Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Bookshelf

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan
Kindle Edition - 286 pages

What a fun book.  Naturally I was drawn to it at first because it appears to be about a bookstore and there are so few things that can get better than that.  Robin Sloan is a new writer on the scene and he created a really fun and intriguing story with this debut.  It seems he is considering making it a series of some sort, we'll see.
Clay Jannon is down on his luck.  The recession hit him hard with the loss of a job and no prospects on the horizon.  In desperation he starts applying for anything and one day as he's walking down the street he notices Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a curiosity in itself, and they are hiring.  He walks in and from that moment on nothing is the same.  The bookstore is indeed open 24 hours a day but rarely visited by paying customers.  Odd characters come in the late night and early morning hours to exchange books written in code.  They are stored on high shelves reachable only by sliding ladders.  Clay is curious how the store stays open and as one curiosity leads to another he discovers a secret society within the odd characters and books of code.  With the help of his friends, Clay and Mr. Penumbra set out to crack the code.  The questions are many: Is there a code to crack?  What will happen if it gets cracked?  How does the secret society feel about the code?  What happens to the bookstore in all of this?  And more.
Sloan crafted a fun book, it was engaging.  I kept reading because I wanted to know more about Clay and his friends and their abilities to lend to this secret society code.  It was a little tiny bit like the movies National Treasure but set in a bookstore and books were the keys.  In this book Sloan explores the relationship between printed books and technology.  He also explores the ways in which technology touches our lives and influences our thinking, decisions, etc.  Some things can only be accomplished with technology, other things can only be accomplished with actual brain power.  He shows both sides of this new debate that has arisen in our tech saturated society.  It was a really fun book to read, if he does continue it as a series I am curious to see how he does it.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Based on factual events Kent's debut novel attempts to show an ambiguous side to Iceland's controversial Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman in Iceland to have been executed.  While this novel is a work of fiction Kent drew from historical records for the foundation of the story.
Agnes Magnusdottir has been charged with murder of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson along with two others.  It is 1828 and Iceland's rural areas are not set up properly to house criminals of this nature.  Her final months are to be spent on the farm of Kornsa and working for the family who lives there.  She is also to be supplied with daily visits from a Priest to help her prepare for her execution and to bring her to repentance for her crime.  And so we meet Agnes, not the one the public has created but who she really is.  Through many visits she slowly reveals her story, including the night of the murders.  It becomes evident that Agnes has a hurtful story and things are not always as they seem.  Attempts to appeal her execution have failed and she is just biding her time.  Drawn into her story, almost against their will, is the family at Kornsa and the Priest. They end up providing the emotional support she needs and has never before received.
Kent traveled to Iceland when she was a teenager and heard the story of the murders at Illugastadir and of the "inhumane witch, stirring up murder" Agnes Magnusdottir.  The story intrigued her enough that she turned it into a research project and created a work of fiction from Agnes life in an attempt to show a different side of the story.  Agnes has lived on in Iceland's history as an evil woman but Kent thought, "What if she wasn't evil and was innocent?"  In 1828 there wasn't a proper method of sussing out the truly guilty and most times one was convicted as guilty by association, by being in the same vicinity of the crime.  Kent's first book is ambitious and she mostly pulls it off.  I say mostly because I really felt like the first half dragged a bit too much.  It moved very slowly for me, I kept having to motivate myself to keep reading.  One thing that did motivate me is Agnes and the story of the crime, I was sure Kent would include it and I really wanted to know what happened.  But about halfway through the pace of the story seemed to pick up and I got through the second half rather quickly. Kent's research and portrayal of Iceland and the areas in which the story took place are thorough and give the story the authenticity it needs.  Because she had so much information at her disposal about the people involved in the crime and the crime itself the book is well thought out.  The actual details of Agnes' life are fictional but I really appreciated someone taking the time to present a different side of Agnes and present for examination, "What if she wasn't evil at all?  What if she might have been innocent?"

Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer by Carolyn Sharp
154 pages

I really enjoyed this book even though I felt like I needed a dictionary and thesaurus with me to read it.  :)  I didn't realize, when I requested the book, that it was written by a Yale Associate Prof so it reads more like an academic textbook than a layperson book.  Nevertheless I wasn't deterred and I enjoyed it very much.
Sharp is a Prof of Hebrew Scriptures at Yale's Divinity School and she knows her stuff.  She is a well-educated and well-spoken woman.  She is very good at walking the balance beam of debate between two major views when it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures.  I really appreciated her style of addressing the views, even the ones she doesn't personally hold to.  She also surprised me with her open faith in God.  She has a deep love for her Creator and expresses it often.  Part of her expression comes in wanting to help people read the scriptures outside of the box that perhaps they have been in.  Enter this book she wrote.
Sharp takes time to discuss how people read the scriptures. How they read them with their own bias, cultural viewpoints, etc.  She then lays out the case for setting those aside so that the scriptures open up in ways we may not have ever anticipated.  We can, she says, lay aside our personal bias and preference so that we can read the scriptures in a fuller and perhaps more accurate context.  She talks about how to read passages that are troubling, how to examine and be mindful of historical content, how to understand when literary play is at work in the text, etc.  Truth be told, a lot of the book went right over my head due to it's academic bent BUT I do feel that I got the overall message of the book which is to wrestle with the word much as Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord and to not give up wrestling with the word and to be open to it saying something different than what I was told it meant way back in the day or even last week.  Sharp also beautifully discoursed on how it is beneficial to have different kinds of readers for the scriptures. Some will always read it academically, some historically, some in story form, some for personal application, etc and she encourages the reader to not be threatened by the way people approach the scripture but to glean from them as they are hopefully gleaning from how the reader takes it in.  She rightly points out that we need all the different perspectives on the scriptures to bring it to fullness. I'm very glad I tackled this book, it gave me a lot to consider and it even affirmed some of my own viewpoints which I have discoursed on myself but at the elementary level, not at the level Sharp does.

