Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review: An Absence So Great

In An Absence So Great, Jane Kirkpatrick tells the second part of her grandmother's story. The novel is based on a true story and tells of real people. Fiction exists to fill in the blanks.

The setting is unique—a small town in the early 1900's, just before World War I. Jessie Gaebele is a young woman determined to overcome the mistakes of her past by opening her own photography studio. She travels to other towns to work as a photographer's assistant where needed, usually because a photographer has died or become ill due to mercury poisoning, leaving his spouse in need of help to keep the business going.

I didn't know as I read the story that it was a sequel. As the author kept referring to issues from the past, I kept expecting a flashback to explain the mystery. I finally noticed, on the back of the book in the author's bio, that this book is part two of the story. This was disappointing to me.

I also was disappointed in the storyline. It wasn't really a happily-ever-after or triumphantly-overcoming-hardships kind of novel. It was really about a bunch of people making a bunch of mistakes and muddling through, trying to make the best of things. I know life's often that way, but for a novel, something was missing.

And, for a Christian market novel, Christ was practically absent. For a time, Jessie worked with a minister, helping to promote his evangelistic services, she took piano lessons from a minister's wife, and, on occasion, she realized she wasn't reading her Bible enough. But she never acted on that thought. God wasn't really a part of her life—or anyone else's in the story.

Kirkpatrick did an amazing job of fleshing out her grandmother's story in an unusual historical setting. I appreciated that skill. A reader with an interest in photography or the struggles of women in the early 1900's may find this book interesting.

This book was provided for review by the Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Here Burns My Candle

When an author takes the outline from the first part of the Book of Ruth and sets it in Edinburgh, Scotland during the days of the Jacobite Rising/Rebellion, Here Burns My Candle is the incredible result. When I first started reading the story, I truly wondered how Liz Curtis Higgs could have developed the four chapters of Ruth into a 454 page book. Not only did she manage that, and amazingly well, but Here Burns My Candle is only the first book of three! I can't wait to read the rest of the story—and I already know how it ends!

Having been to Edinburgh, I was fascinated to read an historical novel set there. Higgs brought the city to life. She helped us understand the turmoil of the conflict between England and the Jacobites. She made us care for people on both sides. From the start I was cheering for Elisabeth, then I began to feel sympathy toward Marjory as her changing thoughts were revealed. Supporting characters were real; Higgs takes readers right into both their heads and their hearts.

To add interest, each chapter begins with a relevant, perhaps foreshadowing quote, from a well-known writer. There are a few sketches and maps as well. There's also a reader's guide at the end. Higgs's acknowledgment pages are even clever and interesting! Best of all, the story is well-told and intriguing. Fans of historical Christian fiction, Scottish history, or suspenseful, dramatic stories will enjoy book one in this series.

This book was provided for review by Waterbrook Multnomah.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: Start Here

About a year ago, a reviewed a book called Do Hard Things—not because someone sent it to me to review, but because I was just so impressed. I told you then:
If you have a teenager, are a teenager, work with teenagers, know a teenager, or have a heart for building God’s Kingdom whatever your age, you must read this book. Don’t argue with me—go get it today. I’m not kidding! Go!
Now Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group has provided the sequel, Start Here, for my review. I haven't been disappointed. This book takes readers through the next logical step.

Start Here answers questions about doing hard things--what to expect, what to consider, challenges one might face, and, naturally, how to start. Alex & Brett Harris write to teenagers who wish to join the Rebelution—a teenage rebellion against low expectations. They've taken the questions teens most often ask, divided them into chapters such as Getting Started, Matters of First Importance, and Now What?, and answered them using their own experience, the experiences of other rebelutionaries, and the wisdom of adults who mentor and support them in what they do.

The appendix includes a list of 100 hard things actual rebelutionaries have done, provided to give ideas and encourage participation. It also has discussion questions for each chapter should someone want to lead a small group study of the book.

I love that the book is written by now young adults for teenagers, and I strongly encourage teens to read the book and absorb the ideas. But the advice isn't just for teenagers. The Harris brothers offer great encouragement, guidance, and wisdom for anyone who wants to serve God, who longs to find a meaningful project, who wants to make a difference in our world.

