Friday, May 30, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 68



I did it.

I joined twitter.

Heaven only knows why.  I need another time-sucking social media outlet like I need another big toe, but there it is.  Come follow me @EmilyHGeddes and provide me with the additional external validation I apparently need so desperately!

My first tweet!  (Ok, so it was a reply to my sister's welcoming tweet, but it counts!)


This article in the most recent BYU Magazine gives some great advice for dealing with questions and doubts regarding religion, particularly how to support others experiencing faith crises.  This excerpt rings true to me:
LDS culture tends to communicate disapproval of doubt, say the professors, sometimes to the point of causing someone with questions to feel that he or she is unfaithful or unworthy. If someone musters the courage to raise a question with parents or friends and is met with shock or disgust, he or she is often left feeling alone.
“If they can’t find an open, candid, and supportive place to work through honest questions, that’s tragic,” says Fluhman. “We stigmatize doubt to the point that people feel guilty for even having the questions. That’s not conducive to spiritual growth.”
There's a great list of "Dos and Don'ts" at the end of the article well worth a read-through and bookmark.


"The 1st Amendment doesn't shield you from criticism or consequences."

Imma just leave this here.

(Language warning)


This sketch made me literally laugh out loud.  It perfectly captures the ironies of being "the expert" called upon to do the impossible.  With a smile.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review: Fragments by Dan Wells

A worthy sequel to Partials, Fragments starts off a bit, well, fragmented: intentionally and skillfully so.  At least three separate storylines progress on their own - Kira, Samm, and the Long Island colony - for a while before combining, intertwining, and breaking off again.  Fortunately, we don't have to wonder about any of our favorite characters for very long as Wells moves us through the separate plot lines frequently.

Kira is looking for any clues regarding the Trust.  Picking through an abandoned New York City, she locates ParaGen's Manhattan offices, but a search reveals little except that someone else has been there in the recent past.  Kira unexpectedly discovers an invaluable but unpredictable ally who has some of the answers she needs. After joining up with Samm and another somewhat friendly Partial, Heron, Kira sets off on a dangerous trek through the Midwest's toxic wasteland to reach the ParaGen headquarters in Denver.

Meanwhile the humans on Long Island are being invaded by a faction of Partials led by Dr. Morgan, determined to find Kira, convinced she holds the answers to reversing the Partials' expiration date.  Marcus is doing his best to track down Nandita and Ariel, one of the other girls Nandita raised with Kira, in his own bid to find answers and protect the human colony from extinction.

Seriously, non-stop, toe-curling action in this one.  I couldn't read fast enough to keep up with my need to know what was going to happen next.  And I read pretty fast.

But Wells doesn't neglect the inner turmoil of the characters either.  Kira is constantly torn between her dual identities as both a human, having been raised that way, and a Partial, which she only recently discovered.  She desperately insists that she will not - cannot - choose a side, that there must be a way to save everyone, until she is brought face-to-face with a very real moral dilemma to which her idealistic values do not provide an acceptable solution.

The age-old question, "Does the end justify the means?" shows up in several iterations.  Is finding a cure worth it if we have to violate our ethics to do so?  What good does it do to keep our souls intact if it costs not only our lives, but our entire species and civilization?  And is it even possible to convince people to look beyond the present and make decisions based on the future?
"We're in a war," said Kira. "We're not even in a war we can win--humans and Partials are killing each other, and themselves, and everything they can get their sights on, because it's the only way they know to solve problems. 'If we don't fight, we'll die.' What we need to face is that we'll still die even if we do fight, and we don't want to face that because it's too frightening. It's easier to fall back into the same patterns of hate and retribution, because at least then we're doing something."
Solid second installment to the series.  Looking forward to number three...

** As I did with the first book in this series, in the interests of full disclosure, let me mention the author Dan Wells and I were friends eons ago during our freshman year of college. I haven't spoken to him in years, though we recently became facebook friends.  It's always nice to discover that someone you knew way back when has done well for him- or herself.
by Dan Wells
ISBN: 9780062071071
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
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, May 28, 2014

RIP, Maya Angelou

I am grateful for brave, compassionate, beautiful voices like that of Maya Angelou, who died today at the age of 86.  She has been an inspiration.

Maya Angelou reciting her poem
"On the Pulse of Morning"
at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993

A few of her profound thoughts and one simple, yet powerful, poem:

"Peace is more than, and other than, the absence of war.
Peace is the permanent presence of good will."


"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading,
to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs,
is good for him."


"Courage is the most important of all the virtues,
because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.
You can practice any virtue erratically,
but nothing consistently without courage."


Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Egg by Michael Ruhlman

With eight hens in our backyard, it's a rare day when my boys don't gather at least six eggs.  They have a few regular customers who buy a dozen every couple of weeks, but more often than not we have a couple of full egg cartons sitting on the shelf in our frig.  When I heard an NPR brief about a new cookbook all about eggs, I knew I had to take a look.

