Thursday, July 27, 2006

 

Book 40: The Seville Communion


another by one of my favorite authors, arturo perez-reverte. they are always mysterious dramas that take place in europe, however usually spain, amid art, literature, history, or the like. this one followed father lorenzo quart, a priest from rome, to seville to investigate mysterious deaths around our lady of the tears church. these aren't typical mysteries with detectives and motives and such, but stories about people holding onto the past with both hands, unable to stop what's happening to them. bankers want to demolish the church, yet several people are unwilling to let go. among them is the beautiful macarena, daughter of one of the oldest family's of spain's aristocracy. she lost her heart to the ancient church when she was a young girl, reading love letters a great aunt sent to a penniless sailor. an american nun, gris marsala fights to save the church as well. she is running from a life that she feels she wasted, and the restoration of this church gives her meaning and purpose. an old country priest, father ferraro, shepherds the unlikely parishoners and refuses to give into rome or "progress." quart comes back to spain haunted by his own ghosts to figure out the entire mess and along the way he loses a little bit of himself to the old church, and to macarena. i liked this book, as i like all of perez-reverte's. he writes about interesting places in such a way that you feel as if you belong. i imagined myself strolling through the santa cruz district of seville in the hot sun, enjoying the cafes and orange blossoms. there is a certain sadness in his characters that i find appealing, maybe because i like tragedy. there is also some ambiguity that can be refreshing and frustrating at the same time. there aren't good guys and bad guys in his books, nor are there clear cut happy endings. maybe as a european, he realizes that events and life seldom wrap up neatly. rather there is good and bad in everyone and everything, and all we can do is go on. i recommend this book, as well as all others by him.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

 

Book 39: Five Minute Mysteries For You To Solve


Okay, i love mysteries, as you know. so i started this book last week and finished it today. each one is two to four pages of some caper, and then it gives you some kind of question...such as "what tipped off detective maylard that the skipper wasn't all he appeared?" and then there are the answers in the back. i might enjoy reading detective novels, but i am the world's worst detective. that's all there is to it.

 

Book 38: Singled Out For Him


so i kind of rolled my eyes when my project director pulled out this book for we staff women to read this summer, but i actually enjoyed it. we were all single this summer, with the exception of one couple, and so this seemed an appropriate book. as a group we only discussed several chapters, but i finished the rest in about five minutes. nancy leigh demoss writes about the challenges and joys of singlehood and how to best use them for god's glory. as a single woman who works for a large missionary organization, i kind of get tired of talking about being single. especially since i work with college students and reassure them that the right man will come and i'm not really a total freak due to the fact that i'm 27 and single. well, i might have to amend that because i am rather odd, but it can make me roll my eyes at times. anyhoo, i liked this book because it was a super easy read, and she made some good points. one of her chapters was about being committed to relating to families. sometimes i think i do all too easily isolate myself from people who are not in my stage of life. another was about giving extravagantly because i do have more time than a wife or mom, one was about trusting god with unfulfilled longings. we have those no matter who we are. so this was good, and like i said, could be read in about 15 minutes.

 

Book 37: Graveyard Dust


again, a mystery. as i look at the books i've read this year, i guess i should start on some more useful, or heavy things. but i really like to read in order to escape, so i like these kinds. this is the third in a series i discovered last fall. benjamin january is our hero, and he's a free colored man in old new orleans. having been born a slave, he was freed when a frenchman bought his mother and her children and made her his mistress. in these novels one enters the complex social system of the creoles, free coloreds, and slaves of lousiana. i have learned that free blacks had an entire system and nowhere else in america, and it's pretty fascinating. in this installment, olympe, january's sister who is a practioner of voodoo, has been arrested for poisoning a man. so january, surgeon and musician, sets out to find the true killer. along the way his life is threatened several times, we meet the queen of voodoo in new orleans as well as other colorful characters and dodge bronze john, as yellow fever was called.

this wasn't as good as the other two i've read, but i like the world barbara hambly creates. i might have mentioned this earlier, but we tend to romanticize the past and think that living in the old south, or any other time, might have been better and/or more exciting now. but that's not true. hambly accurately recreates the world of new orleans in the 1830s complete with the danger and dirtiness of life back then. january is three-quarters black and he is a free man, and yet he fears for his life every time he leaves his house, particularly when he leaves frenchtown (with the safety of colored society) for the rougher and less couth american side. he is thrown in jail, attacked and beaten quite often, all because he is not white. even though he is free, he was almost captured to be sold to cotton plantations up north in mississippi. i don't think that i have or ever will feel the fear he did, me being a white american, unless maybe i move to saudi arabia or iran. i am not saying that i know how it feels to be in a minority as a result of reading these fictitious stories, but i do think hambly gives the reader a rare opportunity to enter a completely foreign world and empathize with a character who's only sin is being black. i would recommend these books.

