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 tow.) If you watch American TV, it won't faze you at all.

Blessings,

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February E-book Deals at Amazon

I finally found time to scroll through the February deals at Amazon. There are A LOT of Warren Wiersbe titles on sale and a few novels that I've heard raves about, but haven't read yet.

Fiction
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie ($1.99)
Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke
One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood ($2.99)

Non-Fiction
Relationships, A Mess Worth Making  (reviewed here) is $1.99
A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War is $2.99
The Vatican Pimpernel: The WWII Exploits of the Monsignor Who Saved over 6,500 Lives - $1.99

Wiersbe Deals - Normally  $10

Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50) - $1.99
Be Counted (Numbers, on sale till Feb 21st) - 99 cents
Be Responsible (1 Kings, on sale till the 21st) - $1.99
Be Worshipful (Psalm 1-89) - $1.99
Be Decisive (Jeremiah) - $1.99
Be Determined (Nehemiah) - $1.99
Be Heroic (minor prophets) - 99 cents
BE Series Bundle (The four Gospels) $1.99
Be Loyal (Matthew) - $1.99
Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13) - $1.99
Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12) - $1.99
Be Joyful (Philippians) - $1.99
Be Confident (Hebrews) - $1.99

Happy reading!







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.


 
Blessings,

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.










Friday, January 27, 2017

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

In every single book I've read by George Eliot, the characters are unhappy in love yet press on to do what is right. (Adame Bede, Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch). But Mill on the Floss wins the prize for the most unhappiness.

Maggie Tulliver, grew up with her brother Tom on the Floss River where her father was a mill owner. Although she is twice as smart as her brother, he gets sent off to school and she is left to languish in poverty (both mental and financial). She receives some schooling later, but it is cut short through poor decisions made by her father. Throughout the book she is torn between being dutiful to those she loves and snatching at bits of joy that come her way. She is miserable with a capital "M," but that's all I can say without giving any spoilers.

Eliot's prose is always exceptional and her insights into human nature and human suffering are thought-provoking. Like Trollope, her wit is an occasional, lovely surprise in the midst of heavier text. Nevertheless, I don't know if it could have kept up with this book if it had not been for the audiobook, narrated by Wanda McCaddon. She did a wonderful job with all the voices, making the reader sympathetic to each character no matter their faults and foibles.

Although this was not a happy book, I take my hat off to Eliot for having written love stories that are antithetical to what comes out of Hollywood. The Mill on the Floss may be the only book you ever read that asks the question, "If two people are madly in love, why shouldn't they marry?" and then gives a negative answer. The people in Eliot's books love deeply, but the cost of their love comes very high. Because of that, her stories are unsettling - in a good kind of way.

Blessings,

 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch

I read a lot of books that I never review because I want to recommend only the best. But I'm breaking my rule for this particular series because it's too good not to mention. Please note that I've read just one book (#8 of the Charles Lenox mysteries), so I can't speak for the other books.

Basic story: Charles Lenox has always loved solving mysteries. After a career in Parliament he decides to become part of a detective agency, but business is tediously slow. When a former colleague is murdered, Lenox plunges headfirst into crime-solving again.

Author Charles Finch was educated at Oxford and Yale, majoring in English and history and it shows. He gives little sketches of Victorian practices throughout the novel that enrich the story. His writing is excellent in spite of the occasional use of profanity. This particular story includes some references to prostitution, but never crosses over into the tawdry. I appreciated Finch's restraint.

The mystery was good, but it was not what kept me reading. The reason I highly recommend the series is because Finch does a bang-up job of creating characters that you really care about. (90% of the fiction I read in 2016 had unappealing protagonists, which has left me slightly traumatized.)

Charles Lenox is happily married (imagine that!) and so is his friend Dr. McConnell. Other friendships and relationships include the young widow Polly, the former butler who is now in parliament, and amateur detective Lord Dallington.  I loved them all and look forward to meeting them again as I read the whole series. (Although I had not read the previous novels, Laws of Murder gives enough of a back story so that you know who's who.)

The kindle versions of Finch's books are pricey ($10 range) but some of the hardcovers are already available for one cent from Amazon and for free at PaperBackSwap. I got my copy as a free e-book download from my Michigan library. Where there's a will, there's a way!

Blessings,