Sunday, February 28, 2010

Planet BB

UKCBD > Christian Book Reviews > Youth Work and Ministry > Planet BB

Planet BBPlanet BB
The Boys’ Brigade Around The World

David Chant
ISBN 9781858583334 (1858583330)
Brewin Books, 2010 (not yet published: expected April)

Category: Youth Work and Ministry
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

Sometimes a book seizes your imagination even before it’s been published, and this is one such book — which means, of course, that this is not a review: it’s a pre-publication plug. As per the subtitle, Planet BB tells the story of the Boys’ Brigade around the world — but more than that, its aim is to raise funds for that work in developing countries.

Its author, David Chant, is the manager of Wesley Owen Birmingham, one of the eight branches of Wesley Owen rescued by Koorong following last year’s collapse of IBS-STL UK, and for the last year or so whenever he’s not been holding the fort there, Planet BB has been more or less his entire life. One thing’s certain: if enthusiasm alone could sell a book, this would be a bestseller. I’ll let David take up the story:

Planet BB has taken up 14 months of my free time. Every evening, day off, holiday has been spent compiling/editing/plugging the book. When the publication was delayed, one of our planned first recipients of the royalties — Christian Children’s Centre — Nansana, Uganda — asked me if any money would likely to be forthcoming so they could put on a Christmas party, get AIDS/HIV testing for the children/decorate the centre. I put out an appeal (or 2!) and was blessed with £300 which I sent to pay for the party. I contacted agencies working in Uganda that secured funding for the Aids programme. So Planet BB is making money and helping children in need already!

There will be BB Companies near every bookshop in the UK. I know there will be a great demand for it. Sadly, UK folk are waiting to see it as they know it will be in the shops (but I do already have well over 100 individual orders at my shop). Overseas orders have been flying in (Indonesia, Australia, US, Singapore, Hong Kong etc) as they know direct from the publisher will be the only way to get copies. The publisher is still a bit jittery after the Christian booktrade troubles, and it looks like I will be asked to put money up front. This is something I do not have a lot of (working in the book trade!) so it is imperative bookshops order copies from Brewin Books.

We have plans to help a BB Company in Ghana, and Thailand. And money will be sent direct to Global Fellowship to use in their current BB projects. Please help the project by ordering copies, and advertising it around your local BB & GB Companies. We have already had adverts in The BB Gazette, Birmingham Battalion newsletter, and dozens of similar publications around the world.

Thank you for your anticipated very large orders.

If Planet BB captures your imagination, head on over to the Planet BB facebook page or follow Planet BB on twitter to find out more. Even better, of course, head on over to your nearest bookshop — ideally your nearest Christian bookshop — and order a copy.

Find Planet BB on facebook Follow Planet BB on twitter

Phil Groom, February 2010

Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation.

Planet BB: Official Website | Brewin Books

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Under the Mountain" - Maurice Gee

Gee, Maurice. Under the Mountain. Auckland: Puffin Books, 2006.

First published 1979.

Under the Mountain has had the dubious pleasure of horrifying me twice in one lifetime. As a child, I was scared silly by the thought of the Wilberforces and what it would take to defeat them. As an adult, the horror was different – several weeks back, I went to the cinema to see the newly-released movie version and it was dreadful. The characters had the same names, and that was about all that could be said for it. Everything that contributed to the charm and grief of the original had been systematically stripped away. I was so horrified I went out and bought a copy of the book, to reread and reassure myself that the original was as I remembered it.

It was.

Under the Mountain is the story of Rachel and Theo, twin children who are almost complete opposites. Rachel is a dreamer, Theo a scientist. She feels, he thinks. On a visit to their family in Auckland, they learn that they are in the middle of the last battle between the last representatives of two great alien races – and that they are the key to defeating the side that wants to destroy all life on Earth and turn it into a planet of mud. The rapacious slugs of the  Wilberforce family, and the good but frail Mr. Jones can both take human form – Mr. Jones at least is more comfortable that way as it makes him feel less lonely. Loneliness is one of the subtle over-arching themes of the book, as Rachel and Theo must in their own way learn to use weapons that will destroy the invaders. Though children, they must become killers – not just of individuals, but of an entire race – if they want their home to survive. Yet killing, even in self-defence, is never an easy thing. There is no help, and no hope. It is murder or nothing.

The bleak attraction of Under the Mountain is in its unflinching treatment of this problem. Mediocre science fiction – especially the early attempts – has always the faceless enemy alien that must be slaughtered for humanity to survive. It is the science fiction of persecution rather than personality, with little ethical content. Slow changes have seen this enemy change, become humanised, take on characteristics that humanity can empathise with. This leads to greater interaction between the two species – the possibility of communication or detente exists, and this possibility introduces a whole new different set of stakes. Under the Mountain lies somewhere between these two.

Mr. Jones is implacable in his purpose. Killing the Wilberforces is the only option, their species must be exterminated from the cosmos for others to survive. No other tactic will work – certainly not negotiation. “You might just as well try talking to a school of sharks” (p 85). They are intelligent, lethal, and amoral. The amorality is key – the Wilberforces have no better nature to appeal to, no pity and no kindness. Yet neither do they appear to have any malice. They kill out of instinct, living up to their name: “the People who conquer and multiply”. They don’t kill for pleasure or for vengeance, and neither do they kill unnecessarily. When a Wilberforce attacks Rachel and Theo, it feels no need to kill them both: “Come with me. Come to the lake. One will be enough” (p 102). It is the same with Johan and Lenart – the Wilberforces need kill only one to ensure their own survival. They are not excessive or malicious or vengeful. And when Rachel has completed her part in defeating them, her part in what is essentially genocide, she is perfectly safe from them – there is now no reason to attack her, so they don’t. Another species would kill in both cases simply because it could. We are forced to consider that that other species might well be human.

This is not to say that Under the Mountain presents genocide as an unthinkably evil possibility. When the question is kill or be killed, there is really only one realistic answer. Yet genocide in the name of survival is still genocide, and genocide committed, knowingly and willingly, by children…? Rachel at least is made unhappy by it: “She was troubled too by the thought that she was going to kill. The Wilberforces were the last of their kind. It was a crime” (p 125). Although she does not flinch from it, her part in what she considers to be criminal is not a moment of personal triumph.

Rachel’s voice rose into the night, clear, thin, careful, the sort of voice she might use for recitation. But to Theo it contained a note of grief. ‘Go down, People of the Mud’ (p 134).

Theo’s reaction is less moral, but then he is the head instead of the heart of the pairing, and he is frustrated by the Jonesian poetry of his ritualistic response.

‘We bring you the gift of…’ he cried. And the final word was nearly lost. Why didn’t they say death when they meant it? ‘…oblivion’ (p 155).

He is less troubled than his sister by their actions, but equally cognisant of them. It is a crime – the lesser of two evils, but still a fundamentally evil act.

One can almost describe Under the Mountain as an allegory of the make-up of human nature – the dreamer and the thinker, the desire to slaughter, to survive, to preserve, wrapped in a package stamped with the postmark of twentieth century technology. Fittingly, there is no great demarcation line between the three races – Gee is too subtle for that, and it is in the death of the last remaining Wilberforces that the three races – human, Jones, and Wilberforce – become more obviously one. The two long combatants, the final examples of their race, die together after dragging a third race into the same moral culpability: those that were willing to commit genocide have become victims of it themselves. It is at the end that the Wilberforces finally show some small spark of recognisable emotion. Knowing they are about to die, they gather together in a family:

The baby Wilberforces slid across the parking lot. They stopped beside Theo a moment almost as if to keep him company. Then they went down. … the Wilberforces gave a haunting cry like the distant fading call of trumpets. They turned away from the stone and gathered a little way off in a circle (p 157).

Is this too mere instinct? Or is it the first spark of feeling, the mark of a race that could one day be negotiated with if only they had survived? Wilberforces might have all the feelings of sharks, yet white pointers are still protected – even smallpox is not entirely eradicated. Had that spark been there all along, beyond the reach of the Jones’? Had the trauma of war robbed them of their understanding?

It is often said that in war there is no real winner, and such is the case in Under the Mountain. Rachel and Theo win the war, but in killing the Wilberforce family they lose their own – their process has been flawed, and their cousin, uncle and aunt are all killed because of it. With the death of the Wilberforces and the Jones, “the People of the mud, who conquer and multiply” and “the People who understand” it becomes inescapably evident that what is left – the humans – are a bastardised mixture of both. As a race, whether poets or scientists we understand what we do, and are capable of better and more moral decisions, and yet a soaring population growth that slaughters other species is one of our most characteristic calling cards. Rachel is not that far removed from Mr. Wilberforce, and Theo not that different from Mr. Jones. They are as capable – and as culpable.

