My Brilliant Friend by Ella Ferrante

How I rate it: 5 of 5 stars

What I liked: This is a deeply intimate novel, and I’m hopeless and helplessly hooked. I’m a fan of historical fiction, but this, like all good historical fiction, transcends the era by its deep and honest engagement with the tensions of the characters inhabiting their time and place.

Plot Summary: Two exceptional and intelligent girls, Greco and Lila, form an unbreakable but complicated bond growing up in a poor, harsh, and at times violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The novel is set in the 1950s and is the first novel in the four-novel Neapolitan series that follows the two women through the course of their lives.

I began to weep with lonliness. What was I? Who was I?…What signs did I carry? What fate? I thought of the neighborhood, as of a whirlpool, from which any attempt of escape was an illusion.

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The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

What I liked: It was a thrill ride, a thinkers thrill ride, but a thriller nonetheless. It’s a bit creepy to contemplate the reach of the government in the post-9/11 world. Even creepier, I submit, when a skilled author brings characters to life who have to grapple with the issues in real time, on the run. 

Plot Summary: A clean up by the NSA leads to a cover up, and cover ups lead to more cover ups. The body count and loose ends lead an analyst inside the agency to start to ask questions, questions that she knows she isn’t ready to answer, questions that peel back the curtain on the NSA’s power and god-like reach.

“Something about all that power seemed to make the assholes who wielded it believe they were invulnerable.”

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie



How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

Plot Summary: A coming of age story of Junior, a fourteen-year-old boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation. With a sense of humor along with the blanket honesty of a young adolescent, Junior narrates stories of being bullied and making a major step forward in an attempt to take ownership of his life.

Significance: Controversial as well as comedic, there are many beautiful moments in this novel that speak to the experience of growing up on “the rez.” For those, like myself, who have extremely limited knowledge of what it is like to grow up on the reservation, it was riveting and at times heartbreaking to read Junior’s diary.


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Review of Americamah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

Plot Summary: A young Nigerian woman travels to America, discovers race and blackness, and navigates a wide range of deep experiences that are intense and demanding.

What I most appreciated: The author digs into the various experiences of Africa and of America and of the lived experience of what it means to be “black.” It truly feels like a privilege to read a narrative so well-crafted and yet also so deeply informative, something that the author conveys through the characters and the story.

An important novel? Very. The discussions of race are open and raw, difficult for the characters and for the reader, but very timely in this so-called “post-racial, America.” In addition to the deep discussions of race, the author manages to speak to 21st century people navigating their lives in global and multicultural societies. Takes you into both the intellectual and emotional element.


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Review – Searching for Sugar Man (Film, 2012)

What if Bob Dylan had never sold a record? Imagine that.

Imagine that none of us have ever listened to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters. What if one our most icononic musicians had cut two albums – just two – but we’ve never heard the songs, we’ve never heard ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or ‘Watchtower’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blue’? Try to picture an America where no one in 60s counter-culture had ever heard ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, because maybe Dylan had to hang it up early because his albums just didn’t sell, so he had to be realistic and work a construction job to provide for his family. And maybe way back in the day you actually worked with Dylan – think of that – but instead of being an icon, he was just “Bob” to you, one of the guys, and that was a long time ago. He used to play music, you recall, he mentioned that, but you actually never heard Bob play, come to think about it. Then one day you discover that those two albums he cut all those decades back are super sensations overseas and that they’ve have helped to inspire a resistance to totalitarian rule in a land far away….See the rest of my review at Cinema Faith.

It’s a Wonderful Life

By way of a holiday reflection, I wrote a review of It’s a Wonderful Life for Cinema Faith. Cinema Faith is a new film website with thoughtful articles and a reviews written by insightful young Christians.

Here’s a quote from Frank Capra, creator of It’s a Wonderful Life, a quote I discuss in my short review:

Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters. Who would make films about, and for, these uncomplaining, unsqueaky wheels that greased the squeaky? Not me. My “one man, one film” Hollywood had ceased to exist. Actors had sliced it up into capital gains. And yet – mankind needed dramatizations of the truth that man is essentially good, a living atom of divinity; that compassion for others, friend or foe, is the noblest of all virtues. Films must be made to say these things, to counteract the violence and the meanness, to buy time to demobilize the hatreds…

American Nations by Colin Woodards

”AmericanAmerican Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It can be baffling and debilitating to try to understand American culture — but perhaps this is because we should be thinking in the plural: cultures. The current political polarization is especially frustrating, and Colin Woodard’s thesis went a long way toward helping me get a better sense of where we are as a culture. There’s more to the story, I think, but tracing the ethno-regional history of big swaths of North America is invaluable. Different cultures within America inherited specific core values, ethics, and ways-of-being that set them against each other in ways that continue to perpetuate conflict. Of particular concern are the “Yankee” culture and the “Deep South.” Many of us are familiar with these differing values, but there are more subtle shades that Woodard explores, as in the “Far West” or “The Left Coast.”….This is one of those Aha! books that sticks with me, that I continue to digest.

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Review of Savages by Don Winslow

Savages (Savages, #1)Savages by Don Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ending surprised me. I enjoyed reading the novel, but that ending, man. Woah. After finishing the novel, I get this Great Gatspy feel. Winslow performs something of a deconstruction of the life of the privileged and powerful….I listened to this via and enjoyed Winslow’s snappy, hip, minimalistic prose. A good read with a gripping conclusion.

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Review of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Manipulation and control is the name of the game on nurse Rached’s ward. The mental patients are subjected to her cunning rule and domination. It’s a system, it’s a game, and it’s a well-oiled machine that works flawlessly. Flawlessly, that is, until “Mac” (Randle Patrick McMurphy) comes to the ward. From there on out, it’s a show down. I felt the tension of the power struggle all throughout the book, I could sense the stress in my body as McMurphy. It’s an easy plot to follow: the conflict of man versus machine. Read more

Review of Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

“An ultrarunner’s mind is what matters more than anything.”

I was intrigued to read more about ultrarunning, from an accomplished racer. Many people think that running a marathon is a mammoth achievement. But that’s only 26.2 miles. Ultrarunners do 50k runs, they do 50 mile races, they go head-to-head in competitions that span 100 miles….and more. And they even compete against each other in 24 hour races – round and round a track for 24 hours.  Read more

A Review of The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

This is my first Barbara Kingsolver novel, and she is now at the top of my favorites list. She is a magnificent story teller, and I really feel like I could just listen to her stories for hours and hours, for days and days on end. She picks away at the essence of the human experience, all without any need to announce it or explicitly tell us that she’s exploring the deeper meaning of it all. She just tells stories that unearth the treasures of our existence. Read more

Review of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

“Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God.” – St. Hilary, fourth-century Bishop

I’ve got deep family ties to South Dakota, so I decided to explore the state through the eyes of an acclaimed writer and fellow contemplative and mystic. Kathleen Norris moved to South Dakota from the city, after she inherited her grandparents home. Her reflections on her home state are deeply wise as well as folksy. The land is in her blood, and reading her book is a privileged opportunity to understand the deeply holy nature of the place. Read more

Review of The Great Gatspy by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reviews of The Great Gatsby talk about how it captures the spirit of the jazz age. I think it is better to say it captures the spirit of America, a people striving for a survival and a sense of purpose within a system of class. But deeper still, The Great Gatsby, like the American story, like all human stories, is ultimately about love and wonder. Is there a deeper mystery to existence than what we find in the brute and harsh economic gears? And how can we find some sort of love when our own sense of identity is wrapped up in the American mythology of rags-to-riches?  Read more