Friday, February 28, 2014

February 2014 Bookshelf


Magdalene by Angela Hunt
Kindle Edition - 448 pages

Angela Hunt presents a fictional account of Mary of Magdalene, a woman disciple of Jesus.  A lot of speculation surrounds this Mary as nobody knows for sure her story so the reader has to keep in mind that this is a fictional account.
Hunt's story for Mary has her as a married woman who has a devoted husband, two sons, and a daughter-in-law,  She's also a successful business woman.  Tragedy strikes and Mary loses her mind.  After months of misery Mary and Jesus cross paths and her mind, and life, are restored.  She joins Jesus and travels with him as he ministers, as he spends the last week of his life in Jerusalem, as he dies, and rises again.  Mary's story continues past the ascension of Jesus as she and his disciples begin to grow in understanding of what Jesus' mission was while on earth.  But Mary is bound by anger and bitterness and living the love of Jesus is harder than she anticipates.
Hunt's fictional tale of Mary of Magdalene is well written and full of historical facts outside of Mary herself.  I appreciate that she was trying to put a different face on Mary than the one the Church has commonly assigned to her.  She took a lot of liberties to flesh out this different take on Mary.  Overall, the book was good but I think it was a tad too lengthy.  The story began to drag for me and by the time it concluded I had felt "over it" for a few chapters.  I did like the other voice in the story, that of Roman soldier Atticus. I found myself at times wishing for more of his story after the death and resurrection of Jesus and a little less of Mary's.  This book has been sitting on my Kindle bookshelf for a long time so I'm happy to have finally read it.




The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Fable by John Boyne
224 pages

"The story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we [the publisher] give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book.  We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about.  If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno.  (Though this book isn't for nine-year-olds.)  And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world.  We hope you never have to encounter such a fence."
Generally I have a rule that I try to read the book before I see the movie.  In this particular case I am glad that I didn't follow the rule.  I am glad to have seen the movie before reading the book.  Neither is for the faint of heart.  But I believe one or both should be watched/read.  If we isolate ourselves from the things that make us uncomfortable, sad, confused, etc then we do ourselves a disservice and an injustice occurs. WWII and its horrors are one of those things that we must confront and explore so that it might be prevented from happening ever again.
In this fable (and that is what the author refers to it as) we journey with Bruno, a nine year old German boy whose Father has risen in the German Army and has taken command at the horrific Auschwitz Concentration Camp.  Bruno's parents have chosen to keep Bruno and his sister, Gretel, isolated from Germany's atrocities that we, the readers, know about.  They have chosen to cushion the reality of what Bruno's dad does for his job, they have placed a bubble around Bruno and Gretel believing it was the best for them.  And it was rather easy to do since they are the quintessential German family.  But at Auschwitz Bruno witnesses, from afar, things and people that form questions in his mind.  His curiosity prompts him to seek answers little by little and in his naive world he has a hard time putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.  To him the fence that separates him from the boy he befriends is perplexing and offensive.  Indeed, if there were only a way to broach the fence.
Some of the reviews I have read of this book surprised me.  People, and all have a right to their own opinion, were very harsh in their review of this book.  They criticized Boyne for his writing, his portrayal of Bruno, his - in their perspective - dismissal of the real atrocities of the Holocaust.  I didn't get that from his book at all.  Not even a little bit.  I believe Boyne was going for a different kind of book on the Holocaust than the ones we *all* have read.  And I'm not offended by it because I believe it's okay to look at it from a German point of view.  The reality is this, not all the Germans were happy nor agreed with what their country did to others.  Boyne himself exposes a few characters in the book who were very anti-Germany in the sense of how Hitler was leading.  Perhaps my several readings of other book of late from the same exact time period and of Germans as well, both fiction and non-fiction, have eased the way for my opinion of this book. (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas)  Or perhaps I'm not as "learned" as some of the reviewers who had very strong opinions about this book.  Either way, in my opinion, the book was well done and the fable Boyne crafted held several lessons in it that we all could benefit from: parenting, fences that divide, racism, respect, value for life to name a few.




Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13 by Evan May
Kindle Edition - 82 pages

What a great read.  82 pages of good, solid wisdom from Evan May about the famous "love" chapter.  But as May points out, chapter 13 is where it is for a reason - namely between chapters 12 and 14.  And the why of that is part of his thoughts on chapter 13 itself. He simply unpacked the real foundations of the "love" chapter (not so much for reading at weddings and songs about love, so much more than that!) and exhorted believers to be motivated by the love Paul lays out in the chapter.  Love is what gives life to whatever we do and we have not love then what we do, or say, is worthless.  I also really liked May's writing style, conversational.  It was easy to read and follow and with any big terms he defines them for the "lay person" to easily grab hold of.  I highly recommend this easy but deep read.




Love Will Find a Way by Barbara Freethy
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

A predictable read.  Boy and girl like each other, boy and girl can't be together for whatever reason, boy and girl find way back to each other.  The only unpredictable part of the book was that normally boy and girl get together and some major secret is shared and there's a big fight/conflict and they separate for author-determined amount of time before they can't stand to be apart any longer. That part didn't happen in this book which was kind of nice.
In this predictable read Dylan and Rachel are bound together by Rachel's husband, Gary, who happens to be Dylan's best friend.  They are also bound together by a single kiss they shared the night before Gary and Rachel married.  For the past nine years Dylan has avoided Rachel and Gary's life so he wouldn't be tempted by what he couldn't have.  But then Gary dies and Rachel needs Dylan.  In the search to discover what Gary was doing when he died Dylan and Rachel are forced to examine their feelings for each other.
With a few side stories thrown in to round out the book Freethy pulls off another predictable, yet enjoyable read.  It was a filler book for me while I tried to decide what I really wanted to be reading while on the treadmill in the mornings. :)




They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
192 pages

Christie is brilliant.  There's no arguing with that.  She gets me every time, even when I have originally figured it out!  She weaves her story in such a way that I am led away from what I originally deduce to all sorts of conclusions only to discover at the end I was right in the beginning!  She's brilliant.
In this particular Miss Marple mystery, Jane is asked to go and visit an old friend because the friend's sister feels something is not right but she can't figure out what. Jane goes and discovers that the home in which her friend lives in is in fact rather chaotic and confusing.  Relationships are strained and topsy-turvy, the house is in a strange state of disrepair, and there is a feeling of unease in the air.  The murder happens during a blackout and distracting conflict one night after dinner.  Nobody can quite make sense of how it happened or why. This is when Miss Marple is her best.  She does little talking and a lot of listening and observing.  In this particular case though she is helped along by a couple of other people who begin to catch on to how it all was accomplished.  The question, as it always seems to be with murder, is how many more will lose their life before the real killer is found out?
I had a harder time getting into this one than I have other titles of Christie's but still in the end she sucked me in.




The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by BrenĂ© Brown
Kindle Edition - 160 pages

I read it twice back to back before I considered it "finished."  This is an excellent book.  Brown is a researcher who isn't the typical one you think of - she isn't dry, flat, overly studious, and too complex for the average person.  She is engaging, conversational, speaks in average person language, and transparent.
As she did some data gathering on a topic Brown ran into a problem.  She saw herself on the "don't so these things" list rather than the " do these" one.  She was shocked so she went and got a therapist and began self-work.  An aware and core-healthy person will do this - they will see truth about themselves, recognize they need help processing it, and act on it in appropriate and healthy ways.  After Brown was in therapy for a year she picked back up the research with a renewed enthusiasm and interest and it became this book.  I can't do this book justice in a little review.  All I can, lamely, say is, "READ IT."  It is so good, so easy to read, so easy to hear.  Brown doesn't believe in self-help books so this book is not that, and it really isn't.  It is more of a guidebook, pointing out different paths of our journeys and encouraging us to find the path that is our truest self and walk that one.  She infuses the book and her research with her own personal examples.
The gifts of imperfection, Brown discovered, are courage, compassion, and connection.  She unpacks them in new ways - veering off from the traditional thoughts about each of those and fleshes them out to be life-giving.  She advocates wholehearted living by talking through what sucks life out of us and what brings life to us.  She invested hours of research in her attempts to discover for herself, and then us, what wholehearted living looks like, feels like, sounds like, acts like.  She interviewed hundreds of people who somehow had figured out how to live wholeheartedly.  She generously shares her findings with us.
Read this book. It is so incredibly good.




