Falling Free, Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, by Shannan Martin.

download.jpg

“Shannon Martin’s Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted” will be welcomed by some who are excited to know more about the author and leave others wondering if the overall message of the book lacked a strong enough story line.

Those that know of Shannon Martin from her blog, “Shannon Martin Writes” already know and like her.  On that blog she describes herself as a “speaker and writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city.  She and her jail-chaplain husband, Cory, have four funny children who came to them across oceans and rivers. They live as grateful neighbors in Goshen, Indiana.”

You can see how likable she is from her blog and you have to admire a writer who puts herself, and her own family, right out there as part of her story. Her message is a positive one of Christianity and a woman who seems to care and try hard to do what she feels Jesus would want her to do. She sees the community as her mission field and found that moving closer to a real cross section of humanity with open neighborhood gave her new opportunities to serve and be served.

Her experiences are real life examples and as she ties them to scripture over and over in the book you are left uplifted but also feeling clearly how much, we all fall short in rising to her example. Some may be critical of that, but I don’t think her past readers who have already gotten to know her will.

Martin’s starts the story in a perfect little farmhouse on six acres of land in rural Indiana. Both she and her husband lost their jobs and had to downsize which resulted in moving to town into a small diverse neighborhood. She was infertile so they adopted four kids including a 19-year-old who had been in jail.

Their life changes with the move and with the help of the guidance scriptures she faces her problems and becomes a better person. It was interesting how tightly she embraced the scriptures but on the other hand had little concern for the differences in the teachings in the churches she encountered. Her message was that the real gospel was in the social connections, service and lingering with each other. She told us that the smokers hanging around out back talking as friends was part of the real gospel.

The book is a little hard to stay with all the way through because of the heavy gospel message that brings some guilt with it and maybe not enough plot. Even so it is well worth the time to read this good book.

See Shannan Martin’s Blog: http://www.shannanmartinwrites.com/

Quotes

“Living small is not about having less, but being less-- less respected in the eyes of the world, less successful, less wealthy, less esteemed, less you. Less me. And more Jesus. Here, in this abundance of less, where more of us is stripped away, we'll uncover the person we were made to be, the one created in the image of a God who sank holy feet in to our human mess.” 

“I was never meant to save a soul, and no one was purposed as a project. We were meant to be comrades, mutually passing around whatever we have to offer.” 

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

download.jpg

War and Peace is one of the most famous works of literature and considered by many to be a masterpiece. Tolstoy, much like Shakespeare, seems to be searching for what it meant to be “Human” and alive on the planet.

This novel’s approach to those questions comes from examples found in history itself, of love, war, religion, family, class, economics and philosophy.

Tolstoy said of his writings in an article: “What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it is expressed.” (it is, what it is!)

Tolstoy presents us with the daily lives and activities of a large cast of characters across long stretches of time. His point is that these ordinary people are what makes the difference in the course of history rather than the impact of the few and powerful, like Alexander and Napoleon. His point of view tells us that the essence of history lies in the “activity of the general mass of people who take part in it.”  War and Peace presents the human activities, feelings, and sufferings of 160,000 Russians and French.

The lesson of this book is understanding that history comes from examining the details. Henry James referred to this novel as “a wonderful mass of life.” The critic, Strakhov, said, “What is the meaning of War and Peace? The meaning is expressed in these words of the author more clearly than anywhere else: ‘There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.’

War and Peace by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1869 tells us of details of the events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families.

Reading it slowly helps as your read this most impressive books.

Quotes

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” 


“Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women.” 


“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” 


“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.” 


“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” 


“The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness.

“It's not given to people to judge what's right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.” 

 

tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom

download.jpg

Mitch Albom spent each Tuesday with Morrie, his former professor, who was very ill with ALS.  He had lost track of his mentor and saw this as a second chance. This story resonates with many of us who has in our past someone who understood us when we were searching. Maybe it was a grandparent, a teacher, or just someone older who was wiser at the time.

