Saturday, August 23, 2014

On The Bookshelf

I love to read. Always have, always will. My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten and signed me up for a book club at the same time (a new book came in the mail every month). My allowance more often went to buy books than anything else (although there were periods when other hobbies edged out the books, like when I received a microscope for Christmas and bought slides to look at, or when I was into roller skating and saved my allowance for skates and a cool skate case, or that autumn I spent every Saturday riding horses...).

Mostly I bought books through the Scholastic program at school. Remember that? We ordered as a class, and what a thrill the day the books came in! But I also hit thrift stores, which is where I discovered some older books no longer in print. And then there was the library. Ahhhh, the library! I'll be honest, it is one of the things I miss most about living overseas. Anyway, not sure why, but we'd usually go to the library on Saturday and I'd always lug home at least a dozen books. That continued through grade school, high school, and beyond. Even now, whenever we're in the states and I go to the library, I'll lug home a big bag full. 

My first 'job' was as a library aide at school (6th grade), and my mom kept the resumé I created to apply for the job -- complete with a school picture glued in the upper right hand corner. Becoming a librarian was a goal for many years. That or working in a bookstore. Just as long as I could be around books.

My mom used to joke and say that a bomb would have to fall and score a direct hit, knocking the book out of my hands, before I'd notice. She wasn't far off. It was one of the things that drove Ivan nuts in the beginning, that his new wife could completely ignore him when she was reading.

Anyway, all that to say, I love to read!

I'm not sure why I've rarely shared favorite books here on the blog, but I've decided that I'm going to start. Life is too short and I want to read GOOD books and I think others want the same thing. Gone are the days when I'd read clear through to the end of a book simply because I had to know how it ended. If a book doesn't grab me in the first two chapters, I move on. I've discovered some great books and authors via other bloggers, so I'm jumping on the band wagon and will start to share when I come across a really good book.  Let's all share the book love!

In the past month or so I've come across some real gems. I read a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, sometimes re-reading old familiar friends and sometimes discovering new ones, and I'll talk about the ones that I think are worthwhile.

Forgiveness: The Power & The Puzzles by Wendell Miller
This is a book that's been on our bookshelves for a long time but I just got around to reading it. Mr. Miller, who happens to be a member at one of our supporting churches, has spent a good many years as a Christian counselor, and I think this book shows why he's such an effective one. He writes in a clear, readable style (rather redundant at times, but he wants to make sure you get it). I was surprised at how much I learned, and would highly recommend it. Not just for those in full-time ministry either. It's a practical book that would help anyone with difficult relationships (and who of us doesn't have those?!).

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
Such.A.Good.Book. It spoke to how we view ministry: not as a series of programs and events, but as a life filled with relationships. 'Ministry' isn't something we set aside time to do. It should be ALL we do: intentionally, relationally, personally. Whether it's shopping at the corner market, getting our oil changed, taking half of that zucchini bread to the neighbor, offering to babysit so a young mom can take a nap, letting the neighbor ride along when you go to the library... Every interaction, every action, should be infused with why we are here: to glorify God. And we do that by living our lives in such a way as to glorify Him. Cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it! Right now! Okay, you can finish this blog post first.

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I've read the Anne of Green Gables series at least half a dozen times. I love them all but this is one of my favorites. There is a reason this series is considered classic. Even though they were written a century ago, they continue to speak to us today. 'Silly Rilla' as she's sometimes called grows up in this book, in ways that are hard and painful, and she does it with grace. Set in a time period I was not familiar with (World War 1), I found it fascinating to learn more, especially from the perspective of a small Canadian community. I know most have read "Anne of Green Gables" but if you haven't read the rest of the series, you should! Who cares that they are considered Young Adult literature. Good literature is good literature, period.

