Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Recent Reads (October-November-December)

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's QuickLit - short reviews of books we've read lately.

It's been a couple of months since I last wrote anything on the blog. With respiratory illnesses to overcome, a couple of birthday parties (not mine) to organise, a running race ro crew in, and all kinds of other activities, I've had some time for reading but little time and energy to write.

Kayla Aimee: Anchored - Finding Hope in the Unexpected

This is a memoir by a mom who gives birth to a preemie daughter (at 24 weeks). I love to read real life stories, and this one had me both laughing and crying. Faith tested, faith changed, challenges faced, all recounted with humour and honesty.
(But if you are pregnant right now, and already dealing with fears and mood swings, you might save this for later.)

Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

So now I've read it. Goes for the reading challenge category of the book everyone has read but you...  And though I can see why it's been so popular, I don't have much to say about it, I haven't "KonMaried" my belongings, and I'm not likely to in the near future. Good basic principles of deciding what to keep (rather than focus on what to discard), though. 

Gaston Dorren: Lingo: A Language Spotter's Guide To Europe

Fun reading for language geeks.
You definitely don't need to be a linguist to enjoy these histories and peculiarities of various European languages.

Brennan Manning: All Is Grace (A Ragamuffin Memoir)

The bottom line of Manning's message is God's unconditional grace and love, and that's also illustatred by his colourful life and this memoir that certainly does not try to hide his weaknesses and faults. Moving and touching.

Kate Hannigan: The Detective's Assistant

Historical fiction for aimed mainly for young readers. A young, plucky orphan girl goes to live with her aunt in 1800's Chicago. The aunt's character is based on a real person: Kate Warne, the first female detective in the USA. The Aunt is busy with her important and sometimes pretty dangerous work and she is not at all happy to have her niece thrust upon her, but young Nell eventually becomes quite an assistant, as the title implies.
I chose this for the reading challenge category of "book you read because of its cover" - the cover really caught my eye on the "New Titles" shelf of our library's children's department - but I ended up being delighted with the story, too.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Recent Good Reads, October

I was suprised how many good books I've read since the previous Quick Lit.

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy - the monthly link-up for short reviews.

Caroline Moorehead: Village of Secrets. Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

Moorehead has written a thoroughly researched and apparently fairly balanced account of what happened on the plateau Vivarais-Lignon during World War II. It's a remarkable story - many outstanding individuals but also just many 'unnamed', quiet people in the background, all working more or less together to save and protect Jews.

This is an intensive read. Not just the subject matter - it's also hard to keep up with all the people and the parallel storylines in the book. Lessons on the power of faith and the power of a community acting together are on offer. And a lot to ponder: "What would I do if facing choices like this?" (Just the thought of having to send my 10-year-old away to be cared for by strangers, because that was the only way to save his life... shudder.)

Apparently, many people who only want to see a part of the story haven't liked the way Moorehead presents various, even conflicting viewpoints. Here's a piece by the author about it.

Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Col. Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space and command the International Space Station. But those are just a couple of highlights, and most of his life has been on Earth. In this memoir, Hadfield is also trying to explain what it takes to become an astronaut (a lot) and how to think like an astronaut. 

I really enjoyed this and would recommend this without hesitation to anyone who has even the slightest interest in space exploration. Or to teens who are trying to sort out possible career choices (even if their dreams have nothing to do with space exploration), because most of the principles in Hadfield's "thinking like an astronaut" are very applicable to life on Earth, whatever you do. 

Hanspeter Nüesch: Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple

This is not a biography as such - the book is organised around topics, not chronologically. There are plenty of anecdotes, photos and quotes; Nüesch has done a thorough job of interviewing people and going through books, newspaper and magazine articles, Billy's and Ruth's speeches and writings, etc.

If you want to know what Ruth and Billy Graham thought about various issues, how they came to think the way they did, and how their principles and convictions played out in practice, this is a good book to read. I enjoyed getting some insight into how the Grahams' marriage and family life worked.

I also felt that the book was not trying to put its subjects on a pedestal. Just the opposite: the emphasis was on God's grace and mercy, which the Grahams knew they themselves needed every day, all the time. And that made this book even more inspirational. Glory to God, not to the people.

Gretchen Rubin: Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

I wasn't quite as impressed with this book as I expected to be. Maybe it's just the timing - I'm not feeling particularly keen to analyse and improve my everyday habits, even though I realize there's room for improvement.

The positives: I like Rubin's style of writing, very readable, and it's nice that she keeps giving personal examples from her own life and the lives of people around her.

