Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Together at the Table: Bishop Karen Oliveto on Embracing Diversity in the Church

My husband is a retired United Methodist (UM) pastor. He started seminary in 1972, the year the UM General Conference first created the statements to guide the church in social piety called The Social Principles.

The Principles assert that all persons are 'of sacred worth'. It "affirms that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons." They also state that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching and they support civil laws defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. "Self-avowed practicing homosexuals" are barred from ordination by the church rules in its Discipline.

How does one put aside one's sexual identity and desire for intimacy and love? asked my husband's fellow seminary student, a self-avowed homosexual.

The UM church is a world-wide organization. Some nations support the current language of the Principles, while conferences or churches support full inclusion of LGBT persons. Expectations of a split within the denomination has increased over the years. The denomination is considering allowing individual churches or conferences to make their own decisions.

In 2016 the Western Jurisdiction of the UM church elected a bishop who is a married lesbian, Rev. Karen Oliveto. The Judicial Council ruled that although she is in violation of the Discipline, she also was legally elected and the Jurisdiction can only act to remove her.

Has the time come for the church to take a stand, once and for all, to embrace and love all persons, or will we untie the "United" in our name?
When I saw Westminster Press had published a book by Bishop Oliveto I had to read it and was pleased to be granted the e-galley through NetGalley.

The book relates Bishop Oliveto's faith journey and pastoral career. She writes in a very accessible and direct way.

She confesses her own challenges as she learned to be inclusive and open to diversity while serving as senior pastor at Glide Memorial in San Francisco, a predominately Afrocentric church in the Tenderloin district. The community was guided by a saying, "We are all in recovery from something," uniting people in their admission of imperfection and struggle for wholeness.

I appreciate her candor regarding the need for perpetual self-assessment, asking "Is what I am saying, is what I am doing, increasing compassion and connection in the world, or rupturing relationship with others, with the divine, with the earth, with myself?" I know from experience that one must be vigilant for it is easy to fall into stereotyping or group-think.

Bishop Oliveto writes, "I believe that we are currently facing an empathy deficit in this country and, unfortunately, also in the church." I remember in the 1960s hearing the saying "don't judge a man until you walk in his shoes." Today we don't want to even try to understand each other. Race, economic class, and gender have become reasons to exclude people. Our current government leaders foster this division and labeling of the other.

"We have lost the capacity to listen to one another, to be open to the truth another brings to the conversation. We stand ready to rebut, rebuke, and reject." We see this daily on Facebook, Twitter, in the news. I have seen it in the local church as well, causing schisms and division.

Bishop Oliveto affirms that accepting everyone to the Communion table is messy; allowing everyone a voice is messy. Ambiguity can be frightening. Dispensing with surety and black and white rules requires living on faith.

But isn't that what faith is all about--being willing to step into the unknown, trusting in God?

"We don't really believe in the Trinity, otherwise we wouldn't have such a hard time accepting diversity," Bishop Oliveto quotes Episcopal Bishop C. Andrew Doyle's challenge to the UM Council of Bishops. We love diversity in nature, the flowers and animals. yet we are only comfortable with people 'like us.'

Research has shown that diversity in experience and insights lead to better decisions and creativity in the workplace. If the church puts love at its center, Rev. Oliveto says, we can remain in relationship. Unity does not require uniformity. We can be stronger and better together.

Bishop Oliveto has a vision of people gathering at the table, all kinds of people with conflicting beliefs and backgrounds, breaking bread and listening, learning. A healthy community based on love.

During my husband's career, we saw persons harmed by exclusion, a transgender student pressured to conform, churches schism over the Social Principles, pastors facing charges for being gay. Will the church reflect the intolerance of secular society and continue to divide into "us and them"? Or can we pattern The Beloved Community, as Bishop Oliveto dreams?

Together at the Table: Diversity without Division in The United Methodist Church
by Karen Oliveto
Westminster John Knox Press
Pub Date 31 Jul 2018
ISBN 9780664263607
PRICE $16.00 (USD)

“Bishop Oliveto’s story touches on one of today’s deepest fault lines in church and society. Hers is a deeply personal, revealing memoir about love and unity in a denomination wrestling with division. In an engaging, even gripping, style, she brings the reader to the table where issues are no longer abstract but fully human. This book has the power to change hearts and minds.”
—Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches

“Bishop Oliveto reveals a pastor’s passion, theologian’s rigor, servant’s heart, pioneer’s courage, and disciple’s extraordinary capacity to articulate hard truths with clarity and love. This book is a blessing in multiple ways. It speaks to pastors, laity, leaders, and pilgrims on a faith journey with deeply moving stories and respect for persons of all persuasions.”   
—Jane Allen Middleton, retired Bishop, Northeastern Jurisdiction, The United Methodist Church

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mary B: The Plain Bennett Sister's Story

Mary Bennett begins her story with, "A child does not grow up with the knowledge that she is plain or dull or a complete simpleton until the accident of some event should reveal these unfortunate truths," later adding "It was therefore acknowledged" that all beauty and goodness and intelligence had been given to Jane and Lizzie, while Kitty and Lydia had ignorance, and Mary herself plainness.

The child Mary saw her future as an old maid, dependent on the charity of her married sisters, unloved and lonely, living in the shadows of life--like Miss Bates in Jane Austen's Emma.

