Friday, January 20, 2017

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch

I read a lot of books that I never review because I want to recommend only the best. But I'm breaking my rule for this particular series because it's too good not to mention. Please note that I've read just one book (#8 of the Charles Lenox mysteries), so I can't speak for the other books.

Basic story: Charles Lenox has always loved solving mysteries. After a career in Parliament he decides to become part of a detective agency, but business is tediously slow. When a former colleague is murdered, Lenox plunges headfirst into crime-solving again.

Author Charles Finch was educated at Oxford and Yale, majoring in English and history and it shows. He gives little sketches of Victorian practices throughout the novel that enrich the story. His writing is excellent in spite of the occasional use of profanity. This particular story includes some references to prostitution, but never crosses over into the tawdry. I appreciated Finch's restraint.

The mystery was good, but it was not what kept me reading. The reason I highly recommend the series is because Finch does a bang-up job of creating characters that you really care about. (90% of the fiction I read in 2016 had unappealing protagonists, which has left me slightly traumatized.)

Charles Lenox is happily married (imagine that!) and so is his friend Dr. McConnell. Other friendships and relationships include the young widow Polly, the former butler who is now in parliament, and amateur detective Lord Dallington.  I loved them all and look forward to meeting them again as I read the whole series. (Although I had not read the previous novels, Laws of Murder gives enough of a back story so that you know who's who.)

The kindle versions of Finch's books are pricey ($10 range) but some of the hardcovers are already available for one cent from Amazon and for free at PaperBackSwap. I got my copy as a free e-book download from my Michigan library. Where there's a will, there's a way!


Friday, January 13, 2017

Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson

Scottish author D. E. Stevenson (1892-1973) is a favorite of mine when I need literary "comfort food." But her books are almost impossible to find in libraries and are costly for Kindle. So I was thrilled to nab Amberwell when it was listed for 99 cents last week.

The novel begins with five children being brought up on the family estate of Amberwell. Their life seems idyllic. But as time goes on we see how terribly neglected they are by their parents and how hungry they all are for love. As World War II arrives, each goes their own way, some making poor choices, some suffering through no fault of their own. All of them grow. In spite of the episodes of heartache, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's been the first time in ages that I've read a book in "one gulp." I'm disappointed the sequel, Summerhills,  is unavailable for Kindle. (There is an Audible version for $15.)

One of the themes of the book is the gardens. Each owner of the home wants to improve its grounds, but only for show. The children love the place for itself and treasure the weeds as much as the finely manicured lawns. This joy in living is coupled with another theme, the joy of serving. Those who truly love Amberwell are willing to make the sacrifices to keep it running. And they are the only truly happy ones.

Not all Stevenson books are created equal. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the Miss Buncle series (you can ignore the one star rating from a disgruntled Stevenson fan) and have heard raves about the Mrs. Tim books, most of the other titles have fallen into obscurity for a reason. The Gerald and Elizabeth books were just "okay."

Several sources say this is one of three, but I've been unable to find the title for the third book. Anyone know what it might be?


Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge for Christian Books

I was looking around for a book challenge targeted at Christian books and found this one at Goodreads. They suggest 52 books in 52 weeks. Even though that is more than I'm aiming for, I decided to join so that I'll have some semblance of accountability.

Here is the challenge:(on the Goodreads page they even list possible titles for each category) The 20 books marked in brown are my (flexible) plans. Those crossed out are not gonna happen. I'm thrilled to finally be attacking my TBR list of Christian books on my Kindle.

