady and it is sometimes hard to hear his words.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Book Review: Labor Day

There were several suggestions in my book club for books with movies being released this year. Labor Day was on that list and although we didn't select it for our schedule, I ended up putting my name on the library's hold list to read it. I cannot decide if I am glad to have read it or not. It wasn't exactly the type of book I usually go in for. Moreover, the amount of sexual content in the novel was a bit more than I generally appreciate.

The book is written from the perspective of a thirteen year old boy, Henry, who lives with his mother since his father remarried. The father's new wife has a boy close to Henry's age who seems to be everything Henry isn't. Plus, there is a new two year old half-sister. The father is worried about the mother's stability and with good cause. Henry tells the tale of a particular weekend, Labor Day weekend, when he and his mother encounter most unusual circumstances.

While shopping at the grocery store (something the mother rarely does, as she is an extreme recluse), they are approached by a man in need of help. Frank Chambers is a prisoner who has just jumped from a window. He manages to elude the authorities by riding off with Henry and his mother, Adele. In their dire straight of loneliness, relationships are quickly forged with the escaped convict. Henry doesn't quite know how he feels about Frank and Frank's new relationship with his mother. He is a bit worried they will go off and leave him with his father. But, does he have it in him to turn him in to gain the $10,000 reward for assistance in his capture?

The boy provides commentary on his mother's relationship with this stranger as well as his own commentary about girls and sexual relations from his early teenage perspective. Really, so much of the novel was focused on the sexual aspect of everything, when there was a perfectly interesting story line which could have been pursued without muddying the waters with all the sexual fodder. Do I feel better for having read this? No. Was it an intriguing book? Yes, to a certain extent. I did want to find out what would happen in the end. I wanted to know if Frank and Adele would forge their relationship and ride into happiness or if Henry would turn traitor and call the authorities. I think the emotional elements of the tale, the lonely aching woman who meets up with an almost-too-perfect interested stranger, held promise. But, despite the interesting premise, it wasn't a book I feel good about recommending. Now I must decide if I will see the movie, to see how it compares to the book. Will it, too, focus primarily on the sexual aspects of the tale or will it present more of the emotional undercurrent beneath the surface between these interesting characters? I don't know if I'll bother to find out.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: The Song Remains the Same

I don't really like wandering the stacks of audio books looking for my next book to listen to while exercising in the morning. I would far rather see something interesting and then request the book in audio form when available (my next is an unexpected Maeve Binchy book, which I definitely am looking forward to). But, when I finished my last audio book, I had nothing already out from the library to turn to. I attempted a book I had picked up at the library's book sale, called Any Place I Hang My Hat, by Susan Isaacs, which Oprah's magazine apparently called "well-written, very funny, and incredibly smart." I couldn't stick with it (only listened to it for one exercise session of about forty minutes). So, this selection was one that I really just stumbled upon with no prior knowledge of the book. It wasn't one I felt hooked into reading, but rather just one to bide the time and as far as that goes, it fit the bill.

Allison Winn Scotch's The Song Remains the Same tells the tale of a woman who wakes from a plane crash to find that she has lost her memory. She must piece together who she was and who she is going to be with the assistance of her mother, her sister, and her husband. But, can she really trust what they are telling her? She discovers that she was estranged from her husband, has just lost his baby, was alienated from her sister, and has been lied to by her mother. It is a rather long process sorting through what is true and what is not. Plus, she must grapple with the seminal question of whether a person can change or will always be who they are. She longs for a new, better "me," but doesn't quite know how to get there and is at the mercy of so many others to piece together how she will respond to the elements of her life only slowly being exposed.

It held my interest. The idea of establishing a new version of oneself was an interesting thought to contemplate. I found myself wondering what things I would change about myself if I were reinventing my self-image. But, at times, this concept was hammered a little too hard. Yes, the song remains the same, despite our efforts to change things. In the end, you are left with a little of both - a chance to redefine, as well as an inability to really be any different than what you are or where you came from.

There were constant references to music, but none I could really relate to. If rock music is your thing, then this book might appeal to you. The title references a song by Led Zeppelin, but when I looked up the lyrics I found them to be a bit inane and nonsensical. The main character is named after the woman in the song "Eleanor Rigby," dubbed "the loneliest woman in the world." I thought those associations were interesting to contemplate ... how a name can define a person. And if you were named for a place or a character, could you ever really pull away from it and define yourself separately from the intended reference. For example, my nephew's middle name is a made up name from the terms "obey God, honor God." Does he feel any sense of burden to live up to the name or is it really something that ends up being true of him without prior knowledge of the appropriateness of the selection? Interesting. So, I guess the book did get me thinking, even if it was just an okay read.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

If you love books, chances are great that Gabrielle Zevin's book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, will resonate with you. Full of great insights into reading and those who pursue such endeavors, the book is a delight to a dedicated reader. It wasn't a stunner of a book, but I liked it well enough and enjoyed all the references to books and reading.

