Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: A Name Unknown

Pretty book covers and seeing an author's name over and over actually is effective marketing it turns out.

When I had a chance to read a novel by Roseanne M. White, I knew I wanted to finally try this author that kept popping up on Facebook. So I got a Kindle copy of A Name Unknown.

Wow, oh, wow!

Characters you fall in love with (and learn from!), an interesting plot, romance, complications--it was all there. A female street thief from London gets hired to prove a certain wealthy man is a traitor to England. She infiltrates his estate posing as a librarian and begins discovering the true character of this man and, perhaps, questioning her own. But what will her Artful-Dodger-type family and powerful and mysterious boss think if she doesn't deliver? She must deliver.

Unlike most novels I review, the romance in this one comes much later in the storyline. So while it is not strictly a romance, it is still satisfying. The gospel plays an important, and necessary, and exciting, role in character development. My only complaint is the characters begin to pursue a modicum of romantic interest before both are saved. I can't stand it when stories do that! (Like the Christy TV series and Hallmark's Signed, Sealed, and Delivered movies) But because the romance happens at the end, the spark and the conversion happen almost concurrently.

Since sadly finishing this book, I've read a really good arranged-marriage novella and a sweet juvenile fiction story (that I plan to read to my class), but I still feel like A Name Unknown was a story I was able to cozy into like an oversized leather chair and enter into a world worth entering into. It's a good feeling.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And apparently, this is the first in a series! I also heard from a friend that the author's other series is really good too.

Monday, July 24, 2017

200: adquiere sabiduria

Quick thought: God highly values wisdom.

Oddly enough, it took reading Proverbs 4 in Spanish to get this through my head.

"Sabiduria ante todo; adquiere sabiduria;
Y sobre todas tus posesiones adquiere inteligencia." -Proverbs 4:7

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." KJV

Or, my translation of the Spanish: "Wisdom before everything; acquire wisdom; and over and above all your possessions, acquire intelligence." (kind of a shocker)

Then in Proverbs 8, Lady Wisdom of course has her great soliloquy:

"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before his works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning,
before there was ever an earth." (vv 22-23, NKJV)

Wisdom is such an intangible quality, I think. And this is a quick thought blog post, not a study, because I haven't recently done a study on wisdom, though I'm sure I did in my homeschooling days with my mom, because, well, wisdom was a big thing back when we were reading a Proverb every day and reading books like Wisdom with the Millers and Pearables.

Sometimes wisdom can seem like a suggestion. I mean, it's not as if it's a command of "do this." Well, okay, maybe it does say to "get wisdom," but that can feel more like a wise saying.

What I'm saying is sometimes having wisdom can feel very much like a general exhortation with little specifics tacked onto it.

So when Ephesians 5:4 says that there should be no foolish talk, I'm left thinking, Really? Is this truly a command? What does foolish talk consist of? Because I'm not sure I regularly check that part of my speech. (I mean, it also says no crude joking, but I come from a loud and proud heritage of, well, *coughs*, flatulence jokes. So is that ok?)

Ok, I've got to wrap this up. My thought is that foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. And God seems to highly value wisdom. And if God highly values wisdom, then so should I.

So if something is "foolish" or "ill-advised," I need to stop seeing that as a not-so-great-choice-but-not-necessarily-sin, and start discerning if it is the opposite of wisdom. If so, it is the opposite of what God values. And if I'm a member of the Kingdom of God, it is not only ill-advised, it is not the kingdom way. Walking wisely is how God's people walk.

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." (Eph. 5:15-16, ESV)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

Sometimes you're in the mood for fiction; sometimes you're in the mood for non-fiction. And sometimes a book outside of your mood draws you in and takes you captive for several dozen pages while on a plane heading for Chicago.

Thus was my experience with Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth by Rebecca VanDoodewaard.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I requested this book from Cross Focused Reviews. I hoped to be edified. I was. I also was pleasantly surprised at the author's scholarship. Most pages cite sources in the footnotes, and the style is straightforward. I was afraid I'd have to wade through conjecture and fluff. But while always interesting and cohesive, the mini-biographies of the ladies in this book seemed to stick to simple fact. In an enjoyable way.

