Monday, May 28, 2018

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

Author: Amanda Ripley

Pages: 232

Rating: G

How do other countries create “smarter” kids? What is it like to be a child in the world’s new education superpowers? The Smartest Kids in the World “gets well beneath the glossy surfaces of these foreign cultures and manages to make our own culture look newly strange....The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes” (The New York Times Book Review).

In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they’ve never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy. Inspired to find answers for our own children, author and Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embed­ded in these countries for one year. Kim, fifteen, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, eighteen, trades his high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, seventeen, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.

Through these young informants, Ripley meets battle-scarred reformers, sleep-deprived zombie students, and a teacher who earns $4 million a year. Their stories, along with groundbreaking research into learning in other cultures, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these countries had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. Things had changed. Teaching had become more rigorous; parents had focused on things that mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education.

My Thoughts: This book was incredible. I can hold my own in a heated conversation about what is wrong with the education system in our country. I have a lot of opinions and thoughts on the subject, so this book was right up my alley. Interestingly enough, this book didn't affirm all the opinions I already have. In fact, it challenged some of my ideas, and maybe even changed some of them!

For example, academic achievement actually has LESS to do with socioeconomic status and parent involvement than we may have thought. Yes, those things matter, but the author found that children living in poverty in Poland are still performing better than children in the US who live in similar conditions. A teacher in Finland says he tries as much as possible to ignore the various challenges of each student, because he finds when he treats them all the same, they tend to perform much better.

Other questions this book brought to light - In America, are we actually spending TOO MUCH on technology and other classroom toys that don't seem to actually make any kind of difference? Do we allow our schools to spend too much money and time on sports, instead of academics? Do we churn out too many teachers who aren't really all that qualified? What would happen if we truly had a common standard across the US of what kids should know in each grade? What would happen if instead of dumbing everything down, we instead increased rigor and expected MORE of our students?

One quote I loved towards the end "High school in Finland, Korea, and Poland had a purpose, just like high school football practice in America. There was a big, important contest at the end, and the score counted."

A fascinating aspect of a Finnish education was that almost half of kids there have received special education services by the time they turn 17. Children in special ed are seen as having temporary problems, not permanent setbacks, and all kids can improve. This actually reminded me of the attitude we had at the school I worked at for years. I worked helping kids who didn't qualify for special ed, but still needed help. Our goal was to get them out of our program as soon as possible. And not in like a hooray we got rid of that kid type of way, no. We saw it as they graduated and no longer needed our help and that was always a huge victory.

Lest you think this is just a book to make you feel worse about our education system, there's a handy appendix in the back listing things to look for in a good school. I found that really helpful and interesting, as actually most of the ideas are ones that I would not have considered.

I feel like this book should be required of every teacher, parent, administrator, and lawmaker! You won't regret reading this one, and it's not full of technical scientific jargon. I found it easy to read and keep reading. I was finished with it in 2 days.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Winter Garden

Author: Kristin Hannah

Pages: 391

Rating: PG-13 (There is some language, some sex is discussed as well. Mostly, it's just a very mature subject matter, I would rate it high school and above.)

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family business; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, these two estranged sisters will find themselves together again, standing alongside their disapproving mother, Anya, who even now offers no comfort to her daughters. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise: Anya will tell her daughters a story; it is one she began years ago and never finished. This time she will tell it all the way to the end. The tale their mother tells them is unlike anything they’ve heard before—a captivating, mysterious love story that spans more than sixty years and moves from frozen, war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska. Nina’s obsession to uncover the truth will send them all on an unexpected journey into their mother’s past, where they will discover a secret so shocking, it shakes the foundation of their family and changes who they believe they are.

