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The Books Of My Summer (So Far)




I’m a well-rounded reader. By that, I mean I always have books lying a-round. I enjoy hanging a-round libraries or bookstores more than any other place. I like to sur-round myself with others who will talk books with me. Oh, and I also enjoy a variety of books. I’ve gotten behind on reviewing the books I’ve read, so I thought it might be fun to do a post showcasing the wide variety of reading I’ve done the last few months. Maybe you’ll find one you’d like to check out. (Get it, we “check out” books at the library….)



Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish (C. Christopher Smith)  51lA8LjrxeL._AC_US160_

First, I knew the title alone would preach. Something happens when we come together to discuss a book. It’s a guided discussion that shows us what we have in common and perhaps where we differ. One thing I also appreciated about this book is the detail that Smith uses to describe the success his church has had in reading books together. The ideas presented in this book aren’t just theories. They work! As a follow up to the book he co-authored with John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus,” this book emphasizes a slower lifestyle that takes the time to learn and converse as we build true community. As one would expect, by the end of this book, you’ll have a whole list of other books you’re interested in reading.

Even reading just one book a year in conjunction with others who are doing similar ministry, and hosting a single meeting to discuss the book, would promote the practices of reading and conversation in very practical ways.


Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad (Elizabeth Esther)  515HO2vwhtL._AC_US160_

This second book by Elizabeth is a follow up to Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future

I read her first book and it was a remarkable story. She grew up in a very rigid religious environment and had to examine the lasting effect this had on her. I appreciated her honesty about that journey and loved her telling of how the path led her to a place worshiping with the Catholics. Now, in this follow up book, Elizabeth continues to undo some of the damage inflicted on her by her childhood faith. She has to figure out where her family fit into her life. She offers wonderful advice for others who are coming out of similar lifestyles. This book has so much to offer as these individuals make their way to recovery.

If the first step of spiritual sobriety is admitting we have a problem with the way we use God and the second is facing reality, then perhaps the third is coming to believe that a loving God exists and that he can restore us to sanity and sobriety. Developing a healthy relationship with God was and continues to be the most difficult aspect of my recovery.


The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith (A.J. Swoboda)  41iZWODAvbL._AC_US160_

Let me start by saying this one isn’t a light beach read. I actually thought to myself several times, if I’d read this book five years ago, I would have had answers to a lot of questions I have worked through. The theology is incredibly sound. It establishes right away and throughout the book, we’re made to wander. If your faith isn’t a wandering one where you have questions and doubts and changes in belief, you should wonder about your growth. I’ll leave you with a few quotes but really, grab a highlighter and slowly make your way through this one. 

The most effective pulpits aren’t sturdy wood; they are broken people. The most effective pulpit is the wobbly, unsteady, wandering life of a saved sinner who has denied and been welcomed back three times like the apostle Peter.

What if God created us to need so that we would have to lean on one another?



Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace (Luci Shaw)  61sY7rXMUQL._AC_US160_

This was my first encounter with Luci Shaw. She was scheduled to be at the Festival of Faith and Writing this past spring, but couldn’t make it due to illness. It would have been lovely to meet her. After reading just a few paragraphs, you know she’s a woman who exudes grace and peace. The kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. She’s a poet first, and her poetry is dispersed throughout this book. The book describes how the author finds the Creator’s mark on many aspects of life. In nature, in our homes, in travel, in our callings. My favorite piece in the whole book was the first essay, “Coffee Mugs.” It’s a beautiful book and I look forward to reading more of Luci Shaw.

The communion bread is laid on my tongue so gently. But I am ravenous; I want to gnaw the whole loaf.


Historical Fiction

Mata Hari’s Last Dance (Michelle Moran)  51-TJC-jUqL._AC_US160_

It’s been a few years now, but my first introduction to Michelle Moran’s books were her one that took us to Egypt and ultimately Rome. Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s Daughter. I devoured them and became fascinated with the Egyptians. I’ve read all of her books but these remain my favorite. Her most recent book, which released this week, is also very good. Mata Hari knew she was an entertainer. When she arrived in Paris in the late 1800’s, she just had to convince the rest of the world. She wowed people all over Europe with her dancing. She earned the affections of many a wealth European man. The world was her stage, until World War I broke out. Then, everything changed forever. The author flawlessly took the readers between Mata Hari’s past and her present life. Michelle Moran is an expert at putting her readers right in the middle of another time and place. She’s one of my all-time favorite authors and she’s delivered another great novel! 

We sit across from each other in the hotel’s glittering new restaurant and I worry that I’m a fraud among so many wealthy people.



Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet (H.P. Wood)  51Own2wS8IL._AC_US160_

Sometimes I read so much nonfiction, I feel like I need to come up for air. That’s when I look for a good piece of fiction. H.P. Wood’s first novel was an absolute delight. He did such a good job of showing his readers facts about the characters and the place rather than telling them. Early on, rather than tell us that one of the characters, Joe, is missing an arm, the author shows us.

The left sleeve of his white shirt, where his arm used to be, is folded up and pinned at the shoulder. The pin has a tiny black flag on it.

Telling. The story takes place on Coney Island at the turn of the century. The readers are introduced to the ”Unusuals” who work on Coney Island. Also to Kitty, who had been traveling with her family from England. A number of other characters round out the tale. Each one is affected by the sudden onslaught of a plague. Suddenly, folks who want off of Coney Island desperately find themselves stuck there; while others who want to get back to Coney Island aren’t sure how to make that happen. A well-told story and this is one I’d recommend you take with you on vacation. 


That’s a quick update. In addition to reading another handful of books for review, I’m helping to launch two books. That means I’m interacting with other bloggers, etc. who have agreed to promote the books on social media, write up a review, etc. Those two books are The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart's Deepest, Holiest and Most Vulnerable Desire by Jennifer Dukes Lee and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love The Life You Didn’t Choose by Melanie Dale. When it comes to books, there’s much more to come, so stick a-round!


 I received a copy of each of these books from NetGalley for the purpose of generating a review. Italicized quotes are the from the books. The opinions expressed here are my own. 


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