A Book Review: Born After Midnight

John Piper has written an entire article declaring the value of “Read[ing] Old, Dead Theologians 15 Minutes a Day.”

Having passed in 1963, A.W. Tozer hasn’t been gone long, but he certainly fits the criteria.

I love reading Tozer for what I describe as the “pearlistic” quality of his work. He is often defined as a mystic and due to that trait, some of his prose require a few passes to fully understand. But, much like C.S. Lewis, once you’ve mined Tozer’s original intent, you find yourself marveling at the unusual beauty and clarity that he brings to any given concept.

Tozer’s book, Born After Midnight, is a collection of fairly unrelated devotionals. But his overall purpose is captured in the title and in this delectable quote from the first chapter:

“It has been the experience of countless seekers after God that, when their desires became a pain, they were suddenly and wonderfully filled. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit Him to do so.”

The depth of relationship with God that we long for and admire in New Testament apostles like Paul and John, cannot be acquired in the clear, easily navigated, comfortable “daylight” hours. Rather, it is often in the dark, in the wilderness, in the lonely spaces that we are suddenly filled by God.

Tozer’s book walks the reader into the painful corners of life, and without minimizing them at all, refines them in order to reveal their necessity. While pain never seems appealing, Tozer paints it in such a light as to reveal its value and the ultimate revival that can come from patient endurance and prayer.

Anyone who has ever felt the press of suffering, or the cried out that life seems unjust, or queried how God could possibly work their circumstances for good, must read this book.

 

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Book Review, “Against the Gates of Hell” by Mylow Young

Despite a promising plot, excellent arc and a dramatic climax, Against the Gates of Hell, by Mylow Young, fell short of my expectations. Flat characters, a heavy dose of “the hood” vernacular and poor editing detract from the book’s potential. 

Against the Gates of Hell, is the story of estranged twins. Herby is a cop, his brother, Kerby, used to be. Nightmares and mood swings plague Herby as he struggles to deal with the loss of his partner, Jerry, during a drug bust. In response to a separate crisis, Kerby fell apart. Now he lives off the streets, using drugs and barely maintaining his job as a security officer. The conflict ebbs and flows as the brothers struggle to reconcile; both seek to repair and strengthen their relationships with God and their families. 

My issue with the characters is best exemplified in Herby’s wife, Rene. She is nothing short of perfect. As a vocalist, musician and song writer, Rene is always worshipping, calling out, “Glory to God!” and counseling her husband using Scripture. She never utters a harsh word, has a cruel thought or disrespects her husband. Even the slightest inkling of her humanity is instantly reversed with a prayer or excused as righteous indignation. While I admire godly women, and seek to become a Titus 2 woman, a good story must expose both sides of characters, enabling the reader to empathize with them.

The language in, Against the Gates of Hell, is difficult to read. On several occasions, I had to stop and reread a sentence two or three times and sometimes simply deduce the meaning by context. No doubt it is difficult to convey the words with right inflection through script, but it gets fatiguing to read and interpret pages of dialogue such as, “Gotta make dis paper, drop dese few so I can re-up.”

Lastly, the editing lessened my appreciation for this book. Several times, beginning on the first page, Young switches verb tense. The opening line is written in present tense, but the second tag switches to past tense. These errors are not impossible to overlook, but frustrating nonetheless. 

Overall, Against the Gates of Hell, has a lot of potential. The plot is good. If one is willing to read less discriminatorily, simply for the entertainment value, it would be an enjoyable book. However, the things I mentioned here diluted that pleasure for me.

Book Review, Shades of Mercy

By the way, Guys! As you read this review, keep in mind who you know that might like a copy of this book. I have four copies to give away. The first four people to message me, or comment here requesting a book, will get a copy. Merry Christmas!

A story about racial tensions tosses most of us back more than, “Four score and seven years ago,” to a time when, “Our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

But that’s too far.

A handful of us, some Okies like myself, remember the stories in our state history books about the land runs and the Trail of Tears.

But that’s still too far.

Not many of us think about racial tension and inequality in generations so recent we can still touch the lines upon their faces; some of them haven’t even grayed. Shades of Mercy, by Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira, sheds light upon those obscured years.

