2011 Reading List

31 12 2011

I read a record-breaking (for me) 45 books/novels in 2011.  The first, numbered, list is the order in which I read the books.  The second list is in order of my favorites to least favorites.  I’m always on the lookout for a good book–fiction or non-fiction, almost any genre (except hokey Harlequin romance types)–so pass on your favorites to me.

1.  Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
2.  Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
3.  What Difference do it Make? by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
4.  For One More Day by Mitch Albom
5.  Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
6.  Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
7.  Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
8.  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
9.  This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
10.   Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
11.   An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
12.   Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
13.   Unplanned by Abby Johnson
14.   Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
15.   Switched (Trylle Trilogy #1) by Amanda Hawking
16.
Torn (Trylle Trilogy #2) by Amanda Hawking
17.   Ascend (Trylle Trilogy #3) by Amanda Hawking
18.   Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
19.   Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
20.   Lovely by Allison Liddelle (short story)
21.   Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
22.   A Very Special Delivery by Linda Goodnight
23.   The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver (short story)
24.   Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
25.   The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
26.   Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
27.   Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
28.   Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
29.   Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
30.   Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
31.   A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
32.   In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
33.   The Help by Kathryn Stockett
34.   50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
35.   Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
36.   A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
37.   Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
38.   Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
39.   Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
40.   Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
41.   The Bible
42.   Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
43.   The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
44.   The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett
45.   The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

The Bible
This is my third full read-through in as many years, and I never cease to be amazed by what I learn and am reminded of.  There is not enough space to write how this one book has changed my life and how it will continue to change my life as long as I am alive.

Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
Synopsis:  “When you fast, your spirit becomes uncluttered by the things of this world and amazingly sensitive to the things of God.  Once you’ve experienced a glimpse of this and the countless rewards and blessings that follow, it changes your entire perspective.”  In this short, but life-changing book, Franklin talks about the different types of Biblical fasts, the connection between fasting and prayer, as well as what to expect physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Evaluation:  Once I began reading this book, I felt God was deeply convicting me that I have been missing out on some huge blessings by not having made fasting a part of my regular walk with Christ.  Both my husband and I got on board and began a 24-hour fast once a week.  Life changing is all I can say. 

Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
Synopsis:  This is a sequel to Ilibagiza’s first book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her life hiding in a 4’x3’ bathroom with 6 other women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.  Left to Tell is on this list as I read it in 2010, but it was one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read.  In Led by Faith, Ilibagiza picks up where her first story left off and chronicles her challenges living in the aftermath of the genocide.  She shares her struggles and her heartaches as she fights to survive.  Most importantly, she shares her journey of faith, healing, and forgiveness that only come through a relationship with God.

Evaluation:  If you have ever struggled with forgiveness, and I daresay we all have, you must read this book.  I am reminded of the trivial things I complain about and the petty grudges I hold on to, and how they can eat at my soul.  Forgiveness is often the only road to healing and peace.

What Difference Do it Make?  By Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Synopsis:  This book continues the incredible story of how Moore, a homeless man, and Hall, a millionaire art dealer, came to be friends through the unwavering faith and vision of Hall’s late wife, Deborah.  What Difference Do it Make? includes untold anecdotes from the time in which their first book, Same Kind of Different as Me was written as well as the story of how the first book even came to be and snippets of how the first book has changed lives.

Evaluation:  Before reading the first book, everyone I knew who read it told me to have my Kleenex nearby, and their advice was spot on.  I recommend the same for the second book.  My perspective on homelessness and especially how to help the homeless has changed dramatically after reading these two books.  We’ve all been taught not to give the homeless money because they may buy drugs or alcohol.  As Denver wrote, “When you give a homeless man a dollar, what you really sayin is ‘I see you.  You ain’t invisible.  You is a person.’  I tells folks to look at what’s written on all the money they be givin away:  it says ‘In God We Trust.’  You just be the blessin.  Let God worry about the rest.”

Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
Synopsis:  Rachel Scott was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary faith as well as premonitions of her tragic death in the Columbine massacre in 1999.  Written by her mother and father, this book details Rachel’s faith and how she decided to “walk the talk” as well as excerpts from her private journals.

Evaluation:  I read 2/3 of this book in the first sitting, and I cried for much of it.  Throughout, my main thought was, “I want a faith like hers.”  This has become one of my main prayers for myself since reading her story—that my relationship with Christ would be so intimate, so deep, so real, that I feel His presence in every breath, every word, and every action.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
Synopsis:  Davis was 18 when she made the decision to move to Uganda for just one year to serve the poorest of the poor.  Years later, she is still there, now the “mother” of 14 orphaned or abandoned girls.  This is the story of her struggles and desires to live the life God wanted for her.

