What I Read July - September [from the book pile 2019]

I hope you enjoy the dozen recommendations on my newest blog post! Lots of novels and memoirs with a sprinkling of spiritual non-fiction and one lovely poetry compilation from Plough .

What've YOU been reading lately? Drop me a comment below!

Longfellow Books , Portland, ME in August

Longfellow Books, Portland, ME in August

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: A couple years ago I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a horrible reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

32. The Lowland
By Jhumpa Lahiri (Vintage, 2014. 432 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

National Book Award Finalist and shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.”

Micro Review: I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read from Jhumpa Lahiri starting several years ago with Unaccustomed Earth which was suggested by the IAM Reader’s Guild. (Here’s the brief review I wrote for them.) Lahiri’s ability to tell a story from a perspective that’s so other than my own experience, yet to help me feel like I understand and sympathize with her characters makes me trust her as an author. In The Lowland, she expertly wove together seventy plus years of one family’s experience, across two continents and from multiple perspectives. She’s able to shift between multiple perspectives and eras easily in a way that I’d call unself-conscious, and that doesn’t even begin to address her ability to create a framework on a little-known (especially to us Westerners) political revolt in India (related to Mao in China) during the 1960s. I’m so impressed and feel cared for as a reader even as I felt disappointed by so many of the choices the characters make in isolating themselves from life-giving relationships. In spite of the disappointment, we leave the family - now having gotten to know four generations with a sense of hope for their future. A deeply satisfying read.

33. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir: A Novel
By Jennifer Ryan (Broadway Books, 2017 (reprint). 432 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to close the choir and instead “carry on singing,” resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.

An enchanting ensemble story that shuttles from village intrigue to romance to the heartbreaking matters of life and death, Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel thrillingly illuminates the true strength of the women on the home front in a village of indomitable spirit.”

Micro Review: Good as a quick, entertaining vacation read. I didn’t love the epistolary format and would’ve preferred a straight-up third-person plot-driven book. Still, it was a WWII English village full of feisty ladies who love to sing. That’s kind of hard to dislike.

34. The Twilight of Courage: A Novel
By Bodie and Brock Thoene (Thomas Nelson Inc, 1994. 614 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“The Gold Medallion Book Award winner by Bodie and Brock Thoene. The Twilight of Courage is a retelling of World War II that intertwines the stories of two American journalists' escape from the collapse of Warsaw, with those of an orphaned baby's journey to Jerusalem, a mathematician's attempt to crack Nazi code, and more.”

Micro Review: This was a nostalgic throw-back to the Thoene series of books my grandmother and I used to read together. We were slowly meandering our way from Austin to Connecticut after taking our daughter back to school this summer and mid-way I ran out of books! Shout out to AFK Books & Records in Virginia Beach for solving my vacation reading crisis and for offering a giant selection of new and used books and good prices. This isn’t my favorite Thoene dive into World War II, but it’s the most ambitious covering so many hotspots across Europe in the early days of the war when the world began to acknowledge the desperation of the times. The Thoenes have got research and plot-writing chops. More than that, they provided a shared reading experience for me and my grandmother.


Short Stories

35. A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership
By Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2013. 256 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“The story of the community of Port William is one of the great works in American literature. This collection, the tenth volume in the series, is the perfect occasion to celebrate Berry's huge achievement. It feels as if the entire membership--all the Catletts, Burley Coulter, Elton Penn, the Rowanberrys, Laura Milby, the preacher's wife, Kate Helen Branch, Andy's dog, Mike--nearly everyone returns with a story or two, to fill in the gaps in this long tale. Those just now joining the Membership will be charmed. Those who've attended before will be enriched.

For more than fifty years, Wendell Berry has been telling us stories about Port William, a mythical town on the banks of the Kentucky River, populated over the years by a cast of unforgettable characters living in a single place over a long time. In A Place in Time, the story dates range from 1864, when Rebecca Dawe finds herself in her own reflection at the end of the Civil War, to one from 1991 when Grover Gibbs' widow, Beulah, attends the auction as her home place is offered for sale.”

Micro Review: There is never a wrong time to read Port William stories, and this collection of characters worked its way toward the top of the list of my favorites from Wendell Berry. I’m especially enamored with the preacher’s wife Laura Milby from “A Desirable Woman”. As a preacher’s daughter and now a preacher’s wife, and even with many different life circumstances I totally understood this woman.

“For nearly the whole congregation, or for all of them, and especially the men and children, there was a disconnection between the little white clapboard church with its steeple and bell, its observances and forms of worship, and the world’s daily life and work. . . . Laura recognized these disconnections in the people because she felt them, and labored over them, in herself,” Berry wrote.

and

“And when, having done all he could do to help a family through a quarrel or an illness or a death, performing services he was not paid for and could not have been paid for, he might never hear from them again, let alone see their faces even for the courtesy of one Sunday among his hearers, Laura felt herself wounded with sorrow for him and anger at them for their ingratitude.”


Spiritual Non-Fiction / Theology / Spiritual Disciplines

36. Strong and Weak: Embracing A Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
By Andy Crouch (IVP Books, 2016. 192 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Flourishing people are strong and weak. Two common temptations lure us away from abundant living--withdrawing into safety or grasping for power. True flourishing, says Andy Crouch, travels down an unexpected path--being both strong and weak. We see this unlikely mixture in the best leaders--people who use their authority for the benefit of others, while also showing extraordinary willingness to face and embrace suffering. We see it in Jesus, who wielded tremendous power yet also exposed himself to hunger, ridicule, torture and death. Rather than being opposites, strength and weakness are actually meant to be combined in every human life and community. Only when they come together do we find the flourishing for which we were made. With the characteristic insight, memorable stories and hopeful realism he is known for, Andy Crouch shows us how to walk this path so that the image of God can shine through us. Not just for our own good, but for the sake of others. If you want to become the kind of person whose influence leads to healthy communities, someone with the strength to be compassionate and generous, this is the book for you. Regardless of your stage or role in life, whether or not you have a position of leadership, here is a way to love and risk so that we all, even the most vulnerable, can flourish.”

Micro Review: So, so good. My sister’s been telling me to read this book for years and after a summer of daily submersion in helplessness, I finally started reading this book. Andy Crouch is one of my favorite current authors and speakers for his gift of distilling more abstract philosophies and theological realities into accessible frameworks. His 2x2 grid to help us assess individually and collectively where we and our neighbors live on the spectrum of authority and vulnerability, flourishing and withdrawing, exploiting and suffering is essential reading for all church leaders. Read now and often.

“If you want one last picture of authority and vulnerability together, laughter will do the trick. To laugh, to really laugh out loud, is to be vulnerable, taken beyond ourselves, overcome by surprise and gratitude. And to really laugh may be the last, best kind of authority—the capacity to see the meaning of the whole story and discover that our final act, our only enduring responsibility in that story, is simply celebration, delight and worship.”
Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing


Apostles Reads Selections

37. One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love
By John M. Perkins (Moody Publishers, 2018. 208 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Dr. Perkins’ final manifesto on race, faith, and reconciliation.

We are living in historic times. Not since the civil rights movement of the 60s has our country been this vigorously engaged in the reconciliation conversation. There is a great opportunity right now for culture to change, to be a more perfect union. However, it cannot be done without the church, because the faith of the people is more powerful than any law government can enact.

The church is the heart and moral compass of a nation. To turn a country away from God, you must sideline the church. To turn a nation to God, the church must turn first. Racism won't end in America until the church is reconciled first. Then—and only then—can it spiritually and morally lead the way.

Dr. John M. Perkins is a leading civil rights activist today. He grew up in a Mississippi sharecropping family, was an early pioneer of the civil rights movement, and has dedicated his life to the cause of racial equality. In this, his crowning work, Dr. Perkins speaks honestly to the church about reconciliation, discipleship, and justice... and what it really takes to live out biblical reconciliation.

He offers a call to repentance to both the white church and the black church. He explains how band-aid approaches of the past won't do. And while applauding these starter efforts, he holds that true reconciliation won't happen until we get more intentional and relational. True friendships must happen, and on every level. This will take the whole church, not just the pastors and staff.

The racial reconciliation of our churches and nation won't be done with big campaigns or through mass media. It will come one loving, sacrificial relationship at a time. The gospel and all that it encompasses has always traveled best relationally. We have much to learn from each other and each have unique poverties that can only be filled by one another. The way forward is to become "wounded healers" who bandage each other up as we discover what the family of God really looks like. Real relationships, sacrificial love between actual people, is the way forward. Nothing less will do.”