Remains of Innocence by J. A. Jance
Jance is one of my favorite authors, and of her three series I am most fond of the one featuring Sheriff Joanna Brady. The latest installment (#16) came out last month, and I could not have been more excited. It also helped that I didn't have to pay for it -- I was able to use a credit that I received due to a lawsuit against price fixing by a group of publishers. I'll be honest, I thought it was a scam email to begin with, but when I went and checked my amazon account, sure enough, I had a credit! And it was enough to pay for this book, which I pre-ordered.
Back to the book... When you get into a series, you feel like you get to know the characters, as if they are real friends. At least that's what it's like for me. I've enjoyed seeing Joanna grow as a woman in a position most often held by men, and as a mom, daughter, friend... She's not a one-dimensional character at all, and neither are any of the others. Even those who just show up in one book are fully fleshed out. 
Jance has a way with dialogue, and moving a story along, so you get sucked right into the story. So much so that I find it hard to put one of her books down! Even ones I've read before ;)
If you like mysteries and a strong female protagonist, do yourself a favor and read this series! Start with the first one, because this is definitely a series you'll want to read chronologically.
I hate to give away too much of the plot of "Remains of Innocence" (it wouldn't be a mystery then) so I think it's safer to share the blurb the publisher provided:
An old woman, a hoarder, is dying of emphysema in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In cleaning out her house, her daughter, Liza Machett, discovers a fortune in hundred dollar bills hidden in the tall stacks of books and magazines that crowd every corner.
Tracing the money’s origins will take Liza on a journey that will end in Cochise County, where Sheriff Joanna Brady is embroiled in a personal mystery of her own. A man she considers a family friend is found dead at the bottom of a hole in a limestone cavern near Bisbee. And now there is the mystery of Liza and the money. Are the two disparate cases connected? It’s up to Joanna to find out.
And while I'm talking about J. A. Jance, I'll go ahead and recommend a couple of her $1.99 novellas that recently became available. One ties in with the Joanna Brady series and the other with the J. P. Beaumont series (which is also excellent and I highly recommend).

Home to Holly Springs
In the Company of Others
Talk about feeling like characters have become friends, Jan Karon's books make me want to move to her fictional Mitford! I was sooooooo sad when I heard she was done with the Mitford series, but then she decided to write a bit more about Father Tim. Yahoo! This is one author Ivan and I both really enjoy. Ivan's not one to read fiction. In fact, he only reads two authors who write fiction: Jan Karon and Alexander McCall Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series featuring a female detective in Botswana).
So why did I wait so long to read her latest two books?!?! I have no idea, especially considering they've been on my bookshelf since they were published. Blame it on building, on moving, on life... Whatever the reason, my bad!
But I did finally read them, and they are, Oh! So! Good!
"Home to Holly Springs" had me laughing out loud, crying real tears, and suddenly looking up from the book and saying to Ivan, "Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe what just happened!" And then I wouldn't tell him. haha  I told him he'd have to read it for himself.
Father Tim returns to his hometown after decades away, and in the process discovers things about himself and others that he never knew, or didn't fully understand while growing up. He makes new friends, renews old friendships, and embraces all those God has brought into his life. 
As Karon herself says, her books are character driven. And she is a master at developing real, honest-to-goodness characters!
"In The Company of Others" I sort of figured out the plot early on, but it was still an absolute joy to see how Karon pulled all the strings together.  With her books, the cliché "there is joy in the journey" certainly rings true. Father Tim and Cynthia's plan to vacation in Ireland goes sadly and hilariously awry and the ensuing drama will keep you turning the pages right until the end.
I seriously finish each and every one of her books with a deep sigh, sad to say goodbye to my friends, and anxious to get my hands the following book so I see what happens to them next!

I recently downloaded two new books to my Kindle and if they turn out to be as good as I hope, I'll be sharing those with you soon. I started "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal" by David McCullough, and it reads like a political thriller thus far. Absolutely fascinating! I'm a bit of a history geek, and I know everyone isn't, but McCullough writes in such a way that if you didn't know better, you'd think you were reading a novel.

The other is a novel, although it has an historical setting. Elizabeth Street takes place in New York City in the early 1900s. I'm really looking forward to digging into that next.

What have you been reading? Any books you want to share? Without access to a library, or even books in English except via the Kindle, I am always on the lookout for those that friends can recommend. With an almost non-existent book budget, I have to be very careful choosing; I want my money to go toward books that are worth it. So if you've read a book you absolutely loved, let me know! I'm pretty eclectic in my taste, except I'm not a big fan of science fiction, fantasy or romance. (Well, romance is okay if there's more to it, but if that's all it is, then I'll just pass.) Mysteries are my favorite genre.

And I'd love to hear about any cute/funny/silly/sad stories you have about your own reading history.

1 comment:

Terra said...

I did not know you are such a dedicated reader too. I even became a librarian, like my mom.
I like the Jan Karon Mitford series and the new Father Tim series very much and my husband and I both are caught up with the Alexander McCall Smith series.