April 2012 Bookshelf

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

WOW. What a great story.  Talk about a book in which the characters and story stick with you long after reading it.  In fact, while reading it I found myself anxious to get back to it if I had to break away for things like, oh, a job and responsibilities!
Time will tell if Kathryn Stockett will end up being a "one hit wonder" but this book was a winner for sure.  What a rich story of life in 1960's South for black and whites.  Stockett did a thorough job of making that era come alive through her characters and the story.
In case you've been hiding under a rock and not read the book or seen the movie let me do a recap without giving away the story too much.  Abilene is one of many black "maids" (otherwise known as "the help") in 1960's south.  The whites are happy with things the way they are (who wouldn't be with their faulty perspectives that ran generations deep) and the blacks have resigned themselves to less than satisfying lives.  But all that changes when one white approaches Abilene and together, yet separately, they begin to stir the pot for change in Jackson, Mississippi. What happens is the story telling of life as "the help" and how their white employers treat them.
Kathryn Stockett grew up under the care of a black woman who was her family's "the help" so she comes to the story with some knowledge behind her fictional account, she brings life experience to it and that counts for a lot.  It makes the book sizzle with warmth and go into the deep waters of racism.  I appreciated her successful attempts to humanize "the help" because everything else during that time, and even in some parts still today, worked hard to dehumanize the black people.  Abilene and her friend, Minny, are the two women whose stories get told in the most detail and they are a delight and a heartbreak to read all at once. The white woman's story is also a delight and heartbreak to read as well.  She is a lone fish swimming upstream in her deeply entrenched racist town.  It's a lonely place to live but I admired her over and over again for sticking with her convictions and being willing to learn truth about the situation.
The book is a true treasure to read, you won't be disappointed.  Next up for me?  The movie.  And while I haven't been hiding under a rock I've just been patiently waiting out the hype and the wait has been well worth it.

Boundary Stones by Aaron Eby

If you call yourself a Christian and desire to live a life following the commands of God then you should read this book.  It's unfortunate in the Church at large today that the Old Testament (OT) is neglected and dismissed for the New Testament (NT).  Unfortunate because without an understanding of the OT the NT is lost in translation, to coin a phrase.  Too many churches preach reading the Bible "backward" - from NT to OT and the OT only if you have time.  Um.  Who is honestly going to make time for the OT?  Let's be real, let's be honest.  But the NT was written by men who had full and complete understanding of the OT and believed that their readers would as well.  It's unfortunate that they were wrong.  Popular terminology today is, "But Jesus came to abolish the OT - the Law!"  Actually he didn't.  Even he said he didn't!  He says he came to fulfill it, not abolish it and there is a huge difference between those two words. (Matthew 5)  In fact a quick look at the definitions of those two words is very helpful.

1 archaic : to make full : fill <her subtle, warm, and golden breath…fulfills him with beatitude — Alfred Tennyson>
a : to put into effect : execute
b : to meet the requirements of (a business order)
c : to bring to an end
d : to measure up to : satisfy
a : to convert into reality
b : to develop the full potentialities of

Note what definitions 2 and 3 and their sub definitions entail.  Do I really need to point out the definition of abolish? Okay I will for the sake of clarification but I believe it's already pretty clear the difference between the two and what Jesus was saying.

: to end the observance or effect of : annul <abolish a law> <abolish slavery>
: destroy

So, yeah.  There it is.  Jesus himself said he came to FULFILL not abolish, it's probably time the Church gets back to what Jesus was really saying and meaning.  But in order to do that we must study and know and observe the OT.

That's what this book is about.  Reestablishing the ancient boundary stones of our faith so that we can fulfill the commands of God appropriately.  Aaron Eby does a fantastic job of outlining those boundary stones and what they mean for Gentile believers today.  He draws a concise picture between the OT and NT proving that you cannot grasp full meaning of the NT without the OT - specifically without knowing intimately the Torah (first 5 books).  He explains the purpose and reason for Torah (which isn't law but rather instruction) and why it behooves the Church to observe Torah today - in addition to it being commanded by God himself (1 John has a lot to say about this as one proof text).

