Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014 Bookshelf

Pain, Perplexity, and Promotion: A Prophetic Interpretation of the Book of Job by Bob Sorge
179 pages

In an continuing effort to study as much as I can about the book of Job, in the Holy Bible, and as many different commentaries on it I picked up Bob Sorge's book on the matter.  I actually first heard of Bob Sorge last year when this video from him appeared on my Facebook feed.  I loved this video because it matched up so perfectly with what I had been studying about the book of Job. The Bob in this video, in 2013, seems to have changed his perspective on the purpose of the book of Job from the book he wrote, and I read, published in 1999. I must say I prefer the Bob of 2013.
In Sorge's book he had been living with his injury for 7 seven years and, if we use the book of Job as visuals, I'm not sure Sorge had been sitting long enough in his misery to understand the book of Job the way he seems to present day.  In 1999 Sorge took great liberties and pains to compare the story of Job to the end of the world and the return of Jesus. This comparison really grated on me and set me on edge. I am so sick of the Church focusing so much on the "end times" that they completely miss living as the Church right now, present day.  I'm so fed up and Sorge fueled that fire of mine with his numerous comparisons and Christianese thoughts. The tone in his present day thoughts about Job is very different, thus my preference of him today. But the book still had many good insights and valid points for me to take note of and add to my continuing study of Job. And I continue to admire anyone willing to take on Job, not many pastors or otherwise are willing to do so which is a shame because it is a rich book, full of God's grace.





Finding Rebecca: A Novel of Love and the Holocaust by Eoin Dempsey
Kindle Edition - 428 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review.

I am drawn to stories from the World War II era, I can't seem to get away from them. It is especially fascinating when the story involves a person of Jewish heritage and of German descent.  In this novel Dempsey delves into such a relationship.
Christopher and Rebecca live on Jersey, an island near the UK and remote from Christopher's native Germany.  They met in childhood and their growing up years were cushioned from the brewing hate Hilter was planting in Germany toward the Jews. Jersey was a blip island on the screen of world land masses worth thinking about.  It successfully stayed in obscurity until Hilter's greed to dominate the world brought the Germans to occupy even the "blip" islands. Suddenly Christopher was a German and Rebecca was a Jew and they weren't supposed to be together. But they were.  They were together, so many years and memories wrapped up in each other, it did not matter to either one of them the ancestory of each other.  And then the day came that they had tried so hard to avoid and seek shelter from. Rebecca was deported to a concentration camp and Christopher was deported back to Berlin. In an attempt to locate Rebecca, Christopher swallows his disgust with the Germans and Hilter and joins the SS so he can get an in at various concentration camps and find her and help her escape. But it's not as easy as Christopher thinks it is going to be, both finding Rebecca and staying isolated from the evil of the Nazi's. Can he really find Rebecca? What will happen if he does? Will he be able to safeguard his soul from the evil of the Nazi Regime? With little regard for his own safety Christopher presses on to find Rebecca.
I really enjoyed this story.  I appreciated Dempsey's inclusion of the very real struggle Christopher experienced as an SS Officer and a reluctant and disgusted German born man.  Dempsey also provided the reader with some very visual portraits of the treatment the Jewish people, as well as the Gypsy's and a few other smaller people groups, had to endure at the hands of the SS.  For those highly sensitive I would not recommend reading this title, it is rather upsetting to read of the brutality. I realize the story is about finding Rebecca, it would have been interesting, however, to include a chapter or two of narrative about her and the camp she was in. But ultimately that is neither here nor there when it comes to the book on the whole.  Living the SS life through the voice of Christopher was a different perspective on World War II and its atrocities than I have had before. Dempsey, job well done.





Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage by Sean McDowell & John Stonestreet
Kindle Edition - 176 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Baker Books for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.

