Saturday, December 29, 2007

2008 Reading List

People ask me all the time what I read and how I find good books. The answer is that I read anything recommended to me by friends and family. I also read anything that sounds interesting or has a catchy title...and sometimes they aren't that good, but of course I finish them anyway because that's just me. (For the record the only book that I have started and not finished is "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. I'm determined to get to it someday though.) So here is the list for the year so far. Check back, as I'll add to it as I finish a book.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: This is a really good book about the German occupation of France. The backstory of the author is really what makes it good though. She was a Jew living in France during WWII and she actually wrote the book while in hiding. I won't tell you what happens to her but the previous sentence pretty much lets you know that it isn't good. Anyway, her daughters found the notes for the book years later and had it published. At the end they also published letters that she and her husband wrote as their lives unravelled. Very, very interesting...and disturbing, really.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell: OK, this one is hilarious but not for everyone. She has kind of a potty mouth, slams Republicans a lot, and doesn't believe in God or any kind of afterlife. That said, she is a brilliant writer that will make you laugh out loud. The book is about her attempts to pull herself out of a funk by cooking all 527 recipes in Julia Childs first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one calendar year. The weird things she makes, and eats, and the trials she has in the meantime are absolutely hilarious. She also starts a blog about the whole experience and ends up with some creepy blog stalkers. Funny, funny, funny!

Cuando Era Puertorriqueno by Esmerelda Santiago: (Si no puedes leer este descripcion en Espanol no podrias leer el libro tampoco. Por eso, lo he escrito en Espanol.) Es un libro sobre la vida de una chica con siete hermanos en Puerto Rico en los anos 50. Sus padres se pelean mucho y ella es la mayor, entonces tiene que cuidar a tus hermanitos mucho. Eventuamente se mudan a Nueva York donde ella tiene que aprender una lengua nueva y una nueva vida sin su papa. Lo lei para practicar mi espanol y aumentar mi vocabulario pero fue muy interesante a la misma vez.

The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardner: Typical story about the police looking for a serial killer and following all of the clues. Two detectives fall in love, yadda, yadda, yadda. Pretty good and suspenseful if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo: I read the Spanish version but there is an English version now so I'll go ahead and give you a synopsis in English. Basically it is the story of a simple Andalucian shepherd that goes off in search of a hidden treasure in Egypt and his triumphs and trials along the way. This book claims to be a fable right on the cover and it definitely is. It is all about listening to your heart and following your dreams. It is a love story and an adventure story too. It gets a little mystical in a few places but still a good book. Very short and easy reading.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger: This is an awesome book! I totally recommend it. The writing is absolutely spectacular and the story is great as well. It is about a family in crisis in the 1960's. When the oldest son kills intruders in their home and then runs away from the law the rest of the family, Jeremiah Land and his two younger children, set out across the west in their Airstream trailer to find him before the FBI can. It is an adventure story mixed with a love story mixed with a western. It is a very touching and poignant look at family life. I really loved this book!

Nineteen Minutes
by Jodi Picoult: This book is a little disturbing, especially if you are a public school educator but it was very thought provoking too. The novel is about a fictional school shooting and the 10 years of bullying by other students that precipitated it. It is presented not only from the point of view of the victims, but also the law enforcement professinals, lawyers and the perpetrator. The overall theme is that the shooter is child too; someone who is loved and loves in return, someone that was once a sweet baby and has a family and a life that is worth living...despite his horrific actions. I really came away from this book with a deeper sense of sorrow for the criminals and their families in these circumstances. They deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions, namely life in prison or execution, but they also deserve the love of Jesus Christ and his followers. (These are my views of the book. The Christian angle was not actually presented in the book.)

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year
by Annie Lamott. I wrote a post about this book. You can read it here.