Reformation Women is actually based on a book by James Isaac Good published in 1901. The content of that book has been "revised, expanded, and corrected to make the stories of these remarkable women accessible for today's church" (from the Preface, p. xiv). Each chapter is a mini-biography of a woman who lived during the time of the Reformation, focusing on her life and how she fought for the cause of Protestant theology. I really enjoyed reading about these sisters in the faith. It's been awhile since I studied that era, so I often could not keep up with the background history of what was going on. This book would be a great companion to a world history unit! But even in its own right, it really is so edifying.

Each woman is different--they don't have the same personalities or the same life experiences. Rebecca VanDoodewaard does an excellent job of prefacing the book by noting some characteristics you'll observe in each of these women, like their devotion to supporting their husbands' work if they were married to believers (though these women often carried on the work apart from their husbands). At the end, she does an equally amazing job concluding what we can learn from the biographies. And she was spot on in drawing out some of the things I noticed in their lives as well.

What was perhaps most impactful was how these women did not let circumstances get in the way of always encouraging the church and pushing forward. One woman lost her father and husband in the same massacre, a year after she was married. One woman had her children taken away and raised by Roman Catholics. Younger women often remarried and helped raise their new husband's children. This remarriage quote I thought was noteworthy: "He was content to have her without a dowry. She was happy to have a husband whose abilities and goals she could respect" (p. 73). Such a different world almost, or maybe it just seems so. Where life is more matter of fact. Where you are chased from one city to another, one country to another, corresponding with famous people and taking stands for Protestantism smack dab in the middle of violent Roman Catholic opposition. Where you carry on.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard writes in the conclusion, "Often, if our self-appointed identity evaporates, our feelings of security and usefulness shrivel. When we think about how the women in this book had the versatility to be fruitful in many different situations, it is clear why they did not associate with one identity other than a spiritual one. They were Christians" (p 110).

Married. Single. Living at home. Living on your own. Those are lesser identities. But the one constant thread is glorifying Christ. N'est-ce pas?

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars easily.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

199: being taken beyond it all

Sitting out on the porch at 9:30 p.m., "enjoying" the 80 degree weather so my dog can have some front yard time.

"Lord God, do something," I pray over a situation.

I am.

He very well may be working without me even seeing a glimmer. In my mind's eye it is like the Spirit moving over the surface of the waters. Always above all this gunk that weighs me down. Moving, accomplishing unseen purposes, preparing miracles, doing miracles that I am not privvy to. Basically, being trustworthy as I scramble to find solutions. He may be grieving at things, same as me, but He is not  threatened by lack of control like me.

Accomplish Your unseen purposes, oh Lord!

I have been focused on solutions. Fixes. Turn this ship around.

Or, when I acknowledge my inability, let go of the lines and let the waves toss, trying not to look.

It's all exhausting. And, as I tell the Lord, I can't. I cannot.

There is one more step I have forgotten. Beyond giving the earthly drama over to Him.

Sit and be filled.

I'm doing this teacher's Bible study with QR codes to songs. I'm loving Moriah Peters' I Choose Jesus, Selah's I Got Saved, and Laura Story's Grace.

I can feel the drip-drop of spiritual rain filling my very dry soul.

I want fixes, solutions, and changes now, on earth as it is in heaven, please, Lord, amen, thank you, moving on.

But He reminds me there is such a thing as mounting up on eagle's wings away from it all. To see Him high and lifted up in heaven and be filled with awe and worship. That's what my soul needs.

I'm back in the air conditioning now. I think I'll try for more filling time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

198: still finding my identity as a single apparently

One friend has three kids under the age of 3 and the youngest has an apparently life-long disease. She's in the hospital with him right now.

One friend is juggling sleeplessness as her baby just turned 1 and she and her husband have welcomed in a foster baby for the next month.

