Brides & Brothers (Book Review)

I received a complimentary e-copy of the book Brides and Brothers, by Anneka R. Walker, from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Initial Interest

After watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, my mom and I would often respond to sneezes with the line “Bless your beautiful hide!”, which was most appropriate after our sweet dog, Lillie, would sneeze. When I came across Brides & Brothers, a modern-day adaptation of the classic, on NetGalley, I was definitely intrigued by the premise.

Overall Impressions

Throughout the reading, the word “delightful” popped into my head when I would think about reviewing the book. I enjoyed meeting Camille and Aiden, getting to know them and also being introduced to the large cast of secondary characters. I was also quite impressed with Walker’s ability to create so many distinct characters. Although I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the many characters, I found that, as the plot progressed, it was pretty easy to remember who was who (though two sisters and twin brothers felt somewhat interchangeable).

I also really enjoyed the humor of the book. The characters were often doing surprising things, and I updated my mom on the narrative, several times.

I would have liked to see a little bit more development in Camille’s relationship with her mom.

Comparing it with the Film

I liked Aiden much more than I did Adam. Additionally, although it has been several years since I watched the film, I found that the book provided a lot more insight into the characters of the brothers and their love interests. In the movie, I didn’t really “get to know” the brothers, and their future wives felt even less distinctive. In contrast, the book introduced the female characters (the main character’s former roommates–basically) early on, as well as the male characters.

I was curious to see how the book would deal with the automatic-marriage arrangement, and was pleasantly surprised with the way that Walker built-up to the main characters’ decision to marry. I think it fit with the modern setting and was ultimately (mostly) believable.

I also enjoyed reading about the brothers’ romantic gaffes, and their choice to accept Camille’s (or Millie’s, as they called her) relationship advice. This felt consistent with the movie, as well.

Overall, I felt that the modern rendition did an excellent job of bringing the cherished tale to the present, while also making the male characters much more likable. Although they could be clueless and insensitive, they treated the women with a lot more respect than in the movie and I really liked that element in reclaiming the story. It maintained the overarching plot and humor, while also adopting a more healthy and respectful approach to relationships. For instance, Camille, instead of being forced to care for the men, offers to cook and clean because they are her family members.

Spiritual Elements

Spiritual elements elements were more “told,” rather than shown. For instance, the narrator might mention that a character prayed, rather than actually showing what the character said in prayer, or how God specifically spoke. However, it is quite clear that characters attribute sovereignty to God and are seeking to follow Him. I would describe this as a definite Christian worldview, but not as a book that was particularly impactful to me on a spiritual level. Nonetheless, the book’s portrayal of purity was quite refreshing.

Recommendation

This is another book that was nice and clean, with Adam and Camille waiting until they were in a committed relationship before even kissing. I really liked that aspect of the book. I also appreciated that Aiden was such an awesome caregiver for his brothers– though he certainly gave Camille the short end of the stick, in the process. I would recommend this as a fun, light, clean read.

A Lady in Attendance Book Review

Author’s Background


As a fun note, Fordham actually is married to a dentist, so the dentist office scenes are well-rounded. Plus, I learned from a Facebook Q&A, some of the characterization and plot is loosely based on real-life people and events.

Synopsis


After completing a five-year reformatory sentence for a crime she didn’t commit, twenty-five year old Hazel takes a job as a lady in attendance for a dentist named Gilbert. As Hazel strives to exonerate herself, she quickly develops friendships with Gilbert, as well as a fellow boarder named Ina.

I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review through the Revell Reads program.

First Impression

Although I’ve read some Amish fiction, I haven’t delved much into the genre of adult historical fiction. With that said, I expected the book to be slow-moving but pleasant, with pacing similar to Anne of Green Gables— not a page turner, but one of my very favorite things to read.

I was surprised, therefore, with how quickly I became immersed in the story and the pages flew by. I was particularly impressed with the sensation I had one-third of the book through— where had all the pages gone? It was an odd mixture of feeling that not very much had “happened” (compared to action-packed books like Dekker’s), but that it hadn’t taken long to get there. The reading didn’t feel slow and drawn out at all. With that said, one of the things that most impresses me about the book is pacing.

