Friday, April 18, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 62 - Sweet Child o' Mine Edition

Occasionally, I find it amusing to dig around on youtube for various versions of well-known songs.  Here are some of the most entertaining covers I've found of Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child o' Mine".


Miche Braden gives "Sweet Child o' Mine" a fabulous bluesy, jazzy, New Orleans Style treatment here.  I love the instrumentation with the brass and the clarinet:


I have a huge girl-crush on Sheryl Crow and she nails this cover:


I usually find Gregorian chants very soothing, but this one takes the cake for the most unlikely arrangement of the song:


For the complete polar opposite of Gregorian chant, and, I think, the least recognizable version of the song, here's the electronica cover by Akasha.


And finally, here's a Brazilian bossa band with a sweet, mellow arrangement.  Extra points for the use of the flute on the famous guitar solo riff.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Rocky Road by Josi S. Kilpack

Rocky Road is the tenth "culinary mystery" by Josi S. Kilpack featuring Sadie Hoffmiller as a former private investigator, general unintentional meddler and all-around solver of mysteries.  And it's a Whitney Award finalist in the Mystery/Suspense category.

While Rocky Road certainly hinted at events that occurred in previous books, it was fairly self-contained story.  In other words, I didn't feel that I missed out on much starting with this one, even if there were nine earlier installments.

Sadie is on a "girls weekend" in St. George, Utah, with her friend Caro.  The itinerary includes shopping, girl time, and helping with a breast cancer fund-raiser.  One of the organizers of the fundraiser, a well-loved local physician, disappeared a couple of months earlier and, unsatisfied with the unsuccessful efforts of the town's police, Caro wants Sadie's help investigating the disappearance.  Cautious because of recent experiences (which I'm sure are described in the last book in the series), Sadie declines Caro's persistent request that she get involved.  Eventually, however, she finds herself drawn in, despite her desire to steer clear, when she meets the good doctor's ex-wife while helping to prepare the luncheon for his memorial and strikes up a sympathetic conversation. At the memorial, his current wife appears "a little bit too composed" and arouses Sadie's suspicions more.  The pieces just aren't adding up, so Sadie starts asking more questions.

You see, Sadie believes that "truth is important" and "I found that I could discover important information and help find the answers that might help people." Good reasons, I think.

As any good mystery does, this one has clues, puzzles, twists and turns.  People turn out to be not as they seem, both for good and evil.  The mystery is solved neatly in the end and the bad guys get their comeuppance, though not without some additional heartbreak on several fronts.  Rocky Road was a pleasant, somewhat frothy diversion for a day.  I'm not so engrossed that I'm going to run out and read the rest of the series, but I may pick up another when I need something light.

Of course, as a Whitney Award finalist, it's a given that the author is LDS, but the way Mormon references were included in this book - the character seemed fairly unfamiliar with the terminology such as "ward" for a congregation and looked forward to touring the grounds of the LDS temple in St. George - it seemed like she hadn't incorporated much into earlier books.  I wonder if this was a change from her previous writing and if long-time readers found it a bit jarring.

And yes, I copied out a couple of the recipes including a knock-off of Cafe Rio's Barbacoa Pork and Cilantro Lime Rice, and Granny Anne's Rocky Road Fudge.

Rocky Road
by Josi S. Kilpack
ISBN: 9781609075934
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Deep Cover by Traci Hunter Abramson

Deep Cover is the first of the Mystery/Suspense 2013 Whitney Award finalists I've had a chance to read and it started off the category with a bang!

Kelsey has been deep undercover for two years in the Middle East as a nanny and tutor for the daughters of a suspected terrorist.  After being shot in the leg for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she is evacuated to the United States, her cover story still intact.  Back at her parents' home, vacant while they serve a six-month mission, she tries to focus on recovering and settling back in to "normal" life, but the CIA still needs her expertise to prevent a terrorist attack on US soil.

Kelsey's parents asked their neighbor and "adopted" son, the single 29-year-old FBI agent Noah, to keep an eye on the house while they were away.  Unknown to both Kelsey and Noah, Noah is working to prevent the same terrorist attack as Kelsey. As they get to know each other, romance starts to blossom until their personal lives and professional lives collide.

I was fascinated by Kelsey's seamless switching between her aliases: her real life as Kelsey Weber, her CIA desk job as Kelly Park, and as the tutor Taja Al-Kazaz. She speaks fluent Arabic and Hebrew, as well as a smattering of Pashtu and other languages.  She's strong, capable, and confident at her job, both undercover and on desk duty as an analyst.  Her sense of patriotism drives her focus on her work, though she regrets missing out on many family events and holidays, and not being able to be completely honest with them about her absences.

While the relationship between Noah and Kelsey seems to move really quickly, it was also believable for me as they spend more time together and their friendship grows.  The only part that felt less convincing was his reaction when he discovers her CIA cover identity.  Especially since he works in the field, I would expect him to be more understanding from the get-go, though I'm sure surprise and shock, as well as concern for her family being kept in the dark would be the author's explanation.