Michael Ruhlman has written a 220+ page love letter to this "Rosetta stone of the kitchen."  Organized by a flowchart indicating how the egg is used - whole, separated, in the shell, out of the shell, just the yolk, just the white - this cookbook explores the myriad of uses for the humble egg.  Starting off simply, with a basic hard-boiled egg, Ruhlman describes all of the variables that factor into the finished product and all the options of how to get there.  Did you know you can bake an egg in the shell to "hard-boil" it?  Or cook it in the ashes of a fireplace?  Or in a pressure cooker?  (The best method to make them easy to peel, as it happens.)  Nonetheless, Ruhlman recommends this straightforward method:
Put cold eggs in a pan in one layer, cover them with water by about 1 inch, and put the pan over high heat.  When the water comes to a full boil (at least 209F), cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Remove the eggs to an ice bath (half ice, half water) until they're completely chilled, at least 10 minutes but preferably longer, giving the water a gentle stir every now and then to keep the cold circulating.
Simple, right?  And I've had perfect results every time.

Then there's soft-cooked eggs and - I learned a new vocabulary word - mollet eggs (in which the white and part of the yolk are solid but the yolk's center is still fluid), deep-fried eggs cooked by cracking an egg into boiling oil and shirred eggs baked in direct heat instead of a boiling liquid.  And that's just the beginning.

I've been cooking scrambled eggs all wrong, apparently - they should be prepared in a double-boiler or saucier for best results - and when I master that basic dish Ruhlman promises me that "your life will be immeasurably better."

This book contains recipes for everything from pancakes to popovers, strata to quiche, and challah bread to sponge cake.  I learned why the last time I tried to make lemon curd I ended up with tiny particles of cooked egg white in it and how to prevent that from happening again.  And I cannot wait to try out the Make-Ahead Brownies, homemade Mayonnaise and chocolate mousse.

And the writing is beautiful too!  One expects good recipes, delectable photographs, and interesting information about food in a cookbook, but perhaps the most unexpected aspect of this venture is the fun yet exquisite writing.  Metaphors abound:
The yolk is a kind of diva in the kitchen. The white is more akin to an Olympic gymnast--its range and power are nothing short of astonishing.
I thought I knew how to cook eggs pretty well, but I have much to learn.  I'm excited to try out many of these techniques that are new to me, though I'm not convinced of the necessity of separating the yolks by hand - literally, with bare hands - which Ruhlman recommends as the "easiest and fastest" way.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some ramekins.

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient
by Michael Ruhlman
ISBN: 9780316254069
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover)
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, May 23, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 67

First of all, less than two days left to contribute to the Altered Perceptions indiegogo campaign to help author Robison Wells, who is struggling with the consequences of severe mental illness.  Please support this worthy cause!


As a pre-teen and into my teenage years I read voraciously, but I was especially drawn to fantasy and science fiction.  Tolkein, Heinlein, Eddings, Bradbury, and McCaffrey were some of my favorites.

I found this article in the Smithsonian fascinating for its discussion of utopian vs. dystopian genre fiction, and for the frank appraisal of the purposes of science fiction in particular:
Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions. Samuel R. Delany, one of the most wide-ranging and masterful writers in the field, sees it as a countermeasure to the future shock that will become more intense with the passing years. “The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes—sometimes catastrophic, often confusing—that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.”
And I so want to take the MIT course "Science Fiction to Science Fabrication."  How cool would that be??


This list, nominated and voted on by NPR listeners, is a few years old, but a good place to start if you want to read some good sci-fi or fantasy.  The 100 entries include lots of my favorites, but also quite a few I haven't read yet, and represent a wide spectrum of the genre.  Several are series instead of stand-alone books, so working your way down the list would keep you busy for a very long time.  Sounds like fun!


To find copies of some of those 100 sci-fi and fantasy books, you may have to hit up your local library.  If you're lucky, maybe one of the libraries featured in this photo gallery is nearby.  I've had the good fortune to visit the awe-inspiring Library of Congress, but the rest are still on my list of places-I-hope-to-go-someday.  Crazy variety!  Stuttgart's Municipal Library is so crisp and clean and modern and Iowa State's Law Library has these great spiral staircases and ornate banisters.  I'd love to explore any of these 27 repositories of knowledge.


I just picked up photographer Richard Dawson's new book The Public Library from my local public library and I'm excited to dive in.  Here's a brief interview he gave NPR as well as some pictures from the book.  He relates that he's sometimes approached by people who believe libraries are becoming extinct, and he disagrees:

...according to the American Library Association, libraries are more used now than ever. And libraries are one of the few noncommercial, nonreligious institutions where people can gather. Libraries are evolving, and one of the things, in some ways, that happens is they're less about books, they're more about communities.
One of the libraries he recommends visiting is Seattle's Central Library.  I spent a few peaceful and enjoyable hours there a few years ago while my husband was in a continuing education course and I had some time to kill in downtown Seattle.  Can't wait to learn about some more unique and fascinating libraries!

Photo credit: Loughborough University Library via flickr

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

When we Westerners think about the run up to World War II in the 1930s, we tend to focus on Hitler's rise to power in Europe.  Japan's aggressions in China rarely, if ever, cross our minds, but there are as many heart-breaking and human stories from that brutal campaign as there are on the other side of the world.