Evaluation:  I had the good fortune to hear Katie share her story at my high school in the spring of 2011.  I wish I had Davis’ courage.  Her perspective on what it means to serve, to really serve, others has changed my own.  If you are struggling with living God’s desire for your life, this is a must-read.

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
Synopsis:  The subtitle explains this book best—49 techniques that put students on the path to college. 

Evaluation:  If you are a teacher of any level, any subject, this is a must-read.  The techniques Lemov offers are common-sense, practical, and easy/quick to put into practice.  While I won’t be using many of them in my own teaching (e.g. I don’t need to worry about the most efficient way to line up students to walk to the bathroom), there are enough that have changed the dynamic in my classroom and student performance for the better.

Unplanned by Abby Johnson
Synopsis:  Unplanned tells the remarkable true story of Abby Johnson, once a Planned Parenthood clinic director, leader and pro-choice champion who, after eight years in the industry had a life-changing moment as she assisted with an ultrasound-assisted abortion.  Through that experience, God opened her eyes to the truth of the matter and brought her around to the “other side of the fence” where she began working with Coalition for Life.

Evaluation:  This was such a gripping tale, I finished the 216 pages within 30 hours of staring it.  I found myself intrigued, repulsed, grief-stricken, and completely amazed as I read Abby’s story of complete transformation from pro-choice to pro-life.  Her description of witnessing the abortion still haunts me, but has served only to strengthen my resolve that life begins at conception, and that abortion ends a human life.

Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
Synopsis:   This is a 21-day devotional encouraging us to crave God rather than crave food.  She relates how our struggles with or victories over food often reflect our relationship with God.  This devotional is really just snippets from her more comprehensive book on the same topic, Made to Crave

Evaluation:  TerKeust had some wonderful gems throughout the book such as, “No food will ever taste as sweet as lasting victory.”  Even though I don’t struggle with my weight, I struggle with eating as healthy as I should.  I definitely plan to read Made to Crave.

Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Synopsis:  McGonigal, who I had the privilege of hearing speak at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in July, outlines 14 reasons why games are “better” than reality including:

  1. Games help to increase motivation, provoke interest and creativity and help us work at the edge of our abilities.
  2. Gameplay is the direct opposite of depression:  it’s an invigorating rush of activity, combined with an optimistic sense of our own capability.
  3. Games can help us achieve a state of blissful productivity with clear, actionable goals and vivid results.
  4. Games make failure fun and non-threatening and train us to focus our time and energy on attainable goals.
  5. Games help build up our social stamina and provoke us to act in ways that make us more likeable.
  6. Games make our hardest efforts feel truly meaningful by putting them in a much bigger context.
  7. Games can help us enjoy our real lives more, instead of feeling like we want to escape from them.
  8. Using points, rewards, levels, and achievements can motivate us to press through difficult situations and inspire us to work harder to excel at things we already love.
  9. Games can be a springboard for community and can help build our own capacity for social participation.
  10. Large crowd games can help us adopt scientific advice for living a good life; for example, thinking about death in non-threatening ways or dancing more.
  11. Crowdsourcing games can engage thousands of players around the globe to tackle real-world problems.
  12. Social participation games can help save real lives and grant real wishes by creating real-world tasks that can help volunteers feel heroic and satisfied.
  13. Expert gamers, those who have spent around 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21, are extraordinary at cooperating, coordinating, and creating something new together.  (Experts in most any arena—arts, music, athletics, etc.—spend 10,000 hours actively engaged in their activity.)
  14. Forecasting games can train us to think globally and outside the box in tackling real-world, large scale global problems.

Evaluation:  This was a very thought-provoking book for me as an educator who teaches technology skills to high school students.  Of course, McGonigal really only highlights the advantages of gaming, but now I feel like I need to read a book on the disadvantages—just for balance’ sake.   I do agree with many of her overall assessments, though, and I am highly intrigued to participate in several of the games she detailed, especially the Tombstone Hold’ Em—a take on Texas Hold’ Em played in a graveyard with a group of people.

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs
Synopsis:  Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, puts his life to the test by submitting himself as a “guinea pig” for a month for different experiments:  being a celebrity, being a beautiful woman entering the world of online dating, doing everything his wife asks of him, and much more.