In Mary B, author Katherine J. Chen often mirrors some of Jane Austen's most well-known epigrams and she uses the characters from Pride and Prejudice, but reader beware: this is not Jane Austen's Bennett family.

And that's alright with me. As much as I love Austen--and my adoration goes back 40 years--I enjoyed Mary B on its own merits.
Mary Bennett in the 1940 movie version of
Pride and Prejudice
Society finds Mary a boring, untalented, and an ugly object of derision, expanding on Austen's comic scene where Mr. Bennett stops Mary's public entertainment. I felt the instances of people bullying and denigrating Mary were too frequent at the beginning.

Jane and Bingley barely figure in this retelling, but Lizzie and Darcy are key characters. Just as Cassandra and Jane Austen spent time at the home their brother Edward Austen Knight, Mary spends months with Lizzie after her marriage to Darcy.

I thought the idea of Lizzie being a slob hilarious. She does, after all, walk through the dirt and rain to see Jane when she became ill while visiting the Bingleys. She had lack of pride and vanity in that scene, sisterly love more important than making an impression. In Chen's imagination, Lizzie is just a slob strewing clothes and jewels across the floor of her room.

Chen gives Lydia and Lizzie endings that will offend some Austenites.  The married Lydia and Lizzie both become examples of the real world evils left out of Austen: Sexual relations = pregnancy = potential for maternal illness and death and/or the death of the baby. Lydia's ending is actually quite probable.

At times we see a hint of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in the action, particularly in scenes between Mary and Col. Fitzwilliam.

We--as well as several menfolk in the novel-- discover that Mary is observant, thoughtful, and creative. Several men confide in her and we learn their back stories. She is a voracious reader and writes to entertain herself.

Mary relates a life that is fuller than she could have imagined as a child. She has loved three times. She has a fulfilling sexual romance. And she finds a way to be independent. Her story becomes a Feminist bildungsroman.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mary B: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice
by Katherine J. Chen
Random House
Pub Date 24 Jul 2018 
ISBN 9780399592218
PRICE $27.00 (USD)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Collar for Cerberus by Matt Stanley

Matt Stanley's novel A Collar for Cerberus entertains while presenting deep conversations about life lessons.  I found it immensely enjoyable and chose it to begin my day's reading.

It is a love song to Greece. The descriptions of Greece are vivid, with beautiful descriptions of the landscape and its literary and historical associations offered through the dialogue and action. And the food! My mouth was watering!

The characters are wonderful. There is a young man who must decide what kind of life he wants to lead, and his literary hero, a cantankerous and manipulative Nobel Prize winner whose colorful life is legend.
Mosiac, 3rd century, of the labors of Hercules
The older man who lived life to the fullest teaches the unformed youth through a series of experiences that mirror the 12 labors of Hercules from Greek mythology. Hercules last task was to face and subdue Cerberus, a monster who guarded the gates of the Underworld. Literary and Greek mythological references are part of the travelers' mutual language.

Can the young man throw off the conventions of his background, take risks and rise to the challenges presented to him? Can he learn to be fully alive? Most of all, can he trust Irakles Bastounis? Or is he merely a willing tool? Is this author he has admired his friend?

Stanley has taken his experiences and presented them in an engaging novel. His story and love for his subjects is authentic. The plot may deal with death and big choices, but the distillation of the novel is joy.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Collar for Cerberus
Matt Stanley
Thistle Publications
Publication July 26, 2018
ISBN 9781786080622
PRICE $14.99 (USD)

from the publisher:

Never meet your heroes...

A naïve English graduate arrives in Greece seeking experience and perhaps an encounter with his literary hero: Nobel laureate and irascible old hell-raiser Irakles Bastounis. Agreeing to act as driver for Bastounis, the young man finds himself on a hectic, adventurous and always challenging tour of Greece’s wonders – an apprentice in how to live life to the fullest.

As the road trip progresses, the questions arise. Is Bastounis still an addict? Who is following him and why? Is he researching his final, much-anticipated novel? Who are the people he’s meeting along the way? And how far will one young man ultimately go in the name of experience?

A Collar for Cerberus is a story about time, life, pleasure and the decisions we make.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Suspenseful Reads: In the Garden of Blue Roses; Truly Madly Guilty; The Marsh King's Daughter

Summer is a good time for genre fiction, novels that are plot-driven and compulsive reading. If they have great characters, that's all the better. 

I needed something completely different to read and so picked up my Goodreads friend's novel The Garden of Blue Roses. I found it to be a stylish, creepy story with an unreliable narrator who may be insane. Thankfully, the atmosphere of horror and mayhem is mostly in the narrator's imagination, but for a final bloody deed. The story moves at a good clip, nicely suspenseful.

The novel opens just after the narrator Milo and his sister lose their parents in a freak car accident. Their father was a well-known horror writer. Both children are damaged by their childhood with a distant mother and father who used them in various nefarious ways.

Klara decides to create a garden. Milo does not support her idea, and worse, he distrusts the gardener she has hired who seems to use his charms to manipulate women clients. Milo is convinced that Henri is mimicking one of his father's murderous creations.

With many twists and turns, the plot resolves without just deserts, the wily villain mastering all.

