Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: Through the Eyes of Hope

Last week, I picked up Through the Eyes of Hope, by Lacey Buchanan. As soon as I saw the cover of this book prominently displayed at our library, I remembered watching the touching You Tube video this mother made in defense of her child.

Born with a severely cleft palate and without eyes, Lacey's son Christian is a testament to the value of every individual, no matter their appearance or disability. Lacey's story highlights her growth from timid, sidelined mother to bold, involved advocate. I could not help but walk a mile in her shoes as she told of doctors who felt they knew better how to meet her child's needs (especially frustrating, the physical surgeon who insisted her son needed highly invasive surgery despite a team of other doctors ruling the surgery unnecessary). Moreover, what parent can't imagine how devastating the stares and comments of strangers could be. Yet, there are those in this world who begrudge Lacey the right to raise her disabled son. They are the unfortunate ones, because they will never be able to see the beauty God instills in His most fragile vessels. Kudos to Lacey for telling her story (with the assistance of Bethany Jett) and inspiring other parents of special needs children with hope for their journey.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Beautiful Wedding

On the heels of Music Camp, we headed up to the Chicago area to attend my niece's wedding. Kari and Clayton dated for seven years, so it really felt like the culmination of years' worth of anticipation as they entered into this covenant relationship. My brother gave an outstanding address, focused on the sacrificial nature of love. It was fun to see family and celebrate the grand occasion together.

(My nephew, Eric, with the mother of the bride, Miriam)

(Kari's entrance on my brother David's arm)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Heidi Bailey)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Book Review: The Mothers

This was another book I probably wouldn't have picked up if it hadn't been a book club selection, merely because I hadn't heard the buzz about the book. Yet, the book has plenty of buzz, having earned numerous awards (New York Times Bestseller, NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize Finalist, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist, New York Public Library Young Lions Award Finalist, An NPR Best Book of 2016, Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016, Vogue Magazine Best Book of the Year, Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, and's Best Books of the Year). As a debut novel, I believe Brit Bennett did an outstanding job.

The Mothers tells the story of seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner, whose mother inexplicably commits suicide. Six months later, Nadia discovers she is pregnant. The father of the child is the pastor's son, Luke. Even while dating, Luke had kept their relationship a secret, and when Nadia expresses a desire to simply be rid of the problem, Luke comes up with the money for the abortion. Nadia assumes this means he agrees with her decision to end the pregnancy. The novel weaves back and forth highlighting the ramifications and consequences.

I appreciated the depth of exploration into ideas of motherhood. Moreover, I agreed with author Danielle Evans, who declared the book "a brilliant exploration of friendship, desire, inheritance, the love we seek, and the love we settle for. It is the kind of book that from its first page seduces you into knowing that the heartbreak coming will be worth it."Although I didn't feel the heartbreak was worth it, primarily due to the way the story ended without hope, I do think the book tapped into many important truths about life and love. It presented a fair picture of the emotional turmoil surrounding the difficult scenario of abortion.

I loved the keen observations about grief. For example, "Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip." (p. 57) "But she hasn't learned the mathematics of grief. The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains." (p. 226) Another delicious sentence about secrets: "All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."

While I admired the use of the mothers of the church, in the form of a Greek chorus telling the story, I'm not sure it was executed effectively. For the most part, if felt like the narration perspective centered on Nadia, rather than the mothers. I kept expecting a big reveal at the end, which would explain why the story seemed to be filtered through the eyes of these observing women. Yet, the end didn't follow through with an explanation for their involvement. Indeed, the end sort of tapered off and Nadia failed to really grow or learn from her experiences. I would have liked to have seen more redemption and character development.

Nonetheless, I felt the novel succeeded in revealing deep truths. I remained riveted, wanting to know how the story resolved. In the end, there was much to think about, in terms of ideas about motherhood, love and loss, choice and consequences. How different Nadia's story would have been had her mother chosen a different path. How different the unborn baby's life if Nadia had placed his/her needs above her own. Even how different the story might have gone had the church mothers stepped into Nadia's life in a more significant way than merely as detached observers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Whirlwind Music Camp

The Salvation Army's Indiana Music Camp for 2017 has come and gone in a blur. Trevor accompanied me and we both had a lovely week together, I enjoying the fellowship with the faculty and he enjoying the camaraderie of the campers. Because two other excellent teenage drummers were there this year, Trevor placed in the Intermediate Band. This was a blessing as he was able to really shine on the drum set during their Wednesday evening performance, despite only practicing on a drum pad in rehearsals. Plus, their conductor selected really fun pieces that Trevor thoroughly enjoyed. (Sorry for the shaky video - I never do well at holding it steady.)