My Thoughts: A good historical fiction novel always leads me to do my own research on the time period to learn more than I could from the book. This novel was no exception. I found myself on Google many times during and after my reading, looking up pictures, stories, facts, etc. This book is about Stalin - controlled Russia going into World War II, specifically the siege of Leningrad. I knew next to nothing about this subject before I started reading. Now, my curiosity has been awakened and I want to learn more!  I knew Stalin was bad, but I never really knew HOW bad. I had never read any accounts of what happened. Although this book is a work of fiction, it is historically accurate as far as the author could make it, and many (if not almost all) of Anya's experiences are things that happened to real people.

This book was truly moving, inspiring, all the other really good words you can use to describe a book. It was thought-provoking and it caused me to ponder and reflect on my life experiences and how they related to the lives of the characters. I almost always put this book down with a profound feeling of gratitude for the freedoms and luxuries I enjoy just because I live in the United States in the 21st Century.

This book is also about forgiveness, understanding, and being unafraid to love. It was just so so good. Highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Author: Brene Brown

Pages: 126

Rating: G

Summary: In this groundbreaking New York Times best seller, Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor and thought leader on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living - a way of engaging with the world from a  place of worthiness.

My Thoughts: Ok, I could NOT find a decent summary of this book. BUT, it was so good. This is the first Brene Brown book I've read and I LOVED it. I wish I had more time to look through it and highlight and specifically put things into action, but it has to go back to the library! HOWEVER, I love that at the end of each chapter, she lists 3 things to do to get going in making a change in your life. I love it! For reference sake, I will list the chapter titles so you can see how awesome this book is.

1. Courage, Compassion, and Connection: The Gifts of Imperfection
2. Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough
3. The Things that Get in the Way
4. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
5. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
6. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
7. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
8. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
9. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
             A favorite quote from this chapter was "There's no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don't. Unused creativity doesn't just disappear. It lives within us until it's expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear."
10. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
11. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
12. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and "Supposed to"
13. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and "Always in Control"

I really thought this book was excellent, and like I said, I wish I had more time with it to study it more in depth! Highly recommend.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Everything Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Pages: 306

Rating: PG-13 (There is no language, but there is a 2 page sex scene. Not overly graphic, but still somewhat descriptive)

Summary: Risk everything . . . for love.
What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In Everything, Everything, Maddy is a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she’s ever taken. 

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He's tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read (I read it in less than 2 days). It definitely moved quickly, was exciting, and fun! Although, it was one of those books that I wish could have been told from several different perspectives. I wanted Olly's thoughts, the mom's thoughts, etc. It was really good though. I wasn't super satisfied with the ending. I had questions that weren't answered. I wished there was an epilogue. I have not seen the movie. I may have to reserve it. I did like the book though.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dear Reader

Author: Mary O'Connell

Pages:  293

Rating: PG-13 (There is almost no language EXCEPT for one page in which there is a letter that one of the main characters wrote in which the F-word is used profusely. But the rest of the book is clean. There are mentions of teenage sex but no graphic descriptions).

For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn't show up to teach Flannery's favorite book, Wuthering Heights, leaving behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.
The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything―except Miss Sweeney's copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And good thing she does, because when she opens it, it has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney's real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City―and she's in trouble.
So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, incredibly smart―yet he's never heard of Albert Einstein or Anne Frank. In fact, Flannery can't help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë's novel. Could it be that Flannery is spending this topsy-turvy day with her ultimate fictional romantic hero, Heathcliff, reborn in the twenty-first century?

My Thoughts: I still can't 100% decide how I feel about this book. Was it fun? Yes. Was it addicting and difficult to put down? Also, yes. But, after it was finally over I kind of felt let down. Like...I just didn't get the resolution I was expecting. And it's not that it was just a different kind of ending, but still good, it was that I felt like it all wrapped up so quickly and nothing was really resolved. Maybe I just didn't get it. I don't know. I've never read Wuthering Heights, so maybe that made the difference. If you love that book, you'll probably like this one. I also thought it was a little bit melodramatic. The reviews on GoodReads are mixed. Some love it, some hate it, as is the case with any book. And although I definitely didn't hate it, I didn't love it either. Enjoyable, fun, but not life-changing. And I'm not running out to recommend it to the nearest stranger either.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Catch Me if You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake

Author: Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding

Pages: 293

Rating: PG - I was pleasantly surprised at how clean this book is. I had been worried that it might go into detail about some of his sexual encounters, but it never ever did. The most detailed it gets was once he says "We stopped at a cabin for the night and in the morning she was no longer a virgin." That's it. Also there is almost no language that I can remember.