Gee has always been a careful writer. His books for adults are contemporary, non-genre character studies, where much is implied in few words. He is possibly one of the most observant writers that I have come across, but his childrens’ books are less obviously so. They are still terse, still concise. The fantasy and science fiction universes he works in are, in their own way, equally restrained and observant, and Under the Mountain is the pinnacle of this approach. I haven’t seen a single exclamation mark in the entire book, although the subject matter, in the hands of another author, would certainly call for them. The word “genocide” is never mentioned, and yet that is the fate of two of the three involved races; the long defeat of better selves. Instead a clean quiet prose, a drama entirely devoid of melodrama; a triumph underpinned by grief not for what has happened but for what was done. This makes it a real rarity in science fiction for children – but I wonder how many children pick up on it. Given the sad excuse for a movie adaptation previously mentioned, it certainly went over the heads of some of the adults.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday Book Review: Before You Know Kindness, Chris Bohjalian

I went through a bit of a Chris Bohjalian obsession last summer.  I read each of his books, one after the other.  Chris Bohjalian writes gorgeous stories;  stories that are intricately layered and filled with characters who are complex and believable.

The best of last summer’s books was  Before You Know Kindness, the story of the Seton clan, led by widowed, wealthy, energetic Nan Seton.  Each summer, Nan invites her son and daughter, John and Catherine, along with their spouses and children, to spend time at the family home in New Hampshire.  Under Nan’s direction, the family participates in an endless and dizzying round of athletic and social activities.  This summer, though, a freak accident occurs.  The accident ends up shaking up each family member’s assumptions about their lives and one another.  They are each forced to reevaluate what is important to them.

Before You Know Kindness is a story about family and values and when to draw the line with your beliefs.  It’s a story about forgiveness and understanding when to give in.  It’s a truly great read.

Happy Reading!




[REVIEW] Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater
Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 1)
Scholastic (US: 1st August 2009; UK: 5th October 2009)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

Sam Roth is struggling to remain in human form. When winter comes, he’ll change into a wolf and stay that way forever. After six years, Grace Brisbane has finally connected with him, and she can’t stand to let him go. And so begins a final desperate attempt to find a cure.

Maggie Stiefvater has put enormous thought into her werewolves, eclipsing in my mind Kelley Armstrong’s, who’ve been my mainstay for so long. The romance doesn’t work for me, and neither does the poetry, but I’m right-brained and clearly not creative.

Also, what is up with all the shoddy parenting? After what happened to Grace as a child, her parents should’ve glued themselves to her – it’s the logical reaction. Instead, they pull further away. A plot device to get the adults out of the picture so Grace and Sam can sleep together every night? And Grace goes on about how her parents just don’t want to be with her, but when her mother reaches out to her, Grace rejects her and sticks with Sam. She claims it’s too little too late, but her mum was trying to meet her halfway, and Grace just stuck up her nose. If you want attention, don’t be a bitch when you finally get it – just take what you can get.

As for Sam’s parents…it’s heartbreaking, of course. As for his adopted family of wolves…there’s some effed-up shiz there. Why he became a werewolf. How his irises have been yellow since birth (Logical Brain says no). Shelby – jealous wannabe-lover plots just don’t work for me; too over the top. Paul’s an intriguing character, though, and I’d like to learn more about the latest batch of wolves.

Isabel’s parents have issues, too. Her dad is a trigger happy gun nut, as are others in Mercy Falls, including Grace’s dad. I’m very anti-guns, or at least against citizens who use them, and this novel does nothing to dispel the stereotype/myth that America’s gun laws are rather free-range. Isabel’s mum works in a clinic for the disadvantaged, and there clearly isn’t any security going on in there.

The characters may not ring true, and some things seem rather convenient, but there’s no denying that Shiver is one hell of a page-turner, an addictive read. Linger’s July release can’t come soon enough.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Name of Book: Ysabel

Author:  Guy Gavriel Kay

Illustrator :  Larry Rostant (cover art)

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

Audience:   Adolescents – Adults

Summary:     Fifteen year old Canadian, Ned Marriner, “blunders into a corner of a very old story” of Celtic and Roman histories and mythologies.  In an ancient place, where the borders between the living and the long-dead are thin, Ned and his family are drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing – and claiming – lives.

Literary elements at work in the story:  A contemporary fantasy novel set in Aix-en-Provence, France.  A large cast of protagonists (Ned, his new friend Kate, Ned’s parents, Ned’s aunt and uncle, and his father’s three assistants) are consistently believable.  Kay continues his writing style of laying a fantasy science fiction story over a real historic period.…this time the story of the Roman usurpation of Celtic lands from 2,500 years ago in what would become France.

Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability:  This is an intriguing tale of different cultures separated by thousands of years.  One, the culture of a contemporary teenage Canadian boy traveling with his dad on assignment to the south of France juxtaposed against the superstitious world of Celts and Romans from a time before the birth of Christ.  Lots of “good guys”; male, female, young, old.

Theology:  This book can be used to help adolescents understand the concept of salvation by grace in discussing such topics as undeserved gifts and right relationships.  It also shows people – young and old – answering the call to love, help and forgive one another.

Further, a connection can be made between this story and the Bible…an ancient writing with characters of long ago that “erupt” into the present, changing – and claiming – lives in a way that is unique to our faith.  This could perhaps be a very interesting topic of conversation with young adults.

Faith Talk Questions:

  1. What gift did Ned discover that he had in this story?  What unexpected gifts have you discovered in yourself?  How can you use these gifts to glorify God?
  2. Why were Ned’s mother and aunt in conflict during the story?  How was their broken relationship mended?  Have you ever experienced a serious disagreement with someone you cared for?  What happened to resolve the situation?
  1. Why did Ned get involved even though he was warned to say out of it for his own safety’s sake?  In what ways do you see the characters in this story learning to rely on and trust one another?
  2. In the final scene with Ysabel, Ned is given another gift…that of understanding his role in the age-old story.  Do you think he earned this gift or was it sheer grace that allowed him this resolution?  Are there times in your life when you received an undeserved gift?  How do you think God was involved in that?

Review prepared by Kelly Hames, MACE, Entering Cohort Fall 2008.


Black History Month Books for Children

I love the headline the Ledger put on my review:

Tales of Slaves And Sweethearts: Black History Month brings several inspiring new books for children.

By Elizabeth Willse For The Star-Ledger

Every year at this time, publishers commemorate Black History Month by releasing a round of new titles memorializing the struggles and accomplishments of African-Americans.

Those aimed at children are especially worthwhile and deservedly find their way into the collections of public and school libraries.

This year’s releases offer a potpourri of subjects that either celebrate black history through family stories of slavery and civil rights, or illuminate some of the lesser-known achievements of black pioneers.

Here’s a selection of worthy titles:

In “January’s Sparrow” (Philomel, 92 pages, $22.95), writer and illustrator Patricia Polacco tells the story of a family’s daring escape from slavery. Told primarily from the point of view of the family’s young daughter, the tale confronts violence and suspense head-on, amplified by pencil illustrations of the slave owner’s cruel beatings and the roiling river the family crosses to freedom. The audience for this book is independent readers, ages 10 and older.

For tween and young adult readers, Linda Beatrice Brown’s novel “Black Angels” (Putnam Juvenile, 260 pages, $19.99) brings together two runaway slaves and one white boy, orphaned by the Civil War. Brown’s top-notch historical adventure depicts battle scenes in amazing detail, but she allows the three kids be themselves — homesick, bossy, brave and sometimes funny.

Using photographs of the Selma-Montgomery march, Elizabeth Partridge makes this iconic moment in civil rights history accessible to middle-grade readers in “Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary “ (Viking Juvenile, 80 pages, $19.99). The book emphasizes the role children and students — sometimes scared and overwhelmed, but inspired by Martin Luther King — played in the civil rights movement. The proud memories and striking personal accounts of so many young people who risked going to jail may surprise some readers.

Recently published picture books tell less familiar stories. Author Phil Bildner
and illustrator John Holyfield introduce young readers (ages 4 to 8) to James Banning and Thomas Allen in “The Hallelujah Flight” (Putnam Juvenile,
32 pages, $16.99) via simple, lively prose. The aviator and the mechanic swoop through the air in Holyfield’s paintings, narrowly escaping mechanical failure and prejudiced strangers, drawn with pinched, scowling brushstrokes.

Marilyn Nelson’s “Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World” (Dial, 80 pages, $14.95) will interest older children, but its appeal spans all ages. Nelson uses poems to tell the story of an interracial, all-female swing band that played during World War II, and the book is lavishly illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winner Jerry Pinkney.