Albom had taken his relationship with his favorite professor for granted since his collage days and when he learned of his terminal illness, he decided to visit him. The visits that followed helped Mitch see what really mattered. He found Morrie’s “belief in Humanity” as his most powerful lesson. He said that Morrie took nothing for granted and gave those who he spoke with his undivided attention. Morrie said that “Love is the only rational answer” and that was always clear from his communication.

The book starts out with the first chapter telling us by its title, “The Curriculum”, much of what the book tells us.  The chapter starts out: “The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast.  The subject was The Meaning of Life (see post on this). It was taught from experience.”

Albom said that “if Professor Morris Schwartz taught me anything at all, it was this: there is no such thing as “too late” in life. He was changing until the day he said good-bye.”   As the book winds up, we are told “the teaching goes on.”

Quotes

“Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.” 

“Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another” 

My Secret Life on the McJob, by Jerry Newman

download.jpg

Jerry M. Newman, Ph.D., Professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management worked undercover, over a 14-month period, in seven fast food restaurants across the country, observing operations. He felt that fast food chains were the perfect petri dishes for undercover research, having high pressure, high volume, high turnover and a pecking order that was clear from the preparation table up to the store manager.

He worked at 6 franchise owned stores, including Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and one corporate owned McDonald.  His findings may have been different in independent owned stores and small regional chains. 

Newman’s book, "My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons from Behind the Counter”, is characterized as a tell-all. The work force he studied really is different and the book opens our eyes to a different side of day to day work relationships.

Newman said: “My research strongly suggests that recognition for a job well done by the store manager was found to be a highly valued as a reward by employees, but the store managers were not authorized to give bonuses and raises were often 10 to 20 cents an hour. The most helpful reward an employee could receive from the store manager was to be given more work hours a week.  (When your only work reward is to work more then something is wrong with the basic work & pay model)

Newman said: In three of my jobs I spent the first day watching training DVD’s and he was critical of that process of training saying it was boring. The segment on hand washing was typical, showing an employee spending 10 minutes on hand washing with the heavy focus on the process rather than the why.  It would have been interesting to have feedback on whether the employees really did wash their hands.   

Newman said most of the stores had significant numbers of employees from minority groups and most stores didn’t practice racial discrimination, but they didn’t practice “inclusion” either. (Isn’t inclusion a tool of discrimination?) Individual differences just didn’t work well in stores that have a one size fits all layout and procedure manual.  

Some racial problems were the result of the managers work assignments when one group consistently got undesirable assignments. The conclusion that the fast food industry strives for diversity in its work force just assumes the motive is doing what is right and ignores the reality of why it may be driven by “what will work and what won’t.”

download.jpg

The book presents an employee view of a challenging work environment and can be of value in finding ways to motivate and create a positive work environment. The overall conclusion was that morale and motivation in these types of stores was mostly the result of the store manager. Small adjustments by the store manager in management style resulted in positive changes and big differences. (Doesn’t this suggest too much on the store managers shoulders ?) Some stores were great, and they had great managers. Some were not great at all.

(The book left me wondering how a white collage professor in these type of stores really got the real feel of the environment, but he seems to believe he did?)

Running Blind, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

download.jpg

Reacher starts out helping a restaurant owner in New York avoid the extortion tactics of a local gangs. What he did comes to the attention to the FBI, but they have another important crime to solve

Retired from the Army and living alone, Amy Callan and Lieutenant Caroline Cook are found dead in their own home, in baths filled with Army-issue camouflage paint and with their bodies completely unmarked.

The FBI’s psychological profile expert is convinced, and has convinced her coworkers, that Jack Reacher had motive and was guilty of killing Amy and Caroline. It seems like an astounding conclusion at first, but she has facts that the FBI help her make work. When it is finally clear that he didn’t do it, the FBI frames and threatens him into helping them.

What have these women have in common, and why is someone out to do them harm, is where Reacher starts when he agrees to help, but he indeed seems to be, as the book title suggests, “Running Blind”?  

This is book #4 in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and Jack is trying to decide what to do with house he inherited and a young woman he has loved since childhood from book #3. Either of these books could stand alone and hold your interest but the resolution to these questions is welcomed in this book.

