Saturday, March 17, 2018

Forty Autumns

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this Wall." --Ronald Reagan
   In history class in high school, I remember dreading the part in the textbook where we'd have to learn about the Cold War. To me, it wasn't very interesting to learn about communism and it wasn't really a war. It was basically two large nations trying to "out-build" the other in atomic bombs and scare each other with them. And it was who could do what in space first.


   To read someone's account of what living behind the Iron Curtain was actually like was eye-opening. It was heart-breaking. In textbooks, you don't read many personal stories. I recognized most of the names who held political offices, but this was so so so different.

   The author, Nina Willner, writes mostly about her mother's life. The book begins just days after WWII ends and her mother, Hanna, and her family are waiting for her father and family and other residents of the little German town that the Soviets are coming to take over, but if you come with us to the West, you'll be free. Hanna's mother tells Hanna she must leave and try to make a life for herself. Hanna reluctantly agrees, and gets on the American trucsk and as it gets farther and farther away, Hanna changes her mind, jumps off the truck, and heads back home.

   And so the reign of communism begins. Hanna eventually escapes into West Germany leaving her family behind. Throughout the story, Hanna hardly ever gets any word through to her family. And as communism grows ever more powerful, the letters get fewer. It's quite the book. Willner mirrors her family's story of survival with what was happening politically in an interesting way. It was very easy to follow what was happening; her maps and timelines at the start of the book also being extremely helpful.

   But at the heart of the book, is hope. Hope that Hanna will be reunited with her family again. Hope from Hanna's mother that the family will see each other again, even if she doesn't live to see it. Hope that East Germany will crumble. It's beautiful. And it's truly a great story.

--Elise F--

   For more information on Forty Autumns by Nina Willner, visit our website here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Isaiah's Daughter

   "Whips cracked. Soldiers shouted. My feet blistered in a sunbaked wilderness. We kept walking, walking, walking..."

   She's done it again. Mesu Andrews has quickly become one of my favourite biblical fiction authors. Pharaoh's Daughter and Miriam, her previous books, swept me away and made the Bible story I'd always loved come to life (you can read my reviews of them by following those links). And Andrews did it again with her latest novel, Isaiah's Daughter.

   The Hebrews are now a divided nation; Israel in the north, Judah in the south. Israel's ten tribes have bowed to pagan worship. Judah's two tribes, however, have a remnant that cling desperately to their own true God, while the evil King Ahaz rules. The Israelites invade Judah, destroying cities and taking captives in their wake. At five years old, Ishma - meaning "desolation" - has been taken as one of the captives and has witnessed and experienced more than anyone should have to in a lifetime.

   "But Yahweh's plan for her has only just begun."

   Ishma enters into the prophet Isaiah's home as a household servant, but quickly captures everyone's hearts and her lively spirit gains her friendship with Prince Hezekiah, King Ahaz's son. Isaiah sees the relationship blossoming into something more, he adopts Ishma, giving her royal status, and gives her a new name: Hephzibah, "delight of the Lord". She becomes Judah's queen.

   This story took my breath away, as well as the message that quickly revealed itself. What was once desolation, God turned into his delight. When we keep our eyes on him, he is always faithful. This story beautifully captured that essence and warmed my heart, also making me misty-eyed several times.

   The story of King Hezekiah and his faithfulness to Yahweh, even though he was brought up among horrible pagan worship, is inspiring and has become one of my favourites. If you're looking for a beautiful and encouraging read, pick this book up. You seriously won't regret it.

   --Elise F--

   For more information about Isaiah's Daughter by Mesu Andrews, visit our website here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Problem of God

   "All of the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him."
-- A. W. Tozer --

    Non-fiction binge-reading isn't the best of practices. You can blitz through a fantasy/fiction novel without paying particular care to each and every phrase, but when it comes to books about God and theology and all-around reality, every mark of punctuation can seem integral - if not downright crucial.

   The Problem of God by Mark Clark is not a book to rush through. Mark is the founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver. Village Church began from his heart as a result of his transformation from avid Atheist to devout Christ-follower. A core part of his journey has been welcoming and encouraging intellectual questioning and skepticism. In The Problem of God he sets to respond to some of the top questions about God:
  • Does God even exist?
  • What do we do with Christianity's violent history?
  • Is Jesus just another myth?
  • Doesn't science disprove the Bible?
  • Is God anti-sex?
  • Aren't Christians hypocrites?
   Mark is on a mission to confront questions, doubts, and assumptions about Christianity, in skeptics and Christians alike. He argues that Christianity encourages the doubts and the questioning, and even more so, he argues why belief in God and the Christian faith is both rational and compelling.

--Elise T--

   For more information on The Problem of God by Mark Clark, visit our website here.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Breaking Cover

Image result for breaking cover assad
   My favourite book so far this year! Granted the year is still young, but I anticipate recommending this incredible story all year long.  Breaking Cover is the stranger than fiction account of Michele Rigby Assad, a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency.  She served for 10 years in this demanding and thankless role together with her Egyptian born husband Joseph, also an agent.  She and her husband were assigned to some of the most dangerous and unpleasant countries on the face of the earth.

