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Monday, April 28, 2008

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A young girl named Rachel is growing up in Hawai'i, in a time when leprosy is seen as a horrible and dangerous disease. Such that if someone shows signs of it they are taken to a special hospital and if they are not cured, they are sent to Kalaupapa, an island for those with leprosy. She spends time at the hospital and ends up being sent to the island .. meaning that she will only see her family if they can pay for a trip to the island which isn't easy on their small salaries. But instead of going away to die, she finds out that life is indeed possible. he is a trouble maker for the nuns who take care of the young girls with leprosy, finding ways to get around rules and push boundaries and enjoy life.

Before reading this book I didn't know that leprosy was such a problem at the turn of the twentieth century. I knew that it has been seen as a horrible disease for a long time and that many people (from Biblical times) have been made outcasts because of it. But the idea of people being exiled and separated from family was hard to read about. Especially because this is a novel based on history .. these are events that did take place, and Hawaiians were separated from family members in harsh ways. Good to know a bit more about history .. but also to see the hope and vivacity that Rachel shows, as a young girl faced with such pain. Hope in the midst of suffering .. that's something of which we can always be reminded.

Author: Alan Brennert
Date published:2003
Genre: historical fiction
Number of pages: 384
Notes: brought by sue


Friday, April 25, 2008

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I saw the movie first, and wasn't sure what I thought about it .. but then my siblings enjoyed it so that helped me to be willing to watch it again. And it made more sense the second time through. The movie was rather confusing for me .. but the book made much more sense. There are a number of stories going on at the same time (they are very closely related, but still .. it's lots of characters to keep track of). Tristran Thorn ends up headed on an adventure to find a fallen star to bring back to the girl he loves .. but little does he know just how much adventure is ahead of him .. with three other sets of people wanting the same star for much darker purposes.

To get the star, Tristran must enter into Faerie .. where most people are not allowed to go. But he has some faerie blood in him and thus can enter. In Faerie, things are almost never what they seem. One man that is visible might have 4 or 5 ghostly companions (brothers who cannot rest until the next king is chosen). An innkeeper might actually be a witch in disguise. A barman might have once been a goat. A bird might actually be a person in a slightly different form. Along with the physical being quite changeable and not to be relied upon .. so are hearts and relationships changeable. Tristran longs for one thing .. but when it is finally within reach he realizes that his heart has long ago started wishing for something (someone) else. As Gaiman creates such a transitory and uncertain world, it can be hard to know what is true and what is illusion. But in the end the truth makes itself clear and things end up as they should :)

Author: Neil Gaiman
Date published:1999
Genre: Fantasy
Number of pages: 248
Notes: from danny & anita


Thursday, April 24, 2008

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cover of Northanger Abbey

Not my favorite of Jane Austen's books, but I was inspired to re-read it after seeing the delightful Masterpiece Theater version of the story. They did a wonderful job of bringing to life this plain, ordinary heroine who reads to many Gothic mysteries and is ready to imagine romance or intrigue anywhere. The narrator makes a great deal of the fact Catherine Moreland does not resemble the usual heroine of a novel-- not extraordinarily pretty, neither extremely rich nor poor; she is just about as ordinary as she can be. And yet in spite of that, she gets to have her own little adventure and finds her own romantic hero.

Catherine is kind and generous; somewhat naive and innocent, and sometimes outright ignorant. There were times when she reminded me of Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice-- always trying to think the best of people, even when things don't quite add up. Except that Catherine isn't as wise or intelligent as Jane (and, of course, she doesn't have a sister like Eliza to tell her how things really are). Austen does a great job of making things clear to the reader that Catherine completely misses-- Catherine's faithful "friend" Isabella, people's concerns with wealth and mis-perceptions about how wealthy Catherine might be.

Catherine's romantic interest, Henry Tilney, is a completely delightful character. He's amused by the foibles of other people, like Catherine's obsession with Gothic novels, or Mrs. Allen's obsession with clothing; he's witty and humorous, and very aware of language-- he teases Catherine over the silly things that she says, which probably she has heard other people say, and in the process he begins to educate Catherine and form her mind. When she says a book is "nice" he responds according to the original meaning of the word (neatness), which of course confuses Catherine, and Henry digresses on how the word is used for anything and hence comes to mean nothing. Another time Catherine says she has "learned to love" a particular kind of flower, and Henry teasingly asks how she learned such a thing. According to the narrator, these two end up together because Henry was the cause of Catherine's "first serious thought," which was incredibly flattering to him.

