Monday, February 12, 2018

Daring to Hope, by Katie Davis Majors

REVIEW: This book is a memoir of one extraordinary woman’s journey of faith in Uganda.  I really wanted to love and be inspired by the book, and that happened, but not to the extent I was hoping for.  From the standpoint of a reader I found myself skimming the first few chapters looking for something to move the story along.  Perhaps a bit tighter editing might have kept the story moving without losing the impact of the inspirational parts.   (Note: I found the second half better in this regard.)  Besides the enthralling story, there are multiple positives about this book including that it is well grounded in scripture and the author makes it possible for the reader apply her faith and growth in Uganda to a completely different life in another country.   I particularly related to her realization that she was tired (chapter 11) but that God never gets weary.  I highly recommend this book to a bible study as well as a Christian book discussion group.  I received a complementary copy of the book for this review.  
Katie Davis Majors
Thirteen adopted daughters

Patrick and Celeste – friends – adopted Gift

Christine – friend and co-worker


Stayed at house while ill or recuperating
Jane – 4 years old
Lisa – biological mother

Gift – orphaned baby

Mack – injured leg and Katie dressed

Katherine – young, ill widow with six children


Simon, grandmother and Anna (mother)

For Discussion:

NOTE: The page numbers are from the hardback edition.

  1. Consider the idea of joy versus happiness.  The author writes that, “The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow” (page 89).  Do you agree?   How does experiencing sorrow help you experience joy?
  1. In the same vein, when considering the sunflowers planted by her daughters in the backyard she writes, “Maybe the greatest joy isn’t just in beholding the flowers but in the process” (page 71).   Can you think of a time in your life when the process was more meaningful than the outcome?
  1. Do you think a missionary can separate their personal life from the lives they are ministering to?  Katie writes that, “…this separation seems not only unbiblical but impossible” (page 59).  Do you agree?
  1. One difference she noted was the Western idea of, “… valuing personal space and privacy” (page 59).   How difficult would it be for you to give up your personal space?
  1. On the same page (59), one idea that really hit home to me was that she decided to, “practice the art of being interrupted.”   How difficult would this be for you? 

  1. The Bible teaches that God works all things for our good.   Mack stated an example of this when he said to Katie, “If I hadn’t hurt my leg, we wouldn’t be friends now.  I wouldn’t know you, and maybe I wouldn’t know Jesus.  This leg, it was bad.  But now it is good, you know?” (page 31).  Can you think of other examples in the book?  In your own life?

  1. Katie wrote that, “…the most powerful thing we can do for another person is not to try to fix his or her pain or make it go away but to acknowledge it” (page 101).  How difficult is this?   Do you think our culture is too focused on fixing everything?  What about things we cannot fix?

  1. One of my favorite quotes from Aristotle is in the book, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit” (page 139).  How does this apply to your religious faith?

  1. Did this book help you see things such as courage, burdens, being tired, etc. in a different light?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and  Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov
Helena – sister

Nina Kulikova
Sofia – daughter, left with Rostov at age 5

Mikhail Fyodorovich Mindrich “Misha”

RAPP – Russian Association of Proletarian Writers
Katerina Litvinova – married Misha

Anna Urbanova – movie star

Katuzov – one-eyed cat

Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov – dinner with Rostov once a month to learn Western ways of thinking

Capt. Richard Vanderwhile – American

Victor Stepanovich Skadovsky – musician and Sofia’s piano teacher

Lt. Pulonov – shot by Rostov after betraying Helena in revenge for incident at party
Metropol Staff
Arkady – front desk
Valentina – cleaning
Pasha and Petya – bellhops
Vasily – concierge
Marina – seamstress

Boyarsky restaurant:
Andrey Duras – maĆ®tre d’
Emile Zhukovsky – chef

Shalyapin – hotel bar
Audrius – bartender

Jozef Halecki – manager of Metropol
Leplevsky, “the Bishop” – manager of Metropol

Abram - Handyman met on rooftop

Book One – 1922
Book Two – 1923
Book Three – 1930
Book Four – 1950
Book Five – 1954

For Discussion:
NOTE: Page numbers are from hardback edition.

