Four very different books

             The Story - published by Zondervan, forward by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee 

The Story is a re-telling of the Bible story in chronological order. There are 31 chapters, with sections added here and there summarizing parts not covered in detail. Our church took a year (Sept-May) to study it, one chapter each week, breaking only in December for Advent/Christmas services. It's highly readable and has thoughtful questions for each chapter to help you consider more deeply what you’ve just read. I enjoyed the experience of looking at the whole story of God's interaction with man in one relatively brief account. It is a clear picture of His love for us - a love that is never diminished by our arrogance and rebellion - and His unending patience as He gave men one opportunity after the other to turn their hearts to Him. I may never have heard of The Story if my church hadn't decided to read it together. I'm glad we did; it was time well spent. 

                                    Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

A beautiful story about one summer (1961) in the life of Frank, a 13 year old boy living with his family in Minnesota. His father is a pastor, his mother a singer and choir director, his sister a musical prodigy headed for Julliard, and his little brother a deep thinking 10 year old afflicted with a stutter. The tone of this book reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird, and Pastor Nathan, of Atticus Finch. They are both strong, gentle men who face tragedy and personal loss with quiet acceptance and a resolve to not let anger and grief leave them bitter. 

Some dark subjects are dealt with here including suicide, abuse, racism, and murder; yet the reader is never led into despair, but instead is left feeling hopeful. And it's not hope in words only, but a felt hope, hard won through real pain. Not all the questions get answered, but the characters are able to find the beauty in what remains of their lives, and so are able to go on. Some have placed this novel in the mystery genre, but it is also a story of faith, not preachy, simply the story of a boy and his family facing the worst of times and finding a way through. I loved it.

  The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen

Divided into 3 sections - Present, Past, and Present again - it begins with 11 year old Henrietta spending the day in Paris with Miss Fisher while she waits for the train that will take her south to visit her grandmother. At Miss Fisher's house she finds 9 year old Leopold, also there for the day, waiting to meet his biological mother, whom he has never known. Upstairs is Mme. Fisher, bedridden, and described as “corrosive”. Leopold and Henrietta cautiously begin to get to know each other, their words and actions revealing the competitiveness, lack of trust, and even unkindness that often arise when children first meet. I love that the author doesn’t hide that truth with clich├ęs of childhood innocence. There's a frankness in Ms Bowen's books that I find refreshing. 

The middle section goes back 10 years to when Leopold's birth mother, Karen had an affair with Miss Fisher's fiance, Max. Once that story is told, it returns to the present where Max shows up at the door. Leopold learns his mother isn't coming, and his reaction is heartbreaking. Psychology, rather than plot, is at the heart of this novel. It's about desire and regret and motive. It’s the kind of book you think about long after you've finished, and want to read again soon to pick up on the bits you know you must have missed. This is the second of Bowen's books I've read (To The North was the first) and I've loved both. Thankfully, there are many more.
          Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
I didn't enjoy this one, but there were some aspects of it that I did appreciate. I loved his writing style, and he's funny, really funny. The last chapter, about having a stranger in his house in the middle of the night and seeing everything through the stranger's eyes, was hilarious. But, there was a situation in chapter 4 that I found more than a little disturbing. I won't go into it here, you can read it for yourself and see what you think. For me, that chapter left such a bad taste in my mouth that it tainted the rest of the book.