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament by Frank Viola
183 pages

The Bible as most of us read it isn't in order of date written.  Rather it is organized by length of books and a few other insignificant factors.  So when it is read and studied sometimes, maybe more often than we realize, confusion ensues because things seem out of place or dates seem confusing, etc.  What Viola does is give the reader a broad overview of the New Testament Church following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  But he presents the overview in chronological order so it makes a little more sense.  For example, because Matthew starts off the New Testament people generally believe it was one of the first books written.  That is not the case.  Just because it is first in the organization of the Testament doesn't mean it was written first.  Because the Apostle Paul was such a key figure in bringing the Gospel to Gentiles Viola uses his conversion and journeys and a large basis for the chronological order of things. The front cover of the book claims this is an "extraordinary guide" to understanding the New Testament.  I don't know about extraordinary but it certainly is good to read through and gain a better understanding of order and how events unfolded.  It gives the reader a better sense of historical context and clears up questions about dates and timelines and such.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Plainsong is book one in a trilogy.  Kent Haruf is a simple writer, he writes simply, his characters are simple, and his story lines simple.  But simple can be good and in Haruf's case it is good.  He writes with warmth and familiarity.
In Plainsong we are introduced to some of the residents of Holt, Colorado.  The book focuses on families, some created through marriage and some created through necessity.  We meander through the days of Holt with Guthrie, Ike and Bobby, Victoria, and the McPherons. Other characters play important roles but aren't specifically focused on like these I have mentioned.  There is nothing spectacular or outstanding about any one of these characters but you find yourself drawn into their story and into the larger story.  Haruf writes about community and he does it very well.  He knows how to tap into what makes a smaller community tick and what are the pros and cons of one.  I loved that he highlighted the residents in a community who are always willing to swim upstream against the flow of popular thought.  The McPherons come to mind.  He has them behave in a manner outside the norm for their age and generation and it is heartwarming.  But it is also realistic because every community has that person, or two, that does something surprising and outside what society would say is okay.
Like I said, Haruf writes with warmth and familiarity, he makes the story feel as if you are walking through town and listening in on the conversations and stories, as if perhaps you are a resident there yourself and observing these stories play out.  He leans toward more descriptive writing rather than conversational writing and it serves the stories and his characters well.  His writing makes you want to curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea and just breathe.

Eventide by Kent Haruf
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Haruf continues in this book to immerse the reader in the community of Holt, Colorado with some familiar characters and some new ones. The McPheron brothers are back as is Victoria.  Maggie Jones makes appearances still serving as the common denominator between people and Guthrie appears alongside of her.  In this title we meet DJ and his Grandfather, Mary Wells and her daughters, Luther and Betty Wallace and their children, Betty's Uncle, and Rose Tyler.  Haruf examines the everyday lives of the residents of a community and highlights the hardships and victories that can be had.  In some ways I feel like he also purposes to expose what is hiding, perhaps, behind the front doors of the homes you drive past.  He also explores the bravery it takes to make changes and to dare to live a fuller life.  Again the book is simple and yet captivating in its simplicity. It's an entirely different chapter format than Plainsong which surprised me a little. And Haruf doesn't use quotation marks for dialogue, something I didn't mention in my review of book 1.  Some people seem to have disdain for Haruf's simple writing but I rather enjoy it.  He develops characters well, he sets scenes beautifully, and his story lines are about every day life in America.  While some of his story lines are upsetting they nonetheless don't shelter the reader from the realities of life and so reading his books makes, this reader at least, you feel almost at home in a weird sense.

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Kindle Edition - 274 pages

Haruf waited 9 years to finish up the Plainsong series.  He published Eventide in 2004 and Benediction was released in 2013.  I feel like in those 9 years he lost a little of the mojo Plainsong and Eventide possessed (and there were 5 years between those two books being published).  Nevertheless, in his characteristic simplicity, Haruf once again takes the reader to Holt, Colorado and wraps up this trilogy with the focus being on one man and his family.  Other characters come in and out of the story and there are a couple of side stories but the focus is on Dad and Mary Lewis.
The book opens with Dad and Mary getting news from his Doctor that sets the tone for the book and for their story.  As Dad's health declines due to the cancer eating away at him we learn more of his story of the life he has lived.  Just as you would expect a sick person might do, remembering their life in bits and pieces that don't necessarily connect, Dad's story does the same.  As he travels all over his memory we go with him and listen in on the things that affected him the most in his life. We learn of his regrets, his proud moments, how much he loves his wife, his concerns. And just like life Haruf doesn't wrap up the story with a pretty red bow but he leaves it open, moving forward without much fanfare.
This third book was a different conclusion to the series than I expected. That's not to say it was bad but it didn't bring back any of the characters so key in the other two books and the ending of the book was abrupt, in my opinion.  I did enjoy, however, the story of Dad Lewis and his wife.  I stand by my assessment of Haruf, he writes wonderfully simple and homey stories.

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider
Kindle Edition - 240 pages

I'm always interested to hear from others who are attempting to live intentionally in a fast-paced, technology saturated world. It is no easy feat to slow down in this life so when I come across others who have ideas and have managed to find small ways to do it then I'm all ears.
Oxenreider and her husband had the privilege of living overseas in Turkey for a few years which set the foundation for living a slower paced and more intentional way of life.  Entering back in to America was a shock to the system, a reverse culture shock of sorts and it set off a series of conversations and attempts to reclaim the ways they knew their life for their family needed to be.  Life is all about trial and error and Oxenreider is refreshingly honest in sharing those. She makes no attempts to pretend she has "arrived" at the place of living intentionally, she admits it is difficult and easy to be sucked into the whirlpool of this western, developed world life.  She shares some of their trial and errors, how they choose to make life intentional, and poses questions for the reader to think through in regards to their own living and how they might make it more intentional. She also doesn't prescribe a set formula for this slower, intentional life that "everyone" must follow - she acknowledges that it will look different for each family, that a slower paced, intentional life is unique to each family.  That is refreshing when generally many who have good intentions to share what they have learned set it forth in a manner that is a prescribed method and everyone should follow it to a "t".  The one thing I think she makes clear, as do others who have ideas about living more intentionally is that it is a family goal, that everyone in the home is on board and contributes to a more meaningful life.  This is where I always get hung up, as I am the only one in my home who would love to pursue a more meaningful life.  Still, there are some things I can do and implement and I will do what I can.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
229 pages

In 1993 when Beah was 12 years old he was thrust into a civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone.  Rebel armies attacked his village and surrounding ones and he, with his friends, fled for their lives.  They spent the next several months dodging the rebel soldiers who take pleasure in killing for fun and looting for food, etc.  Eventually Ishmael, now 13, and his friends end up in a village that is protected by a Government Army fighting the rebels. But he soon learns that in many ways they are just as corrupt as the rebels. He becomes addicted to drugs, kills more people than he will ever be able to recall, and builds strong walls around himself so he doesn't have to feel.  After a couple of years of this life he is mysteriously chosen to be rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehab.  At this rehab center he goes through an extensive detox and healing process as a result of his life as a boy soldier. Ishmael regains his life and is extended opportunities that take him further than he ever dreamed.
This is a compelling and moving story.  Many of us have heard of "the lost boys" who were forced into being soldiers for rebel armies but this is the first memoir that I have read of one who voluntarily, kind of, joined an army that wasn't rebel but government, kind of. What struck me about Ishmael and the others fighting this civil war was how quickly they turned from living intelligent lives to those of thugs addicted to drugs and lusting for revenge.  Ishmael speaks of knowing Shakespeare and excelling in academics prior to the attacks but all of that part of his life dissipates in the fight. And to regain it he had to battle many wars within himself. Very inspirational story of a boy who lived, lost himself, and lives again.