Micro Review: A member of our church’s reading group (Apostles Reads) recommended this excellent farewell book from the inimitable, 87-year-old John Perkins. We chose to read it during Pentecost as a reminder that Christ’s Body is one body, one race, one blood, and one baptism. We have so much to learn from those like Perkins who’ve given their entire lives to the reconciliation of the mistreated and ignored members of the Church. Brian and I read this out loud to each other and appreciated the simple but profound wisdom from Dr. Perkins as well as the case studies of churches around the United States working toward the goal of desegregating the Church. May the life and work of John and Vera Mae Perkins multiply throughout the next generation of peacemakers and Gospel preachers.


Memoir

38. Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse
By Jennifer Worth (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. 304 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“The sequel to Jennifer Worth's New York Times bestselling memoir and the basis for the PBS series Call the Midwife.

When twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Worth, from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, went to work as a midwife in the direst section of postwar London, she not only delivered hundreds of babies and touched many lives, she also became the neighborhood's most vivid chronicler. Woven into the ongoing tales of her life in the East End are the true stories of the people Worth met who grew up in the dreaded workhouse, a Dickensian institution that limped on into the middle of the twentieth century.

Orphaned brother and sister Peggy and Frank lived in the workhouse until Frank got free and returned to rescue his sister. Bubbly Jane's spirit was broken by the cruelty of the workhouse master until she found kindness and romance years later at Nonnatus House. Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran, lost his family in the two world wars and died in the workhouse.

Though these are stories of unimaginable hardship, what shines through each is the resilience of the human spirit and the strength, courage, and humor of people determined to build a future for themselves against the odds. This is an enduring work of literary nonfiction, at once a warmhearted coming-of-age story and a startling look at people's lives in the poorest section of postwar London.”

Micro Review: Call the Midwife is still one of my top five favorite television series of all time. I was a bit hesitant to read the original memoir because I thought it might reveal too many differences between the true-life story with what is shown on television. While the television series has gone past the original trilogy of true-life stories by Jennifer Worth, the episodes have remained compelling.

Probably the largest difference in the books is the greater amount of detail Ms. Worth shares about the pockets of depravity in post-war London's poverty -riddled East End. In my opinion, PBS sketches the realities with a soft touch and that serves the viewer well. In her writing, Worth describes in more harsh detail the prostitution, workhouses, abuse and crime she saw first-hand bicycling her way among the labyrinth of over-populated, under-resourced tenements. It was good for me to know these realities because I don't want to be too fragile to know the truth about poverty, misplaced bureaucracy, and human suffering. But I wouldn't have been able to watch it on television. (I should mention that both the books and the program contain depictions that could trigger stress for those who've experienced trauma -- especially pregnancy-related suffering.)

More importantly, knowing better the jagged details sharpened my appreciation for the nun-midwives and district nurses of Nonnatus House. Their gracious, dogged determination to be the hands and feet of their Savior to the suffering women and children (all people, actually) in the heart of a mid-twentieth century Dickensian world teaches me, incarnational love, just as it drew Jennifer Worth (nurse Jenny Lee in the program) to the Gospel.

39. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
By Ruth Reichl (Random House, 2019. 288 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.”

Micro Review: Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended this new release from favorite author Ruth Reichl for her popular summer reading guide. I still prefer the first from Reichl (Tender At the Bone), but this was an enjoyable summer read nonetheless. I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes scoop on the origins (and aftermath!) of David Foster Wallace’s notorious piece “Consider the Lobster”.

40. The Art of the Wasted Day
By Patricia Hampl (Penguin Books, 2019. 288 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Art of the Wasted Day is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of "retirement" in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne--the hero of this book--who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.

Hampl's own life winds through these pilgrimages, from childhood days lazing under a neighbor's beechnut tree, to a fascination with monastic life, and then to love--and the loss of that love which forms this book's silver thread of inquiry. Finally, a remembered journey down the Mississippi near home in an old cabin cruiser with her husband turns out, after all her international quests, to be the great adventure of her life.

The real job of being human, Hampl finds, is getting lost in thought, something only leisure can provide. The Art of the Wasted Day is a compelling celebration of the purpose and appeal of letting go.”

Micro Review: This is another book I bought at a local bookstore (Longfellow Books in Portland) when I ran out of good reading material during our quick overnight to Maine this summer. It’s a rare treat for me to walk into a bookstore and buy a brand new book on a whim, but the cover caught my attention and I remembered my friend Nancy Nordenson mentioning this title in her blog last year. Perfect reading for a short get-away. Hampl mixes her own memories of more leisurely moments in her life and relationships with a somewhat niche exploration into the ideas for good living of people like Gregor Mendel and Michel Montaigne. Occasionally I felt a bit ambivalent about the thread Hampl was trying to weave throughout her book but enjoyed her writing style nonetheless. I recommend reading this book about taking leisure seriously with a light heart and no agenda.

41. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
By Tish Harrison Warren (Penguin Books, 2019. 288 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“In the overlooked moments and routines of our day, we can become aware of God's presence in surprising ways. How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something―making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys―that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. Come and discover the holiness of your every day.”

Micro Review: Tsh Warren and I used to live in the same neighborhood and attend the same church. My favorite part of reading this beautiful, uncluttered reflection on the holy rhythms of our everyday lives was hearing her voice. If you’ve ever had the privilege of being in real-life conversation with Tish, you’ll know what I mean. She is warm, intelligent, and compelling. Reading this book is the next best thing to a real-life conversation. Enjoy!

42. Everything Happens For A Reason (and other lies I’ve loved)
By Kate Bowler (Random House, 2019. 208 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School with a modest Christian upbringing, but she specializes in the study of the prosperity gospel, a creed that sees fortune as a blessing from God and misfortune as a mark of God’s disapproval. At thirty-five, everything in her life seems to point toward “blessing.” She is thriving in her job, married to her high school sweetheart, and loves life with her newborn son.

Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

The prospect of her own mortality forces Kate to realize that she has been tacitly subscribing to the prosperity gospel, living with the conviction that she can control the shape of her life with “a surge of determination.” Even as this type of Christianity celebrates the American can-do spirit, it implies that if you “can’t do” and succumb to illness or misfortune, you are a failure. Kate is very sick, and no amount of positive thinking will shrink her tumors. What does it mean to die, she wonders, in a society that insists everything happens for a reason? Kate is stripped of this certainty only to discover that without it, life is hard but beautiful in a way it never has been before.

Frank and funny, dark and wise, Kate Bowler pulls the reader deeply into her life in an account she populates affectionately with a colorful, often hilarious retinue of friends, mega-church preachers, relatives, and doctors. Everything Happens for a Reason tells her story, offering up her irreverent, hard-won observations on dying and the ways it has taught her to live.”

Micro Review: I read Kate Bowler’s compelling story in one extended reading session. I suspect you’ll do the same. I’d heard this title multiple times, but it took an in-person conversation with a new friend to remind me to check our library.

My friend Andrea Dilley wrote an excellent review at CT: Kate Bowler: I Reject the Prosperity Gospel but I Still Crave What It Promises: How terminal cancer gave a young historian greater sympathy with those seeking after “health and wealth.”

Have you seen the greeting card by Emily McDowell inspired by Kate Bowler’s story? You must!


Plough Book Reviews

43. The Heart’s Necessities: A Life In Poetry
By Jane Tyson Clement (Author), Veery Huleatt (Editor), and Becca Stevens (Introduction) (Plough Publishing House, 2019. 160 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Plough Publishing

“Years after her death, a poet's life and work speak across the generations, inspiring new music and more intentional living.

What are the heart's necessities? It's a question Jane Tyson Clement asked herself over and over, both in her poetry and in the way she lived. The things that make life worth living she found in joy and grief, love and longing, and, most importantly, something to believe in. Her observation of the seasons of the soul and of the natural world have made her poems beloved to many readers, most recently jazz artist Becca Stevens. Clement's poetry has gained new life - and a new audience - as lyrics in the songs of this pioneering musician of another century.

Like many great poets, from Emily Dickinson to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jane Tyson Clement (1917-2000) has found more readers since her death than in her lifetime. A new generation that prizes honesty and authenticity is finding in Clement - a restless, questing soul with a life as compelling as her work - a voice that expresses their own deepest feelings, values, and desires.

In this attractive coffee table collection of new and selected poems, editor Veery Huleatt complements Clement's poetry with narrative sketches and scrapbook visuals to weave a biography of this remarkable woman who took the road less traveled, choosing justice over comfort, conviction over career, and love over fame.

Micro Review: What a lovely, lovely read! Admittedly, it took me a bit to get into the gentle rhythm of this intersection of mid-twentieth-century poems, biographic material, and current singer-songwriter reflections. Approach this lovely read with a gentle, open perspective and you will be richly rewarded.

