Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, 494 pages

  I first read and liked this book as a high school student, and the time finally presented itself for me to reread Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga. Hooray! The Crystal Cave is book one of four (followed by The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day).
  Thirty extra years of my own life between readings of the series brought me a deeper appreciation for the story, so it was worth the reread.
  As an old man, Merlin reflects on his life, narrating his own story beginning when he was six-years-old. The Crystal Cave is about Merlin himself, how he comes to understand who and what he is and what his role in the kingdom will be. The story is full of mystery and great story telling  with not as much magic as one might expect. 
  Book one ends with Arthur’s conception, which, of course, means the story has barely begun. Even as a re-read, I can’t stop here. Onto the next book I go!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, 368 Pages

I had to read All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda after recently reading The Perfect Stranger, also written by Miranda,  last week. I had high expectations because I enjoyed her other novel, and every review I read said that it wasn't even close to being as good as All The Missing Girls. This book did not disappoint. It had me on the edge of my seat, and I actually stayed up last night just so I could finish this one. This is also unique, because the story is told in reverse, so it gets you hooked from the very beginning. 

Nic has returned home to help her brother, Daniel, fix up their childhood home. Their father is in a nursing home, suffering from dementia, so they are forced to put the house they grew up in on the market to pay for his care. Nic left her hometown and started a new life for herself after her best friend, Corinne, went missing when they were in high school and basically everyone around her was a suspect. Shortly after returning to Cooley Ridge, another girl goes missing in very similar circumstances, and Nic finds herself not only caught up in the current investigation, but also trying to cover up secrets from her past. 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, 203 pages

I saw a movie preview for "A Wrinkle in Time" and thought I better read this classic children's book that I missed reading when I was actually a child.

The book begins with the cliche, "It was a dark and stormy night" which made me giggle.  I missed out on a lot of great books when I was a kid because I didn't think I liked science fiction and fantasy.  You live, you learn.

This is book one in a five volume series.  Kids, adventure, space travel and a little magic.  Great fun!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation by David A. DeSilva, 975 pages

  Yes, I read reference and text books when I can make it happen. Do you? If so, you'll probably be happy as I am to explore the library reference shelves.
  This text was written as a resource for Christian pastoral preparation and was used heavily in a seminary class I took. It took me five years or so, but I finally finished reading it in full, hand in hand with simultaneously rereading each book of the New Testament as needed to best understand the content. 
  As with other similar handbooks, this resource examines each New Testament book separately. DeSilva uses the socio-rhetorical interpretation model of exegesis aiming to explore how the words and texts spoke within and to their original contexts. Four chapters precede the examination of each New Testament writing: the New Testament as Pastoral Response; The Environment of Early Christianity-Essential Landmarks; The Cultural and Social World of the Early Church-Purity, Honor, Patronage, and Kinship; and The Four Gospels and the One Jesus-Critical Issues in the Study of the Gospels. Each chapter focusing on a book of the New Testament ends with a section relating the New Testament book to ministry formation. Photos, maps, footnotes, and four indices all add value to this learning resource.
  This textbook has already been and will likely continue to be one solid resource from which I draw as I continue to learn, teach, and serve in various aspects of ministry.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley, 558 pages

  Until I read this book, I wasn’t even aware that I had never spent any time wondering anything at all about Greenland. Now I have.
  Yes, the book contains ice, snow, details about the geography of Greenland, and hardship. It also contains tales about ships with people visiting from the European continent, bringing goods to trade and news from their world. But mostly, the book kept me engrossed in the drama between rival families over the course of a few generations, the escapades of Roman Catholic priests in all their imperfect humanity being transplanted to a foreign land, and the story of a woman who earned a life-sentence of exile because she followed her heart rather than custom.  
    I enjoyed the adventure of reading about people living in 14th Century Greenland. The personalities and actions of Asgeir Gunnarsson and his family and the Catholic priests in-residence were memorable and have come to mind every now and then for the last four months or so since I reached the end of this story.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, 256 Pages

There was SO much talk around this book, so I was extremely anxious to read it... and then extremely disappointed after reading it. This one just didn't do it for me. All of the excitement happens in the first chapter, and then the rest of it is just very dull suspense, without any twists or shocking moments. 

Myriam is a mother of two, who finds her life at home with her children very boring. When the opportunity arises for her to go back to work as a lawyer, she jumps at it, even though her husband isn't 100% on board. They decide against daycare, and start searching for a nanny. They are absolutely thrilled when they hire on Louise; the kids love her and she goes above and beyond for the family. But, they quickly realize that there's just something off about Louise. She loves this family so much and desperately wants them to accept her as one of their own, but also seems to harbor lots of jealousy and hatred toward them. A shocking event verifies the family's worst fears about Louise. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks, 512 pages

  After hearing Gwendolyn Brooks read her poetry in person aloud once in her 72nd year of life, I learned to listen for her voice as I read her poems. Blacks contains a large selection of her work from 1945-1971, poems vividly depicting particular black people with lots of interesting, individual characters in particular settings doing particular things characteristic of themselves . . . like word video portraits. I own this volume and return to it now and then . . . always glad to spend a little time with a former Poet Laureate of my home state of Illinois. Gwendolyn Brooks was an admirable woman of words and remains so beyond her lifetime thanks to her poetry.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda, 337 Pages

The Perfect Stranger was the first book I've ever read by Megan Miranda, and I wasn't disappointed. This was one that I didn't know what the outcome was going to be until the very end, which I really enjoy, because I read so many books in this genre that I've gotten pretty good at guessing what is going to happen next. 

Leah Stevens was a journalist in Boston, when a story that she published blows up in her face. Restraining orders and potential lawsuits ensue, and she is forced to leave the place she calls home. She runs into an old roommate, Emmy, whom she hasn't seen in over 8 years. Emmy suggests that they relocate together, and they quickly find themselves in a small town in Pennsylvania. Leah is settling into her job at a local high school, when a woman is found on the verge of death by the lake near Leah's house. On top of this, Leah's roommate, Emmy, is missing. As everyone in town tries to figure out what happened, Leah tries to find Emmy, and she begins to question who she was living with. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins, 386 Pages

I'm torn on how I felt about this one, honestly. I really loved The Girl on the Train, so I had extremely high expectations.. and unfortunately, this just fell flat. I think what bothered me so much about it was that it had so many different characters, and the story flips back and forth between each one, so it was hard for me to follow and keep track of who is who. 

Nel Abbot was found dead in the river near her home, which has been the setting of similar deaths, including that of her daughter's best friend, Katie. Nel grew up obsessed over the information about these deaths that took place in this body of water, referred to as the "Drowning Pool". Nel leaves behind a teen-aged daughter and a sister, whom she hadn't spoke to in years. Secrets start to unravel, and everyone realizes that there may be more to these deaths than what was originally seen. 

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman, 304 Pages

This is an absolutely hilarious tale of the politics that come with being a "class mom". If you are like me, and are currently drowning in PTA meetings, carpool lines and elementary holiday parties... READ THIS BOOK AND FIND THE HUMOR IN IT ALL! 

Jen Dixon is a mother of three- she has two daughters in college and one son in kindergarten. She reluctantly signs up to be the class mom for her son's class after some persuasion from her best friend, who happens to be the head of the PTA. None of the other parents seem to understand, or appreciate, her snarky sense of humor and seemingly do everything in their power to make her job more difficult than it already is. Throw in a nutty teacher, a huge age gap between Jen and the rest of the parents, and an old high school flame, and you've got plenty of drama and laughs to keep you entertained. 

