Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven by James Perry

How do you test the long suffering of someone? You tell them you’re gonna share your thoughts about their first book after you’ve read it, and then six months later, you finally get around to it. Actually, this doesn’t speak much about his long suffering because he’s out living his best life at the beach and writing other books – and who the heck cares what I think anyway?
But in case you are interested, I’ll tell you my thoughts on James Perry’s Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven.  (Jimmy to me, since I know him in real life.)

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NOTE: This is not a book that is pushing a particular world view or theology. Actually, the author himself, does not subscribe to the doctrines that are presented in this story, EXCEPT for where presentation of the Gospel is mentioned. The miraculous gifts of the Spirit are a part of his fiction so whether you subscribe to that theology or not, he’s just telling a story.  I say that because I know that some people have a hard time separating what they believe from their ability to enjoy a good book that doesn’t coincide with their beliefs. Christians and non-Christians alike do this.

On we go:

Daniel was the only child of Jamal and Sarah Call.  Jamal was a physics professor at Berkeley in 1970-something and Sarah, well, “She had been a radical leftist, anti-everything. Involved with all groups that wanted to throw out all things conventional, her studies were wrapped around her politics, majoring in social justice sciences. Her motto about America: if it wasn’t broke, break it.” (pg. 15) Total opposites, they met on the campus of Berkeley, fell in love and married. And then they shocked everyone when they went to a Jesus Freaks rally off campus to heckle and they returned home, born-again.

Stuff of Earth, Things of Heaven is Daniel’s story. At 18 years old he inherits close to two billion dollars from his wildly successful father and he stuns the world when he gives the majority of it away. Daniel chooses to live a life of chastity and spends much of his time studying and praying. He follows instructions from God and he facilitates a number of miraculous and earth-altering events.

Things get exciting and move along at a pretty fast pace. There is an element of mystery and intrigue, there is romance, there is good and there is evil. All in all this is an exciting story about a young man who is devoted, whole-heartedly, to the call placed on his life.

I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t mention a few things I didn’t love.

1. You can roll your eyes here if you like but I’m sorry, I don’t enjoy being inside the mind of a man, if you know what I mean. It really only occurs a few times, and I understand this is reality and normal and whatnot, but still, I don’t like it.

2. The editing in this book is pretty bleak. I hate that for the author because a good story is told here, but the typos and errors in grammar are present throughout. HOWEVER. I understand that with his next novel, he has procured a Grammar Nazi for an editor, so that problem should be nonexistent from here on out. I only mention this issue to give a heads up to someone interested in reading Stuff of Earth. It doesn’t take away from the story at all but it is something you can expect.

Recommendation: Those who struggle with addiction, or those who love someone that struggles with addiction would be particularly interested in this story, as the author himself is a recovering addict and he tackles this issue with compassion and wisdom.

It’s an enjoyable read and I look forward to his next book!
Bravo, Jimmy!!

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SEAL of God by Chad Williams

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Chad Williams was an outgoing, self-motivated, somewhat obnoxious young man who knew what he wanted in life and pursued it with a passion, one hundred and ten percent. After bouts of celebrity fame in skateboarding, Vans shoe endorsements, and professional fishing, Chad decided that what he wanted most in his life was to become a Navy SEAL. His father, weary of his son’s fickle decision making, arranged for him to have some training sessions with Scott Helvenston, a current Navy SEAL, to be sure it was really something he wanted to pursue before signing up. Chad and Scott began an intense training relationship that ultimately led to mentorship and friendship.

A few days before he was to report for Boot Camp, Chad turned on the television and was horrified to see Scott, who had been deported to Iraq, being drug through the streets of Fallujah, mutilated and murdered after being ambushed. He was filled with anger and grief and he allowed those emotions to fuel his desire to move forward with the Navy and his desire to become a SEAL.

A large portion of this book details the excruciating training regimen Chad endured to become a SEAL. Some of it was hard to imagine anyone making it through. One thing I found interesting though is that one doesn’t get “cut” from attempting to make it to SEAL. One excuses himself when he can no longer move forward in the training. It is designed to be too difficult. It is an incredible test of endurance and strength. It is an awesome display of what the human body and mind are capable of overcoming. And when you read about some of the missions the SEALS complete in the field, then you can appreciate why they must go through what they go through.

After  years of planning and preparing, obsessing actually, about becoming a SEAL, he made it.  And just a couple of months after, something in his life changed and his desire to serve as a SEAL began to fade fast.

This book highlights Chad’s journey to becoming a SEAL and also the journey his life took when he became a born again Christian. It was actually funny the way his conversion happened, as he was quite belligerent about not being a follower of Christ. But like the Good Book says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NKJV

I enjoyed reading this true account of someone who had the ambition and physical prowess to become a SEAL, and I especially enjoyed reading about his missions in the field for the 5 or 6 years he served before retiring as a SEAL and becoming a full time minister/evangelist.

I read this book as part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. This is book 6 of 12 that I have challenged myself to read, and since July is ending I am a tiny bit behind schedule. Oh well, maybe I’ll catch up in August??

