Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom-to-be

The Forgotten Garden January 2, 2017

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 11:53 AM

For my 11th book of my 2016 reading challenge, I chose The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  It was my mom’s recommendation for my list, and she picked it for me after enjoying the audiobook version.

 

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I was supposed to have read this in November in order to stay on track for completion of the challenge by the end of 2016, but I was in the midst of Ron Chernow’s George Washington biography when November started.  The plan was to wrap up Washington: A Life by mid-November, but my reading pace is at a crawl these days with Mr. Baby being in the picture and me being back at work.  I ended up setting aside the biography and picking up The Forgotten Garden at Thanksgiving break.  It then took me until Christmas to read Morton’s novel, which is fairly lengthy at over 500 pages.  I’m tackling my final book of the challenge, The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier, here at the start of 2017.  After that, I’ll finally finish the Washington bio.

 

The Forgotten Garden is centered around a core question: Why was 4-year-old Nell put on a ship bound for Australia from England in 1913 by herself, with no paperwork identifying her or her parentage?  Many other mysterious questions revolve around this main one, and Morton, as the novel progresses, slowly reveals the answers.  For most of the book, I thought Morton’s revelations were well paced and her shifts in point of view and time well plotted.  The characters span 4 generations of women, and each in turn has her own secrets to reveal.  My one qualm with the novel was Morton’s execution of the big reveal.  She had given so many hints in the 100 pages ahead of the big revelation that it was no revelation at all.  Instead, her characters come across as either blind or incompetent to the truth that is so apparent to the reader.

 

This slight annoyance, however, was not enough to severely dim my enjoyment of the book.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to lose oneself in a solid fictional tale.

 

 

The Mystic Way of Evangelism October 30, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 7:25 AM

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My brother-in-law BJ selected The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach by Elaine Heath for me to read as part of my 2016 reading challenge, and I selected it to be my pick for October.  BJ completed his Doctor of Ministry degree last year, and he read The Mystic Way of Evangelism in one of his classes.

 

I’ll be honest.  I was intimidated to read this book.  Despite regular church attendance for much of my life, I have little background knowledge on theology.  Apart from one class on the Old Testament that I took as an undergrad, the depth of my theological understanding ends at the Sunday School level.  The introduction only confirmed my uneasiness.  Apophatic?  Kataphatic?  I was indeed out of my comfort zone.

 

Yet the further I read in Heath’s book, the more interested I became.  She spotlights several mystics from history, some of whom I knew (Julian of Norwich, for example) and many of whom I did not (Thomas R. Kelly and Father Arseny to name just two).  I was a history major, so I enjoyed learning about these historical religious figures.

 

The Mystic Way of Evangelism is primarily aimed at pastors and those training pastors, but I found plenty of material with which to connect.  Heath promotes a missional view of evangelism grounded in love.  Rather than preaching fire and brimstone, evangelism in the mystic way is about showing the love of Christ through caring, giving actions.  This is something all Christians, not just their pastors, should aim to do.

 

Heath criticizes the modern church in America, and the more I read, the more I agreed with her.  We’ve largely lost the missional aspect of our faith.  Many churches are more concerned with building massive complexes for themselves than with serving the neighborhoods around them.  Having lived in DFW for most of my life, I have observed this for myself over and over.  How much does it say about our country that missionaries from some of the poorest nations in the world are now coming HERE, the most prosperous nation on earth, to conduct their mission work?

 

In the final part of the book, Heath offers a number of strategies for pastors and churches to take to correct the path of Christianity in America.  They sound wonderful on paper (bivocational pastors, smaller churches, eco-evangelism, etc.), but even as I read I was doubtful about the reality of a nationwide change.   In this, I was struck by the similarity of my cynical reaction to education books I’ve read over the past 8 years.  Yes, churches and schools need overhauling, but how in the world do you get everyone on board?  The answer, of course, is that you don’t; you start small with yourself and your specific church or school.  It’s certainly better to try than to say nothing will ever change.  I pray that I will put some of what I read in Heath’s book into action myself.

 

So despite my initial uneasiness, I ended up giving The Mystic Way of Evangelism 4 stars on Goodreads.  It’s very much a worthy, thought-provoking, action-inducing read.

 

Calling Me Home September 13, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 2:06 PM

Thanks to the arrival of Baby Pierce last month, I got an early start on my September reading challenge book, Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.  Postpartum recovery and breastfeeding allowed me lots of sitting–aka reading–time.  I chose Calling Me Home to read next because a digital version of it was available for check-out from our local library.  I’m finding it easier to use my iPad to read books while holding and nursing our newborn son.

