What I Read This Week

This week I have focused my fictional reading entirely on Inspector Gamache, trying to get caught up with the series. I bought the entire series last year, and got fatigued about halfway through. I started picking them up again a couple of months ago, and I’m on a real Gamache streak! I finished one Gamache novel and am so close to finishing a second one this weekend!

glass houses

In Glass Houses, Inspector Gamache has become the head of the entire Surete du Quebec. The story begins in the courtroom, recounting happenings in Three Pines and shifts back and forth from present to past telling a story of both murder and drug cartels.

The shifting timeline makes this one a little confusing to follow at times, but it is still a wonderful book. I enjoyed the plotting and storyline, and I did not figure the mystery out until over 3/4 of the way through. I really feel like Penny has hit her stride with the series and stories keep getting better and better.

rediscipling the white church

In Rediscipling the White Church, Swanson proposes that racial injustice stems from disordered affections. We have been discipled to have unconscious biases and these biases show where our heart is tainted with racial prejudice. First, the church needs to realize and understand this prejudice. Then, the church needs to redisciple its people to value racial justice and to make strides in being a more multicultural and unified body.

Reading about social justice is outside my comfort zone, so I have been reading this book for weeks. I would read a chapter, go think about it a while, and then come back to the book. This was a timely read, as I started reading it before George Floyd’s murder and the resulting civil unrest, and I emerged from it feeling a little overwhelmed by the work there is for the white church to do. The church has made strides, but really not nearly enough. I also have a whole new slate of book recommendations I received through this book. Many of them were on sale on Kindle during the time of the protests, so I acquired them and have a new library of social justice books to read. I want to learn more so that I can do better and so I can teach my children to do better.

A Common Problem in Christian Leadership

I’m currently taking a intercultural communications class in seminary, and one of the required texts is Sherwood G. Lingenfelter’s Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership. I really did not expect, when I looked at the title and endorsements on the book that this would be a book that I would enjoy or that I would find too helpful. However, Lingenfelter’s voice is really easy and pleasant to read and his thoughts are often full of wisdom.

One of the things that I have encountered in this book that has stayed in my thoughts as I begin to contemplate some of my writing assignments is the following quote from the first chapter. After Lingefelter shares a case study of a less than successful missionary team, he dives into exploring the idea of what Christian leadership is. He then shares some pitfalls and temptations for Christian leaders to avoid. The temptation of power and exertion of will is a leadership failure that has driven my family from two different churches in the past three years.

As Lingefelter puts it,

Yielding to the temptation to control and forcibly influence outcomes completely undermines and destroys spiritual ministry. We cannot do the work of the kingdom of God by exercising the tools of the devil. When we distort God’s will, when we seek power to achieve the ends that seem right to us, when we refuse to love as Christ commanded us, when we use power to make things happen that we think are essential, we have fallen into the trap that the evil one so cleverly sets for us, and we destroy the work of the kingdom of God.

The ends do not justify the means, and God never wants us to use unsavory means to accomplish our work for him. We would all do better to remember that.

Books I Read This Week

This is a week where I had two of my seminary classes overlap which I thought would severely cut into my reading time. However, I had the best reading week I’ve had in a while.  I had a couple of “surprise” finishes with a Bible study and an audiobook finish, so that definitely helped boost me to having four finishes. Even more importantly, I read two novels that I really loved (both backlist).

galatians

This week our church finished a sermon series on Galatians, marking the third time I’ve read through Galatians in the last year. It’s a small and deceptively simple writing by Paul. He clearly lays out the idea that Christ has come to set us free, not only from sin, but from the striving to live and abide by law for our right standing with God. Every time I read through this book, I learn something new, so for a short book, it is a very fruitful study. If you’re curious about Christians and what Christians should (and do) believe, this  book provides a picture of the cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

The Almost Sisters

Leia, a 38-year-old comic book illustrator, had a one night stand with Batman. Now, she’s pregnant and not telling anyone. Her “almost sister,” stepsister Rachel, is currently undergoing a crisis of her own. Meanwhile, a few states away in Alabama, Leia’s grandmother has a public incident that has Leia and her niece, Lavender, flying to Alabama to assess whether or not it is time for Birchie and her almost sister, Wattie to be moved to the nursing home.