Calico Joe by John Grisham

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John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers, and he’s written a great many of them, but he has occasionally hopped off the legal train and delved into other subjects. I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of his thrillers and almost all of his non-legal books. (Playing for Pizza would be my least favorite, but still not too bad.) I recently finished Calico Joe, a book written for the love of baseball, and I reeeaaallllyy loved it.  I’m feeling quite lazy in thinking of how to craft words to tell you about this story so instead I’m posting the blurb from goodreads in which some professional writer recounts and teases us beautifully.

   It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen.  The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.
 
Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…
 
In John Grisham’s new novel the baseball is thrilling, but it’s what happens off the field that makes CALICO JOE a classic.

There is a whole lotta baseball speak in this one and a lot of  lingo that any baseball lover will follow, but fear not, if you are not attuned to the ins and outs of baseball you don’t have to be. This is, at it’s heart, a story of forgiveness. And I’m not gonna lie, I cried.

Everything I Never Told You

 

Everything I never told you

Everything I Never Told You tells the story of young Lydia, the favorite child of James and Marilyn, and the impossible weight she carried living a life of unprecedented pressure. Pressure from her Caucasian mother determined not to allow her daughter to make the same life decisions she had made, of not finishing college and becoming a housewife, and from her Chinese-American father who faced prejudice all his life and his all-consuming need for his child to be accepted by her peers.

It’s no spoiler to let you know that in the opening lines, fifteen year old Lydia is dead. The trajectory of this book is the explanation and exploration of the life Lydia was living and her desperate struggle to please the two people whose job it was to nurture and protect and set free their precious little bird. Instead, their little bird was trapped, smothered and starved of the security she ached and longed for. Her only comfort came from Nath, her compassionate brother, but even his capacity for strength and comfort could not accomodate the two of them and eventually Lydia was left to survive on her own. Naturally, her death creates havoc in the family, testing the strength and resolve of marriage and siblings.

I’m giving this one four stars because this was beautifully done, so well written and so intricate in details of the heart and mind. But this book is sad. Sad and heavy. It makes you long for resolution. And you get it in some ways, thankfully, but in keeping with reality, in some ways you don’t.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It’s so like me to be behind on the times.  I rarely indulge in new releases or anticipate upcoming titles. I’m just drawn to books that have already made their impact on society. Occasionally, I’ll pick up a new release from an author I have enjoyed, but normally I read books that most book lovers have “been there – done that” a long time ago. It’s just how I roll. My fashion is old, my music is old, my books are old, and my EYES are old. That’s why I am loving my kindle more and more. And the last book I read on my kindle is the beloved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

The story takes place immediately post World War II. Author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from someone on the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France, that was occupied by Nazi’s for five years. Her name and address were discovered inside a book written by Charles Lamb and the reader/writer of the letter is hoping she can assist him in finding additional books by Lamb. He doesn’t know that she herself, is an author. They strike up a friendship in their correspondence which leads to Juliet traveling to Guernsey to get to know his friends, the members of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and to begin her next writing project.

This book is compiled solely of letters. I thought that this might eventually annoy me but it didn’t and the story unfolded beautifully. The characters were superb and their personalities were fun, smart, quirky and most of all compassionate. I enjoyed this book wholeheartedly and it still managed to teach me some hard things I didn’t know about occupied life.

If I have only one criticism it would be that I never got much of an English vibe from Juliet. Nor did she seem to me like a woman living in the 1940’s. I don’t know what a feminine voice from that time and place should sound like but she seemed incredibly modern, confident and free from the typical reserve we’ve come to expect from the English. I guess it shouldn’t seem strange to me since I’ve been watching The Crown. Those are some strong women!

I read this one as part of two reading challenges.
I. Roof Beam Reader’s 2018 TBR Challenge
2. Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge for the “Recommended by Someone with Good Taste” category. My book club friend, Marcy, who is working her way through the entire Newberry Award list as we speak, recommended this jewel to me. It is my favorite read of the year so far. 

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”    ….things I wish I wrote…

I recently finished reading Moby Dick. It was completely voluntary and I didn’t hate it. Sure, there were parts that made my eyes gloss over, or my ears tune out, depending on if I was reading or listening on Audible at the time, but I stuck it out and I took it in. Now I am ready to give you my assessment.

Funnies
First of all, no one ever told me this book had humor. There were a couple of parts early on that brought a smile or caused me to giggle, but there is a scene in the middle of the book that caused me to pure belly laugh.

In the beginning, Queequeg the cannibal is endearing and affectionate in ways that are inappropriate and uncomfortable, which is hilarious at times. But he wraps you up in his friendly warmth in no time flat.  Queequeg is my favorite character and I kept wanting to check in on what he was up to much later in the book when I was reading the less lovely chapters on whaling.

And the cook! The cook was an older negro man they called Old Fleece.  He was commanded to lean over the side of the boat and tell the sharks that were feasting on whale carcass to make less racket while they ate. Now, this was insulting to him of course, and I was insulted for him, but he had no choice. So he goes to the sharks three times to instruct, beg and eventually preach to these ravenous creatures persuading them to stop being so greedy and unmannerly and to scurry on. It was hysterical. And I am so glad I was listening when I got to that part because the brilliant narrator, Frank Muller, brought it all home.
(Do yourself a favor and search Frank Muller on Audible and just download any of it.)