  1. When the Count was confined to the hotel and most of his possessions confiscated, he ordered three luxuries: fine linens, his favorite soap and a sweet from his favorite bakery (page 29).   What are your favorite luxuries?
  2. On page 28, the Count, “acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or be mastered by them.”  How did this concept help him survive?    Are there any circumstances that you have had to come to grips with?  How did you do that?
  3. What lessons can we learn from Count Rostov?
  4. What did Katuzov, the one-eyed cat, add to the novel?
  5. Why was Anna Urbanova so annoyed with the Count for being able to control her dogs and picking up her blouse?  (page 129)
  6. Given that the two men were raised in such different circumstances, how were Count Rostov and Abram, the handyman he found on the hotel roof, able to connect so easily? (pages 126-128)
  7. Misha was sent to Siberia because he protested the removal of a few lines about Russian bread in a letter from Chekov.  Why did those in power want the lines removed?  Why was it so important to Misha that the lines stay in?
  8. When Misha came to visit Rostov after leaving Siberia he commented that, “For as a people, we Russians have proven unusually adept at destroying that which we have created” (page 290).  He went on to say that this, …was not an abomination…it was our greatest strength” and that, “We are prepared to destroy that which we have created because we believe more than any of them in the power of the picture, the poem, the prayer, or the person” (page 291).   Do you understand this idea?  What do you think?
    1. Rostov continued this conversation with Osip who pointed out that American neighborhoods were destroyed to build skyscrapers and said, “…we [Russians] and the Americans will lead the rest of this century because we are the only nations who have learned to brush the past aside instead of bowing before it.  But where they [Americans] have done so in service of their beloved individualism, we are attempting to do so in service of the common good” (pages 293-4).   What do you think?
  9. Rostov and Osip watched many American movies in order to learn about America.   He argued that during the Depression, the movies were, “…unprecedented mechanism of class repression.  For with the cinema, the Yanks had apparently discovered how to placate the entire working class at the cost of a nickel a week” (page 293).  Do you agree?  
    1. Rostov wondered if the movies during the depression were “narcotics designed to put a restless nation to sleep? Or were they signs of a native spirit to irrepressible that even a Depression couldn’t suppress it?” (page 299).
    2. What would Osip and Rostov think of today’s movies?  What is their overall message?
  10. What were your thoughts about Rostov sharing Russian information with the Americans?  Was this a betrayal of his country? 
  11. The author has high expectations of the reader.  For example, you were expected to remember small details that became important later, such as:
    1. Nina not seeing the need to say “Thank you” when a kindness is not requested but offered (pages 52 and 185).
    2. The importance of the “round-faced fellow” on pages 102, 113 and 198.
    3. Osip has a, “scar above his left ear where, by all appearances, someone had once attempted to cleave his skull” (page 456).   Compare  to passage on page 205.

Discuss your reading experience.  Were there times you were confused?   What parts of the story do you particularly remember?   What did you like/dislike about the novel?  Did you gain any insights into your own life through this novel?

  1. Do you think a Russian would read this novel differently than an American? 
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click on the  upper right link.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lullaby Road, by James Anderson

REVIEW:  I enjoyed reading this novel and cared about the characters.  The story was very engrossing which made me want to keep reading and look forward to when I could get back to the book.  I particularly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the desert and the people who might choose to live such an isolated life style.  The only problem I had was that it was at times hard to follow and connect the small details throughout the story.  At the end I had several unanswered questions, even though I went back through the book to see if I missed anything.   I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review.  Rating: four stars out of five.

Price, Utah
Route 117
Rockmuse, Utah
Ben – truck driver

Cecil Boone – Stop ‘n Gone Truck Stop
Ana –works at truck stop -  in picture on missing poster with Manita at end of novel

Pedro – tire man at truck stop

Juan – Manita

Ginny – lived in duplex connected to Ben’s
Annabelle – infant daughter
Nadine – mother
Rod – Nadine’s boyfriend

Dr. Wanda Stafford

Los Ojos Negros
Tiffany (Julieta)
Walt Butterfield – Well-Known Desert Diner
Bernice – wife – raped
Claire – daughter, cellist – killed by ex-husband

Walt’s Son with a married rancher’s wife – smuggling tires from Mexico with Cecil, also involved in child smuggling

Dan Brew

Andy Smith – State Trooper

John “Preach” – First Church of the Desert Cross

Phyllis Bradford

Joe – Rockmuse Mercantile
Peggy -wife
Lenny – nephew

Toby – Collision Center

Roy Cuthbert – inventor

Eckhardt – Rockmuse Shell Station

Ginger – Ginger’s Glass, Whatnots, Handmade Soap and Ballroom Dance Emporium


Dr. Rupert Conway

Hector and family

 For Discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from the hardback edition of the book.