The jazzy, dancing energy of the illustrations almost jump from the page and the bluesy rhythm of the poems creates its own potent music. Adults will have fun reading aloud — and learning along with their children. And some of Pinkney’s paintings of the female musicians are so joyous and bright, you’ll wish you could see them hanging on a wall, rather than relegated to the confines of a book.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is often touted as Philip K Dick’s best novel, which is some recommendation given that he wrote around forty of them in his lifetime. First published in 1965, it is a faced-paced ‘alien invasion’ narrative with a few significant twists. PKD imports a whole heap of his stock material from other novels (precogs, the Printers, ‘Pre Fash’ consultants, drug-induced time travel, to name a few) and ends up blending the material into one of the most impressive creations he put his name to.

Three Stigmata opens on an Earth rapidly heating up for some unspecified reason. Consequently, spending time outdoors in the daytime is impossible and Antarctica has become a resort community. Our main character’s name is Barney Mayerson, a typical PKD everyman who works for one of the most powerful men on Earth-Leo Bulero, owner of P. P. Layouts and trafficker of the illegal drug Can-D. At novel’s opening he is waking up beside Roni Fugate, his new offsider who will end up displacing him in Bulero’s regime. This relationship mirrors a similar one in the slightly-later Ubik, except that here Roni turns out to be a reasonable person after all. We are also introduced to Richard Hnatt and his wife (who is also Barney’s ex-wife) Emily. Finally, we have Leo Bulero himself, a man who seems to echo Arnie Kott from The Man in the High Castle. What I’m trying to say here is that the characters are ‘PKD types’, and while each is crafted carefully, none is particularly unique in the author’s ouevre.

What we get in the early part of the novel is PKD’s standard intermingling of narratives, all the while bombarding the reader with information about what life is like in this unspecified future time. We are given to understand that most of the Solar System has been colonised, and that Leo Bulero’s empire is founded on two things: Perky Pat and her boyfriend Walt (they are dolls, like Barbies) and the drug Can-D, which allows users to enter the lives of Pat and Walt. (PKD is imagining The Sims, basically.) Meanwhile, on a hovel on Mars, wretched colonists unlucky enough to have been drafted to the service by the United Nations cling desperately to their empty lives. Their only salvation? Perky Pat and Can-D. It’s worth noting that while a number of PKD novels, even some of the best ones, take a while to really get going, there is no such time-wasting in Palmer Eldritch. It’s probably as close to a flawless book as he produced in the sixties, which is really saying something as this novel was written during a two year period in which PKD produced eleven novels. That’s one every sixty days. No wonder they don’t always make sense.

All of this is subject to change when the mysterious Palmer Eldritch, who departed for the Prox system a decade ago, returns to Sol. It seems Eldritch wants to go into competition against Bulero using his own drug, Chew Z, which promises to deliver eternal life. To my mind, Leo Bulero is the real protagonist in this story, not Barney. (As a small aside, it seems to me that the relationship between the two men is fundamentally the same as that described in PKD’s mainstream novels Voices from the Street and Humpty Dumpty in Oakland). Leo gets himself entangled in Eldritch’s web of illusion, from which there can be no real escape. This is where Palmer Eldritch shines the brightest, as these chapters are pure magic. The illusion world allows PKD to dispense with any responsibility to depict events in a realistic way. At heart, this is a strange kind of fantasy writing, not science fiction that someone like Robert Heinlein would have recognised.

As the novel progresses, Palmer Eldritch comes to dominate proceedings to a greater and greater extent. By the end, he appears to have taken over most of the Solar System. The reader is left on an extremely uncertain footing, never knowing what is real. Barney Mayerson, in trying to navigate the illusory world before him, is desperately trying to get back together with his wife Emily, but behind every face lurks the metal eyes of Palmer Eldritch. It’s the stuff of nightmares. There are a number of parallels drawn between situations in the story and Christianity and the Holy Sacrament. There’s talk of sin and atonement in a way that is absent in PKD’s other novels. But for me the real highlights of Palmer Eldritch are the drug worlds themselves, especially the one Barney gets lost in toward the end of the book. And then PKD throws us yet another curveball in the revelation that Barney and Palmer have traded places, and that Barney will the one to be killed by Leo.

This book is hard, perhaps impossible, to fault. From start to finish, this is a well constructed and disorientating novel. While it’s true that the characters are simply PKD’s stocks, there is something unique to this book in the author’s canon. That thing is the presence of pure evil in the form of Palmer Eldritch.  I can’t go quite so far as to declare this to be PKD’s best novel though. It’s certainly a prime candidate, but for me, on this reading at least (it’s either my third or fourth reading in ten years), there was something that failed to inspire me. Ultimately, there’s something about Ubik that will continue to fascinate me, and I don’t think Martian Time-Slip will ever be displaced in my mind as being at the top tier of PKD’s novels. But The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch would be in everyone’s top ten, and thus on weight of numbers it’s probably destined to be remembered as the master’s greatest work.


‘Wolf Hall’ or "The English Actors’ Full Employment Act”

‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel

‘Wolf Hall’ is a slice of life, or I should say a full loaf of Tudor life, seen entirely through the eyes of advisor to King Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell.  It’s all there in the novel, the food, the frocks, the Papal dispensations, the plumbing, the trivial and the even more trivial.  Also there are many, many characters in the novel, perhaps as many as actually lived in Tudor times, all roles to be filled for the movie which should start filming any day now.  The Tudor people are religious, superstitious, and all too prone to gossip.  King Henry is rampant, most of the men are rampant, and most of the women are accommodating.  In other words, Tudor life is just like modern times.

    “Nothing is running, except the cooks’ noses.”

I’m not sure what type of research Hilary Mantel did to determine that the cooks’ noses were running during this particular dinner, but I’m sure it was extensive.  I’ve read another novel by Hilary Mantel, ‘Beyond Black’ which was very good.  It’s too bad that now Mantel will be consigned to writing historical works about fools, royal and otherwise.  But at least it should be lucrative.   In ‘Wolf Hall’, nearly everyone comes off as a fool except, surprise, Thomas Cromwell and his family.  Thomas Cromwell comes off as an enterprising, thoughtful, and above all steady Englishman.  The audiodisk narrator uses the cute English expression ‘Whot?’ instead of ‘What?’ nauseatingly often, but that may be the fault of the audiodisk rather than the novel.   The audiodisk guy also has the worst French accent ever.

The eighteen ‘Wolf Hall’ audiodisks have that one characteristic which is the  bane of audiodisks, no clear indication when each disk ends.  Thus by the time I reached the end of a disk, I would have forgotten whatever tidbit of gossip about Anne Boleyn or her sister Mary Boleyn or whatever fine point of papal doctrine by Cardinal Wolsey or Thomas More that began the disk, and I would listen to the whole disk all over again.  One time, I listened to a disk three times before I realized I had heard it all before.

Everything is in this novel including the kitchen sink.  ‘Wolf Hall’ is the kind of historical fiction where the reader is supposed to get lost in the richness of the details of Tudor life.  However, I would have preferred a little focus, some unifying point to the whole thing.  King Henry may have had some fine rugs on the floor, but I really don’t need details about the weave.  I didn’t want to get lost, I wanted to find something, a point or something, that wasn’t there.

Late Elizabethan portrait of Anne Boleyn, possibly derived from a lost original of 1533–36

I don’t know who the film makers will pick to play Thomas Cromwell, but only one actor todaycould do justice to King Henry VIII – Russell Crowe.  It took Henry seven years of complex negotiations to divorce his wife of twenty years, Katherine, and marry Anne Boleyn.  After that, Henry found a much more expedient method to change wives – beheading.  Soon after the timeframe of ‘Wolf Hall’ ends, both Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn were beheaded.  Of course Anne Boleyn’s baby daughter grew up to become Queen Elizabeth of England where she has been reigning ever since.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: City on a Hill

Excerpt of Tim Challies’ review on Philip Graham Ryken’s book entitled, City on a Hill. To view entire article, please click this link.



City on a Hill begins with an introduction to postmodernism. Ryken identifies these post-Christian times as being characterized by relativism and narcissism. In order to combat those forces and to be a remedy to society, the church needs to return to the model of the 1st century church – a church that was modelled on teaching, worshiping and caring. These three forces, when combined, caused the church to grow. Ryken identifies seven objectives for the church: expository preaching, worthy worship, Bible study and fellowship, pastoral care, educational programs, missionary work and service to the church and community. Each of these objectives forms a chapter in the book.