Some of what Eby writes offends the modern day Gentile believer who doesn't want to sacrifice their own time, etc for the commands of God.  As Eby himself says a couple of times in the book, "Returning to those biblical boundaries will not be an easy thing to do.  Though it may be painful at first, doing the right thing always leads to joy."  As I have observed several people in my life in the past few years who have made the choice to return to the biblical boundaries I can attest that while there have been painful moments (confusion by family members and friends, judgement passed by other believers, sacrificing of wants however those wants manifest, giving up foods they enjoyed for the sake of God's standard, etc) there has been double, perhaps triple!, the joy of those painful moments.  They are more in tune to the voice of God in their day to day life and have settled into a deeper understanding of God and the reason for Jesus' time on this earth.

As I closed the book after soaking in it for several days, highlighting a lot and praying while I read I know that I am now accountable to seek God on my own lifestyle and relationship with him and how it can more accurately reflect Torah so that I can more accurately live out NT as well.  I thank God for the simple truths that Eby laid out in this book in a very engaging, non-confrontational and non-judgmental way. I could say more but I won't.

Please read this book and seek God for yourself on his biblical boundaries!  I've got a copy for whomever would like to borrow.  :)

58: Fast Living by Scott C. Todd

I'm pretty sure that anyone who knows me isn't surprised by my five star rating for this important book.  It's the exact direction my heart, and life, have been headed since 2007.
Scott Todd writes with immense knowledge, experience, heart, and facts.  He offers a compelling picture of why we can and should put out hands to work on behalf of the poor and help to eradicate extreme poverty.  Unfortunately it's the believers themselves, who say they are champions for the poverty stricken, that don't believe it can actually be done so they sit back and do nothing.  Todd gently shows through scripture and real life examples how and why we can and need to stop believing the low expectations that have been placed on us.
The book offers background on poverty, foundation for why we must get to work on poverty, and practical solutions that any person can participate in and know for sure that a difference is being made.  Scott Todd writes with language that isn't hard to grasp and with heart that is very hard to miss.  He's gentle in his call-out of the Church and their indifference which has led to greed and he calls us back to the True Fast of Isaiah 58.  Want an abundant spiritual life?  Read Isaiah 58.  How does Isaiah 58 look in today's world?  Go to live58.org.
It's a compelling read, it's a read that should get your heartbeat to match God's and propel you from sitting to standing and from standing to walking and from walking to jogging and from jogging to running.  The time is now.  Let us not wait another day.  A Chinese proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is now."

My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson

This is my third Dorothy Koomson book and as with the other two (Marshmallows for Breakfast and Goodnight Beautiful), I really really really liked it.  Koomson writes well, writes relate-able and writes to engage the reader.
Kamryn and Adele have been BFFs for years but as can happen they had a falling out. And of course it was over a man, it's about the only thing that will break up a girl friendship.  But two years later, still maintaining the frosty silence Kamryn gets a card from Adele she can't ignore. Tegan is Adele's daughter and regardless of what has happened in the past Adele and Tegan both need Kamryn now.  She is their last hope. The book begins at this point and throughout we get the back story on the fall out.
Koomson does a beautiful job of developing her characters and she doesn't disappoint in this book. Even the secondary characters that come in to the story get fleshed out enough that the reader feels like they know and understand those characters. As with all of Koomson's books (that I have read) the setting is London and surrounding areas.  Koomson writes stories that tug at the reader's heart and make you appreciate what you have right in front of you.

