Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017 Bookshelf

In November 2016 I participated in a book exchange of sorts. It went like this: Buy your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address.) You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are the other people’s much loved stories.
The strangers sending me books were friends of my friends that wanted to participate also. So I don't know who sent me the books but they are favorites of some people out there. I decided to take this month to read those books. Let's see which ones became some of my favorites also. 

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
224 pages

This is a re-read for me but worth it. And because it is such a quick read it probably is a book - because of the lessons Morrie shares with us through Mitch - that should be read every couple of years. We humans have short memories. To be reminded of some of these big picture, this is what really matters in life, lessons is never a bad idea.
There's one line in the book that kind of sums up the whole of the book for me. "....my visits with Morrie felt like a cleansing rinse of human kindness." (pg. 55) Morrie embodied human love and kindness and right up until his last breath and last moment on earth he was a generous teacher of that love and kindness to everyone who came into his presence. And because he and Mitch decided to record their conversations he continues to generously teach that love and kindness all these years later. They are lessons that we need over and over again. They are lessons that never get dull or outdated or used up. This was a good book to kick off a new calendar year with.




432 pages

I like this series by Nappa, his PI's Trudi and Samuel are a fun couple, or ex-couple I suppose. I question the plausibility of the events in real life but they are enjoyable to read about.
In this title Trudi and Samuel are working cases that meet up, so why not work together right? There's some rumor floating around Atlanta about an operation called Nevermore and a guy name Raven is involved. Is Edgar Allan Poe back? Well of course he isn't but someone is using his work to get something sinister done. Samuel and Trudi are on a clock they aren't quite aware of to stop this plan from happening. With the help of Raven and some other peripheral characters it all comes down to the very last second.
I'm finding Mike Nappa's Coffey & Hill series really enjoyable to read. He creates interesting crimes to solve and his characters are engaging. As new books are released I'll be reading them. Much thanks to the anonymous person who sent this to me and introduced me to this author and the series.




The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer
483 pages

This had me thinking. When I wasn't reading it I kept thinking through how it could be happening and who the possible suspects might be. I haven't read a John Grisham in years but I suspect Meltzer is tough competition for him with his titles.
Ben is just starting a year long gig clerking for a Supreme Court Justice. It's a coveted job that comes with a lot of benefits for a lawyer's career. His co-clerk, Lisa, is on a similar path. The life of a Supreme Court Justice clerk is busy - actually busy doesn't describe it. It is nights, days, weekends, holidays, whatever it takes to get the job done for the Justice. Being a clerk for one of the Justice's puts you in a lifelong club of sorts. Past clerks call in to check up with new clerks etc. Within Ben's first days in the court, and with Judge Hollis out of the country on vacation, a urgent appeal hits the court and Lisa and Ben start scrambling to write the opinion for Hollis and prove he didn't make a bad choice in hiring them. A former clerk, Rick, calls at just that time and is able to provide them with some help. And when Ben meets up with Rick for lunch a month or so later they talk about the ins and outs of clerking for Judge Hollis. Aware of the cases on the court's plate Rick asks Ben about different ones. Ben casually shares info he knows even though he's not supposed to. But Rick is a former clerk, he knows the code of silence. Right? What if Rick were not a former clerk? What if Rick wasn't even Rick? What if days after Ben told Rick about one decision the company involved did something it wasn't going to do unless the outcome of the decision was in their favor? What then? Ben, and the people in his life, are about to find out.
I am fascinated by all things law and such. I don't have the brain to ever tackle it but I am so intrigued by it. Number one thing I always wonder and can't settle is - how realistic is this stuff? I have to think it isn't. I have to think stuff like this couldn't actually go on, could it? But outside of that - this was a well-written story. Meltzer's characters were great and prompted the exact responses I'm guessing he hoped for with his readers. All the law included wasn't dry but very interesting. The story read fast and never slowed down. I'm going to have to check out more titles from Meltzer, this was a great intro to him.




