Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#24: 15th Affair (James Patterson)

I’m almost finished with this series….I’m almost finished with this series……That seemed to be my mantra as I read 15th Affair. This time, Lindsey and her friends find themselves facing a Chinese spy ring, an exploding aircraft, and missing corpses. Just another typical day in the lives of the Women’s Murder Club. To make matters worse, Lindsey’s husband, Joe, has left without a trace. Is Joe dead? Or has he run away with another woman?

The best thing I can say about this novel is that there are only 16 of these novels currently in print, so I have finally caught up. It has been a fun series, but I am definitely ready to get away from these plot lines for a while. I had picked up a novel from another series to read as my next novel, but I just can’t seem to get involved with the story. I think it’s time to read something with a little more substance that will grab my attention for a little while.

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#23: Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon (Scott M. Gibson)

While flying home yesterday, I decided to take a departure from my normal novels and investigate a topic that I personally find extremely important and that has arisen in several conversations this week. Scott M. Gibson’s Should We Use Some Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World examines the history of plagiarism in the Church’s pulpits and focuses specifically on the responsible use of easily available sermon websites such as sermoncentral.com. 

I am not a preacher or a pastor. I do not know the pressure of attempting to prepare a weekly sermon. However, I have been a faithful church attender. I have sat under the pastorate of men who had never spent a day in seminary and did the best they could to faithfully preach the Word of God under powerful anointing. I have also had the privilege of hearing wonderfully intelligent men present a finely-crafted and carefully researched sermon that was relevant and impactful to their specific congregation for that moment in time. Both scenarios have significantly contributed to my spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I have also found myself listening to a pastor present sermons found online. While the sermons were well written, they did not seem to have the power of personal conviction. Instead, I felt as though I was listening to a book report. How did I learn that the sermon was coming from a web service? Like most young adults in our society, I turned to Google. A quick search for a specific statement turned up the entire sermon — I followed along on my browser as the speaker read the material word for word. I found myself wondering if such presentations were ethical. If such excessive use of one person’s material was used in a presentation or document in any other field, it would be severely frowned upon — even if credit was given to the original author.  Why was it now an acceptable practice that should not be questioned just because a “good man” was delivering it from a church pulpit? Are the ethics of the Church diminished in comparison to that of other professional fields?

While Gibson’s book focuses on ministers who present significant portions of their sermons — or even preach the entire sermon — without giving credit to the author they are “borrowing” from, he does address the current trend of using sermon internet services. Gibson quotes Eugene Lowry, Emeritus Professor of Preaching at the St. Paul School of Theology, who states that “While not plagiarism, using these sermons [from internet services] is thievery of another kind….When we substitute purchased sermons for that personal reflection, we betray people’s time and trust and our own integrity. It would be more honest to have the real writer tape [on audio recording] the text, and to play that tape for the congregation. For the pastor to present someone else’s sermon as if it were the result of his or her own discipleship, training, and theological commitment is to bear false witness.” (Gibson, 71-72). 

Gibson follows this discussion with a observation from Ken Garfield, a reporter with the Charlotte Observer. In his 2002 article entitled “Internet Inspiration for Preachers,” Mr. Garfield concludes that “If all this leaves you nervous, you’re not alone. Preachers surfing for inspiration worries me too. There’s a risk of outright plagiarism, of course. But a subtler danger is at work — pastors choosing to take a shortcut to a sermon rather than putting in the effort that a congregation has a right to expect of its spiritual guide.” (Gibson, 72). Gibson finally summarizes his feelings about the use of internet sermon services with this statement. “What is the bottom line when it comes to these and other resources? A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources [emphasis added], and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.” (Gibson, 72) Personally, I fully agree with Gibson’s summary. Using resources is not the problem; actually, it should be applauded. The problem is when a minister fails to use the resources responsibly and puts all of their confidence in one man’s interpretation rather than faithfully doing the research on his own and then applying it to the Word as he understands it. I would much rather hear a less eloquent sermon that has come from a pastor’s wrestling with the text than reading what someone else has written. You see, I would rather know that you had spent more time reading the Word and listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit, Mr. Minister, than reading the thoughts of another man. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)……not all sermons crafted by fallible men.

Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon? is certainly not the final authority on this topic. However, it does begin to raise an important question for the modern Church that must be addressed by ministers, lay leadership, and congregants alike and no longer swept under the carpet.

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#24: Doomed to Die (Dorothy Simpson)

512bdtn42ba6l-_sy344_bo1204203200_I returned to my Library Shelf project with Dorothy Simpson’s Doomed to Die. This mystery novel featuring Inspector Luke Thanet was another quick read, but definitely had a convoluted plot line. The twists and turns were unexpected and were not adequately prepared; this reader felt as though he was on a constant roller coaster ride through the novel’s pages.

The story centers around a young artist who is found dead in the kitchen of her friend’s cottage after telling her husband that she wants a divorce since she is in love with another man. The woman is bleeding severely from a head wound and has a plastic bag covering her head. What was the cause of death — the head wound or suffocation? To solve the mystery, everyone must be considered a suspect — from her husband and mother-in-law to friends and her illicit lover.

A few things caused me problems while reading Doomed to Die. Simpson, a British novelist, obviously uses British spellings and phrases that are now out-of-date and difficult for the American reader. More importantly, however, was the way the mystery finally gets solved. A minute detail that is barely mentioned in the initial presentation of the murder suddenly becomes the catalyst for the crime’s solution. It felt as though Simpson had reached the pagination requirement set by her publisher and then decided to suddenly wrap up her novel in a tidy package. That type of writing always annoys me.  I would rather have a short book that tells a great story than one that seems to be circling around on itself in an effort to become more substantial.

I’m sad to say that I devoted a few days to reading this novel that I can never get back. This has been the first major let-down on My Library Shelf….and I certainly hope it is not the beginning of a trend.

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#23: The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)

23492671._SR1200,630_I returned to My Library Shelf project and read The Rosie Effect, the sequel to The Rosie Project. While I really enjoyed the first novel, The Rosie Effect left something to be desired. In the sequel, Rosie and Don are married and living in New York City. When Rosie finds herself pregnant, she begins to doubt if Don will be a suitable father given his “uniqueness” due to his obsessive personality. Don finds himself fighting for his future child as well as his marriage.

The Rosie Effect is littered with humorous scenes as Don attempts to learn what fatherhood is all about. However, the novel simply feels like a re-telling of the original novel and loses much of its charm in the process. I’m glad that I was reading the novel while I was extremely busy and was simply looking for something to read that would not require much brain power; The Rosie Effect fit the bill, but it’s not something I would recommend to my book-loving friends.

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#22: 14th Deadly Sin (James Patterson)

I am getting closer and closer to being current with the Women’s Murder Club series and I am looking forward to settling into a slower pace of reading these Patterson novels. Having said that, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed 14th Deadly Sin. In this installment, Lindsey and the SFPD are plagued by a string of robberies and murders that are being committed by a band of masked bandits wearing police windbreakers. Who can be trusted if police officers are now committing crimes against the citizens of San Francisco?

Yuki leaves the District Attorney’s Office in order to work for a not-for-profit firm that defends the poor who are being treated unjustly. Her first case pits her against her former boss as she sues the city in a wrongful death suit. A young African-American boy was arrested when he was found fleeing the scene of a massacre in a drug factory. Although circumstantial evidence pointed to his guilt, during the sixteen hour interrogation, the youth maintained his innocence and provided viable alibis. When promised his freedom if he would only confess to the crime, this intellectually-challenged boy confessed — and then found himself locked in a jail cell awaiting his trial. The trial never came — the boy was murdered while in custody. Yuki’s case hinges on the wrongful arrest and interrogation. Could this case possibly be connected to the Windbreaker Bandits?

