VANISHING GRACE: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOOD NEWS? A Review

This 2014 publication by my second favorite inspirational author (second to Max Lucado), borrowed from our church library, was one of four books the author, Phillip Yancey, wrote about the “endangered state” of Grace.  In this book he asks Christians some vital questions:  Why do so many people dislike Christians? Why does the church stir up such negative feelings? Why has the church lost its respect, influence, and reputation in today’s world?  In doing so, he infers that the answers lie in actions and attitudes we as Christians hold which cause these questions even to be asked. Max Lucado states that this book is “worth reading,” and BONO, a leading activist recommends it as well.

It deals with how artists, activists, and pilgrims are “expressing their faith in ways that disarm even the most cynical critics.” Section one, “A World Athirst” specifies how to reclaim the Good News. Section three poses the question, “Is It Really Good News?”, dealing with “The God Question,” “The Human Question,” and “The Social Question.” These two sections alone make the book a worthwhile read.  Yancey deals as well with the ticklish issue of Christians and politics.

In Vanishing Grace, Yancey reminds all Christians that Hebrews 12:15 admonishes us to, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God…” This book will help the thoughtful, caring Christian to do just that in an acceptable manner.

MANY WATERS by Madeline L’Engle: A Review

Published in 1986       Takes place sometime after the Wrinkle in Time Trilogy

Sandy and Dennys Murry, twin brothers of Meg and Calvin Wallace Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time) are the “dull,” “ordinary” ones in the family until they interrupt their physicist dad’s computer experiment.  Then, they are in trouble, not just with their dad, but in cosmos-changing trouble.  Many waters were coming soon to the dessert oasis where they “landed”, and stories their mother told them as small children from the Bible, as well as many mythologies and folktales of a world-wide flood come rushing to their minds.

Unknown to them, their dad was experimenting with time travel, and the Genesis (from the Bible) people’s reaction to them, as well as their reaction to the people of “this other place” is the premise for the story.  Unicorns, mammoths (miniature size ones), seraphims, and nephils all appear in this book. Both boys, young teens, fall for the same girl, Yalith, and for the first time, the twins do not tell each other “everything.” Will they get themselves home in time to avoid the “many waters?”/The Great Flood? Will they get home, period? L’Engle’s philosophy shines through as the boys engage in conflicts both on a personal level and on a universal level.

The writing, plot, and characterization are brilliant. This is one of my favorite authors whether she is writing YA novels, memoirs and philosophy, or anything. I highly recommend this book.

THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE: A Review

Donna Everhart’s debut novel, available in large print, like any novel about childhood abuse, is hard to read.  This one is even more so because it is told from the child’s point of view.  From the opening of the story, we know that Dixie’s Uncle Ray is in jail.  As the plot unfolds, Eleven year old Dixie’s “spidey sense” that something is just “not right,” alerts the reader to expect the worst.  Dixie and her brother, AJ, already have a rough life living with a depressed  mother who has anger issues and a father who drinks to escape. Set in Alabama in 1969, Dixie struggles with the need to lie to cover for her mother and to keep the other girls at school from labeling her family as “white trash.” She becomes a deliberate and accomplished tale-teller, resorting to lies even when they aren’t necessary. When she tries to tell AJ and later her mother what Uncle Ray has done, no one will believe her.  Seldom have I met a heroine so young with such spirit and courage.

This is a difficult book to read as it peels away layers of family secrets leading to the eventual harsh ending.  There is a ray of hope at the end, one thing I require of any book I read before I will say it is a good book.  This is not an enjoyable book but one that book clubs and individuals might take on to open thoughts or discussions about a very serious problem.

 

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN: A Review

Published in 2007 by author Sherman Alexie, this YA novel was our Third Tuesday Book Club selection for the month of May.  The group’s discussion is tomorrow night. Other than some pretty rough language (but then that’s the way some teenagers talk), the book was a good read.  It was funny, sad, heartbreaking, uplifting–all at one time. The author is also a cartoonist and a poet, and the story is filled with insightful cartoons and poetic expressions in places.  It is the story of a boy who overcomes poverty, a medical condition from birth, fear, and loneliness as he comes of age.