The Samurai's Garden follows a young Chinese man, Stephen.  Recovering from tuberculosis, he is sent to his family's summer home in the small town of Tarumi, Japan, where the property's caretaker, Matsu, becomes his caretaker, friend, and father figure.  His mother, sister, and schoolmates stay behind in Hong Kong, while his father continues working in Tokyo.

As Stephen recuperates, he spends his time resting, swimming, painting, and getting to know the village inhabitants.  Slowly he notices that he is the only young man around, all the others having been conscripted into the Japanese army.  The war is an incessant backdrop for the novel and he and Matsu listen to the radio reports of Japanese victories and read the day-old newspapers Stephen's father sends down from Tokyo documenting the Japanese army's inexorable march closer and closer to his family's home.  The tension of the war is a constant contrast to the freedom Stephen feels as he heals and learns.

Stephen learns difficult truths about his family while he's in Tarumi.  Wrestling with the knowledge that his father is not the person he thought he was, Stephen leans on the quiet integrity and solidity of Matsu. Matsu takes him to visit a leper colony on a nearby mountain and Stephen meets Sachi, the woman Matsu saved from despair when she became ill and was rejected by her family for bringing shame upon them.  Sachi becomes an important influence on Stephen as well, teaching him from her life experiences and example.

The Samurai's Garden is a moving story of growth and healing, love and loss, fear and bravery, humility and beauty.  The language is almost achingly beautiful at times and the Japanese and Chinese cultures are explained so subtly and effectively.  This is an author I'd like to read more from.

The Samurai's Garden
by Gail Tsukiyama
ISBN: 9780312144074
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, 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, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Partials by Dan Wells

Back in, I think, sixth grade, my teacher read us the novel The Girl Who Owned a City, in which a virus has swept across the world killing everyone thirteen and older.  I was completely drawn in to the idea of this small, vulnerable part of the population having to figure out how to survive without their natural guides and protectors.

Of course, as often happens, the book had lost quite a bit of its luster when I picked it up again as an adult.  It didn't quite match up to the thrilling masterpiece I remembered from my youth.  There are several holes in the plot you could drive a truck through, the main character is far less sympathetic than she was in my imagination, and it was much more didactic than is good for what should be a fast-paced story.  At times it seemed that the author had written the novel merely as a vehicle for his particular political philosophy.  It was disappointing.

Regardless, I'm still nostalgic for how that book made me feel at age 11 and I was pleasantly surprised when I found in Partials the grown-up, well-written inverse of this tale.  Partials is a worthy and stand-out addition to the plethora of current dystopian future series.

Years ago, American scientists created "engineered organic beings" to be soldiers in a war with China. Visually indistinguishable from humans, these Partials won the war but eventually rebelled against their second-class status.  To prevail over their former masters, they released a virus to which they were immune, but that has wiped out the vast majority of the human population and has killed every child born in the past 12 or so years as well.

No children means no future and the few human survivors holed up on Long Island are desperate to find a cure.  So far, the strategy has been to require all women to get pregnant within two months of their 18th birthday and to continue having children as quickly as possible, reducing women of child-bearing age to little more than "just a uterus with legs."  But, theoretically, if enough babies are born at least one has to survive, right?  Not so far.  Thousands of infants have died within a few days of being born.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is determined to find the answers, especially when she finds out that a dear friend is expecting.  Since all other avenues have failed, she decides to branch out from humans: she needs to study a Partial.  She and a few friends plan an excursion in Partial territory to find and capture one, but, naturally, it ends up being far more than they bargained for.

This sci-fi story has action, moral dilemmas, political intrigue, fascinating non-didactic philosophical discussion, just a touch of romance, unexpected twists, an optimistic-against-all-odds tone, and a great cliff-hanger.  The library just notified me that the second book in the sequence, Fragments, is ready for me to pick up and I can't wait to dig in!

** In the interests of full disclosure, let me mention the author Dan Wells and I were friends eons ago during our freshman year of college.  I haven't spoken to him in years and didn't even know he was a published author until very recently.  I'm thoroughly enjoying catching up on his oeuvre.

by Dan Wells
ISBN: 9780062071040
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, 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)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 66

I have to admit struggling with Mother's Day a bit.  While I sincerely appreciate the recognition of my often under-appreciated and unappreciated efforts as a mom, I don't care for the pedestalizing, aggrandizing, over-the-top laudatory praises that make me feel like my less-than-perfect self is perpetuating a fraud because I will inevitably fail to measure up to the "angel mother" caricature.  Being a mother is absolutely precious to me, but it is not the only aspect of who I am and what I do that has value.

Also, I recognize that Mother's Day can be the source of great pain for some whose mothers were absent or abusive, for some who desperately want to become mothers and can't, for some who have lost their mothers or children.

So I'm sharing a few "sermons" here that acknowledge the tricky minefield that Mother's Day is for many women.

(For the record, I had a lovely Mother's Day.  I was fasting for the Nigerian schoolgirls and their families, so I asked my boys to forego their traditional Mother's Day breakfast in bed for me and just give me some quiet time in the morning instead.  After greeting me with enthusiastic hugs, they all went back downstairs and watched TV while I read a whole. entire. book. before afternoon church.  No extra meetings because of Mother's Day, chocolates from the ward, and dinner with my mom.  It was a good day.)


