Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World by Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity

Title: Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World, Author: Jonathan Reckford Our Better Angels. Finished 1-28-19, 4.25/5 stars, volunteerism, 223 pages, pub. 2019

In this first-ever book for adults from Habitat for Humanity, CEO Jonathan Reckford shares moving and inspiring stories of ordinary people whose lives have been changed by working together to help one another. And he shows what we can all learn from these everyday heroes.

Having witnessed people beat back the storms of life, Reckford came to see how we can all find our better selves by tapping into seven old-fashioned virtues—kindness, generosity, community, empowerment, respect, joy, and service. And he came to see how the strength gained from these virtues can help each of us build our best selves in ways that impact all areas of our lives—from our careers to our families, from how we behave in our communities to how we see the world.

With a separate chapter devoted to each of these seven virtues, Reckford introduces us to remarkable people Habitat has served, like Jed, whose family received a Habitat home and who could barely wait to donate it back Habitat to help others in need. And we also meet volunteers like Vic, a veteran who was inspired to return to Vietnam to help build housing there. Each vivid story in this book carries its own lesson and epiphany – to help readers find their own better angels.

The book begins with an inspirational foreword by Jimmy Carter.     from Goodreads

There are few public figures I respect as much as Jimmy Carter.  He and Rosalynn’s  commitment to service, well into their 90’s with health issues as an added hurdle, inspires me.  He is known for his work with Habitat for Humanity and he writes the moving Foreword for this book filled with Habitat stories.

Jonathan Reckford shares the stories of the volunteers who have helped build Habitat homes and the recipients who have been given new leases on life by receiving one.  He breaks them up into seven sections; kindness, community, empowerment, joy, respect, generosity, and service.  I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite story, or even two, but I was left with new insight to how people live around the world and even here in the United States.  I read one short story every morning for about a month and a few stuck out for me in their ability to make me feel another place, another way of life.   In Romania a small village had the good fortune to have a woman who discovered the organization and it changed her village forever.  In Africa, the picture of a family of 14 living in one big tent with muddy floors was hard to imagine. In India, neighbors of different religions at odds with each other came together to work side by side as people.  And in Vietnam, soldiers once sent there for war return to make peace with the people and the land.

I loved this book as an easy to read inspirational collection of stories full of people who are changing the world.  And the best part is that you can be a part of it.  If you’ve never volunteered at a Habitat house you should give them a call and see what you can do.  There is no one less handy around the home than me and years ago I volunteered with a group of women at local home going up.  I helped with a few different things, but spent most of the day caulking, after instruction of course.  I was out my element, but was welcomed and left feeling not only like I’d helped in a small way but also that I’d learned a few new things about building a house.  I’ve already told Jason that in the spring we’d start having a few dates at Habitat homes 🙂  All proceeds from the book go to the organization.

 

 

 

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Title: The Flatshare, Author: Beth O'Leary The Flatshare. Finished 12-18-19-19, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2019

Unabridged audio read by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune and these two completely sold it.  They were fantastic and I looked forward to getting in the car everyday to spend more time with them!  8 CDs.

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…    from Goodreads

This was the perfect time for this!  I was perusing the library shelves when I saw this and recognized it from around the blogosphere.  It was light, but with some heavy issues that figured prominently into the storyline.  Tiffy was a ray of sunshine, but was healing from a breakup, hoping it wasn’t permanent.  Leon had a girlfriend who took it upon herself to screen the girl that would be sharing his flat, but couldn’t muster sympathy for his imprisoned brother.

The two, never in the apartment at the same time, communicated by post-it note.  How weird would it be to come in one day and someone has moved in all of their stuff and you share a bed (different sides of course), but you don’t meet them?  Bizarre.  I loved the months and months of post-it notes that built this relationship into something that both needed.  It was Tiffy who found a reason to finally meet him through their jobs, only Leon bailed and the notes continued.

I loved the romance and the issues.  Tiffy’s boyfriend was emotionally abusive, Leon’s brother was wrongfully imprisoned, and a search for a long lost love brings them both together for a common cause.  This was fun with just enough heft to give it legs.  I do think the audio may have enhanced my enjoyment.  This was a Goodreads finalist for best romance and I would have voted for it if I’d read it in time.

