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Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha

Michelle De Rusha grew up in a church environment filled with rituals which were empty for her. She was not sure if she believed in God and had a great fear of death. When she married and moved to Nebraska where everyone seemed to attend church, she began to wrestle with her doubts, her fear of death and her feeling like a fraud as she attended church with her family. At first she went to church because of her children but then she slowly started to ask the question, "Why Not God?" She began to understand that it was okay to wrestle with God and have some doubts along the way. As she began to pray, read the Bible and participate in small groups with members of her Lutheran church her faith slowly took root.

As she discovered, some times conversion is not a "Damascus Road experience" but a daily decision to walk the path of the Christian faith. As she understands the concept of grace, she finally understands that there is nothing she can do to earn the gift of salvation. Also along the way she realizes that she does not really have control of her life and that she needs to put God first in her life

Her journey to faith begins with her sincerity in admitting to herself that she did not believe in God. I appreciated her honesty as she shared the spiritual journey she is on. Anyone who has doubts about faith or feels as though they do not belong in their church would be able to identify with the author. I enjoyed her writing style and found the book very engaging.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

One definition of Gothic: "of or having to do with a type of fiction that uses remote, gloomy, settings and a sinister eerie atmosphere to suggest horror and mystery." While "My Cousin Rachel" is not set in a dark, crumbling medieval castle, the overall atmosphere is rather dark and with the sense of some impending disaster. Philip Ashley is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's Cornwall estate. Orphaned at a young age, Ambrose is like a father figure to Philip and they are very close. Because of his health, Ambrose goes to a warmer climate for the winter and on this trip meets and marries Rachel. Ambrose's letters to Philip from Italy become more and more infrequent after his marriage. The tone of these letters also changes from ones of being happy and content to ones of being frightened of his wife and a concern that she is trying to harm him.

Philip goes to Italy only to find his cousin has died. He blames Rachel for his death and is determined to not welcome her when she comes to Cornwall. On her arriving though, his attitude changes and he is mesmerized by her. As his infatuation and passion for Rachel grows, Philip seems to lose all common sense as his 25th birthday approaches and when he has full control of the estate.

The story is told from Philip's perspective so you get a view into his thoughts and emotions. You feel more and more as the story goes on that it will not end well and some disaster will happen. There is a quote in the book that describes Rachel well and stated by Philip's godfather. "There are some women, Philip," he observed, "good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster."

A very well written book that uses suspense in the plot to keep you going throughout the story. Daphne Du Maurier is also the author of "Rebecca" which is similar in style to "My Cousin Rachel."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Trouble Times by Andrew D. Kaufman

As an avid reader, I like to challenge myself by reading some lengthy classics. One summer I read "Moby Dick" and another summer "Les Miserables." It has always been my goal to read "War and Peace" but I have put it off for some time now. I even possess two copies from used book sales and have it on my Kindle so not having a copy is not an excuse. I think I shy away from it because I have found reading Russian literature is confusing and most of the time depressing. Trying to figure out who is who with the Russian first names and last names and then the nicknames has a challenge for me. War along with death and dying also seem to be major themes as well. So when I saw this book, it interested me and I read it to see if reading "War and Peace" would be worth it.

The author is an internationally acclaimed Russian literature scholar, is a featured Tolstoy expert on and frequently asked to discuss Russian literature and culture on television and radio programs. So that being said, he does take a scholarly approach to "War and Peace" which is thorough, but very readable. Woven throughout the book is the story of Leo Tolstoy's life and the parallel between his life and the life of the characters in "War and Peace." Each chapter has a theme such as imagination, success, happiness, love, courage, death and truth. It gives you a look at the characters, the turmoil of war with France and the total disruption of their way of life at that time in the history of Russia.

Has reading this book encouraged me to get started on "War and Peace?" I think I will move it closer to the top of my stack of books next to my chair and maybe just maybe start reading it before winter sets in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

10 year old Jeremiah Prins has a sheltered and care free life as the son of a headmaster of a school in the Dutch East Indies. That peaceful life comes to an end when the Japanese invade their island in 1942. Jeremiah's father and three older half brothers are taken away to work camps. He is left as the oldest child to take care of his mother and a younger brother and two younger sisters. It isn't long before he and his family are transported to a Japanese camp. The story of the hardships and lengths people go to survive is a compelling one. The cruelty of the Japanese commander, Nakahara, is directed at all in the camp, but Georgie, a fellow prisoner, directs his cruelty and hatred towards Jeremiah.

As time goes on, Jeremiah's mother becomes more disturbed and less able to care for her children. The relationship between the family members is a complex one. The story is based on the author's father's experiences in a Japanese camp during World War II. That adds to the historical accuracy of the book.

