Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 2013 Bookshelf

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

OH MY GOSH.  It took me a solid two months to finish this book.  A mere 227 pages knocked me flat on my butt.  Sheesh.  I read books in a day, literally, but apparently I do not or can not read C.S. Lewis non-fiction in a day...or even a month!
It is a goal of mine in 2013 to read some, apparently not all, of Lewis' non-fiction.  I started considering it a few years ago but had to work up to actually doing it because I knew he was heady and I need to be in the right frame of mind to concentrate on what he is saying.  And this title proved I was right.
Wow.  The first half of the book took me a really long time to get through.  I could only digest a page or two at a time before I would have to put it down as the throbbing in my head began.  I don't necessarily enjoy books like this.  And I don't necessarily recommend books like this.  If a person of average to above average intelligence can't read more than a couple of pages at a time and without getting a headache then I question the author's ability to converse with people in an understanding and relate-able way.  Yes, I realize I am saying this about the great C.S. Lewis.  And I realize people may be sputtering their protests right now and shocked that I could say such a slightly negative thing about one of the greatest authors of the past couple of hundred years.  So be it. I'm not saying that Lewis doesn't have valuable things to say and share. I'm not saying he is terrible, I rather enjoy his fiction.  You might even call me a fan.  But when it comes to his non-fiction I either 1) started off reading him with a hard book or 2) his headiness is a deterrent to more people being able to grasp his thoughts.
Mere Christianity is actually a series of Lewis radio broadcasts from back in the day put together in a book.  Thank goodness I didn't have to listen, I never would have grasped anything!  At least in written form I can go back and re-read what I just didn't get. There were good nuggets in this book, I think I highlighted for future reference at least one sentence in every chapter. So it isn't as if I didn't get it, I did but sometimes I had to read a sentence or a paragraph more than once to really get it.  And even now, having just finished I am not sure I could tell anyone what I really gleaned or grasped from the book.  He's SO heady!  It just hurts my brain to think about it.  I will have to re-read the book at some point to try and see what I may have picked up on...but maybe I will just read my highlights.  :)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

M.L. Stedman's first novel is a moving piece of work.  She balances just the right amount of character development, story line, and descriptives in this novel about a light keeper.
Tom Sherbourne comes off the front lines of war and needs something to keep his mind occupied form the memories of war, things he'd rather forget.  So he signs up for light keeping duties on one of Australia's most remote lights.  But on his leave he meets Isabel and she shows him what life feels like again and even better, she's willing to live on the remote island where he keeps light.  A few years later and the remoteness of the island plus the grief of lost babies has Isabel losing her mind.  Until one day a miracle washes ashore.  A baby alive and in need of care.  Going against his better judgement and his duty as a light keeper Tom allows the baby to stay.  What happens in the years to follow test Isabel, Tom, and the others who live within their circle of life.
A very well-written novel, I'm looking forward to what Stedman writes next.

How I Came to Sparkle Again by Kaya McLaren

Loved the title, loved the cover so I was hoping I would love the book. And I pretty much did.  I haven't read anything of Kaya McLaren before so this was my introduction to her. She tackles a couple of tough topics in this book that almost makes you think you are going to be reading chick-lit and are surprised when you aren't!
While the book focuses on three ladies, I would say that Jill is the main character.  From her story the reader learns the stories of the other two.  Jill finds herself back in Sparkle, Colorado after a decade away and as a result of tragedy in her life.  Her friend, Lisa, and her Uncle Howard are there waiting to help her create a new life.  Through Jill's journey we learn about Lisa's own struggles and Cassie's grief over losing her mom recently.  Can and does Sparkle live up to its name and restore the sparkle in Jill, Lisa, and Cassie's lives?
I'm going to check out the other titles McLaren has authored.  I really like her writing style and it kept me engaged. I finished the book in a couple of hours! She does a great job in character development and keeps the story moving. I appreciated her realistic view of life and death and loss and all that happens in between.  And she obviously did her research on ski towns and their inhabitants, it was pretty spot on!  :)

Fresh Air by Chris Hodges

Eh. I am underwhelmed at best.  Hodges makes a loose claim that his book isn't like others that have been read before.  I beg to differ.  It is pretty much just like every other book just like it.  It is from a typical mega church Pastor.  That may sound harsh but it's true.
Hodges has some good truths to share with his audience but he does it in such a typical way that I was bored and not really all that enlightened. One review I read said his book was "theologically sound".  I'm not sure that is exactly accurate.  I think he needs to review his theology on the Sabbath.  That chapter was given in the perspective of the typical modern NT church that has decided the OT is outdated or antiquated. That is disappointing.
But the biggest problem I had with the book was I was bored by it.  I found it to be so much like others that there wasn't much in it to hold my attention.