While these objectives are hardly unique, and could as easily be found in a book written by John MacArthur or any of the other Reformed or conservative church leaders, Ryken does something that gives this book great value. He shows how relativism and narcissism negatively impacts each of these seven objectives, and also shows how returning to the biblical model can be an antidote to the influences that pervade our culture. For example, he teaches that in a post-Christian culture, worship becomes less about Scripture, and less about honoring God, while becoming predominantly about the individual. Church becomes a place where needs are met rather than a place where God is worshiped. He teaches that we need a theology of worship to guide our practice so that we can avoid society’s negative influences. In the fifth chapter, which deals with pastoral care, the author teaches that “the revolt against the meta-narrative helps explain why people are so resistant to the gospel. Christianity has a story to tell. It claims to be the story, the story of humanity…However in these post-Christian times, people don’t want to listen to God’s story; they want to make up their own. When they read the script of salvation, they discover that it’s all about God and His glory. But they were hoping to play a bigger part. Hence the postmodern revolt against the meta-narrative, which is really a rebellion against the authority of God” (page 94).

Ryken determines that if we are wise, “we will recommit ourselves to expository preaching, God-centered worship, loving fellowship, pastoral care, costly discipleship, global evangelism, and practical compassion. But none of this will matter unless we recognize our need – our daily need – for the gospel. The church can only be a city on a hill if it confesses its sin and trusts in the crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus Christ for any hope of salvation” (page 179).

For the church to succeed in its ministry during the post-Christian era, it must take care that it presents a biblical alternative to the forces of society, all the while ensuring that it does not accomodate them. When church does what it is called to do – to be a city on a hill; a light shining in the darkness – it will give the world what it most needs – the message of life and salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

This is a book that is sure to challenge the reader. It is consistently biblical, returning constantly to the Word of God. It calls the church to return not to the model of the twentieth century, but the model given to us in the Bible. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others.

*     *     *     *     *


About the Author: 

Dr Ryken holds degrees from Wheaton (B. A.), Westminster (M. Div.), and the University of Oxford (D. Phil.).  He is on the Board of Trusties at both Wheaton College and Westminster, and is an Executive Board Member with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Philip Graham Ryken is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has preached since 1995.  He is Bible Teacher for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, speaking nationally on the radio program Every Last Word.  Dr. Ryken was educated at Wheaton College (IL), Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and the University of Oxford (UK), from which he received his doctorate in historical theology.  He lives with his wife (Lisa) and children (Josh, Kirsten, Jack, Kathryn, and Karoline) in Center City, Philadelphia. 


Rookie Moms blog recommends book

For knitting mamas (or for non-knitting mamas to purchase for knitting grandmas) Vintage Knits for Modern Babies, from Ten Speed Press. Beautiful photos and patterns for pixie caps, wee mittens and adorable booties.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Load of Unicorn

I am old fashioned; I admit it. I like a book to be a treasure that a man may hoard for life.

(The Load of Unicorn by Cynthia Harnett)

I can’t remember the first time my father read me “The Load of Unicorn”. Maybe it was too long ago! My parents read me books like “Swallows and Amazons” and “The Load of Unicorn” WAY before I was old enough to “understand” and they’re a part of my life – almost a part of my soul. Someone once said that “when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does.” They’re right. And maybe that’s one reason why, when my father read “The Load of Unicorn” to my siblings last month, I was a happy bunny. The book is excellent, but – for me! – it’s familiar and comfortable and, therefore, altogether wonderful.

If you read “The Load of Unicorn”, you’ll feel like a traveller through time, whisked back to London, England, in the late 1400s. Bendy is a boy (between thirteen and fifteen years old) always up to his neck in trouble. But in “The Load of Unicorn” he’s in the most serious trouble of his life.

Bendy’s father is a scrivener – a man who writes books, writing each word on each page in ink on paper by hand, for a living. Bendy’s older brothers are also scriveners. They write and sell books in the family shop, “The Crowing Crock”, in one of the alleys in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. They hate William Caxton who, after years of living and working for the mercer’s guild abroad, has come home to England with a printing press. He’s set up a shop in Westminster and he’s printing books. A printer can produce and sell more books than a scrivener. But a printer needs paper – preferably good paper, like that from Flanders, bearing the unicorn water mark.

Bendy’s trouble begins with a conversation between one of his brothers and a shady character, but it deepens with his father makes friends with William Caxton – and indentures Bendy to William Caxton as his apprentice. Bendy is going to be a printer, not a scrivener! At once, he’s swept into a fight for the Unicorn paper and a quest for a book written by a knight with a strange reputation for the highest ideals of chivalry and the wildest bursts of adventuring. What Bendy doesn’t know is that the fight for the paper and the quest for the book are connected to each other. And that both are tinged with danger – and treason.

Cynthia Harnett only wrote six books, but they’re all excellent. If you can get hold of a copy of “The Load of Unicorn”, do – and read it many times! It combines excellent story-telling with “real” characters and baffling mystery. Everything is explained in detail, so you feel at home in Bendy’s world – but it’s explained so beautifully and naturally that you never feel bored. At the end of book, you feel as if you know what it’s like to be the child of a scrivener and the apprentice of a printer, as well as a citizen of London in the days before the Reformation. Someday I’d very much like to write as beautifully as Cynthia Harnett.

As a new indie author, I was fascinated last month by the tension in “The Load of Unicorn” between the scriveners and the printers. In Bendy’s day, the world of books was changing – books were available in a quantity and quality never before imagined. In our day, traditional publishers are arguing that traditional publication is the only REAL option for publication and indie authors are arguing that times are changing and authors DO have choices – and CAN publish their own books. I think there’s room for traditionally-published and self-published books in our world AND on our bookshelves. But like William Caxton, those of us choosing the new path should pursue beauty and excellence with courage and humility in our writing AND our publishing.

I think Bendy’s father expresses it beautifully for all of us:

A book well written in a fair hand is a work to rejoice in and offer to God. But times are changing. One cannot halt them; and books are not only things of outward beauty, they are food for a man’s mind, and if these new ways supply that food as we cannot then we must treat them with due honour.


Tropical Fish (thoughts)

Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana is an interlinked short story collection; each of the stories is told from the point of view of one of three sisters, and the stories move forward in time. It’s a neat format, and one that Baingana pulls off very well; while most of the stories are about Christina, the youngest sister, the occasional change in point of view helped round out the book. Baingana is a wonderful writer, and one of the things I love most is the sense of place she brought to Tropical Fish. I’ve never been anywhere near Uganda (though I do hope to visit one day), but I was able to walk the streets of Entebbe, party at Makere University, and experience boarding school life thanks to Baingana.

For some reason, my writing feels a bit formal today, so I hope I’m getting across to you how much this book delighted me! I really loved it; in addition to that wonderful sense of place, the book is full of the universal issues girls face as they grown into womanhood. I identified with all of the sisters, and while Baingana occassionally broke my heart, she also made me smile and laugh.

All of the stories in the collection are wonderful, but the one that took my breath away, that I would make everyone read if it was available anywhere online, was “A Thank-You Note.” It’s written in the form of a letter, and it’s about AIDS and the horrible irony and being a carefree college student and knowing you’re dying when you’re twenty-three. Just now, I was looking for a passage to share with you, and I wish I could just type up the whole thing. But since I can’t, here’s a bit that really caught me:

David, we whispered these rumors about them, the villagers, but didn’t talk about us, did we? Now we know we are all connected: one big loving community. Back then, we thought we were different, serparate from the Rakai kind; they were born suffering, after all, but not us, oh no. We were at Makere University; we were the cream of the crop. We had dodged the bullets of Amin, Obote, all the coups, the economic war, exile and return, and here we were on the road to success. We were the lukcy ones, the chosen few. No one said this out loud, of course, we didn’t consciously think it, but the knowledge sat at the back of our minds like a fat cat. We were intelligent, read books for fun, had worn shoes and socks to school while villagers went barefoot; we spoke proper English; listened to Top of the Pops rather than Congolese music; ate with forks, not our fingers. And, of course, we would one day leave this place to work in southern Africa, or go to Europe or America for further studies. Escape, but not by dying.

What went wrong, David?

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years, and there are a special few that touch me, that I will always remember and think about. I am positive that “A Thank You Note” is one of those stories.

That being said, I almost didn’t want to tell y’all that it was my favourite. Why? Because it seems a touch stereotypical to have a story about AIDS in a collection set anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Tropical Fish is anything but stereotypical. The sisters are from privileged Uganda, and they always feel like real people dealing with real issues, not like mouthpieces for ‘African issues,’ whatever that might be. And “A Thank You Note” is intensely personal, which is what makes it so searing.

I thought I’d have more to talk about in this post, since the book makes me feel all gushy! But I went into it not knowing anything (I didn’t even realise the stories were interlinked until the third one, lol), and I find I don’t want to talk about specifics, because I want you all to experience it for yourself. Even if you’re not a big short story fan, I think you should try it out; it has the continuity of a novel, with characters growing over time. If you value wonderful writing, or characters who feel like they could step out of the pages, or coming-of-age stories or a powerful sense of place, do yourself a favour and read Tropical Fish. It exceeded every one of my expectations, and I can only hope that Baingana publishes another book soon.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that I read this book for the African Diaspora Challenge, as an Eastern Africa selection. :) I’ve loved every book I’ve read for the challenge so far, and I highly recommend you sign yourself up for it, or at least check out the recommended reading and participants’ reviews.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And the Bead Goes On


As one source from the turn of the last century tells us, bead embroidery is at least as old as ancient Egypt. According to the EoVN “the small globules or balls now called beads, either made of iron, pearl, garnet, amber or crystal, were used as ornaments in pre-historic times.” Through all those years beads have embellished all manner of embroidery, and other items, including Berlin work pieces, purses and clothing.

