A Single Pebble – by John Hersey (1956)

A Single Pebble

What happens when you cross a young American engineer looking for the best place to build a dam on the great Yangtze River with a country steeped in 8,000-year-old beliefs? You get a story like “A Single Pebble”.  The entire book is a bird’s-eye view of what it was like for a Chinese merchant ship to get past the dangerous sections of gorges on the journey. The junk (ship) has a team of 40 trackers, men that walk along the shore and pull it with long ropes. It’s a job on par with building the pyramids of Egypt – backbreaking, dangerous, and thankless. The engineer feels sorry for their miserable lives, and tries to convince them that the modern dam could make life so much easier for them.

Fifty-six years after this novel was written (in 2012), the Three Gorges Dam was completed, producing more energy than any other dam in the world up to that point. A few years later the ship lift was also finished, making merchant travel on the Yangtze what the young engineer had envisioned. But it came at a great price. One and a quarter million people had to be re-located. Many archeological sites were lost. Erosion became a problem, as well as landslides. The dam caused some deforestation, which led to the decline of certain plants and animals. Progress has its cost.

A Martian Odyssey – by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934)

Wonder Stories magazine

In the midst of the Great Depression, many people found science fiction to be a welcome escape from the feeling of hopelessness that spread across the country. Magazines, such as “Wonder Stories” carried short stories about space travel and life on other planets. The image above shows the cover of the July, 1934 edition, which ran “A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley Weinbaum for the very first time.

The short story is about four men on an expedition to explore Mars. Jarvis, the chemist among them, has just returned from the first walk on the planet, and describes what he saw, and the creature named Tweel that he befriended. The classic science fiction author Isaac Asimov said that this short story was one of a few stories that changed the way future science fiction was written.

I found this little gem of a story in a small paperback collection of his short stories in a used bookstore yesterday. While looking for more information online about the author, I found out that the copyright on this book has expired, therefore making it possible to read and download for free! The world-famous Gutenburg project has made it available for all to enjoy, in several different formats. I thought the Australian version was the best. You can check it out here:

Unfortunately, Mr. Weinbaum died at the young age of 33, only a year and a half after this story was published. He left behind many manuscripts, which were published posthumously.

A Martian Odyssey

Edge Of Apocalypse – by Tim LaHaye & Craig Parshall (2010)

Edge Of Apocalypse

It had been awhile since I’d read an apocalyptic novel, and this one caught my eye as I browsed the shelves at my public library. It’s the first in a four-book series, “The End”. The novel begins with New York City nearly being obliterated by nuclear warheads fired by North Korea. The United States fights back with an experimental weapon invented by Joshua Jordan, and the city is saved. Suddenly every country on earth wants it. Congress demands the schematics for the weapon, which Joshua is loath to give out, lest it fall into the wrong hands. That begins the political struggle between those who see Joshua as a hero, and those who want him arrested and punished for refusing to share the technology with the country and its allies.

Although I would call the book a political thriller, it does also include a fair amount about Joshua’s relationships with God, his wife, and his son Cal. There is also a friend who is struggling with addiction to anti-depression medicine in the story. The themes of globalism and big media control are also woven into the story.

Author Tim LaHaye is best known for his “Left Behind” series, which I read back in the 90s, when it was on the New York bestseller’s list. This series seems relatively unknown. I have read one other book by the co-author, Craig Parshall – Trial By Ordeal – and found it very entertaining.

If you like reading end-of-the-world book, you might give this one a try.

Just Shy Of Harmony – by Philip Gulley (2001)

Just Shy Of Harmony

The story that began with “Home To Harmony” continues on in “Just Shy Of Harmony”. The first book was the feel-good one, the one that made you want to live in the quaint little town of Harmony. But the second book has a decidedly different feel about it. Life is not so rosy. Pastor Sam is underpaid, overworked, tired of tending to the problems of everyone, and is beginning to question if there is a God. During Sam’s spiritual crisis, other members of the congregation take over the Sunday morning preaching.

But Sam’s not the only having troubles. There’s Dale Hinshaw, who is trying to get his scripture-chicken-egg evangelism program off the ground. Jessie Peacock, through no effort of her own, has won millions of dollars in the lottery, but wants to refuse the money. Wayne Fleming is struggling to raise his kids after his wife Sally runs off, but is shocked when she returns and wants to just go back to normal.

Mixed in with the problems of the church folk are the heartwarming parts of the book, like when one of the women at church took Wayne’s children under her wing. Also very touching was when the women’s group from church took over the hospital kitchen to make homemade noodle and chicken for a woman who was a patient there. (That didn’t seem like something the health department would allow in real life, but hey, this is fiction.) And I loved that the church members were willing to anoint Sally with oil and lay hands on her in prayer, even though their church had never done that before.