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
243 pages

Beautifully written.  A beautiful, heartbreaking, and heartwarming story of trying to rebuild life after a civil war has ravaged your village and country.
Ishmael Beah crafts a tale of the residents of Imperi.  Forced out of their village years prior they slowly start returning.  In the opening pages we witness two elders returning to their devastated village and working to bring order and restoration to it before the younger people return.  As the village begins to fill up again with the wounded, physically and emotionally, Imperi comes to life once again.  Hope is being reborn.  But one Saturday morning hope is threatened by the sounds of heavy machinery and trucks moving through the area and in the days to follow a mining operation is established and it changes the physical and emotional landscape of Imperi.  The past, the values, the beauty of the country is ignored in the name of the almighty dollar and the residents of Imperi are forced to adapt to a new and uncomfortable way of life.  Beah gives us focus on the story of Imperi through two men and their families, Benjamin and Bockarie.  There are other wonderful characters but the story weaves in and out of them. Highlighted through them is the incredible resilience and optimism the people of Africa always seem to carry within them.  The commitment to an honest and good life, education, and work ethic is a trademark of so many.  The tale chronicles the efforts of Benjamin and Bockarie to keep their families together, provided for, and educated so there is hope for their future despite the many obstacles that attempt to block their way.
A wonderfully crafted story, fiction but certainly based on fact.  Beah's characters are engaging and relateable.  He writes, in detail, about the damage the mining operations have done to the citizens and land of Africa's continent.  Some may say he writes a one-sided perspective of it, I would disagree.  He writes a realistic portrayal of the disrespect and danger these mining companies have moved into Africa with.  It truly makes my blood boil, the disrespect they show the citizens of whatever nation they decide to rape and pillage for an increase to their wealth.  And unfortunately some of the nation's own citizens take part as a way to be protected or to provide or to self-serve.  Disgusting.  But in the midst there are always those who look for and hope for a better tomorrow and tirelessly work to that end.  Those people are the redemption of their nation and culture. This was such a moving and beautifully told story.

Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
244 pages

When this book was first published I read about it and added it to my "to read" list. Who doesn't say at least once a day, "That is so annoying" or "He/She is so annoying" or some variation on that indicating your annoyance?  While reading this book I did notice how many times a day I may mumble about my annoyance with someone or something.  :)  So a book about the science of annoyance is fascinating to me!
Palca and Lichtman truly do discuss the science behind what may be annoyances.  In that regard it was a little over my head at times.  I can handle science speak in layman's terms but when it starts getting too technical I start to glaze over.  So I really had to focus and slow way down on those parts.  But I managed to grasp the overall conclusions of the book.  Annoyance is a mystery within the emotional psychology world.  Some say it is on the anger spectrum, others say it belongs in a class almost by itself, and yet others aren't really sure where to place annoyance.  Frankly, it's a little annoying to not know where to put it!  Ha.  And yes, that kind of irony is throughout the book.  The authors, leaning heavily on various research done in and around this mystery response, conclude that annoyance in social ways, in olfactory sense, in breaking of rules, in missed expectations, in interruptions of obtaining a goal, in auditory sense, in some brain injuries are all legit reasons for annoyance to occur.  The research in each field can point to reasons why annoyance may be felt or happen.  Because it is such a vague response there is still a lot of cloud cover as to how annoyance progresses in someone but there are scientific studies that are helping to point the way to progression.  This was such an interesting read and look into the response of annoyance.  It's really making me think through the times when I utter that I am annoyed.  The basic conclusion of the book though is that everyone feels annoyed at times, perhaps even daily, and it is our chosen response to the annoyance as to how deeply we let it impact our days.
This is a "fun" and informative read on such an interesting topic. I'm not annoyed at all that I read it, I'm rather glad!

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman
254 pages

Bah.  For all the work I have allowed God to do in my life I still have the tendencies to live a try-hard life.  Oh I am miles down the road from where I started but I still have seasons of trying hard and ultimately failing hard.  I'm always drawn to discussions about grace because I have a really difficult time allowing grace in my life.  Someone once told me that because I don't allow grace in my life I don't extend grace to others.  I disagreed then and I disagree now.  For some reason it is way easier for me to extend grace to others than myself.  I see them as worthy of it, me?  Not so much.  So the title of this book caught my eye because I try-hard in this life.
The book is broken up into three parts and in part one Freeman talks about all the masks that good girls who are trying hard wear.  Well darn it all if I don't also own every single one of those masks.  I don't often wear them anymore but neither have I gotten rid of them.  I suppose I keep them around for the "just in case". The just in case what?  Just in case I want to be miserable?  I need to rid my life of them for good.
Parts two and three were good but a little more tedious to get through for me personally.  See, when you are birthed into the church you have been there, heard that, said that a million times over and it is mind-numbing after a while.  Not that what Freeman was saying wasn't truth and good and absolutely right on but I have read/heard so much of the same stuff for so many years that I now find it a little tedious to get through.  It slows me down a bit.  But it was good and for someone who hasn't been birthed into the church these things that Freeman says are vital to hear. Unfortunately the message we get through the pulpit and women's ministries usually contradict what Freeman is saying so you need to be able to discern truth and kick lies to the curb.  (GASP.  Are you saying Beth that Pastors and Women's Ministries lie to us?  Well, yes. Not on purpose mind you but they do because they also have fallen for the lies and don't even see it.)  We have to learn to discern between what the Bible and God actually say and ask of us and what are man-made traditions that put us into bondage.  But that's a whole different topic. :)  I digress.
It was a good book.  A worthy read.  She also wrote one for teen girls which I have requested so I can read it and then have my oldest read it.  She already has struggles with masks and trying hard.  I'd rather see her free of it much sooner than later.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
368 pages

