Last month I was so stunned by the number of books I had read I didn't mention that I've added a couple of new sections to my monthly blog. You'll find them after the reviews of the books I read for the month. So make sure you check out what I'm rereading and what I'm "in the middle" of as the month wraps up and a new one starts. What have you been reading lately?
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Audio Book narrated by Betty Harris
Atwood was in Berlin in 1984, when the city was still divided by the Berlin Wall, and she found herself wondering what a totalitarian United States would look like. The Handmaid’s Tale was her answer. The one rule she had for herself was that she wouldn't include in the story anything that had not really happened at some point in history. So is the story a true story? No but it has true events. In Atwood's own words, "There’s a precedent in real life for everything in the book,” she says. “I decided not to put anything in that somebody somewhere hadn’t already done. But you write these books so they won’t come true."
The book is unnerving for sure. I confess I picked it up mostly because of Hulu's adaptation of it, which Atwood has consulted on and likes. The screen adaption takes liberties that Atwood didn't in the book but she feels they are appropriate ones, ones that make sense given what has happened in the 30 years since she published the title. So I picked up the book because Hulu's publicity of their adaption kept catching my attention.
Gilead is the society that has risen from the ashes of what was once the United States of America. And in the republic of Gilead women have no rights - no reproductive rights, no body rights, no education rights, nothing. They are mere ornaments for the men. They are assigned duties per their ages and abilities. Women who are of age and appear to have the ability to reproduce are given to wealthy couples to bear children for them. They endure rape once a month under the watchful eye of both the wife and husband in a ceremony taken out of context from the Bible. The whole society is structured around grossly inaccurate interpretations of portions of scripture. Women who are not of child-bearing age but capable are given duties of housekeeping. The wives then have nothing to do as women are no longer allowed to read or partake of social things like TV watching - which is only for news now. The powers that be decided that being a wife, mother, housekeeper, etc was too much for one woman and so they have divided the duties up as a "help", expecting all the women to love this idea and appreciate the men for easing their burdens. In reality all it has done it created divisions, resentments, acts of revenge because of jealousies, even physical assault in some cases. The story is told through the voice of Offred, not her real name, a handmaid to a higher up commander and his wife. She did not choose this but it was death or this forced role so she chose to submit to the handmaid role. In her times of reflection - many because she is an outcast and not allowed anything else to occupy her time - she gives us snapshots of her life "before." Before the world turned upside down and women became property of the state. Offred's been in her handmaid role for about 3 years it seems, after a considerable amount of time training for it at a center, once she was apprehended. This commander and his wife are her second couple. She was unable to conceive for the first couple. Any lack of conception is the handmaid's fault, never the fault of the man - it is not even considered that he might have inadequate seed. In order to live out the role she's been forced to, Offred tries very hard to submit to the ways of thinking and speaking. But she has known a different life and it creeps in, keeping her from forgetting who she has been and who she has lost.
Margaret Atwood claims her book wasn't meant to be prophetic and she had no visions of the future but wow. This book is unnerving because of its relevancy today. I'm a former republican and this book is a picture of where the party is headed if they keep on the road they are on especially with Prez 45 "leading" this nation. It's frightening. It's absolutely terrifying. There are certain statements and observations from Offred that don't sound like they were penned in 1984 but in fact were penned in the past year. It's unsettling. So regardless of whether Atwood meant for it to be prophetic it certainly has that feel right now. It's a sobering read that calls us to be wide-eyed about the world we are in today, most especially or maybe exclusively in America.
Missing, Presumed (DS Manon #1) by Susie Steiner
Kindle Edition 368 pages
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.
I really cannot get enough of this genre.
A young 20-something woman has gone missing in the middle of the night. Front door left open, wineglass shattered, spots of blood. CCTV doesn't give any hints as to where she went or who might have taken her. DS Manon Bradshaw has been called in on the misper case which is quickly discovered to be high-profile due to the woman, Edith, who went missing. Her dad is part of the Royal Surgery. Along with the rest of her assembled team they start tracking down Edith's last days and minutes - where did she go, who did she talk to, etc. But the investigation is slow and yielding no results and frustrating everyone involved. Where did Edith disappear to and is she still alive?
