Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

When someone who reads abundantly and likes the same books I do makes a comment about a book that reveals it has profoundly affected her, and gives it 5 stars, it goes straight to my "to-read" list. But sometimes you start the book, and wonder - now what about this book did she find so very good?

Not so in this case. From page 1, I was gripped and entranced by the stories - Bryan's and those of the people he encountered.

Bryan Stevenson studied philosophy initially, and realised in his senior year that "no one would pay me to philosophize when I graduated," so he picked up a law degree, because, in America, you weren't required to know anything about law before you studied it as a post-grad. After a one month intensive course on race and poverty litigation which required Bryan to go off campus and do social justice work, his future career was decided, and a pathway forged, in which, somewhat ironically, no one would pay him to work for them either - they couldn't afford to - he would help the poor and the unjustly treated - those on death row, in particular.

The stories of these prisoners are shared honestly from a perspective of a young, compassionate hard-working lawyer, who is humble enough to let his life be transformed by those he encounters, as much as he is able to change the lives of those on death row, and the system of justice in the United States, which seemed to be set up in a way to further inflict pain on those who have already been hurt and damaged by a society determined to root out evil and evil-doers without really caring whether it did that justly, and with mercy. As part of this journey, he also finds the young people, tried in adult courts, and placed in adult jails when they're still juveniles, and those incarcerated for minor crimes, at risk of becoming real criminals because of their unfair treatment and the harshness of the environment in which they're placed.

I'm going to share some powerful quotes, and I realize that too many is going to risk putting you off reading the rest of this review, but I'll take that risk - these are too good not to share. 

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

“The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?” 

“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.” 

"Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can't be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.”

"The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” 

"We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak—not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken."

“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can't otherwise see; you hear things you can't otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.” 

“But simply punishing the broken--walking away from them or hiding them from sight--only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” 

The chapter, towards the end, where Stevenson confronts his own brokenness, had me in tears, and later transcribing and memorising the inspiring and memorable words, not only for their eloquence, but for the power within them.

I was deeply moved by the stories, the author's own story, and his plea for compassion in a world where we've largely lost our way. It's powerful and transformative. Read it.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780812994520.

More books.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

An extract from the blurb:

"Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path." 

I've read quite a few Alice Hoffman novels recently. I've enjoyed the fantasy aspects of them - the idyllic childhoods, but with pain and hardship too (The Rules of Magic, The Story Sisters, Practical Magic). This is not like any of those. It's not like Faithful either.

It's great historical fiction, written with a poetic touch. 

“Being human means losing everything we love best in the world," she murmured as she released me. "But would you ask to be anything else?” 

“But now I understood that, although words were God's first creation, silence was closer to His divine spirit, and that prayers given in silence were infinitely greater than the thousands of words men might offer up to heaven.”

The dovekeepers - the Assassin’s Daughter; the Baker’s Wife; the Warrior’s Beloved; the Witch of Moab are all completely different, all unique, strong and subject to incredible hardships. History is subject to the personal stories of these beautiful women in this book. It's enchanting, absorbing, mesmerising and unforgettable,  yet also sad, and difficult to get through in parts.

3 stars

ISBN: 9781451617474

You may also enjoy Faithful by Alice Hoffman or Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Monday, 16 July 2018

Word up

Morning all. It's C.O.L.D. where I live today. So we're going to need a little more motivation than usual. Well, I am anyway...

So before we get to the fun music, which is especially chosen to get us inspired to move, let's just have a little recap on why, again. I've taken this information word- for-word from

" can actually get an additional brain boost by donning your sneakers and hitting the gym. The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.
Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with "runner's high" found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study from Stockholm showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory."
Ok, I'm in. I'm dressed, layered up, and ready to run - that's the other benefit of cold - you'd rather run than walk, to warm up more quickly, right? Right - work with me here.
And then there's the music. Little Mix - Word up! It's catchy, cute and has a music video that'll get you moving.
Here are some excerpts:
"There's got to be a reason - And we know the reason why"

"Wave your hands in the air

Like you don't care
Glide by the people
As they start to look and stare
Do your dance
Do your dance
Do your dance quick, mama

Come on, baby tell me what's the word
Word up
Everybody say
When you hear the call
You've got to get it underway
Word up
It's the code word
No matter where you say it
You know that you'll be heard"

Happy Monday. Happy training. Happy week.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Ten of the Best #125

You don't know how close it was. No, I'm not talking about the tennis yesterday. But it was the tennis's fault that we nearly nearly nearly didn't have a Ten today. After an epic battle on Wednesday with Roger Federer, Kevin Anderson made it through yesterday's even more epic Wimbledon semi-final - to win the 5th set 26-24 against the US of A's John Isner. Here are the final moments.

