Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti

by Ted Oswald

From back cover
Ten-year-old orphan Libète has been hardened by the daily struggle to survive in Cité Soleil, Haiti's most infamous slum. But when she and her best friend, Jak, discover a young mother and her baby brutally murdered in a nearby marsh, it's unlike anything she's encountered before. Though initially shocked, the adults of Cité Soleil move on quickly from the event; after all, death is commonplace in this community. Undaunted, Libète takes action with Jak in tow, plunging herself into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change her irrevocably and threaten everything she holds dear.

Because We Are is a profound and mesmerizing tale of a young girl's search for justice in an unjust world, set against the vivid and tumultuous backdrop of modern-day Haiti.

My rating

My review
I met Ted Oswald this summer at a volunteer orientation, and when he said he enjoyed writing fiction, I couldn't help but ask if he'd published anything, despite my introverted inclination not to. The next morning he handed me a signed copy of Because We Are, as a gift. He said it was a murder mystery, and I have to admit, I was skeptical. I don't read murder mysteries.

But Ted Oswald has an amazing talent for writing, and Because We Are is a beautifully haunting work of art. I found myself walking the streets of Haiti, a place I've never been, watching the life of Libete unfold. I could see the landscape, the homes, the people, more vividly than in many books I've read. This book drew me in, and then broke my heart. It's right up there with Silence in difficulty to get through--I actually put it down for a few days in favor of a light fantasy novel, but I couldn't leave it on the table for long.

Libete is a colorful, strong young girl who endures far more than any person should witness in a lifetime, and she pulls her brilliant friend Jak into her meddling adventures. It is easy to love these children, but difficult to journey alongside them.

When I put this book down, I had half a mind not to pick it up again. It was just too hard to get through. But although Libete isn't real, the Haiti she lives in is very much so, and I felt a strong need and perhaps even responsibility to finish this book. There was no pity, no place for it, only a strong sense of what it is to be human and to live on this earth.

Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti


late August

a pair of mourning doves, though silent,
graced my visit to the garden this morning
with their regally humble presence
and the sunflower confirmed my suspicions
of its growth among unchecked weeds
surrounding the small black compost bin
by unfurling golden petals just far enough
to bless me with a glimpse of its face
as dew-drenched grass began to numb
almost-calloused feet, drawing my gaze
upon leaving to the prematurely orange
oak leaves scattered on the ground


morning reminder

allow music to flow into your soul
let words seep out onto the page
watch Sun rise, flash through the leaves of a tree
as it slowly dyes the sky varying shades of itself
before retreating to simply illuminate
the pure blue color of air

find thin places
and dwell there


Simply in Season

by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert

{Let's try something different today, shall we? I recently had the grand idea to review my absolute favorite cookbook, so here goes...}

From Goodreads
Not so long ago, within the memory of many of our parents and grandparents, most fruits and vegetables on North American tables came from our own gardens or from gardens close by. Eggs, milk, and meat also came from local sources. Today, the average item of food travels over a thousand miles before it lands on our tables. It is a remarkable technological accomplishment, but it has not proven to be healthy for our communities, our land or us.

Through stories and simple whole foods recipes, Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert explore how the food we put on our tables impacts our local and global neighbors. They show the importance of eating local, seasonal food--and fairly traded food--and invite readers to make choices that offer security and health for our communities, for the land, for body and spirit.

My rating

My review
If I had to choose one cookbook to use for the rest of my life, not counting family recipes (that wouldn't be fair, now, would it?), I would choose Simply in Season. This book is a wonderful kitchen resource for those of us in temperate climates interested in eating with the seasons.

All of the recipes are organized by season and then by category (i.e. salads, main dishes, desserts, etc.), and each section ends with sample menus and "invitations to action" for supporting sustainable local agriculture and healthy lifestyles. Besides the recipes, my favorite part of this book is an 18-page fruit and vegetable guide that provides tips for selecting and storing many of the types of produce highlighted in the recipes.

Unlike many healthy-eating cookbooks I've come across, this one does not require unfamiliar or hard-to-find ingredients that must be hunted down in a specialty health food store. Most recipes require only what can be found at your local farmer's market (or the garden in your backyard) and among your kitchen staples.

My favorite recipe, "Secret Chocolate Cake," does seem a little strange at first glance. You see, the first two ingredients are beets and applesauce, and somewhere in there is plain yogurt, as well. But the result? Beautifully rich, moist chocolate cake without even a hint of beets or that pesky "healthy" flavor that doesn't belong in desserts--and I can assure you that I take both chocolate and cake very seriously, so know that this is truly a delicious dessert.

Simply in Season


Dear Mr. Knightley

by Katherine Reay

From Goodreads
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

My rating

My review
It is a rare thing to find a well-written debut novel, but it happens on occasion (hint: this is one of those occasions). Despite this fact, I'm actually not sure whether I want to tear this book to shreds or exclaim how much I love it. This is one of those novels that slowly and subtly hijacks your emotions -- not tense, I-need-to-know-what-happens-next emotions, but very strong empathy. You can taste that pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream the main character just sobbed down.

And Sam is not a spunky heroine who always knows what to say. She is an introvert, and she is flawed and awkward and real. I like real characters (if you follow this blog at all, you probably know that).

I have a few nit-picky complaints about this novel, the first being related to the afore-mentioned emotional hijacking. The climax occurs towards the end, and cumulates in a near "happily-ever-after." There's obviously still a rough road ahead for the characters, but it came to a head and an assurance of good things a little too abruptly. The second is that the letters (yes, it's entirely written in letters, but that doesn't take away from the novel at all, I assure you) are sometimes a bit too detailed to be letters.

Dear Mr. Knightley


One Realm Beyond (Realm Walkers #1)

by Donita K. Paul

From the back cover
Cantor D'Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.

But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment finding a dragon to assist him on his quest has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won't leave him alone.

My rating

My review
Donita K. Paul has not let me down yet! One Realm Beyond is classic Paul, full of colorful characters of various races--including dragons, of course--thrown into a captivating plot.

While Cantor is the center of attention, Bixby might be my favorite character. She seems flawless at first, almost elf-like, but her vulnerability soon begins to peek through as she becomes refreshingly real. And Bridger. Dear, dear Bridger also wiggled his way up there on my list, despite being the most annoying dragon I've ever read about.

Alas, the slightly less-than-perfect rating. Why? I'm not sure. I just didn't connect with the characters as well as in Paul's other books. It doesn't mean I look forward to book two any less, though!


book haul!

If you ever find yourself in Portland, OR, you must must must set aside an afternoon--no, a whole day--to visit Powell's City of Books. It is the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world, and the main location spans an entire city block. Sadly, I was limited in what I could bring home on the plane.

I have heard only good things about Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay, so it has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I'm about a third of the way through and so far, it's living up to expectations!

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue. I'd actually like to read quite a few books by this Christian author, but thought I'd start here.

Acedia & me by Kathleen Norris. Yep, her again. I think Norris has become my Donita K. Paul of nonfiction.

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet is the third book in The Auralia Thread, a wonderful Christian fantasy series.

Valley of Dreams by Lauraine Snelling--I know, I know, I wasn't terribly impressed with the last book I read by her, but this one's a historical novel about a trick rider in a Wild West Show. I'll give her another chance.

The Book of God by Walter Wangerin, Jr. is essentially the Bible written as a novel. I'm intrigued.