The story is fast-paced, character-driven, and has so much family drama. Jackson also deals with the ideas of racism in the south, what it is like to grow up without a father, and how sisters relate to each other, especially when their relationship is set up to be naturally contentious. I loved this book and I could not read it fast enough. Beautiful writing and wonderful characterization. I probably could have read a book about this family that was twice as long as this 350 page novel. I was disappointed to not have more to read. I really can’t believe I’ve had this one sitting on my Kindle as long as I have without reading it.

knock three times

Knock Three Times is the third book in the middle-grade The Wizards of Once series. Xar and Wish are still adventuring together, along with their entourage of bodyguards, tutors and magical creatures. This book opens with them fleeing from their parents to pursue a confrontation with the Nuckalavee. I can’t say anything more in plot set-up without giving away major spoilers, and if you haven’t read the books, just what I’ve said may sound odd and confusing.

I am really enjoying seeing the character development here with both the main characters and the minor ones. However, this book dragged a little in the middle, so it was not quite as good as its predecessors. I listened to this one on audiobook with my kids, and David Tennant’s narration is excellent!

a great reckoning

A Great Reckoning is the twelfth Inspector Gamache novel. In this installment, Penny returns to the topic of some previous books, the ongoing corruption in the Surete du Quebec. Gamache decides that he wants to attempt to help fix the corruption in the Surete at the root by becoming the commander of the police academy. Of course, there is opposition to his changes, and also, of course, there is a murder. During the ensuing investigation, even Gamache’s closest associates find themselves wondering whether or not Gamache is capable of murder.

This is a great book. We have the reappearance of a former antagonist. We have a group of new cadets. We have a seemingly (and maybe completely) unrelated mystery related to a map and a stained glass window in the town of Three Pines. This book fills in a lot of holes in Gamache’s story and made me feel strong waves of both grief and joy. This one is possibly my new favorite in the series. I’ve already picked up the next Gamache and am almost 100 pages into it!

So, I hope everyone else is having a great week. If you live in the US, I hope your Independence Day weekend was great, and also hope that everyone is staying safe.

Articles I Enjoyed

I’m back with a few more articles that I enjoyed enough to want to share.

History Lessons for Donald Trump after his Fourth of July Speech

My teens and I have been reading about the American Revolution this summer. So, it was incredibly fun to read this article with the things that President Trump got wrong in his Fourth of July speech last year. I’m saving the article to share with my teens. It’ll make them feel good to know they have a better grasp of the Revolution than he does.

Reading and the Coronavirus Pandemic

I will admit that I have struggled to concentrate since the Coronavirus pandemic began back in March. My reading life has really slid since then. Articles like this actually make me happy as I realize that I’m not the only one struggling. The author also gives some tips to try to help jumpstart your reading life.

What Frederick Douglass Had to Say About Monuments

Because of all the monuments coming down, I’ve been kind of following the whole conversation on social media. I really liked this article about the Emancipation Monument (one of the monuments caught up in the battle) and heartily agree with Douglass.

I’m Not Hateful, You Are

I love this article so much that I’ve read it multiple times. I have long felt that people are not as divided or as far apart as they think they are, and David French provides some beautiful graphs, numbers, and prose discussing how the perception of difference far exceeds the actual differences between conservatives and liberals.

What’s Really Orwellian About Our Global Black Lives Matter Moment

I didn’t realize how much of his writing was an interaction with his feelings about policing. I also didn’t realize that Orwell had a background as a policeman. Now I’m moving 1984 back up my TBR again.  I admit that Animal Farm is the only one of his books that I’ve actually read.

 

June Reads and the Unread Shelf

I’m trying to do better about reading the things I already own and about not adding too many books to my stack of books to read. I added far too many books to my stack in June and didn’t even count them (I’ll begin counting purchases next month), but I wanted to make a few notes of what I read this month so I’ll see how much I’m cutting into my actual unread books.

Physical Books:

  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (Purchased June 2018)
  • The Night Country by Melissa Albert (Purchased May 2020)
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Purchased June 2018)
  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Purchased April 2020)
  • Ghosting a Love Story by Tash Skilton (Purchased May 2020)
  • The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (Purchased August 2019)
  • Galatians

Kindle Books:

  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Purchased May 2020)
  • The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (Purchased January 2018)

Library Books:

  • If It Bleeds by Stephen King
  • I’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos

So, I read a total of 11 books and owned all but two of them.  I’m at 85 books read at the end of June. That puts me on a pace for about 170 books.  We’ll see how it goes!

