Despite some plotting and characterization challenges, The Fate of Mercy Alban is an engaging and entertaining read. The ideas that push the plot forward are unique and keep the reader guessing, mostly.
Throughout reading this, though, I thought that the author struggled with how much credit to give her audience. At times, the characters come up with explanations for what's happening that are so unreasonable, it feels contrived. And yet, even when I thought "Obviously, it's not A, it's B," it usually ended up being C. So why do the characters stick stubbornly to A?
They also at times seem to completely forget where they are and what's happening,which causes them to make other questionable decisions. For example, <spoiler> they finally find the manuscript that is expected to reveal the truth to everything that's happening. But then, they read it slowly, out loud, and have long re-cap conversations in between the chapters. And they leave it unread for most of the book. I understand that it would have totally disrupted the plot to have the characters so easily figure it all out, but what you would do? "Hey, this book should give all the answers we've been seeking! How about we skim through it, especially skipping to the end, to figure this out without endangering ourselves more?" "Nah, let's savor it, read it really slowly, and let things play out as they will." Really?
Also, why does the Protestant preacher go to bed with the woman he just met, who's not sure she's emotionally ready for a relationship, who has returned home after a 20+ year absence, whose mother has just died, and who is going through one of the most difficult, stressful, and frightening times of her life? Did the author think that we wouldn't believe a romantic relationship between two adults if they didn't have sex within the first two weeks of meeting each other? Why make him a preacher, then?</spoiler>
Even despite these complaints, though, there are some genuinely creepy moments throughout The Fate of Mercy Alban. And the plot is twisty enough that I was surprised even when I thought the characters were going out of their way to avoid the obvious conclusion. I see that this was the author's debut novel, and it reads like one. But if you like mysteries and creepy old houses, you'll find a lot to like here.
I've read a couple books by Thich Nhat Hanh now, and I consider him to be brilliant and inspiring teacher. This CD (which I thought was an audiobook) is actually excerpts from a series of lectures he gave during a retreat. On the first disc, he offers a few meditation techniques that are easy to incorporate to a regular practice. And on the second, he talks in more detail about the benefits of meditation and how to be mindful during daily life, especially with loved ones. The version I listened to did not include any music from the monks at Plum Village or videos, as I see some of the other versions do.
The longer I maintain a meditation practice and the more I focus on trying to be mindful, the more I hear about it. At the TEDxColumbusWomen conference last week, one of the speakers talked about using mindfulness to control the body monitoring that women do an average of every 30 seconds. Mindfulness is an important part of cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you understand your feelings and reactions by first observing them without judgement. During a recent keynote speech at a marketing conference, Arianna Huffington talked about being so overworked and under-rested that she collapsed in her office, as a result of which she made some lifestyle changes that included mindfulness. She went on to promote a session she was doing as part of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's online meditation series, which included Kobe Bryant talking about the importance of meditation. Even my health insurance company is pushing mindfulness and meditation as stress-reduction techniques.
I think it's wonderful that living mindfully is becoming not only accepted, but encouraged in the US. If we all take some time to breathe, clear our minds, and reflect upon ourselves and our interactions with others, we can all be a bit happier and get along better. It's worked for me. I'm not exactly a Zen master, but I feel calmer and happier than I used to. I'm more patient, both with myself and with other people. I try to focus on being generous. And when I'm not being my best self, I find myself more able to step back, recognize what I'm doing, forgive myself for it, and start over.
Meditation's not hard. If you're looking for a place to get started, listening to Thich Nhat Hanh speak on The Art of Mindful Living is a great option.
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