A.J. Fikry is a bookseller with a very specific taste in books. I will admit, it didn't sit well with me that he disdains young adult fiction and has little use for children's literature. In the beginning, I didn't quite like his character. But, as his life-story progresses, I began to feel more kinship with him and to tolerate his idiosyncrasies.

A.J. runs a small bookstore on Alice Island. Recently widowed, his life has taken a trajectory he wasn't expecting and even the books aren't quite filling the void she left behind. One night, while A.J. is in a drunken stupor, his prized possession, a first-edition Poe with great financial value, is stolen. He has had about all he can take. Then, one day, someone unexpectedly leaves something behind for him in the store and it opens up a whole new life for this book-loving bookseller.

My favorite part of this book had to be the references to books and readers, with comments about how books sometimes come to us at just the right time for us to reap the most benefits and comments about how we are like books, full of stories. I think one of my favorite lines was this: "We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and then." That is how reading goes. It is like a trip to the thrift store. You often have to paw through less desirable items before you score that triumphant deal of a treasure.

Lately, I've been in a reading slump. I just really haven't had much desire to read at all (something quite disastrous for a book review blogger). I have given up on several potential books (like A Million Little Ways, a book about creating art ... just couldn't get excited about it, The Unwelcomed Child ... the characters a bit too religiously zealous at the outset, and Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch ... a book about writing with powerful verbs, but I was bored within the first twenty pages). Thankfully, this was a book I could get into and continue through to the end. Hopefully, I'll get out of this slump soon. I needed the jump-start from this book about the love of books.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Headmaster's Wife

When I looked at the Amazon testimonials for this book, The Headmaster's Wife, they were dizzying. So many accolades for the accomplishment of this novel. I will say that the author gets points for creating an engrossing tale with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Also, he explores the world of memory, and how we can distort things into something else by the fractured events of trauma. But somehow, for me, the details just didn't sit well. Especially since so much of the book centered around lust. If you can get beyond that, then perhaps you will feel all the praise is warranted.

The story begins with the police finding the headmaster, Arthur Winthrop, wandering naked in Central Park. They begin to question him and he unravels his story from "the beginning." It all started with a sexual dalliance with a student at his elite Vermont boarding school. Really?  Really. I thought about putting it down, but I will admit that I kept reading because of the blurb on the front of the novel which said something about the first half sucking you in and then the second half blowing away your previous perceptions. Which, it does ... but the lust and the retelling of sexual liaisons continue throughout the novel. I just couldn't get behind it.

The author certainly did manage to unseat everything you thought you knew about the circumstances at the end of the first half. Arthur Winthrop is, indeed, an unreliable narrator. The first half barely mentions the headmaster's wife, but the second half focuses entirely on her and on a more faithful account of what led the headmaster to wander in the park without any clothes.

This is certainly not a novel I could recommend to my mother. But, as I said, if you can put aside whatever discomfort you might have with the thoughts of an older man attempting to seduce and capture the heart of a young girl, then perhaps you would enjoy the stunning developments which play out in the second half of this novel. Let's just say what you thought you understood, you didn't really understand fully.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Awesome Chalk Art

Two anonymous senior design students at the Columbus College of Art and Design have been sneaking into classrooms and leaving chalk art on classroom chalkboards. It is all so uplifting and inspiring. I felt I had to share. To view more of their work, visit the Viral Nova post.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: Eight Keys

Suzanne LaFleur hit the big time with her debut novel, Love, Aubrey. That book won numerous awards for new voices in children's literature. A reviewer for The Independent (UK) wrote that it is "quite simply the best book for girls nine and over that I have ever read." It was a marvelous, touching read.

Eight Keys, LaFleur's second novel, while an equally tender story, doesn't quite hit the mark Love, Aubrey did. I think my greatest disappointment was that I didn't connect as strongly with the main character in the story. My heart strings weren't tugged as much. I was expecting another blockbuster and received a touching, but fair, story. I still would recommend it to a child struggling with the death of a parent or with the emotional adjustments the pre-teen years can bring. It was a good read, just not the stunner I was anticipating. Still, it is a good, clean story with wonderful life lessons for the difficult stage of adolescence.