In the end, though, I'm left with the hard work of thinking how this all could be applied to my real life, and right now, it's easier to close the book, return it to the library and leave it at that. Maybe I'll put this down on the list of "books to read when I feel energetic enough to actually apply them"?

Diana Webster: Finland Forevermore. Helsinki 1953-1963.

This is a memoir of Diana Webster's first decade teaching at the English Department of Helsinki University. More than the university, though, it's about life in Finland at the time, as experienced by an expatriate Brit. She also tells how she started working on radio and television productions alongside her teaching career.

I found this both very interesting and also very funny. Oh how much life has changed in the decades after this period, both at the university and in the Finnish society overall.

Of course for me there's the personal angle of remembering Mrs Webster fondly from my university days (she was still teaching there in the early 1990's) but I'm sure that other readers will appreciate this memoir, too, even if they've never heard about her or met her. I can also recommend her memoir of her first year in Finland, Finland Forever, as well as the book she wrote with her daughter Victoria, called So Many Everests.

A collection of 13 short stories by 13 different authors. All stories are about strong girls or women and real historical events. The website says this was "intended for readers of 9+ years."

It was OK; I liked some stories much better than some others but mostly enjoyed them all.

A side note, if you're thinking of giving this to a young reader: In many stories, people die. Even sympathetic characters. That's real history, of course, but still, I don't know how well I would have handled that as a sensitive 9-year-old (for me, this would have been much better at 12+). Just be aware; you'll know your young reader best.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

New on the Stack from September

Library stack:

Hanspeter Nüesch: Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple

Why: Found this on our library's list of new acquisitions as a Finnish translation and clicked myself into the queue for it immediately. I've read Billy Graham's autobiography many years ago, but not so much about Ruth Graham. 

NB: This is not really a traditional (chronological) biography; the book explores what Ruth and Billy Graham thought and believed about various topics, how they put their convictions into practice and what their legacy and influence has been. Sounded very interesting to me.

Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Why: No idea how this ended up on my TBR list, but I'm glad it did. It's mostly a memoir, and also a guide to thinking like a good astronaut. ("Sweat the small stuff." "Aim to be a zero." "What's the next thing that could kill me?")

Daughters of Time (An Anthology from the History Girls

Why: I needed a book of short stories for the HELMET reading challenge. This was one of the most interesting that came up in my library database search: 13 stories, historical fiction about girls/women based on real events, and all written by different authors.

Other additions:

Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken

This one moved into my stack now that my husband has read it. It just has to wait until I get the library books out of the way...

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

September QuickLit - some recent reads

Päivi Laitinen: Pieni pyörä preerialla (A Little Bike on the Prairie)

For those readers who aren't fluent in Finnish: I'm so sorry this book is not likely to become available in English. :)

At the time Päivi Laitinen cycled across the USA on the TransAmerica Trail route by Adventure Cycling Association, she was a 48-year-old journalist taking a leave of absence from a Finnish small-town newspaper. Even though the book looks a bit "self-published" visually, the text shows that she's a professional writer. She gives the essential flavours of the places she visits, some local background history/stories, some significant details, and it's like you'd seen it yourself. (And she also has the professional writer's knack for leaving things out so that reader doesn't get too tired.) Such a fun book.

And as she cycled the flat straight roads of Kansas, she had plenty of time to think how to put her experience into one sentence. And this is what she came up with (my translation): "USA is a big and hot place with horses, nice people - and all too many hills!"

Joseph Loconte: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War. How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis rediscovered faith, friendship, and heroism in the cataclysm of 1914-1918

Mostly, I picked the book based on the cover and the title. And those made me want to learn more about how J.R.R. Tolkien's and C.S. Lewis's experiences of WW1 influenced their views and writing. However, I was a little disappointed, feeling that I didn't learn much new. (If you have read quite a bit about WW1 and if you have read Tolkien's and/or Lewis's biographies, be forewarned.) I'm not saying it's not a good read, but maybe I'm not enough of a Tolkien/Lewis fan to 'love' this book.

So, Tolkien kept his Christian faith despite the war making many of his generation more cynical. C.S. Lewis actually became a Christian much later, and you can't say the war made him lose his faith nor to rediscover it. What they "gained" from the war was knowing the kind of fellowship that develops between people who fight together, and those deep friendships are a big part of their stories. The author also points out that they didn't lose the hope that there are things worth fighting for, though war and fighting is not glorified in their fiction. The gritty and gruesome realities of war are more subdued and hinted at in Lewis's Narnia (after all it's written for children) and more horribly realistic in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Their heroes don't enjoy fighting, but they get on with what has to be done.