Michael Barsa grew up in a German-speaking household in New Jersey and spoke no English until he went to school. He's worked as an award-winning grant writer, an English teacher, and an environmental lawyer. He now teaches environmental and natural resources law. His scholarly articles have appeared in several major law reviews, and his writing on environmental policy has appeared in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times. His short fiction has appeared in Sequoia. The Garden of Blue Roses is his first novel.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty was a book club read, suggested by my hubby who had enjoyed the book.

Our club members mostly said the same thing: the book was easy to read, the author knew how to keep us flipping pages, but the book was pure entertainment without a message to take away. One lady wanted to edit 100 pages out of the book. Another loved, loved, loved it and said it was her favorite we had read in a while.

Then we discussed the novel for another 45 minutes. Which is interesting, since it had been decided the book had nothing really to say!

It turned out that we had a lot of strong feelings about the characters and their actions. And we talked about good and bad parenting and who was truly guilty. And how the author had perfected a style that pulled the reader along.

My hubby loved the book because it was a close study of three couples and he loves books about interpersonal relationships. I also enjoyed the book as a character study.

In the end, everyone agreed it was a nice summer read.
After I read The Marsh King's Daughter on First Look Book Club, and did not win a copy of the book, I requested the galley but did not get one. It has garnered rave reviews. It is set in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan and mentions places I have seen on vacation: Tahquamenon Falls, Seney, and Newberry. Karen Dionne is a Metro Detroit author.

Last spring, I put my name on the waiting list to borrow the ebook from the library through Libby. It finally came to me this week!

I read it in two evenings, staying up late to finish it.

Helena has kept her past a secret from her husband. She needed to escape the public eye so she changed her name and created another past. Her carefully constructed world come toppling down when the police come to her door because her father has escaped from prison. Helena's husband learns she is the daughter of the infamous Marsh King who had kidnapped her teenaged mother. and held her, and their child, hostage for years.

Helena grew up in the marshes, admiring her father who taught her to hunt and survive on the land. He had a brutal side and dealt out harsh punishments.  She did not know anything else until she saw a happy family at Tahquamenon Falls--the first outsiders she had ever seen. When Helena was fourteen her mother tells her the truth, and Helena orchestrates their escape.

Helena knows she is the only person who can find her father. While she tracks her father through the territory she explored at his side we learn of her childhood and understand her turmoil. Helena knows too well her father is a narcissistic psychopath, but she also recalls how she loved him and the wilderness survival skills he taught her.

The novel is informed by Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Marsh King's Daughter.

Michigan is beautifully portrayed in Dionne's descriptions. The wildness, the flora and fauna, the tourist traps, and the brutal deforestation are all encountered.

The Marsh King’s Daughter is in development as a feature film.

Book Club Kit can be found at https://randomhouse.app.box.com/s/4wcjrvzj3f869qucg8gi6wxaee2rihs9

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tin Man

A wife and mother brings home a copy of Van Gogh's sunflowers, which becomes her moment of respite from her everyday world. Her son Ellis dreams of becoming an artist, and his friend Michael also finds the painting very special.

Ellis's mother wanted him to finish school, but after her death, his father insists he leaves school to work at the town factory. Ellis becomes a 'tin man,' fixing dents to perfection. The painting disappears.

Michael and Ellis form a special friendship, which leaves Michael love-struck while Ellis closes off. When Ellis falls for Annie, the friendship between these three brings joy to Ellis and Annie, but Michael has to move on. Except he never does.

With beautiful language and poignancy, Tin Man by Sara Winman is the story of a love triangle of the late 20th c, a time when working-class men didn't talk about sexual orientation, and when AIDS was claiming the lives of beautiful young men barely in their twenties.

I received a free ebook through First To Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Give People Money: Everything You Wanted To Know About Universal Basic Income

'UBI' is not a social disease but refers to a concept that has been around for a very long time--the idea that by giving everyone a basic income--enough to live on--society can end poverty and economic injustice. Would you believe that President Nixon supported the idea in the 1960s? Or that Thomas Paine wrote about it? Across the world communities and countries have been trying a Universal Basic Income on a small scale.

41 million Americans are living in poverty. What if they received $1,000 a month, no strings attached, to do with as they need. The Federal government could shut down a whole slew of social programs such as food stamps.

Annie Lowrey became obsessed with the idea of UBI and asked was it "a magic bullet, or a policy hammer in search of a nail?" Her book considers what UBI is and the cultural prejudices that surround it, how its implementations have succeeded and failed, the impact it would have on poverty, and how a UBI would cut through all social and racial classes.

I loved how she began the book at the Cobo Center North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The birthplace of the auto industry was abandoned very early when auto companies moved their plants outside of the city. But the showcase of the cool new vehicles takes place there. Lowrey talks about the technological changes being shown, the 'cars of the future' that drive themselves.
Imagine taxis without drivers.

Next thing we know, semi-trucks will be self-driving. Drones will deliver small packages. The Obama administration set the numbers between 2.2 and 3.1 million jobs lost to self-driving vehicles.

This is nothing new. Technology has been depriving humans of jobs since the industrial revolution.

Yes, robots will take over the world. We humans can spend our time painting and climbing K2 and volunteering and making quilts...Only if the huge profits (made when business and industry replaces all the workers) is shared. We are already seeing a few people holding all the money. It's not going to get better. And the programs we have now are meant to be gap measures, for short-term needs. When unemployment becomes permanent--what then?

