Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Memory Between Us

"A Memory Between Us" by Sarah Sundin is part of a trilogy (although I believe each book can stand on its own) of books about three brothers serving during WWII. Each book focuses on one of the three brothers and their quest for love and wrestling with God. I think I inadvertently read book two of the series, but felt I got a good grasp of the context of book one.

The book is about a WWII bomber pilot, Major Jack Novak, and a nurse, Lieutenant Ruth Doherty, he meets in the hospital as he is recovering from flak injuries. The rest of the story is fairly predictable, but not a complete bore to read. I read it pretty quick and it moved along at a fast pace. This is a good book to digest on the beach or on a plane.

To her credit, I believe Sundin did a marvelous job with historical details that painted a very vivid picture of hospital life and bomber runs over Germany. I think her nod to the story of Ruth and Boaz was also well done.

I find it hard to discover WWII historical/romance fiction books so I really appreciate authors that try to tackle this era. I think the story could have been 50 to 70 pages shorter, but enjoyed reading it nonetheless. It was a fast, non-stressful read which is something I sort of needed after reading several non-fiction books on social justice issues.

To recap:

Worth Reading? Sure

Recommend to a Friend? Maybe

Worth Buying My Own Copy? No

Stars: 3 out of 5

Friday, December 17, 2010

Under the Overpass

I’ve kind of been on a non-fiction book kick as of late and more specifically books focused on the social justice aspect of the Christian walk. (However, in contrast… I am now reading a completely predictable and sappy WWII Christian romance novel that is lame but I for some reason can’t abandon reading it…)

Under the Overpass” is the first book in this genre that pulled back the curtain and allowed me to really comprehend the reality of homelessness in America. Instead of encouraging me to do this or that because the Bible says so or because I have been so blessed, the author, Mike Yankoski, took me on a journey to not just “tell me”, but to “show me.”

During college, Yankoski became convicted to experience life on the streets of America. He teamed up with a friend, Sam, and the two of them spent five months living homeless in six different US cities during 2003. The pair each left with a backpack, sleeping bag and guitar and survived by panhandling while playing music and taking advantage of generosity of soup kitchens and hospitality of local churches.

There were four things that stood out to me in this book:

- From the very beginning of the book, I was inspired by the sheer obedience Yankoski displayed in taking on the challenge of living homeless. It’s a crazy idea, but even gutsier to follow through and willingly put himself on the streets. I’m sorry…I don’t think I could do it!

- There’s a section where Yankoski describes homeless men and women who have obvious and severe mental illness issues. We’ve all seen people like he described…living in their own personal “hells” day after day. It makes one wonder how many of them are perhaps living under the power of demons like the man Jesus encountered in Mark 5:1-20.

- I was actually really impressed and surprised that Yankoski and his companion made an effort to attend a local church every Sunday. Yankowski describes many of these experiences and the varying reactions he received from “Christians.” Sadly, I can see that I would react similarly (apprehensive and stand offish) in some of the same instances if I were being completely honest with myself.

Lastly, I kept cringing every time Yankoski described the usual way “nice, normal” people averted their eyes and walked in a different direction to avoid coming close to the author and his traveling companion Sam. I do this all the time…I feel so paralyzed when I get in these situations. You want to help, but society has sold us a lie that we shouldn’t give homeless people money because all they will do is buy drugs or alcohol to support their habit. I thought Yankoski did a wonderful job shedding some light on ways I can navigate this better in the future.

Bottom line, I really enjoyed this narrative about living on the streets. It certainly could have been grittier (all vulgarities and crude language was removed out of respect for the readers and standards of the publisher), yet I felt it deconstructed enough of the wall I have around me to begin seeing men and women living in homelessness. I know I’ll have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide my steps in terms of how I respond to what I see, but I feel this book has armed me with new a understanding and courage to take my own journey in this area.

You can read the first chapter of the book here.

The publisher has also created a pretty comprehensive action plan for “next steps” after reading the book.

NOTE: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.