See what others are saying:

Becca Stevens’ posthumous collaboration created the richest settings for Jane Tyson Clement’s poems (listen here). For myself, I’ve chosen another favorite.

I’ll wash my hands of innocence
and cast the snowy robe aside
and shun the face of purity
to walk where sinners now abide.

The bare and brutal face of hate
I must go forth to look upon
and clasp the hand of treachery
with love as if it were my own.

My sins are inward and refined,
my friends the gentle friends of God;
I must go seek the publicans,
the wild companions of my Lord.
— "Resolve" by Jane Tyson Clement

Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read January - June, part 1 [from the book pile 2019]

Oh goodness, how have six+ months gone by without a reading update?!? Life’s been a bit upside down lately, and I’m especially grateful for the companionship of good books. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

Sharing books from my Madeleine L’Engle collection at our reading group this spring.

Sharing books from my Madeleine L’Engle collection at our reading group this spring.

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: A couple years ago I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a horrible reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

1. Children of God: A Novel (The Sparrow Series)
By Mary Doria Russell (Fawcett Books, 1999. 438 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Children of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell’s special literary magic.”

Micro Review: The first book in this two-part series, The Sparrow, was one of the best books I read in 2014, ending up on my top 15 life-changing books since I started keeping track on this blog in 2008. I’d heard that the follow-up, Children of God, was generally good but not enjoyed quite as much by fans of The Sparrow, and I’d agree with that consensus. The first book just about wrecked me -- in mostly good ways. Since it falls in the category of Sci-Fi, I'd probably not have picked it up on my own. But some dear friends shared how much they'd loved the story of -- well, a Jesuit priest in outer space. With only a little bit of experience reading science fiction, I've quickly learned that the power of the genre -- for me -- is the way a well-told story of an imaginary land and its inhabitants can help me reframe the powerful drama of my own land and species in the most surprising, touching ways. This was the case for me reading about the brave team of space explorers hoping to give and receive love on the planet Rakhat -- for some, even the love of the Gospel of Christ. The devastating results of offering pure, but misunderstood, love mirrors all the great tragedies we know since the beginning of man. And the beginning of my very own life on Earth. Children of God split the storyline between Earth and Rakhat and I found that the Rakhat story more compelling. Emilio Sandoz lost a little bit of his shine for me as he tries to recover from trauma and re-enter regular relationships on earth. I understood the trauma, but struggled more with his romantic choices and the results of his forced participation in a Rakhat rescue. The story arc was still compelling and one of the only books I’ve read that I can authentically attribute the over-used descriptor of “spellbinding.”

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read either of Mary Doria' Russell’s Sparrow books! How do you feel about them?

2. This Must Be the Place: A Novel
By Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2016. 400 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"An irresistible love story, an unforgettable family. Best-selling author Maggie O’Farrell captures an extraordinary marriage with insight and laugh-out-loud humor in what Richard Russo calls “her breakout book.” Perfect for readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse.

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?”

Micro Review:

I first heard about this title on a One Great Book podcast with Modern Mrs. Darcy: Volume 1, Book 8 - “if you have a place in your heart and on your shelves for inventive, emotionally resonant literary fiction, that sometimes flouts convention but does it with purpose, whose characters you might love not in spite of, but because of, their flaws, This Must Be the Place may be the next great book you’re looking for.”

This was an enjoyable read with interesting characters, easy-to-follow timeline shifts in the narrative arc, and a satisfactory plot ending. My main disappointment is that while a large portion of the book was set in Ireland, we didn’t get much of a “feel” for the place outside of a few mentions here and there. If Ireland is a setting I want to FEEL IT!


Mysteries

3. The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 3)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 320 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.
It's spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .
When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil---until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?
Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.”

Micro Review: This series has been a quiet little luxury during some difficult days. I read the books kind of like I eat a bowl of popcorn - mostly light and airy with an occasional kernel of buttery goodness. It’s the kind of series I can pick up whenever I need to just read without much brain work but still appreciate the redemptive story arc.

4. A Rule Against Murder: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 4)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 336 pages)

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"What happened here last night isn't allowed," said Madame Dubois.
It was such an extraordinary thing to say it stopped the ravenous Inspector Beauvoir from taking another bite of his roast beef on baguette.

"You have a rule against murder?" he asked.

"I do. When my husband and I bought the Bellechasse we made a pact....Everything that stepped foot on this land would be safe."

It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family—rich, cultured, and respectable—has also arrived for a celebration of their own.

The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.”

Micro Review: See above.

5. The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 5)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2017. 400 pages)

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"The wise and beleaguered Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines The Brutal Telling, the fifth book in Louise Penny's #1 New York Times bestselling series.

Chaos is coming, old son. 

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. Everybody goes to Olivier's Bistro—including a stranger whose murdered body is found on the floor. When Chief Inspector Gamache is called to investigate, he is dismayed to discover that Olivier's story is full of holes. Why are his fingerprints all over the cabin that's uncovered deep in the wilderness, with priceless antiques and the dead man's blood? And what other secrets and layers of lies are buried in the seemingly idyllic village?

Gamache follows a trail of clues and treasures—from first editions of Charlotte's Web and Jane Eyre to a spiderweb with a word mysteriously woven in it—into the woods and across the continent, before returning to Three Pines to confront the truth and the final, brutal telling.”

Micro Review: See above. I’ll add that I found the mystery angle of this story especially compelling.

6. Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 6)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 400 pages)

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"It is Winter Carnival in Quebec City, bitterly cold and surpassingly beautiful. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has come not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. But violent death is inescapable, even in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society--where an obsessive historian's quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder. Could a secret buried with Champlain for nearly four hundred years be so dreadful that someone would kill to protect it?

Meanwhile, Gamache is receiving disquieting letters from the village of Three Pines, where beloved Bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder. "It doesn't make sense," Olivier's partner writes every day. "He didn't do it, you know."

As past and present collide in this astonishing novel, Gamache must relive a terrible event from his own past before he can begin to bury his dead.”

Micro Review: See above. I’ll add that I loved the opportunity to get out of the quirky, but loveable Three Pines community into the rich, historical setting of Quebec. Montreal is totally on our travel bucket list! I also appreciated the way the mysteries included the current crime and a revisit to an old, somewhat unresolved crime from a previous book.


Short Stories

7. Strange Pilgrims
By Gabriel García Márquez (Convergent Books, 2016. 224 pages)

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"In Barcelona, an aging Brazilian prostitute trains her dog to weep at the grave she has chosen for herself. In Vienna, a woman parlays her gift for seeing the future into a fortunetelling position with a wealthy family. In Geneva, an ambulance driver and his wife take in the lonely, apparently dying ex-President of a Caribbean country, only to discover that his political ambition is very much intact.

In these twelve masterly stories about the lives of Latin Americans in Europe, García Márquez conveys the peculiar amalgam of melancholy, tenacity, sorrow, and aspiration that is the émigré experience.”

Micro Review: My friend Ryan loaned me this book with the invitation to try reading Gabriel García Márquez again after I gave up on his acclaimed One Hundred Years of Solitude which I gave up on pretty quickly. He was right. The short story format was a better genre to get to know the author and I waded through them like a walk on the seashore - refreshing, beautiful, and occasionally, mesmerizing. I think more than anything plot-driven, I found the author’s ability to describe settings and characters in story after story affecting me like wave after wave (twelve stories in all) of sharp but alluring prose.

As an example, I could read this character description over and over just for the hypnotic quality of the combination of words (and this is the translation!):

“She was beautiful and lithe, with soft skin the color of bread and eyes like green almonds, and she had straight black hair that reached to her shoulders, and an aura of antiquity that could just as well have been Indonesian as Andean. She was dressed with subtle taste: a lynx jacket, a raw silk blouse with very delicate flowers, natural linen trousers, and shoes with a narrow stripe the color of bougainvillea. 'This is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen,' I thought, when I saw her pass by with the stealthy stride of a lioness, while I waited in the check-in line at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for the plane to New York. ”
- Gabriel García Márquez, Strange Pilgrims


Apostles Reads Selections

8. Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
By Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent Books, 2016. 224 pages)

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"In this classic book, Madeleine L'Engle addresses the questions, What does it mean to be a Christian artist? and What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L'Engle's beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one's own art.”

Micro Review: I re-read this book with our church’s reading group for Epiphany and loved it every bit as much the second (third?) time around. The theme of invisible being made visible in the everyday world is perfect for Epiphany when we read through the accounts of Jesus’ being revealed as God in some of the most famous Gospel encounters.

