Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What I Read- May 2018

Emma (Jane Austen)
Fiction, Classic; 5 stars

Emma Woodhouse is determined to find a match for her new friend Harriet Smith. Recently thrilled with the success of making a match for Miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston), Emma is confident that she can find the perfect man for Harriet. But Harriet is drawn to a man who is "below her". Emma manages to talk her out of it, and match her with a Mr. Elton. Though it surprises the ladies, it is no surprise to the reader when Mr. Elton expresses that his love is for Emma, not Harriet. When Emma rejects Mr. Elton, he goes on a journey and comes back with a wife- the high-and-mighty, "too good for you" Mrs. Elton. Harriet is devastated by the turn of events, and Emma is shocked. She immediately sets out trying to match Harriet with Mr. Churchill. It appears that is working...but then it is discovered that Mr. Churchill has been engaged to Miss Jane Fairfax for months already...secretly! Once again, Harriet is devastated. She sets out on her own to find a husband and sets her sights on the man that Emma secretly wishes to marry. Will the ladies let jealousy get in the way of their friendship? Will they both marry, or will one end up as an old maid?

I enjoyed this book, though not as much as Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." It still gets 5 stars, although I felt like the story had a slow start. But the characters were fun. In fact, I had fun writing a description of each character. Jane Austen crafts her characters carefully. She uses a delicate balance of showing and telling, which makes the characters three-dimensional and believable.

Usually, I love the main character and sympathize with them. This time, I didn't. I felt like Emma had some undesirable qualities. She was pushy, a bit "high-and-mighty"...that is, until I met Mrs. Elton. My opinion of Emma changed as she was contrasted with the nasty Mrs. Elton.

The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy (Pietra Rivoli)
Non-fiction; 4 stars

This was an interesting read. Parts of it were even fascinating. (Dodger Dog would disagree. He strongly disliked this book) I have heard (and read) many complaints about how the clothing industry misuses people, overworking, underpaying, and taking advantage of them. Rivoli heard these complaints too, and set out on a research journey to discover how the industry really works.

She starts in Texas, where the cotton that most of our T-shirts are made from is grown. She explains the hardships that come with growing cotton, the disaster that is always just around the corner, and the subsidies paid by the US government to eliminate competition. She explains how no cotton product is wasted...every puff of fluffy cotton is used, the cottonseed ends up in our food, and even the cotton leaves and the plant "waste" is used as feed for animals.
Next stop on the journey is the factories in China where the huge cotton bales are spun into cloth. She explains how this step in the journey has shifted from being centralized in America to China where it is cheaper. She explains, too, that for a lot of women, the factory life is a thousand times better than the rural farm life that they come from. I found this interesting, given the controversy over this industry.
Next, other factories in China cut our and sew the T-shirts. Then comes the most complicated step in the process...trying to get the T-shirts back into the United States. With bans, tariffs, trade agreements (or disagreements), these chapters attempted to explain the complicated process of getting the T-shirts actually back into the States to be sold.
Rivoli didn't give detailed explanations about how the T-shirts are sold. That wasn't important to the point of her book, and, besides, we all know how that works. The final three chapters dealt with the "afterlife" of the T-shirt. This was (quite possibly) the most interesting part of the book. Clothing is dumped into the donation bins at thrift stores. These stores pick off the pieces they believe they will be able to sell, and the rest is donated to a major used clothing company. These companies sort the clothing several times, looking for 1) vintage styles to be sold in Los Angeles and New York, 2) Blue Jeans and Disney tees to sell in Tokyo, 3) items that look promising for the used clothing market in Africa, 4) winter coats for Eastern Europe, and 5) rag material to be sold to rag makers. Rivoli went on to explain the process of selling the T-shirts in Tanzania. As she said, for the first time, the T-shirt finally encounters a free market.

Overall, this book was very thoroughly researched and well done. I was impressed. I got bogged down in the sections on subsidies, profit and loss, and tariffs, simply because there were too many numbers. I also felt that she used certain key words and phrases much too often. It made the book feel repetitive.