The Time is Now: A Call To Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister

Title: The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage, Author: Joan Chittister The Time is Now. Finished 12-3-19, 4.5/5, inspirational, 136 pages, pub. 2019

Beloved nun and social activist Joan Chittister, who appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, offers a soul-stirring and inspiring guide that speaks to all who feel disillusioned and dissatisfied with the power-hungry institutions and systems of this world.

Joan Chittister has been a passionate voice for women’s rights for over 50 years. Called “one of the most well-known and trusted contemporary spiritual authors” by Publishers Weekly, this rabble-rousing force of nature for social justice and fervent proponent of personal faith and spiritual fulfillment draws on the wisdom of prophets–both ancient and modern–to help us confront the societal forces that oppress and silence the sacred voices among us.

Pairing scriptural insights with stirring narratives of the truth-tellers that came before us, Sister Joan offers a compelling vision for readers to combat complacency and to propel ourselves toward creating a world of justice, freedom, peace, and empowerment.     from Goodreads

My thoughts after I finished last week…

Unless and until we accept the prophet’s call, we may be great caretakers, great scholars, sincere seekers, fine people, but we will never be fully “spiritual.”We will be liked, admired, respected, and – safe.  But truly spiritual?  Not completely.

The question is, Whose respect would we risk to have?  Would we want to be found on the side of the peacemakers, the single women, the discriminated against, the immigrants, the thinkers and the changers of a society whose corporate CEOs get richer every day while the middle class disappears and  the poor get more destitute by the hour?  Chapter 18

I finished The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage bu Joan Chittister this morning and loved how her last chapter really brought the rest of the book into sharper focus by spurring us all into action.  I have been reading this as my morning devotional and the chapters have been longer and packed with so much to think about.  Here is a nun who is calling us all to greatness, to be modern day prophets.  Prophets for climate change, gun control, immigrants, peace and all the disenfranchised.  Pick a cause and get loud. Here are her closing thoughts,

What does a prophet do?  A prophet cries out, cries out, cries out.  Without fear.  Without care for cost.  Without end.  Dear Prophet, for the sake of the children, for the sake of the world, for the sake of the gospel, Cry out.

“Be not a whisper that is lost in the wind’ be a voice that is heard above the storms of life.”  Maimonides

I’m so glad that I read this.  It gives me hope.

 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Title: Winter Garden: A Novel, Author: Kristin Hannah Winter Garden. Finished 10-10-19, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2010

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.    from Goodreads

The story starts with bickering sisters Meredith and Nina, nothing too different than other stories I’ve read, but then their father takes ill and it’s important they’re all together.  This is also when we start hearing about the cold mom, Anya, who seemed to dislike both girls growing up.  As the three women must help each other, the story of Anya’s life in Russia takes center stage.  Her story drew me in and kept me turning the pages as fast as I could.  It was that good.  The sisters faded into the background for me as I read in horror the things that Anya faced.

I loved Anya’s story.  The sisters were a nice sideshow and the end was a bit too much, but the gut punch of war torn Leningrad was the star here.  There will be scenes that will stick with me for quite some time.  I’ve seen that some people who are Hannah fans were disappointed with one after so many great ones.  I can’t speak to that since I’ve only ever read one of her earlier romance books, but I’m guessing this will make my favorite list at the end of the year.

 

 

Lucas Davenport #28 & #29

I love John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series.  I’ve read them all, in order.  1- Rules of Prey, 2- Shadow Prey, 3- Eyes of Prey, 4- Silent Prey, 5- Winter Prey, 6- Night Prey, 7- Mind Prey, 8- Sudden Prey, 9- Secret Prey, 10- Certain Prey, 11-Easy Prey, 12- Chosen Prey, 13- Mortal Prey, 14- Naken Prey, 15- Hidden Prey, 16- Broken Prey, 17- Invisible Prey, 18- Phantom Prey, 19- Wicked Prey, 20– Storm Prey, 21- Buried Prey, 22-Stolen Prey, 23-Silken Prey, 24-Field of Prey, 25-Gathering Prey, 26-Extreme Prey  27-Golden Prey

Lucas Daveport has evolved over the years.  Since we first met him as a Minneapolis detective he has climbed the career ladder to federal marshal and happily married man and father.  An he’s still a badass.  There was a TV movie that had Mark Harmon playing Lucas and while I love Harmon I’m not sure he quite fits the character.  I’ll have to think on it.