Jane Davis’ excellent book, Bead Embroidery: The Complete Guide, teaches how to “revitalize classic embroidery stitches for a contemporary look simply by adding beads to your needlework.” What I like most about this book is the wonderful, and helpful, photographs that show how the individual stitches look embellished with beads. Divided into sections, the book covers the basics, the stitches and the projects. There is also a glossary and list of supply sources. The book is available at all the usual retail outlets.

While this particular book is not historical in nature it does help teach a skill rooted deeply in history. I like that because, while this day is all about throwing the beads, we need to remember the history of embroidering with them.


Flush by Virginia Woolf

I was about to give up on this book, but persevered because I’m a Woolf fan. And as I hoped, the book got quite good. I enjoyed learning more about Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning’s courtship all from the perspective of a hairy, four-legged friend. Quite charming.

Book Bitch says: For Woolf fans only


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marla Gassner - Inspired by Butterflies

Marla Gassner – Inspired by Butterflies

by Donna Zaidenberg of  Studio Beads

As an only grandchild, at 6-years-old, visiting relatives could be a lonely business. Marla Gassner says it was when an aunt and a grandmother shared their costume jewelry and their cache of buttons in old mason jars that she had something to do on those visits. Eventually she got to take home some of these treasures, and she would separate the buttons and beads into glass baby food jars by color.  She then taught herself to string these baubles on dental floss to make her first jewelry.

Her inspiration for color came first from climbing trees in a park near her childhood apartment in the city watching how the light changed the ground. Shortly thereafter the family moved to a home in Evanston.
It was here, roaming in the open fields that she learned to catch butterflies with her hands and observed the many colors on their wings. Flitter Studio, Marla’s teaching and design business, is the result of these beloved childhood experiences and she uses the butterfly as part of her logo.

Marla was trained as a research technician at Cook County Hospital and then worked at Children’s
Memorial Hospital, until she married and became a mother. In 1970, she took up 3-dimensional
decoupage using techniques she devised herself. Once she learned the techniques she could not stop making shadow boxes and soon there were 70 overrunning her bi-level and her two babies.  She took
these to a small, one-day arts and crafts show and sold all of them and came home with a mailing list of people who wanted to take lessons from her. This was the beginning of her teaching career that continues to this day.

Marla was juried into the North Suburban Embroiderers’ Guild and for several years she just came to the meetings and was inspired. Then she decided to try to do the yearly summer embroidery challenge, entitled, “This is My Family.” She won first prize, a 14-carat gold engraved pin. It was one of the most exciting days of her life, she recalls. After that she was asked to join the board where she served as program chairman for the next 4 years. She was an active member of the Embroiderers’ Guild for 17 years.

Her evolution continued into macramé. The art of adornment and the psychology of why we might choose to decorate ourselves had begun to fascinate her and brought her back to the happy pastimes of her childhood. She decided to explore creating jewelry in every form she could, first applying the fiber skills, embroidery, needle weaving and macramé. She continued this journey, while her children were growing up, by studying silversmithing and enameling, which led to a yearly sales event called “Designing Women”. The shows ran for 7 years and were a vehicle that made Marla realize that the things she created could be a commercial success.

Divorce made her second guess herself about being an artist but a chance meeting with a psychic convinced her to go back to being the artist she feels she is. She has been designing, teaching, lecturing, writing, and selling her unique jewelry ever since.

Her wonderful jewelry is inspired by her study of Victorian, Native American and Oriental jewelry and crafts. Many pieces are multi-stranded; yet interpreted in a light and airy manner with her original and unique techniques and the materials she uses. She designs one-of-a-kind pieces, preferring to create from inspiration alone rather than making duplicates of previously successful pieces. She says she would be bored merely copying, even her own work. Each piece is exotic and unique. It is a wonderful gift to be able to have your own signature work and yet not lose any innovation in the process.

Marla joined the Bead Society of Greater Chicago 11 years ago and chaired the first Bead and Book Sale at Heck’s Hall in 1992. She participated in many Bead & Book Sales, in all the Art of Beadwork Shows and presented a program to us in 1996.

Her first book, The Bead and I, One Woman’s Journey was published in 1997 and has been a great success. She hopes to have her second book, currently named BEYOND The Bead and I, Book II, will be finished by the end of 2001.

This year Marla will be teaching at the Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee in May, and lecturing and teaching at Embellishment in Portland Oregon in July 2001. Her lecture at Embellishment, a retrospective of the history and evolution of her work over the past 30 years, is called Necklace Princess. This name was given to her by one of her customers who came to the Designing Women yearly show to buy new pieces of jewelry. (This customer probably has the largest collection of Marla’s work.)

Marla says, “The wonderful thing about jewelry is that it has a life of its own, and it gets to go ‘out’. Marla may never have gone to the Governor’s Ball, but her jewelry has!

Marla now shares the art of teaching with her two grown daughters, Suzanne and Jennifer, both professional teachers. She thinks that when one feels passionately about something, teaching it comes naturally. She says when she seeks to capture the beauty in the color of the light it is with the beads, and that work brings her closer to her soul than any other.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Orlando (thoughts)

I’m a day late to the party, hosted by Frances of Nonsuch Book, because yesterday I was, erm, indisposed. I was quite upset to miss the scheduled day for Woolf in Winter’s discussion of Orlando, but constant nausea puts a damper on an kind of coherent blogging!

That being said, I still want to talk about Orlando, so I was happy to wake up feeling much better. Orlando was my first Woolf ever: I read it when I was 15 or 16, and it began my affection for Woolf, that has only increased over the years. The idea of revisiting it, now that I’m better acquainted with Woolf’s other work and her life (if you haven’t read Hermione Lee’s biographer of her, you’re missing out), intrigued me. And it certainly didn’t disappoint!

The main scene I remembered about Orlando from my first reading: the Elizabethan court skating on the Thames, and Orlando falling for a Russian princess. I have no idea why that stuck in my head, except for the obvious reason (Woolf is an incredible author), but it was just as delicious the second time around. I love Woolf’s version of Elizabeth’s era, and it’s so fun to come along with her for the ride. I also love how she looks at the shifting social mores over the centuries.

Honestly, though, what really struck me on my rereading is Woolf’s playfulness. I’ve always said that I began reading Woolf when I was too young to realise that she was supposed to be difficult, and that’s why I’ve been able to love her writing from the beginning. And that’s certainly part of it, but now I think a lot has to do with me randomly deciding to start with Orlando. The writing is so much lighter than any other Woolf I’ve read! Sure, she’s still dealing with her ‘themes’ like gender and sexuality, how perceptions shape reality, society v. the individual, etc. But the touch is lighter. Usually, when I read Woolf, I can see the time she took over every word. I can imagine her labouring to get each sentence absolutely perfect. But Orlando feels more dashed off, which isn’t to imply it’s shoddy quality at all. Her characterisation, her observations of society, are still spot on. Her almost disturbingly perfect portrayal of Orlando’s thoughts, the way a human mind works, is still there. The continual, effortless flow of narrative is definitely all Woolf. And in addition to all this, it’s more immediately accessible than any other Woolf I’ve read.

There is a fun magical realist touch to this, what with Orlando’s gender change, and his/her centuries-long life, all accepted without question. Since magical realism is one of my favourite writing styles ever, that’s just an extra bonus to me. ;)

It’s funny…even though I loved this book when I first read, and love it now, I’m finding that I don’t really have much to say about it. Woolf does that to me! :) (For the last Woolf in Winter, we’ll be discussing my fave Woolf ever, The Waves, and I hope I have more to say about that one!) All I really want to say is that, for those who are new to Woolf, and who are perhaps a bit nervous about her, I’d highly recommend picking up Orlando. I bet you’ll be amazed by how hilarious and fun Woolf’s writing is. In the meantime, here’s a little taste, that I’m sure all you book lovers will appreciate:

The taste for books was an early one. As a child he was sometimes found at midnight by a page still reading. They took his taper away, and he bred glow-worms to serve his purpose. They took the glow-worms away, and he almost burnt the house down with a tinder.