Dandelion Wine (Green Town #1) by Ray Bradbury
239 pages

I've only read one other Bradbury title, perhaps the most "popular" one - Farenheit 451. So I was definitely curious to read this one given me because it clearly is very different than the one title of his I have read - both in story and genre.
The book, as Bradbury explains in a preface, came about through his memories of years of summers in his grandparents hometown, He collected those memories like dandelions and made wine from them. He preserved a bit of summer for the long winters and years ahead. And so out of his memories he crafted a story of a 12 year old, Douglas, who spends one summer growing up just a little bit. And he inserted many true things about his own childhood summers into this story.
In the summer of 1928 Douglas Spaulding has many adventures and moments of realization about life. He shares those things with his brother, Tom, and we get to go along for the ride. Weaved into all these adventures are lessons about life that Douglas picks up on and at one point he despairs of. A 12 year old despairing! But I, as the reader, can understand. Some personalities understand things as they are far earlier in their lives than should be allowed. Douglas is one of those. But he comes out of his despair with new eyes and new perspective on some things and determines to pay his new found knowledge about life forward.
Bradbury's story is simple, straightforward, and holds a magic that is rare in most books these days. Through a very simple, very simple, story he conveys a treasure trove of memories that also hold some nuggets of life wisdom.




In the Blood (Genealogical Crime Mystery #1) by Steve Robinson
392 pages

I think tracing genealogy is fascinating. I'm not the only one - there are websites and now even TV shows dedicated to tracing people's lines backwards to who their ancestors are - or could be. And that's the foundation of this title.
JT is a professional genealogist and his current case has him at a dead end...well kind of. He needs to go to England to finish the research - the internet has taken him as far as he can go - but getting to England is the problem. He is afraid of flying. But his client could care less and demands he wrap up this case in one week so JT boards a plane bound for England. He survives the flight but surviving England proves to be the more terrifying experience. It seems JT (Tayte) isn't the only one looking for the same family line he is. And what's more it seems the family line has some secrets he never anticipated stumbling across. Now those secrets have drawn JT into the case and he's in so deep he can't quit until he uncovers the whole truth. His problem is someone doesn't want him uncovering the whole truth so they are doing all they can to keep him from it. There's got to be a winner and a loser - which one will JT end up being?
Because genealogy fascinates me I stuck with this book but at times it lagged in its storyline, action, and even characters. It wasn't hard for me to put down in favor of watching TV or doing something else and usually that is a pretty clear sign, in my world at least, that the book is okay but not drawing me into the story and keeping me in it. It was okay but I'm not anxious to look for or pick up book 2.




The Taker (The Taker Trilogy #1) by Alma Katsu
464 pages

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. The cover art put me off, apparently I do judge books by their covers! It took me probably a good 100 pages or so to begin to be interested in the story. To be fair, by the end of the book I was engaged in the story. This is a tale of immortality. Would you want to live forever?
Through a series of strange events Lanore, Lanny, finds herself immortal. She is unable to die - it is literally impossible. She was born in the early 1800's and when we meet her it is "present day." To say she's lived a lot of life would be an understatement. We meet her as she is brought in to Luke's ER. He's the doctor on shift. Lanny is beguiling and Luke finds himself helping her escape from the law. Along the journey to freedom Luke learns Lanny's odd and unthinkable story of immorality and the price she pays because of it.
I'm not sure what I think about this book. It wasn't horrible but it kind of dragged for me. There's a fine line between too little detail and too much. Katsu crossed over the line, in my opinion, to including too much detail in parts of the book. Like with Jonathan and his good looks. I wanted to say at just a few chapters in, "Okay, enough already. We get it - Jonathan is beautiful." However, kudos to Katsu for imagining this story and bringing it to life - I admire the fanciful creativity it takes to write fiction, I got done with the book and considered reading the other two in the series but after reading a brief excerpt from book 2 and reading reviews about both books 2 & 3 I have decided I don't need to read anymore of the series, I'm not *that* interested in it.





Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall In Love With the Process of Becoming Great by Joshua Medcalf
105 pages

I never would have run across this book, I don't think, if someone had not sent it to me. And I'm so glad they did. It's a great parable of perseverance, dedication, and endurance.
John flew one-way to an ancient city in Japan to train to be a master samurai archer, it had been a dream of he and his brother, Jordan, for a long time. But now John was living the dream for both of them, in a sense. Jordan physically cannot do it. As John begins his training he is excited by all the hours he can spend shooting arrows and perfecting his goal. What he finds, however, in training is something very different. His sensei, Akira, knows the foundation and path to mastery and it is his job to show John the path. John goes through years of frustration and impatience during his travel along the road of mastery. But with Akira's mentorship and patience John finally becomes Jonathan and understands that the foundation of mastering anything is to "chop wood carry water."
I love learning from parables. This book held a lot of nuggets of wisdom that I've actually been struggling with recently so it's a timely read for me. This is a great book to read several times in a row in order to really take in its principles and to read with others for discussion purposes.





