Monday, January 30, 2012

Growth Through Tragedy: The Hour Before Dawn

Tragedy comes to Father John. His mother and sister, healers living together apart form the village, are accused by the villagers of witchcraft. Several men of the village take it on themselves to rid the village of this satanic influence. John's mother is killed, burned to death in her house. His sister is raped. The horror of it almost causes John to lose his reason. But the community is there with prayers and love.

This is another book about the power of community. Although each man is imperfect, they are able to comfort each other, strengthen their brothers, and through prayer bring someone back from the crucible of tragedy. The characters in this book are wonderful. No one is perfect, but they're real people; people you'd like to know. I also love the plot. This is not a tidy book where everything is made right. As in real life, people go through a horrible experience and end up stronger, but they're still human with all the faults of humanity.

I highly recommend this book, particularly if you're dealing with grief or loss. Like the title says, the hour before dawn can be the darkest part of the night, but the golden light of dawn is coming. This story holds out the hope of healing from even the worst tragedy and shows how people can help and strengthen each other with God's love.

I reviewed this book for Crossway publshers.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More of a Growth Experience for Maisie than an Elegy

Eddie Pettit, a gentle giant who loved horses, is dead. In spite of being slow, Eddie was loved by the people of his neighborhood, which is the same neighborhood Maisie grew up in. The costermongers, men who own horse-drawn vegetable carts, were Maisie's strong supporters when she was growing up. When they come to her to find out whether Eddie was murdered, she can't refuse.

Searching for the answers to Eddie's death, leads Maisie to an examination of her own life. Finding the answer to how Eddie died puts Billy, one of her employees, in serious danger. It also makes Maggie think about how she interacts with people and whether her good intentions are more helpful or hurtful. It also raises questions about her relationship with James and leads to a great deal of soul searching.

The book is much more a story of Maisie's growth that a serious mystery. Although she looks for clues, she spends a great proportion of the book thinking about her life and who and what she is. This is fine, if you're more interested in character development that a good mystery. I found the character of James, Maisie's lover, too good to be true. He seems to have no role except to love Maisie no matter how she treats him.

I found the writing irritating in places. It's it hard to believe that people, even before World War II, talked in complete paragraphs when they were having a conversation. Also the description is rather stilted in places. I presume this is supposed to be like a book written in that era. However, the story is good and well worth the trouble of reading through rather stilted dialogue.

I enjoyed the book, and if you're a Maisie Dobbs fan, it's a good addition to the series.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

A Glimpse of the Gilded Age

Newton Stokes and Edith Minturn grew up in one of the most glittering eras of the United States. Born to wealth, they enjoyed elaborate homes and European vacations. For Newton, there was extensive education often with study and travel to other countries. For Edith, there were coming out parties and an education fitting a socialite. Both people rose above their class. Edith's beauty, portrayed by Sargent and French, made her the ideal type of “new” woman. Instead of following his father into the family business, Newton struck out on his own and became an architect. Both were supporters of social causes and tried to better the conditions of the poor. Most of all they loved New York. This love was eventually their undoing when Newton became obsessed with producing the “Iconography,” a record in pictures, and maps, extensively annotated, that preserved the history of New York.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of, not only, New York, but the United States. The book tells a fascinating story woven through the lives of two unique individuals. It is not a traditional love story. Rather it is the tale of two people who grew together and helped each other through the ups and downs of life. I very much enjoyed it.

I reviewed the book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't be Quick to Judge Others

The Idaho Territory isn't what Shannon has in mind for her life. She loves Virginia and looks down on the unkempt miners and cowboys in Grand Coeur. The Civil War is raging and her father, Reverend Adair, has taken a parish there. She decides to accompany him, but with poor grace.

Mathew loves driving a stagecoach. He has no desire to be a Wells Fargo Agent. He takes the job thinking it's only temporary while he provides a home for his ailing sister, Alice, and her son, Todd. When Todd and Alice arrive, he realizes that he's taken on a much greater responsibility. Alice is dying.

When Shannon agrees to take care of the dying Alice, she's sure a Northerner and a Southerner can never become friends, but they do, and she finds herself drawn to Matthew as more than a friend.

I recommend this book because of the underlying messages. The book is a traditional romance. The characters and plot are professionally crafted, but don't stand out. I was, however, impressed with two underlying messages. Shannon and Matthew didn't want to be where they were, but God had a plan, and they both learned that God's plan is often better than that conceived by man.

Shannon also learned that people from different backgrounds can come to value each other. It's a good lesson for today. Too often we're quick to judge those who are different from us and in doing so we miss opportunities.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Good Message

It's not enough to sit in the front pew on Sunday and sing hymns. We must surrender our will to God and live with Jesus Christ within. The is the message of Re-Created for Greatness. Boafo tells us how to allow the spirit of Christ to dwell within us, but cautions that it isn't easy. We must turn aside from the easy ways of the world and truly seek God through Jesus Christ.

This book is well worth reading. It's a good message. My only quarrel with the book is that it's very repetitious. In one respect this is good. It sounds like Boafo is talking to you. In another, it's distracting. You feel like you're reading the same thing over and over.

I recommend this book. It makes you think and, hopefully, lead a more Christian life, always remembering that it isn't easy.

I reviewed this book as part of the Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

What You Can Do to Save America

This book should be read by all Americans who are frustrated by the way the current administration is trying to change America. Our country was not founded as a socialist nation and the vast majority of citizens don't want to change to that form of government. We are the heirs of the founders of this country. They were strong, religious people who endured many hardships to achieve freedom of religion and the ability to govern themselves.