Elise Bertrand is starting middle school. She is attempting to throw off the childish games of the past, which might include distancing herself from her life-long friend, Franklin. The transition is bumpy until she discovers the first of eight keys left by her father prior to his death from cancer. Elise must use the keys, when she is ready, to unlock truths her father wanted her to know about herself and about life.

The idea of the keys and of the father's ability to communicate with his daughter from beyond the grave was clever. The lessens were important. But, perhaps the story became a bit too didactic with the lessons behind each discovery. It needed to flow more naturally and to present the lessens more subtly, in my opinion.

Of course, a nine-to-twelve year old reader is not going to be reading with the critical eye I tend to use. They will certainly enjoy getting to know Elise. They will probably relate to her difficulties in making the transition to middle school. They will understand her frustration in facing a bully who daily destroys her lunch. So, I would still recommend the story, but give a higher recommendation for Love, Aubrey. Even though this novel didn't wow as much as her first, I am still eager to read her third novel, Listening for Lucca.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Winning Week

Well, we've had a very successful week. Bryce was exceedingly happy with how things went at the school's awards ceremony on Wednesday night. I was too.  Every time his name was called out, my heart beamed with pride and happiness for him (a welcome change from the sadness we've all been feeling around here because of his totaled Mustang). He won four different scholarships! Three are one time allotments, but one of the $1000 scholarships rolls over to provide $500 each year for the following three years of college, should he continue to attend. He did the hard work of applying for many scholarships (often requiring an essay) and, thankfully, netted some good results.

Then, I received the welcome news that I have won an Amazon gift card for reviewing one of the books offered for free in exchange for a review on the Story Cartel website. This is the first time I've received any compensation for the many reviews I've written. One of the reasons I don't pursue more lucrative avenues for my reviews is because I don't generally like to be told what to read. I want to make the selections myself. Thankfully, Story Cartel offers up a wide variety of material, so I still have the option of choice, while securing an opportunity for some possible remuneration for my reviews. Yippee!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Review: Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For is book four of Jeffrey Archer's intriguing, suspenseful series, "The Clifton Chronicles." As far as I know, I am only awaiting the fifth and final installment. It will be a hard wait, as this book also ended with quite the cliff-hanger, Jeffrey Archer's trademark. Once again, I decided to enjoy the audio version and relished the opportunity to take in the story with the British and Irish accents (although, I still believe the chosen narrator does a lousy job with the American accents - see my review of the previous installment).

While the second and third installments suffered from the typical troubles of series fiction (not living up to the awesomeness of the first book in the series and tending to have too much fluff and filling just to drag the story on more), I don't believe that is true of this fourth book.  I think this installment was every bit as good as the introductory book and didn't seem to be filled with pointless rambling or unnecessary additional characters. It offered phenomenal storytelling and incredible edge-of-the-seat suspense.

Opening with the resolution to the cliff-hanger from the previous book (did their son or their son's friend die in the fatal crash on the A-1?), Archer propels us further into the exploits and evil machinations of the merciless villain, Don Pedro Martinez. Don Pedro's animosity for the Clifton and Barrington families is unbounded. He will not stop until he has destroyed them entirely. The question is: will he destroy them entirely or will they prevail in the end?

While the story encompasses numerous characters, each one has a part to play and propels the story along. The suspense in this tale was absolutely riveting. Moreover, the ending left me with no doubt that I will pick up the fifth installment to settle the question of whether or not the newest ship of the Barrington Shipping Company, the MV Buckingham, meets its demise or not. I only hope I will not have to wait long. This book only recently came out, so I could be waiting a full year before I get to hear the conclusion to this nail-biting tale. Still, this is a series I would happily read all over again once the final book is released.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Now Have a Young Adult Son

My oldest just turned 18. Cliché, but - the years flew by. Hard to believe he is now considered a young adult. I am greatly hoping he will attend our annual Bible camp - CBLI (Central Bible and Leadership Institute) - in the young adult group this summer. It was looking like he might not be able to because of his lined up delivery job, but perhaps now he will be able to find a different job that will enable him to take a week off for the camp.

I am proud of the young man he has become. He is, for the most part, responsible and considerate. He is laid-back and easy-going. He holds vast potential in school and will be attending Purdue University for a degree in chemical engineering. This week, he is hard at work writing a twenty page paper for school and studying for the AP Calculus test, which will determine if he gets to skip the entry-level calculus class next year.