I'm glad to recommend this book!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Review: The Clouds Roll Away

The Clouds Roll Away is a novel that is kind of hard to describe. Written in the first person, it reminds me of the classic pulp fiction detective stories—Sam Spade, Mike Hammer. But the cynical detective is quite different from those characters. She's a fairly young woman, who happens to be a Christian—and a former debutante.

Raleigh Harmon has just returned to Richmond, VA after being assigned to work in Washington state due to a controversial case. Her boss is still unhappy with her, so she's walking on egg shells, trying to avoid trouble. Yet her current cases include a high-profile hate crime and participation in a drug task force. To complicate matters, she lives with her borderline mentally unstable mother, has trouble getting along with her atheist sister, and is being pursued by the high society ex-boyfriend whom she kind of wonders why she let get away.

Sibella Giorello has an incredible gift for telling a great story supported by thorough research. (Her acknowledgments reveal at least some of the extent of this.) She also does an amazing job of setting the scene—weaving sounds, smells, tastes, and other sensations right into the story line. I especially loved the way she had Raleigh briefly notice words to songs as she heard them in different places, wherever she went.

The book is a bit dark. Raleigh is cynical. She has been hurt—many times. And her job as an FBI agent has led her to see the most hardened kinds of lives. Yet she remembers her faith, reminds herself often of her God, and waits for the clouds to roll away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: Mother-Daughter Duet

Okay. True. I don't have any daughters. But I am a daughter. And I have a daughter-in-law-to-be. So I suppose I have every right to read this book. (I also know that when one reads a book about relationships, not all, but some ideas can apply to other relationships, too. One gleans what she can where she finds it!)

Actually, I found Mother-Daughter Duet to be a sweetly insightful book—very much worth my time. Real-life mother and daughter, Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum, write to mothers about strengthening relationships with their adult daughters. They share honest stories from their own relationship which help to illustrate each point. They also include ideas and examples from other mothers and daughters they know and useful quotes from other books on this topic. Within each chapter, Plum writes a section called, “A Daughter's Perspective,” to help moms see things more clearly from a daughter's point of view. Fuller closes each with a summary called, “Two Part Harmony.” There's a discussion guide at the end of the book as well.

In a positive, encouraging, and hopeful way, Mother-Daughter Duet covers topics such as letting go, generational differences, validation, recovering from dysfunction within the family, respect, communication, bonding, weathering crises, understanding the new-mother-daughter, and forgiveness. Overall, the book focuses on relationship building, maintenance, and, sometimes, repairing.

If you're the mother of a grown daughter—the authors mention ages 18 to through her 40's, you'll find useful information in this uplifting book. Daughters can gain insights about themselves and their moms, too. Thank you Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing this book for me to review.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: Dancing with My Father

Dancing with My Father is the story of one woman's search for God's joy in the midst of any and all circumstances of life. As Sally Clarkson shares her story, she encourages her readers to begin their own.

In the opening chapter, Clarkson tells of sitting on a park bench, feeling cynical, depressed, and overwhelmed. There she remembered happier, more hopeful times and longed to recapture that. Her reflections led her to begin a quest, the results of which she shares in this book. On p. 13, Clarkson says,
“I told [God] that I wanted to reflect his character and reality, that I wanted to love him and be filled every day with his joy, so that others who see me would have a glimpse of God—in my words, in my affection, in my writing, in disappointments and trials, and even in everyday tasks. I longed for him to 'restore to me the joy of my salvation' (Psalm 51:12).”
The following chapters tell how she learned to look for joy in circumstances, in trials, in relationship, in service—truly, in all of life. Relevant Scripture, quotes from other people, and stories from Clarkson's life help the reader understand and see how her ideas can work in their lives. Clarkson closes each chapter with more Scripture to consider woven with challenging, life-application discussion questions and a prayer for the reader to use.

I found the book to be thought-provoking and encouraging. Clarkson met me right where I am. I may have to read this again!

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.