Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review-Larger-Than-Life Lara

Larger-than-Lara is a quick read, but not a simple story or quickly forgotten.  The story is told from Laney Grafton’s point of view, a fourth grader who demurely accepts her impoverished life with a dad who drinks too much, three older brothers who have no respect for her and a mother who left the family and who Laney doesn’t remember.

Laney’s classroom enters major upheaval when a new student, Lara, joins the class. Lara is hugely overweight; she needs her own adult chair and desk, and her skin flaps when she walks.

Lara invites meanness and ridicule just by her looks. But how she responds to the hurtful comments and unkindness shows a character that never gets angry and is incredibly positive.  She responds with amazing kindness and often speaks back in poetic sentences.

Bullying escalates into disaster for Lara.  How the class is transformed by what happens next is touching and persuasive.

The author, Dandi Mackall does a brilliant job of portraying fourth grader’s actions and thinking.  At the same time, she tackles the subject of bullying, gives the reader some basic lessons on writing techniques and made an elementary reading level story hold my interest through every paragraph..

The book chapter titles disclose the writing techniques woven into Laney’s telling, as she tries to incorporate what she is learning about crafting a story; Character, Setting, Climax, Cliff-Hanger, etc. Very clever and informative.

I found Laney believable and likeable.  Navigating her difficult family dynamics has made her sensible and more mature than many of her classmates. We see wisdom in her assessment of events and people.  May those of us who have opportunity to work with youth take to heart the lessons and insights into this age group that Dandi Mackall has given us in this fascinating book. 

Most Tyndale books have a Christian theme or perspective. While this book upholds some Christian values, there is no reference to anything spiritual or religious

I received this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

He Makes Me Rest

Inside the white tent, our group crowded close to the dog sled and it's owner, Jason.  Rain pelted the canvas outside.  Glad to be sheltered, we listened intently to Jason describe the exhilaration and dangers of the Iditarod races he had completed. We peppered him with questions about endurance, supplies, and the dog booties strung along a line tied to one side of the tent. A shiver crossed my shoulders as I imagined the bitter winds and sub-zero temperatures.

Halfway through the fascinating lesson on Alaskan dog sledding, we became aware of a cacophony of barking outside. We had seen the field of hundreds of Huskies tethered to their individual dog houses when we arrived at the camp.  They had been quiet then, so what had set off the dog raucous now? Someone asked Jason. Part of our group excursion that day was to take a cart ride with a team of dogs pulling us. Jason said another group must have just boarded a cart and were pulling out, which caused all the hundreds of dogs left behind to express unrestrained eagerness to be in the action. These athletes were trained and ardently jealous to use their prowess.  He further explained that sometimes on the trail, during the race, a dog may find it difficult to take necessary rests and time out from the action. The musher may have to headlock the fidgety one in a tight squeeze until his body succumbs to rest.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures" slipped into my thoughts. I wonder why sheep need to be made to lie down.  Are there any similarities to this and the sled dogs' need for intervention? I went to my bookshelf in the bedroom.  There among my best loved books, books that I keep because I want to read them again, only a limited number make it to this shelf, I pulled out, A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23, by Phillip Keller. This author grew up surrounded by native sheep herders in East Africa and actually made a living for eight years as a sheep owner and rancher.  I treasure the insights I've gleaned from this book about how a shepherd tends his sheep and how we like sheep are cared for by the Good Shepherd.

Sheep require four necessities to be taken care of before they can be made to lie down:
-freedom from all fear
-no friction with others in the flock
-freedom from pests such as flies or parasites
-free of hunger

Only the presence of the shepherd will alleviate these anxieties.  He makes it possible for them to lie down. His closeness brings security and takes away the fear.

When there is rivalry and competition in the herd, they cannot rest; they must stand up and defend their rights against the challenger.  The shepherd defends the weak and brings a peacefulness that ends tensions. 

Sheep tormented by insects find it impossible to lie down.  They are up stamping legs, shaking heads and ready to rush to some place to find relief. The shepherd applies a repelling ointment to their heads; they relax, eat and lie down contentedly.

Sheep want to eat and fill up quickly so they can lie down quietly and ruminate. If food is scarce, the creature is ever on the move trying to fine the next mouthful.  The good shepherd works hard to clear  rough land so good crops can grow, crops that sheep thrive on.  Many countries where sheep are tended are dry climates, which aid sheep health but require much labor to make green pastures.

He makes me lie down in green pastures because he has provided for all my needs. 
-His presence takes away my fears; he has made me feel safe to lie down.
-When He is near I can trust him to protect me so I don't have to be on edge that someone may take advantage of me or that I have to defend myself when others are mean. He makes me lie down peacefully, because my enemies are his concern and he will always have my back.
-When I feel 'bugged' I can go to him and get the soothing oil of the Holy Spirit to keep the pests away that want to make me frustrated and too distracted to take in the right nourishment. He makes me lie down because I've been able to eat without interruption and my belly is full.
-I don't have to work hard at finding my provision; he has made it possible to trust that there will be enough to satisfy my hunger.  He makes me lie down because I've stopped trying to find my own way of provision in skimpy pastures and believe that his provision is just what I need to take in what is necessary for my growth and health.

He's a good, good Shepherd,
That's who he is
And I'm loved by him,
That's who I am.

Whether like the sled dog, I need to be held tight to be brought to rest, or like a sheep that needs the shepherd's presence to stop fretting, fighting, swatting and sweating for staples, I am thankful that I can lie down in green pastures no matter where he leads me.   

I yield to your discipline and care, Great Shepherd, Jesus.  You make me to lie down where abundance is promised. Forgive me for the times I think I know better how to meet my needs, for the times I substitute empty calories for good organic, free range, non GMO, hormone free food that you generously provide. May I increase in goodness and love as I feed in your pastures. 

Book Review-The Domino Effect

The Domino Effect, by Davis Bunn, reads like an unfolding current events news report.  Esther Larson , a brilliant senior risk analyst at one of the largest banks in the U.S., leads an insulated life with few friends and a brother who is confined to a nursing facility .  His grim prognosis and future care falls solely on Esther who has no other family.

With the help of the one group of casual friends Esther has connected with, she is able to open up and share.  The unethical practices of risk management in her company and the data about the economy she has gathered since the Wall Street crash in 2008, have created a mounting panic she no longer can keep to herself. With her friends' encouragement and one particular divinity student, Craig, Esther puts together a plan and message that needs to be heard to avert what she believes is a financial global disaster.  As she exposes fraud and worldwide market strategies of greed, many get on board to help her stop what has been set in motion.  Will her plan be too late?  Will Esther survive those intent on blocking her?

Besides the market tension, there are Craig's two teenage daughters to woo, questions about Nathan's medical care, and a job change. Esther finds courage in remembering the faith of her parents and the woman in the Bible who she was named after.  Just as her Biblical namesake had a time sensitive mission, so Esther Larson is the woman at the right time and the right place.

The book pulls the reader into the story, teases by not revealing all of Esther's scheme at once, and is very disconcerting as the facts in the story feel too real to life in the present. I thought there could have been more development of the antagonists; Esther seems to publicly expose powerful, sinister entities with little resistance, until her plan is well underway.

Perhaps a good moral for the story is that those who are privy to secrets that can bring destruction need to be courageous enough to speak and act out for good and stop the first domino from falling.

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.