1. A book about Prayer. - Power of Praying for Your Adult Children
2. A book about Forgiveness
3. A book by a Christian conference speaker. - Divine Design by MacArthur
4. A book by or about a Pastor's wife. - Church-Planting Wife by Hoover
5. A Christian Novel.
6. A Christian Non-Fiction book.
7. A Memoir.
8. A book on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) Awards list. (major fluff)
9. A book by or about a missionary. - Climbing by Goforth
10. A book by C.S. Lewis. - On Stories
11. A book with the word "Gospel" in the title. - The Gospel in Ten Words by Ellis
12. A book about Christian Living.
13. A book someone tells you "Changed My Life".
14. A book by your Favorite Christian Author. - something by Jamie Langston Turner
15. A book on Marriage or Living a single life or as a widow/widower for Christ.
16. A book longer than 400 pages. - The Island of the World by O'Brien
17. A book you own but have never read. - Songs of Heaven by Coleman
18. A book about a current controversial issue. - Rosaria Butterfield title
19. A book with a one-word title.
20. A book more than 100 years old or takes place more than 100 years ago. - Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts
21. A book published in 2016.
23. A book recommended by a Christian Friend. - Death by Living
24. A book about Joy or Happiness.
25. A book whose title comes from a Bible Verse.
26. A book on Theology. - Creed by Winfield Bevins
27. A book by an Indie Christian Author.
28. A book on Christian Growth. - Don't Waste Your Life by Piper
29. A book about Church or a specific Church.
30. A book with Heaven in the title.
31. A Christian Romance novel.
32. A book about Christian Persecution.
33. A book on Spiritual Warfare.
34. A Wilbur Award winning book.
35. A book about a Religious Cult.
36. A Christian Dystopian book.
37. A book about Biblical Prophecy.
38. A book by a Christian Author you've never read before - Because we are Called to Counter Culture by Platt
39. A book that was a Christy Award winner. - Heartless by Stengle
40. A book on any of the Goodreads Christian book lists.
41. A Christian science fiction/fantasy book.
42. A book on depression or how to help a friend/family member who suffers from depression.
43. A Christian fiction book with a beautiful cover.
44. A book with 100 pages or less.
45. A historical Christian book.
46. A Historical Christian Fiction book. - Vienna Prelude by Thoene
47. A book on Evangelism. - Nudge by Sweet
48. A book about a Faith different than yours.
49. A book with God in the title.
50. A book with Jesus or Christ in the title. - The Loveliness of Christ by Rutherford
51. A book of the Bible.
52. A book of your choice. - Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer



Friday, January 6, 2017

Wiersbe Commentaries on Genesis

Although Warren W. Wiersbe has worked with Youth for Christ, pastored Moody Church in Chicago, written for Christianity Today, and broadcast his own radio show, he is probably most known today for his "BE" series, an explanation of every book of the Bible for laymen. I recently worked my way through his Genesis series and would like to share a few thoughts.

Be Basic deals with the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. If you are wondering why there's so much confusion and destruction in today’s world, one reason is because people are ignoring or rejecting the basics. But that’s like going on a voyage without a compass or radar, or trying to perform brain surgery without lights. Wiersbe goes on to say that to know the book of Genesis is to know the fundamental truths about God, the world, yourself and other people, law, sin, salvation, marriage, faith, and spiritual fulfillment. In addition to these are themes of God-ordained work and rest, male and femaleness, scripture as our authority, and God as covenant keeper. As always, Wiersbe combines his insights with biblical cross-references and memorable one-liners such as, We live by promises, not by explanations, and Faith is living without scheming

Be Obedient focuses on Abraham. At first I was miffed at having to buy three separate commentaries, but I see now that the life of Abraham demanded its own separate volume. Wiersbe does a great job of explaining Old Testament practices and of teaching the truths of the book being studied within the context of the whole Bible. (From page 62, Take time to read Galatians 3, Romans 4, and James 2, and you will see how Abraham illustrates salvation by faith.). A very helpful commentary and probably my favorite of the three.

Be Authentic covers the lives of the patriarchs that came after Abraham. They were "authentic" in that the Bible does not try to cover up their faults. Yet they trusted God and proved that He can use imperfect people who choose to follow Him. There was a little too much supposition about possible motives for why people did what they did, but for the most part, I appreciated his insights. Again, Wiersbe had me scurrying to read many other Bible verses to put the ones being studied into the context of all of Scripture. One of his NT cross-references which shed light on the Genesis stories was Hebrews 6:12 - It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises.

