Glory Over Everything

Several years ago, I stumbled upon Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel The Kitchen House. I actually listened to the audiobook. And it was phenomenal. As in jumped into my Top 5 Books of All Time phenomenal. So when I heard her sophomore work was coming out this spring, I got REALLY excited. And then I had the opportunity to get an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley.

Guys. This book.

Glory Over Everything is a stand-alone sequel to The Kitchen House. It follows the story of Jamie Pyke after he left Tall Oaks in Virginia. The story is his, though there are characters from The Kitchen House that make an appearance in addition to the new characters we meet from his life in Philadelphia. Glory is written in a similar style to Kitchen in that each chapter is written from the point of view and in the voice of one character. It is rare that an author can bring characters to life in the way that Grissom does.

What is even more amazing about her writing is how unbelievably human her characters are. In a way that stands in opposition to the period in which she writes in which humans were commodities. I’ve never had a better sense about slavery and the effects it had on people than after reading one of her books. I’ve also never felt more enraged at the injustices of slavery and the subsequent issues of civil rights in this country. Grissom’s writing is provocative in a way few others are.

My only complaint about this book is how abruptly some pieces of it end. For example (and without giving too much away), one character’s piece of the story comes to an end in one sentence–and I was left wanting more.

On the whole, this book is well worth the read–and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to put it down. It’s set to release on April 5. Run, don’t walk, to your bookseller and pre-order it. Right now. And if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area, Kathleen Grissom will be at Quail Ridge Books on April 28 at 7:00 PM.

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The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: A Book Review

I have long struggled with the evangelical label–especially having grown up in an evangelical context. Thankfully, my foundational church experience was more moderate, and I never really considered myself one of “those” evangelicals. Even so, any time my religious background comes up in conversation, I feel the need to quickly explain that I am different than the preconceived idea about being Baptist in the South and everything with which THAT is loaded.

Thankfully, Tom Krattenmaker presents us with, for lack of a better term, the “new” evangelicals. He identifies as a person of faith, although more theologically liberal, and writes for the religion section of USA Today. In The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, Krattenmaker provides one example after another of how today’s evangelicals are more than meets the eye–and should be approached less with suspicion and more with the possibility of partnership. These evangelicals have become more progressive in their desire to address complex social issues such as the environment, abortion, sexuality, politics, human slavery and trafficking, and the broader contributors to poverty at home and abroad. These are the things that are making these evangelicals pro-life and prompting a desire to make the world a better place–indeed more like the Kingdom–for everyone. And so it means working alongside of people with different beliefs, or none at all, in partnerships that work to make communities stronger…without the requirement of a conversation about where you would go if you died tonight. These evangelicals are committed to partnerships for the greater good, honest conversations with those who want to have them, and their own theological positions–even if they differ from someone else’s. What Krattenmaker reminds us of in the end, is that both sides of the religious spectrum–as well as those with and without religion–should be more gracious with the other side, more willing to have honest conversations and meet in the middle, and more willing to work for the greater good, putting our theological differences aside. Because in the end, it’s more about what we do for our brothers and sisters than how solid our theological presuppositions might be.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

The Leveling: A Book Review

I had the opportunity to read and review Dan Mayland’s The Colonel’s Mistake last year and enjoyed his debut work. I was looking forward to its follow-up, and lo and behold, Dan himself contacted me directly (so surely that puts us on a first name basis?) to offer an advanced reader copy–signed–as a way of saying thank you. He asked only that I read it if I so chose–and writing a review was optional. After I swooned a little, I immediately said YES, I received said copy of The Leveling in the mail soon after. I have to apologize to Dan, since it was no longer an advanced copy by the time I got to read it and now write this review. I’m pleased to report that The Leveling is available for your reading pleasure.

The Leveling is a follow-up to The Colonel’s Mistake–primarily in that the lead characters, Mark Sava and Daria Buckingham, were the leads in that book. Although there are references to events in the previous book, the plot here is self-contained enough to where you don’t have to have read the first one. Mayland once again takes us to the fringes of the Middle East with which we are more familiar, setting this novel primarily in Turkmenistan and Iran. Mark Sava has left the spy game behind and become a professor in Azerbaijan. However, after becoming persona non grata by the government (and asked to return to the U.S. by the CIA) and then learning of the kidnapping of his friend John Decker, Sava heads for a different border. He teams up with Daria, crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, looking for Decker and being chased by members of Chinese intelligence. Meanwhile, Iran and the US are on the brink of war brought about by a secret conflict over oil.

This book surpassed its predecessor in so many ways. The characters were deeper. The plot was tighter. The suspense was built well. The ride was a bigger thrill. (In fact, all I wanted to do was read this book. Unfortunately, I had to keep putting it down to be a responsible adult for a few minutes here and there.) Well done, Dan Mayland. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Mark Sava and company.

 

Answering the Contemplative Call: A Book Review

Being an introvert, I’m often drawn to quiet and solitude. When I was in divinity school, it’s a large part of the reason I was drawn to mysticism and contemplative spirituality–and there I found somewhat of a home. Sadly, it’s not a home I have tended for much of the past decade. My faith has become more cerebral and, in many ways, more active than contemplative. So when the opportunity came along to read and review Carl McColman’s Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path, I was happy to do so.

This book provides an excellent introduction to a contemplative life in a way that is accessible and practical. McColman pulls from an interfaith, but largely ecumenical base, citing well known mystics of old–and not so old. He provides an invitation to join the contemplative journey, and uses journey as the extended metaphor for the book as a whole. McColman provides a road map with suggested resources (travel agents, if you will), practical steps, and advice from those who have walked before. He boils it down to two core practices: meditation and contemplative (i.e., silent) prayer.