"K" is for Killer by Sue Grafton

This book, continuing private investigator Kinsey Millhone's cases, was actually better than the last couple I have read.  I actually liked this one and whether that is due to the dull non-fiction I was also reading or not I have no idea. But I did like this particular book.
Kinsey's on a case that is 10 months cold but intriguing to her. And of course Kinsey will be able to do what the police couldn't - solve it.  Lorna, a mid-20's woman, lived a double life and ended up face down in her remote cabin.  Problem is there was no suspicious looking activity prior to her death and nothing seemed out of place.  Eventually the police gave up but Lorna's mom can't.  Enter PI Kinsey Millhone.  Through dogged determination and sleuthing Kinsey uncovers the circumstances behind Lorna's death.

Come, Sit, Stay by Ellen Vaughn

After reading a different Christian book earlier this month and being bored to tears by it I was a little leery to begin this one.  But I checked it from the library and I have a pretty hard and fast rule about giving a book the benefit of the doubt.  I have only given up on less than a handful in all the years I have been reading.
So imagine my surprise when I found I liked this book.  It was a theme that is always popping up in my life, probably yours as well, but it was written well and without the syrupy Christianese, in my opinion. Vaughn takes a popular pet command for dogs "Come, Sit, Stay" and applies it to our lives as believers and the rest that our souls need.  It was an easy read (but took me forever due to my life right now) and Vaughn did a good job of unpacking the principle but not beating it into the ground.  She leaves it undone just enough for the reader to do some reflection on their own.
While reading it there were several moments in which I could take a highlighter to the page I was on so I could come back to it later for some more thought.  Alas, the library would probably fine me so I choose not to.  It's possible this book may join my permanent collection because it had enough points in it that someday I'll want to return to those points.

Love Story by Nichole Nordeman

Okay so let me preface by saying I love Nichole Nordeman.  I love her voice, her piano play, and her writing.  Since I am particularly drawn to writing it is one of the things I love about her songs - they are so well-written. If you aren't acquainted with Nichole's music you should get acquainted, it's beautiful.  She hasn't released anything in a few years, which she actually talks about in this book.  "Love Story" is her first book and I'm hoping it won't be her last.  Turns out that not only can Nichole kill it on the piano and with her voice and writing songs but she can kill it when it comes to writing in general.  And if you are wondering why I speak of Nichole in such familiar terms it's because I know her.  And once upon a time she knew me.  It's been 22 years so I know she doesn't remember me but I have good memories of her.  Nichole and I went to the same high school and even sat in one class together so we did more than just pass each other in the halls. I remember in high school we had two people who we just knew were going to go places with their music.  And we were right.  Nichole was one of them and Danny Oertli (Mommy Paints the Sky) was the other.  Btw, you should also check out his music.  Okay, so there's enough about all my "connections" (such as they may be...or not) to music artists.  Let's talk about the book shall we?
A year or two ago a CD came out called "Music Inspired by The Story" and Nichole had co-written a bunch of songs on that album.  Then she was asked to write a book expanding on those songs and the biblical people they featured.  Thus, "Love Story" was born.  Wow.  So in the preface I was crying already.  Tell you anything about how the rest of the book went for me?  Nichole writes with honesty, passion, conviction, reality.  She doesn't sugar-coat her life or her thoughts about the biblical character she is discussing at the moment.  One reviewer said she felt Nichole was sarcastic in the book.  I think that person may be inserting it as I didn't pick up on one ounce of sarcasm.  Not one thing Nichole said was mean-spirited or inappropriate.  What I really appreciated about Nichole's writing was her ability to weave her story in and mesh it together with the point she was bringing up about the biblical person.  It was seamless.  And beautiful.  And relateable.  And I cried.  Many points of Nichole's journey the past few years is eerily similar to mine.  So I related and I cried and I wanted to reach out and hug her and tell her "I know".  Because I do know, I've been walking a similar path.  And what she did for the reader in terms of making the biblical people come to life (so to speak) was great, she voiced on our behalf many things we all think about a particular story or person in the Bible.  She successfully put flesh on these people that a lot of times we forget they were people, we forget to put flesh on them.  It was a successful telling of some of the key biblical people.
Yep, bought the book.  Will be handing it out and reading over and over.  :)