Sure there are some jobs that are unfilled. Fruit and vegetable pickers, for instance. Michigan is in sore need of them. Take asparagus picking in West Michigan. All you need to do is lay on a board attached to a tractor, hovering over the field, picking asparagus all day in the hot sun. Here in Metro Detroit, our town needs summer help with yard waste pickup. They can't get people to apply for the jobs. Of course, neither pay a living wage.

Unions were strong when my dad was supporting us kids. He made a good living with overtime pay working at Chrysler. Today union membership has dropped from one in three to one in twenty. Woman's salaries still lag behind men's. Companies no longer offer pensions or health care. They hire more contract workers and part-time workers. The companies get tax breaks and subsidies while their employees get tax-funded food stamps and assistance. It's a win-win for business and a lose-lose for citizens. One study found that $130 million dollars a year are spent on WORKING families whose wages can't cover their basic need.

What we have is a crisis situation that won't be getting better.

We can't just GIVE PEOPLE MONEY! I hear you thinking it. Why not? It's the AMERICAN way, you reply. People pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,
they work hard and rise, God helps those who help themselves. And a lot of other old chestnuts come out of the closet. And besides, you think, 'those people' will just use the money for cigarettes or drugs or alcohol or a fancy car or a fur coat or to take a cruise. Because we can't trust 'those people' to have the values we approve of.


When my husband pastored in the inner city it was a big concern that handing over cash meant people going directly to the corner bar, or later the corner crack house. So the church had local grocers and gas stations in partnership to give commodities instead.

Sure, there are a few bad apples. But giving things you think people need is not very useful either. Lowrey talks about a village overrun with Tom's shoes. But give people cash and they can get what they really need. Most people will buy another cow, make sure the kids are eating right, make sure the kids can afford to go to school instead of going to work to help support the family.

Lowrey went to Kenya to see a UBI project called GiveDirectly and to India to see how the country's Public Distribution System was working. "Done right, cash works" she writes. Ontario, Canada has tried a pilot program and so has Stockton, CA.

I was appalled to learn that America's "safety net" design flaws trap people in poverty--and have a racist bias. European countries whose safety nets eliminate poverty are those whose population consists of native-born citizens. The 'us vs. them' factor does not come into play.

Like Finland. My exchange student daughter lost her job in the recession and she married a man who also lost his job. They came to America to study at their denomination's school and visited us. I wondered how they could afford an apartment and food and such. In America, they would have long lost unemployment and health care and housing and would not have been able to marry. Finland has national health care, too. It did in 1969 when I had a Finnish exchange student sister. Two years later I was married and we had no health insurance for three years.

Discrimination abounds in the safety net. Especially on the state level. The 1935 Social Security act excluded farm and domestic workers--who were mostly African American. The Federal Housing Administration funds fewer houses in black neighborhoods. The GI bill helped more white than black men since fewer schools accepted black students. The Clinton administration made benefits contingent on work, which affected single mothers. The Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the Obama Medicaid expansion to over nondisabled, childless adults. 

A UBI for everyone would be color and gender blind, disabled and able treated the same. Stay at home mothers would be compensated, and what work is more important than raising families and providing a stable home life? America is the only country with no support to new mothers and we don't have enough quality daycare especially in rural areas. A UBI would help new mothers stay home. I had to take leave of absence from a job to care for my dying father. I lost income. A UBI would have made that more comfortable.

How would a UBI be distributed? Could it be targeted by fiscal hawks? How would we pay for it? There are questions to be answered.

I felt Lowrey's book was a good balance to Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, which I read last year. I especially appreciated the section that showed the challenges in rural India for distribution of cash. She raised issues and questions I had not even imagined.

Read an excerpt of the book at

I received a free book from First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Give People Money
by Annie Lowrey
Crown Publishing
Publication July 10, 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

WIP Update: Quilts and Books

Summer has been very busy, what with watering the new garden and everything extra I have to do while my husband recovers from knee replacement surgery.
BUT I am working on some quilts, although slowly. I have the Peter Pan Story Book quilt ready to layer for hand quilting. I got back two tops from my long-arm quilter friend Barb Lusk. I had too many tops piled up to hand quilt them all myself!
MODA Bee-autiful quilt blocks. Hand embroidery by Nancy A. Bekofske
Machine quilting by Barb Lusk

I loved working on the MODA Bee-autiful block of the month quilt last year.
I used different fabrics than most because I wanted more bright clear pastels. I  found the inner border and outer border fabrics from Hawthorne Threads.

I made this Big Block Quilt with fabrics I had on hand. My son wants it! I found a great quilting pattern that looked very MCM to me which matches his style. I will bind this baby off this weekend.

My Bronte sisters quilt is progressing, too. There is a lot of machine work left to do.

As usual, I am deluged with books to read. My own fault, mostly, but Meet Me At the Museum was a surprise arrival from the publisher. I am enjoying reading this epistolary novel while sitting on my new paver patio (now that the over 90-degree heat wave is over!)
The book is shown with my Postcard Quilt of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I am reading Frank and Al by Terry Galway about FDR and Al Smith from NetGalley, and Rush by Stephen Fried from First to Read about Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia founding father, both fascinating books.

I have barely begun Ohio by Stephen Markley, a book which has won much attention and acclaim.

And have on my Netgalley Shelf some books by authors I have read before,
The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay (Author of Sarah's Key and the Daphne de Maurier biography Manderley Forever)
The Library by Susan Orlean (Author of Rin Tin Tin)
The Unhold Land by Lavie Tildhar (Author of Central Station)
Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry

And books by authors I have not read before.