Steiner did a good job at making the reader feel the drudgery of this misper case. I was getting increasingly frustrated at the dead end leads and the fizzled out theories about where Edith might have been taken off to. I liked how Steiner gave Manon character development through her personal life as well as her professional life and how she drew a picture of the work-life balance that can be hard to have in a profession like law enforcement. And I liked the outcome Steiner chose to have for the Edith part of the story, it was a bit different than your usual fare.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Haruf's last book before his death in 2014. And really it was the perfect way to end his writing legacy. A beautifully sweet story, although sad.
Addie Moore is lonely. She can get through the days just fine but the nights are awful - she can't sleep. Her neighbor, Louis, is without his wife also. Both are widowed. So Addie proposes an idea. "Let's sleep together." But she means literally sleeping, not the figurative use of sleeping. Louis agrees, perhaps first out of curiosity more than anything. And in the quiet of the nights, under the cover of dark, Addie and Louis find the companionship they both had been missing. But just as breaking bread together grows intimacy so does sleeping together. Soon Addie and Louis are spending part of their days together as well, helping Addie's grandson - Jamie - get through a hard summer without his parents. With age comes, hopefully, wisdom created out of life experiences. Addie and Louis share this with Jamie and the summer is spent with the three of them all learning about second chances.
I have loved Haruf's books. He was such a simple but beautiful voice in fiction - specifically American fiction. His titles prove that sometimes the very best story is the one most simply told.
Geography of Grace: Doing Theology From Below by Kris Rocke, Joel Van Dyke
This is another book of my dear friend's class reading list. And it was g.o.o.d. Wow. Authors Rocke and Van Dyke team up to propose a new (the the mainstream evangelical church that is) thought about where God's grace is seen and experienced first before anywhere else. I literally have no idea how to review this book adequately. It was such a powerful read, were I highlighting it most of the book would be highlighter yellow. I love how the authors used examples not commonly used or perhaps thought of to model their theory of grace. They used the story of the unnamed concubine in Judges 19, the movies 8 Mile and Little Miss Sunshine, and the story of Hagar. They gave fresh insight into the story of the prodigal son, the Holy Spirit, the name Yahweh, and a couple of other stories contained in the Bible. They made the case for reading God's word from an anthropological point of view rather than a theological point of view. It was such an excellent read. I cannot recommend it enough.
The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation
by Jim Martin
While this is a book that was part of my friend's class reading list, it has also been on my to-read list. Jim Martin draws on his many years experience serving first as a pastor on staff with a church pursuing biblical justice and then as a staff member with International Justice Mission (IJM). Using his own personal experiences to share what becoming aware of biblical justice is and what to do with the realizations, Martin helps guide readers through the steps toward action once awareness has occurred. Part 1 of the book is for any and all to glean from. Part 2 is as well but Martin structures it more for churches looking to weave pursuit of justice into the fabric of their congregations and worship services. Using word pictures like the playground merry-go-round, looking for trouble, and failure points Jim Martin leads the reader to engage with risk for the sake of God's people. He is a champion of a thoughtful and intentional engagement rather than a needy and rushed hand of assistance. One is sustainable, the other is not. Martin's book is proof that pursuit of justice isn't an optional part of the believer's life but one that must happen consistently.
Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
It's a title I never would have known about or seen had my youngest daughter not plucked it off the library shelf as her choice for a book to read. And since she read it I figured I would too. I like to read some of the same books my kids do so we have talking points, so I can get an idea of what they might be interested in or thinking about.
Prager chose 23 people from throughout time and throughout the world to share with readers. The 23 she chose all exhibited ideas, actions, and statements that indicated they weren't 100% their gender assigned at birth. And a lot of these people we've all heard of - some were not a surprise, others may be. Drawing on research already out there about each person Prager chose, she shares with the reader their backstory and what they did to change the world - especially the world they found themselves living in. It is true that all of them can be credited with making some serious headway for a variety of causes including the rights for people who identify within what is now called the LGBTQ community. It was a quick read, an easy read in the sense that it was a fun informative not a dull or dry informative, and in light of today's discussions about gender and sexual orientation and everything in between it is a relevant and timely book.
Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1) by Jennifer Jaynes
Jaynes landed on my to-read list with the third book in this series. So I had to read the first two beforehand. "Had to", like it was such a chore. It was far from a chore. And yes, the books could be read as stand alone's and in any order but when there is an order I like to follow it.
So glad to have discovered a new-to-me author in this genre that I just cannot get enough of.
