Before I Saw You by Amy K. Sorrells: A book review

Drug abuse, opioid epidemic, ash trees dying, abuse in relationships, wildlife rescue, prison, unplanned pregnancy, and adoption. These are the themes covered in Sorrells’s latest book. If you’re one of those who believes Christian fiction shies away from tough topics or sugarcoats their endings, reading fiction by Amy Sorrells should change your mind.

What makes this “Christian fiction”? The grace of God is woven throughout–expressed in relationships, in dealing with forgiveness and trust, and learning to see God’s hand even in the toughest times.

When I first began this book, I had to put it down a couple of times because of the hard life of the teen-age Jaycee and the impossible situation she found herself in. I would rather those bad and hard times come upon a character more gradually, but sometimes life isn’t like that.  Sorrells writes of such a life with appealing characters who are given a glimmer of hope in their darkest hours. Highly recommend.

This was not my first book by Sorrells. I reviewed Then Sings My Soul last year: https://pmgilmer.com/2017/06/

Disclosure: I received the kindle edition of this book from goodreads but am under no obligation to leave a review. Thoughts and comments are all my own.

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Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/bernard-cornwell-fools-and-mortals

Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.

 

Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

I subscribed to the magazine Christianity Today and one of the features I look forward to every year is their list of book awards. (No real surprise there). I invariably find, not only books I’ve never heard of, but also authors.  Not just the authors of the books, but also the reviewers who usually have their own books and/or blogs. Last year my favorite find was: Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields. https://pmgilmer.com/2017/07/01/crossing-the-waters-by-leslie-leyland-fields/

CT awards books in several different categories. I will not try to cover all the categories or all the books, but will point out the ones I’m most interested in and hope you will read the whole article for yourself. The categories include: Apologetics Evangelism, Christian Living/Discipleship, CT Women, Fiction, and Spiritual Formation.

I have read a book from the category of CT Women the last few years. This year the winner of that category is You Carried Me by Melissa Ohden. Ohden was adopted into a loving family, but eventually wants to learn more about her biological family. When she learns that she was the victim of an unsuccessful abortion, she becomes more determined to find out what happened and why. Ohden uses her testimony to reach out to others who may be victims of abortion or other types of violence.

This year’s fiction winner is by Katherine James, Can You See Anything Now?  which is a debut novel for James. The award of merit goes to Daniel Taylor for Do We Not Bleed? A Jon Mote Mystery. Taylor’s first Mote mystery, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, won the fiction award last year. If you’re interested in a rather lengthy review by John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/who-killed-postmodernism

Among the many books that came out about Martin Luther this year, the winner for the History/Biography category was Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhus. Using Luther’s own words, Selderhus follows Luther on his spiritual journey as a monk, a husband and father, a preacher and writer.

The overall Book of the Year winner comes under the category of Beautiful Orthodoxy. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. Warren takes the common incidents of our day and reminds us of their spiritual significance. From one reviewer: “Warren takes you through a single ordinary day, from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night, and manages to make connections to just about every important aspect of the Christian life. She is a gifted writer whose stories, rife with humor, teach you deeper things without ever making you feel like you’re being instructed.” (Stan Jantz) An article taken from the book is included in CT and this alone has made me anxious to read this book.

If you like to read about the other winners: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-february/christianity-todays-2018-book-awards.html

Have you already read any of these books? Ready to add them to your TBR?

 

 

Wiley Cash: The Last Ballad

Looking to read more from local (North Carolina or anywhere in southeast) writers, I picked up the latest from Wiley Cash a few weeks ago.

The Last Ballad tells the story of Ella May Wiggins, a woman who worked in the textile mills of North Carolina in the 1920’s. In 1929, she leaves Bessemer City to go to Gastonia to hear about the union and their plans to strike. Ella May works hard every night, having to leave her four children (the father of her children has abandoned them). Joining a union is dangerous and will probably lose her her job, but what choice does she have? Her children are hungry and she can’t afford to clothe them. Something has to change.

Wiley Cash is a writer that any writer would envy. He writes of hard times, desperate situations, evil and selfish people with poetry and grace. He takes a woman who lived in an impossible situation and shows her courage and determination. I highly recommend this book, and will be checking out the backlist for Wiley Cash.

For those of you who read ebooks, this book is available for $1.99 across the different vendors for a limited time.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading from your local authors? Who are your favorites?

Seventeen of my Favorite Books from 2017

Looking back over 2017, I can’t say I’ve accomplished all my goals, but I did meet and go beyond my goals for reading. Okay, I manage to accomplish that goal every year–through college, having babies, homeschooling, working on my masters, etc. No matter what my year may bring, I will always squeeze in some reading time.