The White Darkness by David Grann whose Killers of the Flower Moon I would love to read! I saw the movie based on his The Lost City of Z.
Wanamaker's Temple by Nicole C. Kirk intrigued me--I loved shopping in Philadelphia's Wanamaker's store.

I am waiting for several books to arrive: There There by Tommy Orange, which I won from the First Look Book Club, plus Ahab's Return by Jeffry Ford and Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo both won on LibraryThing and Virgil Wander by Leif Enger from Bookish First.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin

"My future was a mystery, but at least I was leaving hell forever." from Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin

Abdi's Somalian parents were nomadic herders of camel and goats. His mother bore battle scars from the large cats she fought while protecting her herd. In 1977, drought left his parents with no option but to go to the city of Mogadishu. His father found work as a manual laborer before he became a successful basketball star. When Abdi was born in 1985, his family was living a comfortable life.

Also in 1977 Somalia and Ethiopia went to war marking the beginning of decades-long military and political instability. Clan warfare arose with warlords ruling Mogadishu.

By the time Abdi was six years old, the city had become a war zone and his family had lost everything had fled the city. Existence became a search for safety, with starvation and the threat of death their constant companions.

Call Me American is Abdi's story of how he survived.

Abdi tells of years of horror and fear yet there is no anger or self-pity in his telling. He and his brother Hassam used their wiles to provide their mother with the necessities of water and a little maize and milk for meals.

When Abdi discovered American movies and music and culture he fell in love with America, and by imitating the culture in the movies became Abdi American. He envisioned a life of personal freedom. He taught himself English and then educated others. He was discovered by NPR's This American Life and he sent them secret dispatches about his life.

After radical Islamists took power, anything Western was outlawed. Abdi was punished if he grew his hair too long and had to hide his boom box and music that once provided entertainment at weddings. His girlfriend had to wear a burka and they could no longer walk the sandy beach hand-in-hand.

Knowing he faced the choice of death or joining the radical Islamic militia, Abdi pursued every option to come to America. The process is complicated and few are accepted. He fled Somalia to join his brother at a Kenyan refugee camp where his brother had gone years before.

Abdi had his NPR contacts and even letters from seven US Senators (including Senator Stabenow and Senator Peters from my home state of Michigan) but was turned down. Miraculously, Abdi was a diversity immigrant lottery winner. The required papers were a struggle to obtain when they existed at all. He had to bribe police, and transport to get to the airport. He was 'adopted' by an American family but had to learn the culture and find employment. After several years Abdi found work as a Somali-English translator and is now in law school.

I read this during the Fourth of July week. I don't think anything else could have impressed on me the privileged and protected life I have enjoyed. America has its problems, and when Abdi wins the green card lottery and completes the complicated process necessary to come to America he sees them first hand.

I am thankful for the personal freedoms I have enjoyed. I have never had to sleep in a dirt hole in the ground for protection or worried that by flushing the toilet soldiers would discover me and force me into the militia. No teacher ever strung me up by the wrists and whipped me. I never dodged bullets to get a bucket of water.

I could go on.

Somalia is one of the countries that Trump included in the immigration ban. Had Abdi not escaped when he did, he would not have been allowed to come to America.

I am here to make America great. I did not come here to take anything. I came here to contribute, and to offer and to give. Abdi Nor Iftin in NPR interview

I won a book from the publisher in a giveaway.

Read an excerpt from the book at

Hear Abdi's report on NPR's This American Life

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Family Tabor: Atonement and the Search for Meaning

Harry Tabor is an emperor in his world. He has everything he could have ever imagined. The novel begins the day before Harry Tabor's recognition dinner as Man of the Year. In earlier times Harry would have been "running for his life" from pogroms, as did his grandparents, instead of living in Palm Springs with a lovely family gathering to see him honored. He thinks, "I have been a very lucky man," but as the authorial voice warns, "luck is a rescindable gift."

Harry hears a voice that resurrects memories buried so deep that he had lost sight of them completely. At seventy years old, Harry realizes he is unworthy of high honors and must face the truth and atone for his sins.

Harry's children also each struggle with secrets they can't reveal, a search for love or meaningful work, a need for spiritual or emotional rebirth, the need for mystery or the magic of ritual.

There came a time when I could not put this novel aside and found myself furiously reading and watching the battery life on my iPad counting down...20%...11%... I finished it just before the battery gave out, my husband very grateful that I was finally going to make him dinner. (Yes, he can cook, but has a bum knee right now.)

The happy family gathering is revealed to be a gathering of troubled souls, and by the grace of God, are bound together, each healed and made stronger. The novel's focus on the spiritual life of the characters may not appeal to some readers, but I loved it.

I loved Cherise Wolas's first novel The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, although I felt the ending dragged. For me, The Family Tabor began slow and gathered strength about halfway.

I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Family Tabor: A Novel
by Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books
Pub Date 17 Jul 2018
ISBN 9781250081452
PRICE $27.99 (USD)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Marriage in Crisis in McCarthy America

The Grossmans are "an archetypal leftist family." Ben Grossman's socialist politics becomes a liability in 1953 when Senator McCarthy is targeting communist sympathizers. It was time for him to leave his job in the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. 