It’s the perfect book to read with friends interested in the ways art and artists tell the story of truth, goodness, and beauty in this world.

9. Hinds’ Feet On High Places: An Engaging Visual Journey
By Hannah Hurnard, Illustrated By Jill de Haan and Rachel McNaughton (Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. 160 pages)

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"Journey with Much-Afraid to new heights of love, joy, and victory. For the first time, this beloved Christian allegory is a mixed-media special edition complete with charming watercolor paintings, antique tinted photography, meditative hand-lettered Scripture, journaling and doodling space, and designs to color. As you read and connect with the story of Much-Afraid and her trials, the pages of this book become a canvas on which to chronicle your own story, struggles, and personal triumphs.

Hinds' Feet on High Places, with more than 2,000,000 copies sold, is a story of endurance, persistence, and reliance on God. This book has inspired millions of people to become sure-footed in their faith even when facing the rockiest of life's terrain. The story of Much-Afraid is based on Psalm 18:33: "He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights."

The complete Hinds' Feet story is accented by 80 full-color paintings, photography, and hand-lettered Scripture.”

Micro Review: We read this beloved Christian allegory with our church’s reading group for Lent this year. I selected this beautiful mixed-media special edition complete with charming watercolor paintings, antique tinted photography, meditative hand-lettered Scripture, journaling and doodling space, and designs to color. I’ve lost track of the number of times since Easter that I’ve thought back to Much-Afraid’s challenging journey to her new identity of Grace and Glory. I’ll return to this devotional year after year.


Spirituality / Non-Fiction

10. Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace
By Christie Purifoy (Zondervan, 2019. 224 pages)

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"Images of comfortable kitchens and flower-filled gardens stir something deep within us--we instinctively long for home. In a world of chaos and conflict, we want a place of comfort and peace.

In Placemaker, Christie Purifoy invites us to notice our soul's desire for beauty, our need to create and to be created again and again. As she reflects on the joys and sorrows of two decades as a placemaker and her recent years living in and restoring a Pennsylvania farmhouse, Christie shows us that we are all gardeners. No matter our vocation, we spend much of our lives tending, keeping, and caring. In each act of creation, we reflect the image of God. In each moment of making beauty, we realize that beauty is a mystery to receive.

Weaving together her family's journey with stories of botanical marvels and the histories of the flawed yet inspiring placemakers who shaped the land generations ago, Christie calls us to cultivate orchards and communities, to clap our hands along with the trees of the fields. Placemaker is a timely yet timeless reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of a world that is more real than we know. A call to tend the soul, the land, and the places we share with one another. A reminder that we are always headed home.”

Micro Review: I was able to review Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christie Purifoy for Englewood Review of Books
A Flouring Tree, A Feature Review:

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, encourages writers to remember Thoreau’s salient recommendation: “Circle round and round your life… Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” If it’s possible to gnaw a bone elegantly, Christie Purifoy does just that in her newly-released second book, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace. Like her debut, Roots & Sky, Purifoy continues to circle round and round the subject of finding, losing, and making home.

With regard to Thoreau, a more apt metaphor Placemaker might be sitting under the shade of a tree we didn’t plant. Purifoy provides a virtual grove of shade trees gathered from the landscapes of the places she’s lived throughout her life. Not unlike Annie Dillard (or Thoreau) in her diligence to wring wonder from the natural world, Christie Purifoy offers readers glimpses of the universe’s deepest truth, goodness, and beauty from the fauna and flora we encounter in the ordinary places we make our homes.”

You can read the rest of my review describing why I loved this book and some of the trees in my own story here.

11. The Sabbath (FSG Classics)
By Abraham Joshua Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pages)

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"Elegant, passionate, and filled with the love of God's creation, Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath has been hailed as a classic of Jewish spirituality ever since its original publication-and has been read by thousands of people seeking meaning in modern life. In this brief yet profound meditation on the meaning of the Seventh Day, Heschel introduced the idea of an "architecture of holiness" that appears not in space but in time Judaism, he argues, is a religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that "the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals."

Micro Review: This was a re-read for me in order to follow along with Englewood Review of Books’ Lenten online reading group. I facilitated one of the sessions. You can see my questions for Chapters 7-9 here.

Here’s an excerpt from my reflection following the first time I read the book (back in 2015):

Even though I'd always meant to read it because Abraham Joshua Heschel is quoted by almost every author I've ever read (usually from this book), I'll admit it was seeing an image of the cover art that finally got me to purchase the book.  The prints of wood engravings by Ilya Schor on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter provide an elegance to Heschel's graceful words about the beauty of Sabbath time to Jewish faith and life.  Heschel's words are poetic (at times, even, mythical) which I found captivating enough, but especially so when paired with his daughter's prologue to the book which explained in more day-to-day (week-to-week, rather) terms of what a Sabbath practice looked like in her father's home.

Beautiful.”


Christian Perspective / Social Issues

12. Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness
By Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Foreword by Justin Welby (Brazos Press, 2015. 240 pages)

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"Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond to mental illness? In this brave and compassionate book, theologian and priest Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bipolar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as suicide, mental hospitals, and electroconvulsive therapy. Greene-McCreight offers the reader everything from poignant and raw glimpses into the mind of a mentally ill person to practical and forthright advice for their friends, family, and clergy.

The first edition has been recognized as one of the finest books on the subject. This thoroughly revised edition incorporates updated research and adds anecdotal and pastoral commentary. It also includes a new foreword by the current Archbishop of Canterbury and a new afterword by the author.”

Micro Review: We’re walking with a loved one suffering from severe depression. Friends loaned us Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s book and I’d recommend it to everyone wanting to be a good gift to mental illness. May our tribe increase.

13. Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
By M. Daniel Carroll R. (Brazos Press, 2013. 170 pages)

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"Immigration is one of the most pressing issues on the national agenda. In this accessible book, an internationally recognized immigration expert helps readers think biblically about this divisive issue, offering accessible, nuanced, and sympathetic guidance for the church. As both a Guatemalan and an American, the author is able to empathize with both sides of the struggle and argues that each side has much to learn.

This updated and revised edition reflects changes from the past five years, responds to criticisms of the first edition, and expands sections that have raised questions for readers. It includes a foreword by Samuel Rodriguez and an afterword by Ronald Sider. This timely, clear, and compassionate resource will benefit all Christians who are thinking through the immigration issue..”

Micro Review: We had the privilege of hearing Danny Carroll speak at our diocesan convention last autumn on the biblical lens for immigration. Put this at the top of your reading and listening lists. You can see each of his three plenary talks from the weekend here. If you aren’t able to read the book right away, you can also hear the author in this series of brief videos.

The entire thread weaving through all of Scripture places priority on the foreigner and stranger. To think Christianly about immigration is actually pretty plain. Policies are complex and require good governance. The posture of anyone who lives within the Kingdom of Christ toward immigrants is straightforward. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.


Plough Book Reviews

14. Jean Vanier: Portrait of A Free Man
By Anne-Sophie Constant, Translated By Allen Page (Plough Publishing House, August 2019. 250 pages)

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"The life of Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche, who changed the way the world views disability

It’s a crazy story. In August 1964 a thirty-six-year-old Canadian from a famous family – one who has already joined the navy during war at age thirteen, become an officer, earned a PhD, and taught ethics at the University of Toronto -- takes up residence in a little house he just bought in the village of Trosly, France, with two mentally disabled men he has removed from a care home. The house, which he calls l’Arche (the Ark), has neither water nor electricity. His plan? None. He is just convinced he has to do it, touched by the silent cry of these men shut up in the gloomy, violent institution where he found them. His example is contagious; within months the community has grown to over fifty.

Jean Vanier is known and loved around the world for having created L'Arche, those unique communities of people with disabilities and their volunteer caregivers in more than one hundred and fifty sites on five continents. But Vanier is also a philosopher, a spiritual master who touches believers and nonbelievers alike, a tireless messenger of peace and ecumenism, and an adventurer with life full of twists and turns. Anne-Sophie Constant's literary biography paints a rare portrait of this extraordinary man and the events and influences that shaped his destiny.

“The story of Jean Vanier is the story of a free man – a man who knew how to become himself, who knew how to free himself from restraints, opinions, and prejudices; from intellectual, religious or moral habits; from his epoch; from popular opinion. . . . Jean Vanier has transformed the lives of thousands and thousands of mentally disabled people. And he has transformed the understanding of thousands of people regarding the disabilities of their own children and of people with disabilities. Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty. And he knows how to open the eyes of others to see it..”

