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Tag Archives: book reviews

Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Winter 2018-19)

I was feeling very stressed during the last few months of 2018.  I don’t do well with rush, pressure, deadlines, and then trying to enjoy the holidays on top of it all.  Looking back over my year, I can tell there were areas where I wanted become more organized and less of a workaholic and so I determined my New Year’s resolution would be to learn to breathe.  These two books were the beginning of my foray into learning to live more intentionally… 

Rhythms of Rest, by Shelly Miller~ I do not feel like I do Sunday well.  I’m not sure where I go wrong, but I thought perhaps relearning what the Sabbath is all about and building upon those spiritual roots were the way to go.  There were dozens of books I could have chosen to read on this subject, but this was the one I started with.  I found Shelly’s voice very soothing and gentle, with a lovely poetic turn to it.  She definitely put forth a convincing perspective on spending slow, fun time with God.  I also enjoyed reading about her family’s journey toward their calling to move to England.  I could relate to some of her trials and it gave the book a type of plot instead of being completely a how-to book.  One thing I wish the author would have discussed more in depth, instead of waiting until the very last chapter, was about how Christ is our Sabbath rest every day of the believer’s life, not just on Sundays (although, it is a holy day set apart as special).  But after I finished the book, I went online to subscribe to her email newsletter called Sabbath Society because I could use a little present of encouragement in this direction now and then. 

Slow, by Brooke McAlary~ This book was just sitting out on the New Arrival shelf at our library and it was calling my name.  I took it home with me and have been slowly reading it since the beginning of the year.  It’s a delightful read.  The author has a great sense of humor imparting little bits of wisdom she’s learned over the years that make her life full of what really matters and less filled with stressed.  Since her years of struggling with deep depression, Brooke has developed a more flexible way of living that includes what she calls ‘wobbly balance’ (my favorite chapter!).  She started by writing out her imaginary eulogy!  From there she took baby steps to live more intentionally.  I took lots of notes!  It was also fun to read during breakfast because it is broken up into short, readable pieces with fun pictures, diagrams and lists.  Her metaphoric word pictures help convey her ideas and they have helped me to relax just a little bit easier and to let go of some of the guilt and perfectionism.  We could all benefit by doing the same, so let this book show you how! 

 

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Book Review: “1984,” by George Orwell

Genre: classic; dystopian; futuristic

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Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.”

My Book Review:  Who hasn’t heard of this classic novel by now?  Of course it’s a must-read, and I had to find out for myself why it is.  I quickly learned that this doesn’t have much to do with how George Orwell predicted the world would be by 1984.  It’s not really futuristic in that sense.  It’s just the year (or, approximate year for no one really knows for certain) that the story takes place in.

This review isn’t going to do the book justice.  Let’s just say it got my inner cogs going page after page!  I wish I had kept a journal of things I came across as interesting, along with my commentary and thoughts but I didn’t have a notebook at the time.  I fairly flew through this.  I will probably want to go back and dissect it even more later.  I recommend an annotated version, commentary, curriculum, or cliff’s notes to go along with reading it.  There’s just so much food for thought!

There were not a few unsettling parts.  I wasn’t prepared for the sex scenes.  There are several, so parents will want to be really cautious if letting highschoolers read this.  The main characters don’t always make moral choices or follow a moral code.  That’s not to say our main character doesn’t try, but at some point any of us may reach a weak spot somewhere.  I disliked the character of Julia.  I found her shallow, worldly, and rather a tramp.  I didn’t really trust her emotionally with Winston.

I felt frustrated with the interruption of Winston’s reading of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a mini-book within the book which was more interesting than it sounds.  Just when it got to the really good part–!  (No spoilers here.)

Naturally after reading the book, I wanted to know more about the author.  Some readers may be surprised to find that George Orwell himself (pen name for Eric Blair) was a socialist.  He distinguished himself from it in the ordinary sense of the word by calling himself a democratic socialist, but all socialist roads lead to socialism in my book.  There are no checks to keep man in balance once you start playing around with it.  I think he began to move more and more toward this conclusion near the end of his life, though he may not have completely turned about.

I could make this a super long review, but I’d recommend reading the book for yourself.  If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this is not it.  The whole tone is tense, gritty, and black and blue.  I came away from it with two thoughts: A) relief that man is too human to be able to hold up a perfectly rigid system such as Big Brother’s; and B) anxiety knowing that man is too human not to try.

The world goes batty:

I would also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Valiant Papers,” by Calvin Miller

Genre: inspirational Christian fiction

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Plot Summary: The angel Valiant has been sent to Muddyscuttle again to guard a person called J.B. Considine.  To be honest, there were tons of other assignments he would have preferred.  For one thing, his charge seems to show no interest in the things of the Lord High Command.  Feeling that a Hittite princess would have been an easier job than this contemporary man, Valiant writes faithful reports back home detailing the frustrations- and even small triumphs- of his daily efforts.  Time is running out… Valiant knows J.B.’s expiration date, but not his final decision.  Will he be able to turn him around before it’s too late?