Title:Northanger Abbey
Author:Jane Austen
Date published:1818
Number of pages:221
Notes:repeat reading


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

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Actually got to hear Dawn speak at Wheaton for special services one year, so that's fun. There are four sections - four main categories of how Dawn sees the Sabbath: ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting. Many people know that to keep the Sabbath means to not work, but there is a fullness in the day that Dawn describes. Sabbath is meant to be a gift .. to the individual, to the family, to the Church, to the world. When people can rest, be refreshed, and be reminded of what truly matters and who we are in relation to God .. the world is a better place for it. And we are better people. If lived well, Sabbath can affect not simply one day a week -- but the entire way one views time, relationships, and the way one measures value.

Dawn describes Sabbath as .. ceasing to be controlled by the expectations of the world; ceasing to live in the belief that we actually have control over our lives; ceasing the monotony of day to day existence. Whe calls Christians to rest as well .. not simply to take a nap on Sunday, but to rest as whole people -- physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. The third section focuses on embracing, because when we say 'no' to something (aka ceasing to worry and to accomplishing) we must say 'yes' to something else: aka God's upside-down values; time and people instead of space and all that must be done; being who God has called us to be instead of who others or the world expect us to be. Finally, Dawn challenges the reader to feast on the blessings of God, that this day might really be special. It might be listening to beautiful music, going for a long walk in nature, eating particularly enjoyable food, or taking the time to really spend the day with friends and enjoy each other. Dawn find theological, Biblical reasons for all her main points. This book was a challenge to me. I want to keep the Sabbath .. not simply to have a day off, but to have a day to focus on God and who He is, to live out my belief that He is in control and not me, to have a focus on the celebration of Sabbath instead of just seeing it as another day in the week.

Title:Keeping the Sabbath Wholly
Author: Marva Dawn
Date published:1989
Genre: Spiritual, Nonfiction
Number of pages: 213
Notes: borrowed from Diane


Monday, April 14, 2008

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How to write one's thoughts from a book that is almost 1500 pages? And a book that took one almost five months to read? This book is regarded as a classic, and I found that to be true. The stories of five main families are followed for a number of years, through two huge wars and major changes in Russia. In addition to these main threads (which are surprisingly consistent and relatively easy to follow), there are thoughts on the wars and why they happened, commentary about why certain people are leaders and why others do not lead but simply seek power. Tolstoy's philosophy and view of his own people, history, and God become clear in various statements and reflections throughout the work.

Tolstoy manages to include thoughts from just about every subject: geography, history, philosophy, relationships, religion, politics, government, marriage, happiness... quite amazing. (Although if you have 1400+ pages, I suppose it's a bit easier to wield such a wide brush.) And even more amazing is that all these various topics come together to form one coherent masterpiece. The first few hundred pages were confusing, because most of the important, reappearing characters (somewhere between 20 and 35) have at least a couple names. First and last names and nicknames and titles. Very confusing if you aren't yet used to it, and trying to figure out who is related to whom. The list of "chief families" was very helpful. The last 50 pages were also challenging to read, because they are all about philosophy of war - why it happens, what it means, who has power, what power is .. not quite what I expected at the end of this epic. An overall enjoyable book, worth the effort to read it and remember who is who. I think it's even possible that I'll read it again. someday .. in a few years... :)

As for characters I'd like to remember: Natasha Rostov, who transforms from a young child into a beautiful woman, has a deep impact on numerous men, namely Prince Andrei and Pierre. She cares well for her family, has deep passions, sings beautifully, and is able to love others well when she turns her focus outward. Pierre Bezukhov, who is thrust into wealth unprepared early in life. This brings about many changes, and eventually sends him searching for the meaning in life. He and his wife have a rocky relationship, and he becomes a mason, seeking for truth. He eventually finds truth and hope when he becomes a prisoner of war and is forced to live with so little, after having everything he wanted. He discovers that man can choose to be happy in any circumstances and comes back a much wiser man. Princess Marya Bolkonskaya, who grows up with a father who can do nothing but criticize. She loves him and treats him well, in spite of his rudeness to her. She turns to God for solace, and even though she is physically plain, her eventual husband sees her as beautiful because inside she is deep and has known real suffering. Count Nikolai Rostov, brother to Natasha. He joins the army and spends much of his time fighting, and being with his men, and learning that the real power is not in those men who discuss decisions, but in those who actually act at the right moments. He grows up being able to do just about anything that he wants, but becomes much more responsible and able to think for himself instead of just following those around him. He even learns how to work the land, and at the end of the book works well with the peasants he is in charge of, being a good master who actually works with them and values them. Prince Andrei Bolkonskaya, who is raised with Princess Marya but doesn't have nearly the same experience. He knows he cannot please his father, and goes through various stages. He is in the army and gets shot, and when he returns wants nothing more than to spend his days on his land, making the place more beautiful and caring well for his peasants. Marries young, and has a child, but his wife dies in childbirth. He falls in love again, with natasha, but an unfortunate plan to elope by her (because of another man with evil intentions) stops their marriage. He goes to war again and is badly injured, and ends up being cared for by Natasha and his sister .. who grow to love each other through the experience together. This is one (of many) characters who dies, but he has the power to bring others together and to speak truth in a way that can be understood and believed.