In this story a nineteen year old girl has vanished from a small Louisiana town. Nothing like this ever happens in this town that consists of about three buildings so everyone is feeling a little unsettled. The tale is told through the voice of the killer and of the missing girl's best friend, Haley. As the story unfolds and we learn more of the killer's background there is a sympathy for the person and what he has been forced to endure and do in the years of his life. When the urge to kill isn't satisfied with his most recent victim and more people start disappearing, it becomes clear to him that it is only a matter of time until he is discovered. Everyone is on high alert especially with no real clues as to where the girls are disappearing to and who among them is part of it.
Jaynes did an excellent job at casting doubt on enough people that I really was guessing until the very end. And even once the killer was exposed I was like "whaaaaa?" I had to stop reading for a moment and think about the foreshadows that might have been given and I missed. I gobbled this story up and the cover was barely closed before I was diving into book 2.
Ugly Young Thing (Strangers Series #2) by Jennifer Jaynes
Jaynes picks up the storyline from book 1 by through a different voice. Allie, the sister of the killer in book 1, is all alone in the world. And now the voices of her mother and brother are talking to her. She finds herself in Grand Trespass, Louisiana - the only hometown she's ever known - and living with an older women who has agreed to take care of her until her "forever home" can be found. Psh. "Forever home", as if anyone was going to want Allie with all the baggage she is hauling around thanks to her mother, brother, and her own poor choices. But Miss Bitty is breaking down Allie's defenses and she's beginning to believe that maybe things can be different. But then a murder happens. And then another one, a little closer to Allie. The voices are telling her she cannot escape what her destiny of death seems to be. Can she ever escape the past that was for a future that can be? Or is she forever destined to be part of her family's history of violence?
I read this one as quickly as I read the first. Jaynes writes a story that keeps moving - the pace keeps the reader engaged and the story keeps the reader's attention and interest. As I was closing the cover of this title I was queuing up book 3 on my Kindle so I could start it immediately.
Don't Say a Word (Strangers Series #3) by Jennifer Jaynes
Kindle Edition 258 pages
Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.
In this title Jaynes continues Allie's story from book 2 but in her new location of East Texas with her adoptive mother, Miss Bitty. Bitty is still taking in foster kids and Allie has a four year old son. It's been 6 years since they left Louisiana behind for good. The newest foster kids in the house are twin sisters who were found in their closet hiding from their dead parents in the other room. One twin, Carrie, isn't talking and the other, Zoe, only speaks when spoken to. Normally Allie helps Bitty out with the practical parts of caring for foster kids but she stays away from the emotional parts. Yet something about these girls is making Allie reconsider her usual modus operandi. Sammy, Allie's son, warms to the twins and despite their parents killer being on the loose everyone begins to settle into a routine of sorts and begin trudging the long road of healing from such a trauma. Yet as time goes on the twins start behaving differently and a rift is growing between the two of them. Is it the stress of seeing their parents dead or something more? Allie, Bitty, and others try to help the girls come to terms with and cope with the loss of their parents. The problem is there is still someone out there who is hoping they don't say a word.
The third book in this series by Jaynes was just as good of a read as the first two books in the series. It can be read stand alone but I highly recommend reading books 1 & 2 first to get some background on Allie especially. I'm starting to catch on to Jaynes extremely subtle foreshadows and this time around I caught on to who the killer probably was sooner than I did in the previous two titles. But I'm not letting myself get cocky, who knows what book 4 brings and if I'll be able to catch her excellent foreshadowing.Oh, yes there is a book 4 and yes I began it the moment I read the last word of this title. I am loving this author and series!
The Stranger Inside (Strangers Series #4) by Jennifer Jaynes
Kindle Edition 274 pages
In this fourth title of Jaynes Strangers Series she introduces a new set of characters. The ones from books 1-3 are free to live their own, hopefully violence-free, lives. This book introduces us to mystery author Diane Christie and her children, Alexa and Josh.
A few years ago Diane and her children lost their husband and father to suicide. Alexa is attending college in New Cambridge so Diane moved herself and Josh to nearby Fog Harbor. Diane is a popular mystery author and she also volunteers at a suicide crisis hotline, Josh goes to school, and Alexa is...busy. Busy battling a deep depression. When young college aged students who happen to be girls and Alexa's age start ending up dead in small New Cambridge, Diane gets a feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something is very wrong. Could it be that the killer seems to be calling her on purpose to tell her about the murders before anyone else knows? Or could it be the new man in her life? Or perhaps it's something or someone she doesn't recognize yet. All Diane knows is the pit in her stomach is growing bigger and everything seems a bit murky. She's afraid Alexa is next on the killer's list and she'll do whatever it takes to keep Alexa and Josh safe.