So, what were my top reads of 2017? Trying to cull my favorites was challenging, but thanks to Goodreads (my memory is not so great), I have come up with my top 17 from various genres. Some of these have been mentioned in previous posts and one I plan to review later, but I didn’t want to leave them out.

Historical fictionThe House of Riverton Kate Morton; The Alice Network by Kate Quinn; The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck; Small Island by Andrea Levy; Wiley Cash The Last Ballad

Suspense/mysteryThe Dry by Jane Harper; The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino; India Black by Carol K. Carr; Midnight at the Bright Lights Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan. All of these books were suspenseful, entertaining, and not what I was expecting. (I know; maybe if I read the blurbs? But sometimes they are so full of spoilers.) I picked up Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore because a book group I’m in was going to read it and because, well, a great cover. If I knew it would start with a suicide in a bookstore, and something terrible happened to the main character as a child, I probably wouldn’t have started it. But, once I did, (except for the night I knew the bad thing was about to happen, so I closed it until morning), I could hardly put it down. Great story. 

Historical Romance: The Painter’s Daughter Julie Klassen

Christian Living: Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields

History/Biographical: Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell; Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (assassination of James Garfield); Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson. 

Literary Fiction: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I’ve heard for several years about what a great book this one is, but a book about some terrorists taking over a party of VIP guests in a South American country? Just didn’t sound appealing, but Ann Patchett is such a great writer, I finally had to try it. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I did, I was engrossed.

Young Adult: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I listened to this one, and the narration is superb. 

Best Series: Shetland Island by Ann Cleeves (Read the first six; also belongs under Mysteries)

What about you? What were your favorites this year? What books are you looking forward to in 2018?

Dorothy L. Sayers: Apologist and Mystery Writer

“I always have a quotation for everything; it saves original thinking.” Dorothy Sayers.

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) wore many hats, but it is the labeling her as “apologist and mystery writer” by one article which makes me smile, and I believe would amuse her as well.

Born at Oxford, the only child of the Rev. Henry Sayers, she won a scholarship to Somerville College (a college of Oxford, started specifically for women). She graduated in 1915 with first class honors in modern languages.

She wrote her first “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery, Whose Body?, while working at a London advertising firm. She went on to write several novels and short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The books are still being published today and many of her readers are unaware of her many other accomplishments.

Sayers considered her best work her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Sayers was 51 when she first read the Divine Comedy, and she became consumed with it. “I bolted my meals, neglected my sleep, work, and correspondence, drove my friends crazy . . .” Deciding to make a fresh translation of his work, she learned the Italian necessary, and the translation remains in print.

Of all her writings, it is concerning a particular play–The Man Born to be King–I want to write about today. She wrote her first play, The Zeal of Thy House, for the Canterbury Festival. She then wrote six more plays including The Man Born to be King. I read this play over ten years ago, and have decided to reread it this year as part of my “Christmas reading.”

This play was originally written for the BBC for broadcasting in the children’s hour. Sayers’ depiction of Christ has him speaking in modern English (since her audience would hardly know Greek) which caused a great outcry of protests. Didn’t she know Jesus (and all those around him) spoke in King James English? One newspaper editor put it this way: “In quoting the Bible we must take the Authorized Version, and not the interpretation of scholars, however wise.” Sayers response: “Of this singular piece of idolatry I will only say that it imposes difficulties upon the English playwright from which the Greek tragic poets are free.” She further explains that as the Incarnation really happened–meaning God became a man and lived among common, ordinary people–he, consequently, spoke a common, ordinary language.

This speaks to me as a writer as I have been wrestling with criticism concerning some of my dialogue. Some say my dialogue sounds too modern, and I wonder if they’re expecting King James English (the Authorized Version) as well? I understand the characters shouldn’t sound like 21st century Americans, but I do not know the Hebrew language and do not believe my characters spoke in any superior sort of way. The whole point of writing about Biblical characters is to remind us that they were real people and not merely “characters.” The sons of King David, though sons of a king, were also shepherds and warriors. Yes, David was a poet and a song writer, but does anyone really think he went around speaking poetically to his sons? Or that Solomon spoke in proverbs in his every day life?

When Sayers wrote her play, she wanted her audience to remember also that these characters did not know what they were doing. “We are so much accustomed to viewing the whole story from a post-Resurrection, . . .point of view, that we are apt, without realising it, to attribute to all the New Testament characters the same kind of detailed theological awareness which we have ourselves. We judge their behavior as though all of them–disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and men-in-the-street–had known with Whom they were dealing . . . But they did not know it.”