Evaluation:  Jacobs’ memoir, of sorts, was as hilarious as it was enlightening, and I am definitely hooked.  Amidst the humor, Jacob’s reflections on his self-inflicted experiments into the human psyche were incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking.   I am pretty sure one of my next books will be either The Year of Living of Biblically or The Know-it-All, both by Jacobs.

50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
Synopsis:  As the title implies, Karnazes chronicles his life on the road during the Endurance 50—a first ever test of human endurance in which he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.  Karnazes shares his running wisdom, for both the mental and physical aspects of the sport:  learning to recover quicker, adapting to extreme conditions, preventing muscle cramps and overheating, pacing yourself when you “hit the wall” and staying motivated.

Evaluation:  Much like Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man, this was an enjoyable, quick read.  Especially if you are a runner of any level, this book offers a treasure trove of information, methods and techniques all geared toward making you “achieve your own amazing feats of endurance, however you define them.”  Both of Karnazes’ books are must-reads for runners and endurance athletes.

In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
Synopsis:  This is a true story detailing the year that Gracia and her husband, Martin, spent trekking through the jungles of the Philippine islands after having been kidnapped while on vacation.  While others who were kidnapped with the Burnhams made ransom quickly, Gracia and Martin had no such luck.

Evaluation:  This was a very gripping story of survival amidst terror and uncertainty.  The Burnham’s struggles—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—were vivid.  Their faith journey through it all was inspiring, though

A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
Synopsis:  Lisa Shannon chronicles her journey into Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the years following the Rwandan genocide.  Shannon began a non-profit, Run for Congo Women, and visited the country to meet the women her group sponsored.  Shannon tells the stories of women who survived rape, kidnapping, the murder of their husbands and children, and other atrocities most Western women cannot fathom.

Evaluation:  After having read so many stories of the Rwandan genocide, I was still amazed how the events of that country affected so many, women in particular, in neighboring countries, namely Zaire.  While many non-profits are attempting to help women become independent and make honest livings, there is only so much money can do.  True healing will not come from money.  I admire Shannon for her desire and drive to make a difference in the lives of these women.

A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Synopsis:  At age 12, Beah was forced from his home and family in Sierra Leone after rebels attacked his village.  He and other boys wandered the forests, stealing food, for months.  At 13, he was chosen by the government army to become a soldier.  Quickly advancing in the ranks to junior sergeant and nicknamed “Green Snake” for his deception, Beah lost sight of who he was as a gentle, intelligent young boy and became a cold-hearted killing machine, always high on cocaine or marijuana.  At 16, he was picked up by UNICEF and rehabilitated.

Evaluation:  Like many of the other non-fiction books on my list, this one was a fascinating window into a world I will never experience.  War.  My entire family killed.  Killing in return.  Drug addiction.  Beah’s stories made me shake my head and wonder how evil can so completely transform a young child—and an entire country.  His accounts of the loving and always-smiling-no-matter staff at his rehabilitation center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, also reinforced the fact that good can triumph over evil.

This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Synopsis:  Based o n the NPR series by the same name, this book features 80 essayists—some famous, some previously unknown—completing the thought that begins the book’s title.

Evaluation:  I enjoyed this book tremendously and received some amazing bits of wisdom that I am not likely to forget.  One of my favorites was an essay titled “Always Go to the Funeral” and was written by Deirdre Sullivan, a freelance attorney in Brooklyn, who wrote about the values her father instilled in her by making her always attend funerals of people she knew.  Sullivan writes, “In my humdrum life, the battle hasn’t been good versus evil.  It’s hardly so epic.  Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”  I certainly took to heart the purpose of the book as I pondered what I believe in many aspects of life—spiritually, academically, socially, politically, humorously, seriously.

Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
Synopsis:  Alan Williams was a walk-on player for Wake Forest during his college career.  He played on 59 minutes in 120 games, scoring 28 points.  A reporter once asked him, “Why was it worth it?  What kept you coming back?”  This book is William’s attempt at answering those questions.