I have to admit I was less than thrilled with the recurring comments about how "she would gladly trade her world travels for the chance to live inside that beautifully simple life" of staying home and raising a family.  It was very obvious that Abramson was setting them up to have "a traditional life of the husband bringing home the bacon," though I appreciate that she has Noah express that "he was willing to accept whatever choice she made."  I can totally understand how after two years deep undercover in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation, she would yearn for a more peaceful life, but I couldn't help but wonder if right in the aftermath of so much upheaval was the right time to make that decision.

Deep Cover
by Traci Hunter Abramson
ISBN: 9781621083689
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review: The Witnesses by Stephanie Black

While reading The Witnesses, I kept thinking to myself that the story really seemed like more of a sequel than a stand-alone and I wished that Stephanie Black had told the story of Ian Roshek and his sister that led to the events on The Witnesses first.  And then after finishing the book I discovered that she did exactly that!

The Witnesses is a sequel to the novel The Believer, though on Black's website, she notes that she wrote it so that you didn't have to read the first book to understand The Witnesses. While that may be the case, I think it would have helped immensely to have the background of The Believer before diving in to this already-created world.  More than once characters launched into expository paragraphs that intruded on the narrative in order to fill readers in, but I'm grateful for the intrusions because otherwise I would have been lost!

The Witnesses is a Whitney Award finalist in the Speculative Fiction category.  The northeast portion of the United States has seceded and become "New America," an anti-religion dictatorship. In New America, "religion was dangerous rebellion, anarchy mutate by insanity, rightfully banned to protect national security." I'm sure that reading The Believer would help, but I didn't really understand the logical leap that banned religion in this new country.

Black incorporates teachings from the Book of Mormon as inspiration for the characters who are fighting for their lives, seen as traitors by their country, but also as the impetus for one particular character finding peace and forgiveness for her past actions that cost her family their lives.  I'm sure readers not familiar with the Book of Mormon would be a bit taken aback or confused by references to Abinadi and Alma, but it worked pretty well for me, though occasionally, the references seemed a bit forced.

The action never stops in The Witnesses, the suspense is palpable, and there are a few twists that I'll admit I didn't see coming, though a few at the end in particular were a bit of a stretch in my mind.  But maybe they wouldn't be if I'd read the first part of the story.  Argh! I can't help feeling that I'm at such a disadvantage not having read The Believer.  I guess that's going to be next on my reading list...

The Witnesses
by Stephanie Black
ISBN: 9781621085232
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster

A Whitney Award finalist in the General Fiction category, Mile 21 is a moving account of grief, loss, and the painful process of healing in a uniquely LDS setting.

It's been a year since Abish Miller's husband of only seven months died from a fluke pulmonary embolism. At the age of 21, she'd never envisioned herself a widow and is struggling to maintain any semblance of a life.  Her monotonous on-campus job, doing payroll at BYU-Idaho, and managing her mother's fourplex married student apartments is almost more than she can handle.

Likewise, relationships with friends and family have suffered - "withered on the proverbial vine" she says - and "right now, I just can't scrape together enough...initiative? Pride? Anger?...Enough of anything, to care."

And then it just gets worse.  Her mother fires her after one too many lapses as apartment manager, forcing Abish to look for a new place to live.  In a singles' apartment.  With roommates.  In the ward where her boss - "Burt the Turd" in her mind - was just called as bishop.

Abish's only salvation is running.  She runs to work in the morning, runs home at night, and runs at every opportunity in between.  She finally decides to sign up and train for the marathon she and her husband Mark had talked about running together.

Dunster's depiction of Abish's grieving process is so real and raw, it almost hurt to read.  She's lonely and sad and angry and afraid of forgetting even as she knows it's inevitable that she'll forget some things.  She feels guilty about wanting to move on, but there's another part of her that resents Mark for leaving her and God for taking him, but then she feels guilty for that, too.  Dunster does an incredible job of juggling all of those conflicting emotions and layering them with Latter-day Saint beliefs in a way that comes across as real rather than affected.

Abish's parents, her friends, and her bishop, in particular, try to help her come to terms with what has happened and learn how to be happy again, without pretending to have all the answers.  Bishop Barnes - no longer "Burt the Turd" - insists, "You've got a right to mourn. Don't be ashamed. You should let others mourn with you." while reminding her that the plan of happiness is "about this life too, Abish. Heavenly Father wants you to be happy here too."