The subtitle of the book, A Thoughful Approach to God's Design for Marriage, is tricky.  Will this be, one wonders, another book on the market degrading people who prefer the same sex for their intimate relationships? Or is it truly a thoughtful approach?  It may be the first of its kind if so.  Oh sure, plenty of other books have claimed in their own words to be thoughtful but usually it is the same old tired cliches about homosexuality and God and how the two can't meet up. (God made Adam for Eve not Steve - sound familiar? Ugh) What would a thoughtful approach to this controversial, emotional topic sound like, read like?
I think it may read like and sound like this book from McDowell (the son of Josh McDowell) and Stonestreet. In my opinion, they really did take a very thoughtful and respectful approach to this subject.  Early in the book they state, "....the if in this debate is one of definition.  Same-sex marriage should be legal if marriage is only a way that the government acknowledges feelings of love and affection between people.  If that's all there is to marriage, keeping marriage from same-sex couples would be discrimination along the lines of racism and sexism or perhaps based on religious convictions that are not shared by everyone."  It's a thoughtful approach to the idea of same-sex marriage.  The authors go on to unpack what the definition and purpose of marriage is.  Throughout they are respectful and acknowledging of the very real feelings those who are attracted to their same gender experience. They even, at one point in the book, state very emphatically that those feelings and desires are very real and the Church as a whole cannot, rather should not, punish anyone for their feelings.  Nor do they believe such relationships should be criminalized or go unprotected.  Truly, I didn't know what to expect from this book but I found I was so pleasantly surprised at the very loving and solid discussion the authors hold with the reader.  Their reasoning and foundation for their definition and understanding of marriage is logical and lacking in the high emotion that generally accompanies this topic.  To define marriage, they claim, is key to the whole debate.  And marriage must have a clear definition, a structure to it, or anything goes - even underage and incestuous relationships/marriages. As they say, "If any and every type of relationship should be called marriage, it's no longer a helpful term.  Marriage can't mean everything, or else marriage means nothing." They dissect the cultural shift on perspective toward how people are now viewed.  The Church, on the whole, is called out by the authors for its gross mistreatment of homosexuals, for its application of double standards when it comes to sexual sins, and for its failure to properly teach marriage and live out true marriage.  They contend that the responsibility of the Church is not to fight against same-sex marriage but to fight for marriage.  The blind spots of the Church have caused great damage to the hearts of those who have same-sex feelings and the blind spots have rendered our voices ineffective on the issue.  It's as if the Church has become white noise within this topic. Christians are called intolerant, bigoted, hateful and usually because they communicate their disagreement with the lifestyle not the people in the lifestyle.  But high emotion topics like this one set everyone on edge and then the name calling begins, the refusal to see the actual person behind the harsh words etc. The Church has been told they need to be more tolerant and compliant with this shift in thinking but the same rule doesn't apply to everyone else. The authors tackle this thought head on and refute it. They also refute the argument for equality and their straightforward, logical reasoning is hard to argue against. Again, they are mindful of those who advocate for same-sex marriage and seek to remove the emotion from the debate.  They state, quite accurately in my opinion, that, "You cannot move logically from the equality of persons to the equality of actions, choices, lifestyles, or relationships. It simply does not follow." Lest the quotes I use be taken out of context and misunderstood, I highly recommend reading this book for full context and understanding of the authors intentions.  McDowell and Stonestreet also don't let the Church get away with anything.  They lay blame at the feet of the Church for the ways in which the Church has mishandled and even fed the emotional and vitreous debate. I appreciate not being let off the hook and taken to task for the sin of the Church in this particular area.  It's an excellent book and near the end the authors encourage further reading with some suggestions of titles that propose an opposite view from theirs. I smiled when one of their suggestions is the next book I was going to be picking up to read in an effort to do just what they suggested.  Great minds think alike I guess?
*As I started reading this book an article from Huff Post caught my eye. In it the author has similar things to say as McDowell and Stonestreet do, specifically in regards to the Church's mistreatment of people with homosexual feelings.






Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
296 pages

I adore Sarah Addison Allen. I've probably already said that a time or two in other book reviews.  In 2011 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and this is her first book since then.  No doubt about it, breast cancer or an illness/disease like cancer is going to change a person - change their writing, their outlook, their stories.  I feel like this book reflects a change that Addison Allen went through.  Not that the book was bad by any means, it was good.  But it wasn't the Sarah Addison Allen magic of before.  Literally the magic was missing. And what Addison Allen does best is insert magic into life. That was missing in this book. And the bits, the hints of it there weren't developed in the style that I associate her with, that I fell in love with.
In Lost Lake Kate and her daughter, Devin, spontaneously drive to Lost Lake to visit her Aunt Eby. Lost Lake is a place full of good memories for Kate and she needs that right now for herself and for her daughter. With her husband passing away a year ago, Kate's been walking around in a fog ever since.  She knows she needs to wake up and Lost Lake may be just the place to help her.  Arriving at the lake she discovers her Aunt has recently decided to sell it. It has fallen into disrepair and only a handful of faithfuls return every summer.  The faithfuls are there half resigned to Lost Lake being sold and half hoping Eby will change her mind. Kate's unsure of her future and all of a sudden Devin is insisting there is an alligator roaming the property and talking to her.  Eby's dearest friend, Lisette, mute since birth cooks the most fantastic food for the camp and has conversations with a chair in the kitchen that seems to move on its own accord.  Maybe for more than just Kate what is lost will be found at Lost Lake.
It's a good book. It's a great story, the characters are solid and compelling.  If it were written by someone other than Addison Allen I would give it a better or different review. But because I have read what Addison Allen can do with reality and magic I was a little let down, or disappointed, with this one.  It's still worth reading and I still adore Addison Allen, I'm hoping as she continues to gain strength and health after her battle with breast cancer that her strengths in the genre will return as well.





Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber  224 pages

A few weeks ago Shia LaBeouf came out of a closet.  Not the closet we generally associate with that phrasing but out of the closet of no faith. He became a believer this year and started talking about it.  People weren't very receptive to his description of being a Christian now. Let me rephrase. Evangelical Christians weren't receptive.  Aside from being all too cynical these days about people becoming believers they also didn't appreciate the language that LaBeouf used when talking about it.  Apparently *we* (do I have to be included in that "we", ugh) have forgotten that when we come to Christ we are bid to come as we are not as a cleaned up, perfect version of someone.  So Shia has come to Christ, we are compelled to take him at his word on this, just as he is. Shia's language probably offends *us* (there I am again, lumped in - and yet rightfully so) more than it does Christ, after all we cannot see the heart of others, but God can.
I bring this up to introduce Pastrix.  Nadia Bolz-Weber's spiritual memoir.  It is beautiful, messy, lovely, controversial.  She curses like a sailor, she and Shia have common ground, and yet she undoubtedly loves God - maybe even more than I do!  Can you love God, serve God, and still have a tongue that flies off the handle at times?  I believe yes, you can.  I myself don't use that language but the older I get the less offended I get, it's just not a battle worth fighting in light of other issues.  I cut through the language to get to the heart and Bolz-Weber has heart.  She has a beautiful heart that is seeking Christ day in and day out.  She, as we all do, stumbles at times and then, as we all do, gets back up and continues on.  In this memoir she shares her spiritual life story and it is far from dry and "textbook."  One look at her picture may indicate that!  She currently pastors a church in Denver and I have proposed to my book club, we read this title for November, that we take a field trip and go a'vistin' House for All Sinners and Saints.  Part of the ELCA, Nadia is breaking molds and challenging held beliefs about who qualifies to come before God and enter into his presence. I'm guessing LaBeouf would be extremely comfortable to join their worship services.  Here's what really struck me about Nadia's journey.  How she got from point A in the text of a passage to point B and found the heart of God to share with her congregation and readers.  It was astounding to me how unpacked she takes a passage we've heard a million times and bring it relevancy for herself first and then for us.
Beware, if you are a traditional evangelical you will not appreciate this book, Nadia's style, or her tongue.  You will be offended with her inclusion of those in this culture that are controversial, namely LBGT.  You will be disappointed with the ELCA for allowing her in, but it won't surprise you since they opened their doors to gay pastors a few years back.  You will scoff at her insights on Christ because you have been taught that nobody who is a woman, tattooed, and curses can have anything profound to share about God.  You will miss out on listening in on the messy but beautiful faith of one sojourner.  So beware and don't say I didn't warn you.