I've not heard of Louise Erdrich before but thanks to my sister-in-loves book club I get the pleasure of reading new-to-me authors. From a quick scan of Erdrich's other titles she focuses a lot on Indians in America living on Indian Reservations.  Erdrich's style is similar in quite a few ways to Kent Haruf's.  Very easy to read, dialogue part of the story and not separated by quotation marks and indents, balance between character development and setting, simplistic but in all the right ways.
In this title we spend time on an Indian Reservation in North Dakota through the voice of Joe, a 13 year old boy. It is the beginning of summer 1988 and Geraldine, Joe's mother, has been brutally attacked.  The violence and brutality of the crime has silenced her and she withdraws from the world.  Joe and his father, Bazil, who is a tribal judge try to be a place of calm for Geraldine while trying to search out answers to this crime.  Who did it? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? As the residents of the reservation circle around Joe and his family to protect them and try to cooperate with the federal investigation of the crime Joe becomes frustrated with the length of time it is taking.  So with his three friends Joe sets out to find answers.  Along the way, through the days of investigating and the roads that lead them all throughout the reservation, a cast of characters helps Joe and his friends find the answers they need.
I love a good and creative coming of age story.  And this is a coming of age story as much as it is a mystery to be solved.  So win-win for me!  I've never been on an Indian Reservation but it seems to me Erdrich has and she tried to capture it accurately.  It is such an interesting culture within the already melting pot culture of America.  She took the time to paint the picture of the differences between federal law involvement and tribal.  I'm not sure how much has changed since 1988, the setting of the book, but I do know the Indians have their own code of conduct and laws that they attempt to uphold before federal law can interfere.  I found this title to be beautifully written, well executed, and peaked my interest in the reservations of this country.  It's always a bonus when I can learn more about something.  I like Erdrich and her style so I'll be looking at her other titles in the future.

Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment ... Can Last Forever by Wess Stafford
224 pages

Wess Stafford is one of the most genuine, compassionate, Spirit filled men I have ever "known."  He is humble and unassuming and has the heart of God for the children of this world.  I admire him greatly.  His book, Too Small to Ignore, was moving and inspiring.  This book creates the same inspiration, the same move of heart.
In this book Stafford recounts the mere minutes it takes to build up or tear down a child's future.  He shares true accounts of people who were influenced for good or for bad by the minutes adults used to speak to them.  It's a challenging book in that it challenges the popular excuse/idea that in order to influence a child we need days and weeks of time spent with them.  Wess proves, through the real life stories he shares, that in reality it may only take a single minute to influence a child.  And then he exhorts us to go out there and spend a minute or two speaking value into the life of the children that come across our path.
A great read because it reminds us that we have the ability and the power to speak life, not death, over the children of this world that will grow up into the next generation to lead in this world.

Graceful (for Young Women): Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life by Emily P Freeman
171 pages

Before handing this over to my oldest to read (I hope she does) I wanted to read it and make sure it was something I should be recommending to her.  And it is.  In fact, even though I read the adult woman version of the book earlier this month, I also responded to this one.  At the beginning of the book as Freeman is introducing herself to the teen girls she hopes read the book she says, "....most days I still feel seventeen inside.  I look around and wonder when the grown-ups are going to show up and take care of things, and then I remember I am one."  Boy can I relate.  And I think I responded to this one as well because I do feel seventeen still - in so many ways.
Freeman tackles the personas that girls tend to create and wear.  They were spot on.  She didn't miss the mark at all, rather she hit the bulls-eye.  She addresses them in, I think, relateable ways for teen girls.  I really appreciated the way she discusses this with teen girls.  It is the way I long to talk about it with my daughters but because I'm the Mom I don't have a "loud" enough voice for them to really hear me.  So I'm hoping they hear it through this well written book by Freeman.  Truly it takes a village.

Monday, June 2, 2014

May 2014 Bookshelf

NEW this month! Click on the title of the book and you can read more about it through

The Language of Light by Meg Waite Clayton
Kindle Edition - 354 pages

This is the second novel of Clayton's that I have read and I liked it much better than the first one. But this one was her first published book.  I really loved the photography use in the story, particularly because I am so intrigued by photography.
Nelly Grace and her two sons have moved to Maryland to her Grandparents horse farm. Still dealing with the aftermath of her husband's death and what that means for her future, Nelly finds herself adjusting to a whole new culture in this horse community. A woman named Emma befriends her and Nelly begins to learn what courage is and who she is with courage.  Nelly's father, a famous photojournalist, has influenced her photography and her desire to hear him say he's pleased with her work.  The story takes the reader on a journey, Nelly's, as she tries to figure who she is and what her skin feels like.
I really liked Clayton's use of language in this book.  She spent a lot of time developing the characters, the physical setting, and the emotional setting.  She also spent a lot of time with both horse people and photography people learning the ins and outs of both so that she could write a story that stayed true to both of those cultures.  It was well-done, especially the photography part.  I really enjoyed this story and Clayton's style telling it.

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie
Kindle Edition - 304 pages

This is the first McKenzie book I have read and I really liked her writing style.
The story is told through the voices of three people - Claire, Jeff, and Tish.  Claire and Jeff are married to each other and Tish is a co-worker of Jeff's.  Unfortunately Jeff dies in a tragic accident and his narration is some back story for the reader, which does fill in some holes and explains his perspective on things. Claire and Tish's narrations flip back and forth between past and present giving the reader a full story, along with Jeff's additions.  As I said, Jeff does tragically and Claire is left to figure out life for her and their son Seth.  500 miles away Tish is also left with a hole in her life from Jeff's death although she can't tell people.  She is constrained to mourn him quietly and in secret.  After Tish appears at Jeff's funeral as the "company representative" Claire begins to wonder if there isn't more to the relationship between the two of them.  So she begins to search for clues that Jeff and Tish were having an affair.  Tish, meanwhile, is doing her best to move forward and focus on her family.  What comes out is that every relationship has hidden thoughts, feelings, and sometimes even actions and sometimes what is hidden gets exposed and other times it may for the best that it stay hidden.
McKenzie did a fine job of using three POV's and not confusing the reader or the story.  I liked her exploration of relationships and the realities that relationships go through.  I liked the voices she used and the side characters.  She writes easy and engages the reader.  I will definitely be checking out more of her titles.

The Freedom from Depression Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth
237 pages

While this is a workbook of sorts it is also a book.  And it's a worth it read. As the front covers says, it's for people who: feel sad or discouraged more than they would like, prefer to withdraw rather than be in groups, struggle with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, have irregular sleep patterns, feel trapped by a sense of duty, find laughter does not come naturally, feel quite often on the verge of crying.  All of these and more might be a reason for *you* to pick up this book and read through it.  If nothing else it can help you to be more aware to people around you and perhaps the depression they might be struggling with. I read it for me but I also read it with the intention of keeping the info in my mind so I can come alongside of others when they struggle.  Depression takes on a lot of different forms and can run the course of a day to years and everything in between.  It is not a respecter of persons and it doesn't mean someone is permanently "broken".  It enters a person's life for a variety of reasons - some chemical, some situational, some emotional. Carter and Minirth draw from real life cases to provide examples to the ways in which they choose to address depression in this book.  And they address many aspects of depression including medical interventions through the use of anti-depressants and when someone has depression so severe they entertain thoughts of suicide.  Carter and Minirth are not afraid to go to the dark places of depression in order to expose them to the light for the purpose of wholeness and healing.   They do come at the topic with faith as a basis but they do not preach nor do they use any Christianese terms or phrases that are turn-offs to those not depressed much less those who are!  I appreciated this about them. I found this to be a very helpful and easy to read book about depression and how I can find freedom from it and even in the midst of it as I work through the black hole moments.   I highly recommend this book for those who struggle and for those who have loved ones who struggle so they can have some basis of understanding for what their loved one is experiencing.