Micro Review: It’s a curious thing about us humans that we often delay our acquaintanceship with the work of remarkable humans until they die. For that reason, this August may be perfect timing for this new release from Plough Publishing House as the world mourns the loss of Jean Vanier, age 90, in May. For those like me who have circled around the writing and wisdom of the man who traded in a life of the political and academic elite to found L’Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 37 countries, for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. I find these kinds of biographies that provide background and context for the lives of those who so deeply influence the world helpful as a launch into the primary sources written by the figures themselves. I’m looking forward to reading deeply through Vanier’s writing and grateful to Anne-Sophie Constant and Plough for inviting me into the circle of those who knew the man firsthand.

More than anything I want to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, put on Jean Vanier as he put on Christ. I want to become more fully human in the process of companioning others to do the same. Thanks to this portrait of Vanier’s life I will always imagine the Kingdom of Christ like the crowd who gathered for L’Arche’s fiftieth-anniversary celebration. Here’s the description from the book’s epilogue:

“[The festival} took place on September 27 [2014]. To the surprise of the passersby, there was a gigantic parade of seven thousand people marching from the Hôtel de Ville to the Place de la République. The crowd shouted, sang, and danced in the streets as colorful balloons floated into the air. “What are you demonstrating against?” people asked. “Against nothing! We’re celebrating! Come dance and eat cake with us.”… So they danced on the Place de la République - marchers, wheelchairs, and pedestrians all mixed together.”

May each protest I offer against all that is inhuman and unlove have the air of the celebration that the Kingdom is here and now and through what Vanier described as the “sacrament of the poor” can be lived in the good company of Jesus who invites us all, like little children, into the belovedness of God.

15. At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl
By Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, Edited by Inge Jens, Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Plough Publishing House, 2017. 381 pages)

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"Personal letters and diaries provide an intimate view into the hearts and minds of a brother and sister who became martyrs in the anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.

Idealistic, serious, and sensible, Hans and Sophie Scholl joined the Hitler Youth with youthful and romantic enthusiasm. But as Hitler’s grip throttled Germany and Nazi atrocities mounted, Hans and Sophie emerged from their adolescence with the conviction that at all costs they must raise their voices against the murderous Nazi regime.

In May of 1942, with Germany still winning the war, an improbable little band of students at Munich University began distributing the leaflets of the White Rose. In the very city where the Nazis got their start, they demanded resistance to Germany’s war efforts and confronted their readers with what they had learned of Hitler’s “final solution”: “Here we see the most terrible crime committed against the dignity of humankind, a crime that has no counterpart in human history.”

These broadsides were secretly drafted and printed in a Munich basement by Hans Scholl, by now a young medical student and military conscript, and a handful of young co-conspirators that included his twenty-one-year-old sister Sophie. The leaflets placed the Scholls and their friends in mortal danger, and it wasn’t long before they were captured and executed.

As their letters and diaries reveal, the Scholls were not primarily motivated by political beliefs, but rather came to their convictions through personal spiritual search that eventually led them to sacrifice their lives for what they believed was right. Interwoven with commentary on the progress of Hitler’s campaign, the letters and diary entries range from veiled messages about the course of a war they wanted their country to lose, to descriptions of hikes and skiing trips and meditations on Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Rilke, and Verlaine; from entreaties to their parents for books and sweets hard to get in wartime, to deeply humbled and troubled entreaties to God for an understanding of the presence of such great evil in the world. There are alarms when Hans is taken into military custody, when their father is jailed, and when their friends are wounded on the eastern front. But throughout―even to the end, when the Scholls’ sense of peril is most oppressive―there appear in their writings spontaneous outbursts of joy and gratitude for the gifts of nature, music, poetry, and art. In the midst of evil and degradation, theirs is a celebration of the spiritual and the humane.

Illustrated with photographs of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends and co-conspirators..”

Micro Review: I’d never heard of Hans and Sophie Scholl or the White Rose before receiving this book from Plough Publishing. In one way I’m glad to be just learning their story now against the backdrop or our current political and cultural climate. I’m beginning to understand that the one-dimensional understanding of anyone loyal to Hitler’s Germany has created massive blind spots and harmful ignorance in our belief that we’re living on the “right side of history.” May God raise up many more Hans and Sophie Scholls in our day. May we, like these young, idealists be willing as their peer in the resistance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, allow all our wish-dreams to be shattered by Jesus.

And even then, in our zeal for Christ’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, may we like Sophie Scholl never lose sight of the beauty of our Father’s world who wrote during her final autumn - a few months before her execution by the Nazi government ruling her beloved Germany:

“Now I’m delighting once more in the last rays of the sun and marveling at the incredible beauty of all that wasn’t created by man: the red dahlias beside the white garden gate, the tall, solemn fir trees, the tremulous, gold-draped birches whose gleaming trunks stand out against all the green and russet foliage, and the golden sunshine that intensifies the colors of each individual object, unlike the blazing summer sun, which overpowers anything else that tries to stir. It’s all so wonderfully beautiful here that I’ve no idea what kind of emotion my speechless heart should develop for it, because it’s too immature to take pure pleasure in it. It merely marvels and contents itself with wonder and enchantment - isn’t it mysterious - and frightening, too, when one doesn’t know the reason - that everything should be so beautiful in spite of the terrible things that are happening? My sheer delight in all things beautiful has been invaded by a great unknown, an inkling of the creator whom his creatures glorify with their beauty. - That’s why mane alone can be ugly, because he has the free will to disassociate himself from this song of praise. Nowadays one is often tempted to believe that he’ll drown the song with gunfire and curses and blasphemy. But it dawned on me last spring that he can’t, and I’ll try to take the winning side.”

Read this book with a side of humble curiosity and then pass it on.

16. The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selections from His Poems, Letters, Journals, and Spiritual Writings (The Gospel in Great Writers)
By Gerard Manley Hopkins and Margaret R. Ellsberg, Foreword by Dana Gioia (Plough Publishing House, 2017. 268 pages)

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"How did a Catholic priest who died a failure become one of the world’s greatest poets? Discover in his own words the struggle for faith that gave birth to some of the best spiritual poetry of all time.

Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves his place among the greatest poets in the English language. He ranks seventh among the most frequently reprinted English-language poets, surpassed only by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Dickinson, Yeats, and Wordsworth.

Yet when the English Jesuit priest died of typhoid fever at age forty-four, he considered his life a failure. He never would have suspected that his poems, which would not be published for another twenty-nine years, would eventually change the course of modern poetry and influence such poets as W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney. Like his contemporaries Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Hopkins revolutionized poetic language.

And yet we love Hopkins not only for his literary genius but for the hard-won faith that finds expression in his verse. Who else has captured the thunderous voice of God and the grandeur of his creation on the written page as Hopkins has? Seamlessly weaving together selections from Hopkins’s poems, letters, journals, and sermons, Peggy Ellsberg lets the poet tell the story of a life-long struggle with faith that gave birth to some of the best poetry of all time. Even readers who spurn religious language will find in Hopkins a refreshing, liberating way to see God’s hand at work in the world.”

Micro Review: I re-read this insightful book for a Selah assignment this spring to study a Christian mystic. I was delighted to discover that one of my favorites, Gerard Manley Hopkins, included in a list of English mystic poets on God in nature.

Here’s my mini-review from my first read back in 2017:

I'm grateful for any opportunity I have to learn an artist through his life story. There are drawbacks, of course. Sometimes it's hard to look a hero in the proverbial eye through their letters and journal entries. It's hard to hear the doubt, insecurity, and suffering of the people who've introduced so much beauty into the world. Oh my goodness, Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems are beautiful. And his suffering was real. My favorite part of the book is still the poems, which I guess I could read in his collected works, but I've learned that I often prefer to read and study artists' work within the context of their everyday lives. 

Here's my all-time favorite Hopkins line from The Wreck of the Deutschland: "Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east".

Yes, let it be so.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

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p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

Lent Daybook, 8: Saved

Lent Daybook, 8: Saved

Welcome to a Lent daybook for these 40 days of prayer. Click through the title link to see the full post.

Look: Black Cross, Georgia O’Keeffe - Source

Listen: “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: 1. Prélude” from Bach: Cello Suites Nos. 1-6, BWV: 1007-1012, Johann Sebastian Bach, Yo-Yo Ma - Spotify | YouTube

Read: Psalm 50; Deuteronomy 9:23-10:5; Hebrews 4:1-10; John 3:16-21

Pray: adapted from John 3:16

Do: Fast from TV / Entertainment this week. Read instead!

Read More

Our favorite Lent devotionals and online resources

 Is this your first time to practice Lent? Here's a simple introduction.

Lent begins in a little less than a week!  I wanted to share a quick list of devotional books and other resources we've enjoyed over the past few years. 