Ben had dreamed of being a writer, but with a wife and children to support, his only option is to pass the New York State bar and open a law practice. Long Island, NY is burgeoning with post-war housing in new suburban communities, the perfect place to start his practice. 

His wife Addie, however, longs for the excitement of the city. She gave up enough for her marriage and hardly remembers who she was. She never bargained for the sterility and conformity of the suburban desert. Ben and Addie's marriage has been coming apart for a long time, and this decision is one more indication of its disintegration.

Ben and Addie and the kids move in with Ben's folks while they find housing.
Ben's dad tells his grandkids stories of the Cossacks driving his family to find shelter in America. To make ends met, he built a business selling knock-off fashion apparel. Now with heart problems, he wants out, but it comes at a price.

A Long Island Story is a study of a family in crisis, caught in a time when people have an "insatiable need for someone to blame" and a craving for "something to fear and a leader to protect them from it." Addie thinks, "The next thing you knew one of them would be in the White House, as good old H. L. Mencken had predicted thirty years ago: a moron."

Ben must decide on what he really values. Addie must decide what she is willing to give up. And their children must learn to walk the narrow line between personal values and societal demands.

Author Rick Gekoski was inspired by his own family story, based on his childhood memories, liberally fictionalized.

I enjoyed the detailed description of the time, but this is not historical fiction as much as the story of a marriage. The novel is character-driven with psychological insight.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Long Island Story
by Rick Gekoski
Canongate Books US
Pub Date 13 Jul 2018
ISBN 9781786893420

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Scottoline Does Funny, Too

"We take real life and make it funny."--Lisa Scottoline

Philadelphia lawyer turned courtroom/thriller novelist Lisa Scottoline has also been writing "true stories and confessions." I thought it was about time I read one of her humor books, which she co-authors with her daughter Francesca Serritella. I picked up I See Life Through Rose'-Colored Glasses through NetGalley.

My husband and I began reading Scottoline's novels for their Philadelphia locale. We kept reading for her characters and plotlines. I followed her on social media and discovered her humor writing. I looked forward to that laugh-out-loud moment her posts always brought.

Like the snake in the toilet news story that had her horrified. She writes, "Now, this is where I reveal that I go to the bathroom to pee approximately thirty-five times a day. Seventeen of those are at night." The only thing worse than worrying about finding snakes when you lift the toilet seat lid is, well, there is nothing worse.

Scottoline's 'true stories' are written in her own voice, with a wallop of self-depreciation and a no-holds-barred admittance of the plight of being a woman 'of a certain age' and the indignities of aging. The stories "chronicle our lives" as mother and daughter she writes, looking "at the upside of ups and downs."

Her daughter Francesca writes about being a 21st c thirty-something female in NYC. I loved her "Can You Hear Me Now?" about her mother's struggle with technology--WiFi, phones, Face-Timing. Yep. We have a thirty-something son who we rely on as our personal technology service rep.

"The Ad That Stole Christmas" is about a Match.com ad makes singles feel bad about, well, being single during the holidays. But as her mother knows, the worst thing is not ending up alone, it is ending up with people who make you feel alone.

Scottoline is an animal lover and I enjoy seeing her rescued dogs laying on quilts on the couch. "Animals make us human" she states. "Lint rollers can only do so much," Scottoline admits, and the evidence is apparent on their clothing.

Oh, I do know about that. Our Shiba Inus shed 9 months out of the year, and the other three they exploded fur. We did not have dust bunnies, but dust puppies, and they rolled on the hardwood like tumbleweeds. I once found my dachshund's wiry hairs woven into my brassiere. Francesca writes about deciding to cut her dog's hair herself, which she discovers is not for the faint-hearted or neatnick.

The stories are brief and I like reading them one a day, like a vitamin pill, a daily laugh or chuckle to maintain good health.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

See Life Through Rosé-Colored Glasses: True Stories and Confessions
by Lisa Scottoline; Francesca Serritella
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date 10 Jul 2018
ISBN 9781250163059
PRICE $24.99 (USD)

Read my reviews of other Scottoline books:

After Anna:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More From My Sit and Stitch Group

So many people came to see what my weekly quilt group is doing that I am sharing more photos!

We contribute to the monthly quilt display in our library. Here are some hanging now.
Betty's maritime inspired quilt makes me think of summer travels to Michigan's lakes.
Theresa contributed this quilted panel.
I started this quilt in a workshop with Jeanna Kimball where we learned to make our own applique patterns with folded paper.
Fashions from the Roaring 20s to the power suits of the 1980s was a fun project. I adapted a pattern of 1930s dresses. I used a vintage 30s pink for the 1930s dress and a vintage1960s floral print dress.

Here are some more quilts made by the group.

Bev made three quilts for the three doctors who discovered a health issue when under treatment for another condition. Here she is presenting a quilt to one of the doctors.

Kay shared a doll and doll quilt she made many years ago.

And here is a new quilt top Kay just finished.
Shirley is one of the founding members of our group. Here is a stack 'n wack quilt she made.

Madeline love hexies and hand work. She is making Dresden Plates.
Linda's quilt top looks summery and fresh as a Lake Michigan breeze!
Betty is making more Modern style quilts to suit her children's tastes.