  1. On page 18, after being hit by the truck Ben wonders if he should have made “the harder” choice and just gone home with the boy and Belle.   He thought, “Like a good many people, when faced with a hard decision, most of my thinking involved trying to come up with a good excuse not to do what I knew I should do.”   Do you think this is true for most people?   Why do some people make the harder decisions?
  2. Why did Ginger run over John?  Was it on purpose or an accident?  Why did George call the hospital and tell them he had died?
  3. Were you able to picture the town of Rockmuse as you were reading?
  4. Which characters did you connect with the most?  Which would you like to learn more about?
  5. When thinking about Roy on page 86, Ben saw Roy in a different light, “resourceful, hardworking, determined, even ingenious…”   Did this novel make you think of people who might be worse off than you in a more positive or different way?
  6. What happened to Manita in the end?  How was Ana at the truck stop connected to Manita?  When was the picture taken for the missing poster?
  7. How did Claire get such an expensive cello?  Was that important to the story?
  8. Why do you think Pedro said the child was a boy?
  9. Did you think the man driving the truck that hit Ben at the beginning of the novel and then attacked Ben, Walt and Andy at the end was Walt’s illegitimate son?  Why did he attack the three men?
  10. On page 303 Ben muses that, ‘There was only one reason why all three of us were still alive.”   What was the reason?
  11. What part did Los Ojos Negros play in the novel?  Why did they seem so connected with Ben?   What part did they play in the three men’s survival at the end of the novel?
  12. Discuss your reading experience.  What was positive and what, if anything, was negative?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click  on the upper right  link.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Last Bus to Wisdom, by Ivan Doig

Donal Cameron – “Red Chief”
Dorie Blegen – grandmother

Kitty Brinker – Dorie’s sister, “The Kate,” “Aunt Kate”
Herman Brinker – husband

Karl May – Western writer, Herman’s favorite author, Austrian

Wendell Williamson – ranch owner

People met in travels:
Letty Minetti – passenger on bus, knew Dorie from truck stop in Browning
Harv – Letty’s boyfriend, being taken to jail
Sheriff Carl Kinnick – Harv’s stepbrother, taking him to jail
Mae and Joe Schneider
Jack Kerouac
Rags Rasmussen
Reverend Mac – thief on bus
Dr. Paul Schneider

Diamond Buckle Ranch:
Rags Rasmussen
Mrs. Costello
Waltzing Matilda

For discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from the paperback edition of the novel.

  1. Did you ever have an autograph book?   Do you still have it? 
  2. Discuss the various characters.   Who did you sympathize with and who did you not?  What were the positives and negatives of each?   What decisions made by the characters changed your idea of them?
  3. Donal was surprised to learn that Kate had been a waitress.   Why do you think Herman never brought that up in their arguments in the kitchen over how he ate toast?
  4. When Donal was first getting to know Herman, he was impressed with Herman’s imagination.  He reflected, “Wherever Herman Brinker got it from, he’s held on to the rare quality that usually leaves a person after a certain number of years as a kid, to let what he had read possess him” (Chapter 10, page 154).   How you ever had the experience of being totally possessed by what you are reading?
  5. How did Donal’s attitude of “I’ll toughen in.” (chapter 27, page 387) help him survive and thrive?  How can we develop that attitude in our children and in ourselves?
  6. At the end of the novel, in the saloon when Donal wanted to tell Herman about returning to his grandmother and Letty in Glasgow, he decided to wait because Herman was having a good time.  Donal thought, “There are times when mercy cancels anything else.” (chapter 29, page 416).  Do you agree?  Can you think of any examples?
  7. Were you surprised when at the end of the novel Donal chose to stay with Herman rather than return to his grandmother?
  8. Discuss your reading experience.  (I felt anxious anticipating all of the bad things that could happen to Donal in his travels.    I read the last few pages to see how it ended and then was able to enjoy the rest of the story much more.)
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende

Eliza Sommers – abandoned at birth and taken in by Sommers family, John’s daughter
Rose – wrote erotic novels
John – sailor

Mama Fresia – cook for Sommers family

Jacob Todd – came to Chile to sell 300 bibles on a bet

Tao Chi’en – Eliza’s friend and sage
Lin – wife, deceased

Karl Bretzner – Rose’s lover at age 16, opera singer

Feliciano Rodriguez de Santa Cruz
Paulina – wife

Joaquin Andieta – poor intellectual, romanced Eliza
Eliza > impersonating as either a Chinese boy or Elias Andieta, Joaquin’s brother

Joaquin Andieta > Joaquin Murieta (Mexican)

Jacob Todd > Jacob Freemont – reporter and writer

Feliciano Rodriguez de Santa Cruz – 1848-1849 went to California to mine gold > Felix Cross
Paulina – wife – started steamship line and delivered fresh food from Chile

Tao Chi’en

Dr. Ebanizer Hobbs – English

Azuncena Placeres – prostitute on ship

Joe Bonecrusher - madam
Babalu the Bad
Four “doves”

For Discussion:

Note: Page number are from the paperback edition.