And here's the link to the story of the semi, if you click the pic.

I've often wondered how easy it is (or isn't) to be someone else on social media. In this clever article "Oprah, is that you?", a reporter discovers how remarkably easy it is. Click the pic for the article.

I liked this list of books- what we can expect for Summer (i.e. our Winter) 2018. Read any yet?

Friday, 13 July 2018

Friday Books - The Paris Secret

Hey hey, it's Friday. So glad about that, it's time to share about books.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

Today I'm featuring The Paris Secret by Karen Swan. Here's the beginning.

"Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?"

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of The Paris Secret by Karen Swan.

I'm only this far into the book. I'm struggling to get into it. I'm not sure why. It's interesting, but the characters haven't grabbed me yet. Would you keep reading?

Hope you all have lots of reading plans for the weekend.  Leave me a comment with what you're featuring and I'll check it out.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Tsk Tsk by Suzan Hackney

Sometimes I get book recommendations when I least expect them.

I suppose I give it away - the fact that I enjoy reading - by the fact that when people see me, I've always got my nose in a book. So it was when we were visiting our favourite South Coast lunchtime haunt, the whole family with books (for after brunch, of course) and the friendly manageress, who amazes us with her memory for every intricate order, told me about this one.

"The author's an old school friend," she explained, "and she had an interesting, tough childhood." That's pretty much all I had - which is what I like, actually. 

There is a knack to writing a memoir which involves emotional distance, realising that your story is not as interesting as you think it is for others - it helps if you write it well, and developing a plot that will draw people in. This has all that.

'I was made in Coffee Bay. Right there on the beach, in the sand'  is how it begins.

'Suzan is adopted as a newborn in the late 1960s into a seemingly loving and welcoming family living in Pietermaritzburg. But Suzan is set on a collision course with, most particularly, her adoptive mother, from her very beginning.'

Her writing style flows from her heart, and packs an emotional punch that I didn't see coming - partly because it is quite matter-of-fact, whilst describing harrowing circumstances no thirteen year old should have to endure. Suzan is a strong person, she's had to be, and so is her writing. She finds herself in and out of different institutions, on the run and encountering many different forms of "care" - most of which land up being abusive. That she tells it with a witty sense of humour gives us a clue as to her survival instincts.

My only gripe is its abrupt end. I suspect there's a sequel to come. I hope so. I'll read it. This is a unique voice, that I'd love to hear more from.

ISBN: 9781868428724

4 stars.

You may also enjoy other memoirs - Karma, Deception and a pair of Red Ferraris by Elaine Taylor, or Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, or Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Leni Allbright is thirteen and her greatest ambition is to spend just one school year in one school. They've moved a lot since her dad came back from 'Nam. And nobody realises or cares about the effect on 'the eternally new girl'. Ernt and Cora are making life work, but it's not, really. Enter a wonderful opportunity in Alaska. Alaska, remote, stark, menacing, inhabitable - The Great Alone. Isn't that going to be worse?

They were trapped, by environment and finances, but mostly by the sick, twisted love that bound her parents together.

Kristin Hannah takes a would be carefree Leni, her eager-to-please-everyone mom, Cora and her damaged eccentric father, Ernt in 1974 and creates an uneasy, contrived homeliness with this broken family in a small town where it's difficult enough (even when everyone pitches in) to survive just one winter. The unforgiving outside forces them inside, where perhaps the dangers are harsher, with more dramatic consequences.

An engaging story, that keeps the pages turning, until near the end, where the pace slows, and the plot swamps the characters. Enjoyable, nevertheless.

ISBN: 9781447286004

4 stars

You may also enjoy Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale. Or what about The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton? Anita Shreve's The Stars are Fire is also great. 