Joe finds himself without a job, so he begins to unofficially investigate a string of stabbings that have occurred for the past 5 years on Claire’s birthday. As he pieces together what seems to be a connection, Joe quickly finds himself moving deeper into a realm of darkness and danger.

As you can see, 14th Deadly Sin keeps the reader turning pages in order to stay on top of the interwoven story line. The novel ends with a threat to Lindsey and her family that should influence the plot line of the 15th novel in the series.

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#21: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (Matthew Sullivan)

My latest novel took me to a used bookstore that is a home-away-from-home for its quirky employees and eccentric patrons. The book’s opening scene features Joey, one of Bright Ideas’ most regular customers, dangling from a noose. His body has been discovered by Lydia, the lovable and loyal bookseller. As Lydia lower Joey’s body from the rafters, she discovers a photograph in Joey’s pocket. Is this a clue to the reason for Joey’s suicide? No….it actually raises more questions because the picture was taken at Lydia’s 10th birthday party — and was one of the last times she saw her friend Carol before she was tragically killed. Why does Joey have this picture? He and Lydia first met a few years ago…..long after her birthday celebration.

Lydia’s story is not without complication as well. As a young girl, Lydia was having a sleep over at Carol’s home on the night that their world would be turned upside down. While playing in a blanket tent in the living room, Carol and Lydia witnessed a stranger enter the house with a hammer in his hand. As the girls heard the sounds of Carol’s parents being murdered, Carol raced to aid them and lost her life in the process. Lydia found a hiding place under the kitchen sink and escaped the Hammerman’s violent rampage. The criminal’s identity has remained a mystery ever since the murderous night and has crippled Lydia in the process.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore weaves together the two mysteries of Joey’s tragic suicide and the Hammerman mystery into one story effortlessly. It is an exciting read that will keep the audience glued to its pages until the final revelation is made in the closing chapter. Thankfully, the violent scenes were not explicitly graphic and a welcome change of pace for my reading adventure.

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#20: Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

Cutting for Stone can only be described as a lush novel filled with rich language and mesmerizing characters. Narrated by Marion Stone, the twin brother of Shiva, the story follows Marion and Shiva’s relationship from its earliest beginnings in Ethiopia to its conclusion on the East Coast of the United States. Together, the twins experience many ups and downs as they struggle with issues related to love and personal identity while dealing with their own feelings of abandonment.

Marion and Shiva are the children of Thomas Stone, a renown surgeon, and Sister Mary Joseph Praise. The two boys were conjoined twins — connected by a stem from their heads — and were quickly separated after birth as their mother died in delivery. In his grief, Thomas Stone abandons his newborn children and the boys are raised by friends of their mother. The lives that began with desertion and loss are destined to have a painful existences.

As the novel reaches its climax, a series of coincidences lead to the boys separation…..as well as Marion’s reunion with figures from his past……and ultimately with his entire family. As the reader looks back on pivotal plot points, they seem inevitable in the course of events. However, the appearances of these plot twists are surprising and shocking, yet entirely believable. 

Cutting for Stone is not a novel that was read quickly. Instead, I found myself getting lost in the rhythm of Verghese’s language and lounging in the beautiful settings he described. Although much of the novel is set on the plains of Africa, the story does not feel “foreign” at all. Instead, it is a universal story of family, love, and loss. Cutting for Stone is definitely a novel not to be missed!

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Reading Update – August 23, 2017

I am still working my way through Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. At this point, I have read roughly 375 pages of the novel and am just over half way through.  As I continue reading, I am understanding why those who have recommended it over the years have held the book in such high esteem. It is superbly written and the character development is insightful and authentic.

Let me tell you a little about what has happened so far without giving too much of the plot away. The twin boys, Marion and Shiva, have entered their teen years as a government coup has occurred in Ethiopia that involved members of their safe world. While both boys are central to the story, at this point, everything centers on Marion. His interest in medicine and surgery are growing — making for constant comparisons between the child and his deadbeat Dad. Marion’s sexuality is blooming as he begins to have his first encounters and all of the questions and confusions that accompany them. In an instant of danger for themselves and their family, Marion and Shiva must make a decision that has lasting consequences beyond anything they could have imagined. Marion must now deal with the personal demons that haunt him as he struggles with the ethical implications of his choice while keeping a potentially explosive secret from everyone.

