An archive of this Sojourner's Journey – Reflections, book reviews, and other random thoughts

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Book Review: Fawkes

About the Book:

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th-century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Fawkes is a tale full of spiritual depth, tragedy, and hope. A beautifully written allegory for the magic of faith, with an achingly relatable hero who pulls you into his world heart and soul. A must-read for all fantasy fans!” —Lorie Langdon, author of Olivia Twist

“A brilliant book that fulfills every expectation. Brandes turns seventeenth century London into a magical place. I was captivated by the allegory of her magic system and how she blended that fantasy with history. I highly recommend this gripping and beautifully crafted book to all. It will leave you both entertained and pondering matters raised in the storyline long after you’ve finished reading.” —Jill Williamson, Christy Award-winning author of By Darkness Hid and Captives

“A magical retelling of the seventeenth century’s famous Gunpowder Plot that will sweep you back in time—to a divided England where plagues can turn you to stone and magic has a voice. Deft and clever, Fawkes is a vibrant story about the search for truth and issues relevant to us, still, today.” —Tosca Lee, New York Times bestselling author

My Thoughts:

Nadine Bandes is absolutely brilliant in her fantasy retelling of the Gunpower Plot.  She is able to take a time where all of Christendom was divided, where Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, where slavery was a way of life, and get behind all of our associations, presuppositions and prejudices through this intriguing narrative.  In this fantasy world of color magic and a stone plague we get to follow a riveting story while asking deep questions of what it looks like to follow God well and what it looks like when we get it wrong.  I loved this novel and have continued to think about it long after I turned the last page.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: Penguins and Golden Calves

About the Book:

Despite protests and warnings from friends and family, author Madeleine L’Engle, at the age of seventy-four, embarked on a rafting trip to Antarctica. Her journey through the startling beauty of the continent led her to write Penguins and Golden Calves, a captivating discussion of how opening oneself up to icons, or everyday “windows to God,” leads to the development of a rich and deeply spiritual faith.

Here, L’Engle explains how ordinary things such as family, words, the Bible, heaven, and even penguins can become such windows. She also shows how such a window becomes an idol–a penguin becomes a “golden calf”–when we see it as a reflection of itself instead of God.

My Thoughts:

I read this book in the 90s, but I didn’t remember much of it so when I was offered a review copy I thought it might be good to read it again.

I knew when I picked up this book that Madeleine L’Engle and I hold some vastly different theological views.  I also knew that L’Engle was a woman who loved Jesus, thought deeply about life and has things to teach me through her writing.

This book in particular, helped me wade through the vast differences in our opinions, because it was laid out in a rambling, conversational manner.  Instead of thinking of Penguins and Golden Calves as an author’s attempt to teach me something in particular I opened each chapter as if we were having a chat over a cup of coffee.  This is exactly what the book felt like to me.  L’Engle would say something I’d nod my head to, then she would say something startling and then she would continue on explaining her thoughts and pondering their context and implications for life.  It’s exactly what happens in good conversation.  Along the way someone says something that causes you to raise your eyebrows and then you ask, “tell me about that,” and sit back and listen to their heart.

I think this book was a good exercise for me in conversation, even though that was not its intent.  In today’s world many “conversations” happen over social media or in some type of print rather than sitting face to face across a cup of coffee.  I think it is infinitely harder to have a conversation over print, because I expect something written to be precise, thought out and an overall representation of a person’s thoughts.  I don’t expect something in print to be an exploration the same way that I expect a conversation to be a journey of discovery.  Learning to listen to Madelaine in her writing, whether I agreed or not, to hear her heart for the Lord and her heart for people became a fruitful exercise for me.  I would say that if you can’t do that, if you can’t wade through some of her non-evangelical viewpoints with grace while gleaning some very real wisdom from her writing then you should probably skip this book.

If you do, however, sit down to read Penguins and Golden Calves you will find some deeply challenging insights on the windows/metaphors/icons we use that help us grow in relationship to God as well as some very apt warnings of how the very things that we think are icons can become idols.   I also found her observations of how culture had changed over her lifetime and now looking back twenty two years to when she wrote this book another fruitful exercise.

Some of the most meaningful wisdom that I gleaned came in a random sentence or paragraph that was quickly past, but not expounded upon.  The book does ramble throughout many subject and opinions, yet it always comes back to a daily, living and active relationship with God.

 

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

 

Book Review: The Hope of Azure Springs

About the Book:

Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won’t be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He’s determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn’t expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.

Debut author Rachel Fordham invites historical romance readers to the charming town of Azure Springs, Iowa, where the people care deeply for one another and, sometimes, even fall in love.

My Thoughts:

The Hope of Azure Springs is a endearing story of life, loss, love, the value of character and most of all the power of hope.