The plot twists and turns with his search for the killer but this book stands out from the 15 others I have read before reading and reviewing this book. The puzzle of who the killer is and how it was done is fascinating.

 True to form for a Lee Child plot and a book you will not want to put down, of course.

 

The Pilgrim’s Regress, by C.S. Lewis

images.jpg

The Pilgrim's Regress is a book of allegorical fiction by C. S. Lewis. This style of writing uses symbolic figures, events and actions to convey complex meanings. An allegorical figure is a character that is an important person in the story and represents abstract meanings or ideas.

The novel was Lewis’s first work published by after his conversion and is a record of his own search for meaning and spiritual satisfaction—a search that eventually led him to Christianity.

His fictional plot, much like the 17th century novel Pilgrim Progress by John Bunyan’s novel, was also searching the current days philosophical landscape through a search for the Island, or destination, of his desire. The difference in the politics, ideologies, and principles of the early 20th century as seen by Lewis showed the modern phoniness, and hypocrisy of the Christian church, Communism, Fascism, and other movements.

His search represented by pilgrim John was to an enchanting island which created in him an intense longing and desire. His search lead to meeting such people as Mr. Enlightenment, Media Halfways, Mr. Mammon, Mother Kirk, Mr. Sensible, and Mr. Humanist and through such cities as Thrill and Eschropolis as well as the Valley of Humiliation.

 Lewis's allegory enabled the author to confirm, using fantasy, his belief in Christianity.

see Literary Favorite Section for more about C.S. Lewis and also links to all the books reviewed on this site by him. click here

Quotes

“Be sure it is not for nothing that the Landlord has knit our hearts so closely to time and place – to one friend rather than another and one shire more than all the land.” 

“The great art of life is to moderate our passions. Objects of affection are like other belongings. We must love them enough to enrich our lives while we have them, not enough to impoverish our lives when they

“What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.” 

“There is no excess of goodness. You cannot go too far in the right direction.” 

Kill Me If You Can by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

download.jpg

My own purpose in reading “Kill Me If You Can” was to have a reading experience with James Patterson since I had not read one of his books before. I didn’t pay enough attention to notice right off that the book is a Patterson-Karp collaboration which means I am not sure what I really got.

The plot holds your attention and the story is a fast read. It starts out with an attempted assassination by a hit man known as the Ghost in New York City’s Grand Central Station. The Ghost, considered the world’s best assassin, killed his target but the diamonds were stashed somewhere first and not recovered.

Matthew Bannon is a local art student and he appears to just find the diamonds in an open locker and walk away with them. He takes them home and tells his art professor girlfriend they have tickets to Paris. The extravagant getaway finds itself the focus of two different hired killers with instructions for find Bannon and kill him. The Ghost is expected to redeem himself and find Bannon but now a women assassin has been added to the chase.

Martha Krall is beautiful, intelligent and she is deadly. She resents the Ghost’s involvement and is jealous of his reputation so she was especially happy to learn that besides Bannon she would get a bonus if she also killed the Ghost.

Does Steven King, Dean Koontz or Lee Child have a lot to worry about in being ranked against James Paterson for writing? I am not saying he isn’t a great writer and he has an impressive record, but he is not in the top three on this list nor would I say he is officially number four either.

Down The Long Hills, by Louis L'Amour

download.jpg

It was early in the morning and 3-year-old Betty Sue had left camp following 7-year-old Hardy, who had gone out early to look for his stallion, Big Red, who he had failed to tie up the night before and was missing.

After they had left camp Comanches came, attacked their camp and killed Betty Sue’s mother and father as well as everyone in the camp.  I was a quick raid made to take the horses and anything else of value, including food and weapons.

Hardy thought he had heard a scream and he left Betty Sue and returned to camp, but no one was left alive.  The only thing he found of value were a few cans of food and he took them back to where Betty Sue was.  They were alone and winter was coming soon, the only thing they could do was to try to find someone, somewhere, who could help and to try to go further West.

Big Red had come back but without a saddle all Hardy could do was lift Betty Sue to ride and they started out on the trail going West. Hardy had a knife and the few cans of food. They had nothing else but the cloths on their backs. O yes, Hardy had what he had learned in his young life from his father who was a long way from the camp and was not coming back soon.  Hardy knew that eventually he would return and that he would look for them if they could survive.

