No Place to Hide (review)

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No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon S Long Journey Home from the Iraq WarNo Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon S Long Journey Home from the Iraq War by W. Lee Warren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr. W. Lee Warren arrived at the 332nd Theater Hospital in Balad ab, Iraq in late 2004. His term of duty as a neurosurgeon ended four months later at the end of April, 2005. No Place to Hide – A Brain Surgeon’s Long Journey Home From the Iraq War is the story of those months. But it is more.

Warren went to Iraq at a time when his marriage was teetering on the edge. His experience in Iraq is framed by the turmoil in his personal life. The dangers, pressure, and extreme injuries he faces every day in his work have him yearning to hear the voices of his young children, who don’t yet know of their parents’ impending divorce. As control of his life slips from his hands on all fronts, he is forced to rely on God in new ways. His story includes his spiritual pilgrimage during his time in the combat zone and also relates significant spiritual and psychological markers on his road to recovery after returning to the States.

The book is detailed and graphic. It contains precise accounts of injuries, the surgeries Warren performed, remembered conversations, and emails home. We slog through the mud with him on the way from his sleeping quarters to the tent hospital during the rainy season, choke in dust and smoke during hot dry weather, smell the blood, sweat and unwashed bodies in the O.R., and hear mortars, shells and rockets exploding at all hours of the day and night. His explanation, at the end (when he faced the post-traumatic stress he experienced years after returning from Iraq) sheds light on his detailed recall of events. For he brought back with him, and finally unpacked, a bag of memorabilia—bullet bits, shards of shrapnel, segments of rockets—along with hundreds of photos documenting his experiences both in and out of the operating room.

I personally wanted to read No Place to Hide to understand why so many war veterans return home only to continue to suffer symptoms of stress. This book is a good one to help one gain such an understanding. It’s an intense read as Warren’s stories reflect the non-stop pressure of life as a battlefield surgeon. Though well-written and captivating it is hard enough reading through such a litany of never-ending horrors. I can’t imagine living them!

Warren’s memoir also shows a different side of the U.S. army than that broadcast by mainstream media. The 332nd Hospital had a policy of taking in friend and foe alike, treating Iraqi militants and civilians no matter whose side they were on. Though Warren doesn’t deny that mistreatment of prisoners of war happened at the hands of U.S. soldiers, his stories illustrate that U.S. doctors worked long, hard, and often to save enemy lives.

Photos at the back of the book bring to life Dr. Warren and the scenes he describes.

I recommend this book not only as a way to experience war vicariously, but also as a wonderful testimony to God’s keeping power during the toughest of times.

I received No Place to Hide as a gift from the publisher, Zondervan, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Miss Brenda and the Loveladies (review)

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Miss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and GumptionMiss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and Gumption by Brenda Spahn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“’Oh my Lord, what have I done!’ I gasped. I stared out the kitchen window as six violent criminals stomped up my driveway” – Brenda Spahn (Miss Brenda and the Loveladies – Kindle Location 74).

Brenda Spahn had dreamed about and prepared for this day. Not only had she redone each of the bedrooms in the large house that was now being re-purposed into a release center for women from Julia Tutwiler Prison. She had also hired a driver, a cook, and a house-mother/manager to run the program.

But only hours later she found herself alone with the six newly released inmates—the driver, cook and house-mother having all quit at the first sight of the scary guests.

Spahn doesn’t quit. In Miss Brenda and the Loveladies she tells the stories of those first guests and the early days of The Lovelady Center of Birmingham Alabama—now one of the largest faith-based centers in the U.S. for released women prisoners as well as women with domestic abuse, addiction, homelessness, and other issues.

The story is inspirational as we see those first six being transformed from angry, suspicious women with low self-esteem to women who themselves reach out to, lead, and serve others within the center and the larger community. Spahn’s philosophy of discovering the latent potential in each throwaway life and then helping each achieve her new destiny has, since the program’s beginning in 2004, impacted thousands of lives.

Spahn tells the story in first-person, using casual language and descriptions of people and events that bring to life her new friends and her feisty redheaded self. She also does lots of telling on herself, saying more than once that she needed these women as much as they needed her. Her transparency about her challenges, faults, and mistakes makes her a believable and likeable narrator.

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies is a testimony to the power of a dream, obedience to God, and determination. It’s a quick, interesting read, full of pathos and humor.

The story of these women opened my eyes to how I snap-judge people without having a clue what they’ve been through. The story of the Lovelady Center helped me see how God can turn seemingly insurmountable obstacles into the stepping stones to success.

