In Harm’s Way by Ridley Pearson
(Putnam Adult, 2010, 400 pages)
In Harm’s Way is the fourth Walt Fleming novel by Ridley Pearson. I did not read the first three Walt Fleming novels and I’m not sure that I will. I picked this novel up at the annual St. Charles Community College LRC book sale. I have read many of Ridley Pearson’s books for young adults and enjoyed them so I thought that I would give one of his adult suspense novels a try. In Harm’s Way, is set in Sun Valley, Idaho where the sheriff, Walt Fleming, is dealing with a murder. An ex-football star and drug abuser, Martel Gale, is found dead in the woods with the back of his skull crushed. Walt is also working with a homicide detective in Seattle, Lou Boldt, who is trying to solve the murder of young and beautiful Caroline Vetta. Walt and Lou think there might be a connection between the two cases.
In Harm’s Way did keep my interest, but I just didn’t find myself liking the characters. The sheriff seemed to contradict himself. I found myself not caring if the sheriff and his love interest, Fiona Kenshaw, ended up together or not. Maybe if I had read the first three Walt Fleming novels, I would have liked Walt more. I think that I might give Pearson’s suspense novels another try, but not one in the Walt Fleming series.
Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl
(Harlequin HQN, 2013, 320 pages)
There’s nothing like an entertaining romance novel when you’re looking for a quick, light read. Victoria Dahl is an author whose writing I enjoy and I’d definitely recommend her if you’re looking for a contemporary romance author. This was book 2 in the Jackson series. I read these out of order, starting with book #1, Close Enough to Touch, and just recently reading book #3, So Tough to Tame. They don’t need to be read as a series, but it’s fun to know the backstories of characters who appear in all three titles.
Merry moved to Jackson Hole shortly after coming there to visit her friend Grace, another transplant. Merry fell in love with the area and can’t believe she gets to call this place home. She was hired as the curator for a local ghost town that is eventually going to be “revamped” and turned into a tourist destination. Even though she’s working with limited funds it turns out that her neighbor, Shane, is a carpenter so she hires him on to help with some small projects around the town.
Unfortunately, Shane has some connections to her ghost town that Merry doesn’t know about. Connections that make him want to ensure the project fails. It’s nothing personal against Merry… until things start to get “personal” between them. As things progress Shane’s secret gets harder and harder to hide, but how can he tell Merry the truth now when she’s gotten so far under his skin?
This is a fun summer read that you’ll be able to breeze through.
After Christendom?: How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas
by Stanley Hauerwas
(Abingdon Press, 1991, 200 pages)
This is a classic from Stanley Hauerwas. After Christendom? lays out Hauerwas’ vision for the church as an alternative polis or political body. He critiques the church, particularly the American church, for its compromised status within the liberal political order (liberal in the broader rather than the partisan sense). Since the Englightenment, the church has come to uncritically accept secular formulations of justice and religious freedom that dilute the distinctive and prophetic witness that the church should offer to the state. Hauerwas seeks to challenge “liberal intellectual and political presuppositions by providing an account of the power and truthfulness of Christian convictions” (15).
Hauerwas persuasively argues that the church should provide the basic identity for Christians and that the Christian story should function as the narrative through which Christians engage the state. The church is a political order unto itself which embodies a distinct set of practices and beliefs. He draws on Alisdair MacIntyre’s observations about the importance of narrative in shaping identity and ethics. John Milbank’s critique of the myth of a purely secular conception of reason is also important for his argument. Hauerwas always wears his influences on his sleeve, but his appropriation never fails to be creative and controversial.
Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve O. Schaub
(Sourcebooks, 2014, 303 pages)
It seemed like I was hearing about Year of No Sugar everywhere I went. After a pretty long wait on the library’s reserve list I finally got my hands on it. After watching a YouTube video of a talk by Dr. Robert Lustig Schaub makes the decision (with her family’s approval) to try and go a year without any added sugar. This is easier said than done because sugar is secretly hiding everywhere, from the bread you buy at the store to ketchup, mayonnaise, deli meat, and chicken stock. Plus, it’s listed in the ingredients as a number of different things so that can be anything from sugar or honey to high fructose corn syrup or fruit juice. To say this was a big decision is putting it lightly. And when you consider that Schaub has two young daughters (under the age of 11 when the experiment was going on) it impresses you that she got them to go along with things.
Essentially the premise is that sugar can logically be considered a poison. Your body doesn’t need fructose – it can’t really even process it so it has no nutritional value (this is not the same as glucose, which your body can work with). In layman’s terms Schaub explains the many negative impacts that sugar can have on your body and your overall health.
The year-long experiment got easier with time but it involved lots of research and lots of home cooking. There were some “cheat” days to make the experiment doable. For example, once each month the family got to have a real dessert – this would typically be to celebrate someone’s birthday. Also, when the girls went to birthday parties they got to make the decision of whether or not to enjoy sugar-laden treats without any judgment.
Year of No Sugar was both interesting and entertaining. Schaub’s writing is accessible, which probably stems from the fact that this book originally began as a blog. It definitely makes you think about how much sugar you’re putting in your body and trying to think of ways you can reduce it in your daily routine.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
(Crown, 2006, 342 pages)
Thanks to the perks of MOBIUS I was able to request this particular audiobook version which has the book narrated by a full cast. I was just curious to give it a try because normally this isn’t a book I’d pick up. World War Z is broken up into different phases of looking at the “zombie war” – from the early warnings to panic to total war. In each section the reader is presented with interviews from people around the world giving their personal experience of what life was like as the zombies took over. It wasn’t overly gruesome which I appreciated, it was more that Brooks made this fictionalized event sound so real and I was impressed at how much it drew me in. I’m curious enough that I might even check out the movie with Brad Pitt, even though I heard it’s drastically different from the book.
Even if zombies aren’t your thing I’d recommend this title if you’re looking for something different that addresses the world of zombies without giving in to the blood and gore typically associated with the living dead. It’s more about how people respond to new, stressful, and chaotic situations and whether or not it’s possible to hold on to your humanity. This was a good read, and I’d certainly recommend listening to this particular audiobook with the full cast – it offers a unique and well-rounded listening experience.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton
(Pantheon Books, 2012, 320 pages)
Alain de Botton is convinced that religion offers wisdom and truth about human nature, even though he states up front “that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense” (11). Though he is thoroughly atheistic when it comes to dealing with the metaphysical and supernatural claims of religion, de Botton is decidedly opposed to the strident atheistic position that sees religion as a fundamentally harmful phenomenon. Instead, he sees the great world religions as sources of indispensable tools for secular people seeking to live more fulfilled and satisfied lives.
According to de Botton, religion offers helpful advice about the nature of morality and our need for ritual and repetition to help us cultivate virtues. It teaches us lessons about the nature of community and the difficult necessity of living with people who are different from ourselves. It gives us a realistic and workable perspective on the challenges of love and relationships. It gives direction to the creation and appreciation of art and architecture, leading us into an understanding of how experiences of beauty can make us better people. De Botton thinks that secular culture has done a poor job of addressing these issues, and he wants to plunder the goods of religious traditions for the sake of modeling secular alternatives to religious practices. As he puts it, “Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone” (312).
This book is full of wise and practical reflections on the nature of relationships, morality, education, suffering, and art. De Botton is an astute student of human nature, and he is happy to pull from any tradition that demonstrates wisdom about how we can best live in the world. Regardless of your views on the existence of God or the afterlife, Religion for Atheists is of immense value. It mines wisdom for living from traditions that non-religious people might otherwise ignore or discount. For those who do have religious faith, it is an excellent guide for reflecting on how they are shaped by their faith. The book does leave me with some questions. Most particularly, I wonder if it is as easy to translate religious practices in secular alternatives as de Botton seems to think it is. However, the fact that it left me with more to think about speaks to the value of the book.
All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
(Penguin, 2004, 432 pages)
Ruth Ozeki’s newest book, A Tale for the Time Being, has been everywhere lately. I was intrigued but thought I’d pick up one of her older titles first. All Over Creation sounded interesting, especially given my love for all types of food-related reading.
Yumi Fuller grew up in Liberty Falls, Idaho and ran away as a young teenager. Her father, Lloyd, was an All-American potato farmer who met and married her mother, Momoko, after serving overseas. Momoko took it upon herself to tend a small garden of various fruits and vegetables and that (specifically harvesting and disseminating the seeds) became the Fullers’ primary focus later on in life. After Lloyd’s health took a turn for the worse Cass, Yumi’s former childhood best friend who has become the Fullers’ pseudo-caretaker, reaches out to her and suggests she come home to say her last goodbyes. When Yumi returns home with three kids in tow, all from different fathers, it turns out that while her father’s health is deteriorating he has an incredible will to live.
