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July has been a long hot month – and clearly books are one of my coping mechanisms, as always. Here’s what I have been reading:

Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga
I flew through this sweet middle-grade novel in verse, narrated by Jude, who leaves her native Syria (with her mother) to live with relatives in Cincinnati. She misses her father, brother and best friend terribly, but gradually adjusts to her new life. Lovely.

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, Kate Hattemer
It’s April of Jemima Kincaid’s senior year and she’s burning to do something big to leave a legacy at her tony prep school. But she’s also dealing with teenage stuff: learning to drive, an inconvenient crush, friction with her best friend. A fun novel with a likable, flawed protagonist learning to confront her own privilege. (Warning: some truly cringeworthy teenage sex.)

Flying Free: My Victory Over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team, Cecilia Aragon
Bullied as a child in her small Indiana town, Aragon found her way to a career in computer science, but still struggled with crippling fear and anxiety. A coworker’s love for flying ignited her own, and she threw herself into her new hobby, eventually competing on the U.S. Aerobatic Team. This straightforward, fascinating memoir chronicles her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 22).

Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, Osheta Moore
Moore is a wise, compassionate voice on Instagram and elsewhere, and this, her first book, is about pursuing shalom – God’s vision for true peace. It’s part memoir, part theology, part real talk. Warm and thoughtful.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I picked up this lesser-known classic by the author of the Betsy-Tacy series for a reread. Emily Webster is one of my favorite heroines: thoughtful, sensitive and brave. She struggles with loneliness after finishing high school and feeling stuck in her small town, but she learns to “muster her wits” and build a life for herself. I love her story so much.

Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, Kate Sekules 
Mending has existed as long as clothing has, and Sekules is here for the visible mending revolution. Packed with clothing/mending history (chiefly in the West), practical tips for sourcing vintage/mendable clothing, an extensive stitch guide and lots of snark. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 8).

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I’ve been rereading Oliver’s poems over breakfast. They are “lovely, dark and deep,” to quote Frost. Most of them are set in the woods or ponds. She is so good at paying attention.

Deadlock, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski’s cousin, a former hockey star, dies under mysterious circumstances, V.I. begins to investigate. She finds herself drawn into a complex case involving corruption in the shipping industry. I like her snark and smarts and will keep going with the series.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed
Twelve-year-old Amal dreams of becoming a teacher, though her family struggles as her mother deals with postpartum depression. But then Amal unwittingly offends the village landlord, and is forced to work as a servant in his house. She’s determined to find a way out, though. Bittersweet and inspiring, with a great cast of characters.

Bitter Medicine, Sara Paretsky
In V.I. Warshawski’s fourth adventure, she’s investigating the death of a young pregnant woman, a family friend. What she finds is potential malpractice, corruption and gang involvement – not to mention her smarmy lawyer ex. I especially loved the role played here by her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras.

Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, Nicole Gulotta
My friend Sonia recommended this book months ago, and I’ve been reading it slowly all summer. Gulotta is wise, warm and practical, and this book (organized by “season”) has been deeply helpful for me.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is an ordinary teenager, until she’s suddenly invested with strange powers she can’t quite control. A girlfriend lent me this first volume of the adventures of a young superhero growing into herself. The plot is a bit thin, but it was fun.

Blood Shot, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski isn’t crazy about going back to her South Chicago neighborhood. But a high school basketball reunion and an odd request from a friend pull her back in. Soon she’s investigating chemical corruption, chasing a friend’s (unknown) birth father and trying not to get killed. This was a grim one, but (see above) I am hooked on V.I.’s adventures.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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book art brookline booksmith

(Book art found at Brookline Booksmith.)

One Plus One, Jojo Moyes
Jess is nearly at the end of her rope – caring for two kids on her own and trying to make ends meet. When a road trip to a maths competition for her daughter goes disastrously wrong, she gets help from the last person she expected. Funny, sweet and un-put-down-able, like Moyes’ other novels.

The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
I’ve been hankering for a reread of the Percy Jackson series. This first book was just as action-packed and entertaining as I remembered – I love all the references and clever twists related to the Greek gods.

Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax travels to Jordan with a fellow CIA agent, and quickly discovers she’s being followed. Political intrigue and a flight into the desert ensue. The penultimate book in this series, which I love.

The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Dana Goldstein
Goldstein reviews the tumultuous history of American education, from “missionary” teachers on the frontier to the rise of “normal schools” to today’s various paths into education. Well-researched, highly readable and particularly interesting to me because of my day job. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 2).

Lady of Quality, Georgette Heyer
When Miss Annis Wychwood takes a runaway heiress under her wing, her very correct brother (and most of Bath society) are slightly scandalized. My first Heyer book; a fun, witty Regency romp. (Like Jane Austen, with 200% more exclamation points!) Found in Rockport (for $7!).

