[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
The past couple months, as it happened, were all about children's and young adult books -- pretty unusual for me!

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Total read in September & October: 12
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Father by Elizabeth von Arnim
Since Elizabeth and her German Garden, I've been on a bit of an Elizabeth kick. I wasn't expecting as much from this book, but it was still a pleasant little read for my commute. Jennifer is a "taciturn, undecorative" thirtysomething spinster getting her first taste of freedom from her tyrannical writer father. I found her an endearing protagonist, even though some of the other characters were a bit too flat and the ending too odd for my taste.

One Second After by William R. Forstchen
This is a disaster novel about what happens to a small North Carolina town after the United States is the victim of a terrorist attack using Electro Magnetic Pulse, permanently shutting down the electrical grid. The premise is interesting, but the writing isn't very good; even though I knew he'd exaggerate the community's descent into chaos for maximum terrifying effect, I still found it off-puttingly unrealistic, and none of the characters are lovable enough to redeem it.

Mr. Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim
Elizabeth von Arnim certainly knew how to create interesting female characters. Having just turned fifty, Fanny is faced with the realization that she is no longer a beauty with a succession of men at her beck and call. She finds herself crossing paths with several spurned lovers before having an unexpected reunion with the husband she'd tossed aside in her twenties. It's not quite the reunion you expect, and she reevaluates her whole self-perception in the process. The thing I liked is that, by all rights, I felt I should despise Fanny, yet she manages to be sympathetic, even funny. And she does, finally, mature a bit.

Knowing Christ by Mark Jones
If you are familiar with the Christian classic Knowing God by J. I. Packer, this is a similar kind of book, except it focuses on many different attributes of Jesus Christ. It's quite excellent; I recommend it highly. I appreciated that it isn't an overly introspective book that pressures you to have lots of "feels" about Jesus and your personal walk with him. Drawing on Scripture and historical theology, it just keeps directing your gaze back to the beauties of who Christ is. Best read slowly and meditatively.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Another novel I likely wouldn't have read if not for this community. I loved it! After reading my share of so-so fiction this year, it was refreshing to devour a book like this. Moriarty draws characters well, and I liked the way she dealt with serious topics with sensitivity and humor. I also enjoyed reading fiction set in Australia; I'm not sure that I ever had before. If there is more "chick lit" like this, I'd like to know about it!

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Now, that said... Because I enjoyed Big Little Lies so much, I immediately checked out one of her earlier novels. I didn't enjoy this one as much--I didn't like the what-ifs at the end, and the characters weren't nearly as sympathetic in this book; I really disliked a couple of them. I'm still looking forward to reading more of her books.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
My aunt gave me this book years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. Of course it's really clever and charming, and having been on a WWII kick recently, I enjoyed the setting. I'm also on a roll with bookish thirtysomething protagonists, as noted before. And letters! I like epistolary novels. But...it's a tough thing to pull off well, especially with multiple characters, all of whom are "characters" and soon become tricky to distinguish. It also felt like Juliet was too perfect as a character, in the sense that everyone automatically seems to love her (and if they don't, they're probably a loser character). The resolution was too far-fetched for me, and it's hard to to do justice to some of the wartime horrors in this format. So reading it was a fun experience for the most part, and I can see why it was such a hit, but it didn't totally work for me.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
A nonfiction book touted by several bloggers I admire. I didn't think it quite lived up to its hype (in fact, I'd love to read a revised and updated version ten or fifteen years from now--the author is younger than I am!), but it's well worth a read. It's a series of memories and reflections about Vance's upbringing among poor Appalachian migrants and the slow self-destruction that such "hillbilly" communities are facing. I'm not a hillbilly, but I grew up in the greater Appalachian region, and some branches of my family aren't so far removed from what Vance describes. Could be eye-opening for readers who aren't familiar with the struggles (such as cycles of poverty, violence, substance abuse, and serial marriages) of some working-class families, and why they don't find much relief in political solutions.

Total for July and August: 8
Total for 2016: 36
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
Two books this month.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
Considering the main character's tendency to be a...the best I can say is "pompous jerk," it's a bit remarkable how much I enjoyed this novel. The story revolves around an old Italian man's reminiscences on his years as a WWI soldier. I haven't read fiction on the First World War before, and though there was some fairly graphic violence in this, it turns out that I kind of enjoy wartime fiction. Helprin is a beautiful writer, and I hardly noticed that this book ran over 800 pages! One thing I didn't like was the romantic subplot; by the time Alessandro falls in love with his future wife, he'd had multiple passionate affairs (which it feels like we're supposed to take in stride because he's a young, passionate Italian man), so I didn't entirely buy into his singular, "she's-the-one" adoration of his wife.