The Good Braider by Terry Farish

So I picked the book originally because of 2 reasons. 1) The cover intrigued me and 2) It's about Africa.  Anything about Africa I pretty much give a shot.
Once I started reading it I was glad I "picked" it up (or in this case downloaded it onto my Kindle).  Farish writes the story of Viola and her family's escape from war torn South Sudan in the early 2000's in Viola's voice and in poetry form rather than the normal form of a novel.  It worked so well.  It made the book easy to read, enjoyable to read, and relayed all that the reader would want to know.  I really liked the format. While Viola is a fictional character her story isn't necessarily.  Farish put a lot of time in on researching the refugees from South Sudan and where they landed. So the story elements ring true through Farish's fictional family.  The reader is taken on the same journey Viola and her family are on - the escape from South Sudan, the interim living in Cairo, and finally their landing spot in Portland, Maine where there is a real life large Sudanese community to this day rebuilding their lives in America. Throughout Viola's journey we feel her pain at the losses she has gathered as a result of the war and her attempts to try and heal from those losses and move forward in life.  In South Sudan Viola was an excellent braider and it was a joy and pleasure to braid the hair of those she loved.  But the joy and pleasure slowly ended as she gathered up multiple losses.  The question is, will she ever be able to braid again?  Farish does a good job weaving (pun intended) the story together.

Monday, April 1, 2013

March 2013 Bookshelf

Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson

I really like Lisa Samson.  So far every book of hers that I have read, which I believe might be all of them now that I have finished this one, has been impactful to me.
This book is a journey with May from her college graduation to her early 30's.  It is a glimpse into the death of her flesh life and her resurrection of her spiritual life. Through several people May is loved and shown the love of God and as she heals from a horrible tragedy and grows she begins to unfold from her tight cocoon. I'm finding it hard to come up with words to describe this book.  It was good but I feel at a loss!
Samson is a great writer, in my opinion. She develops her characters right on pace and in relate-able ways. Her story lines are engaging.  Her messages, weaved within the books, are compelling.  I'm a fan for sure.  :)

Softly and Tenderly by Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

This is book 2 in the Songbird series by recording artist Sara Evans.  I ran across book 1 a year or more ago and have been waiting for book 2, and 3, to be released.
Jade and Max from book 1 are now married and looking to create their own family.  But before they can create their own family they have some family problems to work through between their parents and each other.  Secrets are revealed in painful and shocking ways (since when are secrets ever revealed in gentle and kind ways?) and the fall out from those must be worked through in order for Jade and Max to move forward.
I'm enjoying this series by Evans, with Rachel Hauck co-authoring.  The character development is decent, the story line engaging and realistic, and the messages of faith sincere.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

What a dull book.  No character development, no real story line or plot, no use of any other kind of writing outside of descriptives. What an extremely dull book.  As the reader I didn't care one bit about any of the characters.  By the end of the book the narrator of it, Ruth, and her Aunt Sylvie reminded me of the Edith Beale's (mother and daughter) and their story.  Fascinating and creepy but Ruth and Sylvie weren't fascinating, just creepy.
The short of the long is that Ruth and her sister Lucille have been left in the care of a string of female relatives after their mother goes missing.  All the women in this family are odd.  Maybe it's depression?  Maybe it's something else.  The reader never really knows because there is not much character development, none to really speak of, so we never have any idea why these female characters are so strange.  The back of the book describes Ruth and Lucille's journey as one toward adulthood.  It also takes liberty with a summary of the book.  The summary is pretty much a lie as is this journey toward adulthood that the girls are supposedly on.  The book was simply a book full of descriptives.  I felt like Robinson got out a Thesaurus and just started writing using all descriptions.  And the things she described weren't even interesting nor did a lot of them have anything to do with the story.
What a dull book.  I ended up skimming the last half.

