Mission Log, Star Date 11-1-95

Book: Mission Log, Star Date 11-1-1995 – Memoirs of an LDS Missionary Straight from Guatemala, by Derek Jackson

Genre: Memoir

Where I got it: Free Kindle Download

Briefly, it’s: the account of two years the author spent as a Mormon missionary in Guatemala, 1995-1997

What I liked: Learning about a young American’s take on Guatemala, and on what it means to be a Mormon missionary.

What I didn’t like so much: There wasn’t enough in it about what it means to be a Mormon (missionary or otherwise) – a familiarity with the LDS doctrines and practice is taken for granted.  There is also not much spirituality of depth in evidence.  Overall, it’s a little on the naive and earnest side.

Anything else: Is that “Star Date” in the title meant to be “Start Date”?  Because the journal does start on that date – and there’s no other reference to a “star date”.

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New Zealand’s Greatest Doctor

Book: New Zealand’s Greatest Doctor: Ulric Williams of Wanganui – a Surgeon who became a Naturopath, by Brenda Sampson

Genre: Not exactly a biography, but an account of the work of Dr Williams

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s: about the work of Dr Ulric Williams (1890-1971) who was a promoter of natural healing.  “Williams practised conventional medicine for some years, but in 1933–34 he became interested in naturopathy and in the writing and ideas of L. E. Bassett, a local timber merchant and adherent of the ‘science of sevens’. He experienced what he later described as ‘a vision of Christ’, and was convinced he had been treating symptoms rather than causes. Becoming an ascetic and a teetotaller, he promoted his ideas with evangelical fervour, and often in a confrontational manner” (from the Te Ara – Encyclopaedia of New Zealand website).

What I liked: This is an interesting story; amazing to learn about how Williams was silenced by officialdom to the point where radio stations were forbidden to interview him, for example.  He was preaching and practicing many things which we take for granted today.  Some of the healing stories are extraordinary, to say the least.

What I didn’t like so much: The unquestioning, devoted acceptance by the author of everything that Williams said.  It would be more compelling to look objectively at some of the arguments against his case.

The Garden Party and Other Stories

Book: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

Genre: Short stories

Where I got it: The Open Door (secondhand bookshop)

Briefly, it’s  a collection of short stories which do not revolve around plot.  Each one is more like a portrait, which draws the reader in by understatement and intimation.  Mansfield “concentrate(s) on one moment, a crisis or a turning point, rather than on a sequence of events” (Goodreads author page).  This is the opposite of “in your face” writing – it is delicate, profound, and most definitely calls for a second reading.  The eight short pages of “The Lady’s Maid”, the last story in this collection, have painted a picture in my mind to which I will return many times.

Anything else: I hadn’t read anything by Katherine Mansfield since school, when one of her stories was on the English curriculum.  (I think it was “The Fly”, which is not in this book).  I didn’t know that she was born and grew up in New Zealand, I thought she was English.

The Sourdough Wars

Book: The Sourdough Wars (A Rebecca Schwartz Mystery), by Julie Smith

Genre: Cozy mystery

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s a murder/detective story, the detective being a twenty-something San Francisco Jewish lawyer.  The plot begins with a batch of freeze-dried sourdough starter which is about to be auctioned… The book is short; it’s a quick, light read that kept my interest and gave me several enjoyable hours of reading.

Anything else: Only when I couldn’t figure why the characters didn’t use cellphones did I realise that the book is from the 1980s.

Raising the Ruins

Book: Raising the Ruins: The fight to revive the legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong, by Stephen Flurry

Genre: Non-fiction – hard to categorise it more precisely

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s the account of how the “Philadelphia Church of God”, which is a splinter group of the “Worldwide Church of God” (I believe that the term “cult” may be accurately applied to both) fought to keep alive what they believe to be the true teaching of the founder of the WCG, Herbert W. Armstrong, through the re-publication and circulation of his writings, when the WCG itself wanted to keep them out of print.  The PCG engaged in a long and expensive court-case in a copyright battle to this end.

What I liked: I found the details of the court-case and the various aspects of copyright law (USA) interesting.  I was also fascinated (but in the way that I might be fascinated by a terrible accident scene) by the weird teachings of both cult groups – though, to be honest, the book doesn’t really explain them terribly well.  How reasonable adults can fall for this kind of stuff – and hand over millions of dollars to the sect – is gruesomely intriguing.

What I didn’t like so much: Nothing in this book, in the attitude of the author or of those he writes about, either on his side or the other side, reflects the attitudes of Jesus Christ and the Gospel as I understand them.  Love, forgiveness, simplicity, charity… not much in evidence.  I am considerably more impressed by the witness of people like Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pope Francis, neither of whom would have much in common with Armstrong, Flurry, & co.

After I read the book I did a brief bit of internet research on the two groups, and was revolted to read about the incest claims made against Armstrong by his daughter.  Ugh.  It leaves me feeling dirty just by having read a book by a supporter of his.

Shopaholic Ties the Knot

Book: Shopaholic Ties the Knot, by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Chick-Lit

Where I got it: The Open Door secondhand bookshop

Briefly, it’s: the third book in the Shopaholic series.

What I liked: Funny, escapist, entertaining.  The plot is way-out – yet it never loses its own inner logic.

But: there’s always the danger in reading a later book in a series that it won’t quite live up to the first one.  That was the case for me: I read the first book in Italian (its Italian title is I Love Shopping – !) and it was laugh-out-loud funny, not to mention the kick I got from being able to read it in Italian.  And I felt that underneath the fun, the author was treating a very serious subject, credit-card debt.  I read this one in English, it wasn’t quite so funny, and it seemed more like Kinsella was cashing in on a successful idea than dealing with the underlying matter.  But hey, it was a good read, and I’ll probably read another from the series at some point in the future when I want something light and entertaining.

Anything else: Luke leaves me cold.