February 2012 Bookshelf

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Finishing out her trilogy of books on living a life of truth DeMoss closes it with Holiness.  In this critical book she issues the call for holiness and unpacks it's freedoms and benefits. 
Holiness is an awkward topic in the Church these days because as she says, we have traded tolerance for Truth.  I will confess that reading this book on Holiness caused me a lot of unease, which is necessary unease so that I can do some honest reflection.  Many church going people have the idea that holiness requires a somberness of spirit and life.  While holiness is sacred and requires a somber approach it by no means that we need to live somberly - otherwise there wouldn't be the abundant life that Christ came to bring us! 
Holiness provides boundaries that bring us into freedom not bondage.  Holiness provides a whole host of benefits rather than a hoard of dreary duties.  Because we have replaced Truth with tolerance we have an inaccurate view of holiness.  It's time to return to Truth, it's time for the repenters to repent, it's time for the Church to quit trying to live a watered down version of the world and truly begin to live set apart.  It is only when we, one by one, begin to choose holiness that the world will stand up and take notice. 
Holiness: it's what's good for you...and me! 

Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
Like all the other books in this series these are enjoyable, easy read murder-mysteries that cookie baker Hannah Swensen gets mixed up in and manages to unravel before the police. 
Slightly, okay maybe more than slightly, unbelievable but enjoyable nonetheless. 
In this particular murder-mystery Hannah is part of a large family reunion that goes bad when a long lost rebellious brother shows up alive and then dead.  Who did it and why?  This time Hannah is asked to help by the local PD, apparently because they figure she's going to investigate it on her own anyway.  Fluke also has another storyline running through this series and it is that of Hannah's love life.  She's torn between two men although in this book her affections are definitely beginning to lean toward one more than the other. 

Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids by
A friend at work, who is apparently VERY passionate about this topic, plopped in front of my desk one day and asked if I would read this book.  I took on the challenge.  It's not a book I would ever pick up on my own and read but he is passionate about the subject matter and I am curious enough to read about it so I didn't mind.  I'll admit I was dreading reading it, wondering how many weeks it would take me to get through it but Szalavitz did a good job of making all the stats and all the stories easy to read and not laborious.  It wasn't bad at all and at times I read through it quickly as the particular testimony she was sharing to support the book's title was engaging. 
I noticed that one reviewer of this title said that the book was obviously one-sided but still a good read.  Um.  Duh?  Just from the title alone you kind of know what stance the book is going to take on this controversial topic. 
The troubled teen industry makes big money off of parents fears.  Is that one-sided of me to say?  Maybe, maybe not.  I actually felt that way long before the book was put in front of me.  Parents, and I am one so I can say this with experience, need to get a grip and not freak out so easily or early! As I read the book I thought back to the few instances of my growing up years that can be attributed to mere curiousity (I took two drags of a cigarette and that was all I needed to do to know I didn't want to smoke, etc) and if my parents had freaked out and taken me to a troubled teen "treatment" center I would have been labeled and told I WAS a druggie etc etc.  Now does two drags of a cigarette a druggie make?  I think we all know the answer to that rhetorical question.  So is the book one-sided?  You bet.  It calls out the money making machine of wilderness programs, "treatment centers" both in the U.S. and overseas (for American children because we are the only nation stupid enough to fall for the scam - please note that other countries don't struggle with this, just us.  UGH.) and the like.  And the book offers compelling testimony and factual evidence of the scam that it is and the physical and emotional harm that it deals out to families.  It's a real eye-opener for people who aren't real familiar with this method of "curing" a "troubled teen".  The reality is that 99.9% of the teens in these programs are NOT troubled when admitted but are when they finally escape.  We must do better by our children, parents take the time to listen and NOT freak out, take the time to connect with your kid and NOT let the schools or other people do it for you. 
Our children deserve better than our own fears and insecurities causing them undo harm in multiple ways. 

Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen Coloma

I thought I would like Sweet Sanctuary much better than I actually did.  The storyline has a lot of promise as do the characters but in the end I felt dissatisfied.  The story and its characters lacked the depth that I think the book had the potential to deliver.  It isn't that the writing is bad and Walsh and Coloma are both accomplished writers so perhaps it was the combining of both of them to co-author this book.
What I regret about this book was its inability to suck me in as I was hopeful it would.  With that being said I still enjoyed it as a pleasant, no brainer read.

