book review

Four Vision Quests of Jesus

Written by Steven Charleston, citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and ordained at Wakpala, South Dakota on Standing Rock Reservation. He has served as national director for Native American ministries in the Episcopal Church, tenured professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, Bishop of Alaska, and President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


A friend recommended this book to me. I’m only half-way through yet this book has unmoored my faith and at the same time rooted me more firmly in God as made known through the life of Jesus.

A Native American Spirituality

I am struck by the care with which Charleston writes. He shares of his own experiences as a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, raised as a Christian. His tribe, friendly with the Spanish, French, and English people, and allies fighting alongside American soldiers during the War of 1812, had invited Presbyterian ministers to their nation because they wanted to learn more about European religious practices. Because Christian theology “resonated with our own religious traditions, we quickly adopted Protestantism.”

But then in the 1830s, the Choctaw people were among many Native American nations, betrayed by the American government, were forced to take the Trail of Tears.

Charleston also deconstructs the non-Native understanding of quest and teaches the components of a classic Native American vision quest: preparation, community, challenge, lament.

Not a long book (162 pages), the first chapters give us context and setting, share Native American telling of history, and deconstruct terms understood a particular way within the Native American communities.

I believe Jesus both corrects and confirms the original covenants God made with God’s people. Israel and Native America are not alone in having a sacred memory of the encounter with God. There are many “old testaments.”

Having just finished the chapter on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, I’m now at the point to read about the four vision quests of Jesus.

If you have a desire to strengthen your spirituality or better understand a Native American approach to Christianity, I highly recommend this book.

reading books and arctic temps

Brrrr…eight inches of snow to shovel off the driveway yesterday and sore arms today.

This morning, I woke up an hour ago to -6 Fahrenheit and it’s already climbed down to -8 (windchill -24) and it’s a gonna hang out at these subzero temps for a couple days.

So what’s a person to do on their week off when it’s like this? Using the oven to make meals, sipping hot drinks, working a jigsaw puzzle (in real life), and reading. My favorite kind of week off in winter.

These are most recent two books I’ve read.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

The first is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, a science fiction novella, 90 pages long.

Binti is a 16-year-old woman of an esteemed desert family. We’re in action immediately as, in secret, she leaves on a transporter to attend a prestigious university. When she boards a shuttle, she makes her way through security and people’s stares to get onto the living ship. She’s a harmonizer through mathematics. This story is a quick and fascinating read.

Okorafor is an Igbo (Nigerian) American. She’s won many awards for her short stories and young adult books. Binti won both the 2016 Nebula award and the 2016 Hugo award. Binti is now a series.

Well-Read Black Girl, edited by Glory Edim

The second book is an anthology of short stories and memoirs. Well-Read Black Girl is edited by Glory Edim, founder of the Well-Read Black Girl club based in Brooklyn, New York. Authors in this anthology include: Tayari Jones, Rebecca Walker, N.K. Jemisin, Jacqueline Woodson, and many others.

Each section is divided with recommended selections of further readings: classic novels, black feminism, black girlhood and friendship, science fiction and fantasy, plays, and poetry, all written by black women.


Well-Read Black Girl

Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

The purpose of this book, as true for any book, is for people to:

  1. find words for their own lived experience

  2. slip on the skins of world that are familiar

  3. see interpretations of the world as it was, and

  4. envision the world as it could become.

As Edim writes on her website:

Our goal is to showcase the universality of Black women through literature. Through reading our community addresses racial inequity in publishing and pays homage to the literary legacies of Black women writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou.

Happy reading!

A Royal Spyness Mystery

I have inducted myself into the Cosy (British spelling) Mysteries. I couldn’t resist with Crowned and Dangerous: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen.

As Louise Penny is quoted,

Brilliant...So much more than a murder mystery. It’s part love story, part social commentary, part fun and part downright terrifying. And completely riveting. I adore this book.

With a Welsh named author, a heroine named Georgie who’s 34th in line for the British Crown, and an Irish hero named Darcy, that’s all it took for this Anglophile reader! Set it in 1934 November and December (Did you know airplanes were called aeroplanes?) and I’m in.

What’s a woman to do, when the man she loves tells her they’re heading to Gretna Green (in other words—eloping) but they’re interrupted by a blizzard?

Then they read a newspaper article about his estranged father being accused of murder.

Darcy goes to his ancestral estates in Ireland alone, then tells Georgie during a phone call that the elopement is off. She does not take that mildly.

What is a Cozy Mystery?

Elizabeth Spann Craig, a North American author, is my go-to blogger about all things Cozy. She shares a list of what makes a cozy different from other mysteries: thrillers, military, police procedural, and hard-boiled detective.