I have none of their trials and none of their joys, but I have my own. I'm tempted to think my life is less worthy to be spoken of because the only sleeplessness I suffer is when I stay up til 2am and then have to walk the dogs before the sun gets hot here in the California valley. What are my own frustrations and worries to theirs?

Can you tell one of my weaknesses is constant comparison?

I listened to a Moody Church sermon on singleness the other week that was so good! So, gathering from that, which you should totally listen to, the truth about me--about us--is...

...I can display  the sufficiency of Christ. That if He witholds the marital relationship and all that entails, He is enough. He is enough, and has been, and will be. Shake off the chaff. He is enough.

Not that I am enough. Not that I don't need a man or am self-sufficient. That sounds so inaccurate right now anyway. But I can show the Lord's sufficiency in human lives.

...I can focus on spiritual things. As I was reminded once when I was in a relationship, the single life really does differ from the married life in that you are not thinking 24/7 about your husband and kids and how your lives intertwine. My season is different. I am not consumed with child watching-feeding-putting back to bed. I frankly have more time in my life. It's a different season to embrace and learn how to use well, not to wield as a numchuck of comparison.

But to be honest, I'm starting to think that spiritually, marrieds and singles are not all that different. Our vertical relationship and our kingdom citizenship really has no correlation with horizontal circumstances. It sometimes feels like a chasm of difference, but we all deal with temptation and sanctification and the need to believe our God no matter our marital status, age, historical era, or ethnic culture.

I am a single. I fully accept it. I am a believer. That is my true identity.

"you are . . . fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19)
7 Junes ago in Oregon
This June in Chicago

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: High as the Heavens

It's summer! It's summer!

Granted, I've just spent the last few hours working on school stuff. I don't know if it's the late hour or sitting in front of my computer that has me not making any jerking motions with my head because of the pain on the right side. But, summer means long days of free time. Summer means a trip to Chicago a couple weeks ago (SO. VERY. ENJOYABLE). Summer means an abnormal amount of time playing games (Marrying Mr. Darcy, Ticket to Ride, baseball card game, Canasta, Iota). Summer means time with my great-nephew and my new great-niece! Summer means multiple trips to the dog park. Summer means sleeping in and staying up late. And summer means lying on my bed absorbed in a book!

beautiful cover, no?
I chose High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin from my Bethany House Publishers optional, complimentary, books-to-review list because...nope, not because it has a marriage of convenience plot. Ha! Thought you had me pegged, did ya? Nah, I chose it because I had read one of her books before and had been intrigued. Only...the book I remembered reading before ended up not being by Kate Breslin; I had read a different book by her. Ah well. :P

High as the Heavens is set during WW1--a historical time definitely not as popular to write about as WW2. (Ironically, the next novel I'm going to review is also set during WW1--what a coinkidink!) The plot happens mostly in Belgium and tells the story of a woman who works for the Belgian resistance group "La Dame Blanche." Like Wings of the Wind (which I reviewed last), High as the Heavens has a strong romance. And yet, that's almost misleading. The story is compelling because of the personal drama (with and without romance), but it also has all the intrigue, suspense, and deceit you would expect in a story set during a world war. It is character driven with a strong plot. I hesitate to say more because I don't want to give away anything! If you enjoy character-driven war movies, you'll definitely enjoy this book. I was completely engrossed and entertained.

FYI, I don't feel like I learned tons about WW1 through this novel--maybe I did and didn't realize it? Also, although it is a Christian novel, it did not have as strong of a Biblical message as some of the other novels I read.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I'm not disappointed in the least!

Here are some pix from my Chicago trip for my non-FB friend (Hi! Sorry I haven't written in ages. :/):

This place reminded me of Lyme in Persuasion!!
Marrying Mr. Darcy--so fun! :D

The Bean! Actually, it's called Cloud Gate.

yes, it was as good as it looks

Lake Michigan--my first time at one of the Great Lakes

I tried not to think about it.