My Book Review:  I recognized this author’s name in the church library because of a children’s book of poems my sister and I had when growing up.  There were so many great rhymes in When the Aardvark Parked on the Ark and we even dramatized a few on audio.  I highly recommend that book!  I was curious to see what his adult fiction was like.

This book has been compared to Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.  In a sort of way, I can see the similarity of themes on angels writing epistles.  Unfortunately, I think the similarity stops there.  The version I read was published in 1988 and felt very dated.  The pictures felt too childlike for a novel for adults.  I was hoping for some great quotes and deep insight among spiritual things, but didn’t come away with much.  I didn’t always care for Valiant’s shortsighted perspective, but did appreciate that he was portrayed as a created being who had things to learn from humans.

Feeling a little disappointed over this one, but I plan on reading at least one more from this author.  I understand he’s written a few other books of poetry which I have begun collecting because I so enjoyed him as a kid.

I would also recommend…

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Beginnings,” by Steve Stephens

Genre: Christian Inspirational; biblical fiction 

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Plot Summary: Once upon a time, Garden-Maker made the stars and space and time, and spoke earth and light into being.  He formed Man out of the dust of the earth and created a paradise for him to live in and it was perfect.  But then the creature called Shining One grew jealous of the glory of Garden-Maker and enticed Man away from the path of wisdom.  And so begins the epic tale told by an ancient storyteller…   

My Book Review: This series, entitled “The Story Teller” by Steve Stephens, sat on the shelf in our church library for years and they looked intriguing to me.  Finally, I picked up the first one to read and fell in love with the beautiful poem-prose narrative.  They are simple retellings of the Genesis stories, yet the words swirl around in a sort of colorful, magical mosaic.   

Stephens isn’t the first to write imaginative accounts of bible stories, filling in details and elaborating or simplifying finer points here and there.  But I loved his bard-like habit of substituting characters’ names for their signature qualities.  For example, the Creator God is referred to as Garden-Maker and later on in the story as Promise-Keeper.  Noah is Builder, Sarah is Princess and Joseph is Dreamer.  This is also done to place names as well.  Canaan is the Valley of the Apples; Egypt is the Land of the Deltas.  Describing people and places as such gives the familiar Story a fresh take as well as a timeless feel.  But it is still the same. 

I found it wonderful to be reintroduced to these ancients of the faith and most especially, to read of the character of Promise-Keeper who never fails us.  He gave me such encouragement of heart.  If you’re wanting something that will help you understand the heart of God and His Word a little better, this is a great supplement.  It is easy enough for children to understand, and adults will find a deep well of truth to rejoice in.  I truly cannot wait to read the next installment, “Leaders”, followed by “Kingdoms”,  and “Promises”.   

  

If you liked this book, I also recommend… 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Sands of Time,” by Susan May Warren

Genre: Christian fiction; suspense; intrigue; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com]An inexplicable ailment was striking down the children of Russia; in less than forty-eight hours, American medical missionary Sarai Curtiss had watched two young patients slip away, and she feared she might have an epidemic on her hands. Yet how could she help anyone in the middle of a violent coup? The new leadership had demanded all foreigners leave the state–on pain of death. Unwilling to leave her clinic, but unable to combat her enemies alone, Sarai had to join forces with an unlikely ally–Roman Novik, the rebel Cobra Captain who broke her heart. Faced with a corrupt government, a brutal military and the truth of their own deepest feelings, it would be a race against time to save the lives on the line–and an entire country at risk.”

My Book Review: No, this review has nothing to do with a Jake Gyllenhaal action flick.  Gotcha.

I became interested in this three-book series (Mission: Russia) by Susan May Warren a couple of years ago because of the intrigue+romance aspect of it.  I read the first book, “In Sheep’s Clothing” (which you can read review of here) last year but to be honest, I was left wanting.  However, I decided to go ahead and read the second installment since A) it’s more of a standalone novel; B) it looked more interesting.

I’m glad I tried it as I liked it much better than the first. The sequel details the story of Viktor’s (Viktor is Book #1’s hero) friend Roman as he seeks to rescue an old acquaintance (okay, a romantic flame from 10+ years’ past) from a dangerous coup who has it in for her because of her knowledge of secrets they don’t want to get out.  The story was fun, fast, and kept me guessing to the end.  I thought Roman– love that name!– made a better hero than Viktor, but I had to struggle to see what he saw in Sarai.  She was really quite annoying and made me want to slap her sometimes.  I don’t say that often.

It was fun to read something set in another part of the world, and I’ve always had an interest in Russia. Descriptions were great, dialogue was humorous, and the book had the benefit of the author’s experience for having been a missionary there at one point.

Yet at the same time, it also suffered from some of my complaints about the first novel. Even though it is an action story, it just has way too much cheesy mushiness throughout that feels forced and sort of gets in the way of another wise interesting book.  If I had realized sooner that it was a Steeple Hill romance novel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to put it on my TBR to begin with.  But as far as that genre goes, it was probably better than most because of the international intrigue side of things.  I appreciated that it wasn’t a steamy romance, and the characters acted with propriety.  And I don’t know how things go with romance publishers, but it may be that they require authors to have so many romance-checklist additives per page.  ?  Which could explain why it felt cheesy and forced.