Cutting for Stone is a pleasure to read. It is not a beach-read though. My reading pace has become significantly slower through this novel because each page contains a scene that will have consequences for our characters as the story progresses. I find myself taking my time in order to make sure I don’t miss a word. That means that my daily reading goal is only 50 pages…..and there are days when that lofty goal is too difficult to accomplish. I would love to finish the novel in the next week….and I think it’s possible now that I’m entrenched in the drama…..but it may be just a little too much to accomplish now that the fall term is underway.

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Reading Update – August 16, 2017

After finishing Behold the Dreamers, I was ready for something lighter. That means I returned to James Patterson. After spending a couple of days with the next novel in the series, I realized that I probably would not be able to finish the book before leaving the Geriatric Ward on Sunday. Since I only borrow these novels from a library and hadn’t gotten very far into the reading, I decided it was time to make a trip to the bookstore and change directions.

Now as I’m sitting on my couch in my Plainview apartment, I have a stack of books sitting next to me that I’m looking forward to reading. Listening to book reviews on the drive back to west Texas also meant that my TBR list grew (that’s “To Be Read” in case you are wondering). So with packing, driving across state lines, and slowly returning to my normal work routine, I am slowly making a dent in reading my latest novel — Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

The novel has been recommended to me by multiple people in the past few years. There was always something about the title that caused me to pause. I also tend to shy away from books that are longer than 400 pages; every time I’ve attempted a book much longer than that, I tend to lose interest before I reach the end and find myself stuck or trying to plow through when I really want to walk away. With its 650 pages, I am hopeful that Cutting for Stone will be a different story. I have only managed to read a little over 150 pages so far, but I am engrossed by this story and Abraham Verghese’s prose. I suppose that may be one of the reasons the novel was a national bestseller. I also find it very intriguing that this work was Verghese’s first novel.

So I’m going to continue reading….and I’ll tell you more about the story in a future post.

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#19: Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue)

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is the 2017 selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The novel tells the story of Jende and Neni, Cameroonian nationals that have recently come to America, and their two children, Liomi and Timba. The novel is a family saga. It is an exploration of the modern American Dream. It is a chronicle of the difficulty of immigrants in the major cities of the United States.

Jende is a simple man. He has not completed a degree at a University. He has no marketable skills. He is living in New York and needs to provide for his wife and young child. (Timba is born while the couple resides in the United States about halfway through the novel.) Since he does not have a green card, Jende accepts a job as a chauffeur for the Edwards family, a upper crust Manhattan family led by Clark — a Wall Street mogul. Life is good for Jende and his family until the housing crisis hits and leads to the desemation of the Edwards family, which results in Jende losing his job. Without employment and without a green card, Jende finds himself facing a new struggle — the threat of deportation.

Struggling to keep his family fed, Jende begins to dream of returning to Cameroon. Neni, however, has no desire to see herself or her children leave the American Promise that she has now found. She turns to religious organizations for help. She considers divorcing Jende and re-marrying an American citizen for a few years in order to stay in this country, continue her education, and follow her dreams of becoming a pharmacist. Ultimately, Neni must accept the fact that the country she loves does not want her family to stay.

Behold the Dreamers is much more than a simple story about a Cameroonian family. The immigrant family is constantly contrasted with the the Edwards family and their struggles and successes as an American family. The reader learns much about the inner workings of ICE and the federal government’s expectations of immigrants. America is portrayed as a land of hope and opportunity, but also as a place that keeps those dreams just out of reach of all but the most elite. The novel, while beautifully written, is a challenging read that forces the reader to pull back the curtain and take an honest look at American immigration in the 21st century.

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