 

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My sister, Julie, recommended Calling Me Home to me.  As an elementary school teacher and mother of two young girls, Julie reads picture books aplenty but finds reading time for herself difficult to come by.   However, the librarian at her school gave her a copy of Kibler’s novel last year, and she chose it for me to read, also.  In Julie’s words, “It is significant to me because I am actually still reading it. :)”

 

Calling Me Home follows two unlikely friends–89-year-old Isabelle McAllister and her 30-something hair stylist, Dorrie Curtis–as they travel from Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral.  Isabelle is white; Dorrie is black.  On the road, Isabelle tells Dorrie her story, which is illustrated in the novel as a series of flashbacks to 1939.  At seventeen, Isabelle fell in love with Robert Prewitt, a young black man who worked for her family in a small Kentucky town which forbid African Americans from within its boundaries after dark.  Calling Me Home is essentially Isabelle and Robert’s story, although Isabelle’s reflections on the past have a profound influence on Dorrie, a single mother of two with her own romantic difficulties.

 

I was skeptical of the novel at first, as the writing was a bit too colloquial for my taste and the plot appeared to be predictable.  While my opinion of the writing remained unchanged to the end, my initial assessment of the plot did not.  Kibler surprised me, in a good way, with her story arc more than once.  She kept me reading, intrigued about what else she was going to reveal.

 

Calling Me Home also felt timely, despite its focus on the past.  Kibler weaves in some of the modern-day realities of being black in America rather than neatly saying that all is now resolved between blacks and whites.  Just one look at the headlines of today shows that racial divisions remain.  I appreciate that Kibler did not gloss over that fact.

 

In the end, I gave Calling Me Home a solid 3 stars on Goodreads.

 

Living Jesus September 3, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 2:10 PM

For my August reading challenge book, I selected Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount by Randy Harris.  Loveta, my mother-in-law, chose this book for me to read after she had read and studied it in Bible class at church.  Randy Harris is a popular author in the Pierce family, as my husband took a class of his while studying at Abilene Christian University.  Living Jesus was to be my first experience with Harris’s work.

 

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Harris discusses one portion of the Sermon on the Mount in each chapter of the book.  I limited myself to reading just one chapter per night so that I could contemplate Harris’s observations, explanations, and challenges.  Yes, challenges.  Ultimately this book is a challenge to, as the subtitle indicates, do what Jesus says. Oftentimes this means thinking deeply about what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount.  For example, in chapter 7 Harris examines Matthew 5:33-37 in which Jesus instructs us not to swear oaths.  Harris believes Jesus means this directive to be more about maintaining high integrity–avoiding/correcting lies big or small, confessing wrongs, etc.–than about just avoiding oath swearing.  Harris writes, “The goal here is to examine our hearts and to expose the roots of our dishonesty” (p. 82).  He admits this isn’t easy, but Jesus didn’t care about making things easy for us.

 

I enjoyed taking a slow, in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, which in the past I’ve quickly read but never really studied.  I definitely had to stop and examine how I am fulfilling or failing Jesus’s challenges, which was one of Harris’s goals in writing the book.  His writing is very accessible, and I can easily see why he’s popular not just among my family but at ACU and beyond.  I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

Anthem July 25, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 8:39 PM

Today I finished my latest 2016 reading challenge book, Ayn Rand’s Anthem.   After my lengthy June pick, I wanted a shorter read for July.  At about 100 pages, Anthem fit the bill.  My younger brother, Ken, selected the novel for me to read.  He went through an Ayn Rand phase a few years ago and found it to have an interesting story.

 

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It took me just a couple of days to read Anthem.  For the first 80 pages or so, I too found it to be an interesting read.  The main character, known only by the name and number Equality 7-2521, is trapped in a future, dystopian society in which “I” does not exist.  Everyone lives for “we” and must follow what is deemed best for the community rather than the individual.  There is no freedom; there is no love.  Equality 7-2521 begins to challenge this structure in secret when he finds a subway tunnel from the Unmentionable Times of before.  He begins to write and experiment – both sins in the eyes of society.  Eventually Equality 7-2521 runs away from the city into the Uncharted Forest, where he is joined by a woman he refers to as the Golden One who is also seeking to escape the confines of “we.”  Together they come upon a house from before and learn of the existence of “I.”  They discover freedom.  They discover love.  They also turn completely inward.

 

And that is where I no longer found the novel interesting but rather infuriating.  For it is one thing to acknowledge and respect “I”; it is another to elevate it above all else, even God.  The Golden One can’t be pulled away from looking at herself in the mirror.  She falls asleep in front of it. Equality 7-2521 writes,

“And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:

‘I.'”

 

As a Christian, I utterly disagree with Rand’s philosophy.  She only writes of the world in black and white – either it’s “we” or it’s “I.”  She is leaving out so much in between.  Christ challenges us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  He doesn’t require us to give up our freedom and individuality, but he does require us to love and respect our fellow men at the same time.  And oh, what this world needs right now is love.  And not self-centered love, for we already have plenty of that.

 

I gave Anthem only 1 star on Goodreads.

 

The Brothers Karamazov July 18, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 5:49 PM

At the beginning of June, I began The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — my sixth reading challenge selection for 2016.  My older brother, Tom, had given me a list of several books that he recommended, and from that list I chose The Brothers Karamazov.  I have read many works of classic literature over the years, but I had neglected to read any of the famous Russian novels.  I knew that by selecting a Dostoevsky as Tom’s choice, I would begin to correct this oversight.

 

 

Despite my enthusiasm for taking on this nearly 800-page tome, I struggled to get into the novel.  The summer break from teaching usually affords me the time to fly through books, but I had trouble focusing on this one.  This is no fault of Dostoevsky, however; I blame pregnancy brain.  I would nod off after only a handful of pages, or I would have to reread pages read the day before because I simply could not remember what had happened or what had been said (probably due to the frequent nodding off).  These reading behaviors are highly unusual for me during a break from work, so I suspect they had more to do with me being eight months pregnant than anything else.  At one point I strongly considered putting the novel aside and trying again later in the year, but I worried that I would never get back to it if I did.  So I soldiered on, and after the first 200 pages or so I fell more into a rhythm with the book and made slow-but-steady progress.  It still took me halfway into July before I finished The Brothers Karamazov, though!

 

The novel contains a number of lengthy monologues and explanations, but it is also packed with drama.  Murder, suspicion, jealousy, betrayal, and love triangles all take center stage at various points in the plot.  In addition, an element of humor can be found in Dostoevsky’s portrayal of human foibles, such as wealthy, middle-aged Madame Khokhlakov’s attempts at winning over/manipulating handsome young men.  These elements add interest, intrigue, and readability to the novel.

 

I found myself wishing for more background knowledge on mid-19th-century Russian history as the book clearly confronts the political and religious movements of the time.  In fact, The Brothers Karamazov is well-known for its discussion of religion and the existence of God, with the youngest Karamazov brother, Alyosha, representing the faithful believer in contrast to his doubting father and elder brothers.  While I am far from a theological expert, I still found the religious discussions and debates among the characters fascinating.

 

Overall, I gave The Brothers Karamazov 4 stars on Goodreads.  My interest level surged and waned at different points in the novel, but I recognize and respect the quality of the work.  I doubt I ever attempt a reread, but I am glad to have experienced Dostoevsky’s masterpiece this once.

 

Trinity: Military War Dog May 15, 2016

Filed under: Reading — skpierce12 @ 5:12 PM

For my May reading challenge book, I chose my friend Rebecca’s recommendation of Trinity: Military War Dog by Ronie Kendig.  Rebecca is a great reader of Christian fiction, and she has recommended several good Christian fiction series to me in the past.  Trinity is the first novel in a series of three books focusing on military war dogs and their handlers.

 

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I was admittedly skeptical upon starting this book, as I have neither a military background nor a history with dogs (yep, I’m a cat person).  It was definitely going to put me out of my comfort zone.

 

The relationship between Trinity and her handler, former Green Beret Heath Daniels, is one of devotion on both sides, and this was one of the highlights of the book for me.  I may not be a dog person, but I do love animals and believe special connections exist between them and their human caretakers.  I cried for multiple days when my beloved cat, Napoleon, passed away in November.

 

The budding romantic relationship between Heath and Darci, an intelligence officer posing as a geologic survey team member, was another enjoyable component of the novel for me.  I selected Trinity as my May read because I knew it would have a little romance to it, which I often look for when I’m tired and stressed during busy times of the school year.

 

I struggled with the military aspects of the book, however, as the acronyms and procedures were unknown to me.  Kendig also plotted her novel as a series of mini-cliffhangers, each ending with an explosion, shot, or attack of some sort.  While this was intended to up the suspense, I found it repetitious after the first couple of times.  Action movies have never been my favorite movie genre, after all, for the same reason.

 

In the end, I did not love Trinity, and I doubt that I pursue the additional two novels in this series.  It did serve as a welcome distraction, however, while being home sick for three days straight!