Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yellow Dirt - Judy Pasternak

Summary from B&N: From the 1930s to the 1960s, the United States knowingly used and discarded an entire tribe of people as the Navajos worked, unprotected, in the uranium mines that fueled the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Long after these mines were abandoned, Navajos in all four corners of the Reservation (which borders Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona) continued grazing their animals on sagebrush flats riddled with uranium that had been blasted from the ground. They built their houses out of chunks of uranium ore, inhaled radioactive dust borne aloft from the waste piles the mining companies had left behind, and their children played in the unsealed mines themselves. Ten years after the mines closed, the cancer rate on the reservation shot up and some babies began to be born with crooked fingers that fused together into claws as they grew. Government scientists filed complaints about the situation with the government, but were told it was a mess too expensive to clean up. Judy Pasternak exposed this story in a prizewinning Los Angeles Times series.

Shocking. My sister said it would be when she recommended it, and she was not wrong. My brother-in-law is Navajo, and I have always been fascinated with Native American culture, wishing I had such deep roots and abiding family ties.

But what the government allowed to happen to the Navajos…all for the sake of uranium…is appalling. The U.S. government is supposed to be a protector for these people. Instead, from 1930 -1960 they exploited the Navajos and their resources. And the implications of this exploitation are still being felt today.

I had never heard of this before reading this book. There were a lot of technical and political items in the book that made it slightly more difficult to read. But Pasternak also tells the story through the eyes of The People, the Dine, who experienced uranium mining and its after-effects first hand.

The government again clearly proves that it is not capable of taking care of anyone – as government interests will always come first.

I recommend reading this book. It will open your eyes to something that is not even touched upon in our history books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Heaven Is for Real - Todd Burpo

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble: Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Told by the father, but often in Colton's own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.

Jeff actually recommended this book to me. And if the husband (who is NOT a big reader) recommends a book, I sit up and take notice.

Heaven has always been one of those nebulous topics for me. I’ve always kind of pushed it off, out of my mind, since I can’t figure it out. I guess I’ll just know/see it all when I arrive.

The thing that struck me most about Colton’s story is that his visit to heaven had one huge impact on his life: he was passionate (at four years old) about people knowing Jesus so that they could be in heaven when they die.

Isn’t that what heaven is really all about: being with Jesus? There is all this theology and all these theories. But does it really matter if we have wings or not, whether we’re young or old, if people up there can see us down here, etc. The important thing is that we get to be with Jesus. And why wouldn’t we want to make sure we show others the way to Him through His love.

Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble: The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite.

My great-aunt recommended this book to me. And I am incredibly grateful.

I will say that it took several chapters for me to get into the book; I think because of the language. There are a lot of old English terms used (salvages) that took a bit of getting used to it. But once I was acclimated, the story just flowed…and not exactly how I expected it to.

I enjoyed the story. It is loosely based on a character I’d never considered – the first Native American to go to college in the colonies. I grew attached to both Caleb and Bethia throughout the narrative.

I definitely will be checking out more of Geraldine Brooks’s stories after I have made a bit of a dent in my own bookshelves.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SEAL Target Geronimo - Chuck Pfarrer

Summary from B&N: On May 2, 2011, at 1:03 a.m. in Pakistan, a satellite uplink was sent from the town of Abbottabad crackling into the situation room of the White House in Washington, D.C.: “Geronimo, Echo, KIA.” These words, spoken by a Navy SEAL, put paid to Osama bin Laden’s three-decade-long career of terror. SEAL Target Geronimo is the story of Bin Laden’s relentless hunters and how they took down the terrorist mastermind, told by Chuck Pfarrer, a former assault element commander of SEAL Team Six and author of the bestselling Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL. After talking to members of the SEAL team involved in the raid, Pfarrer shares never-before-revealed details of the historic raid and the men who planned and conducted it in an exclusive boots-on-the-ground account of what happened during each minute of the mission— both inside the building and outside.