Wounded by God's People: Discovering How God's Love Heals Our Hearts by Anne Graham Lotz
Kindle Edition - 240 pages

Taking the story of Hagar Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) walks the reader through the healing God offers to those who have been wounded and for those who have wounded.  Oftentimes if we have been wounded we have also been a wounder. Sometimes our wounding gets the best of us and we turn around and wound others and sometimes we wound and then as we are healing from that behavior we get wounded.  Our human nature is a tough thing to navigate in this world where entitlement and self-absorption trump humility.  Lotz uses Hagar as her proof text for the book and it's a good example to use.  Hagar was both wounded and a wounder, as was Sarah - the woman she clashed with.  Drawing from personal examples, Hagar, Sarah, and other biblical characters Lotz walks the reader through God's healing love for those who have been deeply hurt.  A lot of it wasn't new information or ideas for me.  I've walked through my own experiences of wounding so a lot of what Lotz shared I also have learned in the past decade.  I did a lot of blindly, however, so reading a particular section in which Lotz would suggest a course of action based on biblical standards I was pleasantly surprised to see I choose rightly at times when walking through my own experiences!  I think what was important to highlight, and Lotz does, is that we are both - we wound people and we get wounded by people.  We are not innocent or exempt from behaving badly at times and wounding others in our attempts to protect ourselves, etc.  So we experience both - being wounded by God's people and being a person of God who wounds. And he is there to heal all.  It was a decent book.  I wasn't super wowed by it, I won't be dwelling on it and thinking about it for days after but it was good and a needful reminder of how I can respond when I am wounded and what I need to do when I am the wounder.

Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
320 pages

Another book from the stack my sister-in-love loaned me and I'm grateful.  Such an interesting author, point of view, story.  Ferraris has the distinction of having lived in Saudi Arabia and experiencing the culture and climate firsthand.  As her short biography reads, she moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.  She took her experiences and her observations and crafted an intriguing mystery series out of them.
Ferraris wrote a total of three novels about two main characters, Nayir Sharqi and Katya Hijazi, this novel is the first in the series.  Nayir is a devout Muslim who has been asked by a close friend to investigate the disappearance of his sister, Nouf.  Nayir is a desert guide and his search leads him into the desert where the girl is eventually found.  But the discovery of her seems odd and Nayir feels suspicious of the circumstances.  Katya is engaged to Nayir's friend who instigated the search for his sister. Nayir and Katya meet in unusual circumstances for a Saudi woman.  Katya works for the Coroner's Office and is the one who runs tests and such on the sister's body.  Many inconsistencies pop up and both Nayir and Katya can't let it rest.  They go searching for the truth about Nouf's disappearance and death. As the clues eventually piece together both Katya and Nayir are only concerned with one thing - finding Nouf.
I really liked this book. One, it's a genre I love - murder/mystery.  Two, Ferraris creates a story using such an unlikely culture. Katya is not the typical Saudi woman while Nayir is a very typical Saudi man.  Pairing the two of them together for the purpose of solving crime is such an interesting dynamic. Three, because of Ferraris' years living in Jeddah her setting is authentic and so realistic you can almost feel your own sandals melting on the hot asphalt in the desert of Saudi. Her intimate knowledge and experience of Saudi and the Muslim culture lends a very authentic experience for the reader.  She provides, through her fictional story, such interesting true facts about the lives of the Middle Eastern people.  I really enjoyed that as well. I will say it felt like a very dense novel. It wasn't a quick read because it seemed very weighty, but it was a very good read.  I will for sure be reading the other two books in this series about Katya and Nayir.

Masks by Patricia Caviglia
115 pages

This was a book that has been on my "to read" list for at least 3 years.  I'm sure what initially drew me to it was the description.  I'm up for a YA novel as long as it is good and engaging.  I think I thought this sounded like it fit the criteria.
Unfortunately it fell a little flat.  I read in a quick bio that Caviglia works a day job and writes at night and on the side.  That could explain, in part, her inability to execute the story she wanted to write.  What I'm wondering about it the editor/publisher.  They fell down on the job and in the end it leaves Caviglia open to some undeserved criticism, in my opinion.
Masks is about Rebecca and David, two teens that live in two very different homes and fall in love (as much as you can in high school).  Rebecca's family is strict, overprotective, and verbally abusive.  David's family is absent, uninvolved, disinterested.  They start dating in secret since Rebecca's Dad won't let her date but in order to do this she must tell some lies.  And as those of us who have lived some life know, lies never stay hidden.  When the truth is finally revealed it isn't pretty and everyone involved will need to learn some hard lessons.
This had potential to be a decent novel but the author left it undeveloped.  She didn't spend enough time on character development or story line.  It was left lacking in almost every area.  I blame the editor, in part, for this.  A good editor would have worked with her to get it developed more. Caviglia's writing is decent but she doesn't do enough of it in this book to get a real sense of her skills.  This book was published in 2010 and she hasn't released anything else since then.  She hasn't even published on her website blog since summer 2013.  I have a feeling she may have turned in her author's pen.

To Live is Christ: Joining Paul's Journey of Faith by Beth Moore
Kindle Edition - 348 pages

This book takes the reader from the beginnings of Paul's life all the way through to the end of it.  Moore highlights important faith lessons and moments that Paul had that can be of importance to our own faith journey's as well.  Moore is a great communicator and has a sincere zeal for God and that always comes through in her writings.  This book, however, would be better suited for someone newer to faith in Christ.  I grew rather...ancy...with it.  The majority of what she shared wasn't new news to me.  As the saying goes, "Been there, done that."  Also, it was 50 chapters long.  50!!  Granted the chapters were on the shorter side but 50.  About 1/3 of the way through the book I was feeling pretty draggy so finishing it felt more like a chore, in a sense.  This is not to say that the book isn't good or contain some really great truths about a life for Christ, it is just perhaps suited better to someone who wasn't birthed into the church nursery. :)
What I definitely liked about the book was the thorough examination of Paul.  Paul gets a bad rap from Christians and non-Christians alike. He's been called a male chauvinist, a woman-hater, etc. Those labels are so far from the truth of Paul and Moore addresses some of them in this book - and I was grateful. I've always liked Paul and been a "fan" and believe me, if I really though he was a chauvinist then I wouldn't be a fan. Take Paul in context, both culturally and biblically, and then you will see Paul for who he really is - a lover of God's people, men and women. He didn't hate women, in fact he esteemed them.
If you want to get to know the Apostle Paul and his ministry, Beth Moore's book is a good place to start.