Content Advisory

It is SO refreshing to recommend a book without reservation. I really appreciated the slow progression of the romance, which, for me, made the romantic moments all the more meaningful and enjoyable. This is definitely what I would call a clean read, and I liked the novel’s treatment of romance, in general. In fact, I think the book’s treatment of purity makes it an excellent discussion springboard for young women and teenagers.

[One very small note is that there is a reference to “Indians,” which is historically accurate. While there isn’t any discussion of the oppression of my indigenous ancestors (which, honestly, may have felt forced), I did like that the prospectors are described as being more dangerous than the Natives. At the same time, the reference doesn’t dispute the popular narrative that it was totally okay for Europeans to come “conquer” the Indigenous people.]

Characterization

Hand-in-hand with pacing, and I think a major contributor to it, was characterization. I had a lot of fun getting to know the two main characters, three secondary characters, and a cast of supporting roles. Characters were entertaining to read about, particularly a cantankerous patient named Alberta, frequently likeable, and certainly believable. I especially enjoyed watching the character development of a character who is introduced mid-story. I also appreciate Fordham’s skill in writing nuanced characters.

Spiritual Elements

You wake up each day and embrace your own story. And whatever the day holds, you make it wonderful. And the bad days you laugh about and put behind you.”

Rachel Fordham

Similar to books that I have read that were both written and set in an earlier period (classics like Anne and Little Women) spiritual elements are woven in seamlessly. Rather than a lot of emphasis on the characters’ “personal relationship” with God, God is an integral part of the characters’ everyday lives. The characters recognize His sovereignty and discuss His work in their lives. I bookmarked several passages that God used to speak to me 🙂

Overall Impression


I liked this book even more than I expected to, and I feel more open to historical fiction than before. I think I would enjoy other books by this author. I was impressed with the pacing and also REALLY appreciated the innocence and sweetness of the romance. Certainly a recommended read!

The Paris Betrayal (Book Review)

Synopsis

After a false lead in Rome proves disastrous to his mission, Company Agent Ben Calix returns to his home in Paris to awaits his next orders. Unfortunately, they never come. While fleeing his compromised apartment, Ben runs into Clara, a Dachshund-toting neighbor who has been asking Ben out for months. Rather than going on the coffee date Ben has been avoiding, the two are thrust together in an international operation, fleeing Company snipers and crooked agents while working to exonerate Ben and avert a manmade pandemic.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, through the Revell Reads program.

Content Advisory

The book certainly contained its fair share of violence, with one scene in particular that struck me as graphic. (Emphasis on me— as I mentioned, I’m new to the genre.) On one hand, I get that this is a spy novel, so violence, to one degree or another “goes with the territory.” On the other hand, I think that the amount of violence, coupled with Ben’s desensitized perspective, felt like a bit much. This isn’t to say that I would “un-recommend” the book on this ground. In so many ways (perhaps violence included), it is SO MUCH CLEANER than books I see that are tailored to a younger (YA) audience. However, for those who like to know what content they may be exposed to, the violence is worth a mention, especially because this is a Christian book.

First Impression

This was my first time reading a spy novel. As my introduction to spy stories, I noticed that the book was much more strongly plot-driven than character-driven.

In the beginning of the story, my “connection” with the text was more based on my desire to understand what was going on. I plowed on, although I was a little bit frustrated with how confusing things were, at first. However, once I reached the 1/3 point, I was hooked!

Characterization

Insofar as I’m more used to books that emphasize character-development over plot, I had a bit of difficulty connecting with the characters. I noted that, based on my (very little) experience with the genre via film, it the book started off with a “James Bond” feel, in that the character seemed to be a lady’s man. I was actually a little concerned that the female characters would function more as accessories for the main character. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with the main female character, Clara.

The protagonist, Ben made some questionable choices, which also affected my sympathy for him. However, based on the author’s note, I think that Ben’s characterization as a spy was meant to show him making human choices, given the situations he faced (and given the author’s overarching purpose— also addressed in the Author’s Note).

Something I really enjoyed, as far as characterization goes, was the internal coaching Ben would give himself, parroting the words of his former instructor, Hale. I liked that we got to “know” the character, simply through the lens of Ben’s thoughts. Hale also really seemed to know what he was talking about, which attests to the author’s personal experience and knowledge.

