Thief of Glory (review)

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Thief of Glory: A NovelThief of Glory: A Novel by Sigmund Brouwer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There (in a village on the island of Java, Dutch East Indies), a marble game beneath the branches was an event as seemingly inconsequential as a banyan seed taking root in the bark of an unsuspecting tree, but the tendrils of the consequences became a journey that has taken me some threescore and ten years to complete” – Thief of Glory, Kindle Location 137.

These words of the narrator in Sigmund Brouwer’s novel Thief of Glory frame the story of a life. We intuit, through them, that this will be a story with dark elements that will have far-reaching consequences. That intuition is only underlined by these words a little farther on:

“I had no foreshadowing, of course, that the last few steps toward the shade beneath those glossy leaves would eventually send me into the holding cell of a Washington DC police station where, at age eighty-one, I faced the lawyer…” K.L. 168.

The narrator is Jeremiah Prins, a survivor of the 1940s Japankamps—concentration camps of Dutch colonists in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He begins his story on a day before the war begins, when he, as a 10-year-old, sneaks away from his mother in the market to play marbles with his friends under that banyan tree. That day two new people are at the game—the beautiful Laura Jansen, who will become the love of his life, and Georgie Smith, the older, bigger son of an American mine manager. Georgie’s threat to Jeremiah’s position of marble champion and rival for Laura’s attention sparks a fight that illustrates, in living color, the characters of the main players we will soon know very well.

The tale of Jeremiah’s personal vendetta against Georgie is set against the background of the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies. A few weeks after the story begins (in the spring of 1942) once-privileged Dutch families are split apart. Jeremiah’s is no exception. Fathers and older sons are taken away—eventually to work in Burma. In the fall of that year, mothers and younger children are rounded up and forced to live in Jappencamps—concentration camps of crowded squalor, carved out of former city blocks, now behind barbed wire fences.

Jeremiah’s Dutch determination, precocious wit, and unusual skill at reading people help him and his family survive. But their well-being is threatened not only by the grim conditions and sadistic camp management but by Elsbeth’s (Jeremiah’s mother) mental instability and, in a matter of weeks, the arrival of Laura, her grandmother, Georgie, and his mother at the camp.

Life in the camp is not pretty. In many ways this is a disturbing story—disturbing not in the cold-fact way Brouwer describes the horrible conditions and incidents, but because humans do such things to and are pushed to such extremes by each other.

The writing in Thief of Glory is brilliant—detailed and delivered in a voice that captures the narrator’s personality, setting, action, and the meaning behind the action. The way Brouwer frames the story with foreshadowing lends the tale the gravitas of a classic tragedy. Like the banyan tree steals the glory of its host tree by strangling the life out of it, so, Brouwer shows us, war and hatred and revenge and misunderstanding steal the glory of human lives.

A set of discussion questions at the end provides the reader with more entry points to the meaning and purpose of the story.

I received Thief of Glory from the publisher (via Blogging for books) for the purpose of writing a review.

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Storm Siren (review)

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Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“ ‘Fourteen circles for fourteen owners.’
I shade my eyes to block the sun’s reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds” – Kindle Location 107.

In this first snippet of the story already we see its bloody DNA. I should have read the online sample and been warned.

Seventeen-year-old Nymia is a Uathuil, a citizen of the land of Faelen in Mary Weber’s paranormal fantasy Storm Siren. Of the Uathuil’s she is a female Elemental who shouldn’t even exist. But she does, having been sold and resold from one slave master to another. At the point the story begins, she’s bought again by the evilly attractive Adora.

Adora puts her in the charge of handsome and mysterious trainer Eogan. Soon Nymia is learning to harness her powerful weather-creating abilities and combine them with Colin’s earth-moving talents. Together they are being prepared as Faelen’s weapons against neighboring Bron’s army and war planes.

As training proceeds, Nymia feels herself being increasingly drawn to Eogan, who can calm her explosive nature with his touch—and does with touches that progress from hand, to waist, to neck, to…

Nymia, for her part, fights any softness within herself or sensed in others with sarcasm, anger, and violence. She is honest, abrupt, vulnerable, and self-loathing but does display infrequent flashes of nobility as distaste for the killing machine she feels she is destined to remain.

The book is written in first person (Nymia’s point-of-view) present tense. The writing is vivid, action-filled, and poetic.

Despite Weber’s intriguing fantasy world, strong characterization, and strong writing, I didn’t like this book. Nymia’s inner life and thoughts seemed overly melodramatic—teenaged angst on caffeine-laced hormones. The fight scenes were complicated and felt almost cartoonish in the way the main characters were able to dodge death in split-second maneuvers. The romantic scenes hovered between lustful and creepy. Halfway through I seriously considered not finishing it. But Thomas Nelson published it, I told myself. Surely it will end up having some redeeming features.