Evaluation:  I had the privilege of hearing Williams speak at a school conference prior to reading the book.  His presentation was superb—uplifting, enlightening, and encouraging.  Williams’ view of NCAA basketball from the end of the bench offers a unique perspective on what it really means to be on a team, to be a teammate.  His message is one that any coach of any sport, especially coaches of youth leagues, needs to hear:  there are more important things than winning.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Not everyone on the team is or can be a star.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Being a teammate transcends wins and losses and someone’s 15 minutes of fame.  Those worldly accomplishments will fade, but being a real teammate will stand firm through the ages.  View more information at www.teammatesmatter.com

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
Synopsis:  This is the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his courageous efforts to save over 1,200 Rwandans during 1994 genocide.  The movie Hotel Rwanda was based on this story of Rusesbagina’s refusal to succumb to the horrors overtaking his country.  He risked his and his family’s lives daily to confront the killers and appease them through flattery, deception, and diplomacy in order to save the thousands of lives he felt responsibility for in the Hotel Milles Collines in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali.

Evaluation:  I am fascinated by any survivor’s account of living through the hell on earth of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  If you are intrigued by stories/movies such as Schindler’s List, you will find this story no less mesmerizing and inspiring. 

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Synopsis:  Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Somalia, was raised Muslim, and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  She was excised (female genital mutilation) at the age of five.  She survived brutal beatings by her mother.  After being forced into an arranged marriage by her father to a distant cousin, she fled to the Netherlands where she sought asylum.  Ali went on to earn a college degree in political science, and eventually won a seat in the Dutch Parliament.  After producing a short 10-minute film, Submission:  Part 1, Hirsi Ali lived a life under constant threat of death.  She was demonized by the Islamic community world-wide, disowned by her father, and shunned by the rest of her family and clan.  Yet she refused to remain silent.

Evaluation:  This is one of the most remarkable stories of triumph over adversity I have yet to read.  This was also my first glimpse into the reality of what Muslim life is like for women in this day and age.  What I learned about Islam from Hirsi Ali’s account of her life is disturbing, to say the least.  With Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion, I applaud Hirsi Ali for her honest testimony and sincere attempt to bring to light the alarming condition in which millions of Muslim women live today.

Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
Synopsis:  Curry and Mercer were missionaries in Afghanistan.  After having been in the country, living with the poorest of the poor, they were arrested by the Taliban for telling people about Jesus, a “crime” punishable by death.  In the middle of their trial, 9/11 occurred, and the US declared war on Afghanistan shortly after.  This is the story of the Curry’s and Mercer’s work with the poor, their captivity, and their eventual rescue.

Evaluation:  Another very engaging story, both Curry and Mercer share their personal experiences.  Their world rocked by the events of international terrorism, they manage to not just endure their imprisonment, but to maintain their faith, write songs praising God, and always reached out to the women confined with them.  While reading this book, I often wondered how I would fair in such a situation.  Would I be selfless as these women were, or selfish wondering, “why me?”

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Synopsis:  This work of fiction follows three ordinary woman in the 1960s, one white society and two black maids.  Their lives become entwined when “Skeeter,” the white woman, decides to write a story of black women’s experiences being domestic help for the white society woman in Jackson, Mississippi.  Racial tensions are brewing across America as these women and others work under the cover of night and secrecy to tell their stories that they hope will lead to change.

Evaluation:  Intriguing and interesting, The Help, was a nice break from the string of non-fiction stories I had been reading.  I would definitely recommend it, and I can’t wait to see the movie.  But like any other novel-turned-Hollywood, read the book first.

Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
Synopsis:  Part history lesson, part biography, Koerner narrates the true events of the life of Herman Perry.  As an African American draftee in WWII, Herman Perry wanted to see combat.  The Army felt colored men were considerably inferior in every way—they were bigger cowards, less intelligent, and only good for manual labor.  And so Perry found himself in the jungles of Burma working on the colossal failure known as the Ledo Road.  Under constant mental and borderline physical abuse by his white commanding officers, Perry became a drug addict and in one fateful moment, shot and killed a white officer.  Minutes later, he disappeared into the Burmese jungle which teemed with tigers and foot-long leeches.  Able to “secure” military food and weapons, Perry became a bigwig with a Naga tribe (headhunters and cannibals) and married the leader’s 14-year-old daughter by whom he fathered a son he never met.  He eluded the MPs on more than one occasion, was finally caught, but then escaped from the Army stockade once again—this time after being court-marshaled and sentenced to death by hanging.  Eventually caught a second time, Perry, who was near death, readily surrendered.