To recap:

Worth Reading? Yes

Recommend to a Friend? Yes…to those who have an interest in this topic

Worth Buying My Own Copy? Not necessarily unless you like to lend books out a lot.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Radical

I’ve only been a Christ-follower for 6 years so I realize in the grand scheme of things my perspective on “what things shape my walk with Christ” can be na├»ve and presumptuous at times. Yet, I truly believe that as I look back on my life “Radical” by Dr. David Platt will be one of the defining books that shaped my walk with Christ. Much like “Choosing to Cheat” by Andy Stanley has shaped the way I approach work/life balance that is honoring to God (and a book I usually read over again once a year if not twice a year), Radical is going to be another “shot in the arm” book I read whenever I feel my faith journey has hit a plateau.

And if that is not enough of an enticement to run out and read this book, here’s another. I rarely buy books…I don’t care for clutter…therefore I am a huge fan of the local library. The first time I read this book it was the local library copy. Immediately upon completion of the book I went to my local Christian book store and purchased my own copy and reread the whole thing again – this time highlighting all the things I didn’t want to forget or wanted to reference quickly down the road. 1) I purchased my own copy and 2) I read the book twice in 2 weeks. Not very common occurrences for this book reader!

During 2010 Platt has lead his church on a journey aptly called “The Radical Experiment” in which he challenged the members of his church to:

  1. Pray for the entire world
  2. Read through the entire Word
  3. Sacrifice their money for a specific purpose
  4. Spend time in another context
  5. Commit their life to a multiplying community

Radical: Taking back your life from the American Dream serves as a thesis for proving out why American Christians need to begin making radical changes in their lives in order that we fulfill the Great Commission. Platt states that “somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.” He further says “…the cost of discipleship is great. But I wonder if the cost of nondiscipleship is even greater.”

What resonated with me most about this book is pondering the gravidity of not obeying God’s will for my life. That the cost of nondiscipleship is a grave and serious trend in American churches that is propelled by a body of believers paralyzed by the comforts and luxuries that the American Dream offers. The majority of American Christ-followers see discipleship making as a role only church leaders or long-term missionaries can fill when in reality all Christ-followers are commanded (not suggested) to go to all nations and make disciples. Platt summarizes this point poignantly when he says “…we have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.”

I am looking forward to letting the lessons learned in the book permeate through me over the next several weeks, months and years. I truly want to take on the Radical Experiment for a year and be intentional about praying for the world and getting into the Word daily. For the first time in several years I actually considered what other context God may be calling me to in 2011 to spend a week of my time. The past several years I’ve been very lukewarm about joining an E3 Partners mission trip (Adam has been on two the past year and half – 2009: Ecuador; 2010: Russia.) This past Monday I signed up for an E3 Partners short-term mission trip to Kursk, Russia in August. I am so nervous about this, but excited for what God will do through and in me during that week.

If you are feeling stalled in your walk or apathetic about the way church is done in the US, I highly encourage you to read this book. You will be encouraged and able to pick yourself up, dust off your discouragements and start biblically living God’s will for your life.

To recap:

Worth Reading? YES! YES! YES!

Recommend to a Friend? Yes...I'm apologize now to all my friends who will get sick of me talking about this book

Worth Buying My Own Copy? ABSOLUTELY!!! I wish I could buy 10 and give them away.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Book It Program


The 80s returned today...

I was definitely living vicariously through my 4-year-old daughter Ingrid today. She came home with her first Pizza Hut Book It! voucher.

Do you remember trying to earn these as a kid? I LOVED this program.

(I think I loved it more for the button and little star stickers I got each month, but that's just me...I was a nerd. But, not nerdy enough to KEEP the button...check out the Book It Alumni page! Now there are some passionate/loyal people! However, the alumni T-shirt does look kind of cool and tempting!)

We had to read to Ingrid 200 minutes in October - she's not quite able to read on her own so we have to help. She read about 240 minutes...in November she has to read at least 250.

But, she was a very excited little girl tonight. She couldn't wait for dad to get home from work so that they could go to Pizza Hut and pick up her very own personal pan cheese pizza.

And, yup...mom was quite jealous! But so, so proud of my budding reader!


Friday, October 29, 2010

What's Mine is Yours

This past summer I had the chance to meet Michela Abrams O'Connor, President of Dwell Media. During this visit she recommended a new book called "What's Mine is Yours - The Rise of Collaborative Consumption." I usually have a very difficult time reading business books, but this one I found very interesting and a page turner. Fundamentally, I really believe in many of the principles outlined in this book. The world would be such a better place if we learned to share more things that tend to have "idle" time.