Set in the 1950s, Shades of Mercy, is a refreshingly sweet romance, grounded in the gritty truth of harsh farm life in rural Maine. Fifteen-year-old, Mercy, is of well respected stock, working diligently as the “son her father never had”, on their successful farm in Watsonville, Maine. Her family loves her and her parents are devout Christians raising their daughter to have strong biblical morals, and especially to have a respect for all human life, no matter what their race. So it’s only a minor problem that she’s fallen in love with Mick, a young Maliseet Indian.

At least, it’s only a minor problem in Mercy’s imagination.

The Maliseet are marginalized in Watsonville. On the land of their own fore fathers, they now live on Hungry Hill, or an area more appropriately identified as the city dump. In tattered shelters, shacks really, whole families live hand to mouth and many of the men have dissolved into drunken depression. Among these is Mick’s family.

Mercy’s father, Mr. Pop, is the lone, white farmer who generously offers work to the Maliseet men and pays them fair wages. Often Mercy is allowed to drive the pickup to Hungry Hill to pick up Mick and his relatives and bring them to Mr. Pop’s farm to work. On those special days, she and Mick quietly nurture their relationship, hiding it as best they can, knowing that the entire town will frown upon their love.

The blanket of secrecy is yanked out from under them when Marjorie Carmichael, the older sister of Mercy’s best friend, runs away with her Maliseet boyfriend, Glenn. Mr. Carmichael is livid and blames the entire Maliseet tribe for the disappearance of his daughter. Tempers simmer, those who had inklings of Mercy and Mick’s romance begin to mention it publicly, drawing them into the conflict. Then, Mr. Carmichael accuses Mick of a horrible crime.

The only ones willing to defend Mick are Mercy’s family. Fortunately, her father’s brother, Roger, is a capable lawyer, deeply involved in promoting equal rights for the Maliseet. While Mick waits in jail, Mercy’s family works desperately to vindicate him. Mercy herself struggles to cling to Mick’s promises of “someday” when they will be able to be together publicly, without shame.

Shades of Mercy is a touching story, though personally, I feel it lacks the depth to fully engage an adult audience. Mick and Mercy’s romance is portrayed very well for what it is – a teenage romance. The dialogue is a stilted and awkward between them sometimes, just like two high schoolers would be today. At one point, they communicate by passing notes between them, but instead of writing to each other, they draw pictures of woodchucks burrowing underground. Accurate for a youthful crush; perhaps not so entertaining for an adult reader.

Lustrea is a native of Maine and does a superb job of orally painting the countryside. Her vivid descriptions left me actually feeling the chill of Maine’s winter months. Occasionally, these descriptive scenes, like the family’s attendance of the annual festival and fair, seem a little irrelevant to the story, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.

The resolution of the central conflict, Mick’s imprisonment and the secrecy of his and Mercy’s romance, seems unmemorable. The man Mick is accused of putting into a coma, perhaps on his death bed, wakes up with full consciousness of the incident and vindicates Mick. Shortly after, the young Maliseet is released, he and Mercy are restored. Since the whole town has come to know their feelings, and Mercy’s father has always vouched for the Maliseet’s equality, they kiss publicly.

The Indian Rights Council plays a background role in the story. Throughout the book, Mr. Pop and his brother attend Council meetings and push for the Maliseet’s rights. However, when the story concludes, the reader is left with only hope for a righteous outcome.

Shades of Mercy, kept me entertained, though by the final chapter I was ready for the happy ending and a more complicated story. I think the book will be most enjoyable for a young, teenage audience.

Book Review, Widow of Gettysburg

“I was reading that book.” The lady in the chair next to me at the nail salon peered over my shoulder. “I haven’t finished yet, though. It was really sad and hard to read.”

I bantered with her briefly, telling her I’d just barely cracked the book’s spine. Then with a polite smile, tucked my nose back into the pages of, Widow of Gettysburg. Mentally I pleaded, “Don’t talk to me!” I came less for the foot massage and more for the uninterrupted hour to transform myself into Liberty Holloway.

Widow of Gettysburg is a beautifully done historical fiction novel reviving the all-but-forgotten legacies of the valiant women behind the lines during the Civil War. Liberty Holloway, a fresh bride, was widowed before the story opens. Now, bravely, she muddles through the arduous tasks of maintaining her farm and converting it into an inn.

