Monday, 28 January 2013

The Street Lawyer - John Grisham

The Story...

Michael Brock is billing the hours, making the money, rushing relentlessly to the top of Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm. One step away from partnership, Michael has it all. Then, in an instant, it all comes undone.

A homeless man takes nine lawyers hostage in the firm’s plush offices. When it’s all over, the man’s blood is splattered on Michael’s face—and suddenly Michael is willing to do the unthinkable. Rediscovering a conscience he lost long ago, Michael is leaving the big time for the streets where his attacker once lived—and where society’s powerless need an advocate for justice.

But there’s one break Michael can’t make—from a secret that has floated up from the depths of Drake & Sweeney, from a confidential file that is now in Michael’s hands, and from a conspiracy that has already taken lives. Now Michael’s former partners are about to become his bitter enemies. Because to them, Michael Brock is the most dangerous man on the streets.

A Reader's Experience...

A thrilling read that gives insight in to the life changing power of a single moment. Readers are invited to question the mercy and justice of the law as secrets are uncovered and the rights of those most in need are finally given a voice. Not only was I entertained, but I was educated in a meaningful way about the very real workings of the legal system and the struggles of daily living on the streets.

The storyline is a complex yet easy enough to follow chain of events, with enough satisfying twists and humor to keep interest while also maintaining the balance of a serious tone. The ills of society are exposed through individual stories and personal interactions. Their situations are dismal and bleak, yet also realistic. Characters are not mearly presented with a sense of pity, however, but with a recognisable sense of hope and dignity. The homeless reach out for help, and lawyers use their training to reach out to give it. The result is powerful, effective change that certainly appeals to a reader's sense of justice.

There is much to admire about the personalities of the characters themselves. Michael is a creative, intellegent, critical thinker who carefully plots every move he makes. He is completely honest and is able to stand by his decisions, and he is able to cope with rebuilding his life, with numerous changes in a short period of time. The action of the story is seen completely through Michael's eyes, and it is clear that he is keenly perceptive of others, and of what lies beneath the surface events that ensue.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Angel of Mercy - Lurlene McDaniel

The Story...

Heather Barlow has always been idealistic, and now that she has finished high school, she's ready to make a difference in the world. After graduation she joins a mission group on a hospital mercy ship sailing to Africa. However, Heather is unprepared to face the disease, famine, and misery she encounters.

Ian McCollum is also among the medical staff in Uganda. Ian has left his native Scotland to help those threatened by a world if seeming indifference. When Heather meets Ian her heart races and she is happy to be alive. But as the weeks pass, she finds her idealism vanishing; the refugee camps and orphanages are overcrowded, and misery is everywhere. Only Ian can see beyond the horror and help Heather understand that the world can be changed if people try to help those in need one by one.

A Reader's Experience...

What does it take to change the world? Are we brave enough to face up to our fears and worries to be a part of it? Heather's dedication and genuine willingness to help those in need is a reminder that as long as we are open to giving of ourselves as opportunities present themselves, we can all become signs of hope in an uncertain world.

What allows Heather to be successful in her mission is her willingness to confront her own weakness, ignorance, and fears. She doesn't deny these, nor does she pretend to be stronger or more powerful than she is. She learns from her experience and grows from them one step at a time, and as a result she develops the instincts and confidence to actually make a difference - not the whole world at once, but when and where she is at the time, step by step.

Through my own traveling experiences, I appreciate the message set out to readers about moving out of your comfort zone. Heather and Ian leave the comforts and certainties of home for a better purpose, and I got to thinking about how we could interact or participate in relationships and connections on a global level if there weren't people willing and able to make this type of sacrifice. I am struck by the fact that not only can we serve others and make someone's world a little bit better through missions, but that we ourselves stand to gain as much as we give - we become stronger, more compassionate people in the process. A little discomfort can lead to a lifetime of understanding and insight that is invaluable.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Shoemaker's Wife - Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's WifeThe Story...

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.

Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.

From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.

This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.

A Reader's Experience...

A truly remarkable epic tale of enduring love, loss, survival, family, and change. There is so very much packed in to the novel, yet while the action is steady there is also enough description to draw the reader in to the lives of the characters and their personalities. It is not simply a novel about migration or war or a family history. It is a strikingly human, vivid and interconnected volume of lived experiences, great in scope and moving in its strength and complexity.

Enza is in many ways a typical strong and courageous heroine of fairy tale proportions, yet she does posess the intellegence and noble ambitions that make me admire her resilience and moral character. She follows her dreams and does what is right for her family in a completely unspoiled and unselfish way, and she also learns to follow her own heart and do what she knows is right for her own self and fulfillment in life. It seems clear that without her creativity, talent, wisdom and good judgement, she never would have been able to leave everything she knew to make a new life in a new land, to cope with radical change in the way that she did.

I feel certain that the characters of the story truly lived and truly loved fully and completely. They worked, they cherished their family and friends, they went on incredible journies and coped with sickness and loss. There was marriage and children, there was escape from danger and scandal and disgrace. There was richness and fame, poverty and abondonment. I feel that there is not much the two main characters did not see or do in the course of their lives because it was all so significant and so meaningfully tied together. They are truly admirable characters of integrity

It also seems like a special sort of fate that continually unites Enza and Ciro in the midst of unexpected or dire circumstances. The graveyard, the hospital, and again and again in New York. Not only does fate seem to set them up, but seems insistent to the point of unquestionable reassurance of the fact that they are indeed inseperable. This is another relationship that survives the tests of time and distance and everything else meant to seperate. It's the real deal. Yet the story allows for strong individuals as well. They have very powerful independent talents, hopes, strengths and experiences. It is a relationship built on deeper desire and enriching one another's lives, not simply on hopeless or compulsive need and dependence.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Christmas Magic - Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Story...

101 Christmas stories that will make your holidays even more magical. Share the magic and joy of Christmas with the whole family. You'll love these 101 heartwarming, inspirational, and fun stories of Christmas miracles, family reunions, charity, the wonder of children, the joy of giving, and family and religious traditions. And lots of stories about Santa too, all appropriate for children!

A Reader's Experience...

So there is something very special about Christmas that you don't get any other time of the year - something that brings out the best in people and reminds us of what is truly most important in life.

These stories reminded me that often, the meaning and purpose we all search for in our lives is closer than we realize once we are finally made to see it. Home, family, traditions - all of these are things that nobody can take away from us because they are truly something that we create and nurture ourselves and carry with us. What is special about each of these stories, then, are the unique experiences and different ways in which people are compelled to embrace the holiday spirit.

I love the stories where traditions are built around different ways of generosity and giving. Whether it is time given to an elderly neighbor, books given to military personnel, collections for someone in need or the gift of being together, it is clear that to care for someone and know that you are cared for in this world is of a value that money can't buy. A little care and thoughtfulness goes such a long way.

Finally, I am also struck by how resourceful we truly are. For the families in these stories who were away from home or had limited means to celebrate Christmas in a usual fashion, they made do with what they had. - a remote mountail village in Uganda, a home being rebuilt out of fire. I love the reminder that Christmas isn't about where you are, but about who you are with, what you do and feel together, and what you are celebrating.