Title: Twisted Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #28), Author: John Sandford Twisted Prey. Finished 9-18-19, thriller. 4.5/5 stars, pub. 2018

Lucas Davenport had crossed paths with her before.

A rich psychopath, Taryn Grant had run successfully for the U.S. Senate, where Lucas had predicted she’d fit right in. He was also convinced that she’d been responsible for three murders, though he’d never been able to prove it. Once a psychopath had gotten that kind of rush, though, he or she often needed another fix, so he figured he might be seeing her again.

He was right. A federal marshal now, with a very wide scope of investigation, he’s heard rumors that Grant has found her seat on the Senate intelligence committee, and the contacts she’s made from it, to be very…useful. Pinning those rumors down was likely to be just as difficult as before, and considerably more dangerous.   from Goodreads

Oh, how I loved a new tangle with a great foe in Taryn Grant.  The woman is diabolical and Lucas has his work cut out for him.  I also loved the two fellow Marshals Rae and Bob who have shown up before.  This was a good one!

Title: Neon Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #29), Author: John Sandford Neon Prey. Finished 11-22-19, thriller, 4/5 stars, pub. 2019

It was a relatively minor criminal matter, all things considered, but enough that the US Marshals obtained a warrant to enter the home. They didn’t expect to unearth trophies from a score of killings.

Now Davenport is on the trail of a serial murderer, one who was able to operate for years without notice or suspicion. But there’s even more to this killer than meets the eye…   from Goodreads

This was another solid Davenport story.  Feds Rae and Bob showed up again and Lucas get shot.  There’s a cannibal who grills his victims on the loose and he’s got himself a posse.  Good stuff 🙂

If you like police procedurals you should be reading this series.  Great insight and writing.

 

 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Title: Ask Again, Yes, Author: Mary Beth Keane Ask Again, Yes.  Finished 9-11-19, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2019

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.    from Goodreads

It’s been two months since I read this book and amazingly I can still remember many of the details and exactly how it made me feel.  I read this for my book group and I did it in a day.  Not by choice but because I was reading a book a day at the time 🙂  This book left me feeling heavy, with a sense of sadness but also of hope.  I was happy that I set aside the whole day to read it because I really didn’t want to put it down once I started.

Two friends move to the suburbs and live next door to each other.  What sounds like a sweet deal actually puts distance between them as the wives do not get on well together.  On the other hand, their son and daughter do and this leads to trouble and tragedy.  What happens is an unraveling of everyone and their relationships too.  The rest of this family drama was filled with such honesty and real-life complexity that it it was hard to look away.

The story spans 40 years and is all encompassing.  What happens when a parent lets you down?  Or worse?  How can you learn to live and forgive after a life-changing event?  Would you even want to?  This is a story told with compassion about the extraordinarily ordinary family next door.  Loved it.

November Road by Lou Berney

Title: November Road, Author: Lou Berney November Road. Finished 10-22-19, 4.5/5 stars, thriller, 299 pages, pub. 2018

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.  A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is “don’t stop,” but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.
 It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.  from Goodreads

I’m always intrigued by stories set around the Kennedy assassination and was excited to see this one available to review for its paperback release today.  The killing of the President is the impetus, but the characters and their stories quickly take over.  The chapters alternate between Guidry, a likable mobbed up man on the run, Charolotte, a woman who has been nowhere and is trapped in a bad marriage, and Barone, a fixer.  As the three make their way from Texas westward I was completely hooked.  The pages turned fast and I was sad to see it end.  Guidry saw a future fraught with hope and Charlotte became her own woman by making one hard decision after another to get her and her daughters where she wanted to be.  I loved her.  The story was mainly Guidry’s and his arc was perfect.