Embedded among the suggestions for cultivating the space, silence, and simplicity for a contemplative life, what I appreciated most about this book was the reminder that there is a rhythm to the contemplative life just as there is a rhythm to the everyday life, and we should be patient–and gracious–with ourselves as the process, or journey, unfolds. Although much of this book was a review for me, it truly is a beautiful and well done introduction of the contemplative life for those who are unfamiliar with such practices.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Mending Broken: A Book Review

One of my longstanding professional interests is trauma and working with those who have experienced trauma. So, when SpeakEasy offered up Mending Broken by Teresa Pasquale, I was quick to request a copy.

Pasquale is a therapist who is trained in working with people who have experienced trauma. As is often the case, therapy (from the point of view of the therapist) is often self-discovery, and it is clear that Pasquale’s own work as a therapist–as well as a survivor of trauma herself–has informed her own healing as well as how she works with others to find the same. This book seems to come out of that work as well.

Pasquale’s writing is easy and accessible–especially the technical parts regarding trauma and how traumatic experiences affect our brains. She makes it less technical and more metaphorical in a way that is incredibly understandable. She then weaves in her own experiences of trauma in a way that the reader understands where she’s coming from but not in a way that is over the top or turns off the reader. Pasquale presented a self-developed (based on her experiences and the shared experiences of others) stage model for recovering and healing from trauma–based primarily on her own experience as opposed to tying the model to research. It is clear that the ways in which Pasquale integrated her experience of trauma with a variety of contemplative and faith-based practices was instrumental in her ability to move forward.

Beyond the primary subject of the book, the thing I appreciated most were Pasquale’s statements about being a wounded healer and the reminder that “we cannot repair in others what hasn’t been repaired in ourselves.” However, when those broken places are mended, we have a gift that can be made available to others–the gift of understanding what it’s like to sit in that lonely, dark place and being able to articulate the experience for others in a way that makes sense…and often assures them that they are not crazy.

Although I have not experienced trauma to a level that leaves me experiencing the disorder that is associated with it, the parts of this book that resonated with me included the ways in which a person integrates faith into the healing process and the ways in which we can take the lessons we’ve learned in our own healing processes and give those away to others.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

The Colonel’s Mistake: A Book Review

I found myself part of another resource for books to review and am happy to branch out of the usual reviews of theological work. And this was a good first pick.

In The Colonel’s Mistake by Dan Mayland, Mark Sava retired from the CIA as the Azerbaijan station chief but stayed in Baku to become a professor and lead a quiet life. Upon learning that an Iranian-American CIA operations officer has been committed of a crime she likely did not commit, Sava finds himself sucked back into the life he left behind–and a multi-national intelligence war involving Iran, China and the U.S.

I think this is the first novel I’ve read that used a more obscure former Soviet Republic as the primary setting, followed by Iran, Dubai, a French village, and Washington DC. Mayland used them all very well. The characters were gritty, relatable, and reasonably developed–although I don’t feel like I got to know them well. There were sub-plots and twists and turns in this book that drove the main plot and could have been more developed in places. However, this book almost made me an irresponsible adult because I was so reluctant to put it down. The story was fast-paced and gripping all the way through. Mayland has a solid grasp of the region, the politics, and the way things might go down behind closed doors. As a first book, this one is solid. I look forward to more of Dan Mayland and Mark Sava in the future.

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You should know that I received an advanced copy of this book for free in exchange for a review–or not. These opinions are mine alone…although I do think you should get your hands on this book and read it. For real.

 

 

 

A Twist of Faith: Book Review

Talk to anyone who identifies as a Christian and you’ll likely hear stories of travels to other places to help those in need (i.e., mission trips) and/or a desire to help others–particularly children who have no families to call their own. It’s the reason many people travel to other countries and spend time in orphanages–or send money to other countries to build an orphanage or a school or some other likely much needed outpost for a marginalized part of the population.

Those same people will have wonderful stories to tell and will describe how those experiences impacted them individually as well as the hope that they made some type of difference wherever they were. Although there’s a lot of good in all of that, perhaps it’s not all it really could be.

In A Twist of Faith: An American Christian’s Quest to Help Orphans in Africa, John Donnelly explores what it means to offer aid (regardless of your motivation) in places which we perceive need it most. Mixed in with Donnelly’s own research into foreign aid–specifically to Africa–is the story of David Nixon, a well-meaning carpenter from North Carolina who raises money to go to Malawi and build an orphanage. As the project stalls, Nixon learns what it means to listen to the Malawians describe what they need and how to make it happen. Nixon comes to understand that listening to and understanding those from this new (and very different) culture means putting aside his preconceived ideas and plans, taking a different approach, and bringing change and hope to another part of the world–and himself.

Donnelly intersperses his own research (to include interviews with Nixon and others in aid organizations working in Africa as well as his own travels to Africa) with Nixon’s story throughout this book. Clearly written and engaging, this book points out the frustrations Americans can experience in trying to accomplish something big in another country (e.g., fundraising, clearing government hurdles, working with local people in country) as well as how our aid is perceived by those who receive it. It brings to light that we make mistakes along the way–chief among them being the short-term nature of the work we do which is usually attached to our own agenda. Instead, Donnelly’s book implies that best practice includes consulting with and working alongside those who live where we want to work, including them in every step of the process, and staying in it for the long haul–however long that may be.

At times, I lost interest as Donnelly shifted to discussing data and numbers regarding foreign aid–although that information is important given the context of this book. Incorporating Nixon’s story, though one example of this process, illustrated both what not to do as well as what to do in ways those numbers could not. This book was thought-provoking and challenging–especially for someone who has fond memories of those short-term mission trips as an adolescent and young adult.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.