July 2014 Bookshelf

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim
386 pages

Drawing inspiration from her parents story and Korea's history Eugenia Kim authors a fictional account of Najin Han, the daughter of a renown calligrapher.  The story spans from 1915 to 1945.
Najin Han is the first living child of her parents and was left unnamed.  All her life she felt the weight of being given no name, and therefore according to her culture, no destiny.  As Japan invades Korea and occupies and the last of the Emperor's dies Korea is thrown into culture and generational confusion.  Najin's father clings stubbornly to the ways of Korea while the Japanese insist the Koreans become a people and culture they are not.  Meanwhile, Najin seeks her destiny having received a name of sorts from her Mother.  As Korea changes under Japan's influence and as the world goes through two world wars Najin becomes a different voice than the one her father had hoped for.  She longs for education, to walk a career path only men are allowed to, to remain single and independent.  But as years pass and she walks the balance beam between the old and new Korea Najin grows into a voice that brings honor to all.
Eugenia Kim did a beautiful thing by crafting a story loosely based on her parents and historically based on Korea's history.  However, the book was probably about 100 pages too long and it was a tedious read at points.  It moved very slow, a little too slow, and I found it hard to keep picking up.  The story didn't engage me and keep me interested as I anticipated it would.  I found myself skimming some parts.  Kim writes well, she develops characters wonderfully and is very descriptive.  But that which she does well also may be the problem.  It makes the writing very wordy and slows it down quite a bit.  There were parts of the story that could have, and should have, been edited down to make for a tighter story.  The reader still would have gotten the point, the idea, etc.  While gaining insight into Korea's history was interesting I was pretty relieved when the book finished, which is unfortunate because Kim did attempt a beautiful thing with this title.

Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow by Skye Jethani
Kindle Edition - 204 pages

I never would have picked up this book (probably) but someone I am in community with posted a picture of it on FB and simply and emphatically said, "Read it!" So I did.  I've never heard of Skye Jethani so he and his writing was 100% new to me. Jethani writes simply and relateable.  I appreciate that, when it gets too heady it becomes hard and laborious to read.
Skye Jethani, using the 1939 World's Fair as an example, takes the reader on a "what if" kind of journey.  Just as the World's Fair invites people to imagine a better and more advanced tomorrow, Jethani invites us to reimagine the life of faith.  He challenges some held beliefs about what is important and has purpose.  He frames his thoughts with the purpose of shalom and what shalom accomplishes.  He discusses what eternal future really looks like and how that should frame what we do today. He points out the flaws of the two major ways believers have chosen to relate to others in this world, I really appreciated his thoughts on that particular topic.  As much as the Church has tried to remain separate from the world he opens the readers eyes to the ways in which the Church has bought into the world's ways and how that has had an impact on our work, worship, our very way of living as a believer in this world.  The Church has tried to keep up with the changing times in the wrong ways and with the wrong things, Jethani argues, and the result is they have sent a message to the younger generation of believers that what they do and what they have a heart for doesn't count.  He outlines the impact that World Wars and other events have had on believers mindsets about the Kingdom of God and how to draw people to God. The Church, in fear of a devolving society, has lost sight of what their real purpose is.  Jethani proposes ways to get back to the work of God for real.  The Church, in fear of a devolving society, has not cultivated shalom but has furthered anger, fear, division.  These things are not the fault of the world, Jethani points out, but the fault of the Church because they live in fear - the very opposite of the shalom God calls them to live in.  Riding on the coattails of that fear is the desire to escape this world and its evils so believers disconnect even further from the world as they wait the escape they believe God has promised through the rapture. They speak a message of destruction and fear for those "left behind" and issue warnings about not getting on the escape boat with the others in time.  This also has bred fear, anger, and division instead of shalom and goes against God's intent for his people and the work he's asked them to do.  After delivering the bad news, Jethani goes on to deliver the good news, the course the Church is on can be corrected.  We can begin to cultivate shalom and Jesus is our example.  We can put purpose back into today so that tomorrow is more what God desires.
I really liked what Jethani had to say in his book.  It gave me a lot to think about and consider.  It challenges the Church in some of the places they need to be challenged.  My friend said read it and I, after doing just that, can see why.  It was a "worth it" read for sure.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Kindle Edition - 253 pages

Well I tried.  I mean I gave it like 11 chapters at least.  But nothing happens in these books except a bunch of twittering and petty quarreling.  I am bored spitless. I've decided life is too short and my book list is full to overflowing with books I know I will enjoy when I read them that I just can't waste my time trying to like a genre that I clearly don't.  It's only slightly less painful than the mere thought of having to go camping (which I hate also).  So adieu Jane Austen, adieu 19th Century Lit (unless I read another Dickens) - you served your purpose for others but not for me.  I wish you well and I hope we can still be cordial to one another.