I guess one might call Nymia’s visit to the Valley of Origin such a feature, and Colin’s sacrifice, and the inclusion of words like “redemption” and “atonement” near the end. But I found the meaning of these bits so abstruse, their message so vague and subtle–not to speak of  the little that felt positive being cancelled out by the whiplash ending–the total of the positive really didn’t justify the hours spent in dark negativity and bloody violence. As a result, I don’t recommend this book.

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

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HRC (review)

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HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary ClintonHRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘I sort of describe it as “stages of Hillary,”’ one member of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s inner circle said. ‘You know, you first dread the prospect of working with her, then you sort of begrudgingly begin to respect her, then you outright respect her and her incredible work ethic. You know she’s inexhaustible, she’s tough-minded … she’s charming and she’s funny and she’s interesting and she’s inquisitive and she’s engaging’” HRC – Kindle location 1682.

I’m not sure why I chose to read this biography of a woman whose views are on the other side of the political spectrum from mine and who lives and leads on the U.S. side of the border. But I’m glad I did. Furthermore, I found myself experiencing something like the “stages of Hillary” even as I read about her.

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes concerns itself with the six years from Clinton’s withdrawal from the presidential race in 2008 to the present. It ends by discussing the chances Clinton will enter the presidential race of 2016.

By the authors’ accounts, over 200 people provided interviews for the book. Many of these are anonymous but many voices are also named. Thus the book feels factual. However, its angle also gave me the sense that it is groundwork for Clinton’s perhaps-presidential-run in 2016.

In it we experience the Clintons’ shock and disappointment at being beat out by Obama in the 2008 primaries, Hillary’s surprise at being asked to serve as Secretary of State in the Obama cabinet, her baptism into the job, a behind-the-scenes look at statecraft Obama/Clinton style, the inside experience of headline events like the killing of Bin Ladin and the Benghazi incident, and more.

The book is pro-Clinton. I supposed it might be even as I studied the cover with its Hillary cameo of the Mona Lisa smile, and its simple title: HRC (short for Hillary Rodham Clinton), true to the “Hillaryland” way of using abbreviations even as it evokes the image of “Her Royal-highness Clinton.”

Through the book I came to admire Clinton for a multitude of things: her work ethic, her political instincts, her loyalty, her kindness and thoughtfulness, her attempt to understand and put to use new technologies in the service of diplomacy and politics, her toughness under pressure, her idealism, and her faith-grounded reasons for wanting to serve her country.

For me, a Canadian who doesn’t follow U.S. politics closely, the book was over-heavy with details—names of people from the Democratic establishment, the gossipy intricacies of their relationship and history with the Clintons, and program acronyms of which I read the full name once and promptly forget what they stood for. There is, of course, Google, which I resorted to once or twice to get my bearings. But, not needing to understand the minutiae, I didn’t let myself get too bogged in it.

As a whole HRC is an interesting read which will probably gain traction should Hillary Clinton declare herself a candidate for the 2016 presidential race. In that event, HRC will probably help more than hurt her.

I received HRC as a gift from the publisher through Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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Through the Deep Waters (review)

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Through the Deep Waters: A NovelThrough the Deep Waters: A Novel by Kim Vogel Sawyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dinah Hubley is starting to attract unwanted attention and pressure from the after-dark visitors to her home, a Chicago bawdy house called the Yellow Parrot run by Miss Flo. That pressure ramps up a hundred-fold when, on her 17th birthday, Miss Flo tells her that her beautiful lady-of-the-night mother, Untamable Tori, is ill. Miss Flo threatens to throw both of them out unless Dinah can come up with $25 to pay for their keep—a huge sum in 1883.

Dinah is still too young to be a Harvey Girl, something she dreams about. She needs to be 18 to work as a server in one of the Harvey Eating Houses. So it seems there is only one way she can come up with the $25 and it is by giving in to Miss Flo’s suggestion. Author Kim Vogel Sawyer has Dinah pay a life-changing price to make her mother’s last days as comfortable as possible, in her novel Through the Deep Waters.

Dinah leaves Chicago after her mother dies to follow the Harvey Girl dream. But starting a new life isn’t as simple as moving away from Chicago. For though she finds a job in Kansas City, has a warm and caring roommate, even a young man whose kind ways give her hope for a secure future, everything is overshadowed by the dark secret she must keep.