Shirley made this X Marks the Spot quilt.
When Theresa found these Thicket prints of animals I had to buy some. She made stuffed animals with the large prints and now this small quilt.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy

"In the first full account of this American tragedy, The Poisoned City recounts the gripping story of Flint’s poisoned water through the people who caused it, suffered from it, and exposed it. It is a chronicle of one town, but could also be about any American city, all made precarious by the neglect of infrastructure and the erosion of democratic decision making. Places like Flint are set up to fail—and for the people who live and work in them, the consequences can be fatal."--from the publisher
A woman who was a high school classmate posted on Facebook about her work distributing bottled water in Flint, Michigan through the American Red Cross. Day after day people came for a case of water. The had to make daily trips because they were only allowed one case a day. The people needed an I.D. to get the water. It was the middle of a brutal winter, and many of the people were elderly or disabled or had no cars. Church pastors came, hoping to get cases of water to deliver to their shut-ins who could not make it out.

Lori told me that the people were uninformed about the toxic water and how to be safe. Actually, the Red Cross workers didn't know what the Health Department standards would recommend. Could one bathe in the water? Use it to mix baby formula? Filters and water purifiers were distributed, but not everyone knew how to install or maintain them, and the filters only fit on certain kinds of faucets.

Setting up the warehouses and creating a system from scratch was 'chaotic,' 'hell'. Some warehouses were overstocked while others emptied quickly leaving people without water.

It was heartbreaking, Lori said.

Flint once had the highest per-capita incomes in the nation. GM founder and Flint mayor Charles Stewart Mott developed a renowned school system. The city boasted the Flint Symphony Orchestra and the Flint Institute of Arts.

My father-in-law grew up in Flint and worked for Fisher Body. His widowed mother found work at GM and participated in the Woman's Brigade during the Sit-Down Strike. His eldest son opened his professional offices in Flint and raised his family there.

When GM closed its auto plants over twenty thousand residents left. Businesses closed. The city tax base was gone and revenue sharing was sidelined to balance the state budget. An economic turndown and mortgage crisis devastated the country.

Still, Flint was Michigan's seventh largest city with 49,000 residents. The community was not down yet and neighborhood civic programs for change and betterment were led by the University of Michigan Flint, Habitat for Humanity, and church groups.

The state assigned an Emergency Manager to oversee Flint and solve its budget crisis. Buying treated water from Detroit Water and Sewerage was costly. It was decided to switch to the Karegnodi Water Authority, drawing water from Lake Huron, and process the water by reopening Flint's water treatment plant. Until the new source of water was in place they would draw water from the Flint River.

The state's environmental agency had warned that using Flint River water was a bad idea. The decision was based on cost-effectiveness. As the Detroit Free Press observed, the state had "voted for a business person" when they voted for Governor Snyder, the "bottom line" being his priority. "Governing a state as well as governing a nation is not like running a business. He and the people of Flint have found out the hard way."

Residents complained of bad smelling coffee-colored tap water, skin rashes, and illnesses. Children lost hair, suffered aches and pains. For eighteen months, the city, state and federal governments delayed action, claiming the water was safe.

Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes which hold one-fifth of the world's freshwater yet Flint residents were drinking tap water that was toxic.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had suffered staff and budget cuts although monitoring the largest number of community water systems in the country.

People came down with Legionnaire's disease for years but there was no public notice about the outbreak. Forty-six patients at McLaren Hospital in Flint became ill and ten died of the disease. Four years passed before a Wayne State University investigation traced the outbreak to the switch to Flint River water and corrosion in pipes. 

Every governing authority had failed the people of Flint. Water quality tests were skewed to lessen the amount of lead found. Citizens with the highest amount of lead found their test results eliminated from the results.

In 2015 the State Integrity Report Card from the Center for Public Integrity ranked Michigan dead LAST. Snyder signed bills "that did more to conceal the actions of state government," including political donors. Journalism was undergoing deep cuts, with fewer local journalists employed--a loss of local watchdogs.

The Poisoned City puts the crisis in the context of the history of Flint, the development of water sources, and legislation for environmental protection. It tells the story of the grass-roots activists who demanded justice. And how the media brought the story to the public, beginning with Michigan Public Radio which first reported the problem to Rachel Maddow who brought it to national attention.

Liability for causing environmental hazards rarely punishes the polluter.  In the case of Love Canal, the New York State neighborhood poisoned by Hooker Chemicals' leaking toxic waste storage,  the courts held Hooker responsible for cleanups but not punitive damages for the harm the residents suffered. The law requires evidence of intent to cause harm.

In Flint, lawsuits were filed over the poisoned water, Legionella, damaged plumbing, lost property values and paying for water only fit, as one said, to flush toilets.

The devaluation of Flint, mostly poor and African American, was evident when the EPA made the decision not to provide financial aid for buying filters because then other cities would demand them and Flint was not "the kind of community we want to go out on a limb for."

Children were being poisoned by lead in the city water lines. Dr. Hanna-Attisha studied the records of children treated at Hurley Medical Center in Flint and discovered a rise in blood-lead levels in 27,000 children. There is no 'cure' for the damage from lead poisoning.

In 2016, Governor Snyder admitted, "Government failed you--federal, state, and local leaders--by breaking the trust you placed in us. I am sorry most of all that I let you down. You deserve better." High ranking Michigan officials have legal immunity.

A class-action lawsuit did settle a deal which included $87 million for Flint to locate and replace water lines by 2020 at no cost to the homeowners. Criminal investigations brought indictments of authorities who had falsified or buried information or obstructed investigations.