There’s inevitable tension between Yumi and Lloyd since they haven’t spoken in decades. As this family “reunion” is underway a group of activists known as the Seeds of Resistance find their way to the Fuller farm thanks to the newsletters Lloyd sends out regarding the Fuller seeds he and Momoko sell. The Seeds are against Agribusiness and are doing what they can to keep the earth from slowly dying thanks to pesticides and bioengineering. The Fuller’s allow the Seeds to stay on their land and help catalogue their seeds while also helping care for Lloyd. Cass and Yumi work at rekindling their friendship while Yumi tries to understand what her life has become.
This was a really enjoyable read. I really like Ozeki’s writing style and will certainly be checking out more of her work. The description on the back of the book didn’t wow me initially but I’m so glad I picked it up anyway. The characters are well fleshed out and you’re drawn into the story pretty quickly.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
(Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005, 288 pages)
I was looking for an audiobook to listen to on my drives to work when I saw The Bell Jar and noticed it was narrated by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. I like her, I like her voice, and I figured she would do the book justice so I grabbed it. This fictionalized account of events in Plath’s life follows the mental breakdown of young Esther Greenwood. We are introduced to her at 19 as she cavorts around New York City for the summer interning at a women’s magazine. Things begin to unravel as her time in New York draws to a close and she returns home. The reader experiences Esther’s breakdown from her perspective as she withdraws further and further from herself, her family, and the outside world. She can think of little else beyond escaping from this life which holds no meaning for her.
It was hard listening to this when you reflect on how much this book mirrored Plath’s life. Gyllenhaal did a great job narrating and while I remember reading this book when I was younger I was somewhat shocked at the things there were brought up in the book, especially given the time it was published (1963). I wanted to read more about Plath when this book was finished. If you’re into classic literature or perhaps haven’t had a chance to read The Bell Jar and are interested in the audiobook version, I’d recommend the one with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s narration. I’m glad I revisited the book.
Severe Clear by Stuart Woods
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012, 305 pages)
I picked up this book at our used book sale for a long plane ride. It did the trick. It’s the first book I read by Stuart Woods. While I won’t rush into reading his other books I will keep it them mind just in case. This book is the 24th in Woods’ Stone Barrington series. The story starts with the preparation of the grand opening of the Arrington hotel in Los Angles, named after Stone Barrinton’s late wife. Here’s an excerpt from a Book List review: “The Arrington will host the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico for the signing of a new trade and immigration treaty. This draws not only media but also the attention of a terrorist group who intend to bomb the new hotel. Three men are dispatched to gain employment at the Arrington, but the real threat comes from a CIA operative who plans to unleash a nuclear weapon.”
Woods’ writing style is minimal and direct. The plot is simple and straight forward. There were times I had trouble remembering and understanding the characters. But that’s expected since I wasn’t reading from the beginning of the series. There’s some good suspense but not great due to the slow-building pace. Still, Severe Clear occupied my mind and made the flight easier to bear.
Blossom Street Brides by Debbie Macomber
(Ballantine Books, 2014, 318 pages)
Debbie Macomber has won the hearts of millions of readers with her moving and inspiring stories. Now wedding bells are ringing in the tight-knit community that gathers around A Good Yarn, a store in a pretty Seattle neighborhood. Knitters come to the store to buy yarn and patterns but somehow they leave richer in friendship and love.
Lauren Elliott has waited years for her long-term boyfriend, Todd, to propose, yet he seems more focused on his career than their relationship. When Lauren learns that her younger sister is pregnant before she herself even has an engagement ring, she feels overjoyed yet disheartened. Knowing she can’t put her future on hold, Lauren prepares to make a bold choice—one that leads her to a man she never dreamed she’d meet.
This is the 11th book in the Blossom Street series. I was really excited and looking forward to reading it. It was good, but to me, not as good as the previous Blossom Street books were. If you’re looking for a good summer read, this would definitely fit the bill, though. It was just a little too predicable for me. If you love a good sappy romance, then you will love this story. This didn’t at all take away how I feel about Debbie Macomber’s writing. I thinks she’s a fantastic writer, and I love reading her books 🙂