Joni Eareckson Tada: A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty

I haven't quite finished this one yet, as I'm savouring it slowly. If anyone, Joni Eareckson Tada is well qualified to write about this topic. It's not just the decades of quadriplegia, but also the more intense chronic pain that she has suffered (apparently this book was written before she had the breast cancer, too, because she doesn't mention it).

With all her personal experiences of suffering, she's definitely been asking lots of questions and also looking for answers in Scripture. None of her conclusions are drawn lightly or superficially. I love the way this book makes me think and points me towards God.

This is her conclusion about healing: God reserves the right to heal or not... as He sees fit.

Definitely, if you want to read a good book on the issues of suffering, faith etc., put this book on your reading list, now. :)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

New on the Stack - August additions

August and September have been busy months. Work, school, everything gets going again after the summer breaks.

I got some new books to read, though. Linking up with Sheila at the Deliberate Reader - I'm sort of late for link-up but she gracefully keeps it open for us slow bloggers, too :)

Here are the library books:

Caroline Moorhead: Village of Secrets. Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

Why: Caught my eye among the new library books. World War II history.

Joseph Loconte: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War

Why: Caught my eye... was hoping to get new perspectives on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, considering how influential their books have been.

Griff Rhys Jones: To the Baltic with Bob

Why: Having read Rhys Jones's book on British rivers, I thought I'd give this older travel book a go.

Päivi Laitinen: Pieni pyörä preerialla (A Little Bike on the Prairie)

Why: Cycling across the USA? Sounds interesting! This Finnish woman cycled the TransAmerica Trail cycling route by Adventure Cycling Association - i.e. from Virginia to Oregon. What a journey. I like the way she writes about the places, the people she met, and her own feelings and experiences on the route.
While cycling, she pondered how to put her experience into one sentence, and this is what she came up with: "USA is a big and hot place with horses and nice people - and all too many hills!"

Kindle Purchases 

I was paying attention to special offers and bought three books:

Ed Cyzewski: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together

Why: Recommended by Anne at Modern Mrs Darcy.

Lysa Terkeurst: The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands

Why: I've read positive reviews and heard a couple of interviews with the author - interested enough to give it a go at $1,99...

Sara Korhnak & Beth Anne Schwamberger: Time Management Mama: Making Use of the Margins to Pursue your Passions

Why: This was offered free of charge, and the topic is spot on for my life right now - it wasn't a difficult decision to get it and see if there are some good ideas I could use.

Friday, 21 August 2015

A "Self-Portrait" in Books

My birthday was this week, and to celebrate it, here are 45 books I have loved during the past 45 years.

Because I'm limiting this list to books that are available in English, I've had to leave out a lot of my Finnish favourites, and so the "self-portrait" is not quite accurate. But it's a fair glimpse into my reading history and what sort of books appeal to me.

An another caveat: I didn't include the Holy Bible in this list. It's the book I read the most, but it's really in a category of its own.

Ten favourites from my childhood 

 A.A. Milne: Winnie-the-Pooh

Elisabeth Beresford: The Wombles

Kenneth Grahame: Wind in the Willows

Eleanor Estes: The Moffats

Astrid Lindgren: Vi På Saltkråkan (Seacrow Island)

Enid Blyton: the Adventure series

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little House in the Big Woods (and the series)

L.M.Montgomery: Rilla of Ingleside

L.M. Alcott: An Old-Fashioned Girl
James Aldridge: The Marvellous Mongolian

The last one gets to represent my horse phase. Most of the horse books I devoured were by Finnish or Swedish authors, probably not available in English.

From teen years and early twenties

Mary Stolz: By the Highway Home

John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley

J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings

Douglas Adams: The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

Fynn: Mister God, This is Anna

It was difficult to think back to those years. I know I read a lot, but what did I enjoy the most? I must have forgotten many good books, but if I remember a book as a significant reading experience about thirty years later, it must have been important.

Jane Austen - and other fiction favourites from the last two decades

Jane Austen: Persuasion

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen: Mansfield Park

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen: Emma

Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time

Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night

C.S. Lewis: The Screwtape Letters

Adrian Plass: The Sacred Diary of of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4 (and the entire series)

Adrian Plass: Stress Family Robinson (and its sequel, The Birthday Party)

Jeff Lucas: Helen Sloane's Diary (and its sequel, Up Close and Personal)
Robinson, Marilynne: Gilead

For all other authors, just one favourite book (or series) has to represent them. But Jane Austen and Adrian Plass are special.