The story is told through the viewpoints of Dinah, Ruthie her Kansas City roommate, and Amos Ackerman the idealistic and lonely chicken farmer who falls in love with Dinah’s innocent beauty and shy ways. Though I sometimes felt like shaking Dinah for her paranoid secrecy, the fallout when her past is revealed shows that her behavior is grounded in her savvy of the moral climate of her times. My favorite character was warm, bubbly Ruthie especially when Dinah’s unpredictable behavior tests what she professes to believe.

Dinah’s predicament drew me into the story from the start. The love triangle that develops is compelling. Though there were parts of the book where things go along too smoothly and I felt my interest lag, on the whole, strong characterization together with plot complications kept me engrossed.

Sawyer undergirds her themes of the possibility of a new beginning, the value of honesty, and the need for forgiveness with Scripture. This book is unabashedly Christian. Discussion questions at the end guide readers to work through the issues the book introduces.

Lovers of Americana and historical Christian romance will enjoy this book. I received Through the Deep Waters as a gift from the publisher WaterBrook Press via the Blogging for Books program for the purpose of writing a review.

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David Wilkerson (review)

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David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who BelievedDavid Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed by Zondervan Publishing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

God always makes a way for a praying man. You may never be able to get a college degree, you may never get rich, but God always has and always will make a way for a praying man – David Wilkerson, Kindle Location 903.

If there is one secret to the success and impact of David Wilkerson’s life, prayer is probably it, at least according to his son Gary. In David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade and the Man Who Believed, Gary Wilkerson lays it all out for us: his dad’s early years as the oldest son in the home of a strict Pentecostal preacher, his first pastorate where he supplemented his salary by selling cars, his change of focus from what people thought to what God thought, his move to New York to work amongst gang members and addicts founding what is now known as Teen Challenge, the writing of The Cross and the Switchblade, his move to California in the 60s, then to Texas, and eventually back to New York. The story takes us to Wilkerson Sr.’s death in 2011.

In a way the book is like a modern book of Acts, replete with stories of how Wilkerson Sr. used his gifts of prophecy and healing, introduced thousands to Jesus in crusades, then taught, scolded and encouraged them through his newsletter. And like the stories in Acts, there are also tales of ministry bumps, broken relationships, physical illnesses, the need to adjust to the challenges of a changing society and a changing church culture.

I appreciated the writer’s frank but always respectful tone. He loved and idolized his dad, but still makes us privy to his shortcomings. The text and the acknowledgements tell us that he went to great lengths to get all sides of the story. There are numerous quotes from ministry colleagues, students, family members, friends, and neighbors, giving us a well-rounded look at the man.

David Wilkerson’s story is exciting and inspiring, but I also found it challenging because of the high standard that he held for himself and those that worked with and for him. Some of the bits from the book I highlighted:

Always he saw the world and those around him through the lens of eternity – KL 28l.

Quoting John Sherrill about the success of The Cross and the Switchblade:

“I don’t think books take off and do well or don’t do well depending just on the quality of the writing. I think it depends on catching something that’s in the air, something that people need” – KL 1959.

Speaking of how his dad chose singer Dallas Holm and other ministry partners:

Throughout his life, Dad would speak of a certain ‘sound’ he heard in preachers, something that spoke to him of God’s holiness – KL 2065.

Ralph Wilkerson (1960s youth leader who worked with David Wilkerson)says:

“He was like some of the old revivalists. There was so much prayer behind his sermons that there was a powerful anointing on the reading and people were converted” – KL 2177.

(David Wilkerson’s preaching style was to write out his sermons in longhand, then read rather than orate them.)

And two more random quotes:

Every event was a sacred moment ordained by God, with nothing less than eternity at stake for everyone present. For that reason alone, he could never judge a sermon based on people’s reaction to it. He had to judge himself on how faithful he was to speak the message God had impressed on him – KL 2968.

When Dad spent time in the Scriptures, he wasn’t looking to gain breadth of knowledge; he was searching to know the ways of God – KL 3817.

If you want to be challenged and convicted to pray more, care more about what God thinks of you than what people do, love your fellow-man more, read this book. One thing is sure: you won’t read it with an open heart and come away unchanged.

David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade and the Man Who Believed releases from Zondervan on September 2nd. I received it as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Prelude for a Lord (review)

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Prelude for a LordPrelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady Alethea Sutherton, main character in Camille Elliot’s regency romance Prelude for a Lord, is a social misfit, not only because of her suitorless old maid status, but because of her musical interest in the violin which is thought entirely unladylike.