What I Read This Week

This week I had a couple of books from the library so I shoved aside what I had been reading for Stephen King before it was due back. Here’s what I read:

if it bleeds

If It Bleeds is a new short story collection from Stephen King containing four short stories. Let me give you a quick, one-sentence set-up for each story. “Mr. Harriman’s Phone” details a relationship between a young boy and his mentor where a first generation iPhone plays a big role. “Life of Chuck” is a post-apocalyptic short story that begins at the end and moves backwards over three acts/vignettes. “If It Bleeds” is a new Holly Gibney story, and in this story, Holly sees something in the video coverage of a tragedy makes her think that she has spotted another outsider. “Rats” tells the tale of writer who has gone to a cabin to spend time attempting to write his first novel.

As in a lot of short story collections, this collection is uneven.”Mr. Harriman’s Phone” and “If It Bleeds” are both absorbing and rewarding stories. “Rats” would be entertaining except for the fact that it drags for about 10-15 pages right in the middle. “Life of Chuck” has some beautiful elements, but King is not really successful in blending the vignettes into a cohesive story. In the end, I was glad I got this one from the library rather than buying it.

the nature of the beast

The Nature of the Beast is the eleventh Chief Inspector Gamache book. In the book, a nine year old boy with a big imagination is always telling stories of things that had happened. Adults don’t take him seriously anymore because so many times his stories have turned out to be completely in his head. So, when he begins to tell the tale of a big gun out in the woods, no one, not even former Inspector Gamache, believes him.

This was a a very good entry in one of my favorite mystery series. At first, I will confess that I believed that Penny might have jumped the shark with this series as it contains superguns and a serial killer with connections to Three Pines. It seemed a little convoluted, and I thought she might be attempting to do too much. Yet, it somehow works.

And as for the superguns, it turns out that the story of Gerald Bull and Project Babylon is actually based on historical fact and not fictional speculation. It was the part that I thought was completely crazy, so I guess it goes to show that you can’t make the craziest things up.

i'd give anything

I’d Give Anything tells the story of Ginny Beale. At eighteen, Ginny is fun, fearless and loved, but twenty years later, she is fearful and closed off, with a husband who has entered a flirtation with a girl not much older than their daughter. The difference between the twenty years lies in a long-buried secret that created a barrier of separation between her and the dear friends that she had as a teenager. Will she find her way to freedom? What will happen with her husband? Will she ever be able to shed the burden of her terrible secret?

This is a fun and fast read. It’s also an easy read alternating in timeline between the present and the past and occasionally between the perspectives of Ginny and her daughter Avery. The book is slight at 250 pages and can be read in just a few hours.

My library had this labeled as romance, and I would contest that label. The Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide has it under the complicated family category, and I agree that it is a family drama all the way. I really enjoyed this book, but I don’t think I have read anything by her yet that has risen to the level of her book I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. This is only my fourth of her books though, so I’ve go a couple more to read before I can call myself a completionist.

 

I’m kind of happy with my totals this week because this is the first week I’ve read three books in a while. I’ve struggled to have the concentration to really dig into a book since all the COVID-19 lockdowns and everything began, so I’m pretty happy with my progress this week.

I did try The Woman in the Mirror this week and decided to DNF about 100 pages in. Maybe another time, but for now I just wan’t enjoying the creepy, haunted house vibe.

What I Read This Week

This week, the middle week of June has not been a bad reading week. I have been reading almost exclusively from books I own on my Kindle and in hardcopy. However, my library opened for the first time this week since mid-March, and I got several books from there, so a couple of them might appear on next week’s list.

and then there were none

I started off my week with a very quick read. When the list for the Great American Read books came out a couple of years ago, I realized that there were a lot of them that I haven’t read. One of those was the mystery And Then There Were None. I was kind of surprised about it because I’ve read several famous Agatha Christie books, but just not this one.

In this book, ten people have been invited or hired to come to Soldier Island. All ten, unbeknownst to each other, have secrets they are hiding. They are all, in one way or another, responsible for the death of another person. These secrets are brought to life by some unknown entity, and then the people begin dying.

There are suspicions. There is drama. There is paranoia. There is a sense of encroaching dread that covers the whole story. The deaths are very well planned out too, with the manner of death coinciding with the verses of a nursery rhyme.

I figured out the murderer about halfway through the book, but I was completely befuddled as to the method until it was explained at the very end. I will also be recommending this one to my teenagers as I think they both (especially my fifteen year old son) would enjoy the fast pacing of this one.

ghosting

Zoey and Miles are both ghostwriters. They work for rival dating companies where clients can hire “ghostwriters” to help them talk to potential matches and hopefully score a meet-up and a new relationship. In real life, Zoey and Miles barely know each other but have an intense dislike for each other. As ghostwriters, when they find themselves working for clients who are attracted to each other, they find themselves falling into a playful banter and more than a little bit of attraction.