Em is a survivor and she has been living for one thing, to find her sister.  Caleb survived where his brother’s didn’t and he feels he must prove himself worthy.  Every person featured in this story has a past.  A love.  A loss. A wish.  A hope.

Drawing on the beauty of sacrificial love, the knowledge of the value of character and the understanding of how the ways that we relate have profound impact on others this heart-wrenching and heart-warming tale kept me turning the pages.  It is a book worth reading.

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I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

Book Review: The Story Peddler

About the Book:

Book Review: Send Down The Rain

About the Book:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Mountain Between Us comes a new, spellbinding story of buried secrets, lost love, and the promise of second chances.

Allie is still recovering from the loss of her family’s beloved waterfront restaurant on Florida’s Gulf Coast when she loses her second husband to a terrifying highway accident. Devastated and losing hope, she shudders to contemplate the future—until a cherished person from her past returns.

Joseph has been adrift for many years, wounded in both body and spirit and unable to come to terms with the trauma of his Vietnam War experiences. Just as he resolves to abandon his search for peace and live alone at a remote cabin in the Carolina mountains, he discovers a mother and her two small children lost in the forest. A man of character and strength, he instinctively steps in to help them get back to their home in Florida. There he will return to his own hometown—and witness the accident that launches a bittersweet reunion with his childhood sweetheart, Allie.

When Joseph offers to help Allie rebuild her restaurant, it seems the flame may reignite—until a 45-year-old secret from the past begins to emerge, threatening to destroy all hope for their second chance at love.

In Send Down the Rain, Charles Martin proves himself to be a storyteller of great wisdom and compassion who bears witness to the dreams we cherish, the struggles we face, and the courage we must summon when life seems to threaten what we hold most dear.

My Thoughts:

I honestly don’t know what to say about this book.  Is Charles Martin a brilliant writer who crafts beautiful sentences and creates vivid scenes?  Yes.  Did this book keep me turning page after page? Yes.  Did Martin craft a story that was in many ways an unpredictable mystery?  Yes.  Did I like the book?  I’m not sure that I did.

Spoiler Alert….

Any author who introduces you to a character and kills him off again all in the first chapters of writing is a bold author.  In the early stages of the book the artistry of mixing together so many fragmented stories show Martin’s genius for crafting a tale.  It was the content of the tale that left me unsatisfied.

The only other novel I have read by Martin is “Long Way Gone,” which I loved.  In it I saw the beauty of the gospel clearly in the heart of the father.  This book held a significant message in regard to the power of choosing love or hate and the beauty of second chances and yet it was still a messy muddle of contradictions.  In all truth, the way that grace, justice, good and evil play out in each one of our lives is a messy muddle at times.  The thing is, the gospel isn’t a muddle and in this story it wasn’t clear.  In fact, I put the book down with a sense that I was supposed to give grace to Joseph (and others), because of what life had made (required) of them rather than because they (and all of us) are in need of the blood and mercy of Christ.  I felt like I was supposed to root for Joseph because he had a good heart, when in fact he was as full of evil as all of mankind (and not simply because of what he had endured in life).  And while we see a glimpse of the idea of substitutionary atonement in the life of two brothers, in the end, the redemption of Joseph’s life didn’t feel anything like real redemption.  “You are not condemned” is robbed of its power when the verdict is given due to your character, actions or efforts outweighing your evil, rather than being given by the pure mercy of another. I did appreciate the way that Joseph  was able to find freedom from self-condemnation, but it just wasn’t enough to make it a satisfying story.

If this hadn’t been sent to me by a Christian publisher and marketed as a Christian novel I would have just said, it’s a moving story that has hints of redemption in it.  But as I have higher expectations for a book that is promoted as having an author who is writing from the framework of the gospel I found myself disappointed.

I was sent a free galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Becoming Dallas Willard

About the Book:

Dallas Willard was a personal mentor and inspiration to hundreds of pastors, philosophers, and average churchgoers. His presence and ideas rippled through the lives of many prominent leaders and authors, such as John Ortberg, Richard Foster, James Bryan Smith, Paula Huston, and J. P. Moreland. As a result of these relationships and the books he wrote, he fundamentally altered the way tens of thousands of Christians have understood and experienced the spiritual life.

Whether great or small, everyone who met Dallas was impressed by his personal attention, his calm confidence, his wisdom, and his profound sense of the spiritual. But he was not always the man who lived on a different plane of reality than so many of the rest of us. He was someone who had to learn to be a husband, a parent, a teacher, a Christ follower.