Another fantastic thriller from Jaynes. She took me on some twists and turns I didn't anticipate and I loved every moment of the ride. I'm ready for her next book except it isn't out yet! Waaaaah!
Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice by Thomas Merton
Merton authored this book in 1968 but, unfortunately, it is as relevant in 2017 as it was then. I say unfortunately because we haven't made much progress in the in-between years. Merton is an author on my to-read list. As the saying goes, "So many books, so little time." But I'm finally getting to him thanks to my friend's schooling!
I truly could not, can not, get over how applicable this book from Merton is today, in the year 2017. It's...disheartening. This is one of those titles where, if I were highlighting with yellow, the entire book would be yellow with only small sections of white - or unhighlighted - material/text. I searched for a portion that could serve as a summation quote of the title but there were simply too many to choose from. Drawing from the times he was living in and through in 1967 and 1968, Merton has at-the-ready examples from the Civil Rights Movement, the Detroit riots, the Vietnam war, and the nuclear threats of the - 1968 - day. He also draws from World War II which the world was only 22-23 years removed from at the time.
Merton makes compelling, biblical, arguments for non-violence as resistance to evil. Martin Luther King Jr, of course, serves as the most recent historical example of someone who was successful in leading a movement of change through non-violence. When we lost him we lost so very much. Merton, then although it is true today - perhaps more so, exposes the false beliefs of nationalism being equal to faith in Christ. The two are not the same and there is lengthy discussion about the differences and what being a nationalist actually looks like versus being a disciple of Christ. In part four of Merton's book he veers away from, in my opinion, the topic of the title and has several essays about faith in Christ in its various forms and manifestations.
Clearly this is a book for anyone who is a pacifist. But I would challenge all of my "gun-crazed, I bleed red-white-and-blue, Jesus is a Republican and an American" friends to read this book and allow themselves to be challenged by what Merton has to appropriately and rightly, and biblically, share.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Judging from reviews of all the titles Sebold has penned, The Lovely Bones seems to be the favored among titles.
Our story is told to us by Susie, a recently murdered 14 year old. Susie is observing from her heaven the family, friends, and community left behind. One of those community members is the man who killed her but nobody either believes it or can prove it. So she watches the slow disintegration of the investigation into her death and of her family. She does what she can to "will" people to take a closer look at her killer but eventually gives up as the police and her family give up. As the years fly by Susie watches everyone but her grow up, find their first loves, graduate from first High School and then college, start careers, start families, move on from even the memory of her. And just as everyone has given up and settled into their lives sans Susie a small piece of new evidence surfaces. Can Susie, and her killer, finally be found after all these years? Can what her family and friends have lost after all these years finally be found as well? The answers to those questions are up to Susie.
A really good story told in a very unique way. I really liked what Sebold did with Susie's voice and with the storyline. She stayed away from predictable plot lines and created interesting characters. While I enjoyed this book very much, I think it is probably the only Sebold I am ever going to pick up and read. The other title reviews aren't overwhelming in their enthusiasm for the book so I think I'll just move on to other reads. But I did really like this one.
Saving Abby by Steena Holmes
Kindle Edition 274 pages
Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.
Steena Holmes is one of those authors that I keep reading the first books of her different series but I never get around to book 2 or beyond! This title is a book 1, I'm determined to read book 2...at some point.
Claire and Josh Turner are a dynamic duo team - he writes and she illustrates a popular children's book series. They've been trying for years to have a child of their own but with no success. During a recent European trip they decided to let go of the dream of their own child and move forward. After being home for a few weeks Claire has not bounced back from her jet lag. Extreme exhaustion and piercing headaches keep her lethargic. When she and Josh find out that she is pregnant they are overjoyed and shocked at this turn of events. But when another event threatens to overshadow their good news, Claire and Josh have a choice to make - one that isn't easy and may cost them their dreams of being parents.
Holmes writes stories that grab the heart and don't let go. Her characters are relatable and her storylines are the stuff of real life - nothing implausible. I enjoyed this title of Holmes and it renewed my interest to read her other titles - finishing off those series I haven't yet.
