What’s On My Nightstand: September 2012

•August 29, 2012 • 4 Comments

What's On Your NightstandWhat’s on my nightstand?  So many books!  My post two months ago was rather ambitious.  Since then I’ve lost my job.  One would think that not having a job would mean more reading, reviewing and blogging but alas: job hunting takes much more time than actually working!  I did manage to finish the Alexander McCall Smith books as well as reading several others.  I ended up spending two weeks out in Washington state visiting grandparents and reading books my Granny recommended.  Two of them in particular I really enjoyed.  The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music and The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.  I am hoping to review both of them as soon as I can get my hands on copies.

I am adding a review book from goodreads: The Time In Between: A Novel. So far I am greatly enjoying it. Set in Morocco before and during World War II Siri has captured my attention.  One of the reasons I am enjoying this books is that Siri is a seamstress.  I enjoy reading books where the characters’ creativity is a big part of the story because it inspires me to be more creative.

This month I am also hoping to pick up something by G. K. Chesterton because that is one of my reading goals for this year that I have been neglecting.

Two Weeks can Wreak Havoc

•August 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

Over a month ago now I lost my job.  At first I thought I would end up reading, reviewing and blogging more but it turns out that job hunting takes more time than having a job.  Not to mention that my computer is old and posting takes forever.  It has been a crazy month.  So far I am finding part time stuff and applying.  I took a two week trip to visit my grandparents who live on an island in the Puget Sound.  It was wonderful but it took a toll on my garden!

Just two weeks of sunshine and rain combined with my absence and there were quite literally weeds taller than me!  Also, somehow morning glories grew over the ENTIRE garden while I was gone.

Fortunately my sunflowers grew ever faster than the weeds.  If you look carefully you can tell that some of the morning glories grew up the sunflowers.  It looks pretty neat.

Cheery!

As I began the weeding process I discovered one of my canteloupes.  I cannot wait until they are ripe!

Harvesting took me two hours!  So many tomatoes and green beans.  The sweet peppers are just starting to come in and once I uncover the lima beans I’ll see where they are at.  This is exciting stuff!  The next step (after much more weeding) is planting the sugar snap peas and spinach and more carrots.  At least the veggies grew along with the weeds.

Grieving God’s Way

•June 28, 2012 • 1 Comment

Margaret Brownley’s 90 day devotional was not what I expected.  Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Lasting Hope and Healing was a provoking enough title for me to choose it from a list.  There is also a Haiku each day written by Diantha Ain.  Brownley breaks up the devotional into four sections: Healing the Grieving Body, Healing the Grieving Soul, Healing the Grieving Heart and Healing the Grieving Spirit.  Each day includes a scripture verse, a page of thoughts, a haiku and the opposite page which is a little more like an article and tended towards application.  I especially appreciated Day 29: The Healing Power of Music.  Brownley quotes German poet Novalis’ saying that “every illness is a musical problem.”

The applications are very practical.  I thought most of the days were very helpful.  There were a few that I did not appreciate but for the most part I found them encouraging.  I will probably keep it as a resource but not give it to others who are in the midst of deep grief.

Day 29’s Haiku was one I particularly enjoyed:

The sound of music

Possesses soothing powers

That mend broken hearts

Day 33 encourages the reader to journal.  Day 34 discusses talking about the person that the reader is missing.  Name dropping is a good thing.  Brownley talks about the gift of memory.

You are my sunshine,

even though you are not here

to brighten my day.

The practical piece of that day includes naming all the pieces of loss big and small, untangling them into separate pieces instead of a tangled knot.

Day 43 talks about grief as an opportunity to stop in the rush of life and realize how beautiful it is.  “Grief magnifies the smallest areas of life, allowing for greater appreciation of friends and family, a broader understanding of life, and a stronger, more enduring faith.

The meaning of life

can be understood only

by accepting death.

At one point Brownley quotes C. S. Lewis which was fun for me to read because my friend Heather and I are reading The Problem of Pain together.

I think this is a helpful resource.  There were some days that I really did not appreciate.  I really liked the application pieces tied in with a haiku and Scripture.  If you want an encouraging resource, this could be the book for you.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for completing a review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion here is my own.

What’s on My Nightstand

•June 26, 2012 • 14 Comments

  This is my first Nightstand post.  I have been noticing this idea for a little while now and finally remembered on the right day!  My friend Heather has been steadily convincing me to join her in these posts.  Since this is my first time posting I won’t give you what I just finished reading.  If you want to know what I read in the last 5-6 weeks check out my What I Read this Month posts parts one and two.  I have banned myself from the library until I read some of these books.  I have a stack on my nightstand, in a basket next to my wonderfully comfortable reading chair, and pretty much all over the house.

Review Copies:

A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity by R. C. Sproul: Since there are so many books about heaven circulating right now I thought it would be nice to read a theological book on heaven.