John Adams by David McCullough, 751 pages

  This story was a journey for me, having read more than three-quarters of it before accidentally leaving it behind in a waiting room, losing it, and then mourning my lack of closure with the Adams family on and off for a few years before excitedly finding the book in audio form on our library shelves.
  Political biographies don't typically appeal to me, but I decided to give this one a chance because the piece was set in the context of a family and included people critical to the birth and early years of our nation.
  While John Adams was the first U.S. Vice President, second President, and father of a U.S. President, his service to our country included much more. John (I feel as though I can call him by his first name after all the time I spent with him) was an imperfect farmer, husband, father, neighbor, and scholar who felt a great deal of moral responsibility for his community and the people who lived in the colonies/new nation. His sense of moral responsibility was so strong that he couldn’t bring himself to not use what skills he had whenever called upon; and he was called upon . . . again and again and again. He was a servant who sacrificed personal gain, pleasure, and even well-being for most of his life for the common good. Everyone who lives in the U.S. today benefits because of his service.
 Right next to him was Abigail who was just as wise, kind, hard-working and giving to the point of personal poverty.
  This is the story of Abigail and John together and individually, their families, life, minds, and love. The book is pieced together from their private letters to each other and from other documentation of the time. I’m glad to have learned through the extensive research and writing of David MCullough, and I’m glad to have finally made it to the memorable closure of the book.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, 260 pages

When the story begins, A.J. Fikry is a 39-year old curmudgeonly widower and book store owner.  This book is one of my nerdy librarian subgenre favorites: books about books.  It also has hope and likeable characters.

Double Bonus:  I listened to this book and it was read by one of my favorite readers, Scott Brick.  (sigh of satisfaction.)

To sum up, here is a longish quote from the book: "Why is any one book different from any other books? . . . We have to look inside many. . . We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again."  Thank you, Ms. Zevin for the exhilaration.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 336 pages

  I can’t say I’ve read any story quite like this one, and I loved it!
  Well, actually I listened to it on CD, narrated by a talented young reader whose voice, energy, and emotion fit perfectly with the story she was telling. Aside from the recording, the words themselves were a pleasure to hear, and I’m sure they would be a pleasure to read.
  This is a coming-of-age novel for the main character and for the Southern U.S. during the Civil Rights era. Lily Owens, a South Carolina white girl raised by her angry peach farmer father turns 14 in 1964. Rosaleen, the black housekeeper who raised her, determinedly sets out to register to vote in their small town. And the next thing you know, the two find themselves a few hours away, with a different family and circle of friends, on a beekeeping farm with a new cast of vivid characters in their lives. Lily’s own past is a mystery to her, a mystery that becomes clearer as she matures in the pages of this book through turmoil, adventure, celebration, injustice, daily life, love, and work.
  Enjoying a good story with likable characters was no surprise to me, but who knew I’d be just as interested to learn about bees? Since finishing the book, I’ve found myself thinking about becoming a beekeeper multiple times. I savor honey more as well. Mmm.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Generations of Winter by Vasily Aksyono (translated by John Glad and Christopher Morris), 592 pages

  Bound by love, blood, and years together, Gradov family members spanning three generations approach life individually in the midst of their socialist society. I was glad to get to know each person in this fictional, well-educated family whose best days center around the Gradov home in the Silver Forest on the outskirts of Moscow. With different fields of expertise and competing ideologies, each character faces the upheaval, purges, punishment, and war in different geographical places throughout the nation that was the Soviet Union from 1925-1945.
  I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a fan of Russian literature or history. Both are often a challenge to read with hard-to-face realities, but I’ve been glad to have read every bit of Russian literature that I’ve pushed on through. It fascinates me. This book is no exception.
  Multiple reviewers compare this novel to War and Peace; I see that the narrative styles of the two books could be compared. If you’ve read War and Peace, though, you’ll be getting an entirely different experience with Generations of Winter. This book covers a different historical period, hinges on close family relationships rather than on people from different segments of society, and incorporates a positive tone in spite of historically accurate, harsh, and even unsurvivable situations. Most Russian literature I’ve encountered presents a crumbling of personhood or a struggle to survive; this novel, however, shows how people live.
  It was worth the time to read and is a novel I would hold onto for another day if it were my own.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers 416 pages