Frank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters, and escape artists in history. In his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot's uniform and copiloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was twenty-one.

Known by the police of twenty-six foreign countries and all fifty states as "The Skywayman," Abagnale lived a sumptuous life on the lam--until the law caught up with him. Now recognized as the nation's leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale is a charming rogue whose hilarious, stranger-than-fiction international escapades, and ingenious escapes-including one from an airplane-make Catch Me If You Can an irresistible tale of deceit.

My Thoughts:  I devoured this book in just a couple of days! I have seen the movie several times and even still, the book was fascinating and held some surprises. Obviously, the movie embellished and changed a few things. A lot of it is very true to the actual story but some of it is different and there is also a lot MORE in the book. You can't cover everything in a 2 hour movie.

As I said above, I was pleasantly surprised by how clean this book is. There are no graphic sexual descriptions, and I don't remember encountering any language other than the occasional "damn".  This made the book incredibly addicting to read because I never got uncomfortable. There is also a neat little interview in the back where you learn even more inside information.

Not only was Abagnale smart, he was also incredibly lucky. He escaped more times than he should have done, flew under the radar for years, and just managed to always be in the right place at the right time. He even pulled off a bank robbery, completely alone, without guns or weapons of any kind, and without anyone even noticing until he was long gone.

Honestly I want to just start back at page one and read it again! Highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

And There Was Light

Author: Jaques Lusseyran

Pages: 282

Rating: PG (there is no language and he doesn't even ever get super descriptive about violence either. However, this is definitely an adult book because the writing is too...dense? for a younger audience. It's very deep and intense)

When Jacques Lusseyran was an eight-year-old Parisian schoolboy, he was blinded in an accident. He finished his schooling determined to participate in the world around him. In 1941, when he was seventeen, that world was Nazi-occupied France. Lusseyran formed a resistance group with fifty-two boys and used his heightened senses to recruit the best. Eventually, Lusseyran was arrested and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in a transport of two thousand resistance fighters. He was one of only thirty from the transport to survive. His gripping story is one of the most powerful and insightful descriptions of living and thriving with blindness, or indeed any challenge, ever published.

My Thoughts: I found this book...a little tough to get through. There is very little dialogue, and some of the philosophical ideas the author expounds upon went a bit over my head. The story was very interesting, that's for sure, but I felt like he spent way too much time on his childhood and very few pages on his work with the Resistance and subsequent imprisonment. I did enjoy the many reflections on how although he could not see with his eyes, he could still see in many other ways, and most of the time he did not consider himself handicapped at all. I think his general attitude about life is incredibly admirable and worth emulating. He also was one who survived the concentration camps by focusing on helping others instead of on his own difficulties. He fully believed in God the entire time, and realized the importance of just letting each moment of life be what it is and just accepting it.

I think in order to get the full effect of this book you have to pause a lot to reflect on what has just been said. It's not a book you can just read through quickly (like I did). It was definitely a different perspective than I have read before though and was very good!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Bookshop on the Corner

Author: Jenny Colgan

Pages: 332

Rating: PG-13 (there is sex at the end but it is not graphically described. I think 3 instances of the F-word, and one or two other swear words, but they are rare.)

Nina is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Thoughts: I highly enjoyed this book! Nina is a girl after my own soul. She loves to read, and basically has lived her life buried in books, until the library she works at closes, and she no longer has a job. So she follows what some feel is a ridiculous dream, and she moves up to Scotland with a big van full of books to sell. (She lived in England before). I have always wanted to visit Scotland, and the descriptions of the landscape, the people, and the view made me want it even more! There is quite a commentary going on about how living in a city we get too caught up in our own lives, in the screens in front of our faces, and fitting in. Out in the country, things are different. It makes one long for a visit!