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Eh. That's what I felt when I finished this "Oprah Book Club Selection" from probably 11 years ago.  Not really sure why this book caught Oprah's attention.  It's written decently and the story line is okay but the characters drive me nuts, in part because they themselves are nuts.  This is Christina Schwarz first novel (out of three) and her "best".
Amanda is the main character of the book and is definitely fighting mental illness. You don't really get a sense of that until the story of Ruth and the drowning starts to seep out from the accounts of past and "present".  Ruth drowns...but doesn't.  It's all somewhat confusing and even until the last page of the book you kinda feel lost.  So many times, while reading the book, I felt annoyed at how the characters were behaving, how the story felt disjointed at places, and the lag of the plot.
Not my favorite read and it will be my only read of this author, her other two books get much lower reviews than this one did.  There's too many other good authors and books to read to spend time on this one.

Whale Season by Nicole Mary Kelby

Huh.  Really, that's all I can come up with in regards to this book.  I don't get it.
I kept reading the book in hopes that at some point I would connect with the characters, the story, anything at all. It never happened.  It's not badly written just poorly executed, in my opinion.
I never did care about the characters, I never cared about the story, I had no feelings either way about Jesus ( a character in the book!) - this book was a very uninteresting, dull read for me.
I don't feel like Kelby developed the characters enough for me, the reader, to care. It was a random story line that was disjointed and chaotic at best. I just didn't see the "brilliance" in it at all.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Wow, did I love this book!  Another reviewer said that it was clever and silly and a waste of paper.  I disagree.  We need clever and silly stories that also have some lessons, ask Dr. Seuss!  I think he would agree with me!  :)
The reviewer I mentioned above did have one thing right - it was clever.  Very, very, very clever.  I was thoroughly entertained and delighted by the book.  I felt like Mark Dunn did a fantastic job of carrying out the plot all the way until it couldn't be carried out any longer.  I was imagining trying to write this book, especially the later chapters/letters, while reading it and I commend Dunn on his ability to do so.  Not easy to write something a person can read when letters are limited to "lmnop"!
The basic plot is that the fictional town of Nollop has based their entire existence on the phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" which contains all letters of the alphabet.  They revere the author of the phrase, Nevin Nollop, and when the letter tiles come crashing down the town council decided it's a message from beyond and they start banning to use of each letter tile that falls!  So eventually communication ceases because once the vowels go things are real bad.  The book is a series of letters written as the letters get banned.  Like I said, it's SO clever!
Dunn also, intentionally or not, wove into this clever little story another story about what happens when a small group of people presume to speak for a larger group and the larger group lets them.  The thing that hit me pretty much right away was the thought, "Cult anyone?" It was very interesting to read, in silly form, the way a cult begins - proceeds - and ends.  And it very much was a dissection of that in my opinion.  He also wove into the story the bravery it takes when one feels strongly about something and chooses to fight for it to be made right instead of abandon it.
It was such a clever book and I still have a smile on my face thinking about it hours after I finished it!