I received Miss Brenda and the Loveladies as a gift from the publisher, Waterbrook Press via Blogging for Books, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Veil of Tears (review)

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_225_350_Book.1269.coverVeil of Secrets by Shannon Ethridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take a large cast of characters including: Dave Dawson, senator; Will Connors his friend and backroom organizer; Melanie Connors, Will’s frigid wife; Sophie, their 16-year-old hungry-for-life daughter; Caroline Connors, Will’s sharp, attractive, single sister; Tucker Keyes, Carrie’s old drinking buddy from Princeton, now a wanna-be-journalist; a tent city of MoveIn protestors; and a series of frightening cyber attacks that for brief periods commandeer all electronic devices. Superimpose the above on the November to December months of Dave Dawson’s run for president—the season of presidential primaries in New Hampshire—and you have Veil of Secrets, a contemporary story about politics, relationships, and morality in America by Shannon Ethridge and Kathy Mackel.

Lots of action, complications, and trouble in the characters’ lives drew me into the story from the opening chapter. These people are complex and well-developed with detailed pasts. The plot develops naturally as the veils covering those pasts keep getting torn away by events of the present.

The writing style is smart, punchy, and perfect for this fast-paced tale. Take, for example, this description of Tucker Keyes:

“He had tried veganism and Catholicism, yoga and Pilates, Madison Avenue and Wall Street, faith and cynicism, fine arts and day trades. And still the emptiness echoed inside him like an existential tinnitus” – KL 538.

The story deals with themes of marriage, sexual abuse, the impact of one’s sexual history on the rest of life, abortion, life in politics, and the place faith in God has in all the above. I found the counseling sessions, where Will and Melanie are forced to face the dynamics of their relationship, interesting and informative in the way they show readers strategies for uncovering roots of marital dysfunction and dealing with the exposed issues.

I really wanted to give this book five stars, I enjoyed it that much. But as the story progressed, the antics of Carrie put me off. The cavalier manner her trampy ways are portrayed (keeping two guys on the hook while she’s pregnant by a third) and then everything working out just fine for her, gave me pause. I felt that the authors’ depiction of her gives a sanitized version of sin and its consequences, thus the four stars.

I received Veil of Secrets as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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I’d love to have you on my list

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I’m excited about launching a newsletter!

 

In it I’ll be sharing:

  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
  • Bible study tips and aids. In 4+ years of writing daily devotions, I’ve found many helpful resources.
  • Sample calendar page

    Sample page from the 18-month Pathways Calendar.

    Author news.

The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I’m currently collecting subscribers for the September 1st launch.

Get Pathways, a colourful 18-month scripture-text calendar, when you sign up (designed by me especially for all you wonderful subscribers. Click on the sample page on the right to enlarge)!

Sign up HERE.

A Short Walk to the Edge of Life (review)

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A Short Walk to the Edge of Life: How My Simple Adventure Became a Dance with Death--and Taught Me What Really MattersA Short Walk to the Edge of Life: How My Simple Adventure Became a Dance with Death–and Taught Me What Really Matters by Scott Hubbartt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The list of things that go wrong for Scott Hubbartt, in his memoir A Short Walk to the Edge of Life, begins before he leaves his sister-in-law’s house in Trujillo, Peru. But a jacket left behind shouldn’t be a big deal for an eight-hour hike, should it? Hubbartt’s plan, with this trek through the desert section of the Andes mountains, is to retrace the steps of his Peruvian wife’s grandfather through the Altiplano to the village of Poroto and thus fulfill an item on his bucket list.

After a grueling bus ride to the trailhead, we accompany Hubbartt into a moonscape world that includes desert-like extreme temperatures, punishing terrain, paths and ledges overgrown with vicious thorns and cacti, a trail discernible only by old mule droppings, oxygen-thin air, no food, but most dangerous, no water.

His ordeal stretches from the day hike he is expecting, into night, then day two, and on. He is soon forced to dig deep physically, relying on survival skills learned during the Gulf War. But even those aren’t enough. As he feels death creep ever closer, he examines his relationship to God. Is he ready to die? What has his life meant? Why should God answer his demanding, to desperate, to panicked prayers for help and a miracle?

Hubbartt’s detailed, well-written memoir was, for me, a trip of discovery to a part of South America I knew little about. His story, especially the spiritual aspect, reinforced my faith in God and His way of showing up, albeit in typical sovereign and without-human-explanation fashion. It also made me ask, how would I feel about the way I’ve spent my life if I was unexpectedly faced with death?

