Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus – by Joyce Magnin (2012)

Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus

With an old-fashioned name like “Harriet”, you are correct in assuming that this novel is about an older woman. Yes, Harriet is a senior who has been widowed for a few years, then has her fourth bad fall at home. Her son Henry and daughter-in-law Prudence convince her to move into their home in Grass Valley, California. At this point, Harriet realizes that she has never really traveled anywhere (since her husband hated to go anywhere) or had any adventures, and this is her last chance to do something independently. She decides to skip the easy way to California (plane), and instead take the slow way, using public transit as much as possible.

Harriet zigzags across the country, going anywhere that sounds interesting. She carries nothing with her but a small rolling suitcase containing a few sets of clothes, a good credit card, and a brand-new smart phone to help her find lodging, food, and directions. The entire book is a delightful, humorous tale of the places she visits and the people she meets along the way. Most of her stops are enjoyable, although she hits a few snags. In each place she stops, Harriet looks for salt-and-pepper sets, talks to God and writes letters to her husband Max.

I loved the way Harriet tried to interact with everyone during her trip, young or old, no matter how different they seemed from her. She had the true spirit of Jesus in her as she talked to people. If you’re looking for a simple, fun read, look for this book at your local library!




Jordan’s Crossing – by Randall Arthur (1993, 2003)

Jordan's Crossing

I read this book because it was highly recommended by someone I am close to. The story-line is about a man named Jordan who takes a position at a university in Germany that pays extremely well, which will enable him to pay off a rather large debt. His wife Susan, son, and daughter are all dead set against moving to a foreign country, but Jordan drags them there anyway. Nothing goes right. They have a terrible time finding housing, their plans to home-school their daughter are cancelled because it turns out to be illegal there, they have a hard time finding a church that they feel at home in, and Susan is lonely and depressed. Their son finds a nice girlfriend, but even that turns out badly when a gang of Jamaican drug dealers slits their son’s throat and gang-rapes the girlfriend. The rest of the book is mostly Jordan in a rage, vowing vengeance and trying to find the gang so that he can kill them.

What I liked about the book was the theme that God is with us, no matter how terrible the situation we may find ourselves in. The older man who had also lost members of his family kept trying to point them to God for strength, and for the ability to forgive and re-build their lives.

What I disliked about the book was the total grimness of the story-line from beginning to end. I’ve read plenty of books with sadness and depressing themes, but those books usually mixed in some happiness and lighter portions to balance it out. It’s called “comic relief”, and theatrical performances as well as movies and books use it to give the audience a break from the constant negativity. “Jordan’s Crossing” was just depressing from beginning to end. Although I finished the book, it would probably not be one I would recommend.

Interview With The Devil – by Clay Jacobsen (2002)

Interview With The Devil

If you had the opportunity to sit down and talk to someone on the other side of the world who has totally different religious beliefs than your own, would you do it? How about if this individual was believed to be the mastermind behind terrorist bombings that left many of your countrymen dead? Ahmad Hani Sa’id says Mark Taylor is the only journalist he is willing to give an interview to.  Why is he so insistent on this particular man?

Mark is a former Marine who served in the Gulf War, during which time he formed a friendship with a Muslim young man who saved his life. Mark has often wondered what became of the young man, and suspects he may have something to do with the interview request. Tracy, Mark’s wife, begs him not to go. The CIA, on the other hand, wants him to go so that they can trail along and kill Sa’id.

Despite great trepidation, Mark accepts the assignment. The author does a powerful job of slowly building up the suspense, and doesn’t even get to the actual interview until page 273. Throughout the story, faith in Jesus is contrasted with faith in Muhammad. A faith based on love and salvation versus a faith based on violence and slavish rules. The message of the book comes through loud and clear: Jesus loves every person on earth, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. Grace and forgiveness is offered to all, and it’s up to each person to chose who they will follow.

The Snowy Day – by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

The Snowy Day

Looking for a simple, happy story to read aloud to the preschooler in your life? This is the perfect winter book! A little boy – Peter – wakes up to find that snow has fallen overnight. He goes outside to play, and does everything I remember doing in fresh snow as a child.

What I love most about this short story is the joy and wonder that the little boy feels as he experiences God’s great snow. The illustrations are simple but convey the story well. Mr. Keats was one of the first children’s authors to publish books that portrayed black children. Back in 1962, this was very rare. His books also tended to be set in multi-cultural, urban settings, showing neighborhoods that were familiar to many young children. “The Snowy Day” won the Caldecott Medal for children’s literature in 1963.

Mr. Keats would go on to write more children’s books, like Whistle For Willie, Peter’s Chair, A Letter To Amy, and Pet Show. These stories have been enjoyed by children (and adults) for several generations, and will continue to be read for many more years.