The Shack by William P Young

The Shack is a controversial book.  It's my first read of it, I never like to read a book that is getting lots of hype until the hype has pretty much settled down.  Out since 2007 I finally decided I'd better read it so I can talk about it with some degree of knowledge. :)
Here's the thing I can say about the book overall - it is written well in terms of grammar, sentence structure and all that. Even the story is decent.  But.  (Oh gosh you knew that was coming didn't you?!?) But it misses the mark on being authentically biblical.  Young includes biblical truths in his fictional account of a man's encounter with the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but he also misses the mark with some biblical truths.  One example I will give that may seem nit picky but is not is Papa's (God) use of bacon.  Um.  Unless it was turkey bacon that ain't right and it wouldn't happen.  Why?  Because we have been freed from the law of sin and death but we aren't freed from still following the instructions of God (Torah or another commonly used, but inaccurate, word - law).  Believers like to say, "Oh we've been freed from the law" but that isn't true in how they mean it - we've been freed from the law of sin and death - we are still commanded to follow God's law which would include certain dietary standards.  Just sayin'.  Is that nit picky?  No.  It's important because too many believers write, live, behave, teach, etc from the faulty view that we have been freed from law when the reality is we have been freed from just the law of sin and the death.  BIG DIFFERENCE. So my problems with the big stem from this "nit picky" example because Young writes it from this faulty viewpoint.  I believe he also takes some liberties with the Trinity and their characteristics.  I appreciate Young's attempt to make the Trinity accessible (which they are) and approachable (which they are) but in his efforts I think he takes some liberties that fall short of biblical truth.
I also take real issue with people who try to make something profound and in the end complicate what is actually so simple in Christ.  In trying to simplify Christ we complicate him when we try to make him like one of us.  Jesus doesn't need to smoke a cigarette to be found by us (the example comes from a song by The Fray).  The Trinity is perfect and they will present themselves to people in ways that they know they will be received, in our human understanding we think or feel that must be in ways that make them like us (i.e. smoking a cigarette, cooking up some bacon, etc) but that means we have forgotten that we are made in God's image not the other way around.  Putting on God behaviors, etc that are human communicates that we believe he should be in our image.  I feel like Young did this in The Shack.  It's a fine line to toe when it comes to this and many believers cross the line without ever realizing it.  I know I have.
Like I said above, Young does sprinkle in biblical truths throughout and I appreciated those.  In chapters 6 and 11 are two places I can think of that speak some biblical truth.  Young has been criticized for not quoting the Bible but if he's writing a book from God's perspective he doesn't need to quote book, chapter, and verse - God doesn't talk that way. Years ago God spoke his word over me and as he did it he didn't say, "Oh Beth it says in Isaiah..." he just spoke his word over me.  So I don't take a lot of issue with Young not quoting book, chapter, and verse.
Does Young say a lot of true and right things in the book and claim them to be biblical?  Yes he does.  Are they biblical?  Not really.  Something can be true and right and not found in the Bible.  We want everything wise and true and right to be scribed in the Bible so we can have "proof".  God still breathes out wisdom into his people - believers or not.  And that's okay.  We don't need to be threatened by things that are right but we can't find a book, chapter, and verse to back it up.  IT'S OKAY.  Breathe believers!  God also gave us common sense.
The last thing that I saw Young do was struggle with that balance between grace (too much of it) and the rest of who God is.  We believers go to such extremes.  If we have lived some of our life in extreme legalism we often "rebel" by living in extreme grace.  If we live in extreme grace we sometimes will swing the other way and become modern day Pharisees.  UGH.  There's a middle ground, God calls it moderation, and we are to live there in moderation.  I find Young's book speaks toward extreme grace more than moderation.  It didn't, in my opinion, have a balance of God's true nature and character.  I refer back to the example of bacon.  Many people will protest and say, "But God has grace and so we can eat all the pork we want because his grace frees us from living the law!"  And while that is true, God has grace, it is not true that we are freed from living his commands (see above for my points on that!).  This fits in to this example about moderation.  Extreme grace says do whatever you want, we are free free free to eat what we want, act like we want, etc and God will forgive us.  God WILL forgive but we still have been commanded to observe his standards - John speaks about this multiple times in his books.
Most people who adored this book are going to be ticked at this review.  I'm okay with that. It's just my opinion, it's not something that my salvation (or yours) is based on and so therefore we can agree to disagree and move on.  :)
Was the book horrible?  No.  Was it great?  No.  It was just another book that stirred the pot of Christianity.

The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

Koomson does a slight, but successful, departure from her normal story lines and adds a bit of mystery into this one.  I think I've said it before, I'll say it again - I really like Koomson.  So far I've liked everything of hers that I have read.  This one I read in one sitting, literally!  I picked it up and 5 hours later, completely having ignored and neglected all other responsibility, I closed it as I finished it.  I briefly considered putting it down and beginning again in the morning but I knew I would lay in bed turning over and over in my mind all the possibilities the story was leading to for the mystery part of it.  Maybe now that I just devoured it in one sitting I'll be able to sleep.  Maybe.
Serena and Poppy, as young teens, get sucked into a relationship with a much older man.  This book describes that relationship from present day backwards to one night when everything went wrong. I don't like writing reviews in which I have to add warnings and disclaimers about spoiler alerts so I'm going to keep to that rule for myself here.  That being said, Koomson writes the book from both Serena and Poppy's POV and their versions of what happened that horrible, tragic night.  Is either one of them right?  Are they covering for one another?  What really happened?  The book tells the story and by the time you come to last page you have figured it out and are satisfied.
As with her other books, that I have read, Koomson has the ability to tap into the human emotional responses to life situations and she's able to flesh them out in characters that make the reader believe the person is actually real and living this story somewhere. As a woman and mother she makes the reader, with this story line, want to go out and do some damage to sick men. I really had a lot of feelings of anger over this man rise up.  This is when you know an author has done a successful job in character development; when what is happening to the character seems so real that you are emotionally responding to it.
This won't be the last Koomson book I read.  :)