This is a compelling book. Once I started it I could not put it down. The pain and heartbreak of those years in the camp stayed with Jeremiah his entire life and as he nears the end of his life, he does experience some reconciliation and peace with God. I highly recommend this book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

"Evergreen" is an interesting book. I found myself getting caught up in the characters and the story line, but yet at the same time wondering about how plausible the whole story was. Maybe it is not that important, but some of the characters seemed to be believable and others not so much. At times, I felt as though there were some gaps in the story and feeling like something was missing. All that being said, I enjoyed the book for the most part and think it was well written and thought provoking.

Eveline and her husband Emil begin their married life in the wilderness of 1938 Minnesota. After they have their son, Hux, Emil receives a letter saying that his father is dying in Germany and he heads there. Eveline decides not to go back to town to live with her parents, but stays in their cabin aided by neighbors, Lulu, Reddy and their son, Gunther. Eveline is the victim of rape and becomes pregnant while Emil is away. Lulu helps deliver the baby and Eveline gives the baby girl away. The baby girl is named Naamah and is raised as an orphan.

As things change, and the wilderness begins to vanish, the lives of Hux, Naamah and Gunther as intertwined over the years. The story itself spans three generations. This story was another reminder that the choices one generation makes has an impact on the generations that follow. The covering up a situation only leads to pain and heartbreak for those involved in the present and those in the future who are impacted by that decision. There is a glimmer of hope at the end and that helped to bring resolution to some of the pain from the past generation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good God, Lousy World, & Me by Holly Burkhalter

Holly Burkhalter is an activist working for change around the world in the midst of the horror of sex trafficking, genocide, rape, slavery and injustice. Although she grew up in a Christian home, she turns her back on Christianity when she sees her grandmother, a devout Christian and former missionary, have an emotional breakdown following the death of her grandfather. As she sees her grandmother lose her faith, she loses what little faith she has. She describes herself as a twisted, angry betrayed former Christian.

Her journey of faith begins when she meets Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission. Their mission is to mobilize the church to get involved in the area of human injustice. IJM believes the atrocities committed by human beings against other human beings breaks the heart of God and that it should break the hearts of Christians everywhere. Holly was impressed with the Christians who worship a good God and want to help the poor as it is commanded in the Bible. She witnessed Christian victims of atrocities praise God and thank Him for His presence with them in the midst of their suffering. Another person witnessed to Holly as she showed the unconditional love of God as she ministered to AIDS patients. Another friend who rescues victims of sex trafficking shared that he is only able to do what he does is by believing that God has a plan to redeem brokenness, find lost girls, and wipe every tear from their eye. Slowly Holly began to believe again a God who is good, who loves us unconditionally and who can perform miracles.

Holly shares her struggles with physical and emotional problems as she continues in her journey of faith. After she became a Christian, she began working with International Justice Mission. This memoir is one full of questions and no easy answers to the problem of human suffering. It is both an honest and thought provoking memoir.

I received a copy of this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

I enjoyed reading Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Angle of Repose" so that is why I chose to read "Big Rock Candy Mountain" also by him. I was not disappointed. There is something great about a book when you continue to think about it and its characters in the days following the completion of reading the book. It was that way for me when I finished "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and I am continuing to ponder what I read.

Elsa is eighteen when she leaves her home in Minnesota to help keep house for her uncle. She still misses her mother who died three years previously and probably would not have left home except for the fact that her father marries a woman who was supposed to be Elsa's best friend and who is 20 years younger than her father. Young and naïve and still hurting she meets Bo Mason who sweeps her off her feet. They marry and the book is mainly about their life and family over the course of 30 years.

Bo always has the desire to make money quickly and as he and Elsa drift from one location to another, that dream of being rich never comes to fruition. Despite living in poverty, Bo being involved in illegal rum-running and gambling, Elsa stays with Bo through it all. From North Dakota to Canada, Nevada to Utah, Bo keeps searching for the one scheme that will make him rich.

The writing in this novel is beautiful as you read about the life and times of survival during the lean years of the early 20th century and the back roads of the American Northwest. The characters are complex and you wonder whether Elsa was a saint to put up with Bo all those years and if Bo is totally to blame for not providing better for his family. There are no easy answers, but you will be left pondering the questions all the same. The book is a bit long but it is a fast paced and engaging classic.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Don't Miss Your Life by Charlene Ann Baumbich

I had the privilege of hearing Charlene Baumbich speak at an event at Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, Illinois, recently. She was a great speaker and very entertaining. She shared a number of her experiences and over all her message with to not take yourself too seriously, to laugh at yourself and enjoy your life. The book is filled with many humorous stories, some of which she shared at the event. Her message is to live life to the fullest as God is encouraging you to do, to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. In the last chapter, Charlene uses an analogy of a reed saying each of us should be a reed that the breath of God can blow through. I like that analogy. No amount of striving, complaining, hurrying, etc. can change our circumstances. It is only by resting in God and letting Him take control that we can find the peace and joy that we are looking for. Very entertaining book with a message of hope and encouragement for women of all ages looking for ways to cope with the challenges and changes in life.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

"The Girls of Atomic City" is a fascinating look at the lives of women recruited to work at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, part of the Clinton Engineer Works during World War II. It was fascinating to learn that many of these women did not know where they were going or what they would be doing when they were recruited to work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Many of these women were right out of high school and from the south. They were housed in dormitories, apartments or huts. The construction went up so quickly that there was constantly mud all over on the ground. At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, was home to 75,000 residents and consumed more electricity that New York City.