For example, I really don't like owning my own lawn mower or sidewalk edger. I'd rather someone else take care of and do the maintenance, but I can use it as needed. However, maybe they can use our snowblower or ladder. I think this sort of collaboration has the ability to bring us into better community and it obviously is better for the environment to have less "stuff" out there. It is amazing the toll of "built-in obsolescence" has had on our environment and economy.

Book Description: (From Publisher's Weekly)
Business consultant Botsman and entrepreneur Rogers track the rise of a fascinating new consumer behavior they call "collaborative consumption." Driven by growing dissatisfaction with their role as robotic consumers manipulated by marketing, people are turning more and more to models of consumption that emphasize usefulness over ownership, community over selfishness, and sustainability over novelty. A number of new businesses have emerged to serve this new market, exploiting the ability of the Internet to create networks of shared interests and trust and to simplify the logistics of collective use. Businesses such as bike-sharing service BIXI; toy library BabyPlays; solar power service SolarCity; and the Clothing Exchange, a clothing swap service, help users enjoy products or services without the expense, maintenance hassle, and social isolation of individual ownership. Part cultural critique and part practical guide to the fledgling collaborative consumption market, the book provides a wealth of information for consumers looking to redefine their relationships with both the things they use and the communities they live in.

To recap:

Worth Reading? Yes

Recommend to a Friend? Yes

Worth Buying My Own Copy? Yes, if you plan to share it with someone, otherwise borrow a copy!

Stars: 5 out of 5


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Out Live Your Life

I have been praying the last couple months about whether to co-lead our community outreach ministry. A few weeks ago I saw this book and put it on my "to read" list and put in a request at Mead Public Library. I figure I have no idea what I'm doing stepping forward and leading a community outreach ministry so I do what I always do...read a book!

Book Description: (from maxlucado.com)

These are difficult days in our world’s history. 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, natural disasters are gouging entire nations, and economic uncertainty still reigns across the globe. But you and I have been given an opportunity to make a big difference. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God’s love and life? We are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let’s live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did.

I actually really enjoyed this book. I've only read one other Max Lucado book, but I really like how this book is paced and the direct application that is found within each chapter. I thought the stories were memorable and illustrated key take aways very well. Loved the illustrations using Joshua Bell and Father Damien.

Often times one feels despair after reading statistics such as:

  • 1.75 billion people are desperately poor
  • 1 billion are hungry
  • Each year nearly 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade.
  • There are 145 million orphans worldwide.

Yet...there are solutions if we only had the courage to seek them out:
  • Yet, a mere 2% of the world's grain harvest would be enough, if shared, to erase the problems of hunger and malnutrition around the world.
  • Nearly 226 million people in the U.S. call themselves "Christians." From a pure mathematical point of view, there should be fewer orphans in the world.

For me, one of the most convicting prose in the book was when Lucado recounts a time when he was challenged in a span of one week with the following questions:

1. If you were a Christian German living during WWII under Hitler's rule, would you have stood up to the atrocities that were happening to your fellow Jewish German neighbors?

2. If you were living in the South during the American Civil Rights movement, would you have stood up against the injustices of prejudice and segregation?

For the first two questions, I know I would like to say "yes, I would have" - although who knows if I would have the boldness. I'm kind of a chicken who doesn't like to rock the boat at times.

So the last question that was posed to Lucado was this:

3. If your grandchildren asked you "Why did billions of people go hungry when you were young, but there was plenty of food to be shared?" how would you respond?

A very convicting question... Will our children's children look back on this time in history and be in shock that we did nothing for the least of these when we had the knowledge, technology and resources to do otherwise?

To recap:

Worth reading? Yes

Recommend to a friend? Yes

Worth buying my own copy? Yes - lots of great action items you'll want to go back and reference

Stars: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers

Shane Claiborne's book "The Irresistible Revolution" wrecked me - in a good way - when I read it last year. So I was excited to stumble across another one of his books - Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers. I usually don't pick up books on "prayer," but the title and premise of this book was intriguing. It was also a short read - 120 pages.