At the bottom of it all, this book is really a romance, because as Nina learns more about herself and comes out of her shell, she does find love, but I won't give anything else away.

The one thing I don't like much about this book is the title. "The Bookshop on the Corner" makes me think of a little shop tucked away on a quiet corner of a busy street. But really she has a van and she calls it "The Little Shop of Happy Ever After" so...I'm not sure why that isn't the title of the book.

Also, so many other books are referenced in this one that it made me want to look all of them up! Although I did look up the most frequently referenced book, "Up on the Rooftops" and I don't think that's actually a real book. I think it was fabricated for the purpose of the story.

Anyway, it was a good read. Not too deep, but not boring, and how can you go wrong with a book about someone who loves books?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trilogy: The Kingdom and the Crown

Author: Gerald N Lund
Books in Trilogy: Fishers of Men (639 pgs), Come Unto Me (570 pgs) Behold the Man (679 pgs)
Rating: PG

Summary: In an ancient land in a time foretold by prophets, a babe was born beneath a shining star. Thirty years later, Jesus of Nazareth began teaching a message of hope, peace, and love. He claimed to be the Son of God, and his words and his life - would change the world. In Fishers of Men, the first volume in the series The Kingdom and the Crown, best-selling author Gerald N. Lund transports us to the days of Christ's mortal ministry and invites us to experience the emotions and events of those extraordinary times. Reports of Jesus of Nazareth have reached the ears of David ben Joseph, a merchant in Capernaum, who has waited and watched for the Messiah ever since a special, starlit night thirty years ago. He and his family decide to see for themselves whether or not the rumors are true and journey to hear Jesus. Though David is quick to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the rest of his family is more cautious. His wife, Deborah, and his son, Simeon, leaders in the rebellious Zealot movement, look for a Messiah that will crush the Romans with power and the sword, not one preaching a message of love and forgiveness. Meanwhile, reports of Jesus have reached into the very heart of Jerusalem, and both the powerful Sadducee Mordechai ben Uzziel and the Pharisee Azariah are growing uneasy with the news. Though they hold opposing political views, both agree that something must be done to stop this man from Nazareth before he gets out of hand. However, in Mordechai's own household the influence of the carpenter from Nazareth begins to create conflict.

In Come Unto Me, volume 2 of the bestselling series The Kingdom and the Crown, Simeon of Capernaum wrestles with how to undo the damage wrought by his reluctant conversion to a man called Jesus of Nazareth. His determination to follow the teachings of the Master has cost the life of one friend and sent three others to a Roman prison to await execution. How can he stay true to the teachings of Jesus, which require that he love his enemies, and yet deliver the friends who face death because of him? A similar dilemma faces Miriam of Jerusalem. Her father, along with the other leaders of the powerful Sanhedrin, are determined to stamp out the growing popularity of this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. But Miriam too has found Jesus to be far more than a mere man, and this poses a terrible choice for her--will she follow family or faith?