Title:War and Peace
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Date published: 1869 (trans. 1968)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of pages: 1455
Notes: present from parents


Saturday, April 12, 2008

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A fairly simple story with some good truth. The author becomes friends with a woman who is much older than her, named Nancy. They are both writers and find out that they both love road trips. Through travels together they become much closer, and Nancy often speaks into Mary's life. As with all good relationships, they both challenge and change one another over time. Nancy has had a pretty exciting life, and she loves getting to know people, and is able to relate with just about anybody .. little kids at church, college students, the mailman. Nancy teaches Mary three important truths over time: get your eyes off yourself, keep a positive attitude, pour your life into others. All very good things to learn .. and to keep being reminded of. A quick, positive read.

Title:Over Salad & Hot Bread
Author: Mary Jenson
Date published:2006
Genre: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Number of pages: 159
Notes: gift from Church of the Resurrection


Friday, April 11, 2008

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Wangerin has a way with words, and it is enjoyable to read his stories. This book is a mixture of childhood and being a young pastor just out of seminary. Growing up in two different settings. Learning and making choices. He grew up as a pastor's kid – with lots of expectations and people watching him. From various friends and acquaintances, I know this can indeed be a recipe for disaster. Not necessarily .. but it creates its own set of interesting problems. Turns out that Wangerin does indeed end up as a pastor, though .. with his own small church in Indiana. In the inner city, with an interesting cast of characters – and plenty of learning and growing up to do.

The title comes from a woman who plays a prominent role in his growing up as a pastor. She loves God and is a pillar of strength in their community. In comes a new pastor with all his learning under his belt and expectations about how he will run the congregation and how important he will be .. and Miz Lil has quite a bit to teach him. But she doesn't force feed him truth or make him change .. she teaches him gently (although sometimes her comments are more like knife-thrusts than pats on the back) and continues to value and respect him in the process. How much we all need Miz Lil's in our lives .. elders who will speak the truth out to us, challenge our assumptions, and force us to mature and continue to learn that it is not ourselves who can cause change, but only our Faithful Father.

Title:Miz Lil and the chronicles of grace
Author: Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Date published:1988
Genre: autobiography
Number of pages: 192
Notes: gift from t. davis


Thursday, April 03, 2008

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Read in a few days and enjoyed Bryson's writing style. It is narrative, with him and his friend Katz walking the Appalachian Trail (parts of it, at least), but there is a nice mix of information as well. History about the areas they walk through and how the trail came into being, stories about things that have happened along the trail, facts about how the animal population has drastically changed in the last century, reflections and what it can mean to 'live without' and then to return to 'civilization.'

Bryson decides to walk the trail, and hopes that someone will walk with him, but nobody replies. Shortly before he is planning to start the first long leg, an old friend calls him up and asks if he can still come. They outfit themselves with all the necessary (and a bit of unnecessary as well :) gear, and prepare to start. Neither of them are particularly prepared for what is to come, though. Katz enjoys donuts and pancakes and big meals .. and walking everyday, all day is very hard work that neither of them are prepared for. But they get used to it, and at least Bryson even enjoys the process. They see some beautiful places, and some not so beautiful places; they meet some particularly memorable characters along the way; become rather good at setting up camp and living on snickers & raisins; and come back to 'the real world' with new eyes. An enjoyable read from a humorous author.

Title:A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Author: Bill Bryson
Date published:1998
Genre: Nonfiction, Nature
Number of pages: 274
Notes: borrowed from Diane


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