A bunch of biographies and other Christian non-fiction

Sheldon Vanauken: A Severe Mercy

Joni Eareckson: Joni

Corrie ten Boom: The Hiding Place

Norman Grubb: Rees Howells: Intercessor

Brother Andrew: God's Smuggler

Elisabeth Elliot: Through Gates of Splendour

J. Gunnar Olson: Business Unlimited

Nick Vujicic: Life without Limits

Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyt, Prophet, Spy

Karen Swallow Prior: Fierce Convictions

C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

John White: The Fight

Loren Cunningham: Making Jesus Lord

Jennifer Saake: Hannah's Hope

Tim Kimmel: Grace-Based Parenting

The last category was a hard one to select and limit. I've read so much. I tried to pick those books that meant a lot to me at the time I read them and that have stayed with me a long time after I read them; the ones I'd recommend and buy as presents to others etc. But I could have added many others, too. (And again it's not the full picture, because many influential books have been by authors whose works have not been translated into English.)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Selected summer reading (August QuickLit)

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy to share our recent reads.

Jacqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

Life story in poems. Jacqueline Woodson writes about her family, about living as a child in South Carolina and then in New York, about being different (not just racial issues but also being raised as a Jehovah's Witness), and about finding her voice as a storyteller and writer.

So good to see the world from someone else's point of view.

Here's a little quote from one poem. It's about her finding a picture book at the library, "the picture book filled with brown people, more brown people than I'd ever seen in a book before."

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You're too old for this
I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.

Karen Ehman: Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All

A sensible, balanced look at using our words wisely. Many of the points and principles weren't exactly new to me, but served as a good reminder nevertheless. I also appreciated that Ehman's primary focus is not the mouth but the heart - examining the motives why we speak or don't speak - and that she writes candidly about her own struggles.

Jon Ronson: So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Ronson researches various kinds of public shame and humiliation and the way people have survived it - if they have survived it. He starts with a couple of cases where people have been humiliated on the social media. Since I don't use Twitter or Facebook (and don't live in North America), I had no idea of how far this can go and how much or little is needed to spark it.

As a look into the darker sides of social media and our modern culture, this book is fascinating and not a little frightening.

Rob Lilwall: Walking Home from Mongolia: ten million steps through China, from the Gobi Desert to the South China Sea

Lilwall is a Brit but his home is now in Hong Kong. Thus, walking home from Mongolia means walking through China. Lots of arduous effort, plenty of comical moments, some serious thoughts and a good dose of self-deprecating British humour. 

Griff Rhys Jones: Rivers: a voyage into the heart of Britain

Griff Rhys Jones made a TV series about British rivers and wrote a book about the experience. Apparently, the point of the series was to explore the history and the present day of the rivers as well as to entertain the audience by putting Jones into all kinds of difficult, risky and potentially funny situations in various means of transportation. Jones writes with a wry sense of humour and if you want to learn about history and geography, you'll get that, too.

Monday, 3 August 2015

New on the Stack in July

June was all about reading the books I had been 'saving for later' earlier in the year, but in July I went to the other extreme...

Linking up with Sheila at the Deliberate Reader.

Travel books galore

I got a lot of travel books, all for pretty much the same reason: they looked interesting, and reading a good travel book is a bit like taking a trip yourself.

Christopher Somerville: The golden step: a walk through the heart of Crete

Somerville is a travel writer, but this time he went to Crete to travel for pleasure, not for work. (It was sort of a 50th birthday gift from his wife.) It is apparent that he knows the country pretty well from previous visits, but on this walking trip, he also finds places and experiences that are new to him.

Rob Lilwall: Walking Home from Mongolia: ten million steps through China, from the Gobi Desert to the South China Sea

I enjoyed Lilwall's earlier book (Cycling Home from Siberia). This sounded just as promising. I like his blend of British humour, funny adventures and heart-searching.

Walking through China is something I am not likely to attempt myself, ever - so I'm glad I can read about someone else taking on the adventure.

  Griff Rhys Jones: Rivers: a voyage into the heart of Britain

Griff Rhys Jones writes about making a TV series on British rivers. 
(I haven't seen the series, but the book makes it sound pretty interesting.)

A mixture of history, geography, adventures with various means of transportation etc., humour, personal reminiscences... And a dog named Cadbury. :) (A chocolate Labrador. Of course.)