The first one is actually a couple of years old.  In "An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother's Day)", Amy Young addresses the difficulties head on with three suggestions on how to honor mothers without alienating others including my favorite: "acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering".

She followed that post up with another this year, appropriately named "Another open letter to pastors for Mother's Day (Beyond the surface of mothering)", in which she speaks to mothers. "Forgive us when we assume that what we see on the surface is all there is to your story," she starts out before listing dozens of women from the scriptures who mothered in a myriad of ways and each had her own struggles and challenges.

Seriously, read both of these posts if you want to understand how complex Mother's Day emotions can be for women.


One of my current intellectual girl-crushes is Rachel Held Evans.  She's a fabulous voice for progressive Christianity and I find myself nodding along and saying "Amen" every time I read a new post she's written.  In "3 Things You Might Not Know about Proverbs 31" she takes on one of the most widely used chapters in all of scripture to define what a "godly woman" is and does.
As I did more research, I learned that indeed the only instructive language in the poem is directed at the poem’s intended male audience: “Praise her for all her hands have done.” And yet many Christians interpret this passage prescriptively, as a command to women rather than an ode to women, with the home-based endeavors of the Proverbs 31 woman cast as the ideal lifestyle for all women of faith. An empire of books, conferences, products, and media has evolved from a subtle repositioning the poem’s intended audience from that of men to that of women...
No longer presented as a song through which a man offers a woman praise, Proverbs 31 is presented as a task list through which a woman earns it. This, I believe, misses the point of the text entirely.
The phrase in Proverbs 31 often translated as "virtuous women" actually means something closer to "woman of valor" (There's lots more on this topic in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I highly recommend.)
...valor isn’t about what you do, but how you do it. If you are a stay-at-home mom, be a stay-at-home mom of valor. If you are a nurse, be a nurse of valor. If you are a CEO, a pastor, or a barista at Starbucks, if you are rich or poor, single or married—do it all with valor. That’s what makes you a Proverbs 31 Woman, not creating a life worthy of a Pinterest board.
Make sure you read the part at the end about Ruth.


I believe that just as we have a Heavenly Father, we have a Heavenly Mother, completely equal partners in godhood, power, and majesty.  When blogger Kristi was asked to speak in church on Mother's Day, she decided to speak about the Mother of us all and then posted her talk online.  I love this story that she shares:
I have a friend with an 11-year old daughter. A few weeks ago, her Sunday School teacher explained that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother because She is too sacred—that Heavenly Father is trying to protect Her. To this, my friend’s daughter replied: “But Heavenly Mother can handle it. She’s a god, not a wimp!” 11-year olds aren’t the only ones skeptical of the alleged “sacred silence” surrounding Heavenly Mother. And rightfully so! For the past 165 years, dozens of Church officials have acknowledged Heavenly Mother as a divine person, a co-creator of worlds, a co-framer of the Plan of Salvation, and a loving parent involved in our mortal probation. The idea that discussion of Her is inappropriate is a myth. The veil o’er the Earth is beginning to burst, and as it does, I believe we will receive more light and knowledge about our Mother in Heaven and Her relationship with us.
"She's a god, not a wimp!"  That about sums it up for me, too!


This beautiful tribute to four specific mothers - Eve, Mary, the author's own mother, and our Heavenly Mother - touched me.  I love these comments to and about Eve:
It often seems in this world that women can’t win; we either are too fat or too thin, too worldly or too homely, too bossy or too submissive. We are often too much of something or too little of something, and it can be very difficult for us to drown out those voices, feel peace and pure love towards ourselves, and take the best path ahead of us with confidence in our right to it and worthiness of it...
You searched your mind and heart diligently for the best path, and were willing to leave the comforts of the Garden of Eden and the presence of God to fulfill God’s purposes to bring to pass the “immortality and eternal life of man”. I believe you were able to do this because your eyes were single to the glory of God, and I am in awe of your courage and strength. I appreciate your broad view of the consequences of your own actions...
Thank you for being an example of thoughtfully and faithfully following the best path you could find. We see the consequences of that decision every day because we live in a fallen world. Many people have taken that phrase and blamed you for the fallen world without thanking you for the part that we live.
Thank you Eve for starting it all.
Next time you have to speak on Mother's Day, consider taking the topic from a different angle.  These four articles (five, really) should give you plenty of ideas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Some fiction is escapist in nature, it gets the reader out of her own life and into a fantasy world, far away from reality.  Some fiction is more introspective, turning the reader's focus in on herself and her life rather than outward into an imaginary setting.

What Alice Forgot prompted a period of deep pondering which didn't end for me when I closed the book.

Alice is working out at the gym spin class with a friend when she faints and hits her head.  When she regains consciousness, she thinks it's 1998 and she's pregnant with her first child.  She has no memory of the past ten years.  She learns that:
* she has three children, "scary little strangers" she calls them;
* she and her husband Nick are in the middle of a divorce;
* she's dating her kids' principal;
* her sweet neighbor isn't speaking to her;
* her sister is distant and awkward;
* her best friend - who she doesn't even remember - died in a freak accident last year;
* not to mention that her style and fashion sense has completely changed from casual and comfy to sleek and high-maintenance.