The Husband
by Dean Koontz: This is a thriller about a landscaper, who for no discernible reason, has to raise 2 million dollars in order to ransom his kidnapped wife all while keeping the authorities out of the picture. The problem is he doesn't have even close to that much money and he has been framed for 3 murders along the way. There are a few twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. It's a good read.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan: This book made me scream (mentally), "How could this have happened in America in the 20th century!!!!" The novel is all about race relations in rural Mississippi immediately after World War II. Black men who fought in the war and experienced racial freedom and equality for the first time in their lives while in Europe (not from other American soldier, mind you, but from the european people), returned to their homes and farms only to be treated like disease carrying criminals barely worthy of the humid air they breathe as they slave away in the cotton fields. The story covers other themes, like agriculture, family relationships, and inter-racial friendships and marriages. It was very well written from the point of view of several different characters in the book. It was disturbing, but it helps to know that things did eventually least for the most part.

The Zookeeper's Wife
by Diane Ackerman: I thought this was a novel before I read it....but it is actually a biography of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the directors of the Warsaw Zoo, before, during and after World War II. A Christian (actually Jan is an atheist) the stuggle to save their zoo and animals from destruction. Unable to do so, they turn their zoo into a center for Underground activities and hide hundreds of Jews doomed to death under Nazi rule. I learned a lot about Nazi philosophy and their interest in genetics, human and animal, and experimentation to create a master race of both human beings and animals. Ackerman got her information for the book from Antonina's memoirs and numerous radio and print interviews the couple later gave about their wartime activities, as well as several verbal eye witness accounts...including the story straight from the mouth of their son. It is an excellent book chock full of information and touching stories.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: I really liked this book. It was set in the south in the late 60s and centers around the life of an 11 year old white girl and her black nanny. (What is it with me and these racially charged books?) When her nanny is arrested for spitting on a white man's shoes while on her way to register to vote, the little girl breaks her out of jail and runs away with her. They end up living with 3 black spinster women. The complicated relationships in the story make it a real page turner. (The spinsters raise bees and sell honey for a living so there is a lot of interesting bee information in the book too.)

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver: This book was recommended to me by several people, but I really didn't enjoy it all that much. The story follows 3 people in rural Appalachia (here I am down south again), a 40 something divorcee, a 70 something widower and his pesky neighbor, and a 30 something recently widowed women. The relationships each of these people has throughout the story and the way they all tie to together was nice and pretty interesting but I found the rest of the book to be rather preachy. The characters were against pesticides, herbicides, and hunting just to name a few. They commonly railed against other characters that would dare to kill a moth, Japanese beetle, poke weed or coyote. I didn't necessarily disagree with some of the views presented by the author, I just got tired of reading about them over and over again. I didn't think that this book was half as good as the other Kingsolver book I've read, The Poisonwood Bible.

I Heard That Song Before
by Mary Higgins Clark: This is a typical MHC book. Part love story, part murder mystery. It was good and had a little twist that was unexpected. Worked well as light reading between other heavier books. I will say that the title bothers me a little. Shouldn't it be "I've Heard That Song Before"?

The Taking
by Dean Koontz: For the record I'm not that in to science fiction, but I generally do like Koontz's books. They are a little out there sometimes but they always have nice stories interwoven with the alien sub plots. I especially enjoy his books about Odd Thomas. (Odd sees dead people.) But this one (The Taking) I did not like at all. It was just too out there. Aliens were taking over the world and killing everyone in sight...but wait, it was really just God remaking the earth....oh, I should have known. Now I've just spoiled the ending for you, but that's OK since you shouldn't read the book anyway.

Simple Genius
by David Baldacci: This is a political/action thriller set in a think tank and a secret CIA base in Virginia. There were several twists and turns along the way and it was an intriguing plot involving code breaking and super computers. It was a fairly simple read except for the computer and Enigma code descriptions which I just had to skim so that my little non-mathematical brain wouldn't fry. I didn't enjoy it as much as I have some of Baldacci's other books but it was still very good.

The Testament
by John Grisham: This was actually an audio book that Brian and I listened to on our vacation. It was just as good as all of Grisham's other work and had the same great relationships between characters and legal suspense that you would expect. The story centers around the will of a multi-billionaire and the heirs (including an African missionary) that are fighting for their inheritance. There is a religious undertone to part of the story that is handled very well and makes a really good point. The ending is a little shocking but it is a great book overall.