On The Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark
317 pages

This is the MHC that I know and love.  And yet I can see that as she gets older, her writing style is changing slightly.  She's not near as detailed as her earlier books. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just an observation on my part.  :)
In this title Emily has come into a large fortune, is job transitioning, and has just purchased a home in a seaside town in New Jersey.  The home used to belong to ancestors of hers so she's feeling attached to it.  But the home is also tied to a mystery serial killer from the 1890's that seems to be back!  A series of serial killings have happened in the past few years that mimic the ones from the 1890's and the speculation that the serial killer is reincarnated is heavy.  As bodies begin being discovered and Emily does her own research into the links between the 1890's and present day the killer begins to feel the heat and plan the last final kill, Emily is the victim.  How close will Emily be to death before being rescued or will she not make it out alive?
I love Mary Higgins Clark, she is the modern day Agatha Christie with a true gift for weaving a intricate and astounding mystery.  She manages to lull you into thinking you know "who done it" and then present enough evidence that seems to contrary to your original thinking that you experience doubts.  A lot of times I find that my original suspicion was correct but she has so deftly led me astray from it that I am surprised when it is so!




Hercule Poirot's Christmas : A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie
271 pages

This was a good one.  I couldn't figure it out at all and "who done it" surprised me very much!  I love it when that happens.  How Christie managed to think up these plot twists and turns and then execute them perfectly is so far beyond my imagination.  She was brilliant.
In this particular title a family drama ends in murder and Poirot happens to be in town.  Had he not been the murderer most certainly would have gotten away with it. Christie also added in some side stories that held mysterious components that added to the story and suspicions.  She's so good.




Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp
253 pages

Great book. I mean, yes, I am a fan of the Tripp brothers so pretty much anything they write I like.  But Paul Tripp's wisdom (and his brother Tedd) is so down-to-earth and biblical.  It just makes sense on all sorts of levels.
So since the hub and I already a few years into the teens with our redheads I probably should have read this book a few years back but it is what it is and I certainly don't regret that and don't feel like it is "too late" now to implement any changes my heart picked up on while reading this book. Fortunately we both have a great relationship with our teens and they won't see us as hypocritical or inconsistent should we make some changes.
Tripp's book seems, at first read, like a lofty and unrealistic way to parent.  As he aptly points out in the book, we have a hard time seeing how to get from where we are to where we want to be.  But his counsel is not lofty nor unrealistic and if you have read Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp then chances are good that you are already parenting your teen in some biblical ways.  This book is a great follow-up to that book by the other Tripp.  Even without reading that book this Tripp's parenting counsel is still not lofty nor unrealistic because it is biblical and God's instructions are never lofty or unrealistic, we make them so because they rub against our flesh or they go against the flow of culture but they are not.
The counsel in this book is excellent, as a parent of two teens I appreciated the reminders, the exhortations, the new counsel I had never considered.  I appreciated the encouragement that it is never too late to make changes in my parenting style.  I appreciated Tripp's reminders of our teens and what kind of spiritual battles they are up against in today's culture.  I was glad for his reminders, consistently, that we are also in need of the same attitude adjustments as perhaps or teens are - they we, as parents, are not exempt from needing a heart change and that it actually must come through us first.
In the first few pages of the book Tripp makes a statement that sums up the book's purpose well.  "....we need to see our teenagers with the eyes of opportunity rather than eyes of dread and fear."  (page 22) And the book is dedicated to showing parents how to make the most of the teen years and doing our job of raising up teens who love Jesus, want to serve and follow him, and work ourselves out of a job because our teens have become mature and responsible adults.
I really loved this book - I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it to all parents of tweens and teens! And I highly recommend reading Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp as well - even if your kids are tweens or teens! Good stuff.




Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Kindle Edition - 520 pages

As I see it there are actual two major themes in this book by Stowe - slavery and religion.  The theme of religion is often ignored or dismissed when this book is discussed but I don't see how as it shares equal time with the topic of slavery. Anyway, what I want to say first and foremost is the topic of slavery and religion are very important and in no way does what I have to say about the book diminish their importance.  That being said...
This was one of the most tedious and sluggish reads.  Stowe used descriptives in an over-abundance.  The book could have been cut by at least 2/3 and you still would have gotten the story in plenty of detail. In an attempt, I think, to develop the characters she went overboard. The story line was so out of order that it was a surprise to return to characters that you were led to believe no longer had a part in the book.  She is not a natural author, I'm not sure she is even a natural storyteller. Certainly she had strong views, thoughts, and opinions on both slavery and religion and this book somehow became a platform for her to share those with the "masses."  But I can almost guarantee her writing wouldn't past muster in today's publishing world.  And it certainly wouldn't become a "classic".  I'm trying to figure out how this did become such, it must have been because of the topics.  I can think of no other reason.
Am I glad I read this classic?  Yes ONLY because now I have an understanding of what the big deal is about this book...except I don't really understand why it is such a big deal outside of the topics discussed - and there have been plenty of other books well-written on those two topics since Stowe wrote about them. But mostly I felt like it was wading through quicksand reading this book, it was tough to get through.




Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Wow. What a great book. So informative. I learned a lot about introverts and extroverts in this book about introverts!  I would read specific portions and "get" why I would feel/behave a certain way in circumstances. It was very helpful. I have always known I was an introvert but this shed even more light on the "why's" of my feelings/behavior at times. And on the flip side it really helped me to understand extroverts better as well.  I really enjoyed this book. At the end Cain even addresses raising children who are either introverted or extroverted and although my kids are teenagers I still found it incredibly helpful since I'm not done raising them yet! Her discussions about classroom and workplace organization/setup/design was very enlightening. I really gleaned a lot from this book and Cain's research that she shares.  It was very in-depth and affirming of the introverted personality and I appreciate that she gave nods to extroverts, she never once disparaged them but instead just pointed out the differences between the two types noting that both were okay and needed even.  We all need each other to provide balance and Cain unpacked that very well.




Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Kindle Edition - 216 pages

I love Ellen.  She makes me laugh (and she keeps it clean so that's a bonus in my world), she's generous toward others, she's kindhearted.  She and I don't agree on everything but I don't agree on everything with most people so it's all good in my world.
This is Ellen's third book, I haven't read the other two...yet.  What I loved about this easy to read book is that since I've seen how she delivers jokes and such on her show I can almost hear her voice audibly speaking the lines I am reading.  And it makes me laugh, sometimes really hard.  Most of the book is hysterical nonsense - kind of like literally listening/reading to the running dialogue in her mind and then in the midst of funny she throws in some wisdom to chew on and picks right back up with the funny. I appreciated her delivery. Listen, she's no novelist but she and her editor did a great job with the material.  I just really appreciate her clean humor and her outlook on life.  It was a great read and at a good time as I was just finishing up some heavier thinking books.




Just As I Am by Virginia Smith
224 pages

I've not read Virginia Smith before and this book's description intrigued me a couple of years back.  I'm slooooooowly working my way through my "to read" list and then this book also landed on the list "Books my library doesn't have" so I'm also sloooooowly working my way through that list which means I have to request them through InterLibrary Loan, which is awesome but takes a while.  :)
Mayla has purple hair and some piercings.  Her Mama has been trying to get her to meet Jesus for a few years and until *now* she has resisted. Until one Sunday when something the Pastor at her Mama's church said and she felt pierced.  In a whirlwind of action she found herself propelled to the alter by her own feet and turned around to see her Mama about to fall over from the shock. Sometimes when we want something we don't quite believe it will actually ever happen, Mayla's Mama fell into that category. After Mayla says she believes an impromptu baptism takes place and in a moment Mayla's life changes.  Quite literally.  Much to her surprise she no longer has a desire to swear, sleep with men she barely knows, or party like she was.  The people around her are just as confused as Mayla was at first and then disbelieving.  Mayla battles stereotypes and man-made traditions the church at large has created and emerges quite confident that she is good just as she is. Smith must have thought Mayla's story had more to offer as this is book 1 of 2. Book 2 is on request through InterLibrary loan as I type this. :)
Virginia Smith writes well. She is relateable and has developed her characters at a nice pace.  My favorite sub-storyline in the book was the one of Mayla and Alex, a man dying of AIDS that she befriends, reluctantly at first and then with growing care.  Something about Smith's description of Alex and his snippet of story made my heart ache and I teared up several times when the book was focused on Mayla and Alex. Smith didn't totally bend to the "christianese" and text book answers in this book and I really appreciated that.  This first read of Smith's writing hasn't left me wanting - I will try some of her other titles as well in the future.


Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton
Kindle Edition - 580 pages

When I first started reading this installment in Grafton's Alphabet series I thought, "What the heck?! Why is this book 580 pages?!" But then as I read some background Grafton provided for this particular title I could see why it was longer than some of her others.  Grafton caught wind of a real life Jane Doe case and using a mix of fact and fiction wrote Q.  Grafton was given access to the actual case files and built a lot of her story around fact.  The outcome is fiction as are character names, the actual investigation 18 years after the body was discovered, and Kinsey's involvement but the Jane Doe case happened and is still unresolved.
In this title Kinsey's PD contacts ask her to participate in trying to solve a Jane Doe case that is 18 years old. A girl's body was found dumped near the Lompoc Quarry and it just so happens it was on Kinsey's family property.  The family property plays very little into the actual story except Grafton uses it to further develop Kinsey's parents history and her struggle with finding out she has family. The investigation leads Kinsey, Dolan, and Stacey east toward the California/Arizona border to a town that seems to hold more secrets than at first glance.  It is there that Kinsey and her partners discover key facts about the deceased girl and uncover family secrets that someone wants to stay that way.
I'm giving this title 3.5 stars because I really enjoyed the fictionalized account of a factual case.


Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

In this book Christie's Hercule Poirot agrees to investigate a murder that happened 16 years ago.  All he will have to go on is eye witness accounts from 5 people. First he interviews them face to face and then he asks them to provide a written account of their remembrances.  The book provides us, the readers, with both the verbal and written accounts. It is in the written accounts that you may begin to pick up on some oddities.  Some differences begin to make an appearance and suddenly a theory about who could have committed the murder begins to form.  As I try to do with all of Christie's mysteries I attempt to figure out who did it by trying to read the book as I think she crafted the story.  Sometimes I have a hint of correct but most times I am terribly wrong. This time I was wrong but had a hint of headed in the right direction. :)




Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 309 pages

Well it's about time, right?  :)  I've decided to finally tackle the Harry Potter series. According to some it was way past time.  Ha!
To review a book/book series that has already been read by far more people in my circles than not is a little silly so with the HP books I will just give some general thoughts/impressions.  No need to "review" these books, it would be rather redundant.
I know far more about Harry Potter than I perhaps should since I have not yet read the books or seen the movies*.  The hype surrounding this boy wizard has been going on since book 1 was released.  Still, to actually be reading about him and his friends gives me understanding into the various things I have heard and even know about the series.
In book 1 I am introduced to Harry and his perfectly horrible family.  I don't abide by the kind of emotional abuse and neglect that the Dursley's inflict on him.  Horrible people.  Makes ME want to cast a spell on them.  Rowling has a fantastic imagination and ability to put that in print and the story was very easy to read and enjoyable.  Harry is a likable boy that you are rooting for from the moment you meet him and when he gets some friends my Mother's heart felt relief for him.  His sidekicks, Ron and Hermione and occasionally Neville (at least in book 1), are fun and interesting characters as well.  Ron's family I enjoy quite a bit, Hermione and her rule following I relate to quite a bit, and Neville's lack of social skills I empathize with.
Rowling writes well and has set the stage for a marvelous adventure with all sorts of characters, I feel like her writing style flows - it seems like some magic spell may have been cast on her and the pen took to paper with her watching in amazement.  It is easy to see why the series was so well-received and loved.
 *Yes I'll be watching the movies too. The advantage, of course, to having waited to read books and watch the movies is that I don't have to wait as everyone else did - I can just read and watch as I finish!