Talk about a rude awakening!  Alice has literally become a stranger to herself and she's pretty sure she doesn't like the person she's become.  The doctors assure her that her memory will return eventually, but she leaves the hospital still missing the last decade of her life.

There were a few distracting plot points that just didn't add up.  The doctors let her leave the hospital with a decade of her life missing without any follow-up.  Her almost-ex-husband let the kids stay with her even though she didn't have any recollection of them and couldn't remember basics like where their school was.  Alice tries to reconnect with her husband, to understand how their loving relationship - back in 1998, he told his friend "I love her more than oxygen" - deteriorated to the point where he yells obscenities at her over the phone, but everyone was so secretive and hesitant to tell her anything about her life or the events she couldn't recall!  There are also two other plot lines told alongside the main story, one involving Alice's sister, Elisabeth, and her therapist-assigned "homework" dealing with her infertility, and the other centering around letters their "adopted" grandma writes to the fiance who died a week before their wedding.  Both provided interesting insights into those two characters, but drew attention away from the central focus on Alice.

The plot wasn't perfect, but it was so thought-provoking.  What if I lost my memory of the past decade?  How am I different now from the Emily-of-ten-years-ago?  (At one point, Alice observes that "Everyone was so tired and cranky in 2008."  I can sympathize; I'm pretty sure I'm more tired and cranky now than I was ten years ago!) Would Emily-of-ten-years-ago like the person I am now? be proud of her? pleased with how, I...turned out?  What changes are for the better and which are for the worse and how can I evaluate that?  How much influence do the friends I have chosen to spend time with have on the person I've become?  What should I strive to regain from that earlier, simpler time?

Ultimately, What Alice Forgot is a hopeful, redemptive story.  The title has a double meaning.  Initially Alice forgot those missing ten years of her life, but Alice-of-the-present had also forgotten so much of who she had been, how much she loved Nick, and what was ultimately most important to her.  Relinquishing pride, accepting responsibility, recognizing that love isn't always "light and bubbly" are vital parts of a healthy, lasting relationship.  Remembering that lost decade that helped shape her into the person she became was important, but so was remembering Alice-of-ten-years-ago and choosing to hold on to some of those memories tighter than the more recent, painful ones.

What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty
ISBN: 9780399157189
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, 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)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know that Romance is not my favorite genre.  But I will say that Julianne Donaldson's romance novels are the least objectionable I can recall reading and I like Edenbrooke best.

In Edenbrooke, our heroine, Marianne, is still grieving the death of her mother in a riding accident a couple of years ago.  Her father sent her to live with an aunt in Bath and her twin sister Cecily to live with relatives in London, while he took off for a small town life in France.  Marianne misses them both dreadfully and is painfully bored with life in Bath.  When she receives an invitation from her sister to join her at the grand country estate of a friend of their mother's, she jumps at the chance.

Of course, the family that owns the estate includes a handsome, brooding son, Philip. For a week on the estate before Cecily arrives, Marianne and Philip spend a great deal of time together, riding, bantering, playing chess, enjoying the library.  A great friendship develops between them until others arrive to throw wrenches into the works.

The book includes several to-be-expected plot devices - the persistent and undesirable suitor, the catty and superficial rivals, the unfortunate misunderstandings and jumping to conclusions - but Marianne is a very likable protagonist.  She's young and sympathetic, genuine and loyal almost to a fault, intelligent (and well-off) without taking herself too seriously.  One delightful scene involves her pretending to be a dairy maid and singing an impromptu song that she would sing to the cows while milking and her lack of pretension is absolutely endearing.

I thought the beginning of the book stronger than the ending.  There were several extremely convenient conversations or events in the last few chapters that made it feel somewhat rushed and just too neat.  The relationship between the sisters seemed particularly odd to me, even a bit dysfunctional.  Of course, sisters - even twins - can grow apart over time, but their characters were so diametrically opposite and Cecily seemed so oblivious and even callous toward Marianne, when Marianne was so solicitous and loyal to Cecily, that it was hard to find any redeeming qualities in her.  (I actually wrote down in my notes at one point while reading, "Cecily is insufferable!")  And then there's such an about face at the end I almost got whiplash.

But on the whole, Edenbrooke is at the top of the list for romance novels I've read.  I'm sure it would be a favorite for those who like this genre.

by Julianne Donaldson
ISBN: 9781609089467
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).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 65

I love seeing scriptures from a different perspective. There are so many layers we can discover when we're willing to shed our preconceptions and open ourselves to completely new interpretations.  Below are four examples of well-known stories from the scriptures (three from the Bible and one from the Book of Mormon) that offer opportunities for us to broaden our understanding of what we can learn and how to apply the scriptures to our lives.

Photo courtesy burstingwithcolors via flickr


The story of Uzzah is in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13). Short version: while Uzzah is transporting the Ark of the Covenant as king David has commanded him, the cattle stumble, the Ark tips, and Uzzah reaches out to steady it.  Coming into contact with the holy object was forbidden, and this action angers the Lord so much that He immediately smites Uzzah dead.

