Monthly Archives: August 2015

‘Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death’, by Steve and Sharol Hayner

Joy in the JourneystarstarstarstarstarSteve Hayner, formerly President of Columbia Theological Seminary and InterVarsity, and World Vision Board Member, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He and his wife (and daughter) wrote posts in a beautiful meditative diary of trust and faith as Steve went through some treatment but ultimately went from life to Life (what a great way of saying ‘death’). Do not avoid this book because you think it will be sad or awkward to read. This is a brave and honest look at the different stages and decisions of living with cancer that clearly will help others on a similar journey. There are so many beautiful nuggets to collect in it–perspectives, quotes, thoughts, and stories. I know I will be referring to it again in the future.

Death hurts because we were meant for life but we are not without hope. The Hayners capture a powerful message about joy in this book–joy cannot be reliant on our circumstances. Circumstances are too variable to be the foundation of our daily feelings about life. Too often we equate ‘blessings’ with circumstances instead of with God’s loving embrace. We don’t need much help to find joy in the good times, but in the bad times, we need all the help we can get. After all, aren’t we all just “walking each other home” and isn’t dying the only thing we can all be sure of?

This weekend one of our daughters asked me to help her complete a knitting project. Together we looked at the pattern and the yarn and figured out what was what. She was able to proceed and she successfully finished the project, but when she thanked me I replied, “Well, I really didn’t do that much…” She came back with a beautiful line that will stick with me, because it so aptly demonstrates the importance of doing life together. She said, “Yes you did. You helped me to brave the unknown.”

‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah

The NightingalestarstarstarstarIn love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.

Two sisters caught in the turmoil of the second World War–one who follows the rules and one who rebels. Both become extraordinary workers in the resistance movement in occupied France and find out what it can take to survive but also find the strength to help others. They have opportunities to be heroic and brave, they are faced with terrible choices between evils which will continue to haunt them, but mostly they display the remarkable courage it takes to simply put one foot in front of the other and somehow make it through another difficult day.

This novel is not just another war story but one with a focus on women in war. I loved how the book explores the tough choices and challenges of everyday citizens caught in a horrific situation. I loved how different the sisters were, each choosing their own unique path. I loved the ending and found this a compelling and satisfying read, much like Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key.

‘Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life’ by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Encyclopedia of Ordinary LifestarstarstarThis is a quirky, delightfully illustrated, and very different biography of items arranged “Encyclopedia” style. Through a series of random memories, observations, opinions and small revelations about the author’s life, a light hearted collage is created that is easy to read and is surprisingly engaging. You’d think it would be like “so what?” but her entries are oddly often quite easy to relate to. There is no need to read the book in order (although I did). It would actually make a great bathroom read, a book to keep in the car when ferrying the kids to sports events, or just one to keep on the coffee table or at the cottage. I liked the lighthearted feel and the author’s portrayal of an ordinary life–of course there is no such thing, and that is the unspoken but underlying theme. Every life is extraordinary and precious and different from every other–it is the small seemingly insignificant details that make us unique!

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an American author of both adult and popular children’s books, a filmmaker, radio show host, and blogger. She has a creative interactive website as well:  Who is Amy?

Not only does Amy write creatively, she has neat ideas. She embarked on a project to get a bunch of people together in the city. She called it the “Beckoning of Lovely.” Hundreds of people showed up and it was an experiment that turned into a huge success. You can youtube it. Another wacky thing she did was the “Lost and Found Project” (see below). Between January 25 and February 1, hundreds of copies of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life were intentionally left in random places (taxis, public bathrooms, laundromats) in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Each book was inscribed with a note from the author, and the finder was encouraged to report back to Rosenthal’s website when and where the book was discovered.

Here are some sample Encyclopedia entries to give you a flavour (but do not try Q at home–everyone knows you should NEVER put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear):

Amy Rosenthal
My father-in-law informed me that my married name could produce these two anagrams: Hearty Salmon. Nasty Armhole. I cannot tell you how much I love that.

My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won’t say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower.

