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A Year in Books

More Recommendations from 2020

Reviewer: Micheal O'Hare

formerly of North Buffalo, is retired editor of the Leader Times & lives in Bellevue, PA

In a time of endless violence and war around the globe he is a person of peace.

When religions compete for followers, he tells us that kindness is his religion.

Some may say of his positions: Seems too simple, won’t work. War can be justified. No religion can be sustained for kindness alone. Is this person a misguided youth?

No, he is 85, goes by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) and leads the followers of Tibetan Buddhism around the globe.

Among the numerous books about his teachings and his life is An Open Mind. Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life. Ironically, it was published in 2001. The year of what is now known for 9/11, and on a local note the year the actor Richard Gere was in Kittanning filming The Mothman Prophecies. Gere’s The Gere Foundation co-sponsored HHDL’s visit in 1999 to New York and to Central Park where he spoke before thousands and from which the text of An Open Heart was taken.

I am reading the book now in connection with a group that meets weekly via Zoom. I am fortunate because it seems that the book I am reading now is my favorite.

Before delving deeper, please know that most of what the Lama suggests in his work is based on the many teachings within Tibetan Buddhism, but if this book is in fact read with an open heart much can be gleaned by people of any faith or none at all.

In the list of praise offered for the book at its opening, the one that struck me as most apt was by Brent Simon of Entertainment Weekly: "An Open Heart is a celebration of others, a simply reasoned supplication that extols the virtues of transforming pride into humility and anger into love.”

In that vein, the chapter simply called “Compassion,” HHDL lists forms of human suffering, not only that of illness but also by those who discover how fame and wealth will naturally end.

But the third level of suffering the Lama identifies as the most subtle is the continuous control of negative emotion and thoughts. He says that it the most profound and “permeates all aspects of life.”

This is the food for our thought that the book most succinctly provides; as well as tried methods to address suffering in oneself and then come to the aid of all others we encounter in our lives.

So, if you do decide to read this book, please be ready to bring your own life experiences to all that is said.

For instance , one direction in the book that struck me as potentially life changing was simply stated: “I usually remain calm, with a settled peace of mind. I think this is very useful. You must not consider tolerance and patience to be signs of weakness. I consider them signs of strength.”

And lastly, I wish you all a year-end of love and a new year of peace. Read on!


Mary Ellen O’Hare

formerly of North Buffalo, is a retired business office administrator for Edward Jones Investment, Kittanning, & lives in Bellevue, PA

This past year has certainly been difficult and challenging. Many are struggling with loss of loved ones, loss of jobs and all kinds of emotional issues and trying to figure out why things like this happen to good people and how do people keep going with so much heartache. Maybe that was what drew me this year to the novel This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.

The story takes place during the depression in the summer of 1932. Four orphaned children travel in a canoe on the Minnesota Gilead River on their way to the Mississippi searching for peace in their young lives and a place to call home. The Great Depression and all the suffering people endured during that time is significant to the story. The boys escaped from The Lincoln Indian Training School where Native American children had been sent ostensibly to be educated but where they were treated very badly. Two of the boys are brothers, Odie and Albert, and the only white boys at the school and they are accompanied by their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. After years of mistreatment by one of the teachers at the school, the teacher meets his demise at the hands of Odie and the boys think they have no choice but to run away as they are pursued by the police. Out of pity, they also take with them a broken-hearted little girl named Emmy.

Along the way, the four little vagabonds run into lots of other adrift people, struggling farmers and faith healers, and lost souls of all kinds, some good and some bad encounters. Because their short lives have been so hard, the children struggle with knowing who they can trust and whether God is on their side.

Since the exploitation of Native Americans and other depression era tragedies were central to the story, it made me think a lot about the reality of good and evil but in the end, it was a beautiful story about love and hope and how people manage to survive in the darkest of times. There are always difficulties but there is an abundance of goodness in this tender land of ours and it seemed to me like a good year to think about those things.

Happy Reading!


Reviewer: Diane Whittaker

of Kittanning

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes: This book, although not a nonfiction book, follows the development of the first traveling library and the importance of getting books into the hands of those who would never have had a chance to learn to read or have the chance of getting a book. This book kept me engaged and I didn't want to put it down. It also has the lives of the women who ran the library interwoven in the book as well as a mysterious death. This is a must read for anybody interested in history of the library or for anyone who just loves a good story line. I highly recommend it. It would be a great book club book.

The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Raphael Baker: This book is the story of the holocaust as told through a father and mother by their son. He takes them back to where it all started and learns about their experiences as they recount the horrors they experienced. This book is remarkable, leaving you on the edge of your seat and needing some tissues nearby as you read of not only some joyful moments but of much heartache and pain that was experienced. I learned a lot reading this book. This book is perfect for those who are history buffs, those who love to read about what happened in the past, or for someone who wants to brush up on their history. This book was a hard one to put down.

If Wishes Were Horses by Robert Barclay: This book is a great story of the hardships of parenting, love and respect. This story shows the struggle of a working mother dealing with a difficult son and having to make some hard decisions to keep her job but also help her son. It is interwoven with alcoholism, a love story, and loss.

I loved this book where most of the story takes place on a horse ranch. If you love a good love story or a story where lessons are learned then this book is for you. It was an easy read and I loved it.

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal: This book was hard to put down. It had some mystery, family drama, love and searching for one's calling. A book that you will want to read in one sitting. My cousin recommended this book to me and I am glad she did. I was gifted this book by one of my dashing blessing friends and I think this book would be a great read for all including book clubs.


Reviewer: Linda Cunningham

of Kittanning Public Library

This Magnificent Dappled Sea by David Biro is a compelling story of a young Italian Catholic boy and a Jewish Rabbi from Brooklyn whose lives intertwine.

Bonds between families are strained and also reinforced, with a dose of modern medicine in the mix. This book held my interest from beginning to end!


Reviewer: Daphne Ruffner

of Kittanning Public Library

The best book I ever read is, undoubtedly, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. (2006) It is not for everyone; it is very, very dark. Nonetheless, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2007.

The setting is somewhere in America. You never find out. It could be anywhere that is cold, as snow falls. The snow is gray. Everything is burnt out. It is a wasteland. The main characters are a man and his son. We don’t know their names or ages; they are every man. We don’t know the month or the year and we don’t know the length of their journey. All is anonymous.

The man and the boy have nothing. They wear tattered clothes and have inadequate clothing. They have no food. They do have a gun. They start walking down “The Road” headed toward the coast, although, they don’t know what they will find there. There is no communication system, but they believe the “Good People” are somewhere. They encounter few people and when they do, they hide from them. Walking and seeking food are their only goals. They secure a grocery cart and push it along as they acquire a few essentials.

McCarthy’s abilities at description are extraordinary. You will feel cold in your warm living room; you will feel hungry even if you just had dinner, and you will feel tired. Your legs and feet may even begin to ache.

This book comes with a warning. There is murder and cannibalism (not by the man and the boy). If you want to skip that part it happens upon their arrival at the farm.

America as we know it is gone. We never find out what happened to cause this. It is grim, but this is a story about love, the love between a father and son.

The Road is available at the Kittanning Public Library, and also the movie starring Viggo Mortensen and Robert Duvall. If you like McCarthy’s writing I would also recommend No Country for Old Men and The Orchard Keeper. These you can acquire via a request to the interlibrary loan through the Kittanning Public Library.


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