Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 Bookshelf

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 341 pages

Rowling's HP books are easy to read and delightful. Her fantastic imagination and her ability to put it into words for others to grab hold of is a pleasure to read.  She has developed characters that you love to love and that you love to hate.  I also like the life lessons she weaves in and out almost without one noticing it. Dumbledore said one particular thing in this book that I thought was very wise, "It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities."  In fact, just for fun click here and you'll can read BuzzFeed's Top 10 Dumbledore quotes from the whole series.  But back to the book.  Well done again, story continues to be engaging and fun to read.  Moving on to book 3.  *wink*




The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf
246 pages

Published in 1984, when I was in the fourth grade, Kent Haruf's debut novel is set in rural Colorado in 1977.  What caught my eye initially with the book was that it was set in my home state.
An 80 year old woman is being accused of murder and her neighbor, Sanders, is her defender.  Through Sanders we learn about the life of Edith and what led to the events that place her, at 80, as a possible murderer.  Sanders takes the reader through the whole of Edith's life, including how their own stories intertwine.  Edith has lived a very hard and unhappy life.  Her father ruled with an iron fist (that's a play on words you will note should you read the book) and placed everyone around him in misery.  Edith spent her life in servitude to him and her attempts to escape never did succeed.  Her brother, Lyman, is two years younger than her and she spends her life trying to protect him from their horrid father.  Edith knows very little pleasure or happiness in life.  Sanders is a devoted neighbor and shares Edith's story with loyalty and love.
Haruf has a writing style that reads very familiar. He employs a lot of descriptive language, develops his characters at an appropriate pace, and tells a good story. Parts of the book felt too long for me but overall it was an interesting read.  To tell Edith's story through Sanders was smart because it kept me interested. I needed to find out how an 80 year old could be accused of murder.  In Edith Haruf gives us a character that shows the depths and lengths of familial love and bonds and what we might do to preserve them.




The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight - 160 pages

Excellent book.  Very challenging to the traditional methods of evangelism.  In this title McKnight takes the reader back to the real good news, unpacks what the true gospel is, and then moves the reader forward to what a true gospel culture should look like.  I really liked his delivery and his thorough study into the Story of Israel and how the Story of Jesus resolved it and that is the gospel.  The gospel we have been evangelizing with for years is more what Dallas Willard calls "sin management" and as McKnight unravels that thought to expose it the reader can't help but see that indeed we have been promoting a way of sin management but not of transformation in Christ. It should not be about "fire insurance" but about seeing and believing that Jesus is King, he is Messiah, he is Lord.  McKnight doesn't just leave the reader with "now what" but goes on to lay out how to build a gospel culture rather than a salvation culture, the book points out the differences between the two. The gospel culture is based on the apostles teaching which came straight from Jesus himself and the salvation culture is based on misunderstanding the true words and mission of Christ.  For 160 pages this book is PACKED with wisdom and truth.  I borrowed the book from a friend and took pages and pages of notes - which slowed down my reading of it, which is probably a very good thing as it has given me time to really process and consider what McKnight has put forth.  Excellent book, I highly recommend it.




Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 435 pages

Rowling's third HP book felt a little slow to me.  Felt like it took a looooooong time to get the story line really moving forward.  I had a harder time being interested in this title.  It almost felt like Rowling was trying too hard.  Like nobody could believe the first two were so successful so the pressure was on to make the third as well.  I did like the introduction of Hogsmeade and Professor Lupine. Since I have managed to stay blissfully unaware of any of the storylines and characters in the series I am ignorantly saying that I hope Professor Lupine returns in another title.  I was also rather disappointed, along with Harry, that he couldn't go stay with Black for summer holiday. The Dursley's make me want to be vindictive.  On to book 4!




In Leah's Wake by Terri Giuliano Long
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

Eh.  About halfway through the book I had just about had it with Leah, her parents, and the story line.  It became very tedious to read. I appreciate Long's attempt to try and write a realistic account of a troubled teen and the ripple effects it has on a family but this account was stereotypical of what a troubled teen looks like and behaves like.  It REALLY annoyed me after a while.
Leah is a super star soccer player and pushing the limits with her family.  She's recently started dating a boy to old for her and he has introduced her to all sorts of drugs and alcohol.  As Leah spirals further out of control so does her family in response to Leah's actions.
The only part of the book that ended up not annoying me was the reality that one person's choices have a ripple effect and the consequences can be felt both near and far.  I think Long intended for the reader to be moved by the emotions of the parents, Leah's younger sister, and even Leah herself but I wasn't moved, just annoyed.  Leah was an enabled, selfish brat and her parents acted totally clueless.  Blah.  I was glad to be done with the book.




Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 734 pages

Oh my favorite thus far.  What a great book!  I loved that Rowling took us to a Quidditch match, expanded the story of Voldemort's followers, hosted a Triwizard Tournament, and used all of it to increase the tension between good and evil in the wizard world. I also love that Rowling doesn't make Potter a "golden child", meaning that he isn't perfect at everything and never needs help.  She has kept his character refreshingly down to earth, needing help, unsure of himself and others, etc.  That makes him even more likable in my opinion.  I get bored easily when main characters are made out to be perfect at all things.  A truly good character is one that is human and needs help.  She has made Harry the best kind of hero, the one you never stop cheering for.  On a different note - Dumbledore's pensieve is the coolest thing. I wish there were something like that!  I'd love to be able to dump some of what fills my brain and keeps me awake at times, etc and have the opportunity to look at it "from a distance" and see things a little more clearly. Great book, moving on the book 5 after a brief intermission with another book.  :)




The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living with Mother Teresa
429 pages

So I didn't understand, when I requested this book from Interlibrary Loan, that when the title includes "daily" it actually meant daily - as in a thought a day for 365 days. And since no library system is going to let me keep the book for a year, and I'm not going to purchase it, I decided to read it straight through as I would a book. So because of this the book isn't really 429 pages of reading as each page has paragraph of text on it containing a thought from Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa was incredibly selfless.  She heard Jesus on September 10, 1946 tell her, "I want you to serve Me among the poorest of the poor" and so she did.  She didn't waver, didn't hesitate, went straight to work as Jesus asked her too. And she said several times in her life that she had not one regret for obeying the call of God so quickly. She also was quick to point out that she was nothing special and anyone could do what she was doing.  That humility is exactly why she was so special.
This collection of 365 thoughts of hers on topics like prayer, abortion, serving the poor, families is very simple and very profound all at once. She seemed to possess an ability to look for the good in all things, to not pass judgement on others, to truly die to self so that Christ would be seen. And for those who claim she isn't a believer of God and didn't have a personal relationship with him I say, "pish posh." (Truth be told I have stronger words than that for those people but in the spirit of Mother Teresa I will refrain and attempt to not pass judgement on those people.)  It is very clear from this collection of thoughts alone that Mother Teresa was an intimate friend of God's and walked with him closely, a very devoted disciple of Christ. I'm grateful for what she shared with the world and how she showed us the way to love as Christ.




And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Kindle Edition - 264 pages

Loved this book!  I saw the movie but the book is always better. It is a fantastic mystery that is mind boggling and full of twists.  What the movie never portrays is the ending of the book in which a thorough confession is made - fascinating!  This was a clever story, Christie once again shows her genius.
10 strangers are invited to spend a holiday on the remote Soldier Island, all of their invitations are slightly mysterious and strange but all of them accept.  They all arrive and find that their host is "detained" and unable to join them right away. After dinner the first night they are all gathered in the drawing room and suddenly a voice comes out of nowhere and begins leveling accusations at each guest about deaths that happened because of them. Immediately unease permeates the group and nobody is quite sure what will happen next.  And then the first death happens. At first the guests think the death of one of them is accidental but as the bodies start cropping up they realize it is purposeful and due to their involvement with the deaths associated to them. The question is who?  Where is the person hiding?  Or is it one of them?
Christie draws her clever story from the poem "Ten Little Indians" and it is a work of art how she twists and turns it into a masterful mystery.




Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 870 pages

Wow, what a book.  I mean first of all the length!  And then the story, so much introduced between characters and story line.  Umbridge makes me feel violent, the penseive is still intriguing, and I can't decide about Snape.  I like that Rowling has her heroic characters, such as Dumbledore, make mistakes and confess to them. She also, purposely or not, highlights Harry's problem with pride.  Seems at 15 he has a bit of his 15 year old Father in him after all.  I do like how Rowling is expanding the wizard world and taking the reader places we haven't been, like the Ministry of Magic. I also am glad for the explanation of Harry's Aunt feeling obligated to take him in.  Overall I liked the book quite a bit although at times I felt slightly bored with the detail, some of it seemed unnecessary. I understand Rowling was attempting to create this world and to give us an intimate picture of it but some of the detail was superfluous.  Moving on to book 6!