Chapters
Glory, glory!! The book is long but the chapters are short! There are 135 of them and you never have to feel like you’ve left a task unfinished by not getting through a whole chapter. There are two, maybe three, longer chapters in the whole book. The language is not at all too frilly or lofty. This is a doable read for anyone who has the desire, with the greatest challenge being the tedious writings on the different aspects of whaling. These are parts I would say most people would not love. There are chapters on all the different species of whales, how they travel, the differences in their anatomy, the differences in how the water shoots out of their blow holes and how you can identify the sperm whale by observing just this. (I actually was fascinated by that). You even get a chapter on the types of rope that are used for particular types of whale capture. I mean, this book is the definition of thorough when it comes to explaining the ins and outs of whaling. But did you also know, that the different chapters in this book also represent different genres of literature? Don’t take it from me, I didn’t even pick up on all that, my friend told me. Then I fact checked it on the internet and it was confirmed.

The novel is an encyclopedia of forms, a narrative chowder that combines dictionary, whaling manual, comedy, tragedy, epic, prophecy, sermon, soliloquy, drama, bawdy humor, and tales within tales. … Melville looks at the whale, with relish, from an exuberant assortment of literary angles, encompassing them all into one mighty compendium and in so doing breaking the boundaries of what it means to be a book. —Elizabeth Renker, Introduction to Moby-Dick

Chowder
Did you see that first sentence there? A narrative chowder? This reminds me that chapter 15 is entitled Chowder.  After a day of being on the water in a smallish boat, Ishmael and Queequeg are hungry. Queequeg doesn’t eat his friends, so they search for some dinner. They enter a restaurant/Inn recommended to them as having the best chowder around.

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt……..the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we dispatched it with great expedition: 

After reading that scene, (and it stretches on with more soupy details), I decided that one of the rewards I would give myself for having read this book is… to search for the best Clam Chowder in eastern North Carolina, and go there and eat it. I’ve never had Clam Chowder and I’ve never wanted it, until I read this chapter. Now, I must have it. What I would really love is for that Moby Dick-themed restaurant that was featured in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry to really exist. Then I would go there and they would surely have the best chowder.

The next reward I shall have are these!
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As a reader, I am most interested in the story. And I’ll be honest with you, you don’t get a whole lot of it in Moby Dick. It simmers throughout the length of the novel but it’s really only spoken of here and there. Instead, Melville is treating us to other brilliant aspects of his writing; treasures hidden underneath the surface that seekers of deeper things have the insight to uncover. But the layman reader like myself, who is taking special notation of the plot, has to wait til the end of the book to get the confrontation she was waiting for.  By the time I made it to the end, I knew either Captain Ahab or Moby Dick had to die, and I no longer cared which one it would be. I just needed it to go down. Those who read more deeply understand just exactly which of the two should, and does, die.

There are hundreds of thoughtful insights in the book, far more than I have the energy or intelligence to look into. Thoughts such as the great white whale being the symbol for God, and the way Melville intentionally creates a multi-cultural/multi-racial crew of men upon the Pequod, and the ways they all needed one another to be successful in their mission. There is so much to explore here and the only way I would ever dive that deeply into it would be for me to take a class or something. I am not likely to do that level of research on my on. Heck, I’m 49 years old and I read the book just because I wanted to. What else do you want from me???

Lastly, there is a quote about the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, whom I had never heard of until I watched LOST. Yes, I’m going there again. Haven’t you people watched this show yet?? Anyway, a different Jeremy Bentham is murdered and hung on a chandelier on LOST. Now check out this quote from Moby Dick. Coincidence?? I think not.

Though Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton, which hangs for candelabra in the library of one of his executors, correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old gentleman, with all Jeremy’s other leading personal characteristics; yet nothing of this kind could be inferred from any leviathan’s articulated bones.”

I have conquered the great leviathan, Moby Dick. What about you? Was it forced labor? Did you decide for yourself? And what did you think about it? I’m dying to know!

The copy of Moby Dick that I have was given to me as a congratulatory gift for completing the LOST Book Club reading challenge. My friend Justin hails this as his favorite book and I probably never would have read it if he hadn’t given it to me.

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A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking

Reposting this from 2013, in memory of Stephen Hawking.

Lost in Literature

Time Keeps on Slippin, Slippin, Slippin…..Into the Future….

Yes, it does. And until I read this book, I didn’t realize there are people out there that think that time can move the other way.  There actually is a sentence in this book that says something like, “If we can remember the past, then why can’t we remember the future?” That was one of the easier things I read in this book.

Let’s me start with this. A Brief History of Time is straight up Science. Not boring like a text-book but strictly science all the same. My impressions of Stephen Hawking and this book before I read it was that he was going to be dogmatic  about how right he is about his science, the way he believes the universe began, and how stupid Christians are about believing their simple, little, science-free, evidence-free, view of a literal seven day creation…

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