   I was intrigued by her ability to emotionally disarm her contacts. Petite, easy on the eyes, friendly ...all qualities she used with great success.  She never compromised her faith in Christ but was still able to detect and defuse, strategize and analyze to the benefit of her country. She had to overcome the "stigma" of being a woman in countries where females are denigrated and denied basic rights. She won the respect and listening ear of those who would have minimized or even ridiculed her abilities as a top and trustworthy operative.
   I am an American so perhaps you will think I am biased in this positive review of a woman who used her honed skills to serve her country. My greatest admiration is reserved however, not for her CIA capability, but her mission AFTER she left the CIA. She and her husband helped lead a rescue mission to relocate internally displaced Iraqis to Slovakia.  Now that brought tears.
   Read and marvel.

--Becky W--

   For more information on Breaking Cover by Michele Rigby Assad, visit our website here.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Masterpiece

   "A probing tale that reminds us that mercy can shape even the most broken among us into an imperfect yet stunning masterpiece."

Image result for the masterpiece francine rivers   I finished this book in two days. I'm pretty sure that's the fastest I have ever read a book. When I found out Francine Rivers was coming out with a new book, I immediately put one on order for myself and impatiently waited to devour it. Each book of hers that I've read is best described as a vortex: I get sucked in, and I don't come out until I'm done reading. I didn't do anything for two days but read her book and get swept away by another incredible story.

    The Masterpiece follows Roman Velasco; a tortured artist who appears to have everything. Money, fame, and women. Only Grace Moore, his newly hired (and sort of reluctant) personal assistant knows how little he truly has. The demons that haunt Roman echo throughout his mansion, and to deal with them he disguises himself and becomes the Bird - a graffiti tag artist; an alter ego that could destroy everything Roman has built for himself and land him in prison.

   Like Roman, Grace has secrets of her own. After a disastrous marriage threw her life completely off-course, Grace vowed never to let love steal her dreams again. But as she slowly begins to get to know Roman, the pieces of both their jagged pasts slowly begin to fit them together.

   This story broke my heart. Shattered it. I found myself weeping at times. And let me tell ya... that doesn't happen often. Francine Rivers knows how to tug at heart strings, and is very good at it. She so brilliantly brings in the gospel in such a beautiful, unique way every time she writes a book. If you loved her books Redeeming Love and Bridge to Haven, you have to pick this book up. I promise you, you won't be sorry.

   --Elise F--

   For more information about The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers, visit our website here.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Bible Tells Me So

   Though this book may have been recommended highly by Rob Bell, author of Love Wins and What is the Bible? - "A great book about the Book" - that is not why I'm here. This is another notoriously controversial topic and, as I have come to know, it is therefore a point of interest for me. I may detest debate and conflict, but I love reading about controversial topics and hearing perspectives that seem to get shut down before they even have the chance to make it off the ground.

   Peter Enns wrote The Bible Tells Me So to explore "why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it". He is a highly intelligent man who has taught courses at several post-secondary institutions, including Harvard University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary, but he writes in an easy conversational way, not bogged down by complicated terms and strings of words that quickly make a sentence meaningless to those of us who do not teach university-level theology.

   He approaches such questions as how to reconcile the violence in the Bible with the unfathomable, unending love of God; how to approach the contradicting passages in the Bible, or the incomprehensibly strange portions. Enns' big question is "what do you do when the Bible doesn't behave?" and he approaches it with a a deep and intimate respect for Jewish and Christian Scripture. All the while, he keeps that conversational tone of a friend explaining something over coffee - passionately, and with great conviction, but also great gentleness and humour.

   Enns is like that High School teacher everyone encountered or heard of, who entertained his classes with jokes and bad puns woven into the most impassioned, interesting lectures and coursework you could ever hope to experience. Even the students that talk all the time or spend the class on their phones have to pay attention every once and a while because he's just so quirky.

   Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this book - I have found - is that, regardless of whether I agree or not, I do not feel pressured to agree with him. He is not claiming to have all the answers and to know, resolutely, that this is the new, right way to interpret everything, so that life becomes clear.

   Far from it.

   As with his latest book release, The Sin of Certainty, Enns dwells in the reality of being unsure. He is open to change, adaptation, and the alteration of ideas. So long as there are ideas to be had and theories to be made, he will keep on asking the questions that desperately need to be asked.

--Elise T--

For more information on The Bible Tells Me So, by Peter Enns, visit our website here.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Illusionist's Apprentice


   Our story begins in the year 1926 in December, at Mount Aubern Cemetary in Cambridge, MA where a man seemingly rises from the grave, only to drop dead again within moments. This introduces us to two agents of the newly-formed FBI, and a vaudeville performer by the name of Wren Lockhart. The next chapter begins from Wren's perspective, in January of 1927, at her office in Boston.

   So begins Kristy Cambron's latest novel - a murder mystery set in the 1920s. Lori, our bookkeeper here at the House of James, read The Illusionist's Apprentice recently and recommended it very highly. As she reports, The Illusionist's Apprentice is full of mystery, intrigue, and romance (the book-reading-life essentials, essentially), and it kept her attention with each piece and revelation. Cambron plays with timeline in this novel - you have to pay attention to the dates under the chapter headings, because it will be 1927 one chapter and 1907 the next, with some leaps in between as well. But every jump back in time kept Lori reading, by revealing pieces of the mystery little by little. She was still putting the puzzle together at the end.

   We would like to mention a trigger warning on readers' behalf so that they are not caught off guard at a sensitive emotional time. This may not be the novel for a child of abusive parents or alcoholic fathers, as there are some intense scenes involving the effect of this kind of trauma on one or more of the characters.

--Elise T--

For more information on The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron, visit our website here.