Book Description: (from IndieBound)
"Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do." --from the Introduction Activists Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove show how prayer and action must go together. Their exposition of key Bible passages provides concrete examples of how a life of prayer fuels social engagement and the work of justice. Phrases like "give us this day our daily bread" and "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" take on new meaning when applied to feeding the hungry or advocating for international debt relief. If you hope to see God change society, you must be an ordinary radical who prays--and then is ready to become the answer to your own prayers.

I really enjoyed this book, but found at times that perhaps I don't have big enough faith to truly live out the challenges presented in the book. There's a part of me that wants to live radically, but feels suffocated and censored to do anything about it. Living like Jesus is so hard. Yet, as I was reminded on the second to last page of the book:

"You are the only Jesus some people will ever see. We get to become the body of Christ, to be people who remind the world of Jesus. We are God's body. None of us is Christ alone, but all of us are Christ together. We are God's body in this world."

I remember feeling this way last year after reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Irresistible Revolution. My prayer is that I don't let this fire I feel in my heart die out to complacency again, but rather I trust God to take little steps towards becoming more and more like Jesus and loving His people.

To Recap:

Worth Reading? Yes, if you are serious about prayer and social justice

Worth Buying My Own Copy? No

Recommend to Friends? Yes...my poor husband now has another book recommendation

Stars: 4 out of 5

What Makes a Book Literary?

I subscribe to "DailyWritingTips" and I thought today's post was very interesting. Made me think a bit and consider whether I have enough "literary" prose in my life.

Part of the article cited several books that have had recent appeal with mass audiences, but could be on their way to be considered "classics."

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

I haven't read any of these...any of you? Any worth reading?

Also, what is your favorite "literary" novel (old school...not "modern")? Mine is probably East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Water for Elephants

I have to say that Water for Elephants was a very enjoyable story to read. I've seen this book in plenty of airport gift shops for the past year, but had a friend say it was worth the read. So glad I gave it a chance.

Book Description: (from saragruen.com)

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

It was such a treat to get swept into the gritty and colorful world of a traveling circus during the Great Depression. To me - and probably most readers - this is not a well-studied or talked about story in history so I found most of the story so engrossing and educational. I love learning about new things in history. You can definitely tell that Sara Gruen meticulously researched this era for this book.

My favorite parts were when Jacob interacted with Kinko or roustabouts (laborers). I was eye-opening to see how Jacob straddled the two worlds of "the haves" and "have nots" and had a knack for being authentic and equally comfortable in both worlds.

I know this has been categorized as a "romantic" story, but I didn't really feel that was a strong overtone. I really enjoy romantic story lines, but this was a compelling book without the love story. Gruen does a magnificent job with dialog and pacing throughout the novel. It does have a few crude, sexually-explicit scenes described, but given the culture the book is set in it was not all that shocking and honestly added to the grittiness of the story.

I was surprised to learn (thank goodness I had finished the book) that they are making Water for Elephants into a movie. It comes out next year and stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Totally think Reese will be amazing in this film...having a hard time with the idea of Edward the vampire playing Jacob. I am so glad I didn't have his face in my mind as I was reading this story...would have totally given me a different experience. I kept picturing Ryan Gosling as I read the story! However, I hope I am pleasantly surprised and proved wrong when I go see this next year.

To recap:

Worth reading? Absolutely - a historical treat!

Worth buying my own copy? Undecided...if you like to pass along books to friends, then I would buy a copy

Recommend to friends? Yes, especially those who like historical fiction

Stars: 5 out of 5


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Catching People Reading

Today I was out for a run just as school was letting out (I live 2 blocks from a middle school and high school.) My heart was overwhelmed when I saw a middle school (maybe freshman) girl walking home with her nose buried in a book.

Do you remember doing that as a teen? I used to have to ride the school bus an hour to and an hour home from school. I remember propping my knees up on the seat in front of me and reading for nearly the entire ride.

When I was in middle school, the Indianola Public Library was located kitty corner from the middle school. My mom "trusted" me (or thought it was a good babysitter...) to go there after school to do my homework and wait until she could pick me up after she was done with work. I read SO MUCH at that library...explains why I feel so utterly at home in libraries.

But, it was a thrill to see a young person so intent on reading that she didn't see a middle-age woman huffing and puffing past her! It gave me an idea to maybe start a monthly meme on "Caught Reading" where people can post snapshots of people they know (or don't know) reading. It would be a fun people watching exercise now wouldn't it?