In Mormon vernacular, the phrase "steadying the ark" has come to mean "those who lack faith in the Lord and His servants and instead do things based on their own wisdom" and is a quick way to dismiss or shut down any conversations about change within the Church that make people feel uncomfortable.

Five years ago over at Faith-Promoting Rumor, Secco proposed an alternate reading of the story that flips that generally accepted meaning on its head.
Uzzah was likely killed for NOT correcting his priesthood leaders, who themselves were not following the scriptures. This conclusion is based on three items in the text:
1. King David, not Uzzah, was the responsible party, was in error, and later admits it.
2. Uzzah did what his leaders asked him to do, rather than what the scriptures said he should do, both in moving the ark, and in keeping it from falling. Thus, Uzzah’s core error was following his priesthood/political leaders rather than the scriptures.
3. Underlings were often killed for a king’s misbehavior, further supporting the idea that David, not Uzzah, was at fault; the Lord’s actions were meant primarily as a lesson for David.
Read this fascinating explanation and supporting details from the text here.


This recent post about Lot's wife (Genesis 19) was eye-opening to me.  The author sheds new light on the story of this unnamed woman, pointing out the half-hearted obedience and cowardly self-concern of Lot.  She raises the possibility that what drew Lot's wife back to the city was not her material possessions, but instead her children and (possibly) grandchildren whom the angels charged Lot with saving, but remained in the city to be destroyed.

She also draws on the ancient symbolism of salt and pillars:
Since God’s language is the language of symbols, we must look at the symbolisms contained in the tale...Most of us are familiar with the symbolism of salt. In the old world salt was valued ounce for ounce as precious as gold. It was the means of preserving food, which is why it is such a useful gospel symbol–it preserves or saves. Under the law of Moses, sacrifices and meat offerings had to include salt, “with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:13) Christ tells his disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13) and “When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men.” (D&C 101:39) “Salt is good.” (Luke 14:34) Salt signifies Christ. It is a representation of the Savior of men...
Pillar is also an important symbol. A pillar is a support and a memorial. It upholds and uplifts, and implies essential strength to elevate and bear up others. We still use this complimentary symbol today to describe people as a pillar of strength, or a pillar of virtue, or a pillar of the community. It is also a powerful symbol of Christ. In the great exodus, “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud. . . and by night in a pillar of fire.” (Ex 13:21) Jacob set up and consecrated a pillar where he spoke with God. (Gen 35:14) Lehi saw God as a pillar of fire. (1 Ne 1:6) Nephi and Lehi (the sons of Helaman) and their converts were each encircled by a pillar of fire. (Hel 5:43) When Christ returns it will be in a pillar of fire. (D&C 29:12) Not only is it impossible to find a negative connotation of pillar in the scriptures, but, “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he hath set the world upon them.”
Great food for thought here, reclaiming this woman from the scorn and derision in which she's been held for millennia.


This next point is a brief exchange between Christ and Peter almost mentioned as a side note in a New Testament lesson plan here.  (You have to scroll down almost to the end.  Look for the section heading Jesus foretells Peter's denial.)

Chapter divisions in scripture are arbitrary.  Someone at some point thought it would be easier to find passages if the narrative was broken up into chapters and verses, but the divisions themselves are not part of scripture.  They were added for human convenience.  And sometimes, the divisions break up the flow of the stories and sermons, so when you stop reading at the end of the chapter - what we consider a natural breaking point - you miss vital connections.

For example, if you read John 13:36-38 and then continue straight on to John 14:1-3, Jesus's prophecy that Peter will deny him three times takes on a completely different feel.  Rather than condemnation from Christ, there is a sense of comfort and understanding for Peter.  It changes the whole sense of the passage.


Finally, I love the story of Abish from the Book of Mormon (Alma 19).  This lesson plan uses clues from the text to draw a fascinating picture of this woman, one of the very few named women in the Book of Mormon.
Now, it seems to me that because she is a servant, Abish is often assumed to be poor. But realistically, as a servant in the king’s house, I can only think she would be of privilege; after all, who serves Queen Elizabeth or President Obama? Certainly not an inexperienced youth or someone from the dregs of society; only a professional would be hired to do the work of the King and Queen. In addition, Lamoni would not hire someone who was sluggish in their work. He was known to kill shepherds who lost sheep, so we know that Abish was a skilled worker, who had become familiar enough with the queen to take her by the hand (Alma 19:29). In consideration of living in an age where many women need to work outside of the home, Abish’s example of religious and professional devotion is important...
I've enjoyed pondering the ambiguous phrasing in Alma 19:16, that Abish had been "converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father."  Many people have understood that to mean that Abish's father had a vision, but I think the text is open to a different interpretation as well.  Perhaps Abish is the one who had a vision, and in the vision she saw her father.


With all of these stories, and many others in the scriptures, there's really no way to know which way is "the right one," but it's sure interesting to consider the possibilities and find new ways to liken the scriptures unto us.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood

Oh, Phryne! I had such high (pun intended) hopes for you!

I thoroughly enjoyed the Australian Broadcast Company's television series, and even though the first book in the series, Cocaine Blues, didn't live up to everything I loved about the show, I was willing to give it another shot.  But with Flying Too High it all came crashing down around my ears.