Author’s Background

As mentioned in the Author’s Note, Hannibal has experience as a “spy,” although he didn’t consider himself a spy. With that said, I really appreciated that Hannibal has such a strong grasp on his content. While I don’t expect authors to always have life experience in the field they’re describing, I want to feel that they at least did their research.

I have found that when an aspect of a book is under-researched/oversimplified to the reader, it undermines the book’s credibility, for me. Not so in Hannibal’s case! Thanks to the way that Hannibal characterizes Hale as an authority in the field (and Ben bases most of his decisions on Hale’s instructions), I felt that the book was quite believable.

Spiritual Elements

With the exception of a few vague references to faith scattered throughout the story, I didn’t really spot a lot of spiritual content, at first. In fact, I was beginning to think that the novel was characterized as Christian simply because it was clean (some kissing; very little emphasis on romance— although the level of violence surprised me a little). However, as I closed in on the ending, I realized what the author had been doing throughout the text. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that, by the end of the text, the (subtle) spiritual undertones plus the plot resulted in a “mind blown!” experience. It definitely left me thinking.

Overall Impression:

On a philosophical level, this book had a lot more depth than I expected, as there is more going on “behind” the plot. While I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who is wanting to learn more about Christianity, I would recommend this to Christians (and even to non-Christians, since the spiritual elements aren’t heavy handed.) Although it took me awhile to get into the book, I am very glad to have read it!

The Land is Not Empty by Sarah Augustine (Book Review)

*I received a complimentary ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: The Land is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine Of Discovery

Author: Sarah Augustine

Publisher: Herald Press (on sale June 22nd)

Synopsis: Augustine explores the ways in which the roots of colonialism continue to bear fruit, through the lenses of Christianity and social justice. Augustine offers tangible ways for Christians to combat systemic injustice against Indigenous peoples.

Verdict: Highly Recommend (see Reservations below)

Personal Connection

Prior to college, I thought that racism was (essentially) a thing of the past in the United States. Racism appalled me, but I didn’t realize just how pervasive it continues to be, until I enrolled in a Race and Ethnicity in American Literature class. Through this course, I learned so much more about the exploitation of people groups in the United States. That year, I also attended the university’s SCORR Conference, which is dedicated to racial reconciliation. The same semester, a hate crime occurred on campus. For me, these experiences served to strengthen my desire for racial reconciliation. At the time, I thought I was a white girl learning to interact with people of other races.

Fastforward to September of 2019. On September 11th, my mom and I learned that her biological father was a first-generation Mexican American. My grandmother had lied to my mom her entire life, explicitly because she didn’t want my mom to know she was Mexican. It turns out, I too, had been directly affected by racism and have Indigenous roots. My mom advocates with our people and I believe that social justice is very important. For these reasons, I was intrigued by this book.

Audience

As a new book reviewer, this is exactly the kind of book I wanted to review. A major part of my calling, as a librarian and someone who really, really enjoys reading, is to be an “agent”— not necessarily in the traditional literary sense of the word, but in the sense of pointing to what the Lord is saying, through the people He is raising up. It is such a privilege to serve as an (unofficial) agent for my mom, Kimberly Vargas Agnese, who writes powerful, prophetic advocacy poetry.

With that said, having read Sarah Augustine’s “The Land is Not Empty,” I believe that this is SUCH an important text for Christians to read. As someone who resonates with certain aspects of Conservative Christianity (biblical sexuality and the sanctity of life), I recognize that there is so much room for growth when it comes to restoration and racial reconciliation.

Although the Bible demonstrates God’s heart for social justice, Conservative Christianity all-too-frequently scorns the notion of modern day racism. The Land is Not Empty is a call to action, not only for Conservative Christians, but for the body of Christ throughout the Western world, particularly in the United States.

The Creator is evident in creation, which surrounds me. I can see it and experience it with my senses. I am part of it. Humility is acknowledging that I am not separate from creation; I am part of a web of life.

Sarah Augustine

Themes

The doctrine of discovery, which originated in the fifteenth century, created a legal precedent for “conquering” people groups around the world. According to the doctrine, if people were not Christians, they weren’t really people, so of course they could be wiped out.

