June 2015 Bookshelf

The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith by Ken Wytsma
240 pages

Thank you to Ken Wytsma for this free copy, in exchange I am providing an honest review.

Sometimes you just know the book is going to be good and say some things that you need to hear. Sometimes you just know.  This time I knew. I knew I was going to love this book. I knew that Wytsma was going to say things in a way that my heart and mind resonated with and could absorb.  A paradox is something that is made up of two opposite things that seem impossible but are actually true and possible. Life and faith often feel impossible to co-exist but in fact they are a paradox.  They need each other and they make the other better and stronger.
Wytsma is easy to read, I imagine he is also easy to listen to. In the introduction Ken says this, which perhaps, sums up the theme of this book perfectly, "Faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion." We are told, in various ways, that faith in Christ brings some sort of immediate clarity to life only to find that confusion and messiness is actually the M.O. of faith. But when the confusion clears our faith can be stronger if we have accepted the work of confusion. Talk about a paradox! Since when has confusion ever been considered a 'good' thing?  But in matters of faith it can indeed be a 'good' thing.
In examining this grand paradox Wytsma tackles some traditionally held beliefs and thoughts about faith and God that quite frankly just aren't true. They serve as deception and an obstacle to the realities of life and faith.  I really liked the way Ken addressed God's will for our lives and doubt/skepticism. Oh, and the actual meaning of righteousness.  He firmly addresses the misconceptions and misuse of that particular term/characteristic within the Church.
Wytsma sets out to prove in this title that faith is necessary in this messy life and that without it life is not just messy but impossible. I'm convinced. Read it for yourself and see what you think. #grandparadox

Daddy's Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark
416 pages

MHC has long been a favorite of mine but her more recent books indicate she's not quite keeping up with the times.  This particular title is copyrighted 2013 but felt dated to me.
An heiress to an antique reproduction business is found in the aftermath of an explosion at the plant museum along with a former employee.  The questions that immediately surface are why were they there and did they set the explosion that totaled the plant and all of the valuable antiques, worth over $20 million? The former employee, Gus, died and Kate, the heiress, is in a coma and nobody knows if she will get better and be able to tell her side of the story.  As the investigation continues another body is found on the premises, a homeless man might have a part to play in murder and the explosion, and Kate while in coma is having flashback memories to when she was three and her mother died. Does any one person have culpability in any of these people and instances or is it coincidence that they all get some exposure at the same time?
One of MHC's strengths has always been her cast of characters.  She has a lot of characters but she has always developed them appropriately and well to contribute rather than detract from the story. She also has a knack for having a large cast of characters that seem innocent or guilty and then switching it up when the reader least expects it or never does!  That doesn't change in this title. MHC has a large cast of characters that keep the reader suspecting every single person until the real villain is exposed.  As time marches on, literally, where I see MHC faltering is keeping up with the modern times.  Her props and storylines feel a bit dated to me.  But even with all the falterings and flaws that are popping up in more recent works MHC is still, and perhaps forever, the Queen of Suspense.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
Kindle Edition 408 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Linden Tree Press for this free copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Jacobs is a relatively new author and for her debut she tackles crime and does it fairly well.  She features crime in a different way, an interesting way.
Tsara hasn't seen, or spoken, to her Uncle in about 25 years.  Family rifts and feuds led to the silence between them.  Out of the blue, in an attempt to make reconciliations, he invites her to a gala and she decides it might be time for amends so she goes.  The weekend starts off with a confrontation between her Uncle and a stranger which Tsara thinks nothing of until the stranger appears in her bedroom and abducts her.  But this is not a hardened criminal who has stolen Tsara away, it is a man desperate to get his son back.  His son was abducted by Tsara's Uncle and being held at the very estate she was at. Mike, Tsara's abductor, wants to do a prisoner exchange but her Uncle, in an effort to self-protect, isn't exactly cooperative.  While Tsara and Mike are on the run, her brother and husband have called in the FBI.  Everyone is looking for someone.  Once everyone is returned to where they are supposed to be Tsara has recovery from traumatic experience ahead of her.  Part of her closure, and shalom, will be if she can eventually forgive Mike for the things he felt he was forced to do to get his son back.
What I like about Jacobs story on abduction is the aftermath.  She focused a good half of the book on the aftermath of a violation of self.  She also created a sincere and genuine sympathy/empathy for Mike, the father trying to get his son back.  The villain isn't who you think it should be and even Tsara at one point makes a statement about the need to fumigate her DNA.  The story becomes an interesting look at redemption, forgiveness, and recovery.