  1. Joaquin repeated with Eliza exactly what disgraced his own mother.  Why did he not see this pattern?
  2. Did you like the very frequent foreshadowing?  Some examples are:
    1. Page 80: “Many years later, standing before a human head preserved in a jar of gin, Eliza would remember that first meeting with Joaquin…”
    2. Page 66: “…many years later, on the other side of the world, he [Tao] could still smell candles.”
    3. Page 108: “Later, when for years Eliza would follow Joaquin Andieta’s faint trail…”
    4. Page 109: “It would be several years before she [Eliza] began to record her Wednesday rendezvous in those pages.”
  3. Were you surprised about the changes in the characters once they arrived in California?  For example, both Jacob Todd and Joaquin Andieta seemed to reinvent themselves.
  4. In my book group, many members thought Joaquin Andieta had died and that Joaquin Murieta was a different person.  What do you think?
  5. Tao Chi’en seemed to be the only person who stayed the same between Chile and California.  Why?
  6. Were you surprised to read that Eliza was John’s daughter?
  7. Were you surprised to find out that Rose was writing the erotic novels John was selling?
  8. On page 228, what did you think of the characterizations of the different nationalities: “Americans were short on patience: they didn’t know how to work as a team and were defeated by greed and a lack of discipline. Mexicans and Chileans knew about mining, but the squandered their earnings.  Oregonians and Russians wasted time fighting and drinking.  The Chinese, on the other hand, got ahead however poor their beginnings because they were frugal…”
  9. Discuss the various characters.   What were the positive and negative characteristics of each?  
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

No One Ever Asked, by Katie Ganshert

REVIEW:  This is really an enthralling book and I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience.  The author expertly met the goal of helping the reader see people from their different perspectives and increasing empathy for those in different situations.   Besides the main issue of race, another important idea I felt the book addressed was the idea that everyone has struggles – no one has the “perfect life” we see on the surface.  The only reason I did not give the book five stars was because its “after life” was not as positive as the reading experience itself.  As I reflected on the book after I had finished, it seemed that there were so many issues (marital difficulties, guns, diabetes, adoption, etc.) that it was overwhelming.  I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review.

Crystal Ridge Schools
From South Fork School
Camille Gray
Neil – husband
Children – Taylor, Austin, Paige

Kathleen – Camille’s friend
Rick – husband
Children – Cody, Bennett, Dane

Jen Covington – high school nurse
Nick – husband
Jubilee – adopted daughter, age 7
Branden – Jen’s brother, drug addict

Leif Royce
Children – Gavin (2nd grade), Derek (high school)

Kyle Davis – Anaya’s supervising teacher

Juanita Fine
Anaya Jones – second grade teacher at Crystal Ridge and high school girls’ track coach
Darius – brother
Marcus – boy friend

Edison – Austin’s school friend, chess player
Tamika Harris – mother

For Discussion:

Note: Because the book I read was an Uncorrected Proof Copy, quotations are referenced with the chapter where they are found.

  1. In chapter 9, Anya reflects on a saying of her father, “Good news, bad news.  Who’s to say?”  Do you think this is a true statement?  Were there examples of this saying in the novel?
  2. When Camille was thinking about her marriage in chapter 10, she realized that she, “…had taken her marriage for granted, and things taken for granted were all too easily neglected.”  Did you think this was part of the reason why Neil left?  Do you think this is a true statement?
  3. How well did you think the author presented the issues involved in combining two very different school districts in terms of race as well as money?  Did she present both sides of the conflict equally well?
  4. Discuss Jen and her reaction to motherhood that was so different from what she expected.   Do you think her reactions were realistic?   Was there anything she could have done differently?
  5. The author is a white woman and the mother of a black daughter (Author’s Note).  How well do you think she addressed the difficulties Jen faced raising Jubilee?
  6. This book tackled very serious and controversial issues in our society.  One was the use of the “N” word.  In chapters 32 and 34 the characters discussed two different uses of that word, one as an extreme insult and one as a sign of solidarity.  What did you think about this? 
  7. Also in the “Author’s Note” she wrote about the power of a story.  Through a story, “We get to put on someone else’s skin and walk a mile in their shoes, which makes it the best possible breeding ground for empathy.”  Do you agree?  Can you think of a book that helped you understand someone else?  Did this book fulfill that goal?
  8. In chapter 34, Paige was asking Camille if she liked people with brown skin and Camille replied, “I don’t care about skin color.  It’s what’s in a person’s heart that matters.”  She then told Paige that the controversy with combining the two school districts had nothing to do with color.  Do you think Camille believed what she was saying?   Did she change her mind throughout the course of the novel?
  9. In chapter 56, Jen realized that she always thought Camille’s life was perfect, but then she came to understand that everyone had struggles in life.  Why was this an important realization for her?  Do you think this is magnified in our world today with Facebook and other ways we share our lives?
  10. Discuss Camille, Jen and Anaya.  Were their lives and challenges realistically portrayed?  Were you able to emphasize with them?
  11. What purpose did the character Juanita Fine play in the novel?
  12. Discuss your reading experience both as you were reading and after you had finished the book.
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Everybody's Fool, by Richard Russo