It is very difficult to try to load someone else’s dishwasher; everyone has their own method. Glasses stacked in this row, bowls this way, silverware facing up, down–its a highly personal thing. The few times someone outside the family has loaded ours, I open it up and am disoriented, dismayed even, to find plates in the wrong slots, bowls on the top (the top?!), and even a skillet crammed in there. It’s just too counter-productive and unsettling, even though it is nice of them to try to help.

Potato Chips
When I eat potato chips, particularly the crunchy kettle kind, I find myself looking through the bag for the good chips. Somehow a good chip is one that is extra thick looking, and curled onto itself or folded, as opposed to straight and flat. It is a treat, a victory, to find a really good chip and pluck it from the bag. The thinner, straight, or broken ones aren’t nearly as pleasing.

Inserting a Q-tip deep into your ear, is a great undiscussed pleasure.

It is hard not to.

‘We Are Called to Rise’ by Laura McBride

We Are Called to RisestarstarstarstarA woman whose marriage is falling apart, an immigrant family struggling to get by in a bewildering new land, and a soldier who wakes up in a hospital with the vague feeling that he has done something wrong… Three stories that will intersect in a split second. The author weaves these lives together seamlessly.

How do we make sense out of the seemingly insignificant random events that sometimes converge to create certain situations? Can small acts of charity and compassion really rescue the dark moments? Can people recover from pain and trauma that seems unbearable?

This is a story about family–the ones we have and the ones we make. It is a thoughtful story that is well written; yes it is tragic, but it is full of hope. The courage and bravery displayed by many of the characters in this novel is beautiful to behold. It gave me great admiration and respect for the tough work done by social workers, foster families, and mental health professionals. The city of Las Vegas is an interesting setting as well. I really enjoyed this novel, it would be excellent for book clubs, and I think the author has succeeded in her reason for writing it which I include below:

McBride said, “I wanted to tell a story that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel or unfair life could be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake, it was ultimately beautiful to live. I didn’t set out to write a book about war or poverty or racism. I just wanted the reader to love a child enough to feel devastated when that child’s heart was broken and euphoric when that child got a chance at hope. I wanted the reader to walk away believing that, with all our faults, human beings are worth something.”

‘Shackleton’s Journey’ by William Grill

Shackleton's JourneystarstarstarstarstarWinner of the Kate Greenaway Medal 2015, and multiple other awards in 2014, this double page historical picture book is a beauty. The facts of Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure are chronicled in a readable and entertaining format. I loved the illustrations done in coloured pencils which are so unique and creative. There is a certain whimsy about the drawings that softens the historical grit that is the reality of such a dangerous mission. There are way more drawings than words in this slim but large page volume, so the experience becomes a visual one. A fine book for history buffs, adult art lovers, and picture book fans alike. This book may be categorized as a children’s picture book, but it really is fun for the whole family.

Shackleton's Journey IllustrationsShackleton was not the first to discover or reach Antarctica but he was the first to cross it. The story of a harrowing yet inspirational Antarctic expedition by this amazing explorer, is sure to please adults and children alike. A  great coffee table book  for grandparents!

‘The Dogs’ by Allan Stratton

The Dogsstarstarstar(Age 12 and up). “Cameron and his mom have been on the run for five years. His father is hunting them. At least, that’s what Cameron’s been told. When they settle in an isolated farmhouse, Cameron starts to see and hear things that aren’t possible. Soon he’s questioning everything he thought he knew and even his sanity. What’s hiding in the night? Buried in the past? Cameron must uncover the dark secrets before they tear him apart.”

This paranormal psychological thriller is great for young teens, but did not have quite the ‘cross-over-to-adults’ quality that I was hoping for. Nevertheless, it is a nice creepy eerie haunted house story if that is the type of thing that you enjoy. The book does handle the topic of abuse in a beautifully sensitive way with the child’s perspective front and centre. I really thought the author did a great job of making the story compelling (it is definitely a page-turner), but at the same time addressing the trauma of a life lived in fear and self-doubt. Cameron is a determined, thoughtful character who develops so well. The author really made me care about him. A nicely written tween novel, on the younger side of 12 and up.