All three of these Bible study guides were excellent. By the way, Wiersbe's commentaries cost about $10 each, but I never pay full price for them. By subscribing to e-book bargain sites such as Gospel E-books, I often get them for 99 cents or for free. At the time of this writing, books one and three are priced quite low.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading Goals for 2017

I don't often join book challenges because I like to read where my whims take me, but I know that joining a few of them (Classics Club and Cozy Mystery) has made me more intentional in my reading habits. I wish someone would start a Christian non-fiction challenge so I would read more of that.

Anyway, based on what I read in 2016 here are some of my loosely planned goals for 2017.

1) No more Christian fiction unless the author can convince me in the first 20 pages that it's worth my time.

2) 15 non-fiction books by Christian authors

3) One Charles Dicken's title

4) C.S. Lewis' On Stories - because my husband read it this year and I was so jealous.

5) The last five titles in my Classics Club Challenge list: Jane Eyre, Eugenics and Other Evils, Silas Marner, Pilgrim's Inn and Heart of the Family

6) 10 audiobooks - because I own over 40 that I haven't listened to.

May your new year be replete with good food, good books, good company, and God's blessing.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Year in Review - 2016

I read over 90 books this year, but can't gloat over that accomplishment since 28 of them were Christian fiction (i.e. inconsequential fluff)  that I read during times of stress. They caused me to add a new category to my Goodreads bookshelves ("dud"), but the year was not a total failure. Here are the gems:

Classics that I loved: To Kill a Mockingbird, North and South

Classics that I expected to dislike, but enjoyed: The Great Gatsby, Age of Innocence

Best new (to me) author: Jamie Langston Turner for Winter Birds. One of the few Christian authors I can recommend.

Favorite non-fiction: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Favorite Children's Lit: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Books with the most long-term influence (that I keep quoting or using): Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, Technopoly by Postman, and An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Davis

It was my slowest year yet for the Classics Club Challenge, but I managed to check off five titles from my list: Gaskell's Cranford and North and South, The Great Gatsby, Pilgrim's Progress and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I managed to get in my 8 mysteries from the Cozy Mystery Challenge.

Goodreads has a fun app that shows all the covers of  the books I read in 2016.

Looking forward to more good reading in 2017!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tripp and Lane

Because of the semi-fluffy title, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, my expectations for this book were low. As I worked my way through the book, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the solid, biblical advice for strengthening relationships.

Healthy friendships are costly. They require much more than we can humanly give if they are to flourish. And that is why Tripp and Lane emphasize the need for God's grace to pervade our lives in order for it to pervade our difficult relationships. And they are not talking about the flimsy interpretation of Mark 12:31 (that self love is necessary before you can love your neighbor.)

This quote sums up their philosophy:
Already Jesus has come to provide salvation for us, but his saving work is not complete.
Already the power of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin has not yet been eradicated. Already we have grown and changed in many ways, but we are not all we will be in Christ.
Already we have passed through much difficulty, but we have not yet climbed our final hill.
Already we have learned many lessons of faith, but we have not yet learned to trust God fully. Already God has established his kingdom in our hearts, but that kingdom has not yet fully come. Already we have seen the defeat of sin in many ways, but its final defeat has not yet taken place...

Our job is to learn how to best live in the middle. So we live as broken people who are being repaired, among neighbors in the same condition - always thankful for what has already been done, but ever aware of our need for more grace. (p. 108)

My favorite chapters were Chapter 10 on hope (especially the idea of a "sanctified imagination") and Chapter 12 on mercy, but the whole book is excellent. Each chapter begins with real-life examples of relationships in crisis, which I could have done without. But I can see how they would help readers (to whom these concepts are new) to understand them. This would be a good book to study with a small group.