In the first act, the steps toward conflict are subtle. Liberty has irritating conversations with her mother-in-law.  When she attempts to lay aside her mourning clothes, she receives cold-shoulders from overly-pious community women. A mysterious but attractive stranger shares a meal and disappears. A swelling, lonely, restlessness tone underlies the narrative.

Jocelyn Green is superb at developing conflict, steeping the reader like a well-used tea bag, in the emotions of each character. By the end of the first act, all of the primary characters have been introduced, and the reader can empathize with each one even as they are at odds with each other.

Act II, “The Heavens Collide”, in every sense of the word. Looming rumors of the battles drawing close to Gettysburg are suddenly proved violently true. In the span of seconds, Holloway Farm is seized to serve as a field hospital for Confederate wounded. Though her husband fought and died for the Union’s cause, Liberty finds herself compelled by her faith and compassion to nurse the wounded men spilling over her property.

Here I experienced what my companion at the nail salon had expressed. This book is hard to read. Green holds nothing back in describing bloody, do-or-die amputations. She doesn’t shy away from depicting ravaged bodies strewn across battle fields, or piles of life-less limbs, the blood seeping into kitchen floors, creeks and rivers tainted with corpses or barn doors converted to operating tables.

Neither does Green take sides when revealing the motives behind both the Union and Confederacy’s causes. Fearlessly, she reminds the readers that there was corruption as well as innocence on both sides of the lines. She shows the vulnerability of women as well as their courage and tenacity to rise above their fears and weaknesses.

Woven into the very real conflict of war, Green deploys the requisite romantic conflict. But even that is complicated by the undercurrent of racism, the very fuel that stoked the fire of the Civil War.

Book 2 in the, “Heroines Behind the Lines” series is exquisite. Nothing Green begins is left undone. At the same time, there is no pretentious “happily ever after”, as there never is in real life and certainly didn’t exist in the aftermath of the Civil War.

This book is well researched; an incredibly useful tool for studying American history. Also, the theme of faith is well developed making the book practical for Christian book clubs and deeper discussion.

Book Review, Wedded to War

Wedded to War, attains to all standards of excellence for an historical fiction novel. Far beyond whetting my appetite, author, Jocelyn Green, left me practically drooling for the sequel. With very few embellishments she relates an already fascinating story.

Charlotte Waverly is the fictional imprint of Georgeanna Woolsey, a nurse serving with the Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross, during the Civil War. Her story is the opposite of the overdone “rags to riches” tale, and this is what makes the story so compelling. Against all tradition, expectations and social mores, this brave young woman left her aristocratic heritage and dug her hands deeply into soil of America’s battlefields. With filth and blood clinging to the hem of her skirts, she nursed, cleaned, fed and comforted the wounded and dying soldiers of the Union army.

The truths of suffering, courage and dogged determination are enough to craft a rich story. The truths of honor and right triumphing over prejudice and hate is enough to strengthen our hearts. The truth of history and a longing to learn from past mistakes is enough to deepen our resolve to know such stories as that of Georgeanna Woolsey. The knowledge of generations of women who served their way toward equal rights and equal opportunities, is enough to make us thrill as we read the tales of the valiant women who volunteered in the Sanitary Commission. As we read, our hearts quicken with patriotism and pride.

Wedded to War, would be excellent if it were merely a precise retelling of Georgeanna’s adventures as a Civil War nurse. But, couple that with Green’s rich descriptions, a few additional elements of romance and historically accurate, fictional characters to deepen the overall scope of the book, it becomes an unparalleled read.

On a more technical note, Wedded to War, is appropriately paced. Every chapter leaves the reader piqued but satisfied, as if pleasantly full from an exquisite meal, but hungry for dessert.  Green’s descriptions are vivid and complex but not tedious. All of the characters are fully developed. I felt like Mary Poppins, popping in and out of a sidewalk painting so that I could live realistically within the story as if it were happening this very moment.

Maybe this book had a little more to offer me than it might to every reader. As the spouse of a military officer, Green’s portrayal of heroic men and women and their actions in the midst of war, gave me great insight into my husband’s calling, and subsequently my own. Through this book, I was encouraged to honor my husband more than ever, to be incredibly grateful for all that he has done and is willing to do for me, for this country, for freedom.