Escape by Barbara Delinsky
"Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, thinking that you've taken a wrong turn and are stuck in a life you don't want?  Did you ever consider hitting the brakes, backing up, and heading elsewhere?  How about disappearing - leaving family, friends, even a spouse - ditching everything you've known and starting over again.  Reinventing yourself.  Rediscovering yourself.  Maybe, just maybe, returning to an old lover.  Have you ever dreamed about this?  No.  Me, neither.  No dream, no plan."
Escape is the story of Emily who is burnt out, fed up, unhappy, and about to explode as she quietly implodes.  One day she wakes up at 6:10 am and by 9:40 am she wasn't thinking, just escaping.  Surrounded by noise all of the time she was craving quiet.  Held in bondage to her electronic devices she was craving release.  The watch on her wrist keeps her a slave to each minute of the day.  And she can't take it anymore.  In fact, she won't take it anymore.  So she escapes.  She leaves a note for her husband and she drives as far away from her chaotic life as possible.  Where she lands is where her past needs some reconciling and where she believes she will ultimately find the respite she knows is vital to her sanity.  The question is, will her husband - whom she really does love - understand?  Will he follow?  Will he SEE? 
Women are multi-taskers by default.  We are oftentimes the maid, cook, childcare (if there are children), errand runner, banker, and much more.  Our worlds are noisy and hurried, our time is not our own, our muscles are wound up and the word "relax" is foreign both in meaning and practice.  I related to a lot of stresses Emily went through in this book and I related to her final decision to escape and regroup.  I've escaped before - not as dramatically and spontaneously as she does in this book but I have escaped. 
I really like Barbara Delinsky's writing.  This isn't the first book of hers I have read and it certainly won't be the last.  From the first two paragraphs (above) I was sucked in and knew this would be a book I could relate to on a few levels.  She develops her characters quickly and well, her story lines flow - they are never choppy or confusing, she writes novels that people can relate to, that could actually happen somewhere to someone.  I came across this book on a whim in the Library and I'm really glad I picked it up. 

Things We Didn't Say by Kristina Riggle
Things We Didn't Say promises that the main character, Casey, begins to break silences with her decision to start speaking the hard but necessary things.  That promise is a bit of a stretch.  In reading the book I never saw a moment in which Casey makes a decision to do such a thing, rather she is forced into it by other characters and their behaviors. 
Riggle does an interesting thing with this book in that each chapter is written from the POV and in the voice of a different character.  Most often we hear from Casey and her fiance Michael but Michael's children also have a few chapters devoted to their POV as does Michael's ex-wife.  This provides the reader with insight into the character and how they fit into the story.
Casey is 26 and running, or perhaps hiding, from her past.  She's never told Michael her history but it's beginning to catch up with her, as it always does.  Michael is a 35-36 year old divorced Dad of three children and happens to have full custody because his ex-wife, Mallory, is an addict.  Mallory is the typical addict, embracing the children one minute and alienating them the next so the children are typical in their responses as well.  Fiercely loyal to their Mom yet hating her all the while so Casey gets to be the one who pays.  Michael is caught in the crosshairs and doesn't do a great job of defending Casey and her right behaviors. It's all fairly typical but Casey has made a decision and is in the process of carrying out that choice when a phone call pulls her back in.  Now she's forced to figure things out, about her past and her present, while in close quarters with Mallory and the children. 
Things We Didn't Say does in the end reveal many things that each character hadn't said but should have to avoid a lot of heartache and drama.  It was well written but didn't pull me in as deep as I had anticipated.  One author reviewer's quote on the front jacket said this, "Impossible to put down, even harder to let go of," so my expectations were somewhat high.  But as I've finished I have found that I'm not really having a hard time letting go and moving on to other stories.

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline
Lisa Scottoline writes books that prompt outrage in me...and disgust.  So far, in the books of hers that I have read, she has at least one character that behaves so stupidly I want to reach through the pages and shake some sense into them! She also has an uncanny ability to tap into human nature and make it come alive in ink according to the situation.  And yet I read her books because the storyline always grabs me at some point and keeps me reading until the last word. 
In this title Rose has volunteered for lunch duty at her daughter's school in an effort to protect her daughter from bullying.  In one moment her well-intentioned efforts go from normal parental concern to being accused by a whole community of trying to end the life of her daughter's bully.  Rose sets out on a quest to clear her name and bring forth the truth. 
Rose acts stupid by ignoring wise counsel and being naive, I felt disgusted by her inability to "woman up" and yet Scottoline rewards Rose's poor decisions by turning her into a hero. While the storyline grabbed me and kept me reading I still found myself muttering under my breath about the absurdity of the story.  There is no way that what Rose accomplishes in the book would ever actually happen in real life.  So the lack of realism for a story that started out all to real brings this book only 3 out of 5 stars for me. 

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo
All I've heard about this simple book is how amazing it is and how it is a "must read", even from people who normally don't read books like this!  So I knew eventually I'd read it, mostly just for the sake of saying I had. 
Colton, at age 3 and 3/4, almost died and months after the ordeal had passed and he was healthy again he started saying "odd" things to his parents about God, Jesus, and heaven.  Things that no other 4 year old knows or even could know.  While his parents first brushed off his comments as weird they started noticing that the remarks he was making and his behaviors about people's relationship, or lack thereof, with God were very real and very factual according to the biblical accounts.  So they started asking more questions, trying not to lead him to answers but allowing him to give the answer.  He started rocking their world of faith with the things he said he saw and did in heaven during this near-death experience.  No 3-4 year old could come up with the explanations and descriptions that Colton did and as much as even the most skeptical person won't want to believe it you kind of have to.  You kind of have to just take it all at face value.  What you do with that is up to you but you can't dispute a 4 year old and what he saw. 
Colton isn't the only one to claim to have visited heaven.  Akiane Kramarik (http://www.artakiane.com/) also started talking about heaven and God at 4 year old.  One could say that it was natural for Colton to do this as he is being raised by parents with Christian beliefs (his Dad is a Pastor) but you can't really explain Akiane - she was being raised by an atheist single mom so had never even heard of God.  So do with it what you will but you have to take these accounts at face value, they happened. 
As far as writing goes the book is written very simply and I read it from start to finish in about an hour and a half.  Super easy read.