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's Hereeeee....Catching Moondrops Released Today

While I had the treat of an ARC of "Catching Moondrops" in June (and it is AWESOME by the way) from Tyndall House Publishers, you will want to make sure and run out to your local bookstore and pick up a copy today! Today is the official release of Catching Moondrops - the 3rd and final book of Jennifer Erin Valent's fabulous Depression-era/coming of age series.

I'm on mission to get my copies of this book series back from the friends I've loaned it out to all summer...I want to reread all three books again! If you are looking for a series to get swept into, pick up these books. I've recommended them to three people and all three ABSOLUTELY LOVED the series. No one came away lackluster about it...you won't be disappointed!




Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: All Clear












“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

By: Connie Willis
Publication Date: October 19, 2010


Note: This is second and final book of this duet. The first book was "Blackout." And I am 1st on the library's lending list to read "All Clear" - YEAH!

Description from Amazon.com:
In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060—the setting for several of her most celebrated works—and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own—to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating,
All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet—a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sword

About two months ago I was reading a flier from my local Christian book store that had a blurb about "The Sword" in it.

"This novel poses the question, if a society had no knowledge of Christianity, and then a Bible were discovered, what would happen?"

The whole premise of this book really got me thinking...what would it be like to live in a culture where no one has read the Bible? Obviously there are "unreached" people groups in the world that have not read the Bible as it has not been taught or translated into their native tongue. But what if no one has knowledge of the powerful teachings and wisdom found within?

Book Description: From Crossway Books
Four hundred years after a deadly virus and nuclear war destroyed the modern world, a new and noble civilization emerges. In this kingdom, called Chiveis, snowcapped mountains provide protection, and fields and livestock provide food. The people live medieval-style lives, with almost no knowledge of the "ancient" world. Safe in their natural stronghold, the Chiveisi have everything they need, even their own religion. Christianity has been forgotten—until a young army scout comes across a strange book.

When I started reading "The Sword" by Bryan Litfin, I didn't realize that this would be a trilogy. (Alas...I guess I have two more books I'll be reading! I always do this to myself - case in point...Hunger Games, Blackout...)

Overall I found the novel to be an enjoyable read. The characters are fantastic and the kingdom and land described create for an epic setting. I found myself trying to determine where in the world the story is unfolding as there are small clues left throughout the book. The villain of the book is larger than life - she is truly one scary woman! I kept envisioning a Angelia Jolie-type actress every time I read a scene with the High Priestess of Astrebril in it.

The story has adventure, revenge, romance, grief, hope, evil, friendship, etc. Nearly everything you'd expect in an epic-like book. My only criticism is that it probably could have been about fifty pages shorter. There were a few scenes that slowed things down a bit, but nothing that would prevent me from recommending the book or reading the next installments.

One of the huge takeaways I have from reading "The Sword" is an admiration for the sheer amount of faith the two main characters - Ana and Teo - have to not back down and deny their faith in "Deu" (God as we know him in Judeo-Christian circles.) I found it inspiring that a future people could feel so drawn to an unknown God simply by the words found in Holy scripture. Really convicting for me to keep up with my daily reading in scripture.

To recap:

Worth reading: Yes

Worth buying my own copy: No (love your local library)

Recommend to friends: Yes, those who like fantasy/history

Stars: 4 out of 5

"The Sword" Web site:

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Book Whisperer

As some of you know, I have a 6-year-old daughter named Gretchen. Gretchen is in first grade and although I feel she is exceptionally bright (what mother doesn't?), she absolutely hates doing her reading and math homework. In particular, I'm surprised she hasn't taken to her reading homework as we find she has always loved having books read to her. I know she can read tough words - she surprises me every day with the words she sounds out and tells me she can read - but she has no interest in reading the 1 page story she has to read to me 3 times each night.

Out of desperation, I came across "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller at my local library. As I have read this book I felt like the clouds parted and the heavens started singing. This teacher - Donalyn Miller - gets it. As she describes how she gets her 6th graders to read 40 books a year, I am in awe of how on the mark she is about why people, like me, end up being life-long readers. The current system we have in American schools for standardized tests, comprehension assignments, etc. nearly extinguishes any passion children may have for reading.