This is such an ugly moment in church history, but we can’t turn away from it and ignore it, especially because our society remains entrenched in its philosophy, to this day. Through case studies and personal narrative, Augustine demonstrates that the doctrine of discovery is not an ugly thing of the past, but a present and violent violation of human rights. Augustine cites multiple examples of the oppression of indigenous peoples, who are having their land stripped away by partnerships between businesses and governments— partnerships in which the original occupants have no say.

I use the term “original occupants” intentionally. While my first inclination was to refer to the “rightful owners” of the land, Augustine strongly asserts that the land is not something that can be owned. “When Christians behave as though we can own creation,” Augustine writes, “we are degrading all ecosystems that support life.” Indeed, Augustine placed strong emphasis on our role, as humans, within Creation. According to Augustine, we are not separate from Creation, but part of it. As created beings, we have two choices: “cooperate, co-create with the systems of Life, which is [our] only choice, or [we]can pass away and waste [our lives] following the hollow logic that leads to death.” While this is not a traditional Western perspective, it does align with the original Garden of Eden call for us to steward nature. For us to willingly destroy, or permit the destruction of the earth, is truly to cooperate with a system of death. But, the God of Life is sovereign! “How fabulously foolish,” Augustine writes, “to believe any system invested in the destruction of creation, the Ancient of Days, will stand.”

In addition to depicting the land as something that is not owned, Augustine explores the significance of land within Indigenous cultures, noting that land plays an integral role in every aspect of life. Within the transversal Winti worldview, there is no frame of reference for individuality. Rather, all members of a community, past and present, inhabiting the space are members of Creation, along with the land. Also central to Winti belief is the idea that the strife of past generations affects those living in the present. For this reason, redemption is key to the Winti religion. Augustine adds that “the good news of Winti is dismissed” because of its emphasis on community-wide restoration, rather than on a specific historical moment of salvation. I certainly agree that the Winti belief system offers greater insight into the faith that we, as Christians, profess. I also resonated with Augustine’s emphasis on communal transgression (systemic injustice), as opposed to an individualistic approach to sin and piety. While I am accustomed to the individualist approach, I definitely see Scriptural precedent for Augustine’s assertions.

In emphasizing a community approach, Augustine’s end is not to make the reader feel guilty (yet powerless) as an individual. Although she shares multiple instances in which her efforts have borne little fruit, her goal in writing the book is to catalyze change at the community level— and she describes practical ways of doing so. For example, stockholders who are investing in mining companies can contribute the profits they are gleaming directly to Indigenous peoples. Whole churches that are profiting from extractive industries, can open negotiations with these companies. Most importantly, “the God revealed in Scripture…is a God who is struggling with us and within us to bring about God’s shalom.”

Reservations

• The first few sentences of the foreword, which is not written by the author, references working on “LGBTQ and other justice issues.” To clarify, LGBTQ issues are not addressed anywhere else in the book. I feel that this opening line could definitely affect the book’s credibility with certain audiences and that the social justice issue invoked by the author of the foreword is not at all analogous with the suffering of Indigenous peoples.

• The foreword also noted that, at certain points, the reader may be tempted to “tone down” Augustine’s message. Overall, I strongly resonated with the arguments presented. There were a few moments that gave me pause, mostly in discussions of the insights provided by Indigenous religion. Personally, I believe that elements of their worldview are extremely important to Christianity, elements that have been replaced with worldly western ones. My disclaimer is that the transversal world view is a HUGELY important lens for looking at the world, but that Jesus Christ, as a historical and living person, is central. This is not to say that Augustine’s writing conflicts with Christ’s centrality. However, I wanted to make a clear statement, because of how unfamiliar transversal thought is within the colonized Western world.

  • I also cannot uphold the Indigenous belief that God cannot exist without the land. Augustine references this belief when discussing Indigenous cosmology— not citing it as her own. Again, my point is that many of the central tenets of Indigenous belief are extremely relevant and insightful for us as Christians, but do not hold complete truth. (Nor do I!)