Overall, I enjoyed this Philip Gulley novel just as much as the first one!


My Hands Came Away Red – by Lisa McKay (2007)

My Hands Came Away Red

What do you do when you’re 18, aren’t sure that you want to get more serious about your boyfriend, and haven’t a clue what to do with your life? You go on a mission trip. Cori commits to a ten-week assignment with a team of young people going to an island in Indonesia to help construct a church. First comes boot camp, to help the team learn the customs, language, and physical hardships of the task and area they will be going to.

Then it’s off to the island. The work is hard, but rewarding. They not only finish the construction project, but build close friendships with some of the islanders. Everything seems perfect – until the day that a conflict between differing religious groups boils over. At that point, the only option for the team is to run for their lives.

This book, although fictional, had an intensely real feel to it. It’s almost as if the author has lived the story, or is close to someone who went through a similar experience. The flavor of the book seemed like a cross between a couple other books I’ve read in the last few years – “If We Survive” by Andrew Klavan
https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/if-we-survive-by-andrew-klavan-2012/ and “Tomorrow When The War Began” by John Marsden.
This book had it all – great characters, deep friendships, lots of action, psychological terror, and spiritual struggle. I would highly recommend this novel to readers of almost any age.

Home To Harmony – by Philip Gulley (2000)

Home To Harmony

Welcome to the little town of Harmony! Sam Gardner grew up there, went away to college, and is now returning (with wife and kids) to be the pastor of the small Quaker church congregation. He’s getting re-acquainted with many of the people he knew as a child, and meeting new folks.

This book has a similar feel to the “Mitford” books written by Jan Karon, although the male characters are more dominant in this book. My favorite character – beside Sam of course – was Sam’s ancient male secretary, who didn’t always see so well but had a real heart for encouraging people around him. Reading about Harmony made me wish the town really existed so that I could visit it.

Excerpt from the first page:

“I liked living where I did, in Harmony. I liked that the Dairy Queen sold ice cream cones for a dime. I liked that I could ride my Schwinn Typhoon there without crossing Main Street, which my mother didn’t allow.

I liked that I lived four blocks from the Kroger grocery store, where every spring they stacked bags of peat moss out front. My brother and I would climb on the bags and vault from stack to stack. Once, on a particularly high leap, my brother hit the K in KROGER with his head, causing the neon tube to shatter. For the next year, the sign flashed ROGER, which we considered an amazing coincidence since that was my brother’s name. He liked to pass by at night and see his name in lights.”

Thirteen Reasons Why – by Jay Asher (2007) part 2


There were some things about this book that I could appreciate. First off, the author’s tackling of a subject that is uncomfortable. No one wants to acknowledge that friends, parents, and teachers sometimes miss the signs that a person is deeply depressed and ready to kill themselves. Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve, and everyone knows how they are feeling. But other people mask their emotions, so no one knows their private agony. If this book gets people talking and makes them aware that someone near and dear to them is contemplating suicide, that’s a good thing.

Second, it illustrates perfectly how deadly gossip and rumors can be. The things we say about people can destroy lives. Sometimes there’s a little truth mixed in with the false rumor, but that can be just as deadly as a total lie.

Third, there are moments in the story when Hannah perfectly expresses what a person contemplating suicide can feel like. Here are several excerpts from the cassette tapes:

“Yes, there are some major gaps in my story. Some parts I just couldn’t figure out how to tell. Or couldn’t bring myself to say out loud. Events I haven’t come to grips with…that I’ll never come to grips with. And if I never have to say them out loud, then I never have to think them all the way through.”

“You don’t know what went on in the rest of my life. At home. Even at school. You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

Lastly, the book does not contain graphic detail or raunchy language, unlike the Netflix version. No, I did not watch the tv series on Netflix, but did check out the content advisory on the International Movie Database website:
There are marked differences between the book and the movie. For example, in the book there is no detailed description of Hannah’s suicide by taking an overdose of pills. In the tv version, unfortunately, they felt the need to sensationalize her death, and switched it to a graphic scene of her slitting not just one but both of her wrists and bleeding to death.

The next time you pop on Netflix and you see 13 Reasons Why in the suggestions, please, please pass on it. Once your eyes have seen something, there is no way to un-see it. If you are in the unfortunate situation that your young person has already watched it, either at home or a friends house, you need to talk with them about it. (You will have to decide for yourself if it’s necessary to read the book or watch the tv series so that you can have an intelligent conversation about it.) This story is just too disturbing to leave un-discussed once it’s seen or read.