The Lake House
by James Patterson: Do NOT read this book. It started out OK, but steadily became more and more graphic and nasty. I do NOT recommend it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving: This is a good book that is destined to become a classic that will be assigned to American Lit. students for ages to come...if it isn't already. I read it because several people from People Reading listed it as their favorite book. I wouldn't say it is my favorite of all time (I have no idea what that would be) but it was very good. It is about John and his "strange" little friend, Owen, growing up in a small New Hampshire town...all the while believing he is destined for greatness. There is some very poignant writing about parent/child, mother/daughter, mother/son and friend/friend relationships. The Vietnam war is also a major theme of the book and becomes the backdrop for the second half of the novel. There was soooo much symbolism mixed in to this book that I'm sure I only caught half of it. I'd love to discuss the book with someone smarter than me (and that shouldn't be hard to find). If you read this book let me know.

The Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult: This is the second Piccoult book I've read and I didn't like it as much as I did the first one. The Plain Truth is about an infant murder on an Amish farm and the subsequent trial. It basically raises questions about the average American legal system being adequate to understand and judge a person who has never been a part of the society that stands in judgement of her. How can a jury of your peers be made up of people that don't have the first thing in common with you and don't understand how you think? It was interesting, but it didn't hit as close to home as 19 Minutes did though...maybe that's why I didn't like it quite as much.

Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I read the Spanish version of this book but there is also an English version and I think it may be made in to a movie also. The book is basically a love story set in the Carribbean in the 40s? It is about a man and woman who were in love and then went their separate ways and married other people...only to meet again as elderly people after their spouses died. It was a very touching and beautiful novel.

The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck: Well, this is not a feel good book. I'll spare you the suspense and tell you right now that there is no happy ending (a bizarre and twisted ending, yes, but happy, no). I still liked the book for what it taught me about history and the human spirit. I also loved the writing style and the use of that bumpkin dialect. But man, it was a downer! The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the hope that something good would happen to this poor family on the next page. Nope. Never happened. So, if you don't mind depressing books and are interested in the history of the United States in the late 1930s then you should read it. If you don't like death, starvation, oppression and abuse then you should skip this one.

Cane River
by Lalita Tademy: This is one of those random books I picked up out of the library stacks because the cover was interesting. The jacket description seemed intriguing too, so I took it home. It was a good choice. Basically, Mrs. Tademy gave up her high powered Silicon Valley job in order to travel back to Louisiana and research her family history. She uncovered generations of strong slave women who kept their families together through all kinds of hardships. She then took all of the factual information and embellished it a little to form a really good novel written in three sections, each through the eyes of a different generation of woman. She provides quotes and copies of the actual documents she found along the way. I really enjoyed this book set in rural French speaking Louisiana in the mid 1800s through the mid 1900s.

So Brave, Young and Handsome
by Leif Enger: I posted an entire book discussion on this novel. It was excellent! (The novel, not the discussion) You can read all about it, in great detail by following the So Brave, Young and Handsome labels on the sidebar.

The Broker by John Grisham: It was Grisham so of course it was good, but it wasn't his typical novel. I can't quite put my finger on it but it was less "lawyer" and more "spy". It was also shorter and seemed to be less detail oriented (probably because Grisham knows a lot less about being a spy than he does about being a lawyer). It was fast paced and very interesting. The main character is in "the witness protection program", for lack of a better term and has to learn Italian very quickly. He takes intensive language lessons daily, which was fun for me. I learned a lot of italian while reading the book. In typical Grisham fashion the good guys become the bad guys and vice versa, so that in the end you are rooting for the opposite side from the one you started out with. I liked it and I recommend it.

America America by Ethan Canin: I really enjoyed this book. It is the story of how one teenaged boy is unknowingly caught up in political intrigue as he works as errand boy and driver for a senator that is running for president in the 70s. The story is told by the boy himself, now a man and a local newspaper editor. As he looks back on the events surrounding the campaign he can now see the part he played in all that happened. The story jumps back and forth in time a lot but it is very easy to follow and a real page turner. I highly recommend this book.