The Bake-Off by Beth Kendrick
The Bake-Off caught eye on the shelf because of it's cover art and the premise of the book - I love me some baking!
Amy and Linnie are estranged sisters in all the ways you can be estranged - physically (distance), mentally, and emotionally.  Linnie's genius IQ has interferred too much in Amy's life and Linnie's IQ keeps her at arm's length from everyone.  In this book Linnie is in desperate need of money and Amy can't say "no" to her Grandma so the two sisters are thrown together in Grandma's attempt to reconcile them before she passes on - enter the Bake-Off. 
It's a totally unrealistic plot, stuff like this would never happen - like the sisters success in the baking world, etc.  Without spoiling the story I can't say much more.  While completely unrealistic the story still held my attention enough for me to breeze right through the book - as a friend would say the book falls into the catagory of "junk food for the mind."  It's a pleasant enough read that will distract you from anything heavy weighing you down. 

Kisses From Katie by Katie J Davis
Read this book.  No, really.  READ IT.  Read it and then let your dreams fade away for God's dreams for you. 
Katie Davis, now 22 (maybe 23 at the time I finally got around to reading this book), is no normal 22 year old.  In fact, as far as I can tell Katie hasn't ever been normal in the sense of what we would define as normal.  She's reached beyond normal and chosen to be different.  And God calls her normal...for him.  I want to be the kind of normal Katie is. 
At age 19 Katie moved to Uganda for "a year".  By the end of her year there she had adopted, legally, 6 girls that had no family.  She also had started up a NGO (Amazima) and it was off and running.  Her year ended, she came back to the States for 4 miserable months, and went back to Uganda for good. Today she is Mommy, legally and from the heart, to 13 Uganda girls (as a single women she isn't allowed by law to adopt boys) and Mommy/Auntie to hundreds of children in Uganda.
I wept through pretty much the entire book.  I wept because I understood Katie and her heart that was captured by a part of Africa, I wept because what she has done in obedience to God is what my heart wants to do as well, I wept because Katie is living a full and abundant life because of her obedience to God and it is beautiful to be able to witness in some small way.  Someone said that as they were reading Katie's book they had the sense that she was the modern day Mother Teresa.  As I started reading the book that feeling did come across.  Katie has sacrificed much to gain much more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. 
READ THIS BOOK and then ask God, what would you have me do?  Go? 
Follow Katie at her blog: kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com

Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer
This is a book about the most strong and most true friendships.  Strohmeyer did a compelling job of weaving a story about 4 women who remain strong and steadfast to each other in the midst of life storms and in the midst of disagreeing about how to handle those storms! 
Lynne, Beth, Carol, and Mary Kay are 4 women who have shared a lot of life together and now their friendship is put to the test with a loss.  Throughout the days, weeks, and months following their loss they re-learn what their friendship is really all about and each of them learns something new about their own life - things that will enrich their remaining years. 
At several points in this book I found myself swallowing hard and willing the tears to dry up (I was in a public place while reading, had I been in private I would have let loose with the tears!).  As a woman and one who cherishes strong friendships I related to the book on several levels.  Life goes on and we carry those we love with us through it.

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

WOW.  I had no idea that this historical, factual novel was going to be so amazing.  What a stunning piece of fiction that highlights facts about Hawai'i and it's history with Leprosy, now called Hansen's Disease.
Alan Brennert took history and weaved a fictional character into it.  What a seamless piece of work.
As of 2003, when this novel was published, there were still about 30 patients living in exile on the island of Moloka'i.  But with today's medical advances Hansen's Disease is rare and treated and contained very quickly, giving the person a normal life.
In this fictional account of a very factual event Rachel is the main character that we follow throughout her long life with the disease. Diagnosed at the young age of 6 Rachel is forced to separate from her family and is sent to the exile island of Moloka'i to live out her days with the disease then known as leprosy. The book follows her life and the lives of the others in exile.  For an island full of dying people we are given a glimpse, factually, into the life they actually lived.  In the midst of dying they lived as fully as they could - marrying, socializing, forming sports leagues, etc.  Much loss occurs but much life is also lived.
Although a fictional piece of work Moloka'i gave me insight into an event that I had no idea had taken place and I feel grateful that I decided to pick up this book and read what I thought was just a fictional tale but turns out to be very, very real.
I highly, highly recommend this book.  At the back of the book there is an author interview about why he decided to write about Moloka'i and its residents. Fascinating.


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