Some of the key things Miller does in her classroom are:
1. Independent reading (upwards of 30 minutes a day) happens in her classroom every single day

2. Students are allowed to select the books they read to achieve their 40 book requirement - making sure they read adequate amounts of books from various genres

3. She rarely requires book reports or comprehension tests; she gauges whether a student is reading by talking with the students and offering recommendations for future reading

Seems too simply, right?

At the end of 2008 I got sucked into reading the Twilight series of books. And when I finally emerged from a 3 week reading binge I realized how much I missed reading. Since finishing college in 2001 I had unintentionally taken a hiatus from the voracious amounts of reading I did in high school and college. As much as I find the Twilight books annoying now, I do credit them with rekindling a love of reading and now a somewhat obsessive hobby to those who know and love me.

I think Donalyn Miller summed up my feelings how books help us to relate to each other as humans. We need to encourage students to become a lifelong readers because of this need to relate.

p. 173 of "The Book Whisperer"
This is how I show my students that I love them - by putting books in their hands, by noticing what they are about, and finding books that tell them, 'I know. I know. I know how it is. I know who you are, and even though we may never speak of it, read this book, and know that I understand you.' We speak in this language of books passing back and forth, books that say, 'You are a dreamer; read this.' 'You are hurting inside; read this.' 'Your need a good laugh; read this.'

I can't recommend this book highly enough to parents and educators who want to encourage children to love to read. My prayer is that I have a daughter who soon discovers this love for reading and grabs it and makes it her own.

To recap:

Worth reading: Definitely

Worth buying my own copy: If you're an educator, yes

Recommend to friends: Yes

Stars: 5 out of 5


PS - Donalyn Miller has a blog with teachermagazine.org that is worth checking out. Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/donalynbooks

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mockingjay

All year I have been patiently waiting for the third and final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy. I'm not a big book buyer so I had been waiting patiently for the Mockingjay to become available at my local library. I was 71 out of 125 last week when I last checked. Then a colleague came to my rescue and let me borrow her copy.

Book Description:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

I read the story in five days. It started off really well, but then just dragged on and was so depressing to read at times. I know the depressing nature was Collin's intent as she was trying to get across the point that war is pointless - no one wins. But, it was so violent that it just got me down. AND...she didn't end up with the guy I wanted her to! {No spoilers, but I've talked to some people and you are either Team Peeta or Team Gale. Some people loved the ending so don't take my review as gospel that it's not a good ending. It's just not the one I would have liked!}

I have to say though that Collins paints a vivid and believable future reality. She is an incredibly creative writer who doesn't write the expected and for that she should be applauded. I was just rooting for the other guy, but it's alright that I don't always get my way. It will be interesting to see how this story is portrayed when they turn this into a movie.

To recap:

Worth reading? Yes...I mean who wouldn't want to know how this whole story ends

Worth buying my own copy? No

Recommend to friends? Only ones with a strong stomach and not overly sensitive

Stars: 3 out of 5

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Books Read in 2010

Catching Moondrops

I must admit I was eagerly awaiting the October release of Jennifer Erin Valent’s conclusion to her trilogy of books about Jessilyn Lassiter. What a treat it was to receive my very first ARC (advance reader copy) in early June and find none other than the last book - Catching Moondrops - to this delightful story. I promptly posted on Twitter and Facebook to all my friends that I felt like someone important to have received an ARC. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect – I was leaving for vacation in five days. A perfect book for pool time reading!



Book Summary: (from back cover)

Jessilyn Lassiter no longer has to convince people she’s not a child. Having just turned 19 in the summer of 1938, her love for Luke Talley has never been more real. And Luke is finally beginning to care for her in the way she’s always dreamed of. But their budding romance is interrupted when Tal Pritchett—a young, black doctor—comes to Calloway, stealing the heart of Jessilyn’s best friend, Gemma, and stirring up the racial prejudice that has been simmering just beneath the town’s surface. The tension starts to bubble over when Jessie’s elderly neighbor Miss Cleta becomes the first white townsperson to accept Tal’s treatment. And when a young black man is lynched, Calloway is brought to its knees once again as Jessilyn realizes that her anger can make her heart as full of hate as the klan members who have terrorized her town and her family.