Unlike with Cocaine Blues, Flying Too High hasn't been turned into an episode for the television series, so I opened it with no preconceived notions of the plot at all. Phryne is called in to solve a couple of unrelated cases, one the murder of a brutal man and the other a kidnapping of the child of recent lottery winners.  Nothing too out of the ordinary for a mystery series, though the logical leaps Phryne takes to solve the murder in particular stretched credulity a bit.

In the book, Phryne solves crimes because she is bored.  Period.  There's really not any more noble motivation behind it than that, though she does like to make sure misogynists get their comeuppance.  At least in the television series there's an intriguing back story that explains her determination to see murderers come to justice.

Phryne's a "modern girl" for the 1920s in that she flies planes like a daredevil, drives like a demon, attends lavish parties, and sleeps with whatever attractive man catches her fancy including, in this book, her client's fiancee, a huge ethical and professional breech of trust.

I really like the Phryne Fisher portrayed in the television series.  I really don't care for the Phryne Fisher portrayed in the books. And if you don't much like the main character there's not much draw to continuing to read the series.

Flying Too High
by Kerry Greenwood
The Official Phryne Fisher website
ISBN: 9781590582373
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, 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, May 6, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series is the latest in the list of books I'm reading to my boys.  I vividly remember reading and loving these books when I was Will's age.  (We're reading from my childhood copy which is literally falling out of its cover.)  Since I can't go back and read them for the first time, I enjoy re-living the discoveries through their reactions.

It's been slow going, however.  With tae kwon do, scouts, wrestling, youth group, and other random commitments, it's been harder to find time to read together this spring, so it took a good two months to get through The Book of Three.  We frequently had to skim the last chapter or two to remember where we were in the story, but it was worth it.

Taran is an orphan under the care of Dallben, a great sorcerer, and Coll, a blacksmith and sometime-warrior grown a bit paunchy and long in the tooth.  As Assistant Pig-Keeper, he is charged with caring for Hen Wen, the oracular pig.  When Hen Wen runs off into the forest terrified by the proximity of evil, Taran plunges in after her and thus begins his quest to not only save Hen Wen, but to eventually grow up, too.  Along the way he gathers friends, allies and companions, finds his preconceived ideas about glory and war challenged, and accomplishes more than he ever thought he could.  (Trying to be non-spoilery here.)

I'll admit I found Alexander's writing a bit more stilted and forced than I remembered it and I was surprised by just how gruesome some of the descriptions and scenes are.  For example, the Horned King wears a human skull as a mask (how exactly does that work, logistically, though?) and burns men alive in large wicker baskets as their screams fill the air.  

When I asked what their favorite parts were, my boys both exclaimed "Spiral Castle!"  I don't blame them one bit as so many pieces of the story have their inception there.  Captured by the evil sorceress Achren, Gwydion and Taran are separated, new friends Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam are introduced, a daring escape leads to the destruction of the castle and the consequences of that destruction dictate the direction they must travel to fulfill their quests.

I appreciate that Alexander shows Taran's growth along the journey in how he makes decisions, in his interactions with others, and in his introspective judgment of himself.  It's led to some interesting discussion with my sons.

We've already started on The Black Cauldron and I'm looking forward to seeing it anew through my boys' eyes.

The Book of Three
by Lloyd Alexander
ISBN: 9780006705925
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, 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).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Mr. Benedict has planned a surprise for his four young friends: a treasure hunt of sorts that will reunite them and challenge them while providing a wonderful adventure.  Unfortunately, the plans are derailed when his evil twin Mr. Curtain returns.

As delightfully quirky as the first book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey gives each of these four markedly different children the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents and abilities. They set off on this journey without any adult assistance, though several come to their aid during the course of events.  The children have to rely on each other, and yes, they occasionally argue and get on each other's nerves, too, but at the end of the day, they know they can depend on their teammates. Constance in particular is learning more about what she is capable of and integrating into the team more fully, though some of her new abilities are a bit beyond the realm of belief.  Not all goes smoothly, of course. There are new dangers and frightening enemies, but an overall sense of optimism permeates the book as it does Mr. Benedict's approach to life.

In addressing Reynie's confusion processing the difficult events of the first book, Mr. Benedict reframes his new outlook on people positively:
There is much more to the world than most children --indeed, most adults -- ever see or know. And where most people see mirrors, you, my friend, see windows. By which I mean there is always something beyond the glass. You have seen it and will always see it now, though others may not...Have you considered the possibility, Reynie, that wickedness is simply more noticeable than goodness? That wickedness stands out, as it were?
He also warns the children to keep an eye out for the "great many sheep in wolves' clothing," a reminder that not everyone who appears evil is truly bad at heart.

I like the unique characters and the way the four children interact, demonstrating that all gifts are valuable in some circumstances. Puzzling out the clues side-by-side with the characters is fun and engaging, and I appreciate the optimistic tone of the book; even when all seems lost, Mr. Benedict remains calm and confident that right will prevail.  And it does.