In Behold the Man, Jesus of Nazareth has been preaching in Judea for three years and has gathered many followers with his teachings and miracles. But he has also made enemies among the rulers in Jerusalem, who fear his power and his influence and who have conspired to put an end to him by whatever means possible. Mordechai ben Uzziel's life couldn't be any worse. His daughter, Miriam, has vanished from Rome, spirited away by none other than his old nemesis - Simeon ben David. Meanwhile, Mordecha's credibility with the Sanhedrin is jeopardized when the council learns that his own daughter has become a disciple of this so-called Messiah. Simeon ben David's life could not be any better. After struggling to follow the Savior and to testify of his knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, Simeon has found peace and joy in following the Master. More than that, he has found love; he and Miriam will be betrothed before the feast of Hanukkah. The family of David ben Joseph continues to follow Jesus, though the Savior's teachings now carry an undercurrent of sorrow and unsettling prophecy. And despite increasing danger, Jesus' ministry draws him inexorably toward Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus performs miracles of astounding power; healing a woman afflicted for almost two decades, restoring sight to a man born blind, and raising Lazarus after four days in the grave. But not everyone is thrilled to hear Jesus declare, I am the light of the world; I am the bread of life during the Feast of the Tabernacles. As the end of Jesus' ministry and his life approaches, the lines are swiftly and solidly drawn between those who will stand for Jesus and those who will tear him down. The final volume of The Kingdom and the Crown series, Behold the Man details the last week of Jesus' life his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the spiritually fulfilling Last Supper, and the crowning achievement of the atonement that begins in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminates in the Garden Tomb.

My Thoughts:  These books were fantastic! I have always loved historical fiction because it's more interesting than reading straight history, but you learn all the same stuff, and the emotions and experiences of the fictional characters are so easy to relate to. I always feel like these things probably did happen to some family or another. This WAS the experience of SOMEONE who lived at the time the book is written about.

The author wrote these books very carefully. He did not want to make Jesus into someone he was not, so in the Author's note at the beginning of the first book he explains that he tries to follow what is written in the New Testament accounts as closely as possible. Every time in the novels that Jesus is teaching the people or performing a miracle, the account comes directly from the Bible. The author fabricates some of the personal identities of the people the Savior heals, and he also fabricates the specific reaction of the witnesses, but the events and the words of the Savior himself come straight from one of the four Gospels. Obviously, what is written in the Bible isn't going to cover anything, so there are a few times when the author fabricates a conversation or an action of the Savior, BUT it is never anything of doctrinal consequence, and at the end of each chapter he includes the reasoning behind what he wrote and sometimes some historical context which I found fascinating.

I learned so much from reading these books! I have learned some things about the parables Christ taught and why the people were so unprepared for him. I've always wondered why the people in Jerusalem completely missed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. I knew that the Jews were expecting the Second Coming Messiah, the one who would smite their enemies and deliver Jerusalem from bondage. But I didn't get WHY. I also didn't understand why the Pharisees had become so strict on their observance of the law. How come they got trapped by this law-worship instead of remembering that the true intent of the law was to lead them to Christ? Well, this book has helped me understand both of those, plus a lot more. At the time of Christ, the Jews had just been through a LOT of captivity. They had just been allowed to return to Jerusalem from being captive in Babylon, but now they were under Roman rule and they did not like it. The reason they fixated so much on the warrior Messiah was because they felt sure that He was what they were waiting for to deliver them from the Roman empire. There are so many amazing prophesies about Jerusalem being delivered from bondage, it is no wonder they focused on this and felt sure the Messiah would come and do just that. They were tired of being under someone else's rule. And the Romans weren't exactly nice either. AND I did some research...the Jews never did escape their bondage. After the Romans, it was just someone else. They didn't get their "land" back until after World War II when the Allied powers felt bad for the Jews and said, hey we need to give you your homeland back, this is not fair, so we just gave them Palestine. Only....there were already lots of other people living there who weren't too keen on the Jews taking over. A problem which is still going on today. It's no wonder they are still looking for the Messiah.

The other thing...the Pharisees were so strict about all aspects of the law of Moses because they had read carefully in the scriptures...when the people were not keeping the commandments well enough, the Lord chastened them and they were punished. So, they came to the conclusion that all these years of captivity were because they were not doing a good enough job of keeping the commandments with exactness. They thought that if they could just observe the law BETTER, then surely they would be blessed with deliverance, and the Messiah would come. Unfortunately, they got much too caught up in this theory. That made sense to me too. They were just feeling neglected by God, and thought that if they kept the commandments absolutely perfectly, there was no way he could withhold his blessings. They were so afraid to do anything that might be construed as against the Law of Moses, because they wanted so badly to find favor in the eyes of God. I can completely see how this happened to them. It also gives Jesus's comment "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" extra impact, because at the time, the people would have wondered how you could possibly be more righteous than these men who were so devoted to keeping the Law of Moses with exactness?