Evaluation:  Perry’s story of mental anguish, drug addiction, escape and survival among a tribe of primitive Naga headhunters is engrossing to say the least.  However, the history of the US Armed Forces treatment of African Americans, even during WWII, is also eye-opening, in an appalling way.  Koerner expertly weaves together history and a meticulous narrative to produce an amazing read.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
Synopsis:  This book tells the true story of young Colton Burpo’s close brush with death after his appendix ruptured and his extraordinary visit to heaven while in surgery.  In the months following Colton’s hospital visit, he casually recounts his memories of meeting his miscarried sister, whom no one ever told him about, meeting his grandfather who died decades before Colton was born, as well as his discussions with Jesus.

Evaluation:  Colton’s experience, as retold by his father Todd, definitely makes you consider what heaven is like.  For those who believe in heaven and hell, this is an incredible story that will only strengthen our faith.  For those who don’t share a Christian faith, I imagine many will simply hold Colton’s story as the result of a great imagination.

Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
Synopsis:  Maddy loses her husband to a drunk driver.  A few years later, her youngest son, Tyler, is diagnosed with a rare brain cancer.  Through it all, Tyler writes letters to God, just as his father had.  The letters end up in the hands of a down-and-out postman, Brady, whose life is forever changed by the simple words to God from a seven-year-old boy dying from cancer.

Evaluation:  Though this novel was a quick, easy read, I was on the brink of tears quite a few times.  To have the faith of a child—pure, innocent, uncomplicated, always accepting—is something I strive for.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Synopsis:  One apartment, two lives, 60 years apart.  Sarah’s Key tells the story of Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl whose family, living in Paris, was arrested and eventually herded off to Auschwitz in July 1942.  Before leaving their apartment, Sarah hides her younger brother and vows to return.  She manages to escape a French containment camp and makes it back to her apartment to find another family has already moved in.  Jump ahead 60 years, and that same apartment is now being renovated by a family whose lives crossed with Sarah’s decades ago.  This fictional story reveals the long-held secrets that have bound the two families together for six decades.

Evaluation:  This was a haunting fictional story that I could not put down.  I knew the outcome long before I read the words, but I was still stunned nonetheless when I got there in the story.  While the characters are fictional, the major events of the French roundup of Parisian Jews and their demise are true and heartbreaking.

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Synopsis:  This is book 3 of 4 in the Wingfeather Saga, a young-adult series written by award-winning Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson.  The Wingfeathers reach their mother’s ancestral home of the Green Hollows where they hope to begin a new life—free of fear from Gnag the Nameless and his army of Grey Fangs.  But things don’t always happen as hoped for.

Evaluation:  If you haven’t read books 1 and 2, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and  North! Or Be Eaten, there is no point in reading this book.  This book, however, has been my favorite so far, and I can’t wait to learn how it will end in book 4, not set for publication until the spring of 2013.  My recommendation:  if you haven’t read any of the books, wait till the fourth one comes out and then you can go through them all in a week.  These are great books to read to school-age kids; they are action-packed, appropriate, not too scary, and best of all—the chapters are short enough for a bedtime reading that won’t take an obnoxiously long time.

Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
Synopsis:  This is the sequel to “Her Mother’s Hope.”  The story relates the mother-daughter relationships through four generations.

Evaluation:  I automatically love anything by Francine Rivers, and this two-part series was no exception.  In print, it’s so easy to see how generational curses are passed down through the decades.  You want to shout at these women who are so blind to the damage they are doing to their daughters.  In the end, however, we are reminded that God can redeem any situation through any circumstances and bring healing, peace, and joy.

The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, a novel by Rob Stennett
Synopsis:  Ryan Fisher, a confident real-estate agent not satisfied with his lot in life, takes out an ad in a Christian Business directory and is flooded with new business.  After visiting a real church, Ryan changes course, moves to Oklahoma with his wife, and decides to start a church of his own—not just any church, but an empire.  And he does.

Evaluation:  Stennett’s style is a witty, hilarious to the point of absurdity, and maddening satire—half Kurt Vonnegut, half Douglas Adams.  The principle thought going through my head while reading this was, how could people be so blind to the egotistical, maniacal, fantasizes of Ryan and his delusion that he is a Christian, much less a pastor, who wants to change the world with his brand of “new Christianity?”  The sad realization was, we have been here before:  David Koresh, Jim Jones—it doesn’t take much to sway some people, all in the name of Christianity.

Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
Synopsis:  Hatzfeld interviews a gang of about a dozen friends who participated at various levels with the killings during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This book alternates between Hatzfeld’s observations and the direct words of the men on such topics as their first kill, life in prison, forgiveness, remorse, regrets, and where is God in all of this?