Here's a quick look at how he has progressed over the years:

Happy Birthday, my beloved first born son. May you enrich the world and do great things.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Prom 2014

Prom 2014 has come and gone. Bryce had a wonderful time. I'm always so stunned by the expenses of prom; with the tickets, tux rental, and corsage, it comes to several hundred dollars. Still, it is great that he is able to make such special memories (I never went to a prom).

Here he is with his date (a friend, not a girlfriend):

And here is the group he went with:

He had been nominated for several things, including "prom king" and "best car for the boys." He said he was tremendously thankful that he didn't win either. He was glad he didn't win the prom king title because he said they made the king and queen dance a slow dance in front of everyone - ha! He was glad he didn't win the best car category because that would have been awkward (and would have made me cry).

Afterwards, instead of going to Post Prom, he decided to have a bonfire on our property. About 20 or so kids showed up at various times for it and they roasted marshmallows for s'mores and munched chips. A friend of his rigged things so they could listen to music (thankfully, our property is big enough, they probably didn't disturb anyone). Everyone had a great time.

Friday, May 2, 2014

R.I.P. Beloved Car

For the past week, my heart has been aching. My heart aches because my son's heart aches. It is amazing the intensity of emotion which wells when your child faces life's unexpected obstacles. If I could, I would turn back the hands of time and tell him to stay in on a Friday night, to spend time with his family instead of trotting off to spend time once again hanging with friends. Even if I had begged, he would have chosen to go, I know.

Last Friday night, Bryce was involved in an accident near the entrance to his best friend's subdivision. Thankfully, the friend's parents were on the scene within minutes (having heard the sound) and were able to be with him in his moments of shock and disbelief, anger and grief. He couldn't bear to call us and finally allowed his friend's parents to make the difficult call.

Once assured that both boys were safe and the driver of the other vehicle was without injury, I received the news that Bryce's car was bad enough off to have to be towed away. Despite the tremendous relief that my boy was unharmed, my heart sank into my knees. I know how much that car meant to him. I know the devastation he must have felt looking at it from his seat on the curb. I have been feeling the devastation of it myself, in small measure compared to his attachment. He was truly in shock.

The rear wheel came off and the axle was destroyed. A few feet further up and Bryce would have been in a world of pain. Thankfully, no passenger was in the back, behind Bryce. I replay the many blessings over and over, yet the ache refuses to dislodge. Such a shame! He only had the car for six months.

Life changes within the blink of an eye, truly. He had been on an emotional high in the day prior to the accident. He informed us that he was nominated for prom king. In addition, there is a vote for other titles, like "most intellectual," "most likely to succeed," "most ripped," and of course, "best car." He had also just secured a job with Papa John's Pizza as a delivery boy. Moreover, he was informed that he will be receiving a scholarship of some sort at the school's awards ceremony next week.

Now, the car has been declared a "total loss," since the rear suspension was entirely destroyed and would have to be completely rebuilt. The expenses for repair exceed the monetary value of the car. They don't take into account the emotional value of the car to a teenage boy.

Bryce is in mourning. He has lost his beloved car. He has lost his independence. He has lost a portion of his identity.

In the face of loss, we have to remind ourselves of the blessings. There are so many who aren't as fortunate, who don't walk away from such an incident unscathed. Bryce's school recently held an awareness event called "Every Fifteen Seconds," to drive home the realities of the consequences of drinking and driving and texting and driving. Bryce wasn't drinking or texting, but he could have been taken from us nonetheless.

Moreover, I recently received word that one of my former students was involved in a drunk-driving accident which killed his older sister. That young man is facing three to fourteen years in prison as a result of his mistake. We were spared such grim consequences.

Bryce will survive. Life without a car isn't the most difficult thing in the world. There are far greater tragedies life could hand him in the future. Really, if it had to happen, this is one of the better times to accommodate it. He is no different than any other high school senior without wheels. He can go to Purdue (his selected college) next year and get around using their excellent bus system. I went four years of college without a vehicle. He can do the same; indeed, none of the other freshmen will have vehicles either, since they are prohibited for freshmen.

No one was injured or killed. The insurance company will give us a settlement allowing us to buy him a beater car (probably what we should have done in the first place). He will have to step up to the plate and earn some money to pay the increased insurance rates. He will gain a greater sense of responsibility and hopefully other life lessons from this sad turn of events. While we have much to be grateful for, that doesn't dull the pain of loss we are experiencing. We pray that some good will come of this loss. As my up-beat cousin Karin ends her e-mail correspondence, ""Never regret a day in your life. Good days give you Happiness. Bad days give you Experiences. Both are essential to life. Keep going..."