Think National Treasure, add in some 39 Clues and you get Inherit Midnight. The main character Avery is on an adventure solving puzzles and riddles trying to solve her grandmother's clues. Avery's grandmother is very wealthy but also sick. Instead of naming a heir, members of the family must travel the world learning about their family history. This is a nominee for the Gateway Readers' Award and a great read for young adults. 

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, 434 pages

  Imagine you’re a women in the Midwest U.S. in 1875. Every woman is pretty much a second class citizen, but you are an unacceptable sort, even further outside the realm of power over your own life than most. Say you’re an unmarried woman with children, or a woman with mental illness committed to an asylum, or a prisoner, or an immigrant with a heavy accent, or you just have wild notions in your head. Regardless, your present is so challenging that your future appears hopeless. And then, you’re told that, if you like, you may be part of a program supported by President Grant. Only if you want, you may get a free pass out of whatever hard situation you find yourself in. You are given the opportunity to travel with other women, each one who has accepted the offer to permanently join with a nomadic Indian tribe that you've only heard to be savages, marry an Indian, birth, and raise a family as an Indian wife.
  Such is the premise of this book. May Dodd sets out as a participant in the Brides for Indians Program, never again to see her parents, siblings, lover, or children she’s leaving behind in Chicago where she was raised and educated. She has no idea what to expect from a new life in the wilderness with the Cheyenne people, but she knows she is expected to help assimilate the tribe into the white man’s world.
  I liked May, the women who became her companions, and the Cheyenne people in this book. I rooted for the women and their new tribe all the way to the end. The book did a good job of pulling me into the world, albeit a fictionalize world, of one Native American Tribe as it struggled to survive foreign invasion of their land and lives.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy, 640 pages

Women played a large role in World War II and many of their stories were never told because they were working on top secret projects.  The title of this book, Code Girls, says it all.  This is the story of the women who helped break and continually re-break the encrypted messages of the Japanese and German armies during World War II.

Seventy plus years after the end of the war and fiction and non-fiction writers have not run out of material yet.  My hope is that those stories continue well into the future. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, 304 pages

  I picked up a recording of this book when I wanted to listen to something in the car and didn’t have time to look through selections on the library shelves. I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to read a celebrity autobiography, but I knew I wanted to listen through to the end of this audiobook from the first few moments.
  The author himself read the story he’d written as a way to work through traumatic childhood experiences that lurked about and sometimes assaulted his adult psyche. As a singer, actor, and performer with a lovely Scottish accent, no one could have read this particular text better. I felt as though I were listening to a friend read a long letter he’d written, and I liked being the recipient of his thoughts as he worked through his memories and kept me up-to-date with what and how he was doing in the present.
  This is not a story of fame. It is a story of a real person making his way in the world, bravely sharing his vulnerabilities to strengthen himself and others. Well done, Alan Cumming. Well done.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Plague Tales by Ann Benson, 474 pages

  The Plague Tales begins in an altered reality of the present. The present situation wouldn't be playing out as it is without a much deeper, past story full of characters. 
  Today’s story involves archaeological research and a sterile lab in which something quickly goes wrong . . . as in potential-bubonic plague-pandemic-wrong. 
  The past story about a 14th Century Jewish physician who pushed beyond culturally accepted boundaries of medical discovery kept me reading. I’m a sucker for books of all kinds set in pre-20th Century Europe. 
  The book wraps up both fast-paced story lines with suitable endings but then tacks on a two-page epilogue that sets up more to come . . . a tactic that irritates me. I see online that two more books have followed. If I ever get beyond being annoyed by the epilogue, I might read them because I liked the book itself.