  • amateur sleuth

  • a body before page 30

  • no gory details about the body

  • little to no use of profanity

  • create a puzzle with red herrings, distractions, and clues

  • close the door on romance subplots

  • write as a series

  • create a pun on the title

  • and, of course, humor

She also lists things to avoid in cozies: too many characters, too much “hook” (subplot that series is based on such as the royal connections in the Royal Spyness series), too much mystery (not enough subplots), too dark, and supporting characters who steal the show (and this can happen in any genre).

If you’re ready for a light and fun read, this is a great book. Rhys Bowen has written twelve books in this series. She has also written two other cosy series: ten Constable Evans Mysteries and seventeen Molly Murphy Mysteries. Bowen is also author of two World War II novels which I have checked out to read next.


House Projects

A week of vacation from work and it’s been rather intense on the home front.

I spent time at my sister’s new north Wisconsin lake cabin, a 3-hours drive one-way, to spend time together for two days. One day I picked up a couple of big walnut tree branches (we had a big wind the last week) and black walnuts while Mom finished working her church’s apple pie fundraiser (they made close to 1,000 in 3-days).

walnut branches.jpg

All those little black dots (some are still yellow-green) in the lawn and on the brick patio? Black walnuts. The black skins, which stain, are soft now and will peel off the hard-shelled walnut. One of my uncles, who’s retired, will take the time to remove the skin, crack the shells, and pick out the meat.

Then the past two days, my daughter and I have worked on house projects. Here’s the bathroom.


The first day she filled the wood grain (above), then yesterday we sanded and primed it white. Today we will paint the cabinets gray. I look forward to getting our bathroom and dining room (that’s where all the doors and drawers are) back in order.

bathroom cabinets-primed.jpg

And I pruned these two monster tomato plants. You can, perhaps, see that they have grown not only over my neighbor’s fence (for them to enjoy those sweet fruits!) but the nearest plant has also grown underneath the pink autumn joy sedum and into my lawn. The sedum has also been overtaken by my giant yellow pepper plant which I didn’t think I needed to cage. Good dirt around here!

Yesterday afternoon, we found out that our water system tested positive for e. coli. We bought a couple of gallons of water then will boil water for the next 5-days or until we’re given the all clear to drink water straight from the tap again.

This had happened where my church is a couple of weeks ago, upriver from us. It does make me wonder if there is something going on with the river water that is somehow affecting us. Something to research on when I have the time.

A Gentleman in Moscow

But in the midst of all this, I did have a chance to read A Gentleman in Moscow. Wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing (though I occasionally tired of his tendency to write in triplets when describing) even though the story was a slow starter. I picked it up because Writer Unboxed’s facebook group used it as one of their studies of breakout novels.


I couldn’t get into the story before the book was due at the library and I had to put myself back on the waiting list a second time. I was not disappointed. For the ending, Towles ties together various bits of the Count’s life. It is character centered and, as a reviewer on Amazon wrote, I also wondered about the plot until we neared the end.

I’m also intrigued by the sympathetic portrayal of Josef Stalin. Perhaps that’s simply the Counts point of view? After all, he’s been under house arrest during the political purges and the war, so Stalin had no direct effect on the Count’s life.

Well…except for his confinement to the hotel. Count Alexander Rostov is a wonderful character and I fell in love with him. However, I’m also a Georgette Heyer fangirl too.

My Novel

And my own story? I feel very insecure about my plot again. So I’m using Janice Hardy’s points to summarize my protagonists’ goals and make sure there are no plot holes or logic holes or, heaven forbid, if I wasn’t tough enough on either of the women. Poor protagonists. Here we go…

Fascinating Fundamentals

I probably would not have picked up this book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper,  on my own but it was recommended on a blog I follow by literary agent, Janet Reid.


There are fascinating tidbits in this book for the word lover. For example, the author bemoans and befriends the addition of the word irregardless to the dictionary.

She also writes a bit about grammar. 

Do not end a sentence with a preposition

This is a rule I certainly remember being taught in grade school. Why this rule?  

Before we get into the why of this rule, some background:

First, the author reminds us that until the mid-fifteenth century, Latin and French were the languages of official documents.

Second, Latin and French had been around a long time and had grammatical standards in place. English, as a written language, was unruly. Grammar standards were needed for use in court and legal documents.

 How in the world are Latin and French related to English grammar rules? Read on ~ 

English grammar is not Latin grammar. English has a grammatical structure similar to other Germanic languages, and Latin has a grammatical structure similar to other Italic languages. Blending grammatical systems from two languages on different branches of the Indo-European language tree is a bit like mixing orange juice and milk: you can do it, but it’s going to be nasty.
— Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

That unexpected hit of humor that peeped out there? The author has bits of those moments sprinkled throughout her book.  And I appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek at the working life of a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. 

If you wish to learn more about the English language, this is your book! Check it out.   


Wonderful Cosmos

A few years back, my son saw the title of a book I was reading.


As a pastor's child, he attended church weekly because it was an expectation I had of my children when they lived at home.