I don’t remember how I heard about this book, but I wanted to read it because I got to observe a little piece of history regarding this operation. The USS Carl Vinson happened to be pulling into port at Pearl Harbor the day I was there. That is the carrier that Bin Laden’s body was transported to and then buried at sea from. But back to the book…

I found it very interesting. Although I also found that the majority of this book wasn’t specific to this mission. (Probably a good thing considering the need for security – it wasn’t even supposed to be known that it was a SEAL job). In reading it, you learn a lot about the history of the Navy SEALS and some about the history of Osama Bin Laden’s rise to power. And then it concludes with this historical mission.

The book was difficult to read, at times, simply due to all the codes and such. However, even a novice like me was able to make heads and tails of it. Man, the SEALS train for a lot…and run very regimented operations. And I’m grateful for them…whoever and wherever they are.

My only qualm with the book is one piece of misinformation…that makes me wonder if all the other facts in the book were thoroughly fact-checked. And the misinformation has to do with SEAL history on the location of a base. Pfarrer states that Offutt Air Base is in Florida. It is not. It’s in Nebraska. I know this; I was born there.

But one error doesn’t cause the whole book to be thrown out. If you are interested in the military or the war or the SEALs or recent events, I definitely think it’s worth a read.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Summer - David Baldacci

Summary from B&N: It's almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie's death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie's childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.

The first Baldacci book I read was the The Christmas Train. I think a sister-in-law recommended it to me…or maybe it was one of those random library picks. Who knows. Anyway, I loved it.

Then I got into reading his political intrigue books (of which there are many). I really liked them as well.

However, with One Summer David Baldacci returns his focus to relationships and a feel-good story. And I thoroughly enjoyed the return.

I enjoyed Jack and Micki’s journey through death and life and grief and joy and struggles and all the mess that waking each day throws our way. They were three-dimensional characters who made mistakes and grew and just…became.

My only qualm was the romance bit; it seemed too happen quickly for me. Although that could be because the culmination – while “two years later” – was on the next page.

Another amazing thing for current fiction: NO cursing or “scenes”. That was completely refreshing.

Definitely worth picking up and reading.

Just Walk Across the Room - Bill Hybels

Summary from B&N: What if you knew that by simply crossing the room and saying hello to someone, you could change that person's forever? Just a few steps to make an eternal difference. It has nothing to do with methods and everything to do with taking a genuine interest in another human being. All you need is a heart that's in tune with the Holy Spirit and a willingness to venture out of your 'Circle of Comfort' and into another person's life. Just Walk Across the Room brings personal evangelism into the twenty-first century.

I picked up this book from the library because in the recent past my church did a sermon series and small groups based on it. I missed some of the sermons due to working with the junior high group and shuttling Jeff to the airport. And I didn’t attend a small group because…well, life is crazy. So I definitely wanted to read the book.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely believe that you earn your right to speak into people’s lives – whether it’s about faith or choices or whatever. And so evangelism like Pastor Hybels writes about just makes sense. You need to have a relationships. Build a relationship. Care about people. And then listen to the Spirit and follow the leading there.

I will admit, although it makes sense and sounds simple, for a natural introvert like me it is anything but. The fear of rejection keeps me from “walking across the room” and engaging people more often than not. Although it is interesting. I spent a week or so reading the book and finished it up Friday night. Saturday we were going to the birthday party for the daughter of friends. I use the word “friends” loosely. They are Jeff’s friends. I would like them to be mine. But we live an hour apart. So there hasn’t been time to build that sort of relationship. So we’re really more acquaintances.

Anyway, back to the point.

Twice during the party I walked up to someone, introduced myself, and engaged in conversation. I didn’t even think about it. I just did it. This book and its concepts must have been in my subconscious.

Did we have deep, spiritual conversations? No. I don’t think there was anything remotely spiritual about them. But I got out of my “circle of comfort”, walked across a room, and engaged in conversation. That’s huge for me.

Definitely a book worth reading. Practical and encouraging all in one.