The Love Of Her Life by Harriet Evans

Up until about chapter 12-13 I was seriously bored with this book. It felt like Harriet Evans was taking way too long to get to the real story. There seemed to be a lot of needless description that was supposed to be build-up to the tragedy that the book's main character, Kate, has to overcome. Once the tragedy was uncovered for the reader the book got a lot better and moved a lot faster. I finished the last half of the book in about triple the time it took me to get through the first half. Evans also employed a lot of vague references to this tragic event that after the 3rd or 4th reference I was like, "Get on with it already!" The build-up was too drawn out, she needed to get there a lot quicker than she did. The novel would have been great with some tighter editing. That said...
Kate is a transplanted Brit in NYC. But a health scare with her Dad sends her back to London and bad memories. Memories that she has spent the past 3 years stuffing down in dark places where she and nobody else have to look at them. That never works and eventually the memories have to be dealt with. So she returns to London to see after her Dad and face the demons of 3 years ago. Through a lot of back story and vague "present day" references the reader is brought to the moment when Kate, in her memory, finally reveals the tragic circumstances that sent her packing to NYC. Once it was revealed I had a much better understanding of her hesitancy to return to London. The book ended predictably, in my opinion, but in a very delightful way. 

She's Gone Country by Jane Porter

A fairly predictable story of a woman who is trying to find her life after heartbreak.  It reminded me of the movie "Hope Floats" in a lot of ways.  Jane Porter writes decently but with a predictability that kind of started to get on my nerves.  
Shey Darcy, super model and mom to three boys, has just had her heart broken by her soon to be ex-husband John.  She retreats to her old hometown in Texas to be closer to family after the sudden death of one of her brothers.  The book takes the reader on Shey's journey as she begins to unearth the Shey she forgot she was.  Along the way she navigates three confused and angry teenage sons, an intrusive mother, and an old flame.  
I don't have a lot of great things to say about the book nor do I have many bad things to say. It was just a ho-hum read for me.  

The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor

This was my first read of Jillian Cantor and I really liked her writing.  In this particular book she draws the reader in and then introduces a twist that still has me trying to figure out what happened! It's not a mystery/thriller sort of twist but just one that makes the reader want to re-read the book and see if there is foreshadowing to it that was missed.
Jennifer, 33, is married to the youngest Judge to ever sit on a bench in her city.  When he makes headlines with bribery charges she is thrown for a loop, to say the least, and begins to reevaluate everything and everyone around her.  In similar ways I am reminded of the TV drama, The Good Wife, but not enough to make me think Cantor took the idea from the show and created something from it.  In the days following his indictment she begins to see her life as it really is and things begin to transform.  Sometimes it takes tragedy to bring us back to what matters the most.
Cantor has developed her characters well, partly through the use of Jennifer's very real dreams about them.  It is a well-thought out book that I didn't want to put down once I picked it up.