The Will of Wisteria by Denise Hildreth

So I seem to be a sucker for Hildreth's books.  Maybe it's because they are set in the South.  Maybe it's because they are filled with small town charm. Maybe it's just because Hildreth writes a good book. Her character development and story lines are well paced and engaging.
Four siblings are given an unusual assignment for the next year of their lives.  If they fulfill it they will receive the inheritance their father set aside for them.  If they don't fulfill it they get nothing. Their father, from beyond this life, is hoping to impart to them wisdom one final time.  The book follows all four of them through the course of the year.  At the end of it they gather once again for the will reading.  Who succeeded and who, if any of them, failed?
I really enjoy, as I said above, Hildreth's books.  They are filled with realistic accounts of faith and realistic story lines.  Could this have happened?  Sure, why not?  What would we each do if we were "forced" to take a year and live it differently than the way we live now?

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

What does a lover of books do?  Read, and write, books about books!  Of course!  It makes sense to me but if you aren't reliant upon reading for your sanity then you just might not get it.
Fadiman calls herself a "common reader".  I am here, after reading her book about books, to say that she is NOT a "common" reader.  She takes reading to a whole different level than I ever have considered. People consider me to be a reader and I am here to say that I most definitely am a common reader but Fadiman is not.  She is a super reader. She is the kind of reader I wished I could be but never will be.  She has a library that rivals a bookstore.  Between she and her husband they have upwards of 5,000 books!  In their NYC apartment!  Plus they manage to live there with their two children.  I'm not sure how they do it.  But no matter.
Fadiman's common confessions aren't common at all.  But it's nice of her to try and make us lowly readers think so. I relate to all of her essays on the lowest level possible.  Her chapter on proofreading had me laughing...yes, out loud...because I do the same thing. I naturally proofread any kind of text that comes in my sights.  Her chapter on plagiarism was witty and clever and had me laughing...yes, again out loud.
She's an easy author to read, which in this case means she writes well, she's engaging and humorous.  It was a fun book to read, if you're into that sort of thing.

Love Lifted Me by Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

The final book of the Songbird series by recording artist Sara Evans, Love Lifted Me, completes the story of Max and Jade.  It is a typical ending, one that you would expect.  Truthfully it reminded me in several ways of Friday Night Lights but then again I wonder if any book or movie or show that features Texas High School Football is going to do that.  This one seemed harder for me to get through but then again life has been a little nutty for me and reading hasn't been a priority in light of other responsibilities.  :)  I'm glad to have read the series but I'm glad to also be done.  I can't imagine that a fourth book would have been a good idea.  However, the series was good and the characters were especially well developed. Nice effort Sara Evans, nice effort.

The Air We Breathe by Christa Parrish

This is my first read of Parrish and I really liked it.  It's also her newest book so I'll have to pick up her previous two at some point.
Molly and Louise are a mother and daughter who live on remote Dorsett Island in Maine.  Only heavily populated in the summer with tourists, it serves as the perfect place to live for Molly, who hasn't been outdoors in about 5 years.  Molly has holed up in her home and allows fear of the past to keep her in hiding.  The story of Molly and Louise comes out slowly through a series of chapters that serve as flashbacks told from two different POVs.  Louise's voice is not one of those.  Parrish enters another character, Claire, who serves as the second POV.  How she and Molly's stories are weaved together is part of the plot development.
At first the way Parrish decided to construct the back story through the flashbacks was kind of annoying to me but it eventually grew on me once I figured out who was who and how it all fit together.  In the first flashback it might have been a good idea to set it up with a little more clarity as the previous chapter ended but perhaps it was intentional to leave the reader guessing a bit.  Parrish's writing is easy and enjoyable to read.  Her theme of God's love is weaved in well - not too syrupy sweet, which I despise, but very realistic.  She does a good job of inserting God's presence, I really appreciated it.
All in all, a good read - I think worth 4 stars for sure, at least in my opinion!

Coming up in April...
FINALLY! A book I started reading February 7 I will finish and review! Whew!  What book could have possible taken me so long to read and why?  (It's only 227 pages)