On Wednesday evening, the faculty all headed into town for the annual trip to Steak-n-Shake. We sang our grace in harmony together and then enjoyed food and laughter.

On Thursday afternoon, Trevor competed in the solo competition and managed to snag second place with this outstanding minute-long performance:

I think he did a fine job on adhering to the dynamics and rhythm of the piece.

Thursday evening the program showcased the various elective classes. I was thrilled that two of my Creative Writing students got up to share their poems. Really, for the most part, my elective students chose to work on short stories, so we didn't have enough space to print out their work in a small flyer to give to the other campers (as I had hoped). Still, I think they all loved the class. I brought in worksheets demonstrating various types of poetry and offered to copy off whichever ones they were interested in attempting. Plus, I brought along last year's writing prompts for personal essays and short stories.

After the Thursday evening program, the faculty enjoyed a bonfire with hot dogs and s'mores.

Before I knew it, Friday arrived and Trevor and I had to prepare to leave for my niece's Saturday wedding. We enjoyed one last moment of entertainment as the faculty band paraded around and then down into the pool in what they called a "Parade of Wetness." I must admit, I was none too displeased that I couldn't participate, but it was rather funny watching and videotaping it all, especially the end of the video when the front players met the deep end a bit before they were expecting.

I also was thrilled to discover, after the fact, that Trevor received the 1st place award for Intermediate Band at the final awards concert on Saturday. All in all, it was a wonderful week and I was, as always, grateful for the opportunity to participate.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: The Dancing Rat of Paris

I'm not sure how, or perhaps why, my library obtained this brief comedy sketch in audio form. Once again, it filled a need, as it was only one CD long and I had one more day of exercise before departing for a week-long camp. The back cover proclaims a menopausal audience member declared, "I laughed so hard my cramps went away!" Well, I can't say I laughed hard enough to alleviate any cramps, but I don't want to come down too hard on this offering. It was funny, in bits, just not as funny as anticipated.

Indeed, because it had Paris in the title, once again I was drawn in, hoping it would provide some sort of travelogue from someone who has traveled in Paris. While the author, Nancy Donoval, did indeed visit Paris, and one of the stories is set in Paris, it really didn't provide much in the way of a travelogue. Basically, the audio provides three taped performances at the Black Forest Inn, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You hear the audience feedback. The author provides humorous pauses and expressive storytelling. Alas, it just wasn't really my cup of tea. Thankfully, I didn't have to abandon it because before I knew it, it was over.

If I had enticed you, you would be out of luck, unless you visit my same library. I could not find the book available anywhere. Again, how and why did my library acquire this? It is a mystery.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Room One

Where do you head in the library when you need to find a book to listen to for only three or four days? The tween audio book section, of course! Having cast aside an audio version of a Haven Kimmel novel (it just didn't hook me in and was taking far too long to get to the driving conflict), I needed something small to fill my daily treadmill time until time to leave for my music camp assignment. How thrilled I was to find this 3 CD book by Andrew Clements (one of our favorites, when it comes to tween authors).

Room One tells the story of a fifth grade boy living in Plattsford, Nebraska. Ted Hammond loves reading and solving mysteries, but suddenly he is knee-deep in some mysteries of his own. The most pressing one has to do with a face he could swear he saw in the Anderson's abandoned house. He's also confused about the town's pressing problem of depopulation. Since the town is shrinking, the one-room-schoolhouse just might have to shut down. If the school goes, everyone knows the town will dry up and disappear.

Clements once again sucks the reader in from the very start. His excellent narration from a young boy's perspective rings true and the characters peopling the story prove endearing. I appreciated the author's emphasis on honesty and integrity. Ted faces his problems head on and and tries to solve them to the best of his ability, seeking out additional help when he realizes he cannot solve them alone. If you are ever in the market for a good tween read, you can always depend on Andrew Clements for an uplifting, well-written tale.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Maps and Legends

I've never read anything by Michael Chabon, and yet I'm familiar with the author's name. A few blogging friends have mentioned his books, I've read references to him in other writing books, and he received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001, so he must be doing something right. Thus, I decided to pick up this collection of essays, Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. The Amazon cover, shown here, is not nearly as interesting or delightful as the three-part, intersecting cover on the library copy (although I was still unable to enjoy it quite as much as intended because it was covered in protective plastic).