The journey was not an easy one. He absorbed some of the harshest and most unfair blows life can land. His mother died when he was two, and after his father remarried he was exiled from his stepmother’s home. Growing up in Depression-era, rural Missouri and educated in a one-room schoolhouse, he knew poverty, deprivation, anxiety, self-doubt, and depression. Though the pews he sat in during his early years were not offering much by way of love and mercy, Dallas, instead of turning away, kept looking for the company of a living, present, and personal God.

In Gary W. Moon’s candid and inspiring biography, we read how Willard became the person who mentored and partnered with his young pastor, Richard Foster, to inspire some of the most influential books on spirituality of the last generation. We see how his love of learning took him on to Baylor, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Southern California, where he became a beloved professor and one of the most versatile members of the philosophy department.

The life of Dallas Willard deserves attention because he became a person who himself experienced authentic transformation of life and character. Dallas Willard not only taught about spiritual disciplines, he became a different person because of them. He became a grounded person, a spiritually alive person as he put them into practice, finding God, as he often said, “at the end of his rope.” Here is a life that gives us all hope.

My Thoughts:

In all honesty I had trouble getting into this book at first.  I think that is mostly my fault.  It seems that I can’t remember that there is a significant difference between a biography and a memoir.  I like biographies, but I love memoirs and almost every time I start a biography I find myself vaguely disappointed until I reconcile myself to the genre.

However, once the author moved past the basic facts about Willard’s family and childhood and started to really speak about the Dallas’ development of thought and character I sincerely enjoyed the book.  And while I appreciated knowing the childhood facts and understanding how they played a part in the formation of the man, it was the spiritual formation, the heart of “becoming” that really made this book one I’m glad that I read.

In one sense I’m of just an age that the concepts that seemed so radical to Dallas Willard (and Richard Foster as mentioned in the book) are concepts that I took for granted in my own spiritual formation.  So in reading this biography it was enlightening to see how these ideas came to be introduced to the modern evangelical world through Willard’s teaching and writing.  Growing up as I did, comfortable in a number of different denominations, also made me deeply appreciative of how Willard sought to learn from the different expressions of faith.

While some of the context in the book, specifically the philosophical context, felt a bit over my head and not particularly engaging I did develop a deeper appreciation for the intellectual depth of thought that informed Willard’s writing.  This also led to a deeper appreciation of his work as his books, while deep and thoughtful, have never seemed “over my head” in intellect.

All in all, I would recommend “Becoming Dallas Willard.”  I would especially recommend it for those who aren’t as familiar with Willard’s books and teaching as it gives a very helpful overview of the contribution that Dallas made to the realm of understanding spiritual formation as well as giving a wise and thoughtful look at how modern culture perceives reality and how the reality of the Kingdom can be so easily overlooked or misunderstood.

Most of all I loved seeing how Dallas grew in his real and present interaction with the King and his Kingdom and hope that many others will find the sweetness of that reality as they reflect on how we become the men and women in Christ that we are meant to become.

 

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: A Defense of Honor

About the Book:

When Katherine “Kit” FitzGilbert turned her back on London society more than a decade ago, she determined never to set foot in a ballroom again. But when business takes her to London and she’s forced to run for her life, she stumbles upon not only a glamorous ballroom but also Graham, Lord Wharton. What should have been a chance encounter becomes much more as Graham embarks on a search for his friend’s missing sister and is convinced Kit knows more about the girl than she’s telling.

After meeting Graham, Kit finds herself wishing things could have been different for the first time in her life, but what she wants can’t matter. Long ago, she dedicated herself to helping women escape the same scorn that drove her from London and raising the innocent children caught in the crossfire. And as much as she desperately wishes to tell Graham everything, revealing the truth isn’t worth putting him and everyone she loves in danger.

My Thoughts:

I’m a fan of Kristi Ann Hunter’s writing so when I saw there was a new series coming out I grabbed up the free prequel: A Search for Refuge.  And, I was a tiny bit under-impressed.  It was good, but it wasn’t the stand-out read that I was expecting. (Novellas have such a hard job, trying to tell a whole well rounded story in few words).

So I wasn’t sure what I’d discover as I opened the pages of A Defense of Honor.  Yet, I found myself happily and deeply engaged in the story and with every single page the novel grew on me.  Graham was a brilliant character full of kindness and curiosity.  It was fun to witness him discover himself as he sought his sister and encountered the mystery of Haven Manor.

This turned out to be a very satisfying read! I hope there will be more books to come in this series.

(And I would recommend that you read A Search for Refuge first because it truly does set the stage for this novel.  Besides, maybe you’ll love it.)

I received a free digital pre-release copy of In Defense of Honor in exchange for my honest opinion in this review, but the full release version is already on pre-order.

Book Review: Holy Solitude

About the Book:

Our faith is full of heroes who experienced God powerfully in solitude. From Hagar and the Hebrew prophets to Jesus in the wilderness to Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, we see how escape from the toil and temptations of daily life can open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to the still, small voice of God. In the vast desert or a tiny room, solitude–frightening for some and a welcome reprieve for others–is far from an antisocial self-indulgence but rather is an opportunity for transformation and empowerment to serve God’s people ever more deeply.

While most of us can’t take weeks–or even a few days–for private retreat, Holy Solitude offers readers thoughtful inspiration and practical devotional activities such as taking a solitary bus ride or baking a loaf of bread for a neighbor. Daily reflections introduce readers to figures in both Scripture and Christian history whose stories of discernment and discipline are a guide for our own spiritual practices as we seek to know God more fully and follow Christ more faithfully.

My Thoughts:

This book came to me toward the end of Lent when I was already engaged with several other Lenten devotionals so I waited until more recently to take a look at this devotional.

From the sub-title I suppose I was expecting something along the lines of Nouwen or Manning, or even something like Preston Yancey’s Out of the House of Bread.  I was expecting something both poetic and practical.  The devotionals are practical, but for me personally they lacked the poetic.  I found myself missing the depth of beauty and the mystery that I was looking for in the writing style.  The entries were just a bit too direct for me and I never found myself deeply connecting to the material.

Honestly, I can think of a number of friends who might really like this book.  So, all in all I have to say it wasn’t for me, but I could see it being very good for logical, practical and straight-forward types of readers.  I think that the discussion questions could be helpful for small groups or families that might want to work through this together.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and I am basing my review on the samples of devotions from each section that I engaged with as I decided I didn’t want to give it the time to engage with all the devotional entries.

Book Review: More Than Meets the Eye

About the Book:

Many consider Evangeline Hamilton cursed. Orphaned at a young age and possessing a pair of mismatched eyes–one bright blue, the other dark brown–Eva has fought to find her way in a world that constantly rejects her. Yet the support of even one person can help overcome the world’s judgments, and Eva has two–Seth and Zach, two former orphans she now counts as brothers.

Seeking justice against the man who stole his birthright and destroyed his family, Logan Fowler arrives in 1880s Pecan Gap, Texas, to confront Zach Hamilton, the hardened criminal responsible for his father’s death. Only instead of finding a solitary ruthless gambler, he discovers a man not much older than himself with an unusual family. When Zach’s sister, Evangeline, insists on dousing Logan with sunshine every time their paths cross, Logan finds his quest completely derailed. Who is truly responsible for his lost legacy, and will restoring the past satisfy if it means forfeiting a future with Evangeline?

My Thoughts:

More Than Meets The Eye is a story of overcoming.  Overcoming the circumstances of a harsh world.  Overcoming prejudice. And most of all, overcoming our own flawed perspectives, because when it comes to our perspectives there is often much more going on than meets the eye.

I always appreciate that Witemeyer’s characters are real down to earth people with a mix of flaws, complicated motives and true desires.  I loved Evangeline’s character.  I loved the loyalty of the siblings.  I loved the comic relief and the unconventional romance(s).  This was an all around fun read that possessed depth along with a sense of hope.

 

I received a free digital copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: A Most Noble Heir

About the Book:

When stable hand Nolan Price learns from his dying mother that he is actually the son of the Earl of Stainsby, his plans for a future with kitchen maid Hannah Burnham are shattered. Once he is officially acknowledged as the earl’s heir, Nolan will be forbidden to marry beneath his station.

Unwilling to give up the girl he loves, he devises a plan to elope–believing that once their marriage is sanctioned by God, Lord Stainsby will be forced to accept their union. However, as Nolan struggles to learn the ways of the aristocracy, he finds himself caught between pleasing Hannah and living up to his father’s demanding expectations.

At every turn, forces work to keep the couple apart, and a solution to remain together seems further and further away. With Nolan’s new life pulling him irrevocably away from the woman he loves, it seems only a miracle will bring them back together.

My Thoughts:

A Most Noble Heir was one of those books that fell right in the middle for me, I didn’t love it, but there was nothing that I particularly disliked about it either.  It’s a good and well thought through story with believable characters.  There are numerous twists and turns in the plot and like Nolan you wonder if he will get his happily ever after with Hannah.

I think that the reason I didn’t love the book was the way the story progressed over such a long period of time with a fair amount of detail and a rather slow pace.  I felt more like I was watching a mini-series than living inside of a story.   While, on occasion I can find it annoying to read a book where the author draws me into every new chapter and I can’t find a place in the story to set the book down, this book was a little too easy to set aside in the middle of the story.

So if you are looking to do some casual reading with a book that you can pick up and enjoy and put down as needed without any compulsion to stay up until 2 am reading then this might be the story for you.

 

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.