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
I think I've seen this book mentioned in this community more than once, by whom I don't recall -- but whoever it was, thank you! Otherwise, I might never have discovered it. I loved it so much! It's just such a charming, cozy, witty read, and I laughed out loud a number of times. I love books with clever, introverted female protagonists, especially older books. :)

Adding to the overall charm was the beautiful early edition my library had:

I'm hoping to track down more Elizabeth von Arnim books; it's been surprisingly challenging, especially when some of the copies in my library system are apparently too fragile to circulate.
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
Catching up on my book list before I fall further behind...

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Looking back on it, that was a silly amount of dark/heavy reading material, even for me. The order of things this summer is "light fiction"!

Total for April & May: 11
Total for 2016: 27
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Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary by Jay Sklar
I'd venture that most people don't hear many sermons on the book of Leviticus in their lifetime, unless they happen to be in Dr. Sklar's congregation! I've been blessed to hear him preach and speak a few times now, and this commentary is the fruit of his many years of scholarship on that book. What's wonderful about it is that he not only delves into the historical and cultural background of Leviticus, but comments extensively on ways that it points to Christ and thus has relevance for us today. The commentary is also designed to be accessible to everyday Christians as well as scholars, which is something else too rarely seen. I had to work through it very slowly over the course of months, but it was totally worth it.

How to Read Proverbs by Tremper Longman
After reading Sklar's work, this was honestly a bit "meh," but it was still useful. It isn't so much a biblical commentary as an introduction to the genre of ancient wisdom literature and how to approach personal study of Proverbs. It was helpful.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Finally, and somewhat incongruously...! I was looking for something cathartic to read after finally quitting my Ph.D. this month, so this fit the bill nicely. I didn't have as many laugh-out-loud moments as expected, and overall I think I enjoy Allie Brosh's style more as far as popular humor bloggers go, but it was definitely enjoyable. I honestly enjoyed the relatively serious bits the most, like when she talks about social anxiety (relatable) and feeling like a failure at life.

Total this month: 3
Total this year: 16
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Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber
If you like minute-by-minute journalistic storytelling, this is an excellent read. I guess at the time, only those close to the President realized how close he came to dying that day in 1981. I didn't know much about Reagan before reading this, and his handling of the crisis, particularly his concern for those around him in the midst of his own suffering, heightened my respect for him greatly.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A comfort read.

A Heavenly Conference between Christ and Mary by Richard Sibbes
A series of 17th-century sermons, in slightly modernized English, on Christ's encounter with Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb and what his words tell us about our union with him. Beautiful as Sibbes always is.

The Axe (The Master of Hestviken #1) by Sigrid Undset
Another comfortable re-read, as I had just gotten my own copies of the series for Christmas, but I probably won't read the remaining three books right now. I adore Undset, but there's always a lot of darkness and angst in her characters, and I could use a bit of a break from that...

The Crook in the Lot: Living with that thorn in your side by Thomas Boston
A bit of a departure for me -- instead of reading 17th-century English Puritan sermons, I read...wait for it...18th-century Scottish ones! ;) Again, in a slightly modernized English edition. The odd title basically refers to any kind of suffering or obstacle ("crook") in our lives (our God-appointed "lot"), and Boston talks about how to humble ourselves under these, trusting in God's providence. Comforting and challenging.

Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries #1) by Dorothy Sayers
I'd been meaning for awhile to read more Sayers, but the experience left me slightly disappointed, and I'm still not sure why. I've loved some of her essays, but have struggled to get into her fiction. She's no doubt a wonderfully clever writer. I just had the hardest time getting into the characters or the mystery; I remember having similar feelings about Gaudy Night some years ago. Part of it might be the nature of the crime at the center of the story -- I'm not sure why reading the details of Reagan's shooting didn't disturb me much, yet this did. And I guess it turns out that I'm simply not a great Sayers fan.

Total this month: 6
Total in 2016: 13
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff
A civil liberties attorney writes about the ways that U.S. colleges are failing to mold citizens by stifling the very debates that expose people to viewpoints they disagree with. People tend to huddle in like-minded subgroups and rarely interact with others, contributing to deeper polarization in society at large.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
A re-read started in the fall. 17th century sermons on learning and practicing contentment in everyday life.

The Flower and the Nettle: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1936-1939
My least favorite of the volumes I've read so far -- much more about their European society life and the run-up to WWII, less of the emotional depth of Anne's earlier years. Still many beautiful entries.

Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport by Kelli Lawrence
Tough to find (and pricey), but a must for anyone who grew up watching skating, particularly in its TV glory days. Written by a fan for fans, Lawrence shows how television has been a significant driver of skating's development as a sport, concluding with the 2009-2010 competition season. There are areas where I would have enjoyed more analysis (e.g. the 1994 reinstatement of some pros to the Olympic-eligible ranks), and understandably, she is a bit limited by which interviews she was able to get--but it's well done. The perspectives of seasoned TV producers make a great contribution to the narrative, and even lifelong fans will learn new things.