Other things I learned - when Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, there are several verses that we don't really give much thought to but which are actually quite significant. One is the phrase, " whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." In the book, it is pointed out that Jesus specified the right cheek. If a right handed person were to hit me on my right cheek, they would have to do it with the back of the hand. A backhanded slap was considered a great insult to a person's pride/reputation, and men killed each other over it. So Jesus was not necessarily saying that we should just let people rough us up and abuse us, but he was saying we should not let our pride get the better of us. Basically, if someone is trying to bait us, not to take the bait.

Another phrase, also from the sermon on the mount, that I've never thought twice about, "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." The book points out that one of the things any Roman could do at the time was stop ANY Jew, and force him to carry his pack for him for 1 mile. The Jews hated this, of course, so this statement from Jesus was really quite shocking! It is along the same lines as loving your enemies. So interesting.

Also, one of the parables Jesus told was discussed in the book. It's the parable of the unmerciful servant, found in Matthew 18:23-35. I had never really understood the gravity of this before. The one man owes his master 10,000 talents. Ok, big deal right? Well, apparently one talent would have been considered a LOT of money, 10 talents was a fortune. So 10,000 talents was an unimaginable sum. Probably similar to several billion dollars in today's money. So the fact that his master forgives him the debt when he asks for mercy is staggering. He doesn't just give the man more time, he completely forgives it. Then, that same man refuses to forgive the debt of one of HIS servants, which is a mere 100 pence. Hardly any money at all. If we're keeping with our earlier analogy of relating it to today's money, I'll just say the guy owed him $10. He has just been forgiven an unimaginable debt, and then he is unwilling to forgive the mere pittance owed to him. Christ is using this as an analogy for how we should forgive. We all sin in our lives. Thousands of little sins. Some big ones, but probably too many to count. And if we repent and ask for mercy, we will be forgiven. So what right have we to refuse to forgive one thing that another person has done to us? Even if it's a big thing? If we want to be forgiven of the thousands of things we have done wrong, we need to forgive all the things others do to us. It was a great new insight, one that was actually discussed in one of the general conference talks this past weekend. 

I also learned more about some of the other miracles Christ performed, why they were so important, and why he did it. There's the time he curses the fig tree...always seemed a little bit of an odd thing to do. These books go over that. Of course, most of these interpretations are largely the author's thoughts and feelings on the subject and it doesn't mean it's the only way these things should be interpreted, but I felt like I was enlightened some. I loved these books!

The only thing that could have made it better is if there were more! It ends with the resurrection, and I know the lives of the early Christians were not at all easy. I would have loved to keep reading to see how all the character's lives were affected by the religion they chose to accept. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Orphan Train

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Pages: 273
Rating: PG-13 at LEAST. The F-word occured about 10 times, on one occasion a couple is making out and the boy touches the girl's breasts under her shirt (the makeout session is not the real point of the scene, there's dialogue that is totally unrelated) and one character is sexually assaulted. The book is not FILLED with inappropriate conduct, but I did want to mention that those scenes are in there. Other than what I mentioned, it's really quite clean overall. Interestingly enough, there is another version of this book "Orphan Train Girl" that was adapted for a younger audience.

Summary:Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude? As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

My Thoughts: I love historical fiction. Especially when the book is about a part of history that I'm unfamiliar with. I loved that this book connected the experiences of a girl who rode one of the orphan trains with a modern day story of a girl who had been in and out of foster homes most of her life. The stories were both so easy to connect with, and all the choices that each girl makes are so clear and easy to understand. I feel like I do this a lot lately, but I don't know what else to say about this book without giving too much away. Super interesting, worth the read. =)