Friday, February 24, 2017

By the Light of a Thousand Stars by Jamie Langston Turner

After I read Jamie Langston Turner's Winter Birds (2006), I was quick to download several of her other titles because I was pleased to finally find an author who could write good Christian fiction without bashing me over the head with the gospel.

By the Light of a Thousand Stars (1999) is another example of excellent writing and intriguing characters. Each of the protagonists has a unique story of brokenness and is at a different stage of her faith walk. Dottie has been a Christian for a long time and is struggling with her faith since the death of her daughter. Della Boyd has lived a life of service to others and can't imagine why anyone would call her a sinner. Catherine is a cantankerous, shallow housewife who criticizes everything and everyone. Barb is the fairly new Christian who is trying her best to share her faith with others. Each woman is likable and believable. I loved the other kooky characters (the poetry club members) that Turner introduces into the story as well.

Turner taught in the English department at BJU for many years and weaves references to poetry and plays throughout her narrative, which I enjoyed. But the book fell short in two areas. First, the excessive teenage banter/humor got old after a while. And the fact that so many people ended up getting saved robbed the book of the sense of authenticity that I so appreciated in Winter Birds.

But I'm still a Jamie Langston Turner fan. Her writing ability is light years ahead of most Christian novelists and I look forward to dipping into her other books.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Seek and Hide by Amanda G. Stevens

One of my New Year's resolutions was "no more substandard fiction," so I've been ignoring all the free Christian e-books that have come across my path. But when I saw the premise of Seek and Hide, I couldn't resist:

Six years ago, the government took control of the church. Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations. Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment--including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent. (The story is a lot more complicated than that, but that gives you the main themes.)

Brenner is doing his best to save people before they can be arrested for hate crimes (i.e. owning a Bible) and in the process he meets an intriguing mix of good guys, bad guys and folks in between. I was especially intrigued by the number of people who were not Christians in the book, but who were sympathetic to believers because they felt that their loss of religious freedom was unjust. The book takes place in the not-so-distant future when evangelism is equated with terrorism and Christians are "re-educated" to give up their antiquated, hateful ideas of sin.

I liked this book for so many reasons. Beside the fact that it is darn good storytelling, I appreciated that Christians are portrayed in a realistic manner and that the book offers no easy answers to life's problems. In addition, Stevens manages to write about gritty situations without sordidness. The conversations are believable. And, unlike most Christian novels, the characters are complex and interesting.

If you like your novels squeaky clean, you may be uncomfortable with a few brief episodes of women ogling a bare-chested man. There are also references to rape and alcoholism. These were handled discreetly and added to the multi-layered story.

A fascinating read!

P.S. The sequel, Found and Lost, is very, very good. Unfortunately it contains some mildly steamy love scenes, which I thought were unnecessary. (This is a risk some Christian writers are willing to take so as not to replicate the saccharine-sweet tripe that is peddled as Christian fiction, but it's a hard line to toe.) If you watch American TV, it won't faze you at all.

My thoughts on Book Three, and Book Four.


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Four Graces by D. E. Stevenson

The Four Graces is another winner from D.E. Stevenson. It isn't technically a sequel to the third Miss Buncle book, but it has some of the same characters (newlyweds Jane and Archie for example) and continues the saga of small-town English life during World War II. Although the gist of the story takes place in the home of Pastor Grace, there are side stories of clothing, food, and gas shortages, as well as a poignant tale of an evacuee child from London.

The vicar of Chevis Green is a widower with four daughters, each of whom is splendidly drawn by Stevenson with her own personality and challenges. Addie is serving the war effort by living and working in London. Liz is a "land girl", serving as a farm hand in place of a young man who has gone off to fight. Sal and Tilly live at home, helping their father with his parish responsibilities. Though a couple of the girls have love interests, this book cannot be classified as a romance. It doesn't really have much of a plot either. It's just a splendid recounting of every day life in an English town where people are trying to make the best of difficult times.

The friendly conversations, the bravery through hardships, and the literate dialogue make this book a treat. Stevenson did not write "Christian" novels (thank goodness!), but her characters were familiar with the scriptures and quote the Bible (as well as poems and works of literature) in casual conversation which I find delightful. In fact, the book is twice as funny if you catch the biblical allusions. (I could not read this in public places because I chortled too loudly.)

Some good quotes:

When Mrs. Smith meets Mr. Grace, she says she hopes is broad-minded. "No," he answered. "Not in the sense you mean. I have noticed that nowadays when people speak of being broad-minded they really mean muddleheaded, or lacking in principles...Nowadays people are anxious to appear worse then they are. It's a queer sort of inverted hypocrisy."


Sometimes the girls disagreed with each other and said so, making no bones about it, but they were so much in tune, and so fully in accord upon essentials that it did not matter how violently they disagreed upon nonessentials. In fact, a good hearty disagreement was welcome, adding spice to their talk.

"Books are people," smiled Miss Marks. "In every book worth reading, the author is there to meet you, to establish contact with you. He takes you into his confidence and reveals his thoughts to you."

This was my tenth Stevenson title, and definitely one of my favorites.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Audiobooks for Cheapskates

I've written before about free books at Librivox. And I've mentioned previously about how I avoided joining Audible because I thought the books were too expensive, but then changed my mind. Later, when I had a surplus of books I cancelled my monthly fee and signed up for the "Inactive Light" option which was ten dollars a year, enabling me to buy books whenever I wished (at full price) and to receive e-mails about daily deals.

I have LOVED this option for several reasons. First, even though the daily deals are mostly garbage, occasionally a gem pops up like Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey a few weeks ago, and The Secret Garden a few months ago. Both cost about $3 on sale. Secondly, if I download a classic (free) title from Amazon for my Kindle, the same title is often deeply discounted at Audible, just because I own a copy of it. That's how I got a fantastic version of Anna Karenina for almost nothing. (It's usually $23.)

The last time I checked, the "Inactive Light" option was no longer listed on the site, so I called and they said it was available by request.

In addition to Librivox and Audible, I've just discovered that I can get thousands of free audiobooks (movies, music and e-books too) via my Michigan library (even here in Brazil) through something called Hoopla.

Feeling spoiled rotten (and wanting to share the wealth), 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Books I Read in January

I was crazy busy last month so I could hardly believe it when I saw on my Goodreads' list that I'd read eight books. Part of it was due to attacking my New Year's goals with gusto, but part of it was because I had time to read on the subway to and from my substitute teaching job.

1) I don't usually count cookbooks but The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day had plenty of text and tips so I decided to include it. I love homemade bread without stress so this method intrigues me. Their maple oatmeal bread recipe is scrumptious!

2) The Leavenworth Case, a vintage mystery by Anne Katherine Green was just okay.

3) The Sea Glass Sisters by Wingate is a novella that is surprisingly good for Christian fiction.

4) Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson was a light, comforting read. (reviewed here)

5) Eugenics and other Evils by G.K. Chesterton was not as brilliant as some of his other books.

6) The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (audiobook was reviewed here)

7) The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson - possibly one of my favorite Stevenson titles (review forthcoming)

8) Songs of Heaven by Robert Coleman was a worshipful study of the poetic passages in the book of Revelation.