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
My first and only fiction of 2016 so far. I think I would've enjoyed this more if I weren't so fresh from reading Anne Lindbergh's actual published diaries -- at moments, I felt as if I were reading an ambitious Lindbergh fanfiction piece. It is cleverly framed and generally well written, however. Also, Charles comes across as an even bigger, um, jerk than the diaries portray -- but diary-Charles only needs a little bit of work to become novel-Charles, sadly.

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung
An excellent, quick read I happily recommend to fellow believers. Basically, DeYoung argues that we over-spiritualize our decision-making processes, tying ourselves in knots seeking "signs," when really, God calls us to pursue biblical wisdom, pray, and act prudently, but does not demand that we discern his specific will for every part of our lives. So, making decisions is both harder (wisdom isn't quickly gained, and acting is scary!) and simpler (there's no secret decoder ring!) than Christians of my generation tend to think.

The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport
I'd grabbed this book off my friend's shelf and finished it before I remembered that I'd read a more recent Rappaport book (The Romanov Sisters), which is better. This one lacks foot- or endnotes, which bugged me slightly, but I also wasn't looking for a super scholarly read. And I can't resist stuff about the Romanov family, it seems.
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
Only completed one book during December: A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir by Thomas C. Oden.
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[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
My reading this month definitely followed a certain theme, to my surprise.

On a whim, I'd picked up Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg, because despite living in St. Louis, I didn't know much about him and remembered that this was an award-winning biography. It was a very good read, and I learned tons about Lindbergh's life that I'd never heard before. There's a lot more to his story than the transatlantic flight in 1927.

The most intriguing parts of the book, however, were the excerpts from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's letters and diaries, on which Berg relies heavily. Anne was wonderfully gifted in her own right, and I ended up devouring two volumes of her published diaries, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1929-1932) (from before her marriage to Charles through the death of their firstborn) and Locked Rooms and Open Doors (1933-1935) (covering many of the Lindberghs' aviation scouting trips, Anne's early writing successes, and the family's fleeing to England to escape hounding by the media). Even as there was so much about her fame, aviation experience, and personal tragedy that I couldn't identify with, I related to much of what she expressed about writing, marriage, shyness, and the struggle to find and occupy one's space in the world. Many beautiful passages. I plan to continue through the later volumes, and I'd definitely consider buying the lot of them to have on my shelves someday--they're that enjoyable.

Total read this month: 3.
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
The Science of Interstellar by Kip S. Thorne
An unusual read for me, because I don't have a very scientific mind, to put it mildly, much less a theoretical physicist's mind. But my husband's been really into the movie Interstellar in recent months, and after watching it for the third time with him and a friend, I decided I wouldn't mind reading up a bit on the science behind the film (black holes! warped time! gravitational anomalies!). This book was written by Thorne, the science adviser for the movie, for a popular level audience, but it was still close to being over my head many times. I appreciated that he labeled each section to indicate whether the content is considered to be scientific fact, educated guesswork, or speculation.

Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History by Carl R. Trueman
This was much more my speed--in fact, I'd read it five years ago and felt it was time for a refresher. Trueman gives lots of examples of pitfalls that all historians need to be wary of, such as anachronism, category confusion, aesthetic fallacy, and more. Most helpful to me was his argument that objectivity isn't the same as being "unbiased" -- as if that were possible; rather, "objective" history rests on evidence that is available to and assessable by others. More dry than his other books, but still surprisingly readable.

The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry by Paul R. McHugh
A collection of essays by a noted psychiatrist, often expressing views that dissent from the academic establishment. I skimmed some of these, but appreciated his pieces on euthanasia and faddish therapeutic practices.

September total: 3
No fiction this month...looking to fix that (and work in some lighter material!) in October.
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship and a Reassessment of John Owen's Theology by Ryan M. McGraw

I can assure you that even I generally don't read dissertations for fun, but when a blogger (who happened to have been McGraw's advisor) mentioned this one, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. Fortunately, I live close to a major Presbyterian seminary, so I didn't even have to ILL it. :) In a nutshell, it is about what happens in church. What Owen (a 17th-century theologian) maintained, and as his theological successors have maintained but sometimes neglected in practice, is that Christians truly enjoy communion with God the Father, through Christ and by the power of the Spirit, when they gather for worship. The way Owen unpacks this according to Scripture is, needless to say, more complex, and I didn't read every section meticulously, but the core truth of it I find mind-blowing. It wasn't a new concept to me, per se, but I can't say it's at the forefront of my mind every time I'm in church, and since I read the book I've tried to be more mindful of the gravity of it, and of God's graciousness in meeting his people in that way. I'd love to write something like this that's geared to a more popular level.

