Summer 2011 Book Review

I know, I know.  I’ve been rather MIA.

Where exactly HAVE I been, you might ask?

Well, to be precise…at work.  And, commuting on the metro.  About 10 hours a week.

Yes, that’s rather pathetic (the metro part)…

But, really, I’ve learned to see it as an opportunity of sorts.

Who else has that much time already set aside for oneself to indulge in the pleasure of reading in an age of distraction?

There are two disclaimers:

1) I don’t always read.  Sometimes, it’s a cat nap…or music…or my (also) pathetic attempts at the crossword puzzle…or Words with Friends on my iPhone…and,

2) Some of these books I haven’t started or finished reading yet.  I have a speed-dating relationship with books.  I usually have multiple ones going at one time 🙂  Don’t worry.  This doesn’t apply to personal relationships in my life!

BUT, I must admit, I am quite pleased…I am getting through a lot more books than I usually do as a result, and it feels good to be broadening the horizons of my literary experiences.

Here are some of my favorites for the summer.  Genres – as you will see – are quite diverse.  Some of these are not exactly ‘new news’.  You may have already heard of them.

Seven Seasons in Siena

The title itself is catchy!  An America from Chicago falls in love with a small Tuscan hill city in which the annual bareback horse race around the city’s main piazza takes place each July.  Having been to this very square last October while touring Italy, there is a personal draw to this scenic piece of literature…but, if you have a crush on Italy, you’ll probably enjoy.

Half the Sky

It’s all the talk of the town.  This is about turning oppression into opportunities for women in developing countries.  As a member of the DC chapter of Opportunity, International, this book is a passionate, sobering, inspiring account of how women worldwide are desperate for freedom…to work, to profit, to do something valuable in the often-short span of their lives.  Be prepared to cry, according to various friends who have already read it.

The House at Sugar Beach

Come on, now.  Who doesn’t like sugar?  A foreign correspondent from DC recounts her childhood growing up in the elite society of Liberia, and how she ends up moving to America, attending high-school in Tennessee, and becoming a professional journalist.  A pleasant mix of African lingo and references and humour, with history lessons on both West Africa and racism in America spanning from the 1950’s to 1980’s.

The Blood of Lambs

No, I don’t read horror novels.  It’s not The Silence of the Lambs.  In “The Blood of Lambs”, author Kamal Saleem chronicles his incredible life as an Islamic terrorist and gives readers an inside look at the cruel world of terrorism and the threat it poses to democracy, as well as how he converted from the Muslim faith to Christianity, and now lives his life to proclaim Jesus Christ and Judeo-Christian ethics.

East of Eden

Confession.  I still have NEVER read John Steinbeck’s book, East of Eden.  Everyone I talk to raves about it.  They can’t get enough of it.  Some of my friends have read it multiple times.  It is a symbolic recreation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel woven into a history of California’s Salinas Valley.  Need I say more?


GK Chesteron is known for his book, “The Everlasting Man.”  The book that converted C. S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity.  One might even say these two great thinkers are like the book-ends of the most influential literature on Christian apologetics in the 20th century.   But, in a unique way, this book opens you up to Chesteron’s own, personal journey of how he came to view orthodox Catholic Christianity, and how western society need a life of “practical romance, the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.”  His subtitle is The Romance of Faith, which is interesting to me…because faith is such a balance between subjectivity and objectivity…and who ever said that balance was easy to find?  Perhaps this book will help discover new elements of that balance.

The Secret of Contentment

Confession.  I judged this book by its cover.  I love the idea of contentment being an attitude of joyful gratitude, seeing the glass of life as half-FULL, not half-EMPTY.  So, the water glass caught my eye.  For years, I have wrestled with this virtue.  With attaining this virtue.  Desiring to find it,  and cling to it, like the Apostle Paul.  This book is based on the writings of Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson, two great Puritans who each wrote on the topic.  So, it’s a bit shorter, and easier to understand…and good for group discussions, with a set list of questions at the end of each chapter.

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

I know what you’re thinking.  Another book on relationships?  No, thank you.  Well, I beg to differ.  The most amazing lesson I learned from reading this book is the theological connection between the Trinity and relationships in which we sense greater strains of diversity in thought, worldview and life applications.  Meaning, the Trinity – God, Jesus and Holy Spirit – are diverse.  Unique.  Equal in value and strength and holiness, but unique and specific in purpose.  Similarly, our relationships with others are diverse in nature.  And, sometimes, we tend to feel threatened and turned off by others whose opinions and convictions we do not hold ourselves.  But, instead of seeing this as your moment of escape, we should see this as a chance to celebrate.  Because, in these relationships, we celebrate the very One in whose image we are made.  God’s image.  The diversity of our thoughts, convictions, backgrounds, worldviews, etc., are points of appreciating value, not depreciating neglect.

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures and Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled.

Both by Martin D. Lloyd Jones.  Brilliant.  Bold.  And, beautifully written.  I am right in the middle of both as I write this post.  These books hit a tender point in my heart these days.  I both personally know, and know from afar, various individuals who are wrestling with serious bouts of depression, extreme trial, sickness, and desperate states of confusion in their lives.  These books are both teaching me to mourn with them and for them, and to speak truth with them and to them.  The latter book was written right after World War 2 ended, and is a collection of chapters based on 12 sermons that Jones gave on John 14-15.  Those passages are some of my all-time favorites, so I am simply relishing in the rich words and exhortations and encouragement of this author.  I think you will, too!

Apologetics for the 21st Century

“Providing an overview of almost a century of Christian apologetics, Lou Markos’s volume Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century moves all the way from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to postmodernism, the New Atheists, and former atheist Antony Flew’s newly found belief in the existence of God.”  Thank you, Amazon 🙂

The Girl in the Blue Beret

World War II history is my favorite era to study.  So, it comes as no surprise that this book is heroic and gripping.  It’s an unforgettable novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe, and a courageous young girl who guided him through Paris to his rescue.  If you like history, and fun characters in the context of non-fictional settings, this one might be worth checking out.

One Thousand Gifts

Author Ann Voskamp is a personal hero of mine.  She has lots of kids, gardens, cooks organically, runs a farm, is a faithful wife and woman of God, and still manages to write a book.  Amazing!  In all seriousness, this woman is living a simple, but very full and draining life, and dares herself to write down one thousand things that she is grateful for in a personal journal.  Day by day, she finds new, little, often mundane things to give thanks for to God.  She relishes in the God of details.  She exalts His glory.  She stops and smells the roses.  She is awakened by gratefulness…and the eucharisteo of life, which is a Greek word for fullness in a sense.  It stems from grace + joy + thanksgiving.  This book will make you cry in a good way…because it is reflective of the idea of abundance.  Something that we often take advantage of, because we’re wrapped up in what we DON’T have.  Some don’t like this book, because it’s not structured.  In fact, I was surprised by how much I loved it, considering that I am such an organized, structured person.  But, her flow of thoughts…often spontaneous and sporadic…made me pause and consider what an amazing life I live.  What a privileged life I live.  And, I believe I have come to see new truths and joys as a result in this life, despite trials and disappointments.

Last but certainly not least…

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

British author + humor + African setting + mystery + romance.  Sooo good.  And, it’s a series, so it never seems to end 🙂  I love this series.  I first starting reading it in Kenya last year when a friend from RVA got me hooked.  They are light-hearted, easy beach reads, and easy to pick up after reading just one chapter…in other words, you don’t feel like an idiot when you read it, wondering, “What did that last paragraph say, again?”

What about you?  What are your summer reads?


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