Each chapter is an essay focused on either reading or writing. I noted that one of the initial chapters addresses fan fiction and since I'm not that fond of fan fiction, I thought it might be wise to read what he had to say. It was interesting to learn that he had his start in attempting to copy the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To be specific, he wanted his voice to mimic the voice of Watson. The historical bits about Doyle were fascinating. I will have to think long and hard about his advice to find a good writer and attempt to mimic their strengths. This may change my opinion about fan fiction.

In another section, he devoted an essay to Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass series. While I haven't read Pullman's books, I found their exposition quite interesting. Indeed, I feel more compelled to read that series after reading Chabon's take, despite the fact that it is billed by some to be anti-Christian (this is perhaps mostly because he disparaged C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series, however, not having read The Golden Compass, I can't be sure - after all, many Christians despise Harry Potter as being anti-Christian because it involves witches and wizards, yet I don't feel the Potter series poses any threat to my sons' religious beliefs).

I preferred the second half of the book, when he began to talk more about his own personal experiences with writing. At one point, he talks about the "bathyspheric pressures that weigh on a second novel, particularly where the first has met with any kind of success." Although the word "bathyspheric" was new to me, I could certainly relate to this observation. After all, I've chided plenty of authors whose latter works haven't lived up to their first offerings.

Another observation I could relate to: "The hardest part of writing a novel is the contemplation of the distance to the end." I remember feeling exactly the weight of so much still to come while I was knee-deep in writing my most recent YA novel. I had traversed so far and yet, had so far still to go.

Finally, I chuckled when he clarified toward the end of the book that some of what he had written within its pages was, indeed, fanciful because a writer tells a lie in order to tell the truth. I appreciated his discussion about the risks a writer takes when putting themselves out there because readers can assume bits are autobiographical when they aren't really autobiographical and even things that are true emotions and feelings about subjects of personal interest (as in an article he wrote about Yiddish) can certainly offend readers.

All in all, even when I had no experience with the literature he referred to (Pullman's series, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and the constant references to comic books), I thought Chabon's descriptions and interactions were worth reading. This is obviously a book with appeal for anyone who desires to be a writer. And even those who simply like to read Chabon's books, will be interested in hearing what he has to say.

Given Chabon's message about fiction being a blur of lies presented to express deeper truth, it should come as no surprise that his most recent work is a novel presented as a fictional memoir by an author sharing his name. It is called Moonglow and has received quite a buzz of publicity. I may have to seek it out, as well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: The Mountain Between Us

While scanning audio books recently, I came across this survival/love story, The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin. The author's name looked familiar and when I checked my blog, I discovered that one of my first posts, at the outset of blogging, was a book review of Martin's When Crickets Cry. I quickly became engrossed in the tale of Dr. Ben Payne and Ashley Knox, two unregistered passengers on a charter plane attempting to beat an oncoming storm. Just before their pilot dies of a heart attack, he manages to safely land the plane on the mountains in the High Uintas Wilderness of Utah. Ben is in bad shape, with broken ribs, but Ashley is worse off, with a badly fractured leg.

Throughout their harrowing journey, attempting to return to civilization, Ben continues to record messages for his wife, Rachel, on a small recording device. Ashley, listening to Ben pour out the love in his heart, begins to wonder whether she is merely settling for convenience in her upcoming marriage to her fiance. What's more, the longer Ben takes care of her, the more she wonders whether she is, in fact, falling in love with him instead. But, Ben holds many secrets and is clearly running from a conflicted past.

I felt a similar response to both Martin's books. The reader is asked to take giant leaps and often they seem unreasonable. The main character/narrator is too perfect and has everything he needs exactly when he needs it. When the conclusion played out, despite enjoying the deep emotions triggered by the writing (the mark of a true craftsman), I found myself talking back to the narrator, questioning the plausibility of the way things went. Despite this, I really enjoyed the ending. I wept as the truth was revealed. I felt the full range of brokenness and despair along with the surging of hope in the power of love.

When an author can evoke such intense emotions in a reader, I can overlook a bit of over-the-top plotting. Part of me felt tricked, but a larger part of me felt a sense of deep connection. I enjoyed the bumpy ride and will happily suspend my disbelief for Martin's stories again (especially so because they always provide a clean read or a listen I can enjoy with my boys in range). Moreover, it is supposed to be made into a major motion picture sometime soon, starring Kate Winslet. I have to admit, I will probably seek out the movie.