First things first: Lent is mostly about recognizing God’s heart for us and the gaps between what we understand about His heart and what we actually receive. You may or may not need any additional resources beyond meeting regularly with your church for worship. If it’s helpful for your daily practice to have a devotional book or meditative prompts, the rest of this post is loaded with ideas. If you’re new to Lent, here's a simple introduction.

I’m someone who relishes the “community” of the written word, art, and other resources. I’m also just as likely to avoid God’s heart for me by losing myself in a pile of devotional resources. You might decide that this year you need one Psalm and a good hiking trail or empty journal or small group of trusted friends to consider God’s heart together. You might only need a Scripture verse to meditate through the 40 days (plus 6 blessed Sundays!) of Lent, a special candle and bouquet of flowers to catch your attention each morning.

All of that to say: please proceed with caution. Know you are deeply held in God’s heart and He is most interested in the space you’ll make for Him to share himself with you.

Lenten flowers.jpg

Here’s our favorite resources - in print and online - we’ve found helpful through the years. You'll notice that we definitely lean toward art/literature/liturgy in our devotional material. Also, we've used each of these books (some every year) unless otherwise noted.

I’d love to hear what you’d add to the list!


Devotionals

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, by C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Jane Kenyon and more, Plough Publishing House, 2014

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Like it’s Advent companion, this collection will satisfy the growing hunger for meaningful and accessible devotions. Culled from the wealth of twenty centuries, the selections in Bread and Wine are ecumenical in scope and represent the best classic and contemporary Christian writers. Includes approximately fifty readings on Easter and related themes by Thomas à Kempis, Frederick Buechner, Oswald Chambers, Alfred Kazin, Jane Kenyon, Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Christina Rossetti, Edith Stein, Walter Wangerin, William Willimon, Philip Yancey, and others.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross, IVP Books, 2009

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Living the Christian Year remains one of the best devotionals we've seen that covers the entire liturgical year. Whether you're familiar or unfamiliar with following the liturgical year, this book makes it easy to do, offering here the significance and history of each season, ideas for living out God's Story in your own life, and devotions that follow the church calendar for each day of the year. The author’s uncomplicated, but substantial, introductions for each liturgical season are especially helpful for those who are new to following the Church calendar.

The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2005

Amazon | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

I'm always grateful for devotionals that cover the whole arc of a liturgical cycle. We gain so much when we walk with Christ through the biblical narratives of Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Like in her Advent corollary, I appreciate Wright's devotional voice. In the narrative she interjects from her own life she manages to speak with both warmth and soundness without tipping over into sentimentality or prescription. I appreciate the balance, and find it lacking from many female devotional writers. I’m especially grateful to Wendy Wright for her applications of classic music and literature into the weekly Lent reflections.

40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. by Alicia Britt Chole, Thomas Nelson, 2016

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Our church used this devotional together our final Lent in Austin. This is an excellent guide for anyone wanting to understand better the spiritual practice of fasting.


Devotionals and Meditations especially suited for families

Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Holy Week and Easter) by Jessica Snell, Doulos Resources, 2014

Amazon (It’s currently out of stock, but you can find used booksellers.) | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

A mercifully simple, but substantial collection of ideas for living out the liturgical year with your family. This book is especially geared toward families with young children.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago, Zonderkidz, 2007

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Every person I know who owns this book loves it (and many adults admit they love it for themselves as much as for their children). "...invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation---and at the center of their Story too." While it is a storybook that covers the whole Bible, many families enjoy intentionally following the journey of Christ during Advent and Lent. You can download a free Jesus Storybook Lent Guide for your family.

Wisdom in the Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days (Stories from the Farm in Lucy series) by Phyllis Tickle, Loyola Press, 2004

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I just discovered this charming little trilogy of books for the liturgical year from the religion section of our library book sale. I knew Phyllis Tickle's work in the Divine Hours prayer manuals, but had no idea she was a long-time columnist and wrote such lovely prose. I also had no idea that Mrs. Tickle was mother to seven children, 5 of whom she and her husband Sam moved to a Tennessee farm when they wanted to recover their own childhood rural roots. Each brief, engaging story in the book is taken from the family's escapades making life work on the farm.

Seamless Faith: Simple Practice for Daily Family Life by Traci Smith, Chalice Press, 2014

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I browsed this book on recommendation and then quickly passed it along to my sister to use with her preschool kiddos. This is the kind of book I wish I’d known about when my kids were little. If you try it, let me know what you think!


Art & Literature Meditations for Lent

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, Paraclete Press

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Like its Advent companion is for Advent, this is my favorite devotional book for Lent. The full-color artwork is gorgeous and the writings include authors like Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Luci Shaw, James Schaap and Lauren Winner. We put this book on an easel next to our candles, along with some Bibles for people to pick up and read when they have quiet moments.

Lenten Meditations by James B. Janknegt, 2016

Buy from the author’s website.

Forty paintings based on the parables of Jesus, one for each day of Lent. Artwork, meditations, and prayer all by the author/artist Jim Janknegt. Brian and I had the privilege to help fund the creation of this beautiful book by one of our favorite Austin artists, and we highly recommend it to you. Great for individuals or families.

Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for Christian year by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012

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While this collection of sonnets from the Anglican priest/poet/troubadour covers the entire year, his 5 sonnets for Holy Week and 14 sonnets for the Stations of the Cross are stunning.

Word In the Wilderness: A poem a day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press Norwich, 2014

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We don’t own this book (yet), but I follow Malcolm Guite’s generous blog and have read much of what’s in the book. He is a gift to our generation (and many more to come). One bonus of reading Guite’s sonnets on his blog is to hear him read his sonnets by clicking the link for the audio recording. A real treat from our British brother!

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide by Sarah Arthur, Paraclete Press, 2016

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Like its Advent and Ordinary Time companions, Sarah Arthur’s thoughtful Lent reader compiles work from classic and contemporary literature provides prayer, Psalm, Scripture readings, poetry and fiction selections for each week throughout Lent and the seven weeks of Eastertide, with daily selections for Holy Week. Poetry and fictions selections include new voices such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Benjamín Alire Sáenz along with well-loved classics by Dostoevsky, Rossetti, and Eliot.This is an excellent resource for anyone wishing to develop more fully in the practice of spiritual reading.

The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter by Sister Wendy Beckett, SPCK, 2017

Amazon | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

We don’t own this book yet, but it’s at the top of my wish list! “This delightful book describes and interprets a series of paintings for each day of Lent. Artists often address subjects that our culture seeks to avoid, and Sister Wendy's brilliant and perceptive reflections will help you to read these paintings with a more discerning eye and encounter deeper levels of spiritual meaning than may at first appear.”

Hinds’ Feet On High Places: An Engaging Visual Journey by Hannah Hurnard, Illustrated by Jill De Haan and Rachel McNaughton, Tyndale House Publishers, 2017

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We’re reading this beloved Christian allegory with our church’s reading group for Lent this year. This mixed-media special edition complete with charming watercolor paintings, antique tinted photography, meditative hand-lettered Scripture, journaling and doodling space, and designs to color looks beautiful!


Theology for Lent

The Cross of Christ by John Stott - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Meditations On the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Seven Last Words From the Cross by Fleming Rutledge - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion by N.T. Wright - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Death On A Friday Afternoon: Meditations On The Last Words Of Jesus From The Cross by Richard John Neuhaus - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers


Fiction with Lenten themes

The Wrinkle In Time Quintet - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season by C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Leo Tolstoy, and more - Plough Publishing House | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Silence: A Novel by Shusaku Endo - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Forty for 40: A Literary Reader for Lent


Non-fiction with Lenten themes

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers (Follow along with me and other readers this Lent through Englewood Review of Books!)

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson - Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Lent 2015 – Recommended Books to Read and Discuss via Englewood Review of Books

Raising Racial Awareness: Book Recommendations from Englewood Review of Books

4 books on grief you’ll actually love


Online resources for Lent

Lent Daybook 2019 from A Sacramental Life (!)