In Summation

All too often, Christians are known, not for their pursuit of social justice, but for their denial that inequity exists. As Christians, we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the systems on which our country was founded and continues to operate. This is such an important book for Christians to read! Highly recommended.

Never Miss (Book Review)

I am so excited to review my first physical book from the Revell Reads program. This book was provided in exchange for a review 🙂

Never Miss by Melissa Koslin (ISBN #: 9780800738396)

I received Never Miss, by Melissa Koslin, through the Revell Reads program.

Saving his life and running from her own, former military sniper Kadance Tolle meets Lyndon Vaile, a triple-doctorate holder with an eidetic memory. Along with a Maine Coone cat named Mac, the two work together to stop the release of a manmade virus.

Commendable Qualities

  • The purity!! Given that this book is from a Christian publisher, I would have been surprised if this wasn’t a takeaway. But premarital sex seems to be a common theme in so many of the books I see. So, if that is something you avoid in a book, this book is pretty safe. (There are some romantic scenes, which I believe the author handles very well— full of emotion but without leaving you feeling gross/ed out).
  • Along a similar line, I really liked that, in her narration, Kadance does not take the blame for Lyndon’s attraction to her. When he asks her to stop, essentially, looking so attractive (and initiating fairly innocent physical contact), she wonders if she should ask him to stop going shirtless. I appreciated that, Kadance, while respecting Lyndon’s desire for purity, does not blame herself—and Lyndon apologizes and says that (his strong feeling of attraction to her) is not Kadance’s fault.

Spiritual Themes

Lyndon is a Christian; Kadance is not. I was a little bit surprised about how long it takes for us to learn about Lyndon’s faith, given that half of the story is written from his perspective.

In fact, the most moving scene for me was from Kadance’s point of view. A certain moment brought tears to my eyes, which definitely attests to the redemptive nature of the story.

As a Christian, I would have liked to see much more interaction with faith (not even in an overt way— Ted Dekker, one of my very favorite authors, is quite subtle). Even so, I appreciate that this book is not a preachy, conk-you-over-the-noggin with a bible story. I think that the portrayal of faith offers food-for-thought, without being off-putting to readers who are not Christians.

Critique

Parts of the story felt “too easy,” in terms of both the romance and the mystery. Lyndon seemed to have an almost automatic understanding of Kadance’s emotions, despite their very different— and unique— backgrounds. In terms of the mystery, there was part in particular where I would have liked to see a bit more gradual buildup, versus a sudden revelation. I also would have liked a bit more science in certain parts. While reading Never Miss, I realized I prefer when authors “go over my head,” in their explanations, because then I feel more confident that at least they know what they’re talking about. Some of Lyndon’s explanations felt oversimplified, to me.

Overall impression

Overall, the combination of romance, dialogue and action contributed to a very enjoyable reading experience. The further along I got, the harder it was to put down. I would definitely like to read more by this author!

Book Review: On the Spectrum (Daniel Bowman, Jr.)

Although I’m not especially fond of nonfiction (by which I mean, I usually avoid it), I decided to request On the Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr., from NetGalley. The publisher provided me a free Advanced Reader ebook in exchange for this review.

The book interested me because of its description, which had to do with viewing the gift of autism through a Christian lens. I am a Christian who has recently been (self) diagnosed with Autism— specifically, Aspergers, which is now identified, instead as being “on the spectrum.” Like the author and others referenced in the book, the diagnosis has brought a lot of clarity for me.

When I began the book, I was intrigued to learn that Bowman, like myself, was diagnosed in adulthood. He self-diagnosed and then received a professional diagnosis, while in his thirties. Bowman’s description of this process, which was often uncomfortable for him, reminds me of my own discomfort speaking with a psychiatry grad student (as part of a Psychology course when I was an undergrad). Indeed, one of the aspects of the book that I most enjoyed was its relatability. Bowman places strong emphasis on the need for #ownvoices in Autistic representation and, as an Aspie, myself, I was able to commiserate with many of his recountings of personal experience. Because I’m new to the diagnosis, I also enjoyed one or two personal “aha” moments, where I realized that certain personality traits of mine (which I hadn’t yet connected with Autism), were linked to autism.