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, Peter Enns
The Bible is an ancient book – which means it doesn’t behave like a rulebook, an owner’s manual or a modern historical text. Enns gives a fresh perspective (with plenty of snark) and argues convincingly for accepting the Bible on its own terms. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 9).

The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan
When Percy Jackson returns to Camp Half-Blood, he’s shocked to find it in chaos. With two friends (one human, one Cyclops), Percy sails for the Sea of Monsters to rescue another friend and (he hopes) save the camp in the process. So much fun, like all the books in this series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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I’ve been reading some heavy stuff recently. But I’m attempting to balance it with a bit of levity (isn’t that what summer reading is supposed to bring?). Here, my most recent reads:

brookline booksmith shelves interior

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
The Communists are hunting down the priests in southern Mexico, and the last priest is on the run. He is not a “good” priest: he drinks brandy, he grows impatient with people, he has fathered an illegitimate child. But he is still searching for redemption among the desperately poor villagers he visits. Dark and sometimes tedious, but sometimes compelling. Slogged through this one for book club.

Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible, Alan Rusbridger
Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian and keen amateur pianist, attempts to master Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, in the midst of a turbulent year (which includes WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring) at his demanding day job. Along the way, he interviews pianists, neuroscientists and others about music, practice, discipline and memory. Rusbridger is a witty, thoughtful writer and this was a fun journey, though it got a bit technical at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 17).

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
It’s 1987, and 14-year-old June has just lost her uncle Finn, a talented artist, to AIDS. She strikes up a secret and unlikely friendship with Toby, Finn’s partner, bonding with him over their mutual love for Finn and their shared loneliness. Meanwhile, her mother and sister are dealing with Finn’s death in their own ways. Beautifully written and utterly, devastatingly heartbreaking. Recommended by Laura.

Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, Jeff Chu
The subtitle says it all: Chu travels the U.S. to visit congregations and interview pastors across the theological spectrum, from gay-focused churches to those who believe homosexuality is evil. Chu grew up devoutly Christian and is still wrestling with the tension between his faith and his sexuality. A well-researched, thoughtful portrait of a divisive, many-sided conflict. I wanted more of Chu’s own story in between the interviews, though.

Swimming in the Moon, Pamela Schoenewaldt
Forced to leave their master’s home in Italy, hot-tempered Teresa and her daughter Lucia sail for America and settle in Cleveland. Teresa becomes a vaudeville singer, and Lucia graduates high school, dreaming of college. But labor unrest ripples through Cleveland’s immigrant community, and Teresa is fighting inner demons of her own. Lucia struggles to care for her mother, follow her dreams and fight for justice. Evocative and compelling; a fascinating portrait of immigrant life circa 1910. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 3).

The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sullivan’s latest novel features advertising copywriter Frances Gerety, author of the famous De Beers slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” Frances never married, but her story is intertwined here with those of several fictional couples from four distinct time periods (1972, 1987, 2003, 2012). Smart, deft portraits of the highs, lows and everyday tedium of love and marriage across a range of locations and socioeconomic classes. Each relationship is quite different from the others, but the couples are connected in surprising ways. (I wanted more of Frances, though – I loved her.)

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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june reads books part 2A Dublin Student Doctor, Patrick Taylor
I’ve been loving the Irish Country Doctor series and enjoyed this extended flashback to Dr. O’Reilly’s youth and his medical student years in 1930s Dublin. His compassion for his patients is well drawn (I love his emphasis on learning their names, in a time when that was not standard hospital practice). The writing is mostly good and occasionally stunning, and I look forward to the next book featuring these characters.

Introverts in the Church, Adam S. McHugh
Leigh wrote a fabulous post (which turned into a series) about this book, written to introverts who want to serve and participate in church, but find it difficult (and/or have been told they need to be more extroverted to be effective). McHugh presents thoughtful strategies for introverts as they seek to serve in churches and still be themselves.

However, I found the stereotypes of introverts and extroverts troubling, especially since extroverts’ gifts were not often acknowledged. I’m a social introvert who has been fortunate to be part of church communities where my gifts were appreciated, and McHugh is writing for people who’ve been hurt more deeply than I have. Still worth reading. (For more on the gifts of introverts: Susan Cain’s excellent book, Quiet.)

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., Nichole Bernier
Kate inherits her friend Elizabeth’s journals after Elizabeth dies in a plane crash, in July 2001. She spends the summer of 2002 reading them, trying to fit these new glimpses of her friend’s life into her image of the person she thought she knew. Bernier’s prose is stunningly precise and lyrical, and she evokes that frantic, paranoid time – the time of anthrax and shoe bombs and undulating uncertainty – perfectly. Kate is a young mom struggling to grieve her friend and care for her small children as her husband travels often, and also weighing the question of whether to resume her pastry-chef career. More than a book about 9/11, this is a book about friendship, about secrets, and about the selves we show one another and the selves we hide away. Highly recommended.