Grant Me Wisdom by Matthew Henry: This one is for the book distribution company that rents space from the organization I work for.  It’s a devotional based on Matthew Henry’s writings.  I’m thinking that it could go either way… I’ll let you know what I think.

From the Library of C. S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey by James Stuart Bell:  Since Heather and I are on a C. S. Lewis reading kick over on our mutual blog, this seemed like a natural choice when I saw it on the book list.  I like history and therefore understanding context so it’ll be fun to get a reading context on one of my favorite authors.

Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Lasting Hope and Healing: I chose this one off a list because I think that someone emotional should review a book like this.  I’m already reading this one.  So far I have mixed feelings.  Some of the practical advice sounds great and there are a few days that really bugged me theologically.  It’s set up as a devotional which is an interesting way to approach grief in a book: in small daily snippets.

Help for the Fractured Soul: Experiencing Healing and Deliverance from Deep Trauma by Candace Roberts: This one seemed to have more of a counseling approach which is a field I’m interested in.

Love Your Enemies (A History of the Tradition and Interpretation of Its Uses): Jesus’ Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis by John Piper: I enjoy reading Piper and am excited about this new one!

Fiction:

I am going to read some Alexander McCall Smith this month.  I am caught up on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series as well as the Sunday Philosophy Club series.  Now I plan to read the 44 Scotland Street series.  I will hopefully read at least the first 5 in July.

  1.  44 Scotland Street
  2. Espresso Tales
  3. Love Over Scotland
  4. The World According to Bertie
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones

For Carrie’s Narnia Reading Challenge I’m planning to read at least two of the series as well as the James Stuart Bell book.

Nonfiction:

I would like to finish Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose.

I would also like to read Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown.  These are both recommendations from my Dad who is an equally avid reader.

Alright, there’s my first attempt.  We’ll see how I do.

No Greater Love by Levi Benkert

•June 25, 2012 • 2 Comments

Levi Benkert and Candy Chand’s No Greater Love is the story of one man and his family who radically uprooted their life and moved across the world out of love for children.  Levi was doing well in real estate but when the housing crash hit, his business was spiraling down.  He was agonizing over what to do and strategies to come up with when a good friend called and asked him to fly to Ethiopia to help rescue a group of children who had been labeled as a curse by their tribe and were going to be killed.  A group of photographers had discovered this practice and managed to rescue nine children.  After deliberation and his wife Jessie’s support Levi used his emergency fund and flew over to Ethiopia to aid this effort.   The plight of these children weighed on his heart and when he flew back home he and his wife made the decision to move their family (three children at the time) over to care for these kids and find them a home.  Their story is moving and inspiring.  Ultimately, the state and other organizations stepped in to aid this rescue and the Benkert’s relationship with the tribe deteriorated.  The Benkerts ended up doing other work with Ethiopian orphans.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  One the one hand, I respect Levi and Jessie’s willingness to literally sell everything and move in answer to a call.  Their tenacity is remarkable.  On the other hand they made a completely life altering decision very quickly.  Levi mentioned in the beginning of the book that they were believers but did not regularly attend church.  It is surprising that a church funded them to go over to Ethiopia without them having a commitment to a local church.  There was high emphasis on the good that they achieved as well as the lifestyle they were in before they went.  It is certainly a remarkable story but it seemed to just skim the surface.  I would like to learn more about them and their ministry.  I appreciated the honesty about struggles but it was too short!  I think their story has more potential.

I learned more about adoption.  I share Levi and Jessie’s horror at those who use it as an opportunity to make money.  It was surprisingly difficult for them to navigate.  Side note: it is a messed up world when adopting children who need a home is that hard!  I definitely want to read more about international adoption.

All things considered it was a good read.  It was easy to read quickly.  It is not one that I am going to give away or recommend with flying colors.  I had a couple of concerns with the book.  I did appreciate the opportunity to read and review it!  (I’ve received this complimentary book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

What I Read This Month: Part 2

•June 22, 2012 • 6 Comments

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story is a really difficult book to review.  The basic plot surrounds an old woman, Lil who works in a bookstore but really is a banished fairy godmother.  The reader spends much of the book wondering what did/will happen to Cinderella and if Lil can earn her way back into the fairy kingdom.  Right now I can’t decide if this is the best book I have read in a while or the most distressing.  I cannot really explain the dilemma to you because it would ruin the story!  I do want to add a word of “caution.”  I really enjoyed the book.  I loved all the book nerdiness and relationships.  It is not as lighthearted as the cover, back of the book, and first half of the story would lead you to believe… at least I didn’t think so.  I appreciated what Carolyn Turgeon did… I mean it has been three and a half weeks since I read it and I am still thinking about it.  Here’s the deal: you should read it, and then message me.  I am dying for people to discuss this book with but I will not ruin it.