The Beautiful Pretender (Melanie Dickerson)
Fiction, Romance; 4 stars

The Margrave of Thornbeck has been told by the King that he must find a wife, and he has two weeks to do it. Begrudgingly, he agrees to have a 2-week party, hosting all the noble ladies of the land. During the two weeks, the ladies will undergo a variety of tests and Lord Thornbeck will choose the woman he wants to wed.
Lady Dorothea runs off to marry one of her father's knights. This leaves Lord Plimmwald in a pickle, as he is expected to send his daughter to Thornbeck to participate in the contest for Lord Thornbeck's hand. Dorothea's maid, Avelina, is selected to play act and go in Dorothea's place.
Her assignment is simple. Pretend to be Dorothea, go under the radar, and return home. As long as she stays out of Lord Thornbeck's way, she will be fine. But everything she does seems to get Lord Thornbeck to notice her. Will he discover that she is actually a servant girl, or will she manage to keep her secret? Will she be able to keep herself from falling in love with him?

I don't know exactly why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5. I just didn't like it as much as other Melanie Dickerson books, I guess. I think I may be getting tired of fairytale romance books. :)

Job (Charles Swindoll)
Biography, Christian Living; 4.5 stars

Usually, I love Swindoll's biographies of Biblical figures. I got a bit bogged down with Job, however. Although, I think it may just be because the book of Job (and thus the story of Job) is written mostly in poetry in the Bible, and I don't do well with reading endless amounts of poetry. However, Swindoll's insights into the story were interesting. He made me think before condemning Job's wife, and also before praising Elihu. There were many times when he would share a take away from the story and I would feel convicted about my own life.

That's what I like about all of Swindoll's biographies. He doesn't just state the facts about the life of Job (or David, or Paul, etc.), but he teaches along the way. He helps you to see what you can learn from the life of the Biblical character.

The Lion of Babylon (Davis Bunn)
Fiction, Thriller/mystery; 5 stars

I just looked this book up on Goodreads...and WAIT! There's MORE in the series!? Well, I just may have to read them.

I'm not usually into mystery/thriller/suspense books. But I was totally captivated by this one.

Marc is asked to join the State Department on a special case when two CIA members, one Iraqi, and one American missionary woman mysteriously drop off the radar in Iraq. Are the disappearances linked in some way? What is the missing information that will lead to their discovery? Are they even still alive? Knowing (in part) the dangers, Marc accepts the assignment and travels to Iraq. As he tries to figure out who to trust and where to go, what to say, etc., he discovers a group of loving Iraqi Christians. He makes strong friendships with people in the red zone in Iraq, eventually working with some of them to make a raid on a prison camp in Iran, rescuing all the missing persons and many more.

There was a very touching and well-written scene of an underground church, where Americans, former Sunnis, former Shiites, all Christians now, join together to worship. As Marc sits in the service with tears streaming down his face, it gives the reader a moving glimpse into the lives of Christians in Iraq. There are several times where Marc nearly sacrifices his life to save the Iraqis he works with, and they are amazed that an American would act out of love towards an Iraqi.

This was really well-written. I will have to go back and read the other two books in the trilogy.

It's All Backward (Claude Hickman)
Christian Living, Non-fiction; 4.5 stars

This tiny book (7"x 4", 79 pages) was assigned reading for my upcoming Tanzania trip. I'm glad I read it.

Usually when we think about our future, we ask questions like: "What do I like to do?" "What are my hobbies? Passions?" "What am I good at?" While this is okay, Claude presents us with the idea in this book that by asking those questions (and then proceeding to plan our lives solely in accordance with those answers), we are writing for ourselves a tiny short story with one character: ME. Claude says that we have the opportunity to give up our tiny story where we are the main character for a place in God's amazing story. He explains the story: That God blesses all Christians so that they might bless all nations. It's a pretty amazing story. Personally, I'd rather be a part of a story like that than anything I could write for myself. Claude goes on to explain how this is connected to missions, how we need to GO and reach out to the unreached. It kind of gave a different slant to "the theology of missions".

My one complaint (hence the lost half star) is that he doesn't leave you with a solid practical application. He invites you to hand the pen of your life story over to God and let him write, but he doesn't give practical ways to do that each and every day.

HOWEVER, I would 100% recommend this to ANYONE...teenager OR adult. It is NEVER too late to hand over the pen and be part of GOD'S AMAZING STORY.


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