The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon
258 pages

A fascinating book about a man, Justin, who discovers he's been dead for about 30 years.  Dixon's first novel is intriguing and well written.
Justin discovers that he's been dead for about 30 years and the search for who he really is leads him to remember things he had forgotten, to begin to fill in large gaps of his memory where he didn't even feel like he had existed.  His wife, Amy, doesn't think he needs to pursue this other life he seems to have lived but he is determined to put all the pieces together.  Dixon brings the past into the present by sharing Justin's story through his Mother, Father, and himself.  Each of them have a voice in this story about secrets.  Dixon uncovers for the reader the language that secrets speak in.
I really liked this story. I liked the mystery of Justin's life that was weaved in, it kept me guessing.  I liked how subtly Dixon showed a family unravel because of secrets kept.  I liked how she proved that secrets kept always have a way of being exposed with time and then choices have to be made because of what has been exposed.  The one story line, which was a side one, that felt slightly unnecessary was that of Amy and her Dad.  Dixon introduced this side story line but I felt like she never really developed it and it kind of puttered out in the end.  I'm not sure it was necessary, in the end, to even introduce it into the story.  It left the character of Amy undeveloped a little bit whereas if it hadn't been introduced at all I think she would have been more rounded out.  Dixon's book accomplished communicating the message that secrets left untold don't stay with the one who creates them but they have a domino effect throughout the years and lives that come near them.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
529 pages

It is November 1930 and Ursula has just assassinated Hitler.  How she got to that place the book Life After Life explains. It's an intriguing start to the lives of Ursula Todd.
"What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right. Wouldn't that be wonderful?" Ursula Todd was born in February 1910.  And she died and was then born again and again and again.  Each time she died she was born again.  Always to the same family with the same siblings and parents.  That never changed, her siblings never changed much.  But Ursula changed with each rebirth. And she carried into each new life a memory of sorts of the previous life and what she had to do to prevent either her own death or the circumstances of others.  Ursula, with the knowledge of past lives, altered the history of her own family.  As she lived longer and longer before the next death she began to see how she could perhaps alter history for the world.  Atkinson invites the reader to live Ursula's lives with her, to watch her as she figured out how to preserve the lives of those she loved and execute justice.  Throughout Ursula's lives we, along with her, figure out what extent of justice we can lend a hand to, what happens when history is altered, what happens when it isn't.  In many of her lives her family sends her to a psychologist because she would experience déjà vu.  And she would retain what they would discussed through her lives.  In fact, the more she died and was reborn the more she seemed to remember.  The book eventually ends but it seems that Ursula Todd will continue to be born, die, and be reborn.
I loved the style Atkinson used to write about the lives of Ursula.  Because she would live and die several parts of the book cover the same time periods but each life Ursula lives in that time period is a different story. And as I read I could see in the next life she lived she would make choices, consciously or not, to make sure certain things wouldn't happen. I also loved how Atkinson developed Ursula throughout her lives. Interestingly enough Ursula is the only one who ever grew and developed, all the other characters were always the same in each life she lived.  But I suppose she grew and developed because each life was the same but different based on what she carried into her life from the last one.  It was so interesting.  I also really loved the history. Atkinson devoted time to researching the time period and accurately portraying it as best she could with her fictional story.  At the back of the book is a "Reading Group Guide" and it asks some great questions for Book Groups to discuss but they also are prompting me to think through the book and the character of Ursula and the lives she lived.  I may have to read the book a second time to make sure I really take in the full story.  It's really that good!

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Kindle Edition - 270 pages

It's hard to believe that I haven't ever read this Christian classic until now. I'm not sure why I never have!  I have always admired Corrie Ten Boom and her deep faith in Christ. After reading this book I have even more respect for this beautiful woman who served God so faithfully.
For anyone unfamiliar with Ten Boom's story here's the brief. During WWII she and her family served as an Underground "Railroad" for the Jewish people in Holland. Using their watchmaker's business as a front they helped many Jewish people escape from the Nazi regime that had invaded Holland and occupied. Unfortunately
they were betrayed and sent to a State Prison and from there to two different concentration camps.  At the time of her capture Corrie Ten Boom was in her late 40's. And her sister was even older.  The strength God gave them to withstand the neglect and physical labor of the concentration camps was truly supernatural. Her sister, Betsy, ended up passing away at the first camp they were deported to. Corrie traveled to Ravensbruck on her own. After being released Corrie took up her sister's wish to tell people about God and his love and that no matter how deep the pit God's love is even deeper.
First of all, it boggles my mind that there are people who actually believe that this War never happened, that the atrocities never took place. It is a denial at such a deep level that only few ever get that low I think. Nobody could make up the horror stories that WWII is known for.  That many people can't have the same story without it actually happening.  Secondly, an interesting revelation about Corrie. She had deep faith in God but her sister, Betsy, had an even deeper faith and was really the driving force behind Corrie's ministry post-war. This is not to diminish Corrie and the work she did and her love for God, it was just interesting to think about. What if Betsy had also lived?  Would the world had then been honored with the faith of both Ten Boom's or just one?  But God knew.  And finally, the hiding place is the one that Psalm 91 speaks of - the shelter of God.  God truly hid Corrie and her family in the shelter of his wings for his purposes and for his times.  It's an encouraging story despite the horror of the time. It's a challenging story for a life of faith.

