Take one part Gossip Girl, one part Anthony Trollope, and set it in flashy Singapore and you've got Kevin Kwan's delightful beach read, Crazy Rich Asi...moreTake one part Gossip Girl, one part Anthony Trollope, and set it in flashy Singapore and you've got Kevin Kwan's delightful beach read, Crazy Rich Asians.
If you've been paying attention to the news over the last decade, you may have seen reports of the wealth boom in Asia and the elaborate lifestyles of the elite class. But there is also old money in Asia, families who found wealth generations ago, before China even became communist, and have managed to hang onto it. Crazy Rich Asians transports readers to both worlds, new money and old.
The readers watch the world unfold through the eyes of Rachel, a Chinese-American who has no idea that her boyfriend of two years is set to inherit one of the largest fortunes in Singapore. As she travels home with him for his best friend's wedding -- a wedding as anticipated and star studded as any Asia has ever seen -- she is exposed to both the alluring and the repugnant among the fabulously wealthy.
Crazy Rich Asians is the best beach-type book I've read this year. I am not at all surprised the movie rights have already sold, and I hope Kwan does continue to tell this story in one or two sequels. I'm not quite finished with Nicholas, Rachel, Astrid and the gang. (less)
I really liked this twitter feed back when it started and I had the chance to get a review copy of this book so I snatched it up. It wasn't as funny a...moreI really liked this twitter feed back when it started and I had the chance to get a review copy of this book so I snatched it up. It wasn't as funny as reading the twitter feed, but it was amusing in its own way and a fine summer read. This is "based on a true story" so I did wonder what was real and what was not, but I think McDonnell should keep everyone guessing. That doesn't mean I didn't spend time speculating on which ex was the one who left him so devastated (I'm guessing K.C.) (5/10)(less)
Well, I am glad Elizabeth Strout is over the hump of writing another book after Olive Kitteridge. She did not try to duplicate it's format and wrote a...moreWell, I am glad Elizabeth Strout is over the hump of writing another book after Olive Kitteridge. She did not try to duplicate it's format and wrote a more straightforward novel this time around. I did not enjoy it nearly as much, but it was well-written and I look forward to reading whatever she comes out with next.(less)
A good overview to the current state of bullying: problems and solutions. Probably not what I'd recommend for a parent in the throes of dealing with a...moreA good overview to the current state of bullying: problems and solutions. Probably not what I'd recommend for a parent in the throes of dealing with a bullying situation, it's pretty global in nature. (less)
A good memoir allows readers a glimpse into another person’s experience and leaves them better for it. The Exact Place recalls Margie Haack’s childhoo...moreA good memoir allows readers a glimpse into another person’s experience and leaves them better for it. The Exact Place recalls Margie Haack’s childhood in the harsh and wild landscape of rural Northern Minnesota. Margie and her husband Denis have a fantastic ministry called Ransom Fellowship. I have enjoyed their writing on faith and culture for many years, so I had no doubt that I’d enjoy this book, just as I’ve enjoyed Margie’s writing over the years on her blog and in Notes from Toad Hall.
Oftentimes, books set it rural places are idyllically pastoral, a glorification of country life. Though Haack’s childhood had some rural pleasures anyone can admire, she did not shy away from recalling the difficulties of rural poverty. These details made it feel honest and real, but so did the recipes and the happy memories as well.
One of the recurring themes of the book is Margie’s relationship with her stepfather, and her longing to know her biological father, who died before she was born. The tension as she tries to earn his love is palpable and at times, heartbreaking, but it wasn’t so overwhelming that it weighed down the book. It is a part of Haack’s story, but it is not the whole story, and there is certainly redemption to be found when we explore and acknowledge the brokenness in our lives.
The Exact Place is the second book published by Kalos Press, and I am so excited by their work so far. If you buy the print copy, they will give you the ebook for free, fantastic for people like me who appreciate both print and digital mediums for reading. Also, you can lend out your copy of the physical book while retaining your digital copy, just in case you need it.
As childhood memoirs go, this is a lovely and moving work. Though it is spiritual, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has moments of levity and joy as well as pain and yearning. It’s real and it’s good, just like I expected from Margie Haack. If you like memoirs or are familiar with the Haacks, I highly recommend it to you.(less)
We Sinners tells the story of a large family wrestling with their connection to their separatist, Lutheran sect. As the children grow and consider the...moreWe Sinners tells the story of a large family wrestling with their connection to their separatist, Lutheran sect. As the children grow and consider their faith more deeply, there is a lot of solid material to draw from. The writing was sincere and the choices seemed realistic. But the jumping around from different narrators and around the time line occasionally confused and other times left me with looming questions. I did not love the last chapter, it felt more forced and out of place. But overall, I really appreciated this novel and look forward to reading more from Pylväinen in the future (7/10.) (less)
Love Does is a memoir of sorts, stories and vignettes from the life of author Bob Goff. Goff is an extraordinary man, full of whimsy and heart. Some o...moreLove Does is a memoir of sorts, stories and vignettes from the life of author Bob Goff. Goff is an extraordinary man, full of whimsy and heart. Some of the stories made me laugh out loud, others made me tear up. The premise of the book is that love does, love is about action. And I believe that to be true and an encouraging message.