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale is another Carolyn Turgeon book.  I really enjoyed this story at first.  I have a problem with it though.  It was really inappropriate.  It looks like a young adult book but is incredibly inappropriate.  The premise was fun the story was certainly compelling but for me I just cannot recommend it.  One or two “scenes” I can skip, read around and generally get over their presence.  This was just too much.  It wasn’t incredibly graphic, it was just too much.  Now that my disclaimer is out of the way, I did enjoy the story lines.  One character I found somewhat despicable but I did enjoy Princess Margrethe and Princess Lenia’s stories.  The conflict going on and both princess’ role in the future of the kingdom could have made a neat story but even that plot is pretty messed up.  I don’t recommend this one.

Crime and Punishment  is one that had been on my to-read list for a long time.  In college I became fascinated by Russian music and Russian history.  I would really like to study the Russian language.  Then I started reading Tolstoy and loved it.  I fully expected to read Dostoyevsky and love his writing too but I didn’t.  It is the whole premise of the book that frustrates me.  Young Raskolnikov is a member of the poor elite and thinks that he is above the moral law.  In order to test his theory he commits murder.  This is in the first several chapters of the book and the story is of the aftermath.  Varying relationships get more complicated and are connected to the murder somehow.  It seemed like the story and characters were devised to prove a point instead of learning throw the actions and thoughts of the characters.

The Gift of Asher Lev is the fourth book about Asher Lev.  I don’t really want to give you any specifics about this book because if you haven’t read the other three I might ruin the story!  If you haven’t read Chaim Potok you should put these on your to-read SOON list.  By “soon” I really mean now.  Yes, that’s how awesome they are.  Out of all the books in this post go for Chaim Potok first.  One of the ways I know something is a good book is when it leaves me curious and wanting to do research.  Chaim Potok always leaves me feeling like I know so little about the Jewish community: in history and today and wanting to know more.  Another thing I really love about his books is how deeply he interacts with art.   Are you convinced?

Almost a Woman was not what I expected.  I think I am learning that as a general rule coming of age stories are not my favorite.  Esmerelda Santiago’s writing was great.  I feel somewhat compelled to read more of her story simply because I like her writing.  It definitely had it’s share of “scenes” or “near scenes” in it.  No thank you.  The generational break down of relationship was heart breaking.  Young Esmerelda’s realization that while marriage was expected and demanded of her and her sisters, neither her mother nor grandmother (and many aunts and cousins) were ever married.  The same sort of arguing she engaged in with her mother, Esmerelda’s mother was caught in with her grandmother.  I think I would have enjoyed the book more if the emphasis had been on the immigrant experience and less on the coming of age awkwardness.  Great writing but I am afraid I can’t recommend it.

The Next Full Moon is another Carolyn Turgeon.  Another coming of age story, this one is about a Swan Maiden.  I loved it.  The way it ended definitely left room for a sequel and I really hope this one is coming.  I appreciated that Turgeon dealt with Ava’s increasing interest in boys without any of the inappropriateness that was displayed in Mermaid.  Since this book is definitely a young adult book I am happy to say that I think it is certainly appropriate.  It is a fun take on coming of age… I can imagine a young girl reading it and thinking “well, this is an awkward age but at least I’m not suddenly growing feathers!”  Yes, you read that right.  Life is difficult but somewhat “normal” until Ava realizes she is growing feathers.  This was a really fun and fast read.

Talisman Ring is by Georgette Heyer, so it’s a pretty safe bet that I liked it.  This is one of Heyer’s more complex plots, using her typical two types of heroes and two types of heroines.  What really cracks me up is that Sarah and Eustacie can be identified as which by their names!  Sarah is the more practical and sensible female while Eustacie loves terrifying those she interacts with by stories of what could have happened to her if she had remained in France during the revolution.  She is in love with romance and is disappointed that her life is so boring.  The book opens with her Grandpere arranging a marriage of convenience to provide for her after his death with his nephew, Tristram.  Tristram, the older commanding hero whose heart has previously been broken is startled by Eustacie’s disappointment that he is “suitable.”  Ludovic enters the story later and Eustacie is entranced by his “romantic” story.  Did Ludovic really commit murder?  If he didn’t, who did?  Is the foppish Beau all that he seems?  Most importantly who is in possession of the talisman ring?

Portugal’s Golden Years: The Life and Times of Prince Henry “The Navigator” was somewhat disappointing.  It did serve to make me want to research Prince Henry “the Navigator” but did not come across as solid history.  There were too many grand claims such as “for the first time in history…”  It was interesting but the language was a little to free for my comfort.  That said, I am much more interested in both Portugese history and the crusades after reading it so in that sense it was a good read.  If the reader is willing to work around some pretty sweeping language it does provide an interesting introduction to the topic.  I will be posting a fuller review later.