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ by J. Todd Billings
Unlike the previous book, this one isn't aimed at a strictly academic audience, but as you might guess from the title, it's not exactly a light read, either. It's excellent, though, and worth it. Billings is a gifted scholar who has the ability to convey difficult concepts to non-specialist readers. When it comes to how theology connects to everyday life, it's hard to make a stronger case than Billings does in describing his ongoing experience with cancer. Among other topics, he talks about Job, how God relates to tragedy, how to pray for oneself and for others in the face of acute suffering, and what it means to be united to Christ in the midst of everything. It's something I'll want to read again, and I really recommend it, whether or not you're dealing with crisis right now.

I spent a week or two starting Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy earlier, too, and even though she's clearly good at writing historical fiction, I just couldn't get into it. That doesn't necessarily mean much -- I might come back to it later and love it, but now doesn't seem to be the time. It won't stop me from seeking out some of her other novels in the interim.

Total for August: 2
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
Total read this month: 4

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
I actually put off finishing this for a day or two because I wasn't sure I could handle all the feels. Haha. I did end up crying at a couple of moments in the last quarter of the book, but it wasn't so bad. As I'd expected after spending several weeks immersed in the series, I went through a slight I-don't-want-to-read-anything-else slump afterwards, but, happily, it didn't last...

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
So I was a huge Baby-Sitters Club fan as a kid, and in recent years I've enjoyed reading some of Ann's other young adult fiction--I'm actually really impressed with how she seems to continually push herself in new directions while maintaining the style I like so much. This story is told from the perspective of a young girl with Asperger's who loses her dog during a hurricane. I know, it sounds like it's setting you up for a heartbreaking ending, but it wasn't quite as tear-jerking as I'd expected, though serious and sad in other ways. I'd recommend it.

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart
This was mentioned in the community awhile ago, and I checked it out of the library. I enjoyed it! At first, it reminded me of other midcentury British mystery novels I've read, only set on the isle of Skye. As the story developed, though, I got into it much more and enjoyed the suspense as well as the setting.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
This was my first Hardy novel, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a very fun read. A few times, though, I was struck by similarities to Eliot's Adam Bede, which I read a few months ago--a tragic love triangle, dashing ne'er-do-well, virtuous shepherd, and spirited female protagonist in a rural English setting...hmm. I also learned about sheep farming in surprising detail. :)

March Books

Apr. 1st, 2015 07:47 pm
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
The Love of Christ: Expository Sermons on Verses from Song of Solomon Chapters 4-6 by Richard Sibbes.
I love reading English Puritan literature, but it's an acquired taste, and the language (even updated, as in this edition) won't be to everyone's taste. This is a beautiful series of sermons on the Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ's love for the Church, which was the favored interpretation at the time. I think it's safe to say that seventeenth-century preaching demanded more from the audience than most contemporary preaching does. I had to take this in little chunks, which I read over many months of Sundays. I underlined a lot of things I want to come back to later.

Four more )

Total read: 5
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
A better month than January.


Adam Bede by George Eliot
I'm glad I didn't give up on this.Read more... )

Total read: 4
[identity profile] sk8eeyore.livejournal.com
A bit of a disappointing beginning to my year in books, and for my first book list in this community. Just two finished this month:

Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone by Carl R. Trueman
Trueman is a Presbyterian minister and historical scholar who puts on something of a cantankerous persona, though from what little I've encountered of him personally (he was a guest at our church last spring), he is a delight to talk to and has a very pastoral heart. This is a collection of his essays on the intersection of the church and culture. He is especially critical of the ways that celebrity culture has infiltrated the Western evangelical church, often leading to a denigration of the importance of the local church. He's no fan of megachuch and parachurch trends, for instance, or the dumbing down of theology in favor of the pragmatic or popular. He's not all negative; he's at his best, in fact, when he writes about the importance of studying history, and the outwardly unremarkable people who make up most of the church. Trueman's prickly humor isn't everyone's cup of tea. I found his writing to be an acquired taste myself, but his emphasis on ordinary vocations and the local church have had a big influence on me over the past five or so years. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
I was inspired to read this when I read the much more recent In the Kingdom of Ice several weeks ago. It's the classic account (1959) of Shackleton's failed Antarctic venture 100 years ago, and his unbelievable voyage across the Drake Passage in a small boat in search of rescue for his stranded men. One thing that struck me about this book (and In the Kingdom of Ice) was what devoted diarists these men were, even under the worst privations. The excerpts from their journals really make the book. It's well written overall and really conveys the remoteness and desperation of their plight. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars.

I'm bogged down in a couple of lengthier, more laborious books right now, but hope to have more to share next month. A question: how long do you tend to persevere with a book you just can't seem to get into?


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