Friday, April 28, 2017

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey

I was already an admirer of Josephine Tey because of  The Franchise Affair (reviewed here), but The Singing Sands knocked my fandom up to the next level.

Alan Grant works for Scotland Yard and is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. He catches a train, looking forward to a much needed vacation, only to discover a dead body in compartment B-7.

Who is the dead man? How and why did he die? Typical questions for a mystery novel. But the book diverges from the commonplace with it's atypical detective. The protagonist makes this novel twice as interesting as he struggles with his various demons. Conversations he has with his alter ego are laugh-out-loud funny. Even after the name of the dead man becomes known, in Grant's mind he is often referred to as "B-7." I loved how the mystery helped lead him to healing and wholeness.

All of the characters are wonderfully drawn. The writing is top-notch:

Grant had the island to himself, and for five days in the company of the whooping wind, he quartered his bleak kingdom. It was rather like walking a bad-mannered dog; a dog that rushes past you on narrow paths, leaps on you in ecstasy so that you are nearly knocked over, and drags you from the direction in which you want to go. (p. 86)

Charmingly British, The Singing Sands was Tey's last novel. Alas, no more Alan Grant! In spite of some off-color language, this is a splendid read.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

Don't Waste Your Life is John Piper's call to modern-day believers to a more radical faith walk. In spite of the choppy, repetitive first half of the book, I appreciated his clear-sighted proclamation of a personal righteousness that affects EVERY area of our lives.

Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. (p. 71)

If Christ is an all-satisfying treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. (p. 107)

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." Why don't people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. I am wired by nature to love the same toys the world loves. I'm tempted to call earth "home" and to call luxuries "needs" and to use money the way that unbelievers do. (p. 109, 112)

My Calvinist friends emphasize God's sovereignty and glory. My non-Calvinist friends focus on His love and grace. But the Bible doesn't give us this either/or option. According to Piper, the sole motivation of the Christian life is to live for God's glory. I'm not against the theme of this book. My daily, hourly prayer is that my life will honor and glorify God. But it's because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) And because He loved me when I was completely unworthy of his love. (Rom 5:8) I was astounded at the pains Piper took to evade the word "love" in relationship to God. In fact, the only time he uses it is in the negative sense:

So here is the question to test whether you have been sucked into this world's distortion of love: Would you feel more loved by God if he made much of you, or if he liberated you from the bondage of self-regard, at great cost to himself, so that you enjoy making much of him forever? (p. 36) In other passages he talks of "treasuring" Christ rather than loving Him.

Yes, I agree that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. Yes, "His name and renown is the desire of my heart" (Is 26:8), but I am dumbfounded by statements Piper makes such as, There is no greater joy than joy in the greatness of God. What about His goodness? His steadfast love is the sustaining lifeblood of every Christian. Surely, those who understand His costly love (not the cheap grace that Piper must be referring to) are the most likely to spend and be spent for His glory. (2 Cor 12:15)

Any thoughts on this?


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour

Life was quiet, but far from humdrum. On the still, mirrored surface of a pool even the dip of an insect’s wings will cause commotion. So it was in Eden Village. On the placid surface of existence there the faintest zephyr became a gale that raised waves of excitement; the tiniest happening was an event. It is all a matter of proportion.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings over vintage novels. Though clean and quaint, they are often overly sentimental. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m glad to say that Lilac Girl is one of them. At first I wasn't so sure. In the very first chapter an awkward phrase made the English major in me bristle up. Then there is a ridiculous instance of a man declaring his passion for a woman he has just met. But in subsequent chapters he sees his foolishness. My initial prejudice against the story was soon overcome by its charm.

Wade Herrick and his best friend Ed Craig are partners in a mining enterprise in Colorado. When Ed dies of typhoid, he wills his little house back East to Wade. Wade spends his summer there and learns to love the people of Eden Village, particularly his neighbor Evelyn Walton.

Ralph Henry Barbour (1870-1944) wrote sports novels for boys and occasionally forayed into romantic fiction. Could this be why the book isn’t overly sappy? In any case, I loved it that the protagonists were never coy or excessively insecure. Their conversations were friendly, open and honest – such a breath of fresh air after two recent books I read in which the opposite was true (The Elusive Miss Ellison and Vienna Prelude).

In spite of the ever present question in the mind of anxious readers (“Will he win her?”), an undercurrent of humor makes the book a delightful, light-hearted read. From the hymn-singing maid, to the poetry-quoting old doctor, to a calico cat named Alexander the Great, there are plenty of light moments to balance the heavier ones.


Monday, April 10, 2017

April E-book Deals at Amazon

I combed through this month's offerings at Amazon and found a few good titles:

Fiction: Old Yeller, Jacob I Have Loved by Paterson, and Melanie Dickerson's retellings of fairy tales. (The Fairest Beauty for 99 cents, Silent Songbird, Beautiful Pretender, and Huntress of Thornbeck Forest for $1.99)

Biography: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story (99 cents), and Sully

Christian Interest: He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and Integrity by Henry Cloud


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Genius of Jane Eyre

As an INTJ I rarely gush, but I could jabber like a fool about Jane Eyre. I've read it so many times that I've lost count. I remember writing a paper about the book for my Freshman Composition class in college and having my professor scoff at my infantile gleanings. Whatever.

Thirty-five years later I may not be any more of a literary expert, but I am certainly much more familiar with its main characters and themes. I've read the Brontë family canon and various books about the siblings, but Jane Eyre still stands out to me as the brightest of the family gems.

It's stunning to think that a sheltered pastor's daughter in Victorian England was capable of such beautiful writing, witty repartee, and insights into human nature. This time through I saw dozens of metaphors. parallels, and incidents of foreshadowing that I never noticed before. If you've never read Jane Eyre, please read no farther because I'll be including spoilers.

I loved it that the previous owner of my copy of Jane Eyre
had marked one of my favorite passages.
My favorite discovery was looking up the meaning of Bridewell, one of Rochester and Blanche's charades in Chapter 18. Oh my word! Is it just a coincidence that Bridewell was the first English prison? Could the reference possibly refer to Rochester as a prisoner in a loveless marriage?

Several rich contrasts hit me for the first time in this reading: Jane visited her dying aunt in the room where she had been sent as a child to ask forgiveness for wrongs she had never done. Eight years later she gives her full and free forgiveness there. Then there were the two horrible Reed sisters vs. St. John's sisters. And both Rochester and Jane disdain the worth of their rivals so much as to not be capable of feeling any real jealousy (Miss Vale's lover and Blanche Ingram respectively.) Both St. John Rivers and Mr. Rochester exert a certain power over Jane. She gladly calls one of them her "master" and retains her own identity in his company, but she says of Rivers, "vivacity in me was distasteful to him. I did not enjoy my servitude."

I loved all these revelations because it shows high tightly-knit the story is. It's MUCH more than a  Victorian sensation novel. Someday I'd like to read the annotated version. I'm sure it would reveal even more of Brontë's genius.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Books I read in March

Thanks to the Intentional Christion Reading Challenge at Goodreads, I read three non-fiction books this month. My two favorite fiction titles were Around the World in 80 Days and The Lilac Girl. (both free for Kindle download) Here is a list of all the books...

The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer - better than average Christian fiction
Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love by Homan and Pratt - reviewed here
Jane Eyre - audiobook, a delightful re-read (for the umpteenth time)
Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias - a thought-provoking book about living the faith we believe, reviewed here
The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller - okay
Around the World in 80 Days - audiobook, reviewed here
Vienna Prelude by the Thoenes - Christian historical fiction/WWII
The Lilac Girl by Barbour - better than average vintage fiction (review forthcoming)
Don't Waste Your Life by Piper (review forthcoming)