Evaluation:  This was one of the most difficult books I’ve read in the past many years; not because it was grammatically challenging like Shakespeare of Austen, but because of the candid, honest replies of the killers.  Their descriptions were vivid and brutal, but their detachment from the massacres they participated in was especially chilling.  I could only read a few pages at a time, and then I’d have to take a break for a few days.  For anyone interested in learning about the Rwandan genocide, this is a must read, albeit a very challenging one.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
Synopsis:  Gourevitch provides a haunting anatomy of 1994 Rwandan genocide.  He provides a detailed account of the psychological, political, and socio-economic history of the country that led to the deaths of almost 1,000,000 Tutsis in a three month period.  Gourevitch had enviable access to the major political powers at the time (Kagame and Mobutu) which provided incredible personal insight into the inner-workings of the genocide, how the international community responded, and the aftermath of the survivors.

Evaluation:  Like Machete Season, this was another very difficult book to read—not so much because the personal stories were so chilling, but because the subject matter was just more difficult.  This is an incredible book to read if you want a complete history of the events that led to the genocide from the late 1800’s to its aftermath in 1997.  The most disturbing and eye-opening element to me was learning about the pitiful response of the international community.  Our initial denial of what was going on, our lack of humanitarian aid to the refugees who really needed it, and our (perhaps unintentional) support of the Hutu Power camps in Zaire were extraordinarily shameful on the part of those countries who were in a position to provide aid.

Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
Synopsis:  This book tells the story of the Morell’s journey from infertility to in-vitro resulting in twin daughters.  Several years later they were ready to thaw their remaining embryos to try for another child (or two) only to learn right before their scheduled appointment that their eggs had been thawed and implanted in another woman resulting in a single pregnancy. 

Evaluation:  This is a very interesting story of the Morell’s struggles knowing their last hope for a biological child in completely out of their control and completely in the hands of a woman they’ve never met.  While their story is one of hope and ultimate joy, there was one thing that troubled me throughout.  Shannon and Paul kept their first in-vitro and subsequent problems a complete secret from most family and friends.  They profess to be followers of Christ, and they share of their faith journey throughout the ordeal, but their lack of trusting in a community of believers, family and friends to help them through this difficult time saddened me.  Christ did not live in isolation, nor should we.

Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
Synopsis:  The author describes how he came to marry a Ghanaian woman, Chizo, as well as the struggles and victories that ensued from their cross-racial, cross-cultural marriage.

Evaluation:  I’m not one for romance books in general, but thankfully this book wasn’t heavy on the romance.  I did find entertaining and intriguing Zachary’s accounts of his travels in Africa as well as life with his African bride after they moved to America and settled in California.  Chizo professes a Christian faith, while Zachary is a non-practicing, borderline Atheist Jew.  Chizo’s display of her faith in her marriage is destructive at times, followed by incredibly insightful words and behaviors. 

Switched, Torn, Ascend (Trylle Trilogy) by Amanda Hawking
Synopsis:  Throughout the trilogy, Wendy learns her life is not what she thought it was, nor is she who she thought she was.  She becomes the subject of a major battle between two warring factions, and to the victor goes one of the most powerful queens their kingdoms have seen.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, easy, engaging, young adult trilogy.  I think I finished all three books within one week.  If you enjoyed the Twilight series, you will probably enjoy this series.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom
Synopsis:  Charles “Chick” Benetto flings himself off a water tower in his hometown attempting to commit suicide.  He hits the ground, alive, and sees his dead mother.  He goes on to spend a very other-worldly day with her.  Somewhere between this life and the next, Charley learns the things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices throughout his life.  Through her unconditional love and tender guidance, he tries to put the pieces of his broken life back together.

Evaluation:  This was a short, easy read with a somewhat interesting story line.  I had quite a few flashbacks of The Shack as I was reading.  If you liked The Shack, you will enjoy this book.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Synopsis:  At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover, Felipe, promise to never wed, both having experienced brutal divorces.  They settle in America, however Felipe does not have a green card, and the Department of Homeland Security decides one day that Felipe has worn out his welcome.  He is arrested and deported, and the couple are essentially “sentenced to wed” if they want to ever live together in the U.S. again.  This is Gilbert’s true story of her and Felipe’s journey across Southeast Asia as they juggle the bureaucratic jungle of obtaining a green card for Felipe and as Gilbert attempts to make peace with marriage.