To put it in a nutshell, leaving the novelist to smooth out the crumpled silk and all its implications, he was a nobleman afflicted with a love of literature. Many people of his time, still more of his rank, escaped the infection and were thus free to run or ride or make love at their own sweet will. But some were early infected by a germ said to be bred of the pollen of the asphodel and to be blown out of Greece and Italy, which was of so deadly a nature that it would shake the hand as it was raised to strike, and cloud the eye as it sought its prey, and make the tongue stammer as it declared its love. It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality, so that Orlando, to whom fortune had given every gift–plate, linen, houses, men-servants, carpets, beds in profusion–had only to open a book for the whole vast accumulation to turn to mist. The nine acres of stone which were his house vanished; one hundred and fifty indoor servants disappeared; his eighty riding horses became invisible; it would take too long to count the carpets, sofas, trappings, china, plate, cruets, chafing dishes and other movables often of beaten gold, which evaporated like so much sea mist under the miasma. So it was, and Orlando would sit by himself, reading, a naked man.


Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris

Are teenagers boys and girls or men and women? This is a question that I often contemplate. Do I treat these teenagers as fragile little creatures or do I expect them to step up and take on the same responsibilities as an adult? Is there a middle ground and if so, where on the spectrum does it lie? And most importantly, do my expectations match reality?

Alex and Brett Harris were both teenagers when they wrote Do Hard Things. They argue that teenagers are capable of doing much but expected to do little. That teenagers should break through the barriers of low expectations and attempt great things. And I have to say, they make a compelling argument.

The Harris brothers explore what they call “the myth of adolescence”, showing how the stage in life we call adolescence is a relatively recent creation. They urge teenagers to do big things and to aim high. They give many examples of how teenagers have taken on big challenges and risen above expectations. As an adult who works with teenagers, I felt called to give the teenagers in my care more responsibility and to enable them when they had ambitions and plans. I have given this book to several teenagers to encourage them to do great things and not be held back by “the myth of adolescence”.

One issue I did have with this book is that while it is written by Christians from a Christian perspective, it’s not really a Christian book. Their rationale for their argument, while consistent with Biblical teaching, is not based in Scripture. And while teenagers are encouraged to take greater roles in government and in the community, I would have liked to have seen a greater emphasis on how teenagers can take leadership in the church and serve Christ. I want the teenagers in my care to be men and women who seek to serve Christ. I want to encourage them to think of new and innovative ways to grow the kingdom. I wish that this book had done this more explicitly.

Do Hard Things is a great book to put in the hands of a Christian teenager. If you’re an adult putting said book in said teenagers hands, read it first and be prepared to steer their new found enthusiasm towards Christian growth and service.

You can find Do Hard Things at the Bible Society NSW Bookshop.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Principles of Uncertainty

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman: Book CoverThere are gift givers, and then there are gift givers. If not for the ever-fascinating, eccentric literary scope of my aunt, I might never have been introduced to artist Maira Kalman and her 2007 work The Principles of Uncertainty. Simply beyond words, Kalman’s work is irresistibly fresh and lyrically moves beyond the page as she paints her way through the whimsy and introspections of life. Like freshly cut flowers dosed with a smiling bit of sunshine, Principles extends an easy, alternative stroll down the hurried lane of life. Treat yourself.

Related Links

-Kalman Pursuit of Happiness blogs for New York Times

-Maira Kalman biography at Saul

-Maira Kalman New Yorker covers

*Support your local bookstores and universities. It matters!

-Post by Megan Shaffer with love to aunt Moira


Dead Until Dark

I’ve just finished reading Charlaine Harris’ “Dead Until Dark” – the first novel in the series that the brilliant HBO series “TRUE BLOOD” is based on. Being such a fan of the show, I was excited to read the book… However, I came out a little traumatized, and very very confused.

“Dead Until Dark” introduces us to Sookie Stackhouse - a telepathic waitress living in a small town in Louisiana. Apart from being a bit of a loser because of what she calls “her disability”, life for Sookie is pretty normal. The world of the novel is one where vampires and humans live side-by-side. It’s not all peaceful; there’s a lot of prejudice and a fair bit of violence, but it’s like society’s relationship with any minority group.

Sookie gets involved with “Vampire Bill”, who is attempting to “mainstream” – to live among humans in peace, drinking synthetic blood to survive. As their romance gets more involved, Sookie being drawn further into the vampire community, the discord between people and vampire gets to boiling point. Local girls just like Sookie start being murdered, and a pattern starts to emerge… Sookie’s powers and her relationship with Bill come in handy in chasing down the murderer and restoring a little peace in the small town.

Now, there’s so much I can tell you that’s bad about this book… But at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed reading it.

Charlaine Harris seems to have some weird problem with tenses for the first half of the book. It’s narrated mainly in past tense, but then occasionally an “is” will slip in there… It’s so hard to pay attention to what’s happening in a novel when you keep getting snagged on something as dumb as a lack of “is/was” continuity.

The writer also seems to struggle with instilling a bit of character logic into her story. I can suspend my disbelief as far as the book asks me to – OK, there’s vampires. There’s shape-shifters. There’s telepaths… But on a number of occasions in the novel, people hear or see things which they respond to in a totally illogical way. Example: (spoiler here!) – Sookie’s boss Sam is a shapeshifter, which is something he’s been at pains to hide from her for the 5 years they’ve known each other. One day, Sam feels like Sookie’s in danger, so he turns into a dog and goes to her house to protect her, where he falls asleep on her bed. The next morning Sookie wakes up with Sam, naked, in bed next to her. Her reaction?
“Oh, Sam.”

WHAT!? That’s IT!? Just a very calm, “oh, Sam.”   As if.

Harris either has no confidence in her skill as a writer, or grossly underestimates the intelligence of her readers. She feels the need to reiterate simple points over and over…and over, to the point of redundancy. At least three times in the first two chapters, Sookie refers to the fact that her parents died – both of them, when she was seven, in a flash flood, leaving herself and her brother with her Gran. And each time she refers to it in this much detail… We get it, just tell us once…

I figure this must be a lack of confidence on Harris’ part, which wouldn’t be entirely unfounded… She seems to have a fondness for adverbs and a strange aversion to the word “said,” forcing her characters to “smile”, say “disgustedly” (what a horrible word!), “notice”, and “observe”. These are just a few of the many horrible modes of speaking that people in the world of Dead Until Dark use when conversing.

…But for all of these faults, Charlaine Harris has written an incredibly fast-paced, no-boredom novel. Right as I was getting pissed off with the B- or C-grade writing, there was SEX! and then BLOOD! and then a CRAZY NEW CHARACTER! Then more sex! More blood! Sexy blood, and bloody sex!

Hence the confusion.

For how terribly written the novel is, for how much it truly insults me as a reader, I enjoyed reading it. And, if someone were to give me the sequels, I’d probably read and enjoy them too.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Alexander: The Ends of the Earth by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

The final book in the praised series by Manfredi was not as bad as the second book in the series. I am sure this book suffers from loss in translation. There are things that should be joshing between friends or emotional scenes that should elicit a strong response from the reader, but for me, it fell flat.

I was happy to see the trilogy through to the end. The story of Alexander is one that demands as many retellings as we are willing to give it. Manfredi does an excellent job of showing us the locales, people, and battles that were involved in the campaigns, as well as the tension between Alexander and his army the farther they moved from home.

For me, Manfredi’s books are interesting, but not great. I will continue my search for the penultimate Alexander book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (What’s This?)


Book Review: Raising Godly Tomatoes ** Win Free Copy**

Title: Raising Godly Tomatoes

Subtitle: Loving Parenting With Only Occasional Trips To the Woodshed

Author: L. Elizabeth Krueger

Publisher’s Synopsis: Weary of struggling with your toddler? Frustrated with the failing advice of secular psychologists and permissive parenting gurus? Leery of the strict focus on rules and the hyper-regimentation advocated elsewhere?

If you are simply looking for a straightforward Biblical approach to parenting that focuses on the heart of your child, as well as his outward actions, then Raising Godly Tomatoes is for you. In these pages you’ll find a wealth of common sense and godly wisdom, a guide to applying reasonable discipline, and instructions on how to build a close relationship with your child.

Raising Godly Tomatoes encourages parents to keep their young children — their little ‘tomatoes’ — lovingly staked to them, in order to train and apprentice them in a godly way of life that will prepare them for Christ’s calling in the future, and render them a pleasure to live with today. Elizabeth is a Christian homeschooling mother of ten children, ages 7 to 27. She lives with her children and her husband of 30 years, in the state of Michigan. She enjoys quilting, riding horses and playing her violin. She also spends much of her spare time encouraging parents daily via her website at
This is one of the most common sense approaches to parenting that I’ve seen in a long time. It has zippo to do with over-spiritualizing our gardening practices and everything to do with proper training of mind, body and spirit of our children.