Heron’s Cove, Carla Neggers
I read this on a weekend getaway to Maine – fitting since it’s set on the Maine coastline. Two FBI agents (one an ex-nun whose family runs a business recovering stolen art) work on a case involving a rare collection of Russian jewelry. The agents are in love, but must decide whether the pressures of their jobs will allow their relationship to continue. This is the second in a series and I felt I was missing some pieces since I hadn’t read the first book, though the author did give some background. However, the plot was entertaining and I liked the characters, especially the whiskey-distilling Irish priest. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 28).

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
I’ve heard about this book for years and finally bought it at Glen East. And I did a LOT of underlining. McEntyre makes the case that language is being polluted, misused and depleted in our current public discourse, and discusses 12 ways we can restore words – good, true, rich, valuable words – to their rightful place. She exhorts readers to savor words, to “love the long sentence,” to practice the arts of conversation and poetry, and finally to allow space for silence, which is necessary to allow words to grow and resonate. Brilliant and vital; I’ll be returning to this book again and again.

The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt
It’s 1967 and war is raging in Vietnam, while civil rights activists agitate for change at home. But Holling Hoodhood’s biggest concern is the Wednesday afternoons he has to spend alone with his seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, while everyone else goes to catechism class or Hebrew school. As Mrs. Baker takes Holling on a tour of Shakespeare’s plays, he learns about love, bravery and trust (as well as picking up a few excellent curses). I loved the subtle first-love subplot and the totally believable friction (and deep affection) between Holling and his sister. Excellent. (Recommended by Kristin and Kari.)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This book, as the main character (Oskar) would say, gave me heavy boots. So much tragedy – not only Oskar’s dad dying on 9/11, but his grandparents’ experience during World War II and after. So many lonely people (no wonder “Eleanor Rigby” runs throughout the book). And yet, some truly funny moments (Oskar has a wry, hilarious voice), and some moving scenes of connection and healing. Reading it made me think back to those days after 9/11, when we all, even we teenagers in far-flung West Texas, walked around in a haze, and all we wanted was to hold close the people we loved, and to protect them from anything like that happening again, ever.

Farther Afield, Miss Read
Fairacre’s favorite schoolteacher breaks her arm at the beginning of the summer holidays – horror! Fortunately, her friend Amy comes to the rescue by offering to care for her as she recovers, and then whisking her away to Crete for a holiday. They lounge in the sunshine and enjoy themselves, and Miss Read muses on her own single state and Amy’s marital troubles. Wise and thoughtful and sweet, like all the Fairacre books.

What are you reading these days?

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. Graphic by Sarah.

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It’s so hard for us, in our egocentric culture, to realize that something can not be about us.

There are some praise songs that I really hate singing. For theological and/or emotional (and sometimes purely aesthetic) reasons, my hackles go up when certain sets of lyrics come up on the screens in Moody. (By the way, whose idea was it to use bright yellow and lime green for the lyric colors in the ACU/Highland Power Point? Wouldn’t a nice, calming blue be more soothing, more worshipful?)

Anyway, it’s tough to realize that the songs I despise may be someone else’s favorite. I can’t stand songs with what I consider faulty theology. Nor do I tolerate it well when lyrics are poorly written, whiny, or matched with a tune that doesn’t fit them at all. And some songs do NOT work well when sung a cappella! (That’s the unapologetic Baptist coming out in me.) When these songs come up, I usually roll my eyes and either stand there without singing, wishing they’d get it over with, or sing along grudgingly. The effect is the same: either way, I spend the time not worshipping, not adding my voice to the community, but focused on myself, on my preferences and the way they’re not being considered.

Yesterday, one of our campus leaders admitted that his heart is not particularly touched on every single day in chapel. There are probably some days he doesn’t even want to go, some speeches he’d rather not listen to. There are probably some songs he’d rather not sing. But he added that whatever isn’t stirring his heart is more than likely stirring somebody else’s. And he can give thanks to God for that. He’s learned, he said, that it isn’t about him.

Even when we’re singing a song I despise, it is still important for me to sing. The community is diminished if I don’t add my voice to it. By singing when I don’t feel like it, I am proclaiming that I will stick by this community of believers, even when I don’t feel like it. And my voice adds to the blend of voices, praising our King, that just may touch somebody, even if the lyrics aren’t my favorite. Even if the tune is screechy or strange.

This new attitude toward singing probably won’t come naturally the next time someone leads a song that really gets to me. But I hope that instead of rolling my eyes and sighing, I’ll take a deep breath, look around me, and go ahead and sing. Because the verses that don’t stir me may be God’s message to somebody else. And maybe being willing to sing the songs I don’t love will form me into a more Christlike person. A person who realizes, however painful the epiphany may be, that it isn’t about me.

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