This was a cute new romance. Zoey and Miles are both lovable characters and all the secondary characters have their own pizzaz and sparkle. I admit the world of dating apps and ghostwriters made me feel a little old at times, but my sister just married a man she met through a dating app, so I have no doubt that this is an effective way to find true love.

I found that this book was a little bit of a slow starter for me. It took me about 50-75 pages before I got totally wrapped up in the story. If it had been a library book and not one that I bought, I would probably have given up on it before I made it through to the part where Zoey and Miles truly start to connect. They both have a lot of baggage to work through and there’s a lot of set up with their baggage and their progressional lives in the first third of the book.

There’s also a lot of humor in the book, and I had hoped that it might be a good match for my teenage daughter. However, there’s a smoking hot, open-door love scene toward the end of the book that rules it out for her as she is a younger teenager.

 

Well, those are the books for this week. I’ve really stalled out some with my reading in the latter half of the week, so I’m hoping to gain a little bit of traction with the new library books. I’ve found myself reading 20 pages of this 50 pages of that and not finishing anything else.

Interesting Articles

It’s time for another round of articles that I truly enjoyed as I was reading through my email newsletters, twitter feed and other things over the past couple of days.

J.K. Rowling’s Transphobic Tweets Failed Harry Potter Fans

This article shows some of the effects of J.K. Rowling’s recent controversial tweets on someone trans who grew up as a big fan. Romano muses throughout the article about how much control the author has over reading interpretations of their work and whether or not readers can truly separate art from the artist who created it.

Why I’m Not a Bridge Builder Within Evangelicalism

Because of some shifting within my belief system and my interactions with the church, I have begun to seriously consider whether or not I am still an evangelical. As such, I found this article where Cindy Brandt explains why she is not an evangelical to be quite interesting and helpful.

Stephen King Wanted to Write a Novel About Jason Voorhees

This is such an interesting thought. I admit that the Friday the 13th movies are not my favorite in the horror genre, but I’ll read about anything Stephen King writes, so I’d probably enjoy it.

Evangelicals Perfected Cancel Culture. Now It’s Coming for Them

I appreciated this because so many conservative friends have complained recently about our “cancel culture,” but I remember that it was just a couple of years ago that my own mother wouldn’t shop in Target because good Christians were supposed to boycott their company. She still won’t shop Nike because they supported Colin Kaepernick’s protests. Christians kind of touched off the “cancel culture” with the boycotts they have imposed on all the groups they disagree with.

It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy

I really thought I’d hate this article more than I do. I find myself having conflicting emotions. First, I have four children and I believe that people should always have more children than they think they can handle. Life’s more fun that way. Second, I hate the idea that this might build guilt and shame for people who have struggled with infertility. I think DeYoung might have been a little overzealous when he made statements such as, “The future belongs to the fecund.” Third, I don’t think our children deserve the pressure to become Christian soldiers in a culture war. We can’t presume to think that they will have the same relationship with God that we might or that they might feel the same way about the culture around us as we do. We certainly have different cultural mores than our parents, and I expect that will continue on. Fourth, I don’t think the Supreme Court’s decision was that surprising or unwelcome. Do conservative Christians trust in the courts or in God? Reading what so many of them have said about this decision makes me feel that they’ve put their trust in the wrong place. Fifth, I agree with DeYoung that we cannot put our faith in politicians or vote for them based on things such as what supreme court justices they might nominate.

Ultimately, regarding DeYoung’s article, children are a blessing but they aren’t weapons to be used in a culture war.  Even suggesting such is wrong and perhaps even a sinful misappropriation of a gift and stewardship that God has given parents. We would be better served by taking Jesus seriously and seeing the imago dei in each person and treating them with the love and respect that we would wish for them to extend to us.

Links I’ve found Interesting

I haven’t read as many books as I should have (or even wanted to) read over the past few months, but I have been reading many articles on the internet.  Here are a few that I’ve found most interesting over the past week

The Coronavirus Will Win

Yascha Mounk writes an article that powerfully articulates the contributing factors to the virus’ continued spread here in the United States. Ultimately, she finds the damning fact to be

For the rest of us, the order of the day was simply to stay at home and slow the spread. It was a modest task, which made it all the more galling that some people fell short.

It’s a tough piece with beautiful writing. It’s also well-measured as it finds plenty of blame on both the political left and right.