Sincerely, Mayla by Virginia Smith
252 pages

This is book 2 in the "Just As I Am" series from Smith.  Smith continues new Christian Mayla's journey to living a life in Christ.
Mayla has been a Christian for 9 months and a lot has happened. In this title even more happens as Mayla loses her job, is asked to house a teen runaway, decides to travel to Florida to visit long lost family, and has to navigate a host of other people and small problems.  As Mayla encounters these challenges she learns a lot about God and trusting him.
Smith ends her two book series with Mayla on a positive note.  I didn't like it quite as much as book 1 - I'm thinking because this one was a lot more typical Christian than the first.  But it was a decent read.




Reckless Faith: Living Passionately As Imperfect Christians by Jo Kadlecek
103 pages

Drawing from the life of the Apostle Peter Kadlecek paints a picture of a life of reckless faith in Christ.  Honestly, if you've been a Christian for a few years none of this is new information or eye-opening.  It's another very similar account of Peter. To be sure Kadlecek loves God and admires Peter, this is not a criticism of her faith, but what she has to say and share has been said and shared many, many times before. For a new believer in Christ this is an excellent resource and thought provoking for living a life of faith that goes out on a limb but for the seasoned believer it feels too familiar, like something transforming is missing from it.




Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 652 pages

Whew.  A great book in which the story is expanded and Rowling introduces us to more of Voldemort's past and a bit of Snape as well.  My suspicions of Snape unfortunately are true.  And while I always hate to see a beloved character go, Rowling did the right thing with Dumbledore.  I hate saying that but it stays true to the larger story and mission of the Order.  The pensieve helps Dumbledore and Potter discover truth - it's intriguing as always.  Since I'm reading these books so far removed from when they first came out I can't quite remember the chatter around this particular title but I can imagine there was outrage at Dumbledore's demise, irritation at the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that form, and perhaps some frustration that Snape and Malcoy happened to escape.  Just speculations on my part coming from a fan-dom perspective.  We want our favorite characters to live forever and conquer evil without much effort and we want to see what we think makes the most sense for relationships to happen.  Rowling clearly had very different outcomes for her characters than traditional thought would propose.  And I continue to love that Harry isn't the "golden boy" in the sense that everything he does turns to gold and he can do no wrong and he is brilliant.  He consistently needs lots of help from several other people. He really is one of the best kinds of heroes. Moving on the final book of the series.




The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M Edsel
598 pages

Fascinating.  Admittedly I am a history geek so books like this interest me greatly.  This is a real-life account of World War II's Monument Men whose mission was to rescue and protect the culture of the countries Hitler was invading as well as the country of Germany as well.  Drawing from journal entries, letters written home, military reports, and live accounts Edsel writes a book that outlines the lengths went to ensure the preservation of history through works of art, books, important documents, and much more.  I personally had NO idea this was going on - the looting of countries museum's in addition to the homes of its citizens.  I knew the Nazi's were keeping the loot from the Jewish homes they raided but I had no understanding of what they were doing with it all.  Hitler wasn't just trying to remove a culture from the world through people, he was also trying to remove it through anything created by their hands.  And he was attempting to lay claim to the works of art, etc that they owned by saying that "inferior races" don't deserve to own priceless and valuable things.
Hitler was an art "buff" and in the late 1930's he began stealing and hiding famous works of art.  By the time the war was in full swing a growing concern had erupted that these stolen works of art and other artifacts would be lost forever if not somehow recovered.  Nobody knew if Hitler, in a crazed frame of mind, would order the ruin of these priceless things.  So a small rag-tag team was assembled to go and search out the stolen pieces as well as work to ensure the preservation of historical buildings, sites, and monuments in the face of tanks, combat boots, and Ariel fire.  Most soldiers didn't get the big deal and wondered why they couldn't tromp through a cathedral built a thousand years beforehand or destroy a building that was housing the enemy. The Monument Men had a touch job of convincing the allies to preserve even the enemy's culture.  Amazingly enough they managed what seemed to be the impossible.  They were able to recover a large majority of the stolen items and return them to a lot of the rightful owners. They were able to save important historical buildings, they were able to restore others that had been damaged.  What they were able to accomplish was incredible.  Throughout the book several famous pieces of work are mentioned that fell into the hands of Hitler and his croonies.  It made me shudder to think the world almost lost those important pieces of history and culture to the likes of that evil.  One of the largest repositories that stolen items resided in had an estimated (in today's economy) $5 BILLION in just gold!  That doesn't factor in the original artwork from famous painters, artifacts like original documents from well known leaders, etc.  Insane.  So while lives were being stolen Hitler was also stealing culture in ways I had not thought of.  It's a good thing someone thought of it and was pro-active on putting a stop to it!
This book had the potential to be really dry and dull or really interesting and lively.  It fell in the middle for me, I certainly wasn't dulled by it.  But sometimes historical accounts can get a little dry so you just have to push through those moments.  I thought Edsel did a great job of introducing the original Monument Men and allowing the reader to follow them through their assignments through the end of the war.  He says in the intro to the book that the dialogue he includes is meant to make it a less dry account and to add some interest in - there are not verbatim quotes unless he pulled them straight from his sources that he leaned on to write the book.  Side note to the Monument Men would be this: this is the 4th, I believe, book centered around WWII that I have read in the last 3 months.  It furthers highlights the point that Hitler was delusional, evil beyond evil, and that Germany was a victim and accessory all at once to the crimes committed.
With this read of the book I can now go see the movie, which I really wanted to see before reading the book and now do even more so after reading it, and I can stop - for a while - reading books about WWII events as they get me a bit riled. :)  I recommend this book for the history geek that loves a good deal of history with just a wee bit of personal thrown in.




Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Kindle Edition - 759 pages

Well it is easy to see why this series was so well-received.  Rowling created a fantastic world with intriguing characters, magic, humor, realism, and the ever compelling story line of good vs. evil.  We always respond to a story of good vs. evil.  Harry remains to best kind of hero to cheer for - slightly bumbling, not as brilliant as his mates, but brave and willing to enter into the fray of evil and danger for the "greater good."
I appreciated the doubt Rowling cast upon Dumbledore, that was a realistic inclusion.  I loved the astute observations she made between good and evil.  The horcruxes were especially thought provoking.  When our souls are divided and ripped into pieces we become unstable. I really liked insight into Snape as well. The final battle was epic in the sense that it was inspiring and intense. Once again, Rowling keeps it real by allowing favorite characters to pass on rather than all succeed. The reality of good vs evil is that some of the good ones are going to have to die in the battle. Our wars (specifically WWII) may lend proof to that. But back to Potter. :)  I also was confirmed in my suspicions that Harry's Aunt Petunia reacted to him based out of jealousy more than anything else.  The only issue I take with the book/series is the epilogue.  I find them on the whole, with any series, to feel like a rushed wrap up "and they lived happily ever after" kind of deal. I would have preferred for Rowling to leave the book as is with the last sentence of the last chapter before the epilogue and let our imaginations finish out Harry Potter's story, along with that of his mates.  But that is personal preference, it seems to me authors include epilogue's because they know their fans will cry out for the "full story" so they provide an ending. Other than that I enjoyed the book very much and I enjoyed the series very much.




Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle by Kent Annan
206 pages

Kent Annan gives a personal account of his journey to living in Haiti and what he and his wife experienced as they attempted to follow Jesus through the eye of the needle.  (Mark 10:17-27) It is a very personal and real account of the victories, the challenges, and the doubts about living in the midst of their neighbors.  I loved his willingness to get real and put out there some of the challenges he faced.  He provided some valuable insight into the government instability of the nation which in turn has led to the domestic instability.  He introduces us to his friends and his adopted family in Haiti and shows us the value of life there through them.  It was a great, insightful book and he shared some profound thoughts on following Jesus through the eye of the needle.  Gave me some things to think through and reminds the reader all the way through  about God's grace in the process of squeezing through the eye of the needle.




After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken by Kent Annan
129 pages

"With every crisis of faith, what we believe is crucified, and then we wait expectantly, whether in defeat or in joyful hope, to see what part of our faith is resurrected." (page 128)
Annan's second book is summarized best by the line I just included above from the book.  Based off of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Annan takes himself - and invites the reader along - on a journey of shaken faith.  Using stories and analogies birthed from the earthquake in the country he loves and has been serving for years Annan explores what to do with a faith that has been shaken and is experiencing after shocks.  His honesty is refreshing, his doubts real, his conclusions hopeful.  What our faith has been leveled what is found in the rubble?  Is God in the rubble?  Does God even care?  Why would God allow these things to happen?  Why, If, What, How - all questions that we have freedom to wrestle through.  And Annan honestly shares his wrestling matches with God over these very questions and more.  Annan gives an honest voice to the reality of a faith filled life.