I’ll confess one of my motivating factors for wanting to eagerly read the last book in this series. I was dying to find out what happened between Jessilyn and Luke Talley, a young man and family friend that Jessilyn has crushed on since he saved her from drowning as a thirteen-year-old girl. Would Luke finally tell Jessilyn his true feelings about her? Would the Klan hurt one of them and squash all their possibilities for happiness? Would they get married?

Now, I won’t dare spoil this review with the answers to these questions. However, I will tell you that my stomach hasn’t fluttered with that many nervous butterflies since the time I was dating nine years ago! The gift Luke gives Jessilyn on her 19th birthday will take your breath away…it’s that clever and amazing! Quite simply, Valent has mastered writing about tender, young love in a way that is pure but ever more exciting than typical romantic novels. It really is an art! As women read Catching Moondrops, I think they will reflect on their own dating years and wistfully wish there had been a Luke Talley in their life and the sheer patience to wait for love to mature over time.

While Valent has a gift at writing romantic prose, she should also be applauded for writing Christian fiction in a way that doesn’t come off as trite, predicable and, well, “Christian.” While there is certainly a Christian point of view woven through her novels by design, I know that many non-believers will find the books immensely fulfilling and plant seeds for examining and challenging their own faith. The fact that Valent wrote about Jessilyn’s tailspin into hate, bitterness and unforgiveness is to be applauded. How many of us have felt the emotions that Jessilyn felt as we came to grips with our faith and humanity? Jessilyn’s faith journey is written in a raw and realistic manner that is so refreshing in Christian literature.

It was so sad to close the book on Jessilyn and Luke, but Valent tied up the loose ends well enough that I felt satisfied and absolutely ready to read the next book this new author writes! For those of you who are waiting patiently for this book to show up in bookstores…you won’t be disappointed. For those of you who have not read the first two books – Fireflies in December and Cottonwood Whispers – You have less than three months to get caught up and ready for the October release!


To recap:
Worth reading? Yes

Worth buying my own copy? Yes

Recommend to friends? Yes

Stars: 5 out of 5

Sunday, January 24, 2010

If I Perish

Book Description:
Remarkable story of the savage persecuation of a Christian in Korea during World War II, Ahn E. Sook (Esther Ahn Kim) stood alone among thousands of kneeling people. Her bold defiance of the tyrannical demand to bow to pagan Japanese shrines condemned her to a living death in the filth and degradation of a Japanese prison. This brave woman remained faithful to Christ in the face of brutality, oppression, and ruthlessness of her captors. The story of how she won many of her fellow prisoners to Christ, in the most deplorable conditions, is an inspirtation to all.

I reviewed Francis Chan's latest book "Forgotten God" this past fall. In this book he cites a Korean Christian woman who spent five years in Japanese prisons during WWII because she refused to worship Japanese shrines (which was a law at that time.) He described how this woman, knowing she would be going to prison in the near future, memorized several books of the Bible and ate rotten food in order to prepare herself for the harsh realities of prison.

Let me just restate that: She ate ROTTEN food BEFORE she was ever put in prison!!!
No one made her.
She did it out of her own choosing.
To prepare.
Wow...

I was intrigued by this story of perseverance and faith, so I check out Esther Ahn Kim's autobiography "If I Perish." Overall, I really enjoyed reading about this woman's life. I have to admit that halfway through it I shook my head and said "this woman can't be real." She was so good. Her compassionate reactions to the persecution of her jailers and fellow prisoners is amazing. Her bravery is inspiring.

It was a great book to read, albeit hard sometimes. It was awful reading about the Japanese cruelty to the Korean Christian prisoners. Yet it was a bold testimony of having undying faith for a God that will never go back on His promises.

To recap:
Worth reading? Yes

Worth buying my own copy? No

Recommend to friends? Maybe...those who are interested in this topic

Stars: 4 out of 5

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What I Saw and How I Lied

Several months ago I was browsing at Barnes & Noble and came across “What I Saw and How I Lied” by Judy Blundell. After reading the description I thought it sounded interesting and sent myself an email home on my Blackberry so I’d remember the title and author. Fast forward several months and I found myself browsing a blog (it’s killing me I can’t find the blog where I saw this so I could link to the review!) that had a favorable review of this. So, I decided to put it on reserve at the library.