I found Mrs. Krueger’s book both sensible and balanced. The simple premise is, “Keep children in sight and/or ear shot until you can fully trust them out of sight and/or earshot.”  While not exactly a complicated concept, it is quite revolutionary in today’s parenting climate.

When you think about it, the concept is simple common sense.  If children are to learn how to behave and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, we must be near them in order to demonstrate proper behavior and nip improper behavior in the bud.

I was surprised by several of the reviews I read on regarding this book. To read what some had to say, you’d think we read entirely different books. Mrs. Krueger encouraged parents to be reasonable, consistent, and most of all, loving! There is no pressure to isolate ourselves from everyone around us and where anyone got that idea, I cannot fathom! There is no encouragement to physical harshness of any kind.  While Mrs. Krueger does not discourage corporal punishment, she certainly does NOT encourage the use of it on whim or for simple childishness.  What is advocated in this book is, as the title says, “occasional” and obviously (if you actually read how she encourages constant loving interaction) nothing extreme or excessively harsh.  While I think the change would be initially difficult for both parent and child, embracing the simple principles of togetherness with your children and the consistent discipleship of their character will certainly foster close and loving relationships. I recommend that readers find Mrs. Krueger’s website by the same name and read excerpts from the book and make an intelligent decision based upon rational assessment rather than overly dramatic misinformation.

I decided to give a copy away to a commenter because I believe that this book could really encourage mothers.  So, to enter, simply post a comment and tell us the best parenting advice you’ve ever received.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

review: crazy love

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan (David C. Cook, 2008), pp, 205pp review What words describe Crazy Love? Stimulating. Thought-provoking. Challenging. Convicting. Prayer-initiating.  Potentially life-changing. Buy a copy and prayerfully work through it. Acquire an extra copy or two to share with others. Teach and/or preach what you find resonating with the Word and your heart, which will be, I suspect, virtually every page. Spring for the accompanying DVD and you’ll find ten 6-10 minute videos, all of them exceedingly well done and each of them concluding with a couple of discussion questions, perfect for use in a Bible class or small group setting. It’s a perfect 10. Would that every member of every church would read it! And since I feel so strongly about this book, allow me to quote more generously from it than is typical in my reviews. Let these quotes be the review. quotes What if I said, “Stop praying”? What if I told you to stop talking at God for a while, but instead to take a long, hard look at Him before you speak another word? (p.25) Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.  (p.26, quoting R.C. Sproul) … the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives of God to be like. (p.30, quoting A.W. Tozer) When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out about how my life, my family, and my job – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice. In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities. (p.41) Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control. (p.42) First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” … So what does that mean for you? Frankly, you need to get over yourself. (p.44) Fear is no longer the word I use to describe how I feel about God. Now I use words like reverent intimacy. (p.57) … Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins. The literal interpretation of “filthy rags” in this verse is “menstrual garments” (think used tampons … and if you’re disgusted by that idea you get Isaiah’s point). (p.60) God’s one goal for us is Himself. (p.62) My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil. (p.67) Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on the things of this world? (p.67) … the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity. … Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering. (p.68) Taking the words of Christ literally and seriously is rarely considered. That’s for the ‘radicals’ who are ‘unbalanced’ and who go ‘overboard.’ Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering. Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words halfhearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better? … take a searching, honest look at your life. Not who you want to be one of these days, but who you are now and how you are living today. … (p.68) Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe ‘good Christians’ do, so they go. … (p.68) Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church … as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right? … (p.69) Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when there is conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives. … (p.69) Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one. … (p.70) Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for ‘extreme’ Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call ‘radical’ what Jesus expected of all His followers. … (p.70-71) Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable ny talking about private issues like religion. … (p.71) Lukewarm people gauge their morality or ‘goodness’ by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street. … (p.72) Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives. … (p.72) Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals. … (p.73) Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. Their love of others is typically focused on those who love them in return, like family, friends, and other people they know, and connect with. There is little love left over for those who cannot love them back, much less for those who intentionally slight them, whose kids are better athletes than theirs, or with whom conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. Their love is highly conditional and very selective, and generally comes with strings attached. … (p.73) Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give. … (p.74) Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. Daily life is mostly focused on today’s to-do list, this week’s schedule, and next month’s vacation. Rarely, if ever, do they intently consider the life to come. Regarding this, C.S. Lewis writes, ‘If you read history you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’ … (p.75) Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible, to the poor. They are quick to point out, ‘Jesus never said money is the root of all evil, only that the love of money is.’ Untold numbers of lukewarm people feel ‘called’ to minister to the rich; very few feel ‘called’ to minister to the poor. … (p.75) Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be ‘good enough’ without it requiring too much of them. … (p.76) Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. Their focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God. … (p.77) Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament  warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label Christian or because some people persist in calling us a ‘Christian nation.’ … (p.78) Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens – they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured out and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God. … (p.78) Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong. … (p.79) This profile of the lukewarm is not an all-inclusive definition of what it means to be a Christian, nor is it intended to be used as ammunition to judge your fellow believers’ salvation. Instead, as 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, it is a call to ‘examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.’ We are all messed-up human beings, and no one is totally immune to the behaviors described in the previous examples. However, there is a difference between a life that is characterized by these sorts of mentalities and habits and a life that is in the process of being radically transformed. … now is the time to take a serious self-inventory. (p.80) If one hundred people represented the world’s population, fifty-three of those would live on less than $2 a day. Do you realize that if you make $4,000 a month, you automatically make one hundred times more than the average person on the planet? Simply by purchasing this book, you spent what a majority of people in the world will make in a week’s time. Which is more messed up – that we have so much compared to everyone else, or that we don’t think we’re rich? (p.89) Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. (p.93, quoting Tim Kizziar) I believe that much of the American churchgoing population, while not specifically swimming downstream, is slowly floating away from Christ. It isn’t a conscious choice, but it is nonetheless happening because little in their lives propels them toward Christ. (p.95) It is hard to bear with people who stand still along the way, lose heart, and seek happiness in little pleasures which they cling to … You feel sad about all that self-indulgence and self-satisfaction, for you know that with an indestructible certainty that something greater is coming. (p.95, quoting Henry Nouwen) How many of us would really leave our families, our jobs, our education, our friends, our connections, our familiar surroundings, and our homes if Jesus asked us to? If he just showed up and said, “Follow me”? No explanation. No directions. (pp.95-96) The critical question for our generation – and for every generation – is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food your ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there? (pp.100-101, quoting John Piper) Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God. And when we are honest, we have to admit that it isn’t very fulfilling or joyful to us, either. (p.103) The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. (p.104) People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa … I never made a sacrifice. We ought not to talk of ’sacrifice’ when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (p.108, quoting David Livingston) Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers. (p.115) … God doesn’t want us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. (p.124) The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world. (p.132, quoting Frederick Buechner) People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure. Obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love them back. (p.132) We are consumed by safety. Obsessed with it, actually. Now, I’m not saying it is wrong to pray for God’s protection, but I am questioning how we’ve made safety our highest priority. We’ve elevated safety to the neglect of whatever is God’s best, whatever would bring God the most glory, or whatever would accomplish his purposes in our lives and in the world. Would you be willing to pray this prayer? God bring me closer to You during this trip, whatever it takes … People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth then their own lives being shielded from pain or distress. (p.133) People who are obsessed with Jesus live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another. Obsessed people believe that Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to him (1 John 2:4-6; Matt. 16:24-26). (p.135) Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God that doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth (Luke 14:25-35; Matt. 7:13-23; 8:18-22; Rev. 3:1-6). (pp.136-137) A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the sin of pride is always a battle. Obsessed people know that you can never be “humble enough,” and so they seek to make themselves less known and Christ more known (Matt. 5:16). (p.138) If a guy were dating my daughter but didn’t want to spend the gas money to come pick her up or refused to buy her dinner because it cost too much, I would question whether he were really in love with her. In the same way, I question whether many American churchgoers are really in love with God because they are so hesitant to do anything for Him. (p.139) People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving his people (Matt. 13:44; John 15:8). (p.139) Non-churchgoers tend to see Christians as takers rather than givers. … People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers. Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world (James 2:14-26). (pp.140-141) A person who is obsessed thinks about heaven frequently. Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is in front of them. (p.142) A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being. (p.143) People who are obsessed are raw with God; they do not attempt to mask the ugliness of their sins or their failures. Obsessed people don’t put it on for God: he is their safe place, where they can be at peace. (p.144) The average Christian in the United States spends ten minutes per day with God; meanwhile, the average American spends over four hours a day watching television. … People who are obsessed with God have an intimate relationship with Him. They are nourished by God’s Word throughout the day because they know that forty minutes on Sunday is not enough to sustain them for a whole week, especially when they will encounter so many distractions and alternative messages. (p.145) A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort. Obsessed people know that true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God (James 1:2-4). (p.146) W tend to think of joy as something ebbs and flows depending on life’s circumstances. But we don’t just lose joy, as though one day we have it and the next it’s gone, oh darn. Joy is something that we have to choose and then work for. Like the ability to run for an hour, it doesn’t come automatically. It needs cultivation. (p.146) A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the best thing he can do is be faithful to his Savior in every aspect of his life, continually saying “Thank you!” to God. An obsessed person knows there can never be intimacy of he is always trying to pay God back or work hard enough to be worthy. He revels in his role as a child and friend of God. (pp.147-148) … I still struggle to stay focused on Jesus every day. But a couple of things help me keep going. First, I remember that if I stop pursuing Christ, I am letting our relationship deteriorate. We never grow closer to God when we just live life; it takes deliberate pursuit and attentiveness. … Second, I remember that we are not alone. Even now there are thousands of beings in heaven watching what is going on down here – a “great cloud of witnesses,” the Scripture says.  (p.170) Daniel Webster once said, “The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.” He was right. (p.174)


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Review: A Broad Place

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography. trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006).