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe: This was a good book overall. It follows 3 generations of women through post World War II England and the problems that they face and pass on to their children. I suppose it was slighly depressing, but I still thought the story was well written. My only problem with this book was that the main character turns out to be gay. There is nothing graphic in the novel, just several allusions to the difficulties of her lifestyle in 1950s England. If you can overlook those referencees it is a good book.

Bonus: Here are some other books I recommend...even though I didn't technically read them "this" year.

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Grove's!

Wishing you all lots of J-O-Y this season and throughout the new year.
Brian, Crystal, Ryker, Cainan and Kinley

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out, Fido!

Our Associate Minister, John, was surprised to see a dog in the church one day last week. He could just see the tip of it's tail bobbing along as it ran between the pews. As he walked down the center aisle to catch the pesky canine he was shocked to find that it wasn't a dog at all. It was just Kinley. It was the tip of her rather tall and fluffy pony tail that he had seen going between the pews.

In Loving Memory


I love you so much. I love your sense of humor and all of your crazy stories. Thank you for loving me and taking care of me so often when I was little, and even now that I'm big. Thank you for teaching me to drive a tractor, prime a pump and back out of a driveway the "right" way so as to put less wear on my tires. Thank you for all of the Oreo's, Hostess Pies and popcorn we ate together over the years. Thank you for reading the Christmas story to us every Christmas Eve. Thank you for loving my kids and being proud of them. Thank you for taking them to the pond to watch the muskrats swim and to the barn to feed the cows. But most of all, thank you for my Dad and for raising him to be the Christian man that he is so that I can be the Christian woman I need to be for my kids. Your legacy of love and faithfulness goes on. I'm so happy for you, but I'll miss you a lot.

See you soon,


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thank Goodness for Pink-Eye

The school nurse sent Ryker home yesterday with pink-eye. It is probably one of the best things that could have happened this week. We (all 5 of us) have been at the church until 9:30 or 10 pm every night this week preparing for the Christmas musical. I am directing it and Brian is building the set and playing in the pit band. All of us are totally exhausted. Because we go up there immediately after school and don't get home until after bedtime Ryker and Cainan haven't had any time to play together. Cainan has been in tears every night because he hasn't gotten to play with Ryker enough. (Of course they have been playing at church with all of their friends whose parents are also in the musical...but apparently that doesn't count.) So when we heard that Ryker had to spend a whole day at home with us we were really excited. He was feeling fine, except for one puffy eye, so we spent the day playing and cleaning the house so that we can get our Christmas tree. The boys had a really good time together and Kinley enjoyed having her biggest brother around too. I got soooo much accomplished since I could count on Ryker to keep Kinley away from the woodstove and small objects while I worked. It was just the break we needed to keep us going through all of the performances this weekend.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hail to the Chief!

Apparently our trip to Mt. Rushmore this summer really had an impact on the kids. The following conversations took place in our house this week.

Ryker: OK, let’s play. I’ll be George Washington.

Cainan: No, I want to be George Washington.

R: Well, I called it first!

C: Fine! Then I’ll be Teddy Roosevelt.

R: Here's your moustache. (places imaginary moustache on Cainan’s upper lip).

Ryker: What’s the guy’s name that shot Abraham Lincoln?

Mom: John Wilkes Booth.

R: Is that the same guy that shot Martin Luther King Jr.?

M: No.

R: Who shot MLK Jr.?

M: Ummmmm. I can’t remember. John Henkley Jr.? No, that was that guy that shot Reagan. I don’t know.

R: I guess I’ll have to ask Daddy. He’ll know. Maybe it was the same guy.

M: No, it couldn’t be the same guy. MLK Jr. was shot in like 1967 and Abraham Lincoln was shot 100 years before that.

Cainan: Yep. Then they stuffed him in those rocks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Angel Tree

We have an Angel Tree in the foyer of our church. Last Sunday Ryker and Cainan asked what it was and why there were toys piled all around it. I told them that it was for people to give toys to kids that don't have any.