360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World by John Higham
400 pages

I just traveled the world with the Higham family.  It was wonderful!  And much cheaper for me than them.  :)  John and September Higham spent a decade saving and planning an around the world trip for their family.  They spent 52 weeks in 28 countries on 5 continents.  They homeschooled, sort of, during their travels and exposed their children to the rich history this world has to offer - the beautiful and the ugly.  This was a fascinating read of their travels.  The places they visited, the things and people they saw, and the universal lessons they learned.  They learned a lot about themselves individually and as a family.  Peppered throughout the chapters, each focused on a place and dates they were there, are excerpts of journal entries from all the family members (2 adults, 2 kids).  Higham blended facts about the place with personal stories about how they experienced it and what they learned from it.  It was all very fascinating.  I love reading about someone's journey, what they experience, learn, see so it was a given I was going to love this book unless it was written so horribly that it made a trip around the world seem dull.  Fortunately John Higham can write well enough to keep me interested in their travels.  I love that people are willing to share their experiences with those of us who will never do what they did, vicarious living!  For more info on their journey's you can find them here.

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman
324 pages

A beautiful story of hurt, healing, redemption, and love.  Taking place at Oxford, among the intellectuals and those who seem to have it all together, Gloria and Henry are loo-mates who drive each other crazy but are also drawn to one another.
We meet Gloria, who struggles with OCD, as she is being dropped off at the airport to make the trip across the pond to Oxford.  We get an up close look at the severity of her OCD and it establishes empathy for her. While Gloria is flying over the ocean we meet Henry, a Brit whose Father is Department Chair at Jesus College and sister is a psychologist who still seeks approval of their Dad. The music of their home, their Mother, had died years previously.  Henry breaks ranks with the family and decides to move to St. Cross College from Jesus College in an attempt to escape his Father. Henry and Gloria meet in the loo which joins their two flats together.  As the days and weeks pass and they begin to get comfortable living in the same spaces, getting to know one another, their various demons try to keep their grips on Henry and Gloria.  But they are both tired of the fear that controls their lives and they begin to fight together to slay the demons in their lives.
Kaufman has written a modern day love story.  She has also written a story of healing from the demons that chase us.  Her OCD research was thorough and portrayed the disease through Gloria in a very empathetic manner.  She draws attention to the disease in a way that shares the realities of what people with severe OCD have to suffer through.  It sounds weird to say but she does it beautifully.  She tells a story of hurt and healing and the redemption that comes from it beautifully.  I really loved the story, it engaged me - I read it one sitting, it just flowed.

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
240 pages

I'm currently focusing on Gratitude Attitudes for a year. So I thought it a good idea to get this title read during this focused season. I love Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  She speaks truth and is solid in her teaching.  But this book fell a little short for me personally.  Perhaps it did, in part, because I already know or have heard most of, if not all, of the precepts she lays out in this book.  One of the "problems" with being born into the church is you've heard it all before.  The contents of Nancy's book are no different than any other book written on gratitude by a Christian author/teacher. In this case, truly there is nothing new under the sun.  She offers biblical proof for gratitude, compelling reasons, and some practical steps.  But again, there was not one bit of new-to-me info or thought in this title.  That's not to say it isn't a worth it read for others but for me it wasn't.

Bonus Mention:
Back in May I read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  I loved it.  A lot. I convinced my little book club to read it for July so I re-read it this month.  And I loved it all over again.  After I read it in May I needed other people to read it so I could discuss it. Such a fascinating story!  Reading it again I caught some of the foreshadow I didn't the first time around, which made it even more intriguing to read.  It's a hefty read, but worth it.  I highly recommend it!


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