A Light in the Window (Mitford Years #2) by Jan Karon Audio Book Narrated by John McDonough
Ah, Mitford. Ah, Father Tim. Thank you Jan Karon for creating such a wonderful village, such wonderful characters, such a wonderful story to be comforted by and inspired by. It is balm to my troubled spirit. Listereading it this time around proves to me that I will never tire of Father Tim and the residents of Mitford. On to book 3.
These High, Green Hills (Mitford Years #3) by Jan Karon
Audio Book Narrated by John McDonough
One of Father Tim's statements is, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" My answer? Yes, there is. And the balm is the residents of Mitford, North Carolina. This series reminds me of my foundation of faith in God. On to book 4.
Written/Published in 1983 this title is out of print and hard to find. But some bookstore/seller in the United States had a well worn and read copy on hand for sale. My counselor had mentioned it in passing and I hunted it down. It's got notes from the previous owner, including her name and phone number, which is kind of fascinating to read after the actual text of the book. It's not a long book but it's chock full of stuff to chew on, thus the reason why Do You Hear What You Are Thinking? is still in progress on my bookshelf.
Stepping outside of my genre preferences I'm reading a book about dragons - not fanciful but very real and used in wars. Temeraire and his handler, Captain Laurence, are in service to their country and king in His Majesty's Dragon.
Normally I wouldn't give a book in progress an introduction but since this book is hanging around for a year I thought I would intro this one.
The Harvard Classics in a Year: A Liberal Education in 365 Days by Charles Eliot, Amanda Kennedy (Editor)
My dear friend, Jenni Harding, mentioned this book to me. We share a love of reading so she knew this would be of interest to me. I've been trying to read more of the classics - like one a year, ha! It's been tough. This book is going to help. It's also going to sit on my bookshelf in progress for the next year. As indicated by the title it's a book that breaks down the classics into 365 readings. Bite-sized pieces that give me a taste for the classics and most likely will lead me to want to read a few of them in their entireties.
A brief word about the word"liberal" in the title. Many people in my life hear that word and a wall goes up. I know this because I was one of them at a point in time. Which I admit but have corrected. There are many definitions to the word liberal, grab a dictionary and check them out. The one that applies to this title is defined by the words liberal arts. Please click here for a definition.
Here's an introduction in Charles Eliot's own words about the volumes of books that led Amanda Kennedy to compile it into a daily reading:
"All the main divisions of literature are represented. Chronologically considered, the series begins with portions of the sacred books of the oldest religions, proceeds with specimens of the literature of Greece and Rome, then makes selections from the literature of the Middle Ages in the Orient, Italy, France, Scandinavia, Ireland, England, Germany and the Latin Church, includes a considerable representation of the literature of the Renaissance in Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland and Spain, and arriving at modern times comprehends selections derived from Italy, three centuries of France, two centuries of Germany, three centuries of England and something more than a century of the United States."
Once Charles Eliot, a one time President of Harvard University, was asked to compile the classics of literature that would give an adequate overview to any person and could fit on a five foot shelf he got to work. "Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf of Books free you from the limitations of your age, of your country, of your personal experiences; they give you access to all ages, to all countries, to all experience. They take you out of the rut of life in the town you live in and make you a citizen of the world. They offer you the companionship of the most interesting and influential men and women who have ever lived; they make it possible for you to travel without leaving home, and to have vacations without taking time off from your work. They offer you - if you will only accept their gifts - friends, travel, the knowledge of life; they offer you education, the means of making your life what you want it to be. Emerson said: 'There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library at Paris. If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove. Would that some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books and alighting upon a few true ones, which made him happy and wise, would name those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.' Emerson's wish, which is the great need and wish of thousands of earnest, ambitious people, has been fulfilled. The fulfillment is Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf of Books." (Kennedy)
"So vast is the range of The Harvard Classics, that they touch every phase of human interest. They tell of the great discoveries and inventions of the ages, the epoch-making progress of our world in science and medicine, and they relate the history and development of our laws, our educational systems, and our humanitarian reforms. They present the supreme works of 302 of the world's immortal, creative minds; essays, biography, fiction, history, philosophy, the supreme writings which express man's ambitions, hope and development throughout the centuries." (Kennedy)
"President Charles Eliot wrote in his introduction to the Harvard Classics, 'In my opinion, a five-foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to any one who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.'" (Kennedy)
So fifteen-twenty minutes a day it is for the next 365. Here's to the classics.