George Washington Carver has always fascinated me.  As a child after I studied him I begged my mother for a “nature notebook” to make observations in.  This was a short little biography: approximately 150 pages that leaves me wanting to read much much more.  As a quick reference or introduction I thought that John Perry did a great job.  Carver’s ingenuity amazed me again and left me itching to work with my own seeds and plants more often.  I want to track down his authorized biography and hope to learn much more about it.  It is refreshing to return to a figure who captivated me as a child and be captivated again.  The accounts of Carver’s presentations were fascinating and made me wish I could have been there as he pulled out use after use for the peanut and sweet potato.  I have sweet potatoes planted in my garden and for some reason after reading this I cannot wait to start cooking with them.  Maybe I should plant some more.

No Greater Love is another review copy I thoroughly enjoyed.  Levi Benkert’s story is startling.  In some ways it seems crazy.  Believers who weren’t currently in church fellowship suddenly changing their lifestyle?  It is easy to understand why these children made their way into their hearts though.  The adoption piece was beautiful and heartbreaking.  I’m not sure I would recommend the speed at which the Benkert’s made these decisions however I cannot deny that they were effective in Ethiopia.   The plight of orphans that Levi describes is heartbreaking.  I was feeling pretty convicted, especially at the point where Levi details how they sold almost all that they had to fund their plane tickets.  Somehow it did seem that though he was up front about difficulty, the depth of pain did not quite come through.  It was a good read but does not qualify as one of those books I am constantly giving away.

I did not include the four review copies I have already posted about: Wildflowers from Winter, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, Stress Point and A Touch of America.  The titles are linked to my reviews of them.

Spring Reading Thing Finished!

•June 21, 2012 • 10 Comments

Spring has ended and with it my time for the Spring Reading Thing Challenge.  Of course I began with lofty goals and by some definition fell short.  I was hoping to be more deliberate and focused in my reading, and in many ways that happened.  I did  complete all the review copies I originally listed, and then some!  That was the only category that I finished.

 

 

Review Copies:

A Woman’s Call to Prayer

Where Lilacs Still Bloom

A Touch of America

Stress Point: Thriving Through Your Twenties in a Decade of Drama

Wildflowers from Winter

Portugal’s Golden Years: The Life and Times of Prince Henry “the Navigator”

In the fiction category I finished three out of four.  I am the most proud of finishing Crime and Punishment.  I have attempted many times before but this time I actually read the whole book.  I did not like it very much.  I fully expected to love it  but found it frustrating.  It was the whole philosophical experiment element that got me: I just don’t appreciate it.  My apologies to all the Dostoyevsky fans out there.

The Gift Of Asher Lev was a fascinating return to Chaim Potok.  I have enjoyed the other books by him about Asher Lev.  I did like this one, just not as much as the other three.  I like younger Asher better.  Chaim Potok always manages to make me want to read more about Judaism in America.  My Dad introduced me to these books and I’m glad I finally read them.

I can’t say enough in praise of Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards by Robert Olen Butler.  I LOVED those stories.  They were not all happy but they were all good.  I cannot get over this idea… there are real postcards and news articles and Butler takes those and comes up with a whole scenario.  Read it: you won’t regret it.

I also finished Russka: The Novel of Russia and The Mysterious Benedict Society Collection trilogy.  I am pretty happy to have discovered the Benedict books.  They will go on my shelf of re-reading frequently along with Harry Potter, Eragon, Stephen Lawhead and the Peterson brothers for when I feel the need for an adventure in another world.  Russka was ok but I think I’ve had my fill of the epic, sweeping, time saga genre for a while.

The non fiction category is the one that got me.  I only finished Almost a Womanby Esmerelda Santiago.  I didn’t really love it but for some reason am compelled to find her other books.  I did really enjoy her writing but there were too many unnecessary “near scenes” for me.  I want to know what happens to this girl but I am pretty sure I don’t want to wade through all the inappropriate behavior to find out.  I started several other books in this category but I haven’t finished them yet.

So 11 out of 19 books is what I finished.  That’s not terrible, right?  Especially when you consider how many other books I read during that time.  I primarily blame Mrs. Pollifax.  A friend lent me the first two and I immediately used my birthday money to track down most of the series on amazon.  I read ELEVEN of them.  I also got distracted by Carolyn Turgeon and more review copies.  I don’t regret those discoveries.  Next time I want to leave room for discovering new books.

Choosing a favorite book is a little hard.  I think I have to go with Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards although Where Lilacs Still Bloom: A Novelis also a contender.  If I am including books that I did not originally set out as a goal for this challenge it would be The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax for sure.

Thanks to Callapidder Days for hosting this challenge!  I cannot wait until the Fall Into Reading one.  I am already determined to meet my goals for that one.  It has been really fun to see what other people read.