Dunster also meets some of the less attractive aspects of LDS culture head on.  For example, I wanted to smack Abish's roommate Maddie during this exchange:
"You know, you're pretty lucky, Abish." 
"Lucky how?"
"Well, you found your eternal companion. You're totally taken care of. Like, you get to be in the top tier. You're not even, like, divorced or something where you have to go looking again to gain celestial glory."
"Yeah," I say dryly. "I should go join a convent or something."
Maddie's eyes are round and serious. "Well, it wouldn't be a sin if you did. And now I think of it, I mean, it would be kind of selfish for you to..." She shrugs. "I mean you've had your chance, and there are only so many good guys in the world..."
Mile 21 hits on some hard, heart-wrenching topics, but doesn't shy away from either the pain or the questions that accompany the pain.  It doesn't sugar-coat or white-wash LDS culture either.  There is a romance subplot, but it takes it's proper place as a portion of the story rather than the predominant feature.  The bulk of the story is about Abish's journey through grief and healing. Dunster acknowledges the reality of incredibly difficult struggles in this life, but also shows the hope and happiness that exists even through the dark times.

Mile 21
by Sarah Dunster
ISBN: 9781462112975
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 61


The horrors of genocide in Rwanda - now two decades old - are breath-taking and heart-breaking.  In my nice little western, middle-class bubble, it's hard to fit such unspeakably evil actions into my definition of reality, but ignoring them seems far worse, to the point of dehumanizing and minimizing the suffering of others.

The NY Times recently published an article "Portraits of Reconciliation" containing the stories and pictures of victims and perpetrators of specific acts of violence together. Each of the pairings had participated in "a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), a nonprofit organization" including several months of counseling.

One of the survivors related this:
After I was chased from my village and Dominique [the perpetrators with whom she was photographed in the article] and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

I can't fathom the emotional strength it would take to forgive the person who killed your loved ones, or destroyed your home and property, and caused you so much pain.  Or, for that matter, the emotional strength it would take to face the person you had so wronged and beg for forgiveness.

If you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend the film Hotel Rwanda and the book Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza.


This article "Picturing Hunger in America" is a couple months old, but still timely and oh-so-poignant.  Again with our little bubbles of reality, I think we simply don't recognize how widespread and pervasive hunger is, or how close to home hits.  Scroll down to the pictures of bananas at a suburban grocery store and the inner city corner bodega.

If you have six-and-a-half minutes, click through the link at the bottom of the article (or click here) to go to the clip from PBS Newshour where you can hear from the women who took the photographs as part of this project in Colorado.


While I'm posting photo series, I've got to throw in this one from Buzzfeed: "15 Adorable Kids Pose As Iconic Figures of Women's History".  I love baby Janet Reno - she looks so serious! - and baby Alice Walker, but baby Malala just about took my breath away.


And let's finish off with this post compiling short bios of seven feminist foremothers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I love Emma, Emmeline and Eliza, but Sarah Granger Kimball and Martha Hughes Cannon are pretty incredible, too.  I honor and admire all of these strong, faithful women as part of my spiritual heritage.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

The history of the LDS colonies in Mexico intrigues me.  It's been one of those topics I've been aware of for years, but haven't ever taken the time to research it, so I was glad for an opportunity to read this Whitney Award finalist see it from the perspective of (fictional) Saints living there. My interest is definitely piqued enough to want to learn more.

That being said, I had a hard time getting into Safe Passage.  Husband and wife Ammon and Addie have been estranged for a couple of years after her father deliberately neglected to inform Ammon, away at a logging camping, of Addie's miscarriage.  Ammon was injured and unable to return home, all the time unaware of his wife's situation, but she interpreted it as a lack of caring on his part.  When he finally did get home, on crutches and in terrible pain, the normally reserved Addie took her anger and pain out on him, yelling and throwing her wedding ring at him.  He left their home and tried to reconnect through letters, only to receive them back torn into little pieces.

Fast forward a couple of years and the Mexican civil war has made it a dangerous place to live.  Church leaders have strongly encouraged everyone to get out of Mexico, but when Ammon arrives with his family at one of the refugee camps, his father-in-law tells him Addie's still in Mexico caring for her grandmother.  He asks Ammon to return and rescue her and Ammon agrees on the condition that he give Ammon's family $500 to help them start a new life in the United States and another $500 to Addie when they return.

And then it starts to get a bit more convoluted.  Ammon finds Addie and they have close calls with federales and Mexican freedom fighters, but they end up traipsing several days' journey in the wrong direction to give some money that a doctor stole from the place Ammon had hidden it, to the wife of the person who stole it, in return for him preventing Addie from being raped.  (And I literally said out loud - why are you risking your life to take money to someone who stole it from you in the first place!) Then as they're trying to get out of Mexico - even though Ammon isn't sure he wants to leave his homeland - they encounter General Salazar who is the leader of one of the main armies of rebels and that, of course, complicates matters.

Anyway, along with the plot that was all over the place, the character of Addie in particular seemed inconsistent.  I appreciated the recognition that men suffer emotional pain, too, as Ammon did when he learned of the miscarriage and as he related a story from his father grieving after they suffered a miscarriage as well. "Son, for some reason, they don't think men need comfort."  But then there were so many comments like "women were a separate species" and "what was it about women?" that just irritated me, capped off with the last words of the book: "His woman."


Safe Passage
by Carla Kelly
ISBN: 9781599558967
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).