At the same time, Bowman emphasizes throughout that his experience is not the autism experience. Repeatedly, Bowman writes, “If you’ve met one autistic person… you’ve met one autistic person,” bucking flat stereotypes of what it means to be autistic.

When he does reference traits shared by those with the autistic “operating system” (I really liked this analogy), he advocates for a shift away from the pathology paradigm, which describes autistic traits as deficits. Bowman acknowledges the many differences between neurotypicals and neurodivergents (a term which encompasses other learning differences, such as ADHD), but emphasizes that autists aren’t lacking.

This is a major theme throughout the text, which is comprised of essays: The idea that neurodivergents have unique skill sets to share with the world, and shouldn’t be expected to play by the rules of the neurotypical system. Referencing eye contact, for instance, Bowman mentions instances when people have shut him out of conversations because of his lack of eye contact. Bowman argues that this treatment is unfair because it penalizes autistic people who are unable to pick up/ demonstrate these basic social skills. As an autist, I feel that it is important to think about how our social cues, or lack thereof, are affecting the other person. While social situations may present additional challenges, I believe I am accountable for how my actions affect another person.

Bowman references the tension between the need to adapt to one’s environment (in the context of neurotypical society), while also seeking to be understood, writing, “I’m drawn to this balanced view.” Throughout the text, Bowman does address both sides of the scale, leaning more heavily toward the adaptation angle in the introduction and emphasizing grace and understanding throughout the majority of the text. For this reason, passages pertaining to the challenges (and potential pitfalls) of autism particularly resonated with me. For instance, Bowman notes that, in his interactions with his wife, his need for safety and stability may overreach to the point of attempting to control her. Insights like these were very important, to me, in the reading, because, even as I embrace the ways that God has made me beautifully unique (even my brain looks different than a neurotypical brain!), I also do not want to use autism as an excuse for bad behavior. At the same time, I find that it is valuable for me to recognize that I am dealing with challenges that others are not facing, and to give myself grace for that. With that said, as an autist, I think I would have liked to have seen a little bit more emphasis placed on how our tendencies affect others. HOWEVER, I do not think this was the author’s purpose, given that (I suspect) there is a lot of material already written on this topic. Plus, I think that this book was written more for neurotypicals than for those on the spectrum.

In that sense, I believe Bowman accomplished what he set out to do: to “make some sense of” his life, in a way that is “useful” to the audience. Bowman does not claim to have “arrived,” and provides personal narrative that is vulnerable and (in my case) relatable. His transparency is truly commendable, as well as empowering. Having read this work, I feel that I can lend my voice and experiences to the autistic community, without being afraid of misrepresenting it. I am “one” autistic person, and like Bowman says, do not claim to represent the entire community.

Highlights

• I especially related to Bowman’s descriptions of the challenges of fellowship in a church setting. This was one of my favorite essays

• Likewise, the essay on serving in the body of Christ, which touched on feelings of guilt as a Christian, was relatable and helpful for me.

• My other favorite essay was about the parable of the tares. Bowman quotes commentary about the Lord being the one to pull our weeds, which was a powerful statement for me. I think this may be my biggest takeaway from the book

Overall Impression:

The book was not what I expected it to be. Based on the subtitle, I thought that the book would be geared more toward autists, rather than neurotypicals. I was expecting to read more about how autistic people bring specific contributions to society. Instead, the book seemed geared toward neurotypicals who are seeking greater insight into the life of an autistic person. However, this is made pretty clear in the introductory material, and I believe that the book does achieve its stated end. I do really like that this is packaged as reflections from one person in the community, providing insight into the community without claiming to speak for everyone.

The author described autists as a marginalized people group, likening us to persons of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Bowman is progressive in his opinions and advocacy and I resonated with his comparison between autism and race. At the same time, Conservative Christians may not resonate with all of the opinions expressed. I recommend this book for its insight into what autism looks like, particularly with reference to creativity. I do not, however, agree with every belief the author espouses.

Rendezvous with God by Bill Myers

I’ve been reading Bill Myers’ books since I was a kid. I tripped my way through his books about renowned klutz, Wally McDoogle, went undercover with Agent Dingledorf and visited the allegorical otherworld of Fayrah. Being a huge fan of allegory, the Imager Chronicles (also known as Journeys to Fayrah) were my favorite.