What is a little troubling about the book is that doing for Goff often costs more than time and energy. It costs money, and lots of it. I really struggled with the lack of acknowledging that 99.9% of Christians worldwide could not live as Bob does because they could never spend as Bob does. I have noticed that evangelicalism lately is all about living lives of service and doing amazing things, and I worry that might marginalize those for whom taking a year off to ”minister” just isn’t financially possible. If you struggle with contentment, this book might not be for you.
Another concern was the lack of connection to a local church and the skepticism towards typical Christianity. A lot of this is a good thing — I love the idea of a “Bible Doing” group rather than a Bible Study — but the sum of it felt like a lone ranger, individualistic faith rather than the true and deep community of faith that I believe to be the most biblical model.
I enjoyed this book, but it made me want wads of cash so I could do the sorts of things Bob does. And that’s not really the point. I’d love to see someone live an extraordinary, whimsical life of sacrificial love on a budget of $50,000 a year or less. I’d read that book in a heartbeat. Goff’s stories are really interesting and the profits are going to Restore International, so if you are intrigued, I’d say go ahead and read it.(less)
If you are a fan of Andy Cohen and the Housewives franchise, you will probably enjoy this memoir. It's a fun read, but I was hoping for a little more...moreIf you are a fan of Andy Cohen and the Housewives franchise, you will probably enjoy this memoir. It's a fun read, but I was hoping for a little more personal connection. At times, I wondered if Cohen was holding back, or if his life really does revolve around work and his Susan Lucci obsession. (less)
One of the most disorienting things in life is suffering. Even when we know all the right things about how the world is fallen and broken in every way...moreOne of the most disorienting things in life is suffering. Even when we know all the right things about how the world is fallen and broken in every way, pain jars us, and makes us question who God is and our relationship to him, in part because "we are not often told that once we've been delivered into freedom, the hardest times may still be ahead" (pg 75.) As we journey through life and its inevitable suffering, we need to be reminded of the truth, and Leaving Egypt is an able and welcome guide.
By using the Exodus narrative as a structure, author Chuck DeGroat guides us through four parts of the Christian life. (1) Egypt: Facing Our Fear, (2) Sinai: Receiving Our New Identity, (3) Wilderness: Entering the Furnace of Transformation and (4) Home: Experiencing New Identity and Mission. Though each part is essential, well-written and helpful, I felt most drawn to the third section. As the subtitle declares, we often find God in wilderness places, and it is good to be reminded of how God is at work in the midst of suffering and how he uses our suffering teach us.
Though DeGroat shows the hopefulness and promise in suffering, he is also very honest about its difficulty. There are no formulas for quick fixes, but a deep and real acknowledgement of the pain and darkness we all grapple with and a helpful framework for lament.
Though theological and thoughtful, this is a very practical and applicable read. DeGroat draws from many years of experience as a counselor, pastor and professor to help readers understand how this Exodus narrative intersects with their own lives and struggles. There are also questions at the end of each chapter for personal reflection or group discussion.
The Exodus story "invites us to look back at where we've been and remember God's relentless love for us despite our many failures" (pg 154.) Even though we may feel like we prefer the safety and familiarity of our own Egypts and enslavement, God longs for us to move forward. As we journey through our own difficulties and pain, Leaving Egypt reminds us of the truth of who we are, as believers united to Christ. I know I will read it again (a rarity among Christian books for me) and appreciate its simple, clear wisdom. I have already recommended it several times, and would commend it to anyone in the church. (9.5/10)(less)
“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff...more“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds… I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”
From the first page of R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, Wonder, readers are rooting for Auggie Pullman, who due to the 27 surgeries needed to help correct his craniofacial abnormalities, has been homeschooled all his life. But now, he’ll enter the middle school at Beecher Prep, like a lamb headed for slaughter.
Auggie is keenly aware of how people react to his face, from averting their eyes to staring to talking behind their hands about him. Auggie, his parents and his sister had created some level of comfort on their block and in their normal routine, and even through things like a toy astronaut’s helmet he wore everywhere when he was a few years younger. But now it is time to face the world, and readers come along for the journey.
Although Auggie is a character that induces a great deal of sympathy, there is a depth and realness to his character. He loves Star Wars, he tells good jokes, and he loves his dog, not unlike most of the young boys I know. Because he is more than his exterior, this book is able to transcend the “after school special” land that a book about a child with a birth defect often remains in.
Palacio’s choice to tell the story through sections with different narrators is what propels it into award-winning territory. Hearing from Auggie’s point of view is very important, but hearing from his sister Via, and some of the children at school adds another dimension to Wonder that works to its advantage. And it’s rare that so many points of view are given and done well in a book for young readers.