Inserted between the chapters is some more technical information about the discovery of fission and the possibility of creating a bomb using plutonium. Interestingly, the first scientist to mention the possibility of fission was a woman although she did not get credit for that discovery. After watching the movie, "Fat Man and Little Boy," which was about the Manhatten Project and the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, I was interested to read this book. The scientists at Los Alamos were waiting on the production of plutonium at Oak Ridge for them to create the atomic bomb that was first dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945.

Some of the technical information was beyond me, but I enjoyed first hand accounts of the lives of the women who worked at Oak Ridge. The author interviewed a number of women who shared their experiences. It was very interesting and an important part of the history of all that went into the creation of the first atomic bomb. If you are interested in this topic, I would highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

David Grann examined the diaries and records of "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z? Setting off into the Amazon in 1925, Percy Fawcett (accompanied by his son Jack and Jack's friend, Raleigh Rimell) attempts to find an ancient Amazon civilization. This civilization, the lost city of Z, which was also thought to be the fabled city of El Dorado is rumored to be a complex society in the midst of the Amazon jungle. The trio of explorers disappear into the jungle and are never heard from again.

Grann details the life of Percy Fawcett, his adventures, explorations and his obsession with the lost city of Z. Expeditions of those who go looking for Percy Fawcett are detailed as well. It is estimated that approximately 100 people lost their lives in looking for this explorer. The author himself goes on a journey retracing Fawcett's footsteps in an attempt to find out for himself what happened.

This was a fascinating look at life during this time in history; the obsession driving people to explore; and the life of the Indians in the Amazon jungle. I for one, would not want to deal with the heat, lack of food, insects and snakes. It was amazing to me what these men had to endure in the jungle. Of interest to me was when Fawcett stopped at the home of a German diplomat by the name of John Ahrens before he ventured into the uncivilized jungle.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this informative and engaging story of Fawcett's life and exploration in the Amazon jungle. I would highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins

Paul Collins did a great job researching and writing this book of the true story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr who teamed up to take on America's first sensational murder mystery. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are bitter political rivals who together defend Levi Weeks who is accused of murdering Elma Sands. The trial takes place in 1799 when America is still a young republic. Alexander Hamilton is a leader of the wealthy Federalists while Aaron Burr is a leader in the populist Republican party. They both had connections to Ezra Weeks, a well known builder and brother to the defendant, Levi Weeks, when they put aside their differences to defend him in the murder trial.

Elma Sands, a resident of the same boarding house as Levi Weeks, is found dead in the Manhattan Well. She had been missing for two weeks and Levi is arrested for her murder. A number of interesting facts come out about some of the other residents of the boarding house both during and after the trial which makes for an interesting read.

The book paints a portrait of the United States in its early years as a republic. Even though the book is non fiction, it reads like a legal thriller. The epilogue describes the events four years after the trial when Aaron Burr shoots Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The duel to me seems like a senseless tragedy which was the result of pride and arrogance on the part of both men. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading about American history and legal trials. I will definitely look for more books by Paul Collins.

Blogging for Books provided me this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Seeking Allah - Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

In this book the author describes his incredible journey from Islam to Christianity through friendships, investigations and supernatural dreams along the way. You get a glimpse inside Nabeel Qureshi's loving Muslim home and his passion for Islam. Really almost against his will, he discovers evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God.

This engaging story is thought provoking as it examines the differences between Islam and Christianity and the clash of the two religions that happens in one man's heart. Going against what he has been taught all his life, he has to choose between denying the Christian faith he is drawn to or the family he loves. His journey to finding peace in Jesus is powerful.

Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace

I have been fascinated by the life of Vincent Van Gogh since I read the book, "The Divine Commodity." This work of historical fiction is based on the last period of Van Gogh's life as seen through the eyes of Dr. Gachet who befriended him in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. Van Gogh died of a self inflicted gun shot wound in the summer of 1890. The book deals with the events leading up to Van Gogh's untimely death at the age of 37.

Before his death he completed 2,000 works of art that would go on to become some of the most important and valued in the world. The author researched thoroughly to paint a portrait of Van Gogh's final days including the mystery surrounding the gun Van Gogh used. Where he got the gun is unknown and it disappeared following his death. Although Van Gogh's faith and spiritual journey is not examined during this time, I still enjoyed the story of his last days and the book is very well written.