Before Flint, Washington, D.C. struggled with lead in their water. Another predominately African American community was allowed to be poisoned for years before the issue was addressed.

Two American cities have been proactive about removing lead water pipes, Madison, WS and Lansing, MI. Lansing had the advantage of a city-owned system, The Board of Water and Light, and was able to completely overhaul the system, removing all lead pipes. Mayor Virge Bernero said, "...the poor suffer the most...the rich can insulate themselves...they can move out...Though ultimately, when we have a complete and utter infrastructure failure...no one is safe."

Recently, the distribution of bottled water to Flint was ended. The water lead levels have been brought to standards. But the residents no longer trust the authorities to protect them.

Nestle', who draws Michigan spring water for $200 a year for resale will provide several months of water to Flint. Actors Will and Jaden Smith have been providing water to Flint.

Flint is not the only city with lead pipes. And I shudder to consider what lies ahead if we are not able to address the aging infrastructure of America.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy
by Anna Clark
Henry Holt & Company
Pub Date 10 Jul 2018
ISBN 9781250125149
PRICE $30.00 (USD)

Monday, July 9, 2018

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin: A Mother's Crisis of Values, Familial Ties, and Sympathetic Understanding

"Finch is either completely innocent or a total sociopath. He's either more like his mother or exactly like his father. I have no clue which one it is, but I will find out." from All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

There is a reason that Emily Giffin's novel All We Ever Wanted is on the bestseller list immediately upon publication. She is a fine writer who delivers defined characters caught in a complicated knot of the "he said, she said" variety, and rolls out the plot so the reader is hooked and, as the story progresses, can't resist being sucked into the current of ever-deepening revelations.

She incorporates issues of #Me Too, class, and race into the central story, along with youth issues of social media and peer pressure, so the novel feels relevant.

The plot revolves around Finch Bowning, just accepted into Princeton, whose family is extremely wealthy. His mother Nina came from modest roots, while his father Kirk was from one of Nashville's elite even before he became even wealthier. They seem to have everything.

Then there is Lyla, raised by her single father Tom. Lyla is on scholarship at a private school where kids like Finch are clearly from another world.

Then at a party one night, a photograph is taken and circulated, bringing crisis into all their lives.

Nina's own experience offers her insight into Lyla's situation and she wants justice for Lyla. Nina must consider the values her husband has brought into their family, where money is more important than people and anything can be bought. She is forced to evaluate her entire life as she seeks to walk the fine line between what is right and the bonds of family.

I had not read Giffin before and was very pleased with this book.

I won an ARC through LibraryThing.

Read an excerpt at

All We Ever Wanted
Emily Giffin
Hardcover | $28.00
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication June 26, 2018
ISBN 9780399178924

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Norma Conquest by Warren Adler

The Norma Conquest by Warren Adler finds an unlovable underdog and agitator winning her last battle.

Norma is homeless and dying but there's a dance in the old dame yet, or at least one last battle.

A rich real estate tycoon has plans to revive a historic building into an arts center, but Norma lives at the homeless shelter in the building. She and the other elderly down-on-their-luck ladies have created a community. This is their home. Norma does what she has always done: gather the troops, raise the banner, and stand up for the downtrodden.

Norma protested at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago where she was impregnated by a nameless Scandinavian. It was always just Norma and Jenny until Jenny rejected her mom's ideals.

Jenny has become a successful and wealthy businesswoman. She is told that her mother is homeless and ill. It has been years since Jenny has seen her mother and she is shocked at her physical decline. Norma won't take Jenny's help and resists seeing a doctor. To Norma, Jenny is a sell-out.

The tycoon, known as Doc, meets with Norma and Jenny, hoping to appease the women with a nicer shelter. Norma is adamant she is not leaving her home. They have rights, Norma insists.

The vile businessmen and lawyers who work for Doc, even the lady who runs the shelter, all call Norma by labels from pushy, Jew girl, loud, and bitch to bleeding heart, communist, and troublemaker.

Millions are at stake. Things get complicated with Doc falls hard for Jenny. And in the end, Norma's conquest changes all their lives.

I appreciated the story of an elderly woman standing her ground and making a difference. The comedic ending is quite fun.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read about Warren Adler and his view of older people's contributions to society at



Read about Adler as a self-publishing pioneer at

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Red, White and Blue Quilts

For the Fourth of July I am sharing some red, white and blue quilts.
Some day I may finish Little Hazel by Esther Alui or at least turn the center block into a quilt. I do love these reproduction fabrics!

In the early 1990s I made a red, white, and blue signature quilt for an exchange student from Russia.
Vintage embroidery patterns from 1976 inspired Bicentennial Memories.
The Presidents Quilt by Michael J. Buckingham and published by AQS was how I learned embroidery. I added borders of additional redwork patterns.
I added several First Ladies to the Presidents Quilt, which inspired me to design and make Remember the Ladies.
Vintage political handkerchiefs and linen towels were added to Dustin Cecil's pieced Giddyup block to make Gridlock.
It won 'Most Humorous' in my guild's quilt show.

I made the John Quincy Adams quilt for a traveling exhibit created by Sue Reich; the quilts also appeared in her book Quilts Presidential and Patriotic.

My husband's great-grandmother made this Turkey red and white Single Wedding Ring quilt about 100 years ago.