Why I Am a United Methodist by William H. Willimon
(Abingdon Press, 1990, 128 pages)
This is a good, brief introduction to the distinctives of Methodism and the theology of John Wesley. Willimon has spent his entire life in attendance at and preaching in United Methodist churches. He has been a student and a professor in their educational institutions. He knows the denomination’s particular strengths, and he isn’t shy about calling out its weaknesses.
One of the major features of Methodism that Willimon draws out is the denomination’s social character. Methodists have a social conscience, and the impulse to pursue personal “perfection,” as Wesley taught it, often translates into a concern for social justice and political participation. While Methodism has some important doctrinal distinctives, Willimon sees it as a very practical and flexible approach to the Christian faith.
Willimon makes the point that he didn’t choose Methodism, but that he was born into it. He doesn’t see this as a problem, given that the Christian faith emphasizes grace that is received rather than earned or chosen. His assessment of the denomination is creative and sympathetic, though still tough-minded and critical.
Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
(Doubleday, 2014, 313 pages)
Bread and Butter looks primarily at the relationship between three brothers living in Pennsylvania. The oldest two, Lou and Britt, own a restaurant called Winesap. Winesap has made an impact on their small community by providing a place for fine dining that is more accessible than driving to Philadelphia. When their younger brother Harry returns home and decides to open his own restaurant Lou and Britt aren’t quite sure what to make of things. Harry has always been in his own world. He’s more than a decade younger than each of his older brothers and he’s had a very different upbringing with various academic paths and deciding to venture off to experience things first-hand, like helping run a restaurant on an isolated island in Michigan.
The vision Harry has for his restaurant, Stray, is completely different from what’s going on at Winesap. He wants nothing more than his brother’s approval, but it’s hard for them to take Harry seriously in this endeavor. We see the brothers as they work to redefine their relationships and as they strive to keep their restaurants successful. I enjoyed this book – Wildgen doesn’t skimp on the food/restaurant talk which I appreciated and I also liked that the focus was on the relationship between the brothers. A good first-time novel.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
(Dutton Juvenile, 2009, 201 pages)
Mia knows that soon she can’t put off the decision of where her life will go much longer. She’s seventeen-years-old and just auditioned for Julliard. But if she was accepted she would be moving across the country and leaving her boyfriend, Adam, who is in a band rising in popularity. But before she makes that choice, she is faced with an even bigger one. Her family is involved in a car accident and Mia is stuck until she decides if she wants to stay or go. If she goes, she will be reunited with her family who didn’t survive the accident. If she stays, she will have to face her life without them.
This was a fairly quick read that didn’t take long to get to the premise of the story. The story was told varying between Mia in the in-between state trying to decide if she should stay and Mia’s life before the accident. The flashbacks were a great addition because it allows the reader to see what Mia will be missing in her life if she stays because her family is gone. I didn’t find the ending too surprising but I enjoyed reading how Mia came to her decision.
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
(Harper, 2014, 256 pages)
The Lady works as an investigator to try to uncover information that will help save prisoners from the death penalty before it’s too late. The Lady’s latest client is York but the difference with him is that he freely admits he wants to die. Of course this had made the media want York’s life saved even more. The Lady doesn’t care about any of her clients as she views her work as just a job. But as the details of York’s story start to unfold, she finds herself being drawn into his life. As the Lady works to save York, another death row inmate reflects on the struggles of prison life and awaits another run by the enchanted horses of the prison.
There’s no doubt that this was absurdly good writing. Denfeld’s beautiful writing was contrasted by the horribleness of the actions that took place in the prison and outside of it. There are some very graphic parts in the novel, some so graphic I wish I hadn’t been eating my lunch at the time when I was reading it. I loved how you got little personal information about the characters but the reader is allowed to be with them during very personal events in their lives. But I can’t help but assume there is some truth to her writing since Denfeld works almost mirrors the work that the Lady does in the story.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012, 324 pages)
When Bee Fox’s parents promised her that she could have whatever she wanted if she received all A’s on her report card, Bee chose a family trip to Antarctica. Bernadette, Bee’s mother, agrees to the trip but for years has been retreating from interactions outside her home. The latest example is hiring an online assistant working out of India to interact with people for her, such as ordering dinner for the Fox family. As the trip approaches, Bernadette starts to unwind until she finally disappears with no trace. Bee decides to put together a book of assorted documents and emails to try and find her mother.
I thought this was a pretty fun read. It is mostly reading through all the documents and emails that Bee has received in order to find her mother with some narrative fill from Bee when needed. I liked that there were email exchanges from multiple characters so that while the reader wasn’t present for the actual event, they got varying accounts of what happened and could piece together the truth. I also enjoyed that all the characters were obviously flawed but they also acknowledged their flaws and had other traits that made them interesting. It was a wacky story but never seemed forced to be that way.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
(Shaye Areheart Books, 2006, 272 pages)
Camille’s boss thought it would be helpful if he assigned her first assignment since she left the psych hospital for cutting to be in her hometown in Missouri. There has been a recent string of missing young girls that is quickly turning into thoughts of a serial killer. But there is a reason that Camille left her hometown so long ago. She has never felt love from her controlling mother even before her younger sister died when they were children. Now, her mother and stepfather are raising a different half-sister who shows a mean spirit around town and a surprising nature to please her mother. Camille is just hoping the killer is caught so she can leave her hometown for good.
It was interesting reading Flynn’s books backwards from the most recent, Gone Girl, to the least recent, Sharp Objects. This read and Dark Places are much more gruesome then Gone Girl but still have that creepy, twisty writing. This read was also a little easier to see where the ending was going although I was still surprised at the outcome. I know Flynn has a busy year with two movies coming out but I already can’t wait for her next book.
You can also check out Theresa’s review of Sharp Objects.
Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning: Her Lifetime in Photography by Elizabeth Partridge
(Chronicle Books, 2013, 192 pages)
Even if you don’t know the name Dorothea Lange, you know her work – specifically her piece “Migrant Mother” that captured an impoverished mother with her children in the mid 1930s. This book begins with a short biographical essay that provides a brief overview of Lange’s life. You get just enough information to have a feel for her as a photographer, but you’re also left wanting to learn more.
Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning presents 100 photographs that span Lange’s career as a photographer. I just learned that the book is meant to serve as a companion piece for a PBS American Masters episode about Lange that will air this fall. I enjoyed getting a feel for the range of Lange’s photographs and the essay only piqued my interest and has me eager to learn more about this woman. I already have Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits on my “to read” list. Whether you’re already a Lange fan or not, if you appreciate photography and its ties to history you’ll be interested in this book.