God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
241 pages

When you grow up in the Church you kind of just know about all the modern-day "heroes" of the faith. I would consider Brother Andrew in that category, I've heard his name for years - I knew on the surface what he was a hero for, but I had not ever learned about him or read his book which is a classic among the shelves of Christian non-fiction. This was sent to me as someone's favorite book, I had not read it yet so I was excited.
Brother Andrew gives us a before and after picture of his spiritual life. Before he truly knew Christ and then after. The two men could not be more different! In his after meeting Christ life he began to get curious about the Iron Curtain countries. What was the faith of believers like in those places? Was there faith or just state mandated religion? Did they have bibles? If so were they allowed to be seen in public, were they even allowed to be in the country? So Brother Andrew began to pray, seek God on his role in God's mission, and explore the Iron Curtain that surrounded his homeland, The Netherlands. After a period of time he heard God say to him, "Strengthen those who remain" and so he began a bold ministry of smuggling bibles into closed countries and preaching to believers he could find in the underground churches and the state run institutions. He did it on his own for a number of years until he found one partner and from there the smuggling operations grew until he prayed for even more partners to do the work with passion and love for the people of the Iron Curtain. In one story the book shares, language is the topic of conversation. One of the partners is being questioned about what language he speaks and his only answer is "agape." Upon seeing that curious person later that same day they said they couldn't find where that language came from and the smuggler said, "It's the language of Love and I speak it all the time." Brother Andrew, his family, and his partners all have a faith I can only hope to have but know deep down I never really will. They embody the absolute trust in God that it takes to get through this life and they aren't afraid to be corrected - if need be - or learn a new way etc.
I really liked this book, it has given me a lot to think about, to consider. The one line that is playing on repeat in my head is "strengthen those who remain." Where I'm at I wonder how can I do that for the people that remain? Thanks ot the faith example of Brother Andrew, I believe God will supply the answer.





The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
440 pages

Wow. What a story. I feel a little speechless about it. Set in France at the start of and through World War II, Hannah gives us a story about two sisters who approach the war in very different ways.
Vianne and Isabelle lost both their mother and father after World War I. They lost mother to illness and father - still living - they lost to whatever he experienced in the war, grief over losing his wife, and drink. He gave them away to be raised by someone else so he didn't have to face them. Now rumors of another war are circulating in France and this time it's Vianne's husband, Antoine, called to serve. Both girls have very different reactions to Germany taking over France and both will be tested. As the war drags on and things become more dangerous certain choices are forced upon both Vianne and Isabelle that will be woven into the threads of their lives. To survive during those days took a courage that very few realized they had until they were faced with it. To talk about those days to future generations took a special kind of courage as well and one of the sisters isn't sure if she can do it.
World War II was such a defining moment in the history of our world. It was both the best and worst of humanity. And there were so many choices to be made by all people, no matter what nation they came from. Titles like this one from Hannah, and Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See, I especially like because they give us a glimpse into some of the people of Germany who weren't on board with world domination and Hitler as their leader. Hannah's characters in this novel are deep and rich and executed perfectly. The story, while fiction, is accurate historically and that makes me appreciate the work Hannah put into this book even more. Taking time to weave fiction into the history of our world is not for the faint of heart. The courage it took normal people to resist the evil that had risen up out of Hitler and his followers is inspiring and motivating, reminding all of us that all that is required is to be available - every act of resistance against injustice and evil makes a difference even when we might not be able to see it.





The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
224 pages

You aren't a real believer if you haven't read this book.
Okay, that's not true but some people act as if it is. This title of Bunyan's, written while he was in prison, has served as foundational "curriculum" for the church since it's publication. However, in recent years it has lost its shine for the church and has gone from being one of the most read books within the church - the Bible taking first place - to one of the least read. In the introduction to this edition of the title the editor can't imagine why it has waned. Really? It's written in language older or just as old as the King James and it's themes contain all the fire and brimstone of a disciplinary God and none of the grace. Gee, I can't imagine why it isn't well-read any longer.
John Bunyan did write an extraordinary story of a believer's journey. I'm not dismissing his creativity and thoughtfulness in bringing to life the spiritual journey we all take. However, his story is crafted around the belief that God is stringent and unbending, lacks grace and patience, and ignores any of his creation that don't seek him in exactly the right way. What way is that? The way that Bunyan had been taught by the preachers of the time. But whose to say they had gotten it correct? Many had crafted God into a fiery deity that displayed more anger than anything else. The transformation that my faith has taken the past decade, the understandings I have come into about the true character of God make me read this story with indifference. It makes me think of the legalistic, unloving people I know and see standing on street corners today screaming at people to repent - as if that draws anyone to God. In all honesty reading this story frustrated me and filled my heart with dread for its themes are legalistic and not at representative of the God I have known my whole life. This opinion of my mine is equal to blasphemy in the church today but I'm okay taking that chance. I only need to answer to God after all.




