Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery

Title:  The Fifth Agreement:  A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery
Author:  Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz
Publication Information:  Amber-Allen Publishing. 2011. 248 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because of an interest in the genre and because it is a follow up on an older book I had read.

Favorite Quote:  "People live in their own world, in their own movie, in their own story, and that story is truth for them, but it's a relative truth, because it's not truth for you. Now you can see that all their opinions about you really concern the character who lives in their movie, not in yours. The one who they are judging in your name is a character they create. Whatever people think of you is really about the image they have of you, and that image isn't you."

The Fifth Agreement is a follow up on the book The Four Agreements written in 1997. Both books are meant to be life guides based on Toltec philosophies that originated in Mexico. This book reiterates the four agreements - be impeccable in your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, and always do your best. The book elaborates on each of them and introduces a fifth that according to the author "wasn't included in my first book because the first four agreements were enough of a challenge at that time." That agreement is to be skeptical but ready to listen.

As is the case in books of this genre, the base ideas are simple and understandable. Implementation of them is quite another matter, and that is where the book and many like it falls short. It presents the ideas but without the practical suggestions as to how to implement them.

As a framework, I agree with many of the ideas and principles in the book. It seems like it should be accompanied by a "how to" guide, or perhaps my need for that is a statement to where I am on my own spiritual journey. I do know, however, that certain descriptions and imagery like the quote above do stand out and will stay with me for a long time.

As with many books in this genre, I will take what benefits me from it and leave the rest.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Life After Life

Title:  Life After Life
Author:  Kate Atkinson
Publication Information:  Reagan Arthur Books. 2013. 544 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on a recommendation from a friend.

Favorite Quote:  "What a world of difference there was between dying and nearly dying. One's whole life, in fact."

Ursula is born in 1910. Ursula dies in childbirth. Ursula is born in 1910. Ursula survives childbirth but dies as a child. Ursula is born, but again dies as a child. Ursula is born and dies young. Ursula is born with with an inkling of things to come and attempts to save herself, but dies. Ursula is born......

So continues Life After Life. A story of one person not simply born again but born again and again and again into the same family and the same situation. Each time, her life takes a different tracks sometimes by chance and sometimes because she precipitates a change. A definitely different twist on a reincarnation story.

The twist and turns keep you guessing as to what might come next, but the question somewhat becomes "how will it be different this time?"  Given the fact that Ursula starts to have an inkling of her lives before, what will she do to change its course and what impact might it have on the world?

Through the story, we see different aspects of history - English family life in the 1900s, the role of women, World War I, and eventually World War II. A fascinating story. Just a bit too long for my taste. I found the book starting to drag and really slow down in the middle. I am glad I persevered to the end, but it was difficult at times.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed

Title:  And The Mountains Echoed
Author:  Khaled Hosseini
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books, Penguin Group. 2013. 404 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed Khaled Hosseini's first two books. The book came from a local independent bookstore when they hosted the author.

Favorite Quote:  "It is important to know this, to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unread to you. Like a puzzle ... Like you have missed the beginning of a story and you are in the middle of it trying to understand."

And The Mountain Echoed tells the story of how one decision touches so many lives and how the repercussions travel through time and place. Abdullah and Pari are brother and sister living with their father, stepmother, and stepbrother in a small village in Afghanistan. Through unimaginable and desperate decisions, they are separated when Pari is only three years old. And the Mountains Echoed follows the stories of those touched by this choice - Abdullah who remembers, Pari who forgets, Nabi, the Wahdatis, Parwana, and Markos.

The different sections of this book tell the story from the perspective of the individual characters. It begins in 1950s and continues almost to present day. The geographic reach of the book goes from Afghanistan to Paris to Greece to the United States.

The individual sections of the book to me almost stand alone as stories - completely engrossing stories beautifully told. Yet, for me, the continuity is not there. The characters and the settings and the focus is so diverse between the sections that they seem separate. It does not really hinder my enjoyment of the stories; it is just not what I expected.

A recurring theme in the book is that of stories and dreams and that each of us carries them with us. At one point, one of the narrators says, "A story is like a moving train:  no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach you destination sooner or later."

To me, that summarizes the book. Khalid Hosseini is a masterful storyteller. All three of his books have completely drawn me into the story and kept me there from beginning to end. I cared about the characters and cried and laughed with them. A masterfully written book with lots of threads to follow - each one making you care.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Roots of the Olive Tree

Title:  The Roots of the Olive Tree
Author:  Courtney Miller Santo
Publication Information:  William Morrow, HaperCollins Publishers. 2012. 306 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a paperback edition.

Favorite Quote:  "It wasn't God's way to stick you with people who were easy to like - life was all a big test ... God never gave one commandment about liking a person and she'd learned over the years that it was possible to love without having a lot of like in your heart."

The Roots of the Olive Tree is a story of five generation of women. Anna is the matriarch of the family and have lived to become the oldest person in the world. Elizabeth or Bets is next. Then come Callie, Deb, and Erin. Added to the mix is the geneticist studying the Keller family to determine the reason for the longevity of these women. Also added to this is the lovely California setting of the Keller family olive farm which has a history of its own.

Anna's story in buried in secrets in the past. Bets is occupied with her ailing husband. Callie is in search of her own life. Deb is paying for mistakes of the past. Erin is trying to forge her own way and has come home, pregnant and alone.

This book and story never really comes together for me. The individual stories of the women could have been interesting, but they are not fully developed in an effort to address all of them. The individual characters and their relationships could have been interesting, but again are not fully developed. The book seems to hover at the surface of these stories without delving deeper. As such, it keeps the reader at bay and not fully engaged in the story.