Evaluation:  You need to read Eat, Pray, Love before attempting this book or a lot of the context will be lost.  Overall her personal story is interesting—her travels throughout Southeast Asia, her experiences with Felipe, her attempts at learning about marriage in different cultures.  However, my one hang-up is her treatment of the Christian ideal of marriage.  In Chapter 3, “Marriage and History,” Gilbert’s assessment of what the Bible has to say on marriage is sadly misconstrued.  Of course that’s easy to do when you only take a few scriptures without reading the whole in context.  She also quotes several early Christian leaders from centuries ago, leaders whose own views on marriage were disturbing and very ungodly.  Combine her extremely limited knowledge of scripture and misguided quotes from misguided leaders from 1,000 years ago, and you have the makings of a ruinous ideology, one she portrays as what the masses believed.  Gilbert does a great injustice to the biblical, Christian idea of marriage.

A Very Special Delivery by Linda  Goodnight
Synopsis:  In the midst of a blizzard, a strange man, Ethan, carrying an infant shows up at her farm house door and asks her to care for his daughter while he attempts to make a life-and-death delivery to a neighbor living up the mountain.  She tentatively agrees, despite her irrational fear of caring for children (her 6-month old nephew died of SIDS while in her care, and her sister has never forgiven her).  As Molly and Ethan share their stories, their fears, their shame and guilt, they learn the power of forgiveness and how God can redeem any situation.

Evaluation:  Though not my usual reading fair, this Love Inspired story, a Christian Harlequin romance series, was a sweet story.  I actually found myself a little teary-eyed at times, especially when the discussions centered on forgiveness–God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, forgiving others—and the peace and healing it can bring.

The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver
Synopsis:  This is a modern, adult version (rated R, but not X) of The Princess and the Pea

Evaluation:  This was a fun, humorous take on the classic children’s fairy tale, but it is not meant for children.  The dialog among the queen and the princess’s two aunts are particularly entertaining.

The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
Synopsis:  Keric, a wizarding student known as a mage, is asked to fill in for another student in the upcoming Labyrinth contest which pits mage against mage to see who has mastered their wizarding skills the best.  Upon entering the Labyrinth with three other students, Keric quickly realizes something is dangerously amiss.  The usually benign contest becomes a struggle between life and death for the mages, and not all make it out alive.

Evaluation:  If you like Harry Potter, especially book four detailing the Triwizard Tournament, you would enjoy this book.

Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
Synopsis:  Detective Nikki Heat investigates the murder of one of New York’s top real estate moguls as reporter Jameson Rooks rides along under the guise of research for his next book.

Evaluation:  This was another quick, fun book that reads just like an episode of ABC’s hit series, Castle.  If you are a fan of the show, you will enjoy the book.  My only criticism is that it could have been proofed and edited more carefully as there were lots of minor grammar typos.  It is not a literary masterpiece by any means, but it has an interesting twist at the end.

Lovely by Allison Liddelle
Synopsis:  Alice is a severely depressed teenager living with abusive parents who relives the night of death/suicide 10 different times.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, slightly confusing read until you figure out what is going on.  I only read it because it was a free Nook book, otherwise, I doubt I’d ever read a book like this.

Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
Synopsis:   Thinking of his overbearing boss on the drive home, Joe Johnson stops at a road-side stand to by some apples, aptly named after his boss who dies that night.  The next night, the same fate awaits his un-neighborly neighbor.  The third stop to this mysterious apple seller does not yield the apples Joe was hoping for.

 Evaluation:  This short story was rather predictable from the beginning, but a fun quick read nonetheless.

Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
Synopsis:  Psycho, serial killer driver picks up psycho, serial killer rider.

Evaluation:  You need a strong stomach to read this short story.  I enjoy blood and guts, but this was almost too disturbing for me.

Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
Synopsis:  Written for administrators and educators in K-12 American private school, this manual details how to begin an advisory program for students or how to strengthen a program already in place.

Evaluation:  Never would I read this book if I didn’t have to for work.  While the school I teach at has had an advisory program for years, I received very little useful information on how to improve our program.  I would love to see some real empirical research to prove that advisory programs actually benefit students.  Instead, this manual impresses upon its reader that advisory programs are necessary because we say they are and because everyone is doing it.

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One response

13 01 2012
betting predictions

Nice insights on your blog, Im expanding my knowledge because of this

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