Friday, July 21, 2006

 

#37: When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy


John Piper wrote an excellent book when he wrote When I Don't Desire God. It has taken me about 2 months to read it, and it has been a very rewarding experience. Piper starts the book by arguing that finding joy in the Lord is a battle that we must fight our whole lives. Then he goes on to give very clear battle tactics in our fight for joy. I really appreciated the practical advice and biblical wisdom that Piper had to offer throughout the whole book. Having been a Christian for years, Piper has had a great deal of experience in his walk with the Lord. He has learned what helps him connect with God the best and what brings him satisfaction. Piper's platform in much of what he write is that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This book encouraged me to seek to be even more satisfied with God everyday. The thing I appreciated the most about the book was Piper's clear reliance on God and the Holy Spirit to bring him that satisfaction. While he give great advice, he never once claims that man can do it on his own. This was probably the best book I've read this year and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

 

#36: The Kite Runner


I loved The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. When I started reading it yesterday I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to really get into it or not. I can't say that I was all too intrigued but I heard it was a good book. Not only was it a good book, it was excellent. I could not put the book down. Hosseini tells the story of a young boy's coming of age in Afghanistan. The story starts out at the end of Afghanistan's monarchy and ends in present times. He addresses the topics of family, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, pain, fear, and violence in Afghanistan in this beautifully written story. This book is definitely one of the top 5 books I've read this year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

 

Book 36: The Perfect Summer


Hm, it actually turned out to be the not so perfect summer, in my opinion. this was the first time i've read a book by Luanne Rice. It was not bad. a friend gave this to me to read on the beach. yesterday i spent long hours at the pool and read three-fourths of this book. it's not what i would usually read, but it was a pleasant read and went quickly. the story is about people who grew up on the coast of connecticut and are beach people. Bay (what a silly name) is a mother of three and wife of handsome playboy banker. oh, they're all of irish descent, so there's an awful lot of pride in irish working class roots among these folks. a bit too much, if you ask me, which, by reading this, you are. anyhoo, sean goes missing, which leads bay to discover that he wasn't changing his ways as he said he would. in fact, he was quite a lot worse, a total cad, even. through the course of an fbi investigation, bay is reunited with an old flame, danny, who is a carpenter poet. see above comment on too much about sentimental irish-ness. i won't tell you what happens, but i was intrigued and pleasantly surprised by the mystery aspect of the book. i do like a good mystery. again, this was quite a pleasant book, very easy to read, perfect for summer. so maybe the title wasn't completely off.

i did like that it was about beach people. after almost eight weeks in wildwood, new jersey, i am back at home with my parents outside philadelphia. i love being near the water, going to the beach and looking out across the great emptiness that is the sea. i like the smell of the sea air, eating fresh seafood and generally the summertime. it makes me think i should work harder at trying to move to the coast. northeast ohio, in comparison, is pretty awful. i am watching "master and commander" as i write this review, and that makes me want to be near the ocean and travel on it as well. i love the idea of sailing to the end of the world and into the unknown, looking for exotic places, new people and adventure. that must be why my favorite narnia book is "voyage of the dawn treader." hm, these poetic musings have very little to do with the book, except that the beach makes me think on such things.

 

Book 35: I'm a Stranger Here Myself


oh my word, another hilarious triumph from my new favorite author, bill bryson. this is book number four by him this year, and i still have two more in my possession to go. this one is a collection of newspaper columns he wrote for some british paper in the year or two after he moved back to america. he comments on everything, from post offices to winter sports to why no one in america walks anywhere. he does all of this, of course, with great depth of insight, razor sharp wit and dry sense of humor. because of its short chapters i found it quite easy to read, and probably more so than his others. it went very quickly and of course, i recommend this book. my favorite part is the article entitled "fun in the snow" where he describes receiving skis one childhood christmas. one can only imagine the hilarity that might ensue, and i literally laughed uncontrollably for about five minutes. indeed just thinking about that exploit of his makes me giggle even now. i just so enjoy bill, and i think not only is he amusing but also insightful and honest in his comments about, in this case, the differences between america and great britain. and i gather from this book that he has a son around my age. i wonder if he's single, and as wildly hilarious as his father. bill, if you or your son should happen to read this, by all means post a comment letting me know my chances. i'm pretty fun.