At the same time, there's something missing.  The books are enjoyable diversions, but I'm not so hooked in that I can't put them down.  There are occasionally awfully convenient plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere.  They're not favorites, but I have a good time while I'm reading them.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
by Trenton Lee Stewart
ISBN: 9780316057806
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).

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 64


Mental illness sucks.

Robison Wells is an author and the brother of a friend of mine from college.  He has fallen on some really hard times lately related to some devastating mental illness diagnoses and has taken the brave step of reaching out for help.  Please visit this indiegogo campaign and consider donating.  There are some great perks at the different levels (And they keep adding new ones! If I were anywhere close to Utah, I'd jump on the game night one!), but the real reward is helping someone out and raising awareness of mental illness.


This girl is enjoying her ice cream!
Photo credit: Steven Depolo via flickr
NPR finds some of the neatest and most unique stories to tell!  Listen to (or read) this fascinating 3-minute report about some women who are challenging cultural taboos in Rwanda, first by forming an all-woman drumming troupe - a task that is traditionally prohibited to women - and then by opening Rwanda's first and only ice cream shop.

And keep an eye out for the documentary about it, called Sweet Dreams.


In my younger and more idealistic days, I had a dream to own my own theatre.  Life got in the way and practical considerations necessitated that I shift my goals a bit, but with both a theatre and business background, it was interesting to read this article with some out-of-the-box ideas on how to make theatre work as a business.

One great brainstorm: 
Offer child care...People with young children should be able to show up and drop their kids off with some young actors in a rehearsal room for two hours of theater games. The benefits: First, it will be easier to convince the nouveau riche (many of whom have young children) to commit to season tickets. Second, it will satisfy your education mission (and will be more fun, and therefore more effective, for the kids). Third, it will teach children to go to the theater regularly. And they'll look forward to the day they graduate to sitting with the grown-ups. Getting dragged to the theater will shift from punishment to reward.
Hey, if gyms and shopping centers can do it, I'd certainly support a theatre that did.


I love this poetry slam by two young women: one Muslim and one Jewish.  We could learn a lot from the wisdom and idealism and surety of youth:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

I totally get that some people - maybe even many people - use sex as a substitute for the love and affection they don't feel they deserve or that they never got from their parents or their spouses or that life denied them for whatever reason but I got really, really tired of reading about sex and little else in A Reliable Wife.

Basic plot: it's just after the turn of the century in rural Wisconsin. Ralph Truitt, a wealthy man who owns and/or employs a large portion of the town, has advertised in eastern newspapers for a woman to come marry him and is now awaiting her arrival by train.  Truitt, we learn, was physically and mentally abused by his mother, and cheated on and abandoned by his first wife. His beloved daughter died, then his son - actually the result of his wife's affair - runs away after taking the brunt of Ralph's anger (in the form of beatings) too often.  Truitt's desperately unhappy and lonely, hoping for some light or at least peace in his life, and decides the way to find that peace is to track down his wayward "son" - who isn't actually related to him at all and whom he beat so regularly and brutally that he ran away as soon as he was old enough - and convince him to return home, or rather, send his brand new wife whom he doesn't know anything about to do it.  Of course, the woman who arrives to marry Truitt has her own secrets, blah blah blah, if I tell you anymore it'll spoil the twisty-ness, so I won't, just in case you decide to pick this one up some time.

Now, when I start a new book, I grab a blank index card to use as a bookmark. I write the title across the top and then take notes as I read the book, usually a page number and a short phrase or quote I might want to find again when I'm writing a review.  Less than a third of the way through A Reliable Wife, I wrote this:

Is it always all about sex?!?!?!?!

And by the end of the book, the only possible answer is: Apparently, yes. Yes, it is.

Of course, there were other threads woven through the story.  The masks we wear, the lies we tell ourselves and others, the regret for our foolish or thoughtless actions, the inevitability of loss and tragedy, etc. But it all boiled to some form of sex again and again and again.  For example,
Love was gone forever, just outside the window, just beyond reach, like fruit on an upper branch. In its place was the sexual attraction of tragedy...He wanted nothing more than to lie in a small, dark, warm room in an anonymous house where there was neither day nor night and have ravenous sex with woman after woman until he died. He wanted a drunkenness of the flesh. He wanted the thing he loved most in the world, the soft touch of another human being, to become a torture. He wanted to die in a sexual embrace, the last of thousands.
There are dozens and dozens of similar passages.  After a few, Goolrick seemed to just be belaboring the point.  Ok, already! We get it! Sex is not a substitute for love! Be nice to people so they don't turn out to be obsessed with sexual promiscuity and perversion because they can't have a normal relationship and it'll all be your fault!

That last bit actually might have been the most irritating of all.  Towards the very end, one of the characters weeps for how another has turned out: "It was not his fault. So little that happened was anybody's fault." Of course, there are events over which we have no control, and of course, traumatic events early in our lives mold us and shape us, but within the context of the story I simply don't buy it.  These characters had choices.  Maybe not always great ones, but they had choices. They could have chosen to live in ways that didn't hurt others the way they'd been hurt and they didn't.

Believe it or not, the book ends on a hopeful note, but in case you haven't figured it out, this is not one I'm recommending.

A Reliable Wife
by Robert Goolrick
ISBN: 9781565129771
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, 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)