Kevin Kwan’s Notes and Highlights for Crazy Rich Asians

Since I just finished reading Crazy Rich Asians, I was thrilled to find that the author had made available some annotated thoughts online. Reading through those and seeing a couple of his own book recommendations was something I thoroughly enjoyed. Kwan was also involved in making the Crazy Rich Asians movie and he shares a few behind the scenes snippets there too. Great little read!

Read Books About Black People Living–Not Just Racism

I think that perhaps the most influential book I’ve read in my attempt to become anti-racist are not the books about the history of race in our country or about social justice or about racism in our culture. Instead, the most influential books are the stories about black people. To read fiction about black people is a way to say (and to realize) that black lives matter, so if you’re not reading diverse books by authors of color as well as white authors, perhaps you should take a look at some of the books shown in this article.

When Mask-Wearing Rules in the 1918 Pandemic Faced Resistance

I love reading about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and how the issues that they dealt with then are similar to the ones we’re dealing with now. I firmly believe that if more people were better acquainted with the history of how the United States dealt with that virus (and the results) that they would be less impatient with the opinions of various scientists on the safety measures they should take. I also found myself feeling a little more patient with the anti-mask people today after reading this article, realizing that their responses are common to idea of wearing masks in public.

God Save America From Fearful Christians

I look forward to David French’s French Press every Sunday, and this week’s is no exception. He’s discussing the fact that, despite the legal freedoms Christians enjoy, many Christian voices are silenced due to societal pressure and intolerance.  As he says,

Yet in spite of this liberty and power, all too many Christians are afraid.  Once again a time of social upheaval is elevating illiberal voices, and those illiberal voices have disproportionate power in America’s leading cultural, educational, and corporate institutions

If Christians are silent because of their fear, then they have squandered the liberties that they have in one of the most religiously free nations in the world.

What I Read This Week

I’ve really had a down year reading books. I think a lot of it is the news, the pandemic, and the election stealing away my ability to concentrate. When I get too bogged down by current events, I find that I can’t quite escape into either fiction or non-fiction. I used to blog a lot for an outlet, but I’ve found since I started graduate school a lack of time (and energy) for blogging. I’ve mostly quit social media this week, and while I journal and save quotes in a notebook, I realized I just need an outlet to write again. I thought the best place to start with is what I’ve been reading lately.

crazy rich asians

Crazy Rich Asians is the first novel in a trilogy that involves the life of one “crazy rich” Singaporean family. Kwan chooses to focus on three cousins–Nick, Astrid, and Eddie– but their whole families get involved in the book and multiple family members get perspective chapters.

This book has Nick’s best friend Colin getting married. Nick decides to bring his girlfriend of two years, Rachel Chu, to the wedding. The family is in an uproar attempting to determine how serious the relationship is and whether or not Rachel is good enough for their family.

In the midst of this drama, Astrid makes a discovery that her picture perfect marriage is not as perfect as she has believed. She’s still dealing with this discovery when the book ends in a way that tells me this side-plot will be much more prominent in the second book.

I have had the novel on my bookshelf since the movie came out in 2018, and it was fun to read, even though I had already watched the movie. I plan on reading the second and third books in the series this year, and I have them ordered and on the way to add to next month’s potential TBR.

I also watched the movie (which is streaming on HBOMAX) with my thirteen and nine-year-old daughters. The movie sticks fairly close to the plot of the book, and the girls both really loved it. I enjoyed the escapist nature of both the movie and the book.

slaying vampires

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a mash-up of two genres. First, we have the chick lit theme of middle-aged housewives who read vampires novels. Then, we have the classic horror (scary) vampire story. Patricia lives in the Greater Charleston area (I believe in Mount Pleasant). It’s a lovely area, and she has a lovely life with a husband, two children and a close group of girlfriends that she loves to get together with and talk about books. But, when strange things begin happening in her part of the town, she begins to think she knows who is behind it all, and she wonders whether or not she’ll be about to protect her family from the danger lurking in the neighborhood.

This sounds like it might be light and comedic. Trust me that it’s not. This book is not only gory and in the traditional horror genre of vampires, but it also deals with big issues such as spousal abuse and racism. It’s a tough read, and it may be hard to beat when it comes to choosing my favorite read of the year. There were times when it was hard enough that I wanted to put it down, yet mostly, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was totally absorbing, and I will be thinking about the book for a long time.

If you’re a highly sensitive person, this is not a read for you. There’s just too many triggers in this book. Like many vampire books, it has close to all the triggers. If you’re like me and you share books with your teenagers, leave this one out of their hands.

That’s my reading for this week. I really enjoyed both of these, and they have similarities with housewives, etc., even if they were two very different books.