For her part, Alethea has long since ceased to care, much to the chagrin of Aunt Ebena. Alethea has come to Bath to stay with her aunt after cousin Will kicked her out of the family home. Now she is living for the day she reaches her majority, gains her inheritance, and can flee England to the musically rich continent.

But the appearance in Bath of Baron Dommick, a musician she admired from her own disastrous season in London eleven years ago, and society’s demands soon have her attending balls and hobnobbing with members of a male string ensemble. Meanwhile she senses she is being watched, followed, and then is approached by a succession of sinister men who demand she sell her violin.

Main male character Baron Dommick’s reputation has been compromised by the effects of war. Despite that, he feels driven to ensure that his sister Clare’s upcoming season in London will be a success. This means making the right social moves in all departments. He is attracted to Alethea but could her strong personality impede his goal? And what if she should discover the real self he hides under that handsome exterior?

Elliot has combined compelling characters (including a list of who the various characters are, their many names and how they’re related to each other) with a circuitous plot that includes solving the mystery of Alethea’s violin.

As is characteristic of the genre, there is lots of wit and dialogue that sparkles. The writing is wonderful throughout:

“Then another crash, something heavy and wooden dropping to the floor accompanied by a tinkling descant of shattering pottery” – Kindle Location 2613.

“…the chapel lay empty and forgotten much of the time, an abandoned mother longing for her grown-up children” – Kindle location 5265.t:

Compelling themes include an exploration of how women in the regency era are treated and whether God cares for individuals—an issue especially for Alethea who feels as if God dislikes her, seeing as how He never came to her aid when her father, brother, and cousin abused her. Questions at the end of the book encourage readers to discuss, personalize, and apply what they’ve read.

Prelude for a Lord is a combination I found irresistible. It’s a tale I would hazard even Jane Austen would love.

I received Prelude for a Lord as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Next Step (review)

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Next Step - Timothy K. LynnNext Step – How to Start Living Intentionally and Discover What God Really Wants for Your Life by Timothy K. Lynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Next Step is a guidebook/workbook designed to help people evaluate their lives and plot a course for the future. In brief chapters businessman Timothy K. Lynn leads readers to first analyze their lives in the areas of time and people. Then he introduces them to what he calls the Four Pillars: Faith, Self, Family and Life’s Work. In a final chapter, “Conversations with God,” he talks about how God is central to the whole process and encourages the participant to converse with Him and journal those interchanges.

After a brief bit of text on each subject, the book has charts, forms and journal pages for the reader to fill in. The “Snapshot of Your Week” form, for example, has the participant noting what activities fill their time for one week, 24/7. Another form guides readers in discovering who the people of influence in their lives are. The chapter “Life’s Work” concludes with a “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, which gathers the observations and conclusions participants have made from previous chapters into one record/activity/goal chart that can be kept through the years—literally the seasons of life.

Next Step is a beautiful publication, but I found it a bit thin on content. About seventy of the book’s 128 pages are blank journal pages or duplicates of charts and forms introduced in the various chapters.

The charts and forms are excellent, however, in the way they are designed to give the participant a snapshot of his or her use of time, people of influence, core beliefs, goals, and dreams.

More examples of what the author expected as responses in some of the areas would have been helpful (like he did give for the “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, p. 62). Though the journal pages, with their question prompts are self-explanatory, I was never sure what process he expected the reader to go through to fill out the numerous “Conversations with God” sections. His instructions read:

“What’s God saying to you? Use this section as a notebook to make a complete record of your conversations with God.”

Does he expect the reader to sit quietly and listen for an audible voice, or a voice in one’s head, or God’s instructions from Scripture passages? The closest I came to finding help in this area was in the chapter “Faith” where he seems to presume that his readers will have a prior knowledge of scripture and a conscience trained by it:

“God has spoken to us and asked us to follow His word, but at times we need to simplify things and get to the true meaning of what is being asked of us. …This is not as hard as we make it out to be. It just has to occur one thought—indeed one step—at a time, because our actions help us to differentiate good from bad. At the very moment we do something bad, we move away from God’s truth. Most times we intrinsically know this in our hearts” – p. 33.

More specific instructions on how one converses with God would have been helpful. Without them, I felt this part of the program could become an exercise in whatever—listening to oneself, visualization, even opening oneself up to spiritual error, as the participant is never instructed to check what he or she hears against the clear communication God has given us about His will in the Bible.

Altogether, however, this is a valuable and concise program designed to give participants information about their individual lives and the desire and impetus to make God-centered changes and improvements, no matter what their age.

I received Next Step as a gift from publicist Maryglenn McCombs for the purpose of writing a review.

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