Not just travel - expatriate experiences

All borrowed from the library.
Why: As with travel books, I find it interesting to learn more about other countries through someone's personal experiences.

 Mailis Hudilainen: Minu Peterburi
 Ede Schank Tamkivi: Minu California

Two books from the same series: Estonian expats write about their experiences in a particular place. These ones are about St Petersburg and California. (I've never been to California, and the last time I was in St Petersburg, it was still called Leningrad...)

Saara Ojanen: Mekongin mutkassa (Along the Mekong river)

A Finnish NGO worker's experiences in Cambodia, from the 1980's to the present days. I know very little about Cambodia, and hope to learn more from this book.

Other library finds

 Susan Cain: Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Why: I'm an introvert, and I was interested in this book after reading many recommendations. My thoughts on the book here.

Jacqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

Why: This caught my eye in the new titles list at the library website, probably because I've read some very positive reviews on it. (Moreover, I was glad to find a poetry book for the reading challenges - this is "a genre I don't typically read.")

Kindle purchases
I snapped up a couple of special offers:

Rachel Friedman: The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure

Why: Sounded intriguing. (See other travel and expat books...)

Karen Ehman: Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All

Why: I listened to an interview with Karen Ehman about choosing our words wisely on the Focus on the Family Daily podcast during our holiday trip. (Talk about good timing...) 
I know this is a topic I really need to think about more. 

Joni Eareckson Tada: A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty

Why: I'm sure that what Joni Eareckson Tada has to say on this topic is worth reading.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Thoughts on Quiet

I've read some glowing reviews about Susan Cain's Quiet - it seems to be a book that many American introverts find liberating or empowering. Along the lines of "I didn't know it was OK to be the way I am but then I read this book."

For me, a Finnish introvert, this book is not so much an insight into my own personality but an eye-opener into American culture. As I was reading the book, I marvelled at the differences between my home country and the American culture. I have not had to 'fake' extroversion to the extent described by Cain, even if I have sometimes felt a pressure to be less shy (but shyness is not the same as introversion).

In Finland, introvert personality traits are seen as normal. Cain even mentions Finland as a "famously introverted nation." Perhaps the extroverts have felt more out of place here, and their behaviour has been viewed as more problematic at school and at some workplaces. (Actually, in a recent article in Helsingin Sanomat (link in Finnish only), the Finnish extroverts interviewed talk of those kinds of experiences.)

Cain contrasts the American extrovert culture to Asian cultures, represented by her Asian-American interviewees. She connects their respect for quietness and introversion to the high value they place on being a member of a community and maintaining harmony within the community. Conversely, the Extrovert Ideal seems to go hand in hand with Western individualism: "Westerners value boldness and verbal skill, traits that promote individuality."

But in Finland, this equation does not hold. We can be both fiercely independent and individualistic as well as introvert. Stereotypical Finns are loners who prefer to set up their homes in the wilderness, miles away from the next neighbour. We tend to love uncrowded places. Of course a lot of us have become city dwellers - and we can live in a community and value it and behave politely with one another - but wherever you live, it's normal to want solitude in order to recharge.

The traditional image of a powerful Finnish businessman is a quiet man who only speaks when he has something important to say. (As a side note: The Finnish Silent Strength has been traditionally more associated with men.) Slick talkers have been viewed with skepticism and suspicion. Of course, the gift of the gab is alright for people who want to entertain others, for example comedians or salespeople at their market stalls who are trying to attract more customers... But if you want to be taken seriously, speak less and be matter-of-fact: let your facts speak for themselves.

But along the traditional Silent Strength, the Culture of Personality and the Extrovert Ideal have slowly entered Finland, too. Partly through the American-made entertainment we have so eagerly consumed, partly through the globalization of business? More and more Finns find themselves trying to sell their products, ideas and services to American businesspeople, and then they realize that facts do not, after all, always speak for themselves. Something else is needed to succeed outside Finland.

Reading Cain's book made me wonder what will happen to the Finnish Silent Strength. From her description, it seemed to me that the Finnish traditional culture is/was not very different from what the American was before the Culture of Personality took over. And now, even here, the Culture of Personality is a growing trend. People are posting their vlogs on YouTube, participating in reality TV shows, hoping to become famous.

I can't imagine us changing as a nation so completely that we'd adopt the Extrovert Ideal to the extent that Cain depicts. Would it be possible for Finland to find some kind of golden mean? To be a culture where both introverts and extroverts can thrive, find themselves accepted and appreciated?