As far as Myers’ adult books go, I hadn’t read anything until recently, when I began the Harbingers book series. I listen to a lot of audiobooks at work (things are even quieter than usual in the library, thanks to COVID) and am currently in Cycle 3 of the series, which is co-written by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti (another of my favorite authors), Angela Hunt and Alton Gansky.

Also recently, I signed up for NetGalley, which provides reviewers with free ebook copies. I had seen Bill make a few posts about his latest book, Rendezvous with God on his Facebook page. Plus, this was a title that was available for immediate download, which meant I didn’t need to request access from the publisher. And, I felt led to read it.

I received a courtesy ecopy of Rendezvous with God from NetGalley.

First impressions:

When I first saw the book’s cover, and based on the Facebook posts and the title, I thought it might be a devotional book. I was much more intrigued when I read the synopsis and discovered that the book was fiction.

Characterization

Myers certainly has a knack for humor, which shines through in the narrator’s strong voice. I think this is the main element that pulled me into the story within the first few sentences. And the early reference to Doritos helped.

In addition to the protagonist’s characterization, I also felt that the other main character, Ambrosia (always referred to as “Amber” by the main character. Interestingly, it’s unclear as to whether Will is shortening her name or she is pulling a “call me Cordelia”), was well-characterized and believable. Setting was clearly established early on, and the book certainly reflected our current cultural/ political climate, with references to the Coronavirus and Amber’s insistence that a male cat, Karl, be called Sabrina. After all, she argues, he’s been fixed, so it’s the “same thing.”

I also enjoyed much of the dialogue in the book: between Will and Amber, Will and his best friend/ co-worker, Sean, and Will and a co-worker, Darlene. These interactions were humorous and also exemplified Myers’ knack for characterization.

Plot line:

At the beginning of the book, I found Will’s present day reality to be more compelling than the rendezvous scenes. However, as the plot progressed, the intertwining elements between the two settings drew me more into the rendezvous moments.

Themes

For me, the book became increasingly powerful as the storyline progressed— particularly at the climax of the novel. In addition to this core scene, I also found strong truths embedded throughout. One of my favorite emphases was the distinction between the “Christian club” and the “friend” of Yeshua, illustrated with a stick-figure sketch.

Other Things I Liked

  • Will refers to Jesus as Yeshua
  • Myers isn’t afraid to challenge Americana Christianity
  • I read the book yesterday and have thought about it several times, today.

Overall Impression

I liked what I saw in this book. While I wouldn’t say it is the first I’ve seen of its kind, I do believe it addressed some important truths, particularly in the “religion vs. relationship” vein, that are frequently overlooked in the church. Overall, in light of my own personal experience and the fact that Jesus spoke in parables, I think that fiction is a powerful way to portray truths. I would recommend Rendezvous with God for Christians, because half of the book takes place in the Gospels. I think these references would be much more appreciated by a Christian audience. The book is not “subtly” Christian but certainly provides context and insight into accounts that are very familiar to Christians.

Mr. Rogers and Repentance

Growing up as a “church kid,” I heard a lot about hell, which provided me with a lot of incentive to pray the “prayer of salvation,” oh, maybe a dozen times by the time I hit junior high. What if I hadn’t prayed sincerely enough the time before? What if I was still on the way to hell?

Throughout my times in church, I’ve observed an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, the message of salvation in Christ is preached with a huge emphasis on the afterlife. By accepting Christ as “Lord and Savior,” we are taught, we will avoid the flames of hell while reaping the reward of eternal life in Heaven.

On the other hand, once we pray the special prayer, emphasis quickly shifts to life on this earth. We are taught that we need to love the God who snatches us away from the fires of Hell. Emphasis may be placed on what we’re doing for God. It’s tempting to worry that we aren’t loving Him enough (which, we aren’t). In my own experience, though, it has been very challenging to cross that bridge between “Phew, I’m not going to hell” and walking with God on a daily basis. I believe that, given the number of times it is actually mentioned in the Bible, hell receives a disproportionate amount of airtime on Sundays and even in tracts.

So often, the word “repent” is used to signify the single major act of repentance that evangelicals associate with praying a single prayer. The same prayer I repeