Chocolate & Fiction

I don’t read much fiction. To put it in gustatorial terms, I simply make a pig of myself when I sit down with a novel. Much the same as I could do with cheap chocolate, the kind that’s leftover after Halloween, I tend to devour way too much in one sitting, whereas with non-fiction I can discipline myself to take my time and digest all the goodness. I liken fiction to cheap carbs, empty calories you grab to satisfy a craving. Non-fiction usually qualifies as protein or fiber or complex carbohydrates.

Nevertheless, every so often I cave in and enjoy a bit of chocolate – make mine smooth and dark, please. Dove or Ghiardelli will do quite nicely. As quickly as it’s gone, it is still worth every sweet second that the mellow taste and aroma offer.

While I tend to much prefer nonfiction, summer usually finds me indulging in some choice fiction picks. Every summer I usually read something by Jodi Piccoult; I read Handle with Care when I went camping with my sister and her kids. I enjoy the medical topics she explores, always in the context of a legal dilemna. When Mike and I went away a few weeks ago, I read Embrace Me, by Lisa Samson. And I just read The Help on Sunday afternoon. After being on the library waiting list for about four months for this book, a friend finally loaned me her copy. I started it around two o’clock and just finished it around seven-thirty (and there was a trip to the “store” with Mike in that span). A slightly controversial book about a very controversial book, I enjoyed this story very much, once I got past the inconsistent dialect (she fails to give the southern homeowners any dialect at all). It’s a good insight into the Civil Rights era of the 60’s, a time period we somehow never managed to make it to in my Christian high school history classes.

And now back to my regularly scheduled reading. I’m currently reading Sacred Chaos by a new-to-me author, Tricia Carey Rhodes. A good read but one that begs for slow, pensive attention. And I’m working on my list for fall, in anticipation of Katrina’s Fall into Reading challenge.

So what have you been reading this summer? Fiction or nonfiction? Anything good?


Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town

I agreed to review this book as part of a blog tour, mostly because it was one of the few nonfiction offerings on the list. I’m glad I did. While I’d love to say I read this as a totally objective reader, just reading someone else’s memoir, I found myself relating to some of the same struggles and doubts the author has experienced.

In a nutshell, Evolving in Monkey Town (so titled because she grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, home to the famous Scopes Trial of 1925) chronicles the faith journey of author Rachel Held Evans, from her upbringing in a Christian family and church, through her college years and beyond. It brought to mind fun memories of AWANA clubs and Bible drills. It also brought to mind some questions I’ve had along the way, and the slow realization I’ve come to in understanding that God is quite okay with our questions. Answers are great on a test, but in our walk with God, it’s often our questions that serve to connect us more deeply to God. How great of a relationship would you have with someone you already knew everything about?

Along the way, and in the midst of her doubts, Evans comes face to face with the Jesus of the Gospels – as she puts it, “God in Sandals.” This Jesus extends to her the same invitation he extends to us all – the invitation to live a radical faith. I appreciated her reminder that Peter’s challenge to always be ready with an answer was written to potential martyrs whose radical faith would most likely result in their death, and whose radical living would arouse curiosity. “This passage is not about fearlessly defending a set of propositions; it’s about fearlessly defending hope . . . !” How often have I tried to reduce my faith to a set of safe, definable propositions?

My favorite line in the book comes towards the end, where she says, “Love is bigger than faith and it’s certainly bigger tha works, for it inhabits and transcends both. (. . . still speaking of love) How ironic that the most important fundamental element in the Christian faith is something that is relative, something that cannot be measured with science, systemized with theology or managed with rules. . . . How lovely and how terrible that absolute truth exists in something that cannot really be named.”

Brilliant writing, admirable courage and a gentle spirit combine to make Evolving in Monkey Town a surprisingly worthwhile read. I’m glad it ended up on my list!

(FTC regulations require me to state that I received a review copy of this book, and was not otherwise compensated for this review).

Book Review: The Forgotten God

The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit is the second book by Francis Chan I’ve read over the past few months, the first being Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, which I reviewed a few months ago.

Whereas Crazy Love was a compelling read, The Forgotten God was a most convicting one. I mean, basically he points out that most of us tend to neglect one-third of the Godhead. It’s as if there were three other people in the room with me and I continually ignore one of them. That thought alone was enough to humble and sadden me.

One section that grabbed hold of my heart was in Chapter 4, where Chan asks point blank “Why Do You Want Him?” Why do we desire the Holy Spirit? He really drives home the point that the manifestations (or gifts) of the Spirit were given to the body of Christ for the body of Christ, for the common good. Ouch. I really needed this reminder that any gifts God has given me are not really for me at all, but rather a way for him to bless the body of Christ, the community of believers, through me. I know this, but I often (as in daily) need the reset button pushed here: it’s not about me!

Like the disciples, Chan points out that most of us would prefer to have Jesus in his human, bodily form right here with us everyday. And yet, Jesus himself said it was better for him to go away so we could receive the Holy Spirit. One of the missions of the Holy Spirit is to offer us confidence and security in our relationship with our “Abba” Father. What a gift – who doesn’t need to be constantly reminded of the Father’s unconditional, abiding love for us? And yet we so easily ignore the Spirit of God who wants to offer us this assurance.

Chan challenges us to forget about “God’s will” for our lives, suggesting that the desire to “know” is “birthed in fear and results in paralysis.” Instead, he invites us to the daily process of learning what it means to walk in step with the Spirit – one of “continual engagement and wrestling and discovering.”

I can’t possibly cover all the great points Chan raises, but hopefully your interest is piqued enough to consider adding this book to your summer reading. The Forgotten God was a quick read and yet it took me the better part of three weeks to finish it, as I kept going back and rereading portions. Chan has a way of making you want to stop along the way and ponder what he’s saying, or pause to really spend time in Scripture passages he mentions. Wanting to linger in these thoughts longer, I created a playlist from songs I already had on my computer. You can listen to this mix here, and let me know what you think!

Book Review: Life in Defiance

I can’t remember the last time I finished a book in less than twenty-four hours, but that was the case with Mary DeMuth’s latest in the Defiance Texas Trilogy, Life in Defiance. This was a hard book to read, but the characters’ quest for Truth kept me searching along with them until the end. It was an uncomfortable read, in that it deals with the sad story of a battered woman, sadder even that she is a pastor’s wife. But saddest (and probably why I struggled with the story) is that the pastor-husband in the story reminded me of people I knew years ago who manipulated scripture for their own purposes, and wielded the power of their position for the sake of their reputation. Later horrendous familial abuse was uncovered, but not before much damage had been done. Somehow, Mary manages to keep the candle of light and hope burning throughout the story, light which leads Ouisie Pepper to the Truth that ultimately sets her free.

As usual, Mary deMuth does not disappoint. She is more than merely a masterful storyteller or weaver of words. She has an unparalleled depth of insight into human nature, a gift which leads her to create honest and compelling characters who grow and change throughout the story. Having lived her own set of painful experiences (I blogged about her memoir, Thin Places, here), Mary has truly allowed God to build something beautiful out of that which was broken, an understanding that she is in turn gifting to hurting women everywhere.

(I received nothing more than a review copy in exchange for posting my review!)

Book Review: A Matter of Character

I don’t read much fiction these days, compared to when I used to read at least 2-3 novels a week. But I can always count on Robin Lee Hatcher to deliver a delightful escape in the form of a great story.

I first discovered Robin about seven years ago. In fact, I believe it was through her that I discovered the wonderful world of blogging! She was the first author I discovered who opened up her life and heart to her readers through the Internet, and I remember being so drawn to this sweet, godly woman who shaped her characters with such depth and realism.

Her newest novel, A Matter of Character, does not disappoint. I am always intrigued with stories about writers. Robin has crafted a compelling character in Daphne McKinley, an unlikely heiress living in the small town of Bethlehem Springs, Idaho. No one knows of her secret life as the author of a dime novel series based loosely on the adventures of Rawhide Rick, legendary around town for his less than scrupulous run as the town judge years earlier. But when Joshua Crawford comes to town, determined to clear the name of his grandfather, Daphne must come to terms with the power of her words. Together they seek the truth, even while the plot has them very much at odds with one another. Together they learn¬† there’s always more to every story than meets the eye.

A Matter of Character is the third and final offering in The Sisters of Bethlehem Springs series, but it easily stands alone as a quick and easy read. Whether you’re new to Robin Lee Hatcher, or a long time fan such as I am, you’re sure to enjoy this well-crafted story. For an extra bonus, hop over to Robin’s website and get to know this wonderful Christian and author. As well, you can read other (better) reviews here!

(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to post my review. I received no other compensation from the author or publisher. I would receive a small commission for any purchases made through my Amazon Associates link.)

Two Quick Book Reviews

I read two books recently which impacted me in surprising ways, so I thought I’d review them here quickly:

The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year by Jennifer Louden – I put this book on a library hold months ago and forgot about it. So it was a pleasant surprise when I finally got it from the library and what a joy to read such a refreshing book. The book could best be summarized as a way to do life differently. “This way of organizing, or, more accurately, of improvising, our lives is built on the knowledge that we are creating our lives through how we think, how we react, and where we put our attention.”

The first part of the book focuses on five key ways to live life more intentionally and with greater awareness: connect, feel, inquire, allow and apply. The second part of the book poses a few insightful questions for each week of the year. For example, “What am I most passionate about this week? What or who do I want to say no to this week?¬† What or who do I want to say yes to?” I’ve been copying a few of these questions into my planner and/or journal over the last 4-5 weeks. Not all of the questions resonate with me every week so I just pick the ones I want to focus on (or sometimes reword one to fit my thinking). Doing so has helped me live with greater awareness – a feeling of connectedness between what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It’s a great resource for any woman who is tired of living life according to a “to do” list, just moving from one task or event to the next, and it’s a book I can see myself referring to again and again.

The other little surprise – another library hold – has been Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Art by Rice Freeman-Zachary. It’s a compilation of ideas from different artists on how to, well, make room for art! It’s not talking about decorating your office or studio so much as focusing on your mindset towards creativity. The art produced by the contributors is nothing like I’d ever do, but I think that’s a good thing perhaps, as it allowed me to focus on the ideas and suggestions they offer to make room for creativity.

Both of these books reminded me that life is exactly what we make of it. We can take what’s dished up to us each day and merely muddle through, or we can live life fully engaged in the process, and seeking to be aware of God’s work in, with and through us each and every day.

Book Review: Crazy Love

Francis Chan is a man obsessed – obsessed with (and possessed by) God’s love. The way God loves us doesn’t make sense at all – it’s crazy and causes him to do outlandish things like forgive people who wrong a holy God and turn their backs on his life-giving commands. Our only response should be to love him in return, a love that makes us seem crazy. But too often, Chan says, our response is more like a serving of lukewarm leftovers.

As I moved through the ten easy-to-read, difficult-to-do chapters of Crazy Love, I felt like Chan was inviting me to a gradual change in posture. Chapter One is entitled Stop Praying, in which Chan says we need to stop talking at God and simply start looking at God. He paints a picture of the sheer awesomeness of our Creator God, and sketches an image of insignificant man in contrast. Chapter Two reminds us of the fragility of this life, and the reality that, “in the movie of life, nothing matters except our God.” In the third chapter, Chan counters our insignificance and this sense of fragility with a long hard look at the outrageous love of God. From there, he moves on to our response to this great love. He challenges us to move from a tepid, half-hearted way of living and loving, to being obsessed. (Throughout the first few chapters, he points to several videos on his website which I highly recommend making time for).

Chapter Six was the turning point for me, where he reminds us that we need God to help us love God. “Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.” It’s not exactly news to me, but a truth that bears repeating again and again: I can’t transform myself.

The remainder of the book describes what it looks like to live this life of love. Here he takes an in depth look at Scriptural examples of this sold-out kind of love, followed by some amazing stories of crazy love in action today.

I found Francis Chan’s writing to be both unpretentious and full of vulnerable humility. I’d say it was an enjoyable read, but joy doesn’t exactly fit how I felt about this book. It was surprisingly soul-stirring, in a simple but deep way that still has me thinking. Chan’s thoughts seemed to tie in perfectly with a series our church is doing right now entitled Practice Resurrection – the reality being that Resurrection is more than a day – it’s a way of life. Each week we’re hearing stories of how different folks are practicing resurrection, and I’m wondering – what exactly does it look like for me to practice resurrection?