A Short Walk to the Edge of Life is an engrossing and quick read. I recommend it to all lovers of memoir. It’s also a great human-against-the-elements story and as such would appeal to readers, especially guys, who like adventure that takes them to the limits of physical endurance.

I received A Short Walk to the Edge of Life as a gift from the publisher and Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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Spirit Bridge – review

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Spirit BridgeSpirit Bridge by James L. Rubart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spirit Bridge—the third and final book in the three-book Well Spring series by James Rubart—is a cat-and-mouse game of evil versus good. In it we follow members of the Warriors Riding Ministry—Reece, Doug, Brandon, Marcus, and Dana that readers have met in books one and two. We’re also introduced (or re-introduced) to a couple of less familiar characters, namely Miyo and Simon the Magician.

We’re just aware enough of what’s going on in the spiritual realms, ‘peopled’ by the likes of the demon Master and his minions Caustin and Zennon, and angels Tristan, Orson, and Jotham, to keep us on the edge of our seats. The caginess of the enemy and the fact that we’re not exactly sure on which side some of the characters are makes for some nervous scenes with surprising outcomes. Of course the fact our heroic warriors haven’t been able to successfully ward off calamity in the past adds to the tension as we question, Rubart wouldn’t actually let his heroes come to serious harm, would he?—uh, yes, he would. Add to all that several hand-to-hand battles and you have an often heart-pounding read.

The elements of Rubart’s fantasy setting are a combination of imagination, psychic phenomenon (like soul travel), and a sometimes literal interpretation of certain Bible passages. For example when the angels are fighting and “Each of them held the arrows up close to their mouth and spoke as if giving the arrows instruction…” Miyo recognizes the scriptural origin: “’This is Habakkuk chapter three come to life “…Your bow was made ready; oaths were sworn over your arrows”’” Kindle Location 6704.

This book was my introduction to the series. I’d recommend reading the other books first. Though I did eventually get into the swing of the story, the characters make lots of references to previous adventures to which I wasn’t privy so I felt a little out of it.

Though I enjoyed the suspense of the plot, the imaginative setting, and how Rubart envisioned the interplay of the natural world with the spiritual, my favorite parts of the story were where characters got insights into the spiritual implications of what was happening in them.

For example, when Brandon discovers he can sing again, but only some of the time, he tries to understand why. He says, “… I have a feeling when I sing his songs, I get the voice you heard. When I sing my own, I get the raspy voice you’re hearing right now” – K.L. 1672.

And when Dana is learning from Miyo about vulnerability to the enemy, Miyo tells her: “I know the only way warfare can get in is through an opening. A crack in our souls. Those cracks come from sin. Things we are holding onto. I don’t know what it is in you. Hardness of heart? Having to prove yourself? Needing to perform? …. You offered him a seam, and he was able to worm his way through and plant thoughts and images and promises and suggestions and warfare inside you” – K.L. 5316.

Spirit Bridge might be a fantasy. But in it I found a lot of truth.

I received Spirit Bridge as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Happy Birthday Canada!

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Canadian flags line walk

Canadian flags line the walk of the Arboretum – Langley, B.C.

Today we Canadians celebrate Canada’s 147th birthday!

I love Canada and am proud to be Canadian. However, some things in our culture cause me concern. The rise of political correctness and the marginalization of people who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs is one.

In our Sunday church service we spent some time commemorating Canada. A moving part of the program was the recitation, by about eight children (7-10 years-ish) of the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights, together with a list of our fundamental freedoms (though they did the latter part in words that simplified the legalese).

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Preamble: Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.   Read entire…

In this day and age when some of these freedoms are appearing more and more like a fiction (e.g. a conference simulcast is denied use of a public building in Nanaimo B.C. because its arms-length affiliation with sponsor Chik-Fil-A was deemed offensive to the LGBT community, and Christians who are against abortion are not allowed to run for the federal Liberal party as new candidates, existing candidates are not allowed to vote their conscience on abortion), it’s nice to be reminded that the rights of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly are still officially and legally and rightfully ours as Canadian citizens.

We also sang O Canada, verses 1 and verse 4—another reminder of Canada’s faith foundation.

 

O Canada

1.
O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee;
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

All ” O Canada” lyrics including stanzas 2. & 3.

4.
Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.
Help us to find, O God, in thee,
A lasting rich reward.
As waiting for the better day,
We ever stand on guard.
God keep our land, glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!