I didn’t realize until I read the interview with the author at the end of the book that Carlos Marcello was a real New Orleans mob boss and that this is one possible way the author sees the Kennedy story playing out for real.  Kennedy enthusiast or thriller fan, this is a winner.

If you still need convincing the blurb on the cover is from Stephen King, “When people say they want to read a really good novel. the kind you just can’t put down, this is the kind of book they mean.”  I concur.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for the book and the hours of enjoyment they sent my way 🙂

 

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver, Author: Lois Lowry The Giver. Finished 9-8-19, YA classic, 4.25/5 stars, pub. 1993

The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.  From bn.com

Jonas lives in a world with no violence, no poverty, no starvation, but also no passion, no color and no choices.  The Elders decide what your role in the community will be.  They may take your interests into consideration but the decision is theirs, not yours.  Jonas, has had a few instances of something otherworldly happening to him and is assigned one of the most honored positions in the community, but it comes with a heavy price.

I loved the world building and character development in this slim book.  Lowry managed to paint a stark picture and tell a cautionary tale while making it the perfect size for children.  I’m excited to read this one with Gage.  I admit that I didn’t care for the ending, but I understand there are two more books after this one that continue the story.

I watched the movie years ago when it came out but don’t remember much about it so I’m looking forward to watching it again now that I know the story.

This is the 1994 Newbery Medal winner and  my 28th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

 

I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant

I Had Seen Castles I Had Seen Castles, 4.5/5, YA, 128 pages, pub. 1993

John Dante is seventeen when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and he wants to fight for his country. But then he falls head over heels for Ginny Burton, who is against all war, and his beliefs are suddenly questioned. Rather than be judged a traitor or a coward, though, John enlists–a decision that changes his life forever.   from Goodreads

I picked up this book last month because of the length and the fact that I could add it to my Classics Challenge so I really didn’t even know anything about it.  I was so moved my this novella.  It was so engrossing and really pulled the heartstrings.  If you are talking to kids about war or the military this would be a great read, as long as you are okay with one sex scene and one drunken night.

It’s Pittsburgh in 1939 and there’s a war going on but when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor all the boys, including 17 year old John Dante, know that signing up is what they must do.  John has to wait until he turns 18 and during that time he meets Ginny, his first love, who is against war of any kind.  They don’t let that keep them apart and until the day John ships off you are hoping love prevails.

This book runs the gamut of the realities of war and the validity of it: the all consuming patriotism after an attack, the pressure to join the military, the feeling of being a hero, the bloody reality of war and the aftermath when you learn to live with what you’ve done.  And to Rylant’s credit she also brought to light what happens to the women.  John’s mom goes to work and he resents it and his sister was perhaps the most interesting character to me and I won’t say more.  I would read her story in a heartbeat.

Obviously a lot of love for this one.  This was my 26th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Fangirl. Finished 7-5-19, 4.5/5, YA, pub. 2013

Unabridged audio read by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield.  13 hours.

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.  from Goodreads

I really got sucked into this book and was actually looking forward to my time driving Gage around for summer camps!  Cath was so very real, meaning that I identified with her and I wanted to shake her at the same time, as were all of the characters.  She and her twin sister were once very close, but the differences between them grew and now they are barely speaking.  Cath is not doing so well being thrown into the college life alone.  Good thing her roommate Reagan feels this way, “I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”

Cath was a popular fan fiction writer for a series that is loosely based on the Harry Potter series and excerpts from these stories was interspersed throughout the book.  I have to admit that was my least favorite part of the story, but I imagine if you like fan fiction it would be refreshing.  She is a talented writer, but thinks she needs the world already created for her.  Her professor tries to get her to spread her wings.

There were so many on point aspects to this young adult novel.  Being a social misfit, alcohol abuse, mental illness, plagiarism, friendship, and forgiveness just to name a few.  And did I mention there was a boy?  There’s a boy and he’s wonderful.  This was my first Rowell book and I can see why she’s so popular.