Sayers goes on to explain that when we show how real the people were who “made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, . . .”, we are shocked, and we should be. However, when we pretty up the language and think of it all as in a culture and people far removed from us, we are not quite as shocked and do not see ourselves as those very people (as we should). “It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.”

In the same way, I wish for people who read my stories to see themselves in these Bible characters. To understand that we are just as sinful, just as fallen, and just as in need of a Savior. If a reader does not relate to the characters as people like themselves, they will only view the stories as just that–stories.

I’m looking forward to rereading these plays with a new eye than when I read them before. If you want to join along, please comment and let me know!

“The only Christian work is good work, well done.” Dorothy L. Sayers

 

Six Audio books of Different Genres For Your Listening Pleasure

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (https://pmgilmer.com/2017/02/), listening to audio books is both a new and an old kind of reading for me. I started listening to some while walking, then tried while driving. When I first tried to listen while driving, I would find my mind wandering and lose track of the story. I now find myself frustrated if I don’t have a good book to listen to while driving. A few weeks ago, I started three different ones without even finishing the first disc. Having to drive with nothing but the radio (which I had done for years, after all) drove me crazy until I finally settled on a book I could enjoy.

Since I know there are a few others of you out there who enjoy audio books, I thought I would share some that have held my interest enough to make me want to take a long road trip to finish them. These books are of different genres as I get bored reading books of the same genre.

First, a children’s book, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Though I listen to Young Adult books on occasion, listening to this one made me realize I may have been overlooking some fun and entertaining books by not listening to more children’s books. Nine-year old Ada is never allowed to leave her one-room apartment because her mother is embarrassed by her clubfoot. When her brother and other children of the neighborhood are gathered to send them out of London to protect them from the coming war, Ada escapes to join them. They are taken in, rather reluctantly, by Susan Smith who treats Ada like a normal child for the first time in her life. As Ada learns to read and ride a pony, she also learns about love and trust. But, the war can’t last forever. Will she have to go back to her mother? And shouldn’t she want to?

For suspense: Behind Closed Doors, by B. A. Paris. When Grace meets Jack–a handsome, successful lawyer–she believes she’s found the perfect man. She can hardly believe he wants to marry her and willingly accepts her sister with Down’s Syndrome as part of their family. To the outside world, Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple. Except–why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? Or go out on her own? And why are bars on their bedroom windows? Honestly, not the type of book I usually read because it totally creeps me out. Which is also the reason I couldn’t quit listening.

Historical fiction: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. I’ve listened to several books by Lisa See and this is my favorite so far. See tells of a Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, who raise tea in a very secluded environment. Their culture and traditions make a fascinating read, but it is the characters who make the story. Li-Yan receives an education that few are granted in her world and becomes an interpreter for her people. When she becomes pregnant out of wedlock, she manages to hide her baby (rather than kill her as her culture would dictate) and bring her to a city where she leaves her with a teacake. The baby is adopted by a wealthy California couple. Haley leads a happy life, but wonders about her origins. Meanwhile, Li-Yan goes on to learn more about the modern world and becomes a bridge between this new world and her old one. Through the world of tea, they both search and long for each other.

More historical fiction: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. A difficult, but fascinating read about a woman, Eve, who was a spy against the Germans in WWI and now spends her days drunk, full of rage, fear and regret. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair, shows up at her door looking for her cousin. Though she finds Eve pathetic, she believes Eve can help her and eventually obtains her help. Along the way, she learns Eve’s story–about her grossly misshapen hands and the demons she tries to hide. This story is based on a true female spy network used in WWI.

Historical Mystery: A Study in Death by Anna Lee Huber. This is the fourth in the Lady Darby series, taking place in Scotland in 1831. I have listened to all four of these and look forward to the fifth book. (I reviewed the second book last year: https://wp.me/p1X6gd-fP) In this installment, Lady Darby has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Lady Drummond. When Lady Drummond is found dead, Lady Darby is appalled at Lord Drummond’s seeming lack of concern and suspects poison. She suspects Lord Drummond, too, but how can she prove it? He is a respected gentleman, and Lady Darby is still trying to overcome her past left her by her late husband.

Finally, the book I’m listening to now: Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone Phaedra Patrick. Benedict Stone, living in a quiet English village, finds himself stuck and his life falling apart. His marriage is in trouble and business at his jewelry store is almost non-existent. Then one night, a teen-age girl shows up on his doorstep. Gemma, the daughter of his long estranged brother who left for America years ago, has lost her passport and seems to be rather lost herself. Together, they learn about family and how to help and encourage one another.

How about you? If you listen to audio books, how do you find the ones you like? How important is the narrator to you?