Monday, December 16, 2013

What I read in November (2013)

This is my monthly recap of the books I've read and reviewed on my book blog. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Best fiction of the month, and one of the best books of the year:
The Sleeping Dictionary (Daughters of Bengal, #1)
The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

This book is the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. The story follows her life as she ends up in a series of difficult situations. The Sleeping Dictionary starkly paints the life of a girl and woman in India, especially during this era. She had hardly any choices if she wanted to survive. Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately. I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I have read great quantities of Indian fiction  but this book taught me things I did not know. Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Kamala herself. As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. Books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life. I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy. If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! 

Book that made me the most nostalgic:

Cross CurrentsCross Currents, by John Shors

This book took me back to March 1987, when my friend Debbie and I spent a few days--not long enough--on an unspoiled Thai island, Koh Samet. Our time on this island was wonderful because we were on our own, and it was absolutely of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. 

Me on Koh Samet
The memory of our time on that pristine island, where we had a bungalow on the beach and ate our meals in front of the ocean, was ever present as I read this book, set on another unspoilt Thai island, Ko Phi Phi. It's the story of an American, Patch, who is working for Lek and Sarai, owners of a very small resort. Patch's stay continues longer than any other American...and they realize that he is on the run from the law. Soon Patch's brother Ryan and his girlfriend Brooke arrive to help him, but there's trouble in paradise. Brooke and Ryan's relationship is in trouble, and she realizes she is attracted to Patch. The climax of the story is the December 2004 tsunami, which sweeps everyone into crisis. It's a terribly bittersweet novel, and it moved me at the end. I enjoyed this book because it made me think of that lovely Thai beach...and saddened me to think of what happened to all those people who lost their lives or loved ones in the great wave.

Great essays about faith:

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro 

This is a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40. The title immediately caught my attention. The following essays struck particular notes with me:

  • "The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children.
  • "Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on.
  • "Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church.
  • "High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism.
  • "Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality.
  • "The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. 
  • "Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. 
  • “The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims.
  • "No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church.
  • "The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church.
  • "Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure.
  • "Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church.
  • "What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
  • "My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.

I encourage you to read the full reviews if any of these sound interesting. Happy reading!

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