Along the trail west they were followed by Indians who wanted Big Red, and savage outlaws who also wanted the very impressive horse. The weather and the wild animals were also threats.

L’Amour makes us feel we are inside the story, he makes us care that Hardy and Betty Sue survive. We are pulled into the their struggle and it is like we are on the trail moving across Wyoming towards the Wind River Range, the South Pass, Beaver Creek and the landmarks that are still there today.

Quotes

“Hardy had learned in a hard school, where the tests are given by savage Indians, by bitter cold, by hunger. These were tests where the result was not just a bad mark if one failed. The result was a starved or frozen body somewhere, forgotten in the wilderness.” 

See more on Louis L’Amour in Literary Favorite section Plus Links to his books reviewed

 

A Wanted Man, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

download.jpg

“Wanted Man”, book 17 in the Jack Reacher series, starts out with Reacher standing on an eastbound interstate ramp late at night looking for a ride back to Virginia. He had been interested in a women’s voice on the phone in a prior book and wanted to go see what she looked like.

He waited exactly 93 minutes before a car stopped containing two men and a woman. It turns out that the men, Alan King and Don McQueen, are kidnappers and the women, Karen Delfuens, is actually a hostage and terrified waitress whose car they have hijacked.

The kidnappers were running from the scene where they had murdered a man at an abandoned pump station in the middle of nowhere, a crime to which several Federal agencies were quickly reacting to. Julia Sorenson, an F.B.I. special agent from Omaha was called in to investigate the potential interstate crime when the kidnapping is learned about.

The kidnapping leads Sorenson to Reacher. She is as smart and methodical, as he is, and he convinces her that whatever is unfolding, he and she should be on the same side.

The trail leads, eventually, to a secret fortified bunker and Reacher must break in to get to the real bad guys.  The plot changes direction from a simple kidnapping and again Child, the master of plot, holds our interest to the end.

Quotes

“I don't want to put the world to rights... I just don't like people who put the world to wrongs.” 

“Reacher said, "So here's the thing Brett. Either you take your hand off my chest, or I'll take it off your wrist.” 


“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” 

“Never forgive, never forget. Do it once and do it right. You reap what you sow. Plans go to hell as soon as the first shot is fired. Protect and serve. Never off duty.” 

“No, I'm a man with a rule. People leave me alone, I leave them alone. If they don't, I don't

Old Friend From Far Away, The Practice of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg

download.jpg

Natalie Goldberg said of her book “Old Friend From Far Away”: “The experience I’ve had with writing this book has deepened over the months. Continually accessing my own storehouse of memories, I’ve found that the things usually lost in the busyness of day to day life have instead become part of my life now, enriching me tremendously. The practice itself has become the end, the reason for doing it.”

The book offers new perspective on memoir suggesting that it doesn’t have to be confined to one place, or series of events, but can be organized around themes in your life, challenges you have faced, and recurring patterns. Rather than teaching how to write a memoir it shows how to recover your memory through the practice of writing.

Goldberg tells us that to “write memoir, we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, the book guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory.”  

She uses writing to explain how we can learn to connect with our senses in order to find the detail and truth in our memories.  We not only learn to find the truth but how to free ourselves from our past and change the way we think of ourselves and our lives. Thirty plus years ago her book “Writing Down The Bones” sold over one million copies and broke ground writing about with its view of writing as a Zen practice and this book still holds that view.

This is not a how to book but a book about who we are that is well worth reading.

click here to link to review of Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Quotes

“Too often we take notes on writing, we think about writing but never do it. I want you to walk into the heart of the storm, written words dripping off hair, eyelids, hanging from hands.” 

“The things that make you a functional citizen in society - manners, discretion, cordiality - don't necessarily make you a good writer. Writing needs raw truth, wants your suffering and darkness on the table, revels in a cutting mind that takes no prisoners...” 

“It is our hope that writing releases us. Instead maybe it deepens the echo. We call out to our past and the call comes back. We are alone--and not alone.”