I hope so.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Summer reading (July QuickLit)

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's QuickLit to share short reviews of what we've been reading lately. 

Summer has been unusually cold and rainy around here. We've been alternating between work and holidays, home and travelling, and I've finally had time to read many of the books I have bought months ago and saved for later.

Most of the books I've read are non-fiction, but these stories are more compelling, exciting and engrossing than many novels I can think of. Seriously, it's hard to find novels that I'd enjoy as much as these... 

Ken Tada, Joni Eareckson Tada & Larry Libby: Joni & Ken. An Untold Love Story.

Most (at least Western?) Christians know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. Fewer, perhaps, know her husband. As Joni comments in the acknowledgements section of the book, most of the "untold" part of this love story is Ken's part - he has stayed in the background, while Joni has been a public figure, telling her story in books, talks, broadcasts, etc.

Joni's breast cancer story is a big part of the book. That overwhelming health challenge - on top of quadriplegia and chronic pains - actually brought Joni and Ken closer together, as Ken became more involved in Joni's health care than before. Strangely, the cancer 'gave' them more time together, better communication, more intimacy, and even stronger mutual trust and respect than earlier.

One of the book's messages is that a 'fairly good' marriage can become better - lots better. And that good relationships don't just happen - that it takes conscious effort from both to be open and to extend grace to one another.

As for the rest - read it for yourself, it's worth it :) A hopeful story.

Derek and Lydia Prince: Appointment in Jerusalem

Old "Christian classic" memoir that a friend recommended to me. 
Lydia Christensen, a well-to-do schoolteacher in Denmark, sought for life's meaning, encountered God in a dynamic way - and felt led to go to Jerusalem. There, she became a foster mother to a baby girl who was nearly dying, and she experienced a lot of challenges as well as miraculous answers to prayer. (The events in the book took place in the 1920's and 30's.)
A riveting story.

Eric Metaxas: Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

William Wilberforce was a truly fascinating person. And Metaxas is a skillful writer: he tells Wilberforce's story in an entertaining way, with many enlivening details and witty commentary. He also gives enough background of the time period to help me understand how and why Wilberforce was significant and extraordinary (and in which things he was a more typical representative of his time).
An interesting story.

Kara Tippetts: The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard

Kara's life story, focused on Jesus: how Kara found and met God's grace in many hardships. The most touching parts, for me, were her thoughts on how her cancer was impacting her children and how to talk with the kids about it. 

Honest and beautiful book.

I did read a bit of fiction, too:
Katherine Reay: Dear Mr Knightley
A modern retelling of Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs. If you're familiar with that story (as I was), you'll probably enjoy noticing the parallels and picking up clues along the way. 
The character of the heroine, Sam, and certain plot twists required a bit of willing suspension of disbelief from me, and I didn't mind that. The novel was entertaining and engaging enough to keep me reading way past my normal bedtime.
(And of course I appreciated the literary quotations and allusions, especially the Austen ones...)

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

New on the Stack, May Additions

In May, we shopped for some graduation presents from the CLC web shop and ended up buying a couple of books for ourselves, too. Does that ever happen to you?

Ken Tada, Joni Eareckson Tada & Larry Libby: Joni & Ken. An Untold Love Story.
Why: I wanted to read this, and I have an inkling it'll be one of those books I want to own so I can lend it out to friends and re-read. (I've enjoyed all the earlier books by Joni Eareckson Tada that I've read.)

 Eric Metaxas: Amazing Grace
Why: After reading Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we know Metaxas is a good writer and we expect this to be a well-researched, insightful biography, too. Plus we're interested in learning more about William Wilberforce.

(I haven't started these yet - saving up for the summer holidays.)

Oh, but I mustn't forget:

How: Audio e-book, library loan
Why: I wanted an audio book for a long journey. (Unfortunately, motion sickness prevents me from reading on cars and buses, so I can't take advantage of travel time even if I'm not driving.)
Because I really like Gary Chapman's podcasts (Moody Radio: Building Relationships), I thought this would be an interesting book as well as a useful one. And yes, it is - at least as far as I've listened. I may have to buy it in print one day, as I don't have enough time to listen to it all the way through, now that the trip is over. It's yet another one of those books that I might want to re-read occasionally to remind myself of putting the good ideas in practice.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Young Women and War (May QuickLit)

Looks like I've been reading a lot about war lately... 
Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's QuickLit to share what we've been reading. Go there for lots of other book suggestions - not all about war.... :)

Judith Kerr: Out of the Hitler Time trilogy
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
  • The Other Way Round
  • A Small Person Far Away

Autobiographical fiction.