The Remains of Love: A Novel by Zeruya Shalev
432 pages

I abandoned the book at page 68.  I didn't want to but it was so slow going and tedious to read that I gave up in light of all the other books I have to read this month.  Originally written in Hebrew, it was translated into English.  I'm wondering if this is part of the slow read.  It all made sense, as far as I can tell the translation was accurate but Shalev is a prolific author.  She is very descriptive, employing beautiful imagery.  She is very wordy as well, and this may have worked against her in this novel.  Her introduction of characters and their development was very slow going and confusing at times.  There wasn't always a clear delineation for which character was currently being featured.  I generally can follow a character driven story line but this one was tough to follow, it seemed to be one long run on sentence even though grammar was used.  It didn't move at a pace that kept me engaged or even interested.  I was bored by the characters and the story and wondering when, and if, it ever picked up and became interesting.  A quick flip through portions of the book through to the end indicated the pace of the book never changed and the story remained tedious and wordy.  I couldn't finish it out.




The Truth About Butterflies: A Memoir by Nancy Stephan
227 pages

"The caterpillar dies so the butterfly could be born. And, yet, the caterpillar lives in the butterfly and they are but one." (John Harricharan)

This is a beautifully written and told story of Nancy and her daughter, Nicole. Nancy shares some of her back story so the reader understands the relationship she and Nicole share once Nicole is born. Before Nicole was born to Nancy, who was almost still a baby herself, I sensed the strength that was being birthed within her.  She had a traumatic start to life and it seems to be preparation for the life she would find herself living with Nicole.
At age 9 Nicole was diagnosed with diabetes and from that moment on the fight for her physical life and quality of her life consumed both Nancy and Nicole until the day the fight ended.  Not only did Nicole have severe diabetes but in her teen years, if I understood the timeline correctly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy.  Her medical problems continued to increase and slowly take over every major function of her body. The battle to live was getting increasingly harder and more exhausting.  Through it all Nancy was there.  Fighting for her child until neither one of them could fight no longer.  Eventually Nicole, at age 27, lost the multiple battles her poor body was fighting and she flew away to be with Jesus.  What followed Nicole's death was a mother's grief.  Nancy chronicles parts of her grief journey and the part where it began to change and she began to heal.  Finding a box of Nicole's things in the attic Nancy stumbled upon a treasure trove of Nicole's dreams and God used them to bring Nancy into healing. That was the other part of both Nancy and Nicole's story, they had a deep faith in God and saw him be present in so many ways that it would have been impossible for them to deny him and his existence.
I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this book.  It really is a very touching story of a mother's love, grief, and healing and of a daughter's ultimate healing. Nancy wrote the story of she and her daughter with grace, the appropriate amount of details, and with ease.  It was easy to read and become involved in their story.  I love memoirs in general because every person has a story to share. Stories are so important and can communicate truths and lessons to different people for different reasons.  I appreciate it when people share their stories.