The Witness by Dee Henderson
Kindle Edition - 378 pages

I have read two other series of Dee Henderson's and have enjoyed her immensely because she, like Francine Rivers, came to Christian fiction from secular writing.  So her stories always manage to stay further away from the sappy kind of Christian stuff that can be out there.  Plus Henderson is super interested in heroes/law enforcement/crime solving and as I am too her books become an even bigger draw for me.  Unfortunately something has changed with Henderson or her publisher or someone because this title seems to be the start of a downhill trend for her. Her last several books, this one included, have not gotten rave reviews.  After reading this one I have removed her newest ones from my "to read" list and will just think fondly of the way she used to write.  Should I ever have a craving to read Henderson I will just pick back up one of her series I have already read and enjoy them again.  It's a shame.
This book is labeled as book #1 but it was published in 2006 and #2 has never made an appearance. Kelly witnesses a killer leaving the scene of the crime and Deputy Sheriff Luke is on scene to help her.  Except she flees and he has to track her down. Once he does a story of her life unravels that seems unbelievable (indeed I am fairly certain it actually is unbelievable) and she disappears.  Fast forward three years later and Luke is now the Sheriff and it looks like Kelly is going to arrive back in town once it is discovered her sisters are inheriting a large fortune of money that will put them in danger with the people after Kelly.  Elaborate plans are made to keep everyone in potential danger safe while they expect the people after Kelly to reappear.  In the meantime some murders happen that connect to recent events and Luke and his officers are up against the clock as time runs out for Kelly and her sisters.
Okay.  There's no way.  There's no way this stuff would happen. And that was the first thing that bugged me. If a book is written please, I beg of you, make it plausible at least. This book?  Not possible.  Secondly, this sounds really bad but it has to be said.  Dudes aren't as intuitive and sensitive and....chivalrous as the ones in this book.  Actually Henderson makes all her male characters have this unrealistic personality.  I know a lot of guys - Christian ones - and none of them are like this. Make the dudes real please.  All this does is set up women to have standards that are impossible for any guy to reach.  I'm just bummed.  Either Henderson has really changed or I have or its a bit of both (judging from her reviews I know something has change with her). It's such a shame.  :(

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller
142 pages

My husband's Grandpa gifted him the copy of this book that we own. He wrote on the flyleaf, "To My Grandson LP I hope this book will be an inspiration to you as you go thru life in this world. I know my time is getting close and I will have to be on my way Much love Grandpa"
Yet another Christian classic that I haven't read until now!  And as with The Hiding Place I have no idea why I have not.
I love books that take the things that God has compared life with him to and gives the reader background and knowledge about that thing.  For example, the passage in John 15 that talks about vineyards.  I read a book a few years back that gave the facts about vineyards and related it to the reader and life in Christ.  I consider these kinds of books win-win.  You learn a little bit about something interesting, you get a clear picture why God chose that particular thing to be a symbol, and you see how life in Christ can be by emulating that specific word picture.
This is one of those win-win books.  Keller was a real live shepherd so he knows his stuff.  And since God often calls his people his sheep this is a fascinating look at sheep and why God would draw correlations between us and sheep.  People, we are sheep!  It's so interesting, the parallels.  Keller breaks apart perhaps the most well known Psalm, number 23, and uses it as his lesson about sheep and us.  In layman's speech Keller gives background about sheep and sheep herding according to each line of the Psalm and then deftly shows the reader how it is applicable to us as well.  The comparisons are fascinating!  The ones that stick with me immediately after closing the book are the condition of the sheep's wool, sheep being cast, the anointing oil for their heads, the Shepherd's rod and staff, and the behaviors of sheep within flocks. Really enriching material. I can see why it is a beloved classic for the Christian life.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Kindle Edition - 337 pages

I love Joshilyn Jackson.  I love her writing style, quirky characters, and story lines.
In this book Jackson explores past and present and what that could mean for the future with Big (Ginny), Little (Liza), and Mosey.  Big gave birth to Little when she was 15 and Little gave birth to Mosey when she was 15.  Mosey is 15 and Big and Little are bound and determined to keep Mosey from becoming a mother at 15. What they don't seem to realize is that Mosey has zero interest in keeping that kind of family history alive and to keep herself assured of her commitment to stay away from boys and babies Mosey pees on pregnancy tests and watches them turn negative to keep calm.  Not that it would ever be positive, Mosey hasn't even kissed a boy.  Big swears that every 15 years trouble comes and so she's holding her breath because it has been 15 years since Mosey was born and she knows they are due.  Unfortunately her premonitions come true - in short order Liza has a life threatening stroke and a secret is literally unearthed in the backyard.  This secret rocks Mosey's world and sends the worlds of several families into a tailspin.  Along with her best friend, Roger, Mosey sets out to find out the truth before Big can. Except what she doesn't know is Big is setting out to find the truth before Mosey can. In the end the truth comes out in its time and in its way and the freedom that it brings to the Slocumb girls is immediate.
I love the little things Jackson weaves into her books.  Little profound thoughts and truths about life and relationships.  She is so easy to read, she is so compelling in her writing.  Reading a story of hers is pure pleasure.

The Song of a Passionate Heart: Psalm 23 by David Roper
162 pages

Blah.  This is the first book I have abandoned in quite awhile.  I'm bummed because I thought it would be interesting to look at Psalm 23 from two different people and compare and contrast their different perspectives.  I made it halfway through this book before I decided I was too bored to continue and the comparisons between this one and Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 are few while the differences are many.
Roper's look at Psalm 23 is nothing new, it is like reading the same exact perspective on Psalm 23 that almost everyone else has ever had.  Perhaps it is unfair to pit his book about Psalm 23 against Keller's but Keller approached it in such a relateable and practical way that the reader could really feast. This book, like the majority of other ones about the Psalm, is weak in relateablity and application.  Additionally it seems like Roper leaned against every single poem and/or quote he could locate that related to the topic.  It feels like his own words only make up about half of the book, the rest is quotes and scripture (which to be clear, the scripture is never a bad thing and a quote here and there is okay but he uses quotes more often than not).
Because Roper is not sharing anything new or even particularly insightful (because it's been said before many, many times) the book does not engage the reader, it lacks any sort of staying power.
If you are going to pick up a book about Psalm 23 pick up Keller's and leave this one for someone else.

Family Blessings by LaVyrle Spencer
Kindle Edition - 405 pages

Here's the story about me and Spencer's books.  When I was in high school my boyfriend's mom knew how much I loved to read and loaned me one of Spencer's titles and got me hooked.  In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best kind of book to get me hooked on.  Spencer has great story lines but her books have a lot of sex in them.  And she's one of those authors that employs every euphemism possible for body parts and sexual acts.  As a high schooler reading these you can imagine how equally horrified and fascinated I was.  And yet, here I am years later still picking up a title of Spencer's from time to time that I haven't read yet.  Yes, I read classy smut.  Ha.  It's kinda funny really.
In this title Freud, would he be alive still, would have a hay day with the romantic pairing.  Christopher, a thirty year old, and Lee, a forty five year old, find themselves falling in love after the unexpected death of his best friend, her son Greg.  It's a little gross if I think about it too long.  Yes, my husband and I are 12 years apart but if he had a kid that was within 10 years of my age I wouldn't have married him. That's just too much like an Oedipus complex for me. But since he had no kids it didn't bother me as much.  Anyway.  Greg dies very shockingly and at first Christopher is there for Lee and her family to help them get their bearings again after the death.  But in the months that happen and as more time is spent together Christopher finds himself drawn to Lee rather than her 23 year old daughter, which would make a lot more sense.  As you can imagine Lee and Christopher face a few obstacles mostly because of the age difference. Spencer uses them to explore the foundations of true love and what means the most in the end.
I haven't read a Spencer title in a few years. This one was okay but the age difference was a little hard t swallow for me, I think mostly because of the relationship Christopher had with Lee's son.  But it was an okay read.  There were parts of the story I really liked such as Christopher's big brother relationship with a kid in town who was severely neglected and Lee's relationship with her first husband's Dad.  Like I said, Spencer writes classy smut - she always builds a really great story line that is engaging.

Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

McNear's debut novel takes place in Butternut, a small fictional Minnesota town. McNear has an easy to read writing style.  It is uncomplicated and familiar.
Allie and her son Wyatt arrive in Butternut late one night after leaving their familiar surroundings that include memories of Gregg, the husband and father that was killed in Afghanistan.  Two years after his death Allie can't stand the memories and the pity and decides she and Wyatt need a fresh start and the first place she thinks of is the family cabin she would spend summers at in Butternut.  As Allie and Wyatt adjust to small town living and continued healing from Gregg's death she reconnects with friends who had stayed in the area.  She also meets a new neighbor that makes her feel guilty about Gregg being gone.
McNear's novel is about moving forward and her main character plus the other side characters all have situations in their life that they need to move forward from.  She devotes time to all the side stories as well as develop the main one with Allie.  It's a pleasant book to read.  It isn't hard or laborious.  It also isn't "wow" but I'm not sure all books need to be.  This one is a simple story with relateable story lines. It explores moving forward from the place we may find ourselves stuck in as well as the work it takes in relationships to keep them healthy.  This is apparently book 1 in a 3 book series and I am curious enough about the characters to continue on as they are published.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
125 pages

Thank goodness Lewis' books aren't hefty in length.  What they may lack in actual pages they make up for in content.  His content is so heady, at times, that it feels like you are reading a 500 page book rather than a mere 125.
It's been a while since I picked up one of his books, I had to recover a bit from my reads of him last year.  Ha.
In this fictional account of Heaven and Hell, Lewis hops on a bus in Hell and rides it to Heaven and invites the reader along.  Hell is described as a rather bland, gray, dissatisfied place that spans long distances.  There is one bus stop and the bus only goes to Heaven it seems.  Anyone can board the bus and they do so for a variety of reasons.  The trip toward and into Heaven is odd with a light that is blinding at the end right before they arrive.  Upon arrival into Heaven the people exit the bus and spread out according to the reasons why they wanted to come. Lewis himself wanders around observing interactions between the Spirits who occupy Heaven and those who came from Hell.  It is in these observations that lessons about God and life are taught to us the reader. After observing on his own for a time Lewis comes upon his own Heavenly Teacher, George MacDonald. Together he and MacDonald observe and discuss various interactions and what they mean for us still here on Earth.
As I was reading this account of Heaven and Hell it occurred to me how fascinating the subject of both are to us.  So many different books, poems, essays, etc about both Heaven and Hell have been written throughout the ages.  And each author has a slightly different take on what they look like, what the occupants of each look and behave like, what happens there, etc.  It is a subject matter that occupies more of thought life than I think anyone may realize.  What I appreciated about Lewis' take on the matter were the lessons he passed along from observations.  Lessons about true joy, about dying to the flesh/self, and about sincere and genuine love.  These lessons can be learned and observed apart from the topic of Heaven and Hell and so therefore they don't come near the controversy that the subject matter can cause.  :)  I can't say whether I agree or disagree with Lewis' portrait of the two places, perhaps he doesn't either, because it is such a mysterious topic to me and one that I believe we humans have misunderstood.  But I can say I picked up on the lessons that I can think about and live out here on Earth.

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Very rarely do I do two things.  1) Watch the movie before reading the book and 2) think the movie is better than the book.  In the case of Julie & Julia the opposite of both of those has happened.  I'm impressed that someone read this book and could find the great movie in it.  In my opinion, the movie was so much better than this real life story of Julie Powell tackling the massive cookbook Julia Childs authored titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julie Powell was going to be turning thirty and was experiencing a personal crisis. Plagued by infertility issues and a dead end job that she hated she needed something to lift her up out of the pit she was in and challenge her to aspire to better things. She decided to cook through  Childs cookbook in one year.  She blogged about it and it was so wildly popular that it caught media attention, and apparently the attention of a screenwriter or movie producer.  Her decision was ambitious on several levels - financially, time, experience, kitchen logistics, and personally stretching.
Julie Powell, in real life, is very...unpleasant. She's not likable at all and I discovered I am not alone in that opinion.  People use stronger words to describe what they think of her.  I'll leave my thoughts at unpleasant. She has a foul mouth - uses language for the sake of offending people, she is unfiltered in her speech - whatever thoughts enter into her head seem to immediately fly out of her mouth, she isn't a serious cook - if you are going to tackle Julia Childs then do it right, don't substitute crap ingredients for the real ones, and frankly, she isn't a writer - she is a person who writes witty things from time to time and happened to think of a brilliant project to attempt which created plenty of witty things to share with others.  I don't think anyone read the book or watched the movie because they cared about Julie Powell but because Julia Childs is a genius and a magnet - anything having to do with her draws people.  So people, with the exception of Julie Powell's family and close friends, read the book and watched the movie because of Julia Childs, not Julie Powell.  But she seems to think people are interested because it is her. That brings up another point, she's pretty self-absorbed.  She is just really, really, REALLY unlikable.  The only good thing about the book is that somehow it got into the hands of Nora Ephron and she made it into a really fun movie, which follows the project of Julie Powell but makes her character (played by Amy Adams) much more likable, someone you want to cheer for and not trip as they walk by.  The book gets no credit for the other good thing about the story but the movie gets all the credit.  As a result of the movie a friend was inspired to do something for 365 days which in turn inspired me to as well and I'm on my third year of 365.  Take it from me, watch the movie and skip the book.  The book gets 1 star as a nod to the sacrifice the Powell's made financially and of a year of life.

Jennifer: An O'Malley Love Story by Dee Henderson
Kindle Edition - 160 pages

Released in 2013 Henderson gives the reader an inside look into how the O'Malley series started.  Except it was written years after the books in the series and the inconsistencies in details are exposed.  It also lacked the "hook" the O'Malley series has, and I believe this is probably due to it being written so many years later.  It was okay but had I read it first before any of the O'Malley books I am not sure I would have ever read the series.