An American Lent from The Repentance Project

Announcing Our Lenten Book Conversation for The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Englewood Review of Books

Artful Devotion, a weekly blog series offered throughout Lent and the rest of the liturgical year at Art & Theology by Victoria Emily Jones


Helpful articles & resources for practicing Lent

Giving Up and Taking Up: What we do (and don’t do) when we keep Lent by Tish Harrison Warren at The Well

A Suggestion for Lent & Soup: Let’s Get Ready for Lenten Suppers! from Like Mother, Like Daughter

Lenten Disciplines: Almsgiving from Anglican Pastor

Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Easter and Lent via The Homely Hours

Ash Wednesday Explained via The Homely Hours

“Grand Ordinariness:” Thoughts on Cooking with Limits via The Homely Hours

Lent Collects: Printable via The Homely Hours

Help in Practicing the Examen by Cobbleworks

Pancakes, Donuts, and Carnival via Pathways to God

An Ignatian Diet for Lent via Pathways to God

Practices & Resources for Observing Lent from Cardiphonia


Please note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)

What I Read October - December 2018

With the increased reading for my spiritual direction certification, my time for other types of reading is more limited. Still I managed to get through a few titles to finish up 2018. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

October work date with Brian at  Book Trader Cafe  in New Haven

October work date with Brian at Book Trader Cafe in New Haven

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

37. Virgil Wander
By Leif Enger (Grove House, 2018. 352 pages)

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"The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals―from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller."

Micro Review:

After a decade of no new work, I was eager to read anything Leif Enger’s written. I was delighted that it was this book. I’m not sure anything will ever match my love for Enger’s Peace Like A River, but Virgil Wander delivered a cast of characters I enjoyed meeting in a setting I loved. A few times I got caught imagining everyone as if they were the cast of The Majestic (starring Jim Carrey) because there are a couple of uncanny similarities in the plot. By the end of the story, though, I was fully living the kite-flying, beachcombing life on the shore of Lake Superior.


Apostles Reads Selections

38. The Complete Stories (FSG Classics)
By Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First edition, 1971. 576 pages)

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“The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O'Connor's monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O'Connor put together in her short lifetime--Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

O'Connor published her first story, "The Geranium," in 1946, while she was working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, "Judgement Day"--sent to her publisher shortly before her death―is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of "The Geranium." Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O'Connor's longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux.

Micro Review:

My loyalty to Ms. O’Connor has faltered a few times in the current revelations of white supremacy stubbornly cloistered in the Church. After assigning our church’s reading group read this title for Ordinary Time, Brian and I started re-reading the stories out loud to each other. The impact of hearing our own voices repeating the “N” word which takes up so much word count in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories felt something like hearing myself shout “Crucify Him!” in the public recitation of the Passion accounts during Holy Week each year. In that light, we found value in placing ourselves in the role of the shameless racism of so many of O’Connor’s characters. After all, “we and our fathers have sinned” and there’s a backwards kind of kindness in the relentless monstrosity of these characters and stories. After reading her work yet again, I still see the brilliance in her refusal to paint even a single sentence with sentimentality and pray for eyes to see within my own self the seeds of self-righteous monstrosity steering the truest so many antagonists written in her stories.

39. A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens, Narrated by Tim Curry (Released, 2010. 3 hours, 31 minutes)

Amazon Audible | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, masterfully narrated by Tim Curry, was available for a limited time last year, and now it's back. This one-of-a-kind performance puts a unique spin on a treasured classic, and served as the inspiration for the exciting new line of Audible Signature Classics, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Elijah Wood, and Heart of Darkness with Kenneth Branagh. Tim Curry performs this timeless holiday story in a deliciously dark tone, returning it to its Dickensian roots with a vivid imagining of Victorian London and just the right touch of outrageous fun.

A Christmas Carol has constantly been in print since its original publication in 1849, and has been adapted for stage, television, film, and opera. It has often been credited with returning the jovial and festive atmosphere to the holiday season in Britain and North America, following the somber period that emerged during the Industrial Revolution.

The story opens on a bleak and cold Christmas Eve as Ebenezer Scrooge is closing up his office for the day. As the story progresses and Christmas morning approaches, Scrooge encounters the unforgettable characters that make this story a classic: Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and, of course, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.”

Micro Review:

This was the Advent and Christmastide selection for Apostles Reads.

I have a book confession. I have never read a single one of Dickens' novels, including the classic-of-all-Christmas classics, A Christmas Carol. What better time to repent of my reading transgressions than the start of our third year reading together?

Further confession: Even though I've never read the actual book, I own several copies. I also watch several versions of the various film every December (while I'm on a confession roll, Kermit the Frog is my favorite Bob Cractchit!)

Brian and I “read” this title via audiobook on our drive to celebrate Christmas in Texas with our kids. We loved Tim Curry as our narrator! Highly recommend reading, listening, and watching this story as long as we live with Christmases Yet To Come.


Essays & Non-Fiction

40. Writings From The New Yorker, 1927 - 1976
By E. B. White (Harper Perennial; Reissue edition, 2006. 256 pages)

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“A delightful, witty, spirited collection of short pieces and essays by the inimitable E. B. White.”

Micro Review: E. B. White is one of my all-time favorites for both Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan. I love his voice in his non-fiction as well. This collection of essays covers an unforgettable era in America’s history and while Mr. White often chooses a slight rose-colored hue in his perspective on the world, the overall affect of decades of his column is one of goodness and beauty. 

 

41. The Writing Life
By Ellen Gilchrist (University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 226 pages)

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“Celebrated author Ellen Gilchrist has played many roles-writer and speaker, wife and lover, mother and grandmother. But she never tackled the role of teacher.

Offered the opportunity to teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she took up the challenge and ventured into unknown territory. In the process of teaching more than two hundred students since her first class in 2000, she has found inspiration in their lives and ambitions and in the challenge of conveying to them the lessons she has learned from living and writing.

The Writing Life brings together fifty essays and vignettes centered on the transforming magic of literature and the teaching and writing of it. A portion of the collection discusses the delicate balance between an artistic life and family commitments, especially the daily pressures and frequent compromises faced by a young mother. Gilchrist next focuses on the process of writing itself with essays ranging from "How I Wrote a Book of Short Stories in Three Months" to "Why Is Rewriting so Hard?"

Several essays discuss her appreciation of other writers, from Shakespeare to Larry McMurtry, and the lessons she learned from them. Eudora Welty made an indelible impact on Gilchrist's work. When Gilchrist takes on the task of teaching, her essays reveal an enriched understanding of the role writing plays in any life devoted to the craft. Humorous and insightful, she assesses her own abilities as an instructor and confronts the challenge of inspiring students to attain the discipline and courage to pursue the sullen art. Some of these pieces have been previously published in magazines, but most are unpublished and all appear here in book form for the first time.”

Micro Review: Simple, enjoyable essays on the life of a woman and a writer. I especially appreciated Ms. Gilchrist’s insights to what it means to look back on her life as a someone who was and still is both a mother and a writer.


Poetry

42. Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year
By Malcolm Guite (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012. 108 pages)

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“Poetry has always been a central element of Christian spirituality and is increasingly used in worship, in pastoral services and guided meditation. In Sounding the Seasons, Cambridge poet, priest and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite transforms seventy lectionary readings into lucid, inspiring poems, for use in regular worship, seasonal services, meditative reading or on retreat.

Already widely recognised, Malcolm's writing has been acclaimed by Rowan Williams and Luci Shaw, two leading contemporary religious poets. Seven Advent poems from this collection will appear in the next edition of Penguin's (US) Best Spiritual Writing edited by Philip Zaleski, alongside the work of writers such as Seamus Heaney and Annie Dillard.

A section of practical help and advice for using poetry creatively and effectively in worship is also included.

Micro Review: I refer to Malcolm Guite’s sonnets as closely as I do to any other theologian I read and was delighted to introduce his work to our church’s reading group last year. In the collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Guite turns 70 lectionary readings into beautiful, poignant spiritual reflections. We read through this book as a companion to all our reading during 2018, reading several aloud each time we gathered. As a bonus, we grew in our understanding and appreciation for the sonnet as a classic poetic form.


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction / Bible Study

43. Go In Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions
By Julia Gatta & Martin L. Smith (Morehouse Publishing, 2012. 144 pages)

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“Although the sacramental Rite of Reconciliation is included in many Anglican prayer books, nothing has been written expressly Anglicans since the 1980s that focuses on the pastoral skills required for this ministry.  This book combines and passes on the teaching, coaching, skill development, and accumulated pastoral wisdom that has not been widely accessible or well integrated into clergy training.

Realistic transcripts and "verbatims" of sample confessions and counseling sessions involving a wide range of people makes this a unique ministry resource for most seminaries and theological colleges, plus clergy in general-including Lutheran pastors who use the rite of "Individual Confession and Absolution" in the Lutheran Book of Worship.”

Micro Review: I read Go In Peace as part of my spiritual direction certification requirements. It will end up being in the top five of my favorites from the course. While various denominations practice giving and receiving confession in community in a variety of ways, Gatta and Smith provide theological insight and encouragement for all of us to embrace this means of grace for wholeness and intimacy with God, each other, and ourselves. If you care about participating in a healthy church, I recommend this book.

44. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
By Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 1999. 128 pages)

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“With wisdom, compassion, and gentle humor, Parker J. Palmer invites us to listen to the inner teacher and follow its leadings toward a sense of meaning and purpose. Telling stories from his own life and the lives of others who have made a difference, he shares insights gained from darkness and depression as well as fulfillment and joy, illuminating a pathway toward vocation for all who seek the true calling of their lives.”

Micro Review: I’d heard so often from people who enjoyed this book and finally read it during my Ordinary Time blog series, Work Stories. I inhaled the brief, but profound book. I need to buy my own copy since I’d borrowed the one I read from the library and couldn’t underline or bookmark anything. Highly recomend.

 

45. The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice Series)
By James Bryan Smith (IVP Books, 2010. 240 pages)

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“In this third book in the Apprentice Series, James Bryan Smith helps us know how to live in relationship with others as apprentices of Jesus. "Apprentices of Jesus are not part-time do-gooders," he writes. "They live in continuous contact with the kingdom of God, and are constantly men and women in whom Christ dwells. They do not sometimes tell the truth, sometimes live sacrificially or sometimes forgive. There are myriad opportunities for us to impact the world in which we live." Yet many times we've gotten it wrong, tending to emphasize personal faith over social justice or vice versa. In these pages Jim Smith shows us how to bring spiritual formation and community engagement together, and then once again offers spiritual practices that root new, true narratives about God and the world in our souls. His insight and humility as a fellow learner with us will lead us to live in authentic ways as a good and beautiful community of Christ-followers, shining the light of the Spirit into every relationship.”

Micro Review: Our small group at church finished this, the third and final title in James Bryan Smith’s Apprentice series. I’m still impressed not only with the author's substantive, but accessible, theological insight, but also with his gracious tone and impeccable recommendations for spiritual practices to make each theological truth about what it means to live in church community root itself deeply in our hearts. Highly recommend - especially for group reading!

46. Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony In A Complex World
By Richard J. Foster (HarperOne, 2005. 272 pages)

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“A revised and updated edition of the manifesto that shows how simplicity is not merely having less stress and more leisure but an essential spiritual discipline for the health of our soul.”

Micro Review: I borrowed this book from my friend Walter (hope he doesn’t mind I’ve had it so long!). During this cultural conversation about minimalism, I recommend reading Foster’s classic word on the subject guide your theology and practices.

 

47. The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self
By M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (IVP Books, 2016. 188 pages)

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“As you journey deeper in the Christian pilgrimage, you come to realize that the Christian life is more than merely replicating particular spiritual disciplines or practices. You begin to understand that at the core of Christian faith is the transformation of your very identity. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. exposes the false selves that you may be tempted to hide behind and helps you to instead discover the true self that comes from being hidden with Christ in God. If the goal of the Christian journey is Christlikeness, then you must reckon with the unhealthy ways that you root your sense of being in things other than God. Along the way, you will discover a growing sense of intimacy and abandonment to God. Not only will you encounter the joy of discovering your own self, you will also find a greater love for others and compassion for the world. The expanded edition includes a study guide for individual reflection or group discussion.”

Micro Review: Of the dozens of titles I’ve been assigned to read for my spiritual direction certification, The Deeper Journey is my favorite by a large margin. Those of you who know us, know that Brian and I have relentlessly pursued freedom and healing to live from our truest selves - that part of us imagined and designed by our Creator God. We’ve learned from many good teachers on the subject, but Mulholland seems to synthesize the essence of the theology of our human identity redeemed by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He writes with depth but not dryness, hope for all but not patronizing of the reader’s experience, and truth but not theological imprecision. Read this book.

48. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
By Belden C. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2007. 296 pages)

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“In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.

Interweaving a memoir of his mother's long struggle with Alzheimer's and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on the Christian via negativa--a mystical tradition that seeks God in the silence beyond language--Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach us. "There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within." It is this apparent paradox that lies at the heart of this remarkable book: that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort. Lane shows that the very indifference of the wilderness can release us from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach us to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable us to transcend the "false self" that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions. Drawing upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhardt, Simone Weil, Edward Abbey, and many other Christian and non-Christian writers, Lane also demonstrates how those of us cut off from the wilderness might "make some desert" in our lives.

Written with vivid intelligence, narrative ease, and a gracefulness that is itself a comfort, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes gives us not only a description but a "performance" of an ancient and increasingly relevant spiritual tradition”

Micro Review: In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, author Belden C. Lane creates a physical setting of desert for the spiritual work that takes place when we seek a holy detachment from all of the distractions created by external circumstances of our everyday life. Lane repeatedly warns against the temptation to romanticize the monastic work done in silence and solitude. Referring to the desert as a “geography of abandonment”, sets the stage as the place “where one confronts one’s inevitable loss of control, the inadequacy of language, the spectre of one’s own demise.” Lane posits that only in the poverty that comes with an exchange of self-determination for a holy indifference can the seeker can find the “naked intent” of prayer. In that prayer, we know our truest desire only as we release it to the control of a God we may or may not be able to see or hear. The end result of this kind of surrender, according to Lane, is the prized fruit of love. I especially enjoyed this book since the author weaves throughout his experience visiting the Monastery of Christ in the Desert which Brian and I visited during our road trip to New Mexico back in our own desert season of 2015.


Christmas Reading

49. A Child’s Christmas In Wales
By Dylan Thomas (48 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This nostalgic recollection of Christmas past by celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas evokes the beauty and tradition of the season at every turn: the warmth of a family gathering; the loveliness of a mistletoe-decked home; the predictability of cats by the fire; the mischief and fun of children left to their own devices; and the sheer delight of gifts--be they Useful or Useless. 

Readers will cherish this beautiful hardcover edition of the classic A Child's Christmas in Wales complete with gold-foil stars, a debossed, glossy front picture, and sparkling snowflakes. Once inside, readers are rewarded with stunning, midnight-blue endpapers sprinkled with a flurry of more snowflakes. This book is a must-have gift for the season. 

Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott medalist Trina Schart Hyman with a combination of more than 40 full-color and sepia-toned images, this beautiful edition of Thomas's beloved classic will enchant readers of all ages, year after year.”

Micro Review: Always and forever a must-read for me at Christmastime. If you visit me during Christmas, I’ll probably force you to listen to me read it out loud. Be warned.

50. The Thirteen Days of Christmas
By Jenny Overton (48 pages)

Amazon | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This is the heart-warming story of how three of the Kitson children help the wealthy merchant woo their older sister Annaple with a different gift for each of the twelve days of Christmas - with hilarious results! But as the house groans at the seams with partridges, calling birds, swans,maids-a-milking, etc., will Annaple really succumb to the romance of it all, or will she just want the house returned to its normal, tidy state!”

Micro Review: A sweet, if silly, tale of the imagined origins of that now ubiquitous carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the zealous courtship of the “true love” for a rather distracted, disinterested young woman. The best treat for the reader is the glimpse into 16th-century (?) England Christmas traditions, carols, and village life.


Previews

51. Mandela and the General
By John Carlin, Illustrated by Oriol Malet (Plough Publishing, 2018. 112 pages)

Amazon | Plough Publishing | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero and first leader of the new South Africa, is an international symbol of the power of a popular movement to fight structural racism. But that nonviolent struggle for equality and justice very nearly spiraled into an all-out race war that would have only ended in “the peace of graveyards.”

As the first post-apartheid elections approach in 1994, with blacks poised to take power, white South Africans fear reprisal. White nationalist militias claiming 50,000 well-armed former soldiers stand ready to fight to the death to save their white homeland. They need someone who can lead and unite them. That man was former general Constand Viljoen.

Mandela knows that he can’t avert a bloodbath on his own. He will have to count on his arch-enemy. Throughout those historic months, the two men meet in secret. Can they trust each other? Can they keep their followers and radical fringe elements from acts of violence? The mettle of these two men will determine the future of a nation.

The drama of this contest and the history that pivoted on it comes vividly to life in visual form. Veteran British journalist John Carlin teams up with Catalan artist Oriol Malet to create a historically and artistically rich graphic novel with obvious relevance to today’s polarized politics.”

Micro Review: A graphic novel may be the best format for me to dive into this story that I would otherwise know nothing. Yes, I’m generally aware of Mandela’s legacy and the evils of apartheid, but this story fleshes out in a fuller dimension a few of the historical figures and their opposing movements. Take a chance on the illustrated format and read this book. Then pass it along. We need these stories, and I’m so grateful to Plough Publishing for getting them into our hands.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

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p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!