Outside of the above books that were sent to me I also read or listeread to the following:

Ashes (Seeds of America #3) by Laurie Halse Anderson

AHHHHH! I have been waiting for this third book *forever.* I read the first two books before I started doing reviews but the series did land on a blog post of mine about series a couple of years back. Read my reviews on book 1, Chains, by clicking here and book 2, Forge, by clicking here.
Ashes was worth the wait (I didn't really have a choice after all). Anderson kept true to her thorough research about the role of African Americans in the American Revolution and it is a sobering role they played in the freedom of this nation from Britain. Sobering because they fought for a freedom they were told they would receive and once the war was over and won they were forced back into slavery for another 100 or so years. My anger towards our nation threatens to move from simmering to boiling. But back to the book.
Curzon and Isabel are on the move. At the end of Forge Isabel pleaded with him to help her find Ruth, her sister. Reluctantly Curzon agreed. He would rather join up with the Patriots and fight against the British. Their travels lead them straight to Yorktown in the months leading up to the famous battle of. All Isabel can see are the burning things in life, the ashes they become. Her friendship with Curzon, her relationship with Ruth, the battle between two countries who care not for people of her skin color. It's a lot to absorb in the few years she has walked the earth. As the battle of Yorktown draws closer Isabel is forced to choose a side, finally seeing that she cannot stay neutral. So she chooses a side and sees it through to the end. And in the end she finds some redemption in ashes, it's not all loss she supposes.
And so ends Anderson's Seeds of America trilogy. This story was a perfect final book although because it is such a well-written story I do not want it to end! I want to know more about Isabel and Curzon and life post-Revolutionary war. But Anderson leaves it to our imaginations, which is most likely for the best. This is honestly one of the best books, series, I have ever had the privilege to read. And it will not be my first read of the series, this is a series to repeat again and again.




Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter, Jeffrey Seller
Audio Book

I love the behind-the-scenes of shows - movies, TV, theater. I love to hear about how a story came to be and what it took to bring it to life. And Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a story on stage that is full of life.
For 6 years Miranda wrote and re-wrote, changed a line, expelled a character or birthed one, worked tirelessly to honor the story of Alexander Hamilton and his contributions to the United States of America.
On vacation Miranda chose to read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton and an idea was sparked. A music project about the life of Hamilton. He started getting the word out and even performed some of the early songs at the White House in 2009. Click here to see that performance, it's great! This book about the inception of Hamilton was so fascinating. Now remember, I'm a geek about stuff like this. But really it's so interesting to hear about the process - Miranda's writing, the moment it was realized that this wasn't a music project but a musical project destined for the stage, finding the right people to put moves into the show - dress the cast in clothing that would compliment the story - bring big life to the characters Miranda was including, the early previews, the re-working, the stories behind the story, the personal connection each person involved in the project felt to the show, and more. And clearly Hamilton resonates. It's run on Broadway is full steam ahead, there's no slowing down. It opens in London next year (2018) and will send out company tours so that it can reach all the masses. The themes of the show resonate with people and inspire some to dream once again.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a freaking genius.




The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris
335 pages

I think that ghost writers are fascinating. In this suspense story we witness what happens when a ghost writer uncovers too much.
Called in to replace the original ghost writer who died suddenly, our POV reluctantly takes the job. This isn't just any assignment. It's the memoirs of the former PM, Adam Lang. But from the start there are several weird occurrences that put our ghost writer on alert. First of all, he's replacing someone who died and it isn't clear whether it was an accident or something else. Then there's the PM himself, sequestered on Martha's Vineyard in America. Fine, no problem. Just fly the manuscript to London and ghost writer can work on it from his flat. But no. The manuscript is under lock and key and isn't allowed to leave the one room it currently is in on Martha's Vineyard. So our ghost must travel to PM Lang and his memoirs. Everything is shrouded in secrecy, including Adam Lang himself. Our ghost writer can't put his finger on what the unease is, he just knows it exists. Within a few short days he is pulled into a drama he didn't foresee participating in and suddenly he understands why the first ghost writer died. Uncovering the secrets Lang is keeping ends up putting everyone in a precarious position, who will come out of it unscathed?
I've not read Robert Harris before. This was a good story, I liked it and proof of that was how quickly I read it - really without meaning to. The characters were interesting and the plot plausible. There were some twists and turns and always the question that lingers in the back of my head, "could things like this really happen? do things like this happen?!" Btw, there's a movie but it's not worth it. I watched it - or tried to - directly after finishing the book but it was lackluster. The book is so much better - as they usually are.