Then this Sunday Ryker asked, "Why do those angels say "Girl, 7" and stuff like that on them?" I said, "Well if you get one that says 'Boy, 7' that means you buy a gift for a boy that is seven years old and doesn't have any toys." Then Cainan had to start in with the 20 questions, of course. Does the seven year old have a house? A couch? A light? I assured him that he probably had a home but just not very many toys.

Monday morning we were in at the church and Kinley and Cainan were playing around while I did some painting on the set for my Christmas program. Suddenly Cainan came running up and said, "Kinley is out there playing with that seven-year-old-boy-that-doesn't-have-any-presents-for-Christmas' toy!"

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Word of the Day

*Nougatocity \nu-gat-a-si-tE\ (noun): A heightened, yet fleeting, state of accomplishment that makes you realize how unbelievably unmotivated you normally are.

*The definition presented here may not express the views of Merriam Webster, or any other dictionary for that matter, because it came off of a Snickers wrapper.

Serve God, Save the Planet

I just read a great book by J. Michael Sleeth entitled Serve God, Save the Planet. Sleeth is by all definitions an environmentalist. However, he is well aware that that title brings certain negative connotations with it. He prefers to use the terms “Creation Care” and “Earth Stewardship” when describing his work and his passion. For some of us, myself included, the fact that the Democrats and Hollywood are for environmentalism makes me want to be against it. But after reading this book and looking at what the Bible has to say about it I have a different perspective. Let me give you a little background.

Dr. Sleeth was a successful emergency room doctor when he became convicted about certain environmental issues. He was a Christian and had been recycling, etc. for all of his adult life, but as he examined his life he realized just how little he had really been doing. He was living in a 5,000 square foot home with a 3 car garage filled with SUVs, a lawn tractor and a boat. He was taking out 3 large garbage cans full of trash every week and consuming tons of energy a day with a clothes washer and dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, etc. As he and his family began to focus on God’s will for them and for the earth they decided to make a change…a BIG change.

The Sleeth’s now live in a house that is exactly the size of their old garage. They no longer own a clothes dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, or motor driven lawnmower. They drive small hybrid cars and bicycles. They eat only locally grown organic foods and turned their entire backyard into their own garden where they grow and preserve as much of their own food as they can. They recycle and/or compost everything. They now take out one Wal-Mart sized bag of trash every 3 weeks. He no longer works in the ER, but travels around the country speaking about Creation Care and starting Christian environmental groups on college campuses. He is also an author and travels as a doctor on humanitarian missions around the world.

His book is excellent and really gave me a lot of food for thought. I won’t go through everything here but I’ll give you some of the highlights. The book asks the questions:

“How can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life? How can I help people today and in the future? How can I be less materialistic? How can I live a more charitable life? What would happen if I led a slower-paced existence? How can I become a better steward of nature?”

Here are his answers (kind of):

On Materialism:

  • “The earth was designed to sustain every generation’s needs, not to be plundered in an attempt to meet one generation’s wants.”
  • “The consumer lifestyle demands an enormous amount of work, worry, strife, and struggle by instilling a deep sense of longing and discontent. If all of us were suddenly happy with our homes, for instance, how many decorating magazines could be sold, etc.?”
  • “At the end of a materially rich day, consumerism says, ‘Buy more’. At the end of a spiritually rich life God says, ‘Well done by good and faithful servant.’”
  • “It is not our spiritual longings but our material desires that keep us from a right relationship with God. (Rev. 18:13)”
  • “How much time have I spent admiring what God has wrought, and how much time am I spending admiring my possessions?”
  • “We buy things for many reasons: to cheer ourselves up, out of guilt, to reassure ourselves of our worth, because we cannot discipline our children or ourselves, and to try to make our lives more meaningful, easier, or interesting.”
  • “Simplifying means having less, wanting less, being satisfied with what you have or less than what you have. It does not mean boredom.”
  • “Spiritual concerns have filled the void left by material ones.”
  • “Each time we divest ourselves of possessions, we have fewer earthly things that bind us. This lack of attachment to things, brings us priceless freedom and allows us to hear His call.”
  • “When I worry about what the world thinks, I disconnect from the power of heaven.”

Wow! This section really spoke to me. I have been struggling with this lately, especially with the kids. They have a sense of entitlement that scares me and their begging for things and discontent with the thousands of things they have is awful. I really started examining what we are doing that has promoted this kind of behavior and mind-set.
Christmas has been especially hard for me. Not because I want things that I don’t need but because I don’t want anything and I don’t want to get anything for anyone. To think about spending hundreds of dollars on things that are totally and completely uneccessary is about to make me sick. Of course there are thousands of things that I want but there is absolutely nothing that I need. Food is about the only thing that I actually need and Brian and I are blessed to be able to provide that for ourselves. Of course I want to buy things for people because I love them and I want to show them how much I appreciate them and value them in my life. I just wish there were another way to do it. One thing I have promised myself is that I won’t try to push these views on anyone else or refuse gifts that are given to us, etc. But we are definitely paring down our Christmas shopping. We have spent money that we don’t have on Christmas every year since we have been married. This year we don’t have any more money and we have more people to buy for, so common sense says, “Buy less.” That is what we are doing, but it is hard not to get things for people that they really want and we know they will enjoy. Anyway, it is a step in the right direction.

On Creation Care:

  • “God created the world to sustain all living creatures, and in turn to sustain humanity.”
  • “Being pro-stewardship is not a case of valuing forests more than people; rather it means valuing human possessions less, and God’s world more.”
  • “God created the earth, and if we do not respect the earth and all of its creatures, we disrespect God.”
  • “We say that trees exist to make oxygen, or to give shade, or to be made into paper, and we assign them no further mystery. In other words, nature has purpose and value only insofar as it fulfills our material needs. The Bible says the tree is there to glorify God and to give God pleasure.”

Creation Care also includes caring about other people and future generations. The people who live by subsitence farming in Africa or South America are doing nothing to harm the environment and have no means to protect the environment either. The damage that we do effects them, but when we work to protect our environment and heal it we are helping and protecting them too. God cares equally about all people and so should we. The fact that we cannot see them and will never meet them should make no difference. Unborn generations deserve a healthy planet just as much as we do.

On Energy Use:

  • “Our generation consumes five times more energy than our grandparents’.”
  • “When people’s live become dependent on a substance we call it an addiction.”

Dr. Sleeth says that our dependence on oil is an addiction. How else can you explain the Christian’s eagerness to monetarily support a government that forbids religious freedom, declares the world to be flat, sees democracy as a capital crime, and oppresses women. Every man, woman and child in America today is sending about $700 a year to just such a government. We are so addicted to oil that we don’t care where it comes from our how we get it, we just know we have to have it.

On Helplessness:

  • “In one respect, it is consoling to believe that the problems of the world are too big for us as individuals. If they are too big or too complex for us to solve, we are relieved of any responsibility. Powerlessness can be comforting.”
  • James 4:17, “Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
  • “As the 30 million evangelical Christians—and all those who consider themselves people of faith—grow in their understanding that God holds us accountable for care of his creation, we will begin to see positive changes on an unprecedented scale.”

We’ll never see our need for change if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than we do. But if we compare ourselves to a family in Haiti who makes $540 a year and eats only two meals a day and has one bicycle for transportation than we realize just how selfish we really are.

The End Result:

Brian and I are discussing the changes that we need to make in our home. Changes that will promote spirituality over materialism, help to keep the world God created for us healthy and clean, and give us more time to spend together worshipping God and serving Him. They aren’t going to be easy. Christmas is just one step we are making toward change. There are many more steps to come, and harder battles to fight, like the TV battle (Dr. Sleeth calls TV “mental junk food that separates us from the Creator”), but we will cross those bridges when we get to them.

If this article has peaked your interest in Earth Stewardship you can find Dr. Sleeth’s book Serve God, Save the Planet on He also gives several practical tips on how to reduce your energy usage, recycle, simplify your life etc. He also supplies a worksheet that will allow you to estimate the energy usage (in gallons)
of your household.