More books.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Living in the Moment

Is it raining today? It's too dark to see as I type. It's totally out of season, if it is. We're used to dry crisp cold mornings at this time of the year here. But yesterday afternoon Jozi had a freezing drizz, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a little intermittent today. We may have to take the gap and just go if it's clear. And maybe get a little wet.
I used to not go if there was the hint of rain. I don't enjoy being rained upon, especially when I'm exercising. But after a few times of getting wet anyway, even after careful planning and analysis - to my surprise, it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. 
So, if it's cold, or raining where you are, I'm going. Don't worry about it - you'll survive.
If this life is one act
Why do we lay all these traps
We put them right in our path
When we just wanna be free
I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about all the things
That will not happen to me
I've rediscovered the lyrics and folksy tunes of Jason Mraz this weekend.The above is from Living in the Moment. But wait, there's more...
So I just let go of what I know I don't know
And I know I only do this by
Living in the moment
Living my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart
Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home
Living in the moment
I'm letting myself off the hook for things I've done
I let my past go past
And now I'm having more fun
I'm letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone

Remember to let go as you go. You'll come back lighter - in more ways than one.

Here's the song for those of you who play it as you run.

Happy Monday, happy week.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Just as I am

I love music, and I enjoy finding stories behind music. It is almost a compulsion - to know the story behind every song. I've found lots of powerful stories by searching old hymns, and why they were written. I've written about it before, but not that often.

This morning, I was thinking of the old hymn, Just As I Am. You ready? It's a beautiful story.

Charlotte Elliot, in 1822, of Brighton, England was done. She had been known as "carefree Charlotte" in her youth, and was popular - she drew portraits of people and was a writer of humorous verse. That changed when she turned 30, and illness put her in bed for the rest of her life. It affected her deeply. "If God truly loved me," she muttered, "He would not treat me this way."
A Swiss minister visited on 9th May, and she lost it completely over dinner -railing at God and society and everything - to the extent that the rest of her family left the room, leaving her alone with Dr. Cesar Malan. He didn't leave, but saw her pain, so that she was able to ask "What is your cure?" "The very faith you are trying to despise," he retorted. As they chatted, she asked the doctor what she would do if she did want to become a Christian. "You would give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame," he said, wisely.

Charlotte did, lived until 82, and penned over 150 hymns, although she never enjoyed good health.

We've been thinking, as a family, about church, values, traditions, and how they impact on society. It saddens me to hear how Christian people, acting as "missionaries" and bringing the "gospel" to the nations have over the years, insisted that the people to whom they're preaching adopt not only their God and their religion, but also the way they always done it - with the bells, smells, dresses and tresses, head coverings and stone buildings. The hymn that Charlotte wrote dispenses with all that, and encourages us to come just as we are.

After her death, her family found over a thousand letters she had kept in which people expressed their gratitude for how her hymn had touched their lives.

There are many great versions of this beautiful hymn. I prefer the simpler ones, like this Brian Doerksen rendition.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind;
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

And this a cappella one also feeds my soul.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Ten of the Best #124

And before we begin, could we just have a shout out for World  Chocolate Day, please?

We're going to start with a World Cup themed clip. Have you learned to Neymar yet?

The difference between watching The World Cup in the US and most other places in the world.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Friday Books - Someone by Alice McDermott

I love Fridays. Not least because we get to visit each other's blogs and see what everyone else is reading.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

Today I'm featuring Someone by Alice McDermott. Here's the beginning.

I've had to read and re-read a lot of the first chapter. I just kept feeling as if I'd missed so much. Eventually on about page 40, I stopped doing that, and now it's going more smoothly. Fortunately it's a little book, so I'm sure I won't take that long to finish.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56.

I'm only this far into the book. I particularly love this scene between Mary and her mother.  What do you think? Would you keep reading?

What are you reading this weekend?  Leave me a comment with what you're featuring and I'll check it out.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Book Club Books #2 2018

Are you buying a book for Book Club, and looking for a recommendation? Maybe you're buying them all this month? Here's a handy guide - the seven I've enjoyed recently that you should be able to locate at your local book store.

If you click the cover, you'll get my full review, if you want to know more. On this page I've summarised them all. Don't forget to come back to check out the rest.