If you want to hear a really delightful author interview, click through to the BBC Bookclub podcast: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/bc/bc_20150201-1635a.mp3. The interview is mainly about the first novel in the trilogy, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. At 90+ years, Kerr is a bright, humorous and eloquent interviewee.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a children's novel that adults, too, can enjoy.
Anna, based on Judith Kerr herself, is nine years old and her brother Max a couple of years older, when their family has to flee from Berlin. This is in 1933, when the Nazis win the election; their father, a famous author, has been criticizing the Nazis in public. The family lives first in Switzerland, then in Paris, and at the end of the novel they move to London. The story shows how the children adapt to the new places and generally feel fairly secure as long as the family is together. For the children, refugee life can be hard but it's also an adventure.

I'm definitely going to give this to my son to read when it's time to process this period in history and/or talk about the themes of immigration and refugees. (According to the BBC interview, this book is assigned reading in German schools - one way to deal with the history.)

In the second novel, The Other Way Round, Anna and her family live through the second world war in Britain, mostly in London. Anna, 16 at the start of the novel, struggles to get a job, survives the Blitz, has her first crush/love and discovers her talents. This one is no longer a children's book, but I'd happily give it to a teen who wants to read about wartime life in London and the special challenges of being a refugee in a country at war.

The third one, A Small Person Far Away, finds Anna in her early thirties, recently married, living in London, and with an exciting new job at the BBC. But a phone call summons her to her mother's bedside - to Berlin. In Berlin, Anna faces complicated family relationships, suppressed childhood memories, ominous-sounding news from Suez and Hungary, etc. I think that adults will be more interested in the themes of this one.
(Warning: if suicide themes are a trigger for you, skip this book.)

So, all in all: I liked this trilogy. I loved the first part, which I vaguely remember reading in my childhood. The vivid descriptions of wartime London were really well done.

Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth

A young woman grows up in a provincial town in Edwardian England. She struggles to get to study at Oxford. And when she gets there, WW1 begins. Her only brother, her fiancee, and their friends who become her friends, too: all are swallowed up by the conflict. She puts her studies on hold and volunteers to nurse.

At the end, she is the sole survivor of the group. The war stole her youth and killed her friends, and her wartime experiences set her apart from all others when she goes back to Oxford to continue her studies. In a way, she has to build a completely new life for herself.

This book is partly Brittain's tribute to the young men who died, a way of keeping their memory alive. It also gives the perspective of women at war - a somewhat neglected perspective at the time, if I understand correctly. 
It's not an easy book to read - naturally, considering the subject matter. (And the length... 608 pages in this edition.) I am saddened by the way the war made Brittain into an agnostic/atheist, though I can understand her thought processes. Some parts sound especially poignant, considering that this was originally published in 1933, and a new worldwide conflict was just a few years ahead.

Monday, 4 May 2015

April additions - New on the Stack

Linking up with Sheila at the Deliberate Reader to share what we have added to our TBR stacks recently.  Go there for lots of great reading ideas.

My stack for April doesn't have a lot of titles...  

Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth
How: Library loan.
Why: Technically, this book is not completely new to me - I have read the book roughly twenty years ago, in my early twenties. It's a classic WW1 memoir from a young English woman's point of view, and having read other war stories, I wanted to revisit this one now.

Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park
How: Library loan.
Why: For the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge: "the book that 'everyone' has read but you." At least it seems that way.

Danny Gregory: Art Before Breakfast: a zillion ways to be more creative no matter how busy you are.
How: E-book library loan
Why: This is a book for people like me: I used to love drawing and it still gives me joy, but life seems to busy for me to take the time to draw. This book gives a lot of ideas for how make creating art a part of your everyday life, at least a little bit every day, just for the fun of it.
(It's a good book, but I haven't gone out and bought a sketch book yet.)

And some (children's) fiction in Finnish:

Silvia Rannamaa: Kadrin päiväkirja (Kadri's Diary)
How: Library loan.
Why: According to the cover, this is the first and one of the most popular Estonian teen novels for girls. A young girl's growth story in 1950's Estonia (under Soviet rule), originally published in 1959, this is both an inspirational story of overcoming the odds and also an interesting portrayal of the times - it's not only what is said but what an adult reader can read between the lines.
(I also appreciated the postface by the translator - good background info etc.)