First Do No Harm (Benjamin Davis) by A. Turk
Kindle Edition 334 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and A. Turk LLC for this free copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

I appreciate a doctor turned author, or a lawyer turned author, or another profession that turns to fiction to communicate realities about that profession. But not everyone is an author or should attempt to be.  The hard part about taking your profession and writing fictional stories based on it is the temptation to dump all you know into the story.  This dilutes the fiction part of the story and can lead the reader to a lot of skimming over things they just don't care about. In a non-fiction work that would come off differently, but fiction is tough.
No doubt about it, Turk knows his stuff when it comes to the legal profession. And he tried to impart most of it in this first book of his.  A good editor would have helped Turk temper his legal knowledge with the fictional story.
Benjamin Davis practices law in Nashville and has stepped into a series of lawsuits against a hospital and some Doctors. The cases, and money, take more of his time and life than he anticipated and even introduce some danger to his family.  The book outlines the two years of case prep and trial time.
I love legal books and shows, love them. But I'm not a lawyer nor do I understand all of the jargon.  I like learning about it but I don't want to practice it. Turk's book has potential but I kept falling asleep while reading it, no matter the time of day, because there was too much legalise in it, the balance between too much and not enough wasn't achieved.  Despite its overwhelming evidence of a lawyer who knows his stuff I want to give the second book Turk wrote a try.  I'm curious if an editor was allowed to help him temper his enthusiasm for the practice of law and the judicial system and craft a good, realistic fiction book.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
1179 pages

I read the Hunger Games Trilogy first in September 2013. I reread it again this month for a book club who is supposed to be reading just the third book, Mockingjay, but I felt that required a rereading of all three!  :)

Reading it a second time through gave me a different take on the books right from the start.  I'm not sure it should have but it did. In book 1 I'm questioning if Haymitch saying or doing this or that was a foreshadow of book 2 or even 3.  Perhaps Collins herself didn't even know, or perhaps she did. I have a friend who loves these books, she has read them multiple times, she knows them inside and out, perhaps I'll ask her what she thinks.
Originally I loved books 1 and 2 and didn't care for 3 at all. Book 3 is still my least favorite but on reading it this time I think it deserves an upgraded review from 2 stars to 3 - 3.5 stars.  Maybe a different author didn't pen the third book but Collins changes her writing style a bit and you can feel it throughout the story, it's darker - if that's possible considering what books 1 and 2 cover.  Overall I did catch more of what book 3 was about - what it's purpose is/was - and it's clever.  It's such a commentary on how lemming-like we can be as a society.  The relational conflict between Katniss and Gale seemed more obvious to me this time reading it, maybe it should be read a second time - the first time you are so swept up into the story and the mission of Katniss that you don't see right away all the nuances of her relationships with Gale and Peeta. Or even with Haymitch, President Snow, Coin, et al.  Or maybe I am just rather dull in the head and didn't catch the obvious things first reading!  Ha! I still walk away from book 3 feeling like in the end Katniss wasn't fully developed as a character. The books end and I feel like we still don't know Katniss as well as we should since we have just spent two years with her plus backstory shared.  All in all, Collins certainly gives readers plenty of good material to discuss, debate, expand on. Well written, fast paced, intriguing storyline and characters that stick with the reader long after the books end.  Favorite character of mine? Cinna, hands down.  *wink*

Courageous Compassion: Confronting Social Injustice God’s Way by Beth Grant
Kindle Edition 304 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and My Healthy Church for this free copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

When it comes to confronting anything, or anyone, I am most interested in doing it God's way rather than my own.  I have racked up numerous failures when I take things into my own hands but I have some major successes when I've allowed God to do what needs to be done. Why is it important to do it God's way? Because he's been in the details of it since the beginning, he knows a whole lot more than we do about any given person or situation.
Social Justice may seem like a trend in today's modern church but it isn't a trend in God's perspective. He's been concerned with and talking about social justice since, well, the beginning.  Some might wonder why God would allow injustice to happen on any level. That gets into a discussion of free will so I'll leave that for a different time and place. The point is that social justice might be a trend of sorts for us but it never has been for God.  It's at the top of his list.  He talks about it A LOT and asks us to get involved in it.
But to be involved in social justice beyond writing a check (which is also good) one needs compassion.  A compassion that wells up from a broken heart that is broken because God touched it. Ever heard the phrase, "God break my heart for what breaks yours"? That's where compassion that acts comes from.  But this compassion can only take us so far, we must also be courageous.  We must be willing to enter in to uncomfortable places with uncomfortable people and witness, at times, uncomfortable things. Beth Grant and her husband, actually their family, know what courageous compassion can accomplish and what it takes to live it out. For years they have been running Project Rescue, an organization dedicated to rescuing women and children from human trafficking. Throughout the book Grant gives the background on their own journey into courageous compassion and how we can become a people who practice it as well.  Sprinkled throughout are recommendations for those who are interested in beginning a ministry or organization dedicated to fighting whatever social injustice pricks their heart the most.  Grant shares some really important information that most Americans wouldn't consider or evaluate due to our independent culture. I really appreciated her thoughts on community, it explains so much that we generally can't figure out.
Grant's book is an important discussion on an issue that is so close to God's heart that it should be a concern of our hearts as well.


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