Rosa's District 6: Stories by Rozena Maart
168 pages

Maart was born and raised in Cape Town's famed District 6.  An inner-city residential area of Cape Town that consisted of mostly black families until the late 1960's when apartheid began forcing the district residents to move and rebuilt it under white man regime.  I don't want to go off on an apartheid rant during this book review so that's all I will say about the history.
Maart's book is a series of short stories that one character, Rosa, slips into. Other characters make appearances in some of the stories but Rosa is the constant. The stories take place in April and May of 1970, after apartheid had started its brutal rule over the black people of South Africa.
Rosa is a precocious child with a hand condition.  She flits in and out of everyone's homes and lives and seems none the wiser to the brutality her people are beginning to experience.  Rosa likes to record stories and until her Auntie provided her with a booklet to wear around her neck she was recording them on walls and furniture. In the stories we see the lives of some of the residents much as Rosa might be watching.  Although we are privvy to more of the adult information.  Maart's characters explore love, relationships, desires versus responsibilities, the human response to jealousy and fear: her characters live out, in story, the spectrum of human emotions that we all have the potential to feel at some point in our own lives.  She keeps apartheid mostly away from her stories, choosing to focus more on the actual people of the district rather than the brutality that has started to invade their well-being. District 6, or the part of the district that most of her characters seem to reside in, is largely made up of people of the muslim faith.  This also is evident in the stories but not outright stated.  It's important to note because the faith of the characters does influence some of the behaviors and responses that come from the stories.
I really love that the author intimately knows District 6.  She is not writing from a place of removed or cleaned up research but from a place of personal experience. When she describes Table Top Mountain or the streets or the stores she is not removed from it but she helps the reader to visualize it much as I am sure she does when writing about it.  Her characters are not removed from reality either. They are easy to connect to and to relate with. I do wonder if her fictional characters are based on people she was in community with during her time in district 6, I can't help but think they must have some qualities and similarities to people who she interacted with.  And then I wonder, was Rosa based off of Maart herself?  Either way the stories and characters bring life, and perhaps a bit of understanding, to those who have only heard of District 6 in negative or removed terms.




Job: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching by J. Gerald Janzen
273 pages

Well.  Apparently this month I am not in the mindset of being terribly academic.  I got to page 11, which was still the Introduction.  The commentary isn't bad at all, I'm just not in a place to be academic.  So I gave it up.  If I didn't have to borrow it through another library system I may have tried to renew it and stick with it longer but because it comes from a different library it has to be returned.  So I'm giving it up for lighter material.  Someday I may pick it back up.
A note about academia:  I so appreciate academics, I do. But I think that *we* have discounted the face value of text.  We pick apart and dissect text until it no longer represents the literal words written.  Somewhere along the way it seems *we* decided the written text wasn't true or accurate and wasn't worth taking at face value so it needed to be tilled and torn apart. Just because *we* have doubts about words written doesn't mean they don't mean exactly what they say. I feel like this has happened with the whole of the Holy Bible but especially with the Book of Job.  There are so many thoughts and ideas and theories out there about this man and his trial. But what if what happened is just what is written?  What if in all *our* picking and dissecting we have complicated something that is actually simple, i.e. exactly as it is written? What if?
*Because I didn't get past page 11 and I did enjoy those pages I'm not giving it any rating.


Motherless by Erin Healy
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review.

What an odd book.  It wasn't bad but I'm not sure I thought it was good either. My husband asked me what it was about and I never could come up with a description that would make sense.
The book is narrated by two people.  It starts off being narrated by Misty, mother of two children and wife of Garrett.  Misty is dead and she can still view the lives of her children and husband.  Misty, in a manic place, walked into the ocean when Dylan, her son, was only three weeks old.  Her daughter, Marina, was three and became a mommy figure to Dylan while their Dad did his best to move them on.  Fast forward 16 years.  Misty is looking in on her kids and Garrett and knows the time is coming for them to learn the truth soon about her disappearance and death.  Confusing the situation is an accident Garrett is in, the reappearance of Misty's cousin Sara, and a story that doesn't quite tie together.  "Why do we lie to the kids?" And the answer has been, "To protect them," but is that true? Have they been protected or was their damage just delayed 16 years?
Strange book.  The narration was slightly blurred and when Misty's voice dropped off I was a bit confused for a page or two until I picked up who the next narrator was.  Something about the story line frustrated me but also kept me reading so that the truth of Misty and Garrett and their family could be known.  I sort of understand what Healy was attempting in her choice to narrate through Misty and the second person but something about that choice falls a bit flat, it is too vague and a little murky.  Part of my frustration had to do with the character of Sara.  She was cowardly with the truth and there was no reason to be.  She came off as guilty of something when she wasn't guilty of anything. Like I said, I think I get what Healy was trying to accomplish with the story and the characters but I'm questioning that she was actually able to pull it off.





Finding Tom Connor by Sarah-Kate Lynch
270 pages

I believe this is Lynch's debut book.  I've read a couple others of hers, published after this one, and I can see the growth in her writing.  I really enjoyed the other two for the theme she built the story around.  She attempted to do that in this book as well but as with any writer she grew into it and her later books reflect that.
Molly is set to marry Jack in a few days and is doing one last dress fitting. Unfortunately she finds out the dress fits but the fiance doesn't.  After Jack is exposed for who he really is and Molly exerts some energy letting others know how hurt she is, the wedding is called off.  So the wedding is off, the relationship is off, but the wedding dress is staying on.  Molly won't take it off.  I never did quite understand why she wouldn't and I'm not sure Lynch even knew herself why she had Molly continue to wear it.  Through a series of hungover and emotional decisions, Molly finds herself jetting off to Ireland with her Aunt Vivienne in search of an Uncle they just discovered they have. Once reaching Ireland and using land travel to get to the town of Ballymahoe, a series of unfortunate events happens to Molly.  When she finally ends up in Ballymahoe she comes face to face with one of her unfortunate events during the trip.  A side story that starts before Molly's story and speeds up to intersect to hers is the story of Ballymahoe's draw to the general public.  Virgin Mary was sighted in 1969 and the town has been living off continued sightings for years.  But she hasn't appeared in about a month, is it the new priest who has run her off or did she move on for other reasons?  If the town loses her then they lose their businesses and livelihood's but not if someone can come up with another way to keep Ballymahoe on the map.  Sometimes fate is a little messy and a lot chaotic before it delivers.
Like I said at the beginning, Lynch has grown quite a bit as an author and this work reflects that if read after some of her later work.  For that reason I enjoyed reading it because I enjoy seeing and recognizing growth in an author.  Everyone has to start somewhere right?  Lynch's character development is decent in this title and her settings are authentic in feel.  It was not my favorite of the books she has written but neither was it a bad read.  I'm glad that I had read a couple of her later works before this one so I knew ahead of reading this what her potential is in later titles.




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

So I read this book once already this calendar year, in February.  But it was so good and has stuck with me all these months that when someone in my book group mentioned they had gotten it I suggested we read it for book group! Yes! It is THAT good. And the second read was even better than the first.  The first time I got a ton of good info from it and that was while walking on the treadmill.  This time I read it while sitting in a chair so I caught things on a deeper level than I did the first time around.
What I really like and appreciate about this book is that Cain doesn't hoist introverts on to some pedestal and claim superiority because all of the positive they contribute to the workplace and relationships, instead she makes the case that they are just as valuable as extroverts, which the Western world prefers, and have equal standing in society. Neither does she dismiss the value of extroverts or wave them off as superficial.  She gives both equal credit but focuses on the why's of introverts to help the Western culture, which is significantly extroverted, gain understanding of introverts.  Her research is thorough, compelling, and presented in an interesting manner.  She engages the reader and makes what could be, and probably is in some circles, a dry subject matter very interesting and easy to read.
Reading it a second time I am struck once again how important it is to understand the differences - strengths and "weaknesses" - between extroverts and introverts.  It makes a huge difference in all interactions, specifically the marital ones. If you are married and opposite in temperament from your spouse I highly recommend this book as one of the ones to read to gain understanding of both sides.I find this book to be very enlightening.