The Alice Network was written by New York Times bestseller, Kate Quinn. It's set just after WWII, and before you roll your eyes - yes it is about that War, particularly about a group of women - The Alice Network - who spy for the Allies. Kate writes about history as if it were your favourite TV series. By that, I mean addictively. Read the review, you'll see what I mean.

Swedish writers, a series of crimes committed by a family. It all started with The Father. I cannot begin to tell you how much I liked this book. And it was my most popular review last month - it seemed to hit a nerve. It doesn't get much better than this.

You've seen the movie (the trailer, not the whole thing, if you're me), but have you thought about reading the book. I promise it is not about ballet. Written by an ex-CIA operative (for 33 years), it's about Dominika Egorova, a Sparrow and Nathaniel Nash, an American spy. Unputdownable - it may just be as good as The Father.

And now for something completely different. I loved The Beach Cafe. It's the perfect holiday and Book Club read. Lucy Diamond has written a few of these, and she's a hit. In this one, Evie inherits Aunt Jo's coffee shop next to the ocean. Should she, shouldn't she keep it? It's a fun, feel-good afternoon tea kind of book.

Every Note Played is the story of Richard, who was married to Karina. He isn't anymore. He's also a famous concert pianist, except now he has ALS (the ice bucket challenge disease) so he isn't that either. Lisa Genova  wrote Still Alice. She also studied  neuroscience. She knows her way around this stuff, and this book is brilliant.

Hannah Kent? Yes - The Burial Rites, remember? This is as good. It must be, it's about The Good People. Haha. Seriously though, you're in excellent hands here. The Good People is about a village raising a child, or trying to. In 1825, in County Kerry, Ireland, when life was hard, and loved ones died. All the time. Nóra Leahy knows. She's lost a husband and a daughter and four-year-old Micheál is her grandson - the one she must care for. He fits and rages, can't walk or talk. This is a beautiful book, written superbly.

Last one, I promise. Dictator is timely, relevant and wonderfully readable. Yes it is about Caesar, and the Roman Empire and his rule. It's also written from the perspective of Cicero's personal assistant - Tiro, and he was quite a man himself. Responsible for inventing shorthand, and staying out of trouble (no mean feat in those times) , and transcribing his famous master's eloquence, this is a delight. It's also part three of a trilogy, but who needs to read history in order? It happened, we know the spoilers.

That's my pile. Hope you find some books you love, and if you're also having dinner, DON'T FORGET TO TALK ABOUT THE BOOKS!

Have fun.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This book popped up everywhere. It kept being recommended to me on Goodreads, I saw it on other blogs, a friend read it, so when I saw it on special online for one day only, of course I snapped it up.

It didn't help that I'd just read Red Sparrow and The Father, both of which whet my appetite for a good crime thriller.

And because I hate spoilers, all I'm going to tell you about the story line is that Richard the hedge fund manager is about to marry Nellie, the pre-school teacher, whose best friend is Sam.

Vanessa is Richard's ex. And she's watching, drowning her sorrows and hating her job as a sales assistant at Saks. 

I enjoyed this one - the writing was good. Here are some excerpts.

“Gaze detection, it’s called—our ability to sense when someone is observing us. An entire system of the human brain is devoted to this genetic inheritance from our ancestors, who relied on the trait to avoid becoming an animal’s prey.”

“She is oblivious to what I have done to her. She is unaware of the damage I have wrought; the ruin I have set in motion. To this beautiful young woman with the heart-shaped face and lush body-the woman my husband Richard, left me for-I'm as invisible as the pigeon scavenging on the sidewalk next to me. She has no idea what will happen to her if she continues like this. None at all.”

Yet, if you've had a similar experience to me - been recommended this book, that is - the 'selling point' is those twists you 'won't see coming'. Here's the thing. I don't really read a book for the twists. 'Assume nothing' says the blurb. I never do. I don't even really try to guess, because I'm not very good at it. And here's the thing about this book. The twists didn't really make it, they almost messed it up. Like the authors tried a little too hard to make the twists so good, they forgot about the story, which wasn't bad.

Now you're curious, aren't you? Well, read the book. It's a quick and easy read, once you've persevered a little.

3 stars

ISBN: 9781250130921

You may also enjoy Peter Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing, or My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry.