The White Zone – by Carolyn Marsden (2012)

The White Zone

This novel of young cousins living in Baghdad in 2003 reads like the nightly world news. First one part of the city is bombed, then another. Bullets come through apartment windows. The Muslim residents of the city are at war with each other. Sunni Muslims hate Shiite Muslims. Shiite Muslims hate Sunni Muslims. Families move from place to place.

Nouri and Talib are 10-year-old cousins who have grown up very close. But Talib has the misfortune of having one Sunni parent and one Shiite. It was not a problem when the boys were younger. But now, with the increasing hostility between the two religious groups, Talib and his mother are rejected by their Shiite relatives. They are treated as if they have the plague, and Talib and his parents are forced to move. The scene where Talib’s front door is spray-painted with an “x” reminded me of World War II when Jewish families had “juden” painted on their windows.

After 170 pages of depressing storyline, the last five pages show everyone momentarily getting along as they watch beautiful white snow fall, an unusual event in Iraq. This is supposed to be a book for children. If you are trying to convey what everyday life is like in Iraq, it is informative. But the predominance of hate and rejection by family and friends, along with the impression that nothing will ever get better, makes it a poor choice for young kids to read.

Better books by this authors include “Moon Runner” and “Mama Had To Work On Christmas”.


I Can Only Imagine – by Bart Millard (2018)

I Can Only Imagine

You’re in your car, zipping along, listening to the radio. Then a song comes on that sends chills up and down your spine. The simple, thoughtful lyrics reach deep, and you find your eyes blurring as tears fill them. You don’t really know why there’s suddenly that giant lump in your throat and salt on your face, but it’s something about that song. The man singing is singing with such honesty that you know it’s flowing from the experiences of his own life.

The song is “I Can Only Imagine” and the songwriter/performer is Bart Millard. Where did some an incredible song come from? This memoir tells of Bart’s early childhood, his mother’s leaving them, and his father’s abuse. Many people in this environment would have been permanently scarred and cynical about life and family. But through the love of Jesus, Bart slowly began to heal. When his father was diagnosed with cancer, their relationship became one of love instead of anger and fear. All of the things – good and bad – that happened to Bart came together in this song.

The song moves me every time I hear it on the radio, but now it has even more meaning as I know the story behind the song.

Restoring Harmony – by Joelle Anthony (2010)

Restoring Harmony

I have been trying out some young adult/teen authors lately, and this book caught my eye. The story is set in the future – 2041 – and straddles the United States and Canada. The world’s petroleum has been mostly used up, and what little remains is strictly administered by the government. Most ordinary people can no longer use their cars. Almost everyone has shifted over to mass transit – buses, trains, and subways. Horses and bikes are also used to get around. People have returned to growing their own food if possible, and trading goods or bartering services. Molly is a teenager living on a Canadian island with her family, helping out with the farm.

Word comes that Molly’s grandmother in the U.S. has had a stroke. Telephone is gone and internet service is limited, but they manage to get through to the hospital, only to have the video-call dropped in the middle of the sentence: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Buckley is d -”. Was the nurse trying to say “discharged from the hospital” or “deceased”?

Unable to re-connect to the hospital for days, they finally decide to send Molly to Portland, Oregon to see if Grandma is still alive, and to check if Grandpa would like to move in with them. (Her older sister is busy planning her wedding, her father needs to take care of the farm, and her mother is in the later stages of a high-risk pregnancy.) So Molly leaves the island, sneaks across the border into the U.S., and laboriously works her way toward Portland in search of her grandparents.

I loved the way this novel was futuristic without being dystopian or science fiction-y. It really portrayed the way our continent could be in 25 years if we lost our easy supply of gasoline. Our reliance on cars fueled by inexpensive gasoline keeps our society going and our standard of living quite high. Most people would have an extremely hard time adjusting to the stay-at-home, fend-for-yourself lifestyle described in this book.

I also really liked the character of Molly. She didn’t whine and complain about the hardships of life, or that she had been sent on a difficult mission. She just did the best she could, handled obstacles as they came up, and never stopped showing love for her family. Organized crime, drinking, child neglect, and some violence are part of the storyline, so I would recommend it for readers over the age of 12.

The Glass Sea Sisters – by Lisa Wingate (2013)

The Sea Glass Sisters

This short novel is the story about the powerful bonds of family. No matter how geographically distant, there is something that binds us together. In this story, Elizabeth has live her entire life by the family farm in Michigan, and become a 9-1-1 operator. Her Aunt Sandy, unlike the rest of the family, followed her dreams and opened a seaside shop on a small island off the coast of North Carolina. Now that she is older and has developed diabetes, everyone thinks that she should return to Michigan. The issue becomes urgent when they hear that a powerful storm is headed for the east coast. Elizabeth and her mother drive down to the island to persuade Sandy to leave, but are stranded there for the duration of the storm.

In addition to the story-line of trying to convince Sandy that she doesn’t belong on the island, there is a second story-line. Elizabeth has been traumatized by an emergency call that ended badly. Throughout the novel, she has reoccurring nightmares about the call, which she tries to hide from her family. By the end of the book, her mother and Aunt Sandy help her come to terms with the emergency call that was haunting her.

I think Aunt Sandy nailed it when she said:

“Elizabeth, storms are part of living on an island. Every decision you make in life has benefits and consequences. Sometimes you just have to go on faith, and even that comes at a price. It means you have to give up on the idea that you’re the one in charge of the universe. This old house and I have been through all the storms before, and we’re going to get through this one. Whatever I need, whether that’s provisions or friends to help in the aftermath, or the kindness of strangers like the volunteers who helped after the last storm, God’s going to bring it my way.”


Mother’s Day Weekend

mother's day roses

The commercials on television and radio tell you that the greatness of Mother’s Day depends on how expensive a gift you give your mother. (Diamonds, anyone?) But it’s really the shared experiences that make it special for me. I only have to look back over this weekend to count the wonderful experiences. Like enjoying a meal with my mother and brothers, followed by a tour of the place my older brother works now. Like working with my oldest son on painting the outside of his house. Like taking a walk with my middle son and snapping happy selfies. Like my youngest son putting up some new pictures in the kitchen. Like enjoying Asian cuisine with my husband at our favorite restaurant. Like comforting the granddaughter when she fell and split her lip, and coaxing her back to laughter. Like watching the grandson draw a picture of his pet dinosaur while he talked about it. Like being together at church this morning.

As I look at the lovely roses on our table, it reminds me of the love of our children. Every day that I wake up and all our sons are alive is a gift from God, one that I do not take for granted.


The Good Nearby – by Nancy Moser (2006)

The Good Nearby

I have to admit that I picked this book because I really liked the picture on the cover. Who wouldn’t? The little girl looks so carefree. The story begins with seven-year-old Gigi. She’s an only child who is mostly ignored by her parents. But Gigi has a grandma that loves her to pieces, and tells her that she can be “the good nearby”. Whatever is going wrong in the world, she can be the “good” that God put in someone else’s life.

The book jumps back and forth from her childhood to adulthood. She endures a miserable marriage to a man who treats her like garbage. Then some other women who care about her come into her life. They are a blessing to her, and in the end she blesses them in an unusual way.

The themes of domestic abuse and supportive friendship run side by side throughout the book. The love of a grandmother and her strong faith in God also were a major part of the story. The novel reminded me that each one of us has the ability to share the love of Jesus with those around us.



The Snow Angel – by Glenn Beck (2011)

The Snow Angel

When you look at the cover of this book, you think you’re getting a sweet Christmas novella, but you’re not. You’re getting realistic fiction about a woman named Rachel who is married to a domineering, abusive man named Cyrus. Her only happiness is their daughter Lily, from whom she tries to hide the truth. An elderly couple who befriends her knows the truth, but can’t help her, since Cyrus has forbidden her to associate with them. The minister’s wife guesses what is happening in Rachel’s house, but doesn’t really know how to help.

The story alternates between Rachel’s adult life and her miserable childhood, being raised by an abusive alcoholic mother and a neglectful father. The story was incredibly sad, showing how emotional and physical abuse is carried on from generation to generation. The author states at the beginning of the book that it was a story that he had wanted to tell for years. He said:

It is my hope that it will wake those up who’ve been trained to believe in lies like “it’s my fault,” “it’s not so bad,” “he won’t do it again,” or “verbal abuse isn’t really abuse.” Never forget who you are: a daughter of a Heavenly Father. You have royal heritage, and anyone who makes you feel like less than that is not a man, husband, father, or friend, simply someone who is afraid of you because he knows who you are, but doesn’t know who he is. This book is also dedicated to my sisters, who inspire me, to my mother, who lost her way, and to my wife and daughters, who give me hope.  It is also a gift to all the fathers and protectors who try hard every day to be better men than they were yesterday.

The story is well-written but heartbreaking because you know that there really are people living wretched lives like Rachel’s. So many years wasted that could have filled with joy and laughter and being with friends, instead of being isolated by a tyrannical husband. In the end, Mr. Beck does show that there is always hope, and that forgiveness and healing can happen at any time in life.