Inside Book Flap:
When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him...until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two. As she begins to realize that almost everything she believed to be a truth was really a lie, Evie must get to the heart of the deceptions and choose between loyalty to her parents and feelings for a man she loves. Someone will have to betrayed. The question is...who?

It was interesting reading a novel about the timeframe just after WWII – I just don’t come in contact with much media that dwells on that time in history. I thought this book moved along very well and it certainly kept my interest. However, I had a hard time suspending belief that a 23-year-old soldier would shower affections on a nearly 16-year-old teenage girl. Granted this perception was from the 16-year-old’s point of view so it was a bit warped, but overall it was just sort of creepy and not believable for me.

Nonetheless, there were enough twists and turns in this YA book to have made it worth my while to read. That's probably why it was named a National Book Award winner in young people's literature. It was a fast, easy read that was a nice departure from some of the "heavy" books I’ve read lately.

To recap:
Worth reading? Yes, if you like YA
Worth buying my own copy? No
Recommend to friends? No (I don’t think most women my age would like it.)
Stars: 3 out of 5

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rough Re-entry

So, I haven't been able to post a book review in two weeks. I've been so bummed about this.

Returning back to work after having time off for 10 days for the holidays has been a rough re-entry. I had so much fun reading and exploring the book blog world. I'm just finding these last two weeks that this new world doesn't fit exceptionally well into my normal reality. After being on a computer all day at work I just really don't have much desire to be on the computer when I get home. I just want to chill and read.

The good news is that I haven't totally fallen off a log. I have been reading. I finished "If I Perish" on Wednesday night and blew through "What I Saw and How I Lied" over this weekend. I'm going to try to publish reviews this week on those two books.

I'm going to start reading one of the books from the challenge "Books I Want to Read Before I Die." I've chosen "Gone With the Wind" as the first one for 2010. I was a bit shocked when I checked the book out of the library and saw that it was over 1,000 pages long. And we all thought Stephenie Meyer was a bit long winded at times! I'm encouraged though because my friend Terri said that she's read "Gone With the Wind" several times and loves it every time. There's hope that it won't be totally slow and boring if someone is willing to read it over and over again!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Same Kind of Different As Me


The Bloom Book Club’s first selection for 2010 is “Same Kind of Different As Me.” This is the first book club – albeit it’s online – that I’ve ever joined. I was encouraged that the last book they read was “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan (which by the way will “wreck you” …in a good way) so I decided to give this book a try.

As the back of the book puts it, Same Kind of Different As Me is the true story of:

A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery. An upscal

e art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel. A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it.

[Okay…I thought that last line in the back cover description was a bit overstated, but nonetheless, you get the idea that this is an incredible true story of how faith, hope and love can bring together two men who had nothing in common upon first glance.]

I rarely cry (maybe three or four times a year) and I found myself crying at one point in this book. So, I’m going to say with confidence that this is a good book because it got me to actually shed some tears!

My biggest takeaway of the book was a friendship analogy that Denver, the homeless drifter, cited when Ron, the upscale art dealer, said that he wanted to be Denver’s friend. He begins the analogy by describing the difference between how a black man fishes and how a white man fishes.

When colored folks go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that’ll look. Then we eat what we catch…in other words, we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all that trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, just throw it back in the water.”

He then responded to Ron’s (the white guy) invitation to be his friend: “So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: If you is fishin for a friend you just gon’ catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend.”

Wow! What a statement! It really got me thinking that you can do good things for the poor, but if you really want to see the world through Jesus’ eyes you need to invest and be in relationships with the poor. Otherwise, you’re just catch’n and release’n people.

There’s a really great C.S. Lewis quote at the end of the book that I wanted to share about the clash between grief and faith. To me, this quote is a an encouraging answer to the age-old question of “why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Take a read (or read it two or three times like I did to make sure it fully sank in.)

“The tortures occur,” he wrote. “If they are unnecessary, then there is no God, or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary for no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.”- C.S. Lewis

To recap:

Worth reading? Yes

Worth buying my own copy? Yes, because you’ll want to lend it to someone (as I will do tomorrow!)

Recommend to friends? Yes, especially those interested in social justice issues and community outreach ministry

Stars: 5 out of 5