[Note: This is the first entry to this new blog that is unique to it. I will continue to re-post materials from my previous blog,  Levellers,  until I have saved all that I want from the old blog for readers of this one. But I will be intermixing this with fresh material written strictly for Pilgrim Pathways  After all, I don't want to bore readers who have seen all the old stuff before--and reprinting it 1 post at a time is the only way I know to save it.]

This was one of several books I received as Christmas presents.  I love theological memoirs and I am a huge fan of the work of Jürgen Moltmann, so this was a wonderful present. (I also found out that Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel has written her own memoir, so I’ll be tracking that down.)

Born into a family without faith and with few church connections, but with strong communal ideals, Moltmann’s life begins in a utopian farming community until Germany is caught up into the Nazi terror. First his father and then young Jürgen are drafted and thrown into combat during the final days of the war. He hates army life and is horrified by war.  Repeatedly in a short period of time, Moltmann is among the few survivors bombs or other attacks that wipe out whole towns.  His survivor’s guilt is huge, but he comes through without firing a shot at the “enemy” soldiers. At his earliest opportunity, he surrenders to English troops–and spends the next several years in Scotland as a prisoner of war(1943-1947) .  During that awful time, he reads the Bible for the first time and Scottish and English Christians (lay and clergy) present him with the gospel. Finding that the “theology of the cross” speaks to his condition, Moltmann becomes a Christian while a prisoner of war–and his initial theological education is from evangelical lectures that he is able to attend as a P.O.W.

After repatriation, Moltmann decides to study theology (to the consternation of his family) and become a Protestant pastor and theologian.  The book describes well the incredible details of an exciting life–and the connections to his many writings. 

This isn’t a dry account. There is danger and death and high drama.  There is romance–I can identify with Jürgen meeting and falling in love with Elizabeth Wendel during his theological education since the same thing happened to me.  Elizabeth Wendel (later Moltmann-Wendel) was one of the first women theologians in Germany in the late ’40s–at first relegated to the role of pastor’s wife and only later able to writer her own books and give her own lectures–for there were no women pastors or shared pulpits when they began life together–and the women’s movement was still future.(Similarly, my wife, Kate is an ordained Baptist minister–still rare enough in the U.S. South and we discovered numerous obstacles to us both being able to share our callings together.)  There is hurt and emotional strain (e.g., when the Moltmann’s first spend a year in the U.S.–in the ’60s, in the South, and one daughter finds this closed world so hostile to outsiders that she counts that year the worst of her childhood–and passes up every opportunity for a return visit to the States). There is joy, the fleeting fame.  There is the ferment of being a leading, even controversial , figure, during a long life  that includes very stormy times.

Jürgen Moltmann has been a leading theological voice in the 2nd half of the 20th C,–and into the 21st even in retirement. But he hasn’t been an ivory tower intellectual. He has been “in the midst of things”–the ecumenical movement, including Catholic-Protestant dialogue; interfaith dialogue, especially between Christians and Jews–and helping Christians from Germany repent of the anti-semitism that created the context for the Holocaust. Moltmann led in Christian-Marxist dialogue.  His first major book, A Theology of Hope, helped spark both Pentecostal renewal and liberation theologies–but the liberation theologians weren’t always grateful for Moltmann’s support!! In America, his hope grounded in the resurrection of the crucified Christ was too easily confused with U.S. optimism–and a conference on that work in 1968 was interrupted by the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is globetrotting here–and the exhaustion and family strain that such entails.

But this is also a window on the thought of one of the most important theologians of the 20th and early 21st centuries.  More than most German theologians of his generation Jürgen Moltmann did his work in dialogue with other perspectives:  A Protestant in strong dialogue with Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians; a “first world” theologian in dialogue with the liberation theologians of the “two thirds world” of Africa, Asia, and Latin America; a male theologian in dialogue with feminists; a white theologian in dialogue with African and African-American theologians of Black Liberation; an heir of Luther and Calvin in dialogue with Mennonites and Pentecostals, etc.  Yet, Moltmann’s theology has never been simply faddish and he has not tried to deny his own standpoint as a European white male from the Middle Class–dialogue has meant mutual learning, but could also entail debate and disagreement.

Here is he inside perspective–the truth or as much of it as one can tell about one’s self.

It’s a fascinating read.  If you are new to Moltmann’s theology, this is a good introduction–one can come away from the book with an education! If you have read some or all of his work, new insights are here, too.

I highly recommend A Broad Place to any who would be serious Christians today–this work will not be all one should read for serious discipleship, but it will contribute to it.  If you love theology, read this book.  If you think theology is a horrible disease that is killing the church, read this, too.  You may find yourself changing your mind!


Free Book by Brian Tome

Tome tackles the realities of living a life of freedom from the things in life that hold us back; the common and the deeply spiritual. Frustrated by a life of challenge, Brian brings his personal experiences of spiritual disillusionment and setbacks into the pages of his “hold nothing back” exposition of finding spiritual freedom through the pursuit of a life fully devoted to following God.

Before reading this book, I checked out a couple of online reviews, and noticed that several seemed alarmed at his approach in the first couple of chapters, and others seemed to love his “raw” approach. As I read it myself, I too noted that he really hit pretty hard. Some of it seemed to be for shock value, some of it seemed to add real value to the book.

Whatever your religious bent, don’t get too excited or too put off after the first 20 pages…hang in for the rest, because he really settles into an eye opening explanation of many of the things that play a role in the things that grip us with fear and hold us back from living lives of freedom, totally devoted to following God in every aspect of our lives.

Tome mixes a little practical psychology with scripture throughout to explain and develop Biblical principles of claiming freedom in your own life as you commit to following Jesus in a fresh and, yeah, maybe even in a wild and unplanned way.

author’s note: Free Book was provided at no charge to the author in exchange for this review. Join today and start reviewing books for free.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Gothic Take on Pride and Prejudice

Vampire Darcy's Desire - Regina Jeffers

Vampire Darcy’s Desire – Regina Jeffers
4 out of 5 stars

Austen adaptations usually fall in one of two categories. They either contain 90% or more Austen material, with some lines in between that are supposed to show the story from the point of view of another person, or they are complete rewrites, usually with a lot of nonsense thrown in, that only lift the names from the Austen-original. Vampire Darcy’s Desire is a little bit of both, which makes it a better book than most Austen-based books I’ve read.

Regina Jeffers turns Pride and Prejudice into a gothic novel, in which suspense and sexual tension play a large part. Darcy is now a dhampir (In Jeffers’ words: the product of a union between a vampire and a human) that has sworn never to marry or have children, to stop the family curse that turns every male first-born into a dhampir. Enter Elizabeth Bennet, who soon dominates his thoughts and feelings. While their romance unfolds, both get entangled in a fight to stop the arch enemy of Darcy: the vampire George Wickham.

Having read Austenprose’s preview of Vampire Darcy’s Desire a few weeks ago, I knew I had to read this book sometime or other. I don’t regret ordering the book as soon as I could. While the book starts out with some of the scenes that would seem familiar to any reader of Pride and Prejudice, Jeffers didn’t simply copy out the story while adding the elements of Wickham being a vampire and Darcy a dhampir. Instead, this is a true original story wrapped up into the world of Pride and Prejudice, with some of the original Austen dialogue.

Having read Jeffers’ preface, I couldn’t help but feel she did a good job at recasting Pride and Prejudice into a gothic novel. It’s interesting to see how that works out. Especially since Austen lived during the times that gothic novels were immensely popular, as her making fun of the genre in Northanger Abbey shows. Vampire Darcy’s Desire is never too over the top or ridiculous, like the recent Quirk Books retellings are. Instead it’s a highly enjoyable story that combines both Twilight and Austen in a way that I think will make many Austen fans like it, although there are probably always some purists around that had better stay away.