Eva-Lis Wuorio: Salainen taistelu (in English, it's called To Fight in Silence)
How: Bought from a second-hand shop
Why: As a youg teen, I loved Eva-Lis Wuorio's book about children in Poland during WW2 and their participation in the resistance movement. (Code Polonaise in English.) This one is about children in Nazi-occupied Denmark and Norway during WW2. I don't remember if I read this book as a teen, but I'm planning to read it now. In a year or two, I'll probably give Wuorio's books to my son to read, too.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Reading Challenge Update (April)

It's been a long time since I last reported on my progress with the reading challenges. As I have already written about most of these books either in QuickLit or other posts, this is going to be just a list.

A Book by a Favorite Author
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

A Book I Should Have Read in High School: 
The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson.
This was assigned in many Finnish schools when I was a teen. I don't remember reading it - I might have, or maybe our school didn't do this one, I'm not sure.

A Book That's Currently on the Bestseller List: 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This one was number 3 on the New York Times list when I read it.

Now I've completed five out of twelve categories in the MMD challenge. Plenty more to read during the rest of the year...

#21 A book you should have read at school but didn't:
David Wilkerson: The Cross and the Switchblade

#11 The first book by a popular author and
#49: Detective or suspense novel:
Louise Penny: Still Light

#12 Written by your favourite author, but you haven't read this book before:
Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping

#6 The name of the book is just one word:
Micha Boyett: Found

#4 The author was under 25 when book was published:
Katie Davis: Kisses from Katie

#31 A self-help book:
Danny Gregory: Art before breakfast: a zillion ways to be more creative no matter how busy you are

In progress now:

#14 Based on real events AND #26 A trilogy:
Judith Kerr: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away.

#39 A book you remember from childhood (also for the MMD challenge)
F.H. Burnett: The Secret Garden

Out of the 50 categories in the challenge, I still have 23 that I haven't even started. In one way, being halfway through even though it's only April is good. On the other hand, some of the remaining categories are more difficult for me. (Set in my home town? Author with the same initials as mine?) I keep hoping that I'll bump into books that will fit the categories and that I also want to read. At the same time, I'm also reading books that don't fit any of the remaining categories. Can't help it - I can't ignore all the interesting books around me just because they don't fit into the challenge... :)

Friday, 17 April 2015

QuickLit in April

Wilkerson, Gwen: Abiding in His Strength

I've been reading several Wilkerson books lately. The first was Gary Wilkerson's biography of his dad David Wilkerson, and he also mentioned his mother Gwen Wilkerson's memoirs in the book. So I thought I'd really like to get her point of view, too.

Funny story: I got the book as a Finnish translation from the library. My 10-year-old saw it on my library bookshelf, then took me to the living room and showed me exactly the same book - the one that we own. My son knows our bookcases better than I do?

As for the book, excellent. She tells of her struggles candidly. Marital problems, Gwen's cancers (four times!) and the cancers of both her daughters. And through it all - Jesus.

Davis, Katie: Kisses from Katie

Katie's life has become very different from the usual path taken by her peers. After she graduated from high school, she went to Uganda to work with children. Now she's the adoptive/foster mother of 13 girls and they're serving the people around them as a family. Her ministry helps to sponsor poor children so they can go to school, get enough food, and have their medical needs taken care of.

Katie's youth and enthusiasm come through very clearly in this book. And her enthusiasm is catching. When one ordinary person says Yes to God's will, amazing things can happen. It isn't easy - Katie also tells honestly about the hardships and challenges - but it's worthwhile. God has given her a lot of love for the people around her.

My only problem with this book is that it occasionally feels a little repetitive - but it's still very much worth reading.

Bates, Laura: Shakespeare Saved My Life

How can reading Shakespeare save the life of a convicted killer?
Literature is powerful when you let it make you think.
And this one is definitely a thought-provoking read.

(I have to admit, I never got as much out of Shakespeare as the prisoners do in this book.)

This book was Overdrive's Big Library Read. I never participated in the discussion on that website, but they have good discussion questions if you want to use this in a book club. It would work pretty for that purpose, I think - lots to discuss. (But you might get a lively political debate on the U.S. prison system, too.)

Doerr, Anthony: All the Light We Cannot See

I don't have the words to review this book. And seeing how long it's been on the bestseller lists, I suppose many have already read it. :)

It's a great novel. An interesting perspective on WW2. Fascinating characters. Beautiful language. If any one of those sounds interesting to you, go read this book. :)