The Mighty Miss Malone – by Christopher Paul Curtis (2012)

The Mighty Miss Malone

If you enjoyed either “The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963” or “Bud Not Buddy”, this book will grab you from beginning to end. Once again the author uses his home state of Michigan as the backdrop. The Malone family starts off living in Gary, Indiana – Father, Mother, 12-year-old Deza, and older brother Jimmie. At the beginning, Deza is a happy child with a best friend Clarice, a librarian that encourages her, and a teacher that she adores. She does not yet realize that financially, her family is hanging on by a thread.

But the country is in the midst of the Great Depression. First Father loses his job, then Mother. Deza’s father leaves for Flint, Michigan, where he hopes to find work. When he goes missing, the rest of the family heads for Michigan as well, determined to find him. The search is much harder than they anticipate; they experience hunger, homelessness, and the hobo life. But through it all, there is hope. Hope that they will someday find Father. Hope that there will be work for Mother. Hope that Deza will get a good education and continue to develop her brilliant mind. Hope that Jimmie will grow to a normal height. But above all, hope that the four of them will be together again as a family.

There were so many things about this book to love. I loved the way the author handled the subjects of poverty and prejudice against African Americans without turning it into an angry story about blacks versus whites. It was more about the Great Depression versus everyone. I loved Mr. and Mrs. Malone, who never allowed their children to feel like victims. They taught love for the family, the value of hard work, and the courage to keep going when the situation looked impossible. I loved Deza, with her passion for books and large words she found in the thesaurus. And I loved big brother Jimmie for his pursuit of work to support his family, despite the fact that he was not even an adult yet.

This is an outstanding book that can be read by anyone from age 10 to 110!


Deceived – by Irene Hannon (2014)


Kate Marshall is a successful counselor who works with women who have been traumatized by abuse or difficult divorces. She helps them work through their emotions, then prepares them for interviews and work situations. Although the work is fulfilling, Kate has a deep sadness. Three years previous, her husband and four-year-old son died in a fishing accident. Her son’s body was never recovered, so she has a hard time convincing herself he is really dead.

One day while at a local mall, she spots a child on the escalator who looks exactly like what she thinks her son would look like at the age of seven. The boy even says something unusual that her son used to say. Kate freaks out and tries to get to the boy, but he and the man he’s with are gone before she can get to the upper level of the mall. She is so shaken by the incident that she hires a private investigator to find the boy, in the hope that it is her son.

This novel is part of Irene Hannon’s “Private Justice” series. This author is best known for her romantic suspense books, and has won a number of awards. Her books are “clean reads”, meaning you will not find any gratuitous violence or sex, or any foul language. I have to say that although I enjoyed this book, there was not a whole lot of suspense. It was pretty obvious from the beginning what the truth was. So if you want a book with lots of twists and turns, and a surprising ending, this isn’t your book. But if you want an easy read with a happy ending, this is an enjoyable one.

The Second Opinion – by Michael Palmer (2009)

The Second Opinion

Dr. Petros Sperelakis is an internal medicine physician who helped start the Beaumont Clinic, a hospital specializing in diagnosing and treating terminal illnesses. When Petros is in an auto accident that leaves him comatose, his four children rush to be with him. It is doubtful that Petros will regain consciousness. Three of his children are okay with turning off the devices that are keeping their father alive. Only Thea, the daughter who has devoted her life to Doctors Without Borders in the Congo, disagrees. She believes that her father is actually conscious and aware of his surroundings, but unable to communicate. As she finds a way to “talk” with him, questions begin to arise. Was the car accident really an accident? Is the tight security around the hospital’s patients’ medical records abnormal? Did her father know something that someone doesn’t want revealed?

I listened to an abridged audio version of this book. The narrator, Franette Liebow, did a masterful job of speaking exactly as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (Thea) would – somewhat flat and a bit staccato. Everything was very logical and literal for her. Throughout the novel, you could see the situation through her eyes. Her brother, Dimitri, also had Asperger’s, but we were not permitted to see into his mind.

There was a bit of language and some sexual content, which I basically skipped over for the most part by jumping to the next CD track. (Each track was 60 seconds or less, so there was not much lost.) There was also a gory scene at one point, which could make some readers feel squeamish. But overall, I found it to be a good medical mystery-thriller and the villain someone I did not suspect.

About the author: Michael Palmer was an internal medicine physician himself, first working in his own practice, and later working in an emergency room. After a failed marriage and a series of knee surgeries, Michael became addicted to alcohol and pain medication, and lost his job. He got psychiatric help for his problems, and began writing as a form of therapy. Later, he began to do interviews and bring awareness to the issue of substance abuse among physicians. In 2013 he suffered a heart attack and died, but he leaves behind many medical novels.