This is history that must not be forgotten. And I can think of no better way to remember it and to pay tribute to those who paved the roads to the freedom we enjoy today as a country, as women, as individuals, than to read books such as this one.

Book Review, Steppin’ Into the Good Life

For a change of pace, I chose an uncharacteristic genre for me, as my next Moody Publishers book review. Sometimes you just have to stop with the insights, pause the theology, set aside the deep things, rest the from the applications and indulge in some brain candy.

That’s the best way I can describe Tia McCollor’s new book, Steppin’ Into the Good Life. It’s very similar to the Shopoholic books, quite literally, as the protagonist, Sheila, admits and learns to contain her voracious shopping habit. The quality that sets this book apart, however, is the bright thread of faith woven through the story.

Within the first three chapters, Sheila, a new unemployed, recently dumped, down-on-her-luck socialite meets Jesus. The fact that she is secretly attending her ex-boyfriend’s wedding when this happens, sets the theme of the entire tale.

Tension mounts as Sheila’s luck plummets. Through a series poor choices in men, she finds herself discouraged, lonely and in debt. Then Jesus, as He so often does in adversity, quietly, almost invisibly woes her to Himself as the only one who can satisfy her heart’s desire for love.

Now Sheila doesn’t face her obstacles alone. Her new faith leads her to meet Eden, a spunky Christian bookstore owner with her own troubles. Eden mentors her, as much by her own example of faith as by her words. At Eden’s church Sheila also meets Sherry and Anisha, Christian women who surround her with compassion and prayer. Sherry even gets involved on a very practical level, helping Sheila to turn her shopping habit into an entrepreneurial opportunity.

The man of Sheila’s dreams is waiting in the wings. In perfect timing, through means of the body of Christ, God leads her into a brand new, pure, romantic relationship.

As a work of fiction, Steppin’ Into the Good Life, is well done. It is simple, but entertaining. McCollors develops all of the characters thoroughly, the dialogue is unique and witty and the plot is a fresh twist on the over-done, chick-lit romance.

 

History Disguised, a book review

Ruth’s Redemption

I love history, especially when I have no idea that I’m learning!

Ruth’s Redemption is an engaging love story, wrapped in an accurate account of the slow, painful collapse of slavery in America in the 1830’s. By including real life characters like Nat Turner and literal geography such as Dismal Swamp, Marlene Banks pulls her readers into an unwitting tour of history.

Bo Peace knew that God had called him to work tirelessly but peacefully toward abolition. A freed black man, he returned frequently to the slave market to purchase the freedom of as many slaves as he could, one by one. On a summer morning, the Holy Spirit insisted that he purchase Ruth, despite the unreasonably high price that was demanded.

Ruth was hardened, hateful and barely grateful at first. She had been raped repeatedly in forced service as a breeding slave. She longed for death. To Ruth, freedom was a forbidden dream, one that could only be fought for and taken by force. She could not grasp Bo’s gift of physical freedom. Consequently, she refused to believe in Bo’s God, whom he insisted offered freedom from her anger, hurt and hopelessness.

Ruth’s Redemption is moderately paced, leading the reader through Bo and Ruth’s daily lives on their farm, their developing romance and Ruth’s budding faith. While the ascent toward the story’s climax seems a bit slow, it is very entertaining. Banks leads the reader through a gently rolling plot with a series of smaller, dramatic events. A few characters seem to have only peripheral rolls and melt, unnoticed into the fabric of the story.

I admire Banks’ unashamed inclusion and application of the Christian faith. She delivers clear, biblical theology addressing sin, guilt, forgiveness and salvation. This is accomplished through realistic dialogue, preventing the reader from feeling as if he has just sat through a lengthy sermon.

Ruth’s Redemption is a worthy read, but not my favorite of Banks’ novels. The blending of historical events and the fictional romantic plot line is not done as seamlessly as in her other novels. She concludes the book with a predictable happily-ever-after ending for Bo and Ruth, but a detached insert of sorts, wrapping up the narrative of Nat Turner’s slave revolt.

Freedom is the over-arching theme of this book. Freedom from slavery; freedom from sin, and how neither can be achieved or sustained without the God of the Bible.