Divine Collision: An African Boy, An American Lawyer, and Their Remarkable Battle for Freedom by Jim Gash
320 pages

My husband knows me pretty well. He knows what gets me. He bought me this book and I'm super glad that he did because I hadn't heard about this story and it's worth knowing about.
Jim Gash said something I have said before, "Africa? Nope, no plans on ever going there." Yeah, well - never say ever. *wink* Jim Gash is a lawyer and a professor at Pepperdine in California. Through a series of nudgings he finds himself in Uganda assisting in getting juveniles stuck in the Uganda court systems out. And he meets Henry. Meeting Henry changes everything. Henry has been falsely accused of not just one but two murders - at 15/16 years old! He's stuck in a prison, of sorts, for youth and nobody to speak up on his behalf. Jim and his group of lawyers decide to draw up all the paperwork these kids need in order for a lawyer to present to court and try to get them released or sentences established and reduced. It is an eye-opening and heart-wrenching process for the lawyers. Meanwhile, we hear from Henry as he's in this prison camp of sorts. And while he has his seasons of despair he rises up and works to make life worth it - even in this prison - for the rest of the inmates. He and his brother start teaching the other kids who had never gone to school or had to leave it early. They organize afternoon soccer games to keep physical activity, they have an established kind of government - set up before their time there - that helps keep order, they hold worship services almost nightly. The bond between Henry and Jim grows and deepens as Jim, working from America and with Ugandan lawyers, seeks to get justice for Henry and his brother. But it doesn't stop there. Once justice is realized Jim keeps in Henry's life and makes ways for him to get the education he missed out on and wants to continue in to make a life for himself. It's a really motivating story of what can happen when we focus on just one. One makes a difference.


From Depths We Rise: A Journey of Beauty from Ashes by Sarah Rodriguez
256 pages

Sarah and her husband, Joel, fought through a round of kidney cancer (Joel) and infertility (Sarah) to finally become pregnant after 5 years of wanting. And finally they were about to be a family of three. But right before the birth of their son, Joel's doctor came back with bad news. The cancer was back. Once their son was born he started up treatments again, fighting as hard as he could to be alive and around for his son. But that wasn't the plan and Joel's physical life on this earth came to an end, But there was life after Joel, literally. About 2 years after Joel passed on his daughter was born. She was the fulfillment of Joel's hope before he passed on. Then she became ill. Sarah is wondering - what? what is going on? what is all this supposed to mean? And through prayer and only what can be explained as God's healing supernaturally, baby girl lived. Sarah's recounting of this journey is one filled with faith and doubt and ultimately believing and experiencing God is ever-present in life.
I happened to read this book while my hub was in the hospital - not for cancer, something much less serious than that. But it was good to be reading of Sarah and Joel's story realizing my hub could be in the hospital for something far more serious. A great perspective reminder for me.





Moby Dick - Unabridged - by Herman Melville
Audio Book - 20 CDs

I tried. I started listereading it in December, had to renew it and set it aside to get through something else that couldn't be renewed, and tried to renew it again because the second renewal had timed out. I got to disc 2 track 9. And I know I'm just not going to get to it - maybe ever. I'm not ready yet to say "never." Just not right now. The bit I did listen to reminded me why I struggle so much with the *classics*, why I can't get on board with authors like Melville - too. much. detail. Oh my word, so much detail. And I had not even gotten on the boat yet! But I know what every nook and cranny of the inn where Ishmael lodges looks like.


Honorable Mention:

In 2015 I read Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See and loved it. It has been one of those books that I think about long after I read the last word. For my FB book club we read it in December as many hadn't had a chance yet. I decided to listeread it and I'm SO glad I did. I didn't finish the audio until January 9 but it was worth the listen just as the read was worth the read. What a beautiful story Doerr crafted. I might have appreciated it even more upon the second time absorbing the characters and the story. Doerr uses beautiful prose and brings the characters to life. I was touched, again, by this story.


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