Adults now, my children are philosophical and thoughtful, each in their own ways. But they do not attend a church. When my son saw the title of this book, Prayers to an Evolutionary God, he said something to the effect of, "if that's the kind of God churches talked about more often, I'd be interested in going." 

It's a great book. I return to it often. 

 William Cleary is a former Jesuit priest, filmmaker, and composer and is married to a Unitarian Universalist minister. 

Diarmuid O'Murchu is a priest and social psychologist whose books include Quantum Theoloy: Reclaiming Spirituality and Our World in Transition. 

Blend of Faith and Science

In the table of content, the chapters are listed as:

  • Prayers of Listening
  • Prayers of Questioning
  • Prayers of Ambiguity
  • Prayers of Intimacy.  

And each heading has a quote from Diarmuid O'Murchu and from Albert Einstein. There are 80 prayers and each prayer has a page accompanying it that speaks to the wonder of nature, the mystery of God, 

An Evolutionary God

This is not a traditional look at our own personal salvation. It is much more community oriented and not just a church or faith community. The prayers focus on God, on our attempted understanding of the sacred stories of the Bible and of our place in the cosmos. We are not the center of the universe. It is huge. 

What books do you continue to go back to, which inspire you, and give you a sense of hope?  

a children's Christmas book

'Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, written for children, aged 4-8 years old.


This story shows (haha, see what I did there? Show don't tell) the birth of Jesus. It is written in poetry reminiscent of the rhythm of Dr. Clement C. Moore's, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

It's a beautiful book. I highly recommend it. 

A witch, a pocket dragon, and a poetry reciting bog monster

I just read the most fantabulous book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. It received a John Newberry Medal and is written for young readers.


I'm in love with the cover. 

The cast of characters contain a child, a witch, a pocket dragon, and a bog monster who recites poetry.

The child, taken from her parents when she was a baby by the government of the walled city, was left in the forbidden forest as part of the annual sacrifice to keep the mean and evil witch away.

But the witch has been rescuing these babies for decades, taking them on a journey to the other side of the forest, to place them in new homes. Since that journey is long, she feeds the babies with starlight.

With this child, however, the witch accidentally feeds her moonlight. And that creates all sorts of problems.

Book Review


This story, My Name is Lucy Barton, written by Elizabeth Strout, ©October 2016, has several time-braids in it.

  • We see Lucy as a young girl living with her family in an uncle’s garage, and after he dies, in his small home, and learning at school that she is different, shunned, because a life of poverty doesn’t teach social skills.
  • We see Lucy in the hospital in New York, a young married woman and mother, needing an extended stay after a routine surgery and the relationship that exists between her and Mom.
  • We see bits of Lucy as a newly married, adjusting to life in New York, and developing the odd friendships that she’s able to manage.
  • We see allusions to issues of abuse and neglect, family dysfunction and loneliness.
  • And we see references to Lucy’s future self, a published author, from which this story is told.

It’s a slender book, a complex story that in some ways remains elusive. There is direct naming and there is that which is not said, which is not spoken

But there are times, too--unexpected--when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not,

The book stirred feelings in me: curiosity first, wondering if this author could keep my interest. Then gradually, I was caught up in Lucy’s life. Sometimes I would be deeply immersed in Lucy’s point-of-view and then other times the camera lens backed away and distanced itself from knowing Lucy too completely.

The focus of the story is Lucy’s relationship with Mom. We read of tenderness, of half-asked questions, and we witness love in all its faultiness expressed through human limitations.

The Last Letter: A Book

I recently finished a wonderful book: The Last Letter by Susan Pogorzelski. It's a semi-autobiographical account of Susan's experiences living with Chronic Lyme Disease told from the point of view of 15-year-old Amelia. For anyone who has dealt with or had a loved one deal with a misdiagnosed disease that sucks the life out of you, this book takes a creative approach to letting you know you're not alone. The story will draw you in. 

Susan is a consultant, editor, and creative coach at Brown Beagle Books, and an all around great cheerleader for authors and a courageous speaker for Lyme Disease sufferers. 

In June, Janet Reid, Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary Agency, sponsored one of her 100-word flash fiction contests with this book as the reward (no, I did not win). We had to include five words in our story:  last, letter, pogo, ease, lime. 

This was the week we had two winners! Go here to read Janet's analyses and the qualities she looks for in determining the winning entries.  

This was my entry:  

Sidewalk Café

“Gah! Why can’t I remember its name?”

Complaisant, I listen to ma femme courageux.

“Ugh,” she taps a fist to her forehead, “Italian. Begins with the letters p-o.”

I savor the shish ta’ook with tabouli, melding and mingling the aroma. Délicieux.


Ha! She is returned! Ma femme méthodique.


Gone, at long last, la fatigue.


La cuisine Lebanese? Her favori.


I relish her energie.


Ah! Anticipation is merveilleux.

“That’s it!” Delight dances on her lips, “The Pomodoro!”  

This Lyme Disease? Long has ma femme laborieux.

“See! I will be a writerly dame!”