So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman

I actually thought this was a non-fiction book when a friend gave it to me and said, "Read it, then we'll talk." So when I started it I was surprised that it was fiction.  Yet as I finished it I'd put it in that category of "fiction/non-fiction".  Jacobsen and Coleman write a fictional story that is 100% non-fiction in its truths.
Jake, the main character of this story, is a man that probably represents the majority of believers rather than the minority except nobody is willing to talk about it.  Nobody is willing to raise questions, the challenge traditions that we've been taught are biblical but can't be found in the Bible, inspect the systems of organized religion to see what kind of life they promote, etc.  One day Jake runs into John, a stranger who begins to rock his boat.  But Jake decides to stay on the boat, he pops a Dramamine (haha) and lets what John says make waves.  And boy do the waves crash Jake's boat. He learns over the next 4 years of random, well-timed encounters with John to quit focusing on the waves and focus instead on the Creator of all things.  It's a journey that is worth reading and most readers will find themselves relating to in several ways and on several points.
Not only do the authors present biblical truths through Jake and John's encounters but they write a good story.  It was an easy read, a quick read in that it never dried up - I was always looking forward to more of the story rather than dreading the next few pages. It never dragged on but the authors did a good work with making the conversations relevant to life.  While it is an easy and quick read it really is one that needs to be carefully read and soaked in.  It will most likely sit with you for days afterward as I feel it's going to with me.  In fact, I'm going to re-read it a second time - with a highlighter in hand because there was so much good stuff said in it that I want to make sure I will remember and can reference down the road when I have my "talk" with my friend and anyone else who reads it!
I could go on and on but I won't.  I'll just say to you what my friend did, "Read it, then we'll talk." (Oh and definitely take the extra couple of minutes to read the appendix at the back of the book which is like a Q&A with Jacobsen, it's just as important to read as the book itself!)

Love Always by Harriet Evans

My second read of a Harriet Evans novel went better than my first shot.  This one started off much better and it didn't take me any time at all to get connected to the story or characters.  In fact, it's a large book and I anticipated that it would take me at least a couple of days to get through but I read it all in one night!  It kept me interested and curious enough to keep reading.
Natasha comes from an interesting family and we meet her as she is leaving to attend her Granny's funeral.  Natasha serves as the main character through which this family story is told and family secrets revealed.  She herself is in a bit of a crisis as her husband has cheated on her and she has kicked him out, along with her failing jewelry business and her Granny's death she's feeling a bit overwhelmed, scared, sad, and lost. After the funeral her Grandfather hands her a diary penned by her dead Aunt that she never got a chance to meet.  It serves to unlock the cupboard of family secrets and, in odd ways, it becomes the catalyst for Nat's healing and motivation.  Once family secrets are aired, among those who want to hear them, relationships that were torn are mended and understanding becomes the way in which Nat relates to many people in her life.
I love the way Evans revealed a side of human nature that is frustrating.  We operate and interact with people out of assumption not an attempt to understand.  And it is those assumptions which make us assign people character traits that aren't theirs to own.  That's just one aspect of this book that gets addressed.
Harriet Evans has a way of developing her characters so that you feel as if you know them, you relate and it keeps you engaged in their story.

Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda

From what I can tell Kaira Rouda is an entrepreneur who decided to give writing novels a shot.  One review said that this book, her first fiction one I believe, reads like a second or third draft.  I totally agree.  While it wasn't horrible, it certainly wasn't polished up enough to be a great final draft.  The premise of the book is good but Rouda focuses way too much on the unnecessary details and it drags the book down. Not too mention the actual number of chapters in the book - over 40!  Too much.  I wasn't even halfway through the book and I was feeling ancy and anxious to get the story wrapped up.
Because of Kaira Rouda's true career, this book also felt like an advertisement for her Real You Incorporated book/website/etc.  It felt like she took her life coaching tips and wrote a book around them.  It wore on me after a while.
In short, Kelly is an almost 40 year old who is experiencing a mild mid-life crisis.  Through the help of friends and her husband she finds purpose in a really short amount of time.  That part was also fairly unrealistic, especially in light if today's economic downturn. Kelly focuses A LOT on her weight and it does make the reader wonder if the author struggles with hers as well.  It bordered on obnoxious with all the weight talk.  Certain aspects of the story were totally unrealistic concerning the weight issues Rouda decided to bring into the storyline.
All in all, I was glad to be done with the book so I could move on to others.


Popular Posts