One line that is repeated by the teenager characters in the book is “the universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman.” And though this is true, and painfully real to readers, Wonder is not bogged down in Auggie’s suffering. It’s a book with a great deal of heart and joy, and a message that will resonate with both children and adults without seeming forced or contrived. The universe may not always be kind, but we are all able to be. I am thankful for the reminder. (10/10)(less)
The Starboard Sea is a well crafted story, ably written, about a young man's Senior year at a New England prep school. Jason is a boy born into privil...moreThe Starboard Sea is a well crafted story, ably written, about a young man's Senior year at a New England prep school. Jason is a boy born into privilege who is struggling to make sense of the world as his life falls apart.
His best friend and sailing partner is dead, his parents are divorcing, and he is unable to return to his previous school to finish out his high school career, so he's off to somewhere new, a school for the misfits who are cast or kept out of the most elite prep academies. As he tries to navigate his circumstances, he befriends Aiden, a California girl with her own dark past.
I enjoyed the story, but the writing really set this apart for me. I was very drawn to the descriptions of sailing and found myself thinking of sailing apart from when I was reading. I was also moved by the way Dermont described relationships. I felt Jason's losses and pain acutely, because she did a good job portraying them (and not just informing us of how he felt.)
It's a coming of age story and set at at boarding school, but I wouldn't classify this as young adult. Not because the themes are mature and sometimes graphic (even though they are), it just feels more geared to adults. (8.5/10)(less)
Tullian Tchividjian's Jesus + Nothing = Everything examines the fundamental truth of the gospel and how to embrace Christ's finished work for believer...moreTullian Tchividjian's Jesus + Nothing = Everything examines the fundamental truth of the gospel and how to embrace Christ's finished work for believers. I would not describe it as an exposition of Colossians, but Colossians features prominently. I would not describe it as a spiritual memoir or a particularly personal work, but occasional details of Tchividjian's difficult year transitioning through a church merger and feelings of inadequacy provide a thread for readers.
Readers can think of Tchividjian's Jesus + Nothing = Everything as a way to recalibrate and assess our functional beliefs and ask ourselves if we are adding anything to the gospel. There are many good books in this stream right now, and I find that a good thing. Like this book asserts, the gospel is not the first step of the Christian life, it's the hub. We must constantly remind ourselves of the fundamental truths, we never grow out of them. And so reading this book and others like it (Steve Brown's Scandalous Freedom comes to mind) from time to time is a good exercise for all of us, because we are prone to "think of the gospel as God's program to make bad people good, not dead people alive" (pg 116.)
Though Jesus + Nothing = Everything is focused on fundamentals, there is a great deal of meaty content to ponder. For example: "Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavey either way because it becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us" (pg 46). "The gospel alone empowers and emboldens us to press on and strain forward with no anxiety over gaining other people's sanction or good opinion--even God's! All the care and love and value we crave--full and final approval--we already have in Jesus" (pg 92.)
The book moves backwards from Everything to Nothing to Jesus, and then forward again. The structure is not bad in itself, but Tchividjian is fairly repetitive. This is a good trick for preaching, to repeat sentences that summarize your point well, but in writing it can feel poorly edited, (e.g. he said that exact same thing three pages ago.) It wasn't a huge distraction, and it did help me not to miss any critical points, but it was quite noticeable.
Overall, Jesus + Nothing = Everything is a helpful read for any Christian. I'd particularly recommend it for those coming out of more legalistic traditions and trying to overcome those tendencies. As we walk in faith, it is easy to stray into moralism. This book is a reminder of the simplicity of the gospel - that Jesus himself, his life and his work, are worth everything. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to the cross we cling. May we not forget. (less)
Still by Lauren Winner is aptly subtitled "Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis." It is a collection of reflections from the middle, from a place of messiness,...moreStill by Lauren Winner is aptly subtitled "Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis." It is a collection of reflections from the middle, from a place of messiness, doubt and despair. That terrain is familiar to many and the ability to feel less alone in those moments by reading this book makes it worthwhile.
Winner directly informs readers that this is not a memoir. If you are looking for juicy details about her marriage falling apart, you won't find them here. In the moments the book got the most personal and vulnerable, it connected most deeply with me as a reader. But I understand why there is a sense of discretion, and at times, detachment, in the writing as well. Winner is very respectful of her ex-husband, placing the blame for their shaky marriage and its dissolution squarely on herself and her issues. If she had delved more deeply into the personal, this respect would have been hard to maintain.
The writing is poetic and beautiful, as readers have come to expect from Winner. "Notes" fits well, as the chapters vary in length from a few sentences to many pages, and include many quotes and ideas from poets, writers, theologians and friends.
Overall, there is a hope in Still. Instead of fleeing when she felt far from God, Winner stayed in her church, stayed in her community, and learned to feel God's nearness again. Her means of doing so may not work for others in the middle (and this book is very far from setting itself up as a model for others or self-help by any means) but it is a testimony that one can feel engulfed by anxiety, doubt and despair and start to believe more deeply again. And that is a beautiful message to the church.(less)