 

#35: The Alchemist


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho tells a story of a boy named Santiago and his journey to follow his dream. After dreaming of finding a treasure near the pyramids, he gives up the life of a shepard boy in Spain to literally follow his dream of finding that treasure. Along the way Satiago meets many people and learns more than he ever could have imagined about the world. He is challenged to follow omens and trust his heart by many of the people he encounters along the way. In the end of the story it is an Alchemist who helps him discover how to complete his journey and offers support and wisdom to never give up on his dream. Coelho, a Brazilian author, tells a beautiful and mystical story with positive message about following dreams. It was enjoyable to read and I can understand how it became an international bestseller.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

 

Book 34: The Discarded Image


I chose to read this book because it's by cs lewis and about literature. i love literature, particularly of the medieval and renaissance period. lewis simply wrote down his lectures on an introduction to said literature. this was an okay book. it was very heavy and perhaps a bit out of my league. one thing that made it difficult was that most of the literature he referenced i had not read. he did leave us, however, with a thought-provoking statement about the purpose of writing, one which connected with my heart. i did forget my book in my room, so i can't actually tell you what that was. maybe later i'll do some editing.

Friday, July 07, 2006

 

#34: Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them

I really enjoyed reading this book by John Ortberg about community. It was an interesting book that challenges the reader to look past the weirdness in others and engage in authentic community. As I was reading this book I was reminded of a time a few years ago when I told my mom that I thought everyone was weird. And she said she was so proud of me for figuring that truth out at such a young age. Now a few years ago, my attitude was that yes everyone is weird but some are weirder than others and maybe I should just ignore those people. Hopefully, by the power of the Spirit, I have grown, if only a little, in this area. I know that deep down I want to love everyone including the "weirdest" people, but the reality is I have a hard time doing it. What I appreciated about this book though was the practical advice on how to do this and the key elements Ortberg identifies in a healthy, supportive and growing community. His chapters highlight authenticity, acceptance, empathy, conflict, forgiveness, confrontation, inclusion, and gratitude.

My favorite part of the whole book was the chapter on conflict. Ortberg introduced an excellent rule called the "Last 10 Percent Rule." The premise behind it is that after going through the hard work of setting up a difficult conversation we often fail to clearly say the last 10 percent. When clarity is need most vagueness often prevails. His challenge is to say the last 10 percent. He doesn't mean we should just rail on everybody that bothers us but in loving confrontation we must be careful not to get fuzzy when truth is most important. What a challenging but vitally important concept for any type of community.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

 

Book 33: The Lost Continent


Yet another book by my new favorite author, bill bryson. i have now read three. and i received two more as gifts that i must read. actually, i think i need to take a break from these books. i am still thoroughly enjoying travel books and his rapacious wit, however how different are they really? he travels to lots of small towns and makes fun of the people there while giving us interesting factoids about said towns. in this volume he is traveling around america, starting in his home state of iowa and taking us with him on his adventures. i enjoyed this book. the one about australia is my favorite so far, but this is a close second. since he is writing about america and some places i've actually been, it made it all the more humorous. rather than continue to describe the book, i'll let him tell you what he thinks about the lost continent.

while watching tv somewhere in the south: "the preparation-h commercial vanished and was replaced by a clapping audience, the perky sound of steel guitars and happy but mildly brain-damaged people in sequined outfits. this was 'grand ole opry.'" and from looking at the evangelical road signs littered beneath the mason-dixon line: "I particularly fancied having the bryson city church of christ sign beside my front gate in england and being able to put up different messages every week like REPENT NOW, LIMEYS."

about washington dc and all the government stuff: "Across the street there is a permanent settlement of disaffected people and crazies, living in cardboard boxes, protesting at the Central Intelligence Agency controlling their thoughts from outer space. (well wouldn't you?)"

and on the curiosity of having columbus as a national hero, with columbus day and all that: "if you ask me, the Vikings would make far more worthy heroes for america. for one thing, they did actually discover it. on top of that, the vikings were manly and drank out of skulls and didn't take any crap from anybody. now that's the american way."
so there are some tidbits. highly recommend to anyone.

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