In the beginning, the religious sects inhabiting the country were separated not only by doctrine, but by distance. In the mid-seventeen hundreds, the Great Awakening changed that. Families and whole congregations traveled hundreds of miles to hear preachers like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others. Attending these large open-air sermons brought people into contact with their neighbors in other colonies and began to foster the spirit of unity that allowed the thirteen diverse colonies to cooperate and fight for their freedom in the revolution.

This book not only gives the history of one of the factors that led to the revolution, it tells you what you can do to reclaim America today: pray, vote, become informed, and work within the system to make changes. As a united people, we can get the government we want. We don't have to abdicate our responsibilities. The founders were a very strong people. We need to exercise out strength again to build the country we want.

I highly recommend this book. If you think America is on the wrong path, the book will give you much food for thought. We must recognize our reliance on God and allow his spirit to work through us as it did in the Founding Fathers.

I reviewed this book as part of the Booksneeze Program.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ally Green has been running away for 40 years. Reluctantly, she returns home to Molasses Creek to bury her father. She knows she should stay, but she's itching to run again. She chose to be an airline stewardess because she's constantly on the move, running away from so many things: the family that tied her down, her love for her neighbor across the creek, Vesey Washington, and mostly from the loss of her daughter, who was stolen as an infant in Nepal.

I enjoyed the setting in this book. Both Molasses Creek and Nepal are well described. However, I had trouble with the characters. Ally had a life of privilege, but she chose to run from it. She left college and eventually became pregnant, but didn't marry the father. Then the baby was stolen in Nepal. Through all this her parents, particularly her father, were her rock, yet she ran away from them. Vesey Washington, her friend from childhood, seems almost a stereotype of the the good blackman from the sixties. In fact, racial tensions sixties style form much of the background of the book. The daughter, Sunila, is another stock character. She is obsequious and timid. It's not surprising having been a low caste carver in a stone quarry in Nepal, but the whole situation seem utterly fantastical.

I can recommend this book only if you like a morality play. The characters seem unrealistic, as does the plot. The descriptions of place are the best part of the book.

I reviewed this book as part of the Book Sneeze Program.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cinematographers Talk About Creativity and the Importance of Light

Light is the theme that connects these interviews. Light sets the mood, enhances emotion, defines character, and tells the story. Almost without exception the cinematographers talked about images, how to tell the story, and how to help the actors give their best performance. When they discussed cameras, lenses, light meters and other tools of their craft, they did it in the contest of creating an effect. But most of them said the use of the tools should be second nature so that the cinematographer can rely on his eye and intuition.

I loved this book. I'm not a film buff, but I am highly interested in creativity. This book gave me an intensive look at cinematographers, and how they use the tools of their craft to bring original work to the screen. I was particularly fascinated by the almost reverent way they talk about light. Several of them discussed lighting, where you place the lights to get a particular effect. Others discussed light in a more abstract way, how you use the textures of light and color to create effects that tell the story.

I highly recommend this book not only for students of cinematography, but for anyone interested in the creative process. The great cinematographers, almost without exception, talked about studying painting, literature, and sculpture to enhance their understanding of the visual image and story. People in any of these disciplines should listen to the cinematographers. The feedback from the art of film can enhance the understanding of other art forms.

My one reservation about the book is that the size makes it difficult to hold and read. It's a marvelous format for the pictures, but clumsy to hold. It's not just a picture book. The text is fascinating and should be read. It's worth the extra effort. 

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Salem Witch Trials, the Occult, Lunatic Asylums and Murder

A bizarre crime is committed in Portland Maine in 1892. A prostitute is found dead, but this is not a typical murder. Her body is placed in a the shape of a pentagram, stuck through the throat with a pitchfork, and a saying in Abenaki, an Indian language, is written on a beam above her. Archie Lean, a new Deputy Marshall, is given the task of finding the madman who committed this outrageous crime. Because of his Indian heritage and detection skills, Percival Grey is called on to assist in the investigation. At first the two men, don't get on, but as Lean recognizes the importance of Grey's skills he increasingly relies on him.

In addition to the occult, the Salem Witch trials are heavily figured in the mystery. The two detectives, trying to unravel the connections between the crime and those that follow, visit a lunatic asylum, an Indian traveling show, and the Portland and Harvard Libraries. They are ably assisted in their search by Helen Prescott, a historical researcher, and her uncle, Dr. Steig, the coroner.

I recommend this book if you like period mystries, are fascinated by the ocult, or interested in the Salem witch trials. The book uses them all and manages to tie them together to make a very readable mystery. The book is well done and will keep you turning pages. A few of the sections drag with more description than action, but that will appeal to some readers. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Portland in the 1890's.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

The Tyndale Bible and the Reformation in Tudor England

Europe was in the throes of the Reformation. Martin Luther had published his 95 theses. Common people were looking avidly for more information on what it meant to be a Christian. The Bible was not accessible to the common man. Tyndale felt the challenge. He wanted a Bible that the plowboy could read and began the translation of the Greek New Testament into English. There were many clerical abuses and Tyndale, like other reformers, felt that people should be able to judge the quality of their religious experience and decide by reading the Bible, whether the tenets proposed by the clergy were the based on the will of God, or on the desires of a debased clergy.

This was the era of Henry VIII. His queen, Catherine, was a staunch Catholic, but the love of his life, Anne Boelyn, leaned toward the Reformation. Caught in the religious struggle and with his desire for a son, he came down on the side of the Reformation. Ultimately, he separated the English church from Rome. I found the historical perspective of Tyndale's translation fascinating. Teems has written a book that not only gives us a clear picture of Tyndale's struggles, but of his era peopled with Sir Thomas Moore, Cardinal Wolsey, and numerous other larger than life characters.

I highly recommend this book not only for people who wish to understand the history of the English Bible, but for those who are interested in the Tudor period. The Teems book is scholarly, but it's also easy to read and draws you into Tyndale's story.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Sneeze Program.