The story is well told, and characters range from stereotypes to unique individuals. Arnold Spirit (his Reardon School name) aka Junior (his reservation name) is a protagonist who puts his “raw emotion” out there for the reader to experience. Rowdy, his best friend since earliest childhood is his protector and confidant, which makes his refusal to go off the reservation to the “white school” with Junior/Arnold and his hate directed towards him all the worse. Gordy is his new, nerdy friend at the white Reardon high school, and Penelope, the gorgeous white girl becomes Junior/Arnold’s girlfriend.  The clash between the characters is more than troubling to the protagonist. His family, a alcoholic but loving father, a smart mother, and a spiritual, tolerant grandmother round out the cast of characters.

The novel gives insights into Native American folklore and superstition as well as “Reservation Philosophy” and thought. For a boy born with hydro-encephalitis and who has “been to 42 funerals by the time he is fourteen,” there is a lot to overcome. The humor is typically adolescent male humor and raunchy at times, but not to the point of offending.

I do not know if I would recommend this book to a younger teenager, but a young adult with his/her “head on straight” might really enjoy this book. It will be interesting to hear what older adults thought of it tomorrow night.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: A Review

This 1997 novel, on the NY Times Best Seller List for over a year, gives the perfect women’s point of view on a Japanese women’s institution, surprisingly written by a man, Arthur Golden. It was researched very thoroughly and is a PWR selection for this quarter.  It is sexy, expressed in a most polite Japanese way, and described by reviews of its day as “astonishing,” “breathtaking,” a “literary sensation”, “seductive,” and “an exotic fable.”  If it isn’t considered a classic, it should be.

The novel recounts the story of Sayrui, a fictional famous geisha, probably a composite of several famous geisha of Japan’s past. Born in a tiny, poor, fishing village, Chiyo ( her first name as a servant in the geisha house she is sold to by her father)/ Sayrui’s life reflects the difference between the life of a geisha and the life of a prostitute. Hatsumomo, a famous geisha of the same house is her nemesis, insanely jealous and revengeful motivated by feelings of jealousy, fear, insecurity, and mean-spiritedness. Chiyo’s only friend, Pumpkin, eventually betrays Chiyo/Sayrui, making Mamha’s job as Sayrui’s mentor/”Big Sister” all the harder.

Of course it is a romance, but much much more than that.  There is a well-described picture of Japanese life both before and after the WWII bombings. Sayrui’s life goes from rags to riches to rags again to…I’ll let you read the end of the story. The underlying theme of the book deals with how a woman’s life and destiny depended on a man. It is a worthwhile investment of your precious reading time that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours.

BIG MAGIC: A Review

This 2015 self-help book by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is proof the author has still “got it.” As a matter fact, I liked this non-fiction exploration of “Creative Living Beyond Fear” much more than her earlier bestselling hit. In Big Magic, Gilbert discusses her own creative processes and her life as she expresses the wonder and joy of Creativity. She has written many “pieces” for magazines, novels, and non-fiction books, so she is definitely the one to consult concerning “Creativity.” She insists everyone has the ability to “make something”–create.

In her last section, “In Conclusion” she writes:

“Creativity is sacred and it is not sacred./ What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all./We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits./ We are terrified, and we are brave./Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege./Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us./Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise–you can make anything.”

WHO SAID I WAS UP FOR ADOPTION? A REVIEW

Colin Chappell, a blogging-world friend, has written a fine book which is “a story about one calculating dog…and one unsuspecting human.”  Published in 2016 and available in hardback, paperback, and on Kindle, it serves as a training manual for pet adoption as Chappell, who admittedly “has a soft spot for the underdog,” adopts a messed-up, confused dog of unknown background, and with the dog’s love and cooperation, turns Ray, the dog, into a loving, expressive, happy companion. What is amazing is how Ray altered Colin’s and Carols’ lives.

The book is written with a chapter narrated by Colin, then the same experiences, adventures narrated by Ray, to give the canine point of view. This is done so well that one wonders who is reading who’s mind, and who is “training” who.   The anecdotes are so many and so good, I couldn’t choose a favorite to recount, but early into the adoption when Ray receives a diagnosis of advanced heart-worms, it brought out the “Oh-no response” in me as I read. Because Colin had had the bad experience of having a beloved Siamese cat put down (a poem at the end of the book explores this) following the recommendation to euthanize his first dog, Ray, was not an option.

With love, medical treatment, and much financial cost, Ray is now a healthy member of the family.  You can read about Colin and Ray’s on-going, recent adventures at http://www.meandray.com   As Colin muses in the very beginning of the book, “Who would have thought living with Ray would force me to reflect on my own life?”  I highly recommend the blog and also the book.  It is a must read for anyone who loves animals and wants a story with a happy continuance, rather than a sad ending.