Book Review: Fierce Women

Fierce Women is not unlike a couple books you’ve read before. But then, most lessons aren’t only learned once.  What sets Kimberly Wagner’s book apart is that she isn’t preaching from the sidelines. Wagner’s marriage slogged through the valley of the shadow of death. The scenery’s beauty of the other side of the darkness is what inspires her story.

The first few chapters of the book explain what a fierce woman is. She is determined, faithful, disciplined, courageous and devoted. However, it is said that our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. It is so with ferocity. An untamed, fierce woman will become proud, demanding, cold, bossy and controlling.

Men respond to an untamed fierce woman in one of three ways. They numb out with the nearest brainless object like video games, a computer or television. Or, they may be fearful of disappointing their demanding wife and go any length to keep her happy. Finally, an intimidated man may lash back in anger and frustration. The resulting dynamic is never positive. Eventually a marriage in this state will dissolve. Even if the couple remains legally married, they will co-exist as miserable roommates. This is no more pleasing to the God who desires that they represent the unity of Christ and His church.

Within the first two years of her marriage, Wagner found herself miserable and lonely. Under the gentle influence of the Holy Spirit and some not-so-gentle circumstances, she was humbled to learn that she, a fierce woman, was much to blame. That’s where Wagner’s story pivots and begins to lead the reader on a quest to surrender their strength to God for His glory and the good of her marriage.

For me, the most poignant lesson in Wagner’s book is her acronym for the word, APPRECIATION. It reminds me of Dr. Gary Chapman’s recent book The Five Languages of Appreciation, which he admits are the same five languages that love speaks. Within this acronym, the first I stands for “invest”.

“I’ve [also] learned that investing in my husband brings the rich reward of intimately knowing, enjoying, and valuing him. By investing, I mean putting time and effort into getting into his heart and mind.”

I too have learned this lesson with a bit of sweat and tears. However, it is exciting to see my budding knowledge affirmed by a wise, Christian woman.

Wagner’s book is a must read for any woman frustrated by her husband’s emotional distance. She turns the light of God’s word on a woman’s heart and enables her to see her own contribution to a marriage’s troubles. Then, by changing the only thing she truly can, herself, a woman will find hope for her marriage.

Inciting Incidents: Best book for long days, tough years, hard seasons

“Inciting” comes from the Latin word incitare which means “to put into rapid motion, urge, encourage, and stimulate.”

In the 21st century, most of us already feel like our lives are on a crash course with reality. We slip through our days almost in a catatonic state, doing all the things we must do, need to do, are expected to do and keep pace with the world’s mandate to produce. Someday, inevitably, the wind beneath our sails will cease and stimulate our rapid fall into “real life.”

Inciting Incidents, is a collection of those moments in the lives of six people. It’s a thin, un-intimidating book. Each author’s story is only a blip on the timeline of their lives, but it is that blip gives us common ground. If there is anything that every human shares it is the eye opening experience of pain. Sometimes that pain is our own, sometimes it is the observation of pain with such intensity that it becomes our own.

Each of the six stories is written in first person. Jeff Goins, tells of being Wrecked , by an unscheduled introduction to poverty and homelessness.

Mandy Thompson, is honest when she describes depression as a gift. Through it, she discovered God’s imprint of creativity on her life. “[And] I am determined to make something beautiful out of my messy life. It’s the best way I know to say thank you to the One who gave me these inner wars and gives me the strength to keep fighting and creating through them.” (pg. 49)51xcIh9OEtL._SL110_

Blain Hogan, leads the reader into the terrifying experience of a panic attack. Pastor David Hickman gives voice to everyone who knows the strangling grip of the pressure to perform. Tracee Persiko admits that even as she offers biblical counsel to others, she still feels the pain of her own family trauma. And David Wenzel manages to sprinkle humor throughout his story of the discovery of and living with an inoperable brain tumor.

There is hardly a human emotion that is not addressed with gentle empathy in this small book. It left me feeling as if I had just shared an intimate cup of coffee with the author, held their hand and cried a while. I want to know more about their now tangible lives.

It is impossible to be critical of Inciting Incidents. There are no under-developed characters, because no one tells a story like his own. There are no weak plots, for truth is more engaging than fiction. The pages turn only to offer comfort, the silence of a good friend and the assurance that we are not alone.