The third installment of this series focuses on the other pair I was hoping would come together in the end: Yanna and David.  The plot looks interesting, but I’m outta gas for this genre.  I’ve decided I’m still interested in trying other books by this author, but no more Steeple Hill for me!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “A Flickering Light,” by Jane Kirkpatrick

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Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; romance; coming of age story

Plot Summary: 15 yr. old Jessie dreams of becoming a photographer in the male dominated era of the turn of the century.  Her family are in poor straights leaving her and her sisters to get work wherever they can in the Midwestern city of Winona.  Jessie is fortunate to find employment with the Bauer portrait studio, and as the years go by she learns much about the business, her talent and capabilities, and about forbidden love.

My Book Review: I’d heard good things about the author Jane Kirkpatrick, so I was interested in reading my first book by her. A Flickering Light is the first in a two-book series called “Portraits of the Heart”.

The tale kept me going because I wanted to find out what would happen next, yet at the same time it had a very slow pace. I started to get bored about half way through because not much of anything new was happening by way of the plot.  However, things started tightening up a bit about 2/3 of the way in and my interest picked up.  I really liked how the book was interspersed with vintage photographs which made me wonder if this was based on a true story.

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Mr. Bauer’s Studio in Winona.

It turns out, it is. Jessie is based on Jane Kirkpatrick’s own grandmother and we get to learn much about her as a young girl and what life was like in the early days of photography.  This escalates the appeal of the book even further.  It is interesting to see how photographers were able to accomplish so much without digital technology or even film.  We even get to ‘witness’ historic firsts in the art.

Another thing I appreciated was the taboo nature of the plot. SPOILER: Our character Jessie falls in love with her married employer (many years her senior) and struggles with what she knows is right and wrong.  We don’t often read of this in a Christian novel, and I think it makes for an interesting study. Jessie and Mr. Bauer don’t start out with wrong intentions.  Instead, a series of innocent events leads to a little more and then over a long period of time things turn into a lot more than they’d planned to.  Thankfully, Jessie comes from a good family who loves her and when they come to a realization of the truth they take it upon themselves to intervene. END OF SPOILER.

I am looking forward to reading the sequel (An Absence So Great). I did look up some of the history behind the real characters, but I would advise anyone else not to because it did create a spoiler for me as to what happens in the second book.  If you can be patient with a quiet, slow-moving story, I think you will appreciate this read.

If you enjoyed this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Man from Sing Sing,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: vintage classic

Plot Summary: Reuben Argels is a man with a past behind him and a future ahead of him.  Having been a part of Moran Chamber’s syndicate in America, he turned traitor and was largely responsible for putting that man in prison.  But there is no living the straight and narrow for Argel.  He promptly benefits from his treason and moves on to greener grass, this time to the financial fields of England.  But maybe his old enemy isn’t behind bars like Argels thinks.  And Chambers has many friends who are willing to exact revenge for the man who did him wrong.  What will become of Reuben Argels?  And is Violet– the sweet, sensible woman so ready to help him– really who she says she is?

My Book Review: Continuing making my way through the works of Oppenheim

To be honest, I prefer other EPO novels to this novel of crime syndicate members. The plot sounds intriguing enough, but I got lost among all the stock exchange jargon (dated, and foreign to me).  It did, as EPO stories go, keep me guessing as to the motives behind certain characters.  But it was hard to find sympathy for the main character, Reuben, since he was neither a goodie or a baddie.  He professes a love for Chamber’s lover Ambouyna (a name I still have no idea how to pronounce), but yet pursues Miss Violet Withers on the side.  In fact, while admitting to her that he doesn’t love her, he asks if she would fill in for him since he can’t have whom he really wants?  Sure, that’s the way to win any girl’s heart!

Actually, Violet Withers was my favorite character from the book. She easily balances a personality of modesty and mystery.  I loved a couple of quotes surrounding her sensibility:

“Lots of girls do things they don’t want to because they have to. I’m not one of them…. If I get to like you well enough, I shall certainly allow you to call me by my Christian name, and possibly to kiss me occasionally. If I don’t, I shan’t. Believe me,… I am much more worth kissing because I have such queer ideas.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s painful to watch Argels slowly being dragged to the bottom all the way to the end of the book.  He’s sent over the edge, but at the last minute is saved by his enemy of all people– on purpose.  And then they shake hands and a check is written and all is honkey dorey.  I don’t know.  It just didn’t fit together right at the end.  There’s all this build up of suspense because of the hatred of these two enemies, neither of which you particularly want to side with, but then suddenly it all disappears and Chambers has a change of heart for no reason.  It just didn’t make sense and the story fell flat on its face for me. END OF SPOILER.

So if you like the idea of characters existing in a glamorous world of the 1930’s, full of crime and blackmail, you might have your next favorite novel (which you can read for free here). But if you’re more plot-oriented (like me), you might want to skip past this one.

If you liked this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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