Beryl Peoples - high school English teacher, deceased
Clive Jr. – son, started Ultimate Escape Fun Park, then left town when it failed

Rub Squeers
Bootsie - wife

Donald Sullivan “Sully” – Rub’s best friend
Will – son
Peter – grandson
Rub - dog

Ruth – Sully’s girlfriend/friend
Zach – husband, scavenger
Janey – daughter
Tina – Janey and Roy’s daughter

Roy Purdy – Janey’s ex-husband, ex-con
Cora - girlfriend

Carl Roebuck – gave Sully and Rub work
Gus Moynihan – mayor
Alice – wife

Kurt Wright – professor, lived with Alice

Douglas “Dougie” Raymer – chief of police
Becka – wife, deceased

Charice – receptionist
Jerome – brother, affair with Becka

Miller - officer

Gert’s Salon – near Morrison Arms

Morrison Arms – apartment building

White Horse Tavern

Hattie’s Diner


For Discussion:

NOTE:  Page numbers are from hardback edition of novel.

  1. Discuss Rub’s father.  Why was he so mean to Rub?  What effect did this have on Rub?  His mother told his father in front of Rub, “You’re the reason he’s like this” (page 41).  Given how he treated Rub, why did his mother mourn his death when he was so mean?
  1. What did you think about Sully and Rub’s friendship?  Why wasn’t Sully nicer to Rub?  Why did he name his dog “Rub?”
  1. Why do you think Becka married Raymer?   Raymer remembered that she had changed everything about him (page 190) including the type of underwear he wore.  
  1. Why did the townspeople vote for Raymer for Chief of Police?
  1. What did Miss Beryl see in Raymer?  Why was she always giving him books?  On page 19 the author wrote, “The old woman was forever shoving books at him, and while another boy might have considered these gifts encouragement, he had wondered if they might instead be punishment for some misdeed he hadn’t noticed.”
  1. On page 330 Raymer thought about the question Miss Beryl always asked him, “Who is this Douglas Raymer?”    Why did she keep asking him that question?
  1. Consider Miss Beryl and Sully – why did she like him better than her own son?  Would you like to have had a teacher like Miss Beryl?
  1. Early in the book, Raymer wondered, “What made him so vulnerable to the judgements of others… when others got off scot-free” (page 16).  Why was he so self-conscious?
  1. On page 147, Raymer was reflecting on the people in the town and thought, “Amazing, when you thought about it, how much of human destiny was mapped out by third grade.”   Do you agree?
  1. Consider Kurt Wright, the professor hired by Moynihan.  How was he able to manage and control everyone?
  1. Did Roy Purdy stand a chance in life?  Even as a grown man, he could not forget the waitress’ look when he was 12 and eating at a diner with his father, who skipped out on the bill, “Like she could see his whole pitiful life stretched out before her, causing him to ball his hands into fists” (page356).  How did this comment affect him?
  1. What lesson had Roy’s father been trying to teach him with the diner incident where he had to eat everything he ordered?  Roy thought, “His father was right: wanting things that weren’t worth wanting or wishing things were different was a waste of time” (page 356).  What did Roy really learn from this experience?
  1. What did you think when Doug was struck by lightning at his wife’s grave and developed an alter ego “Dougie?”  Why did the author write this?
  2. What did you like about this book?  Was there anything you did not like?  Were there any insights in the human character and experience in the book?  What were you able to connect to in the novel?
  3. Discuss the various characters.  Which one did you sympathize with the most?   Were there any you particularly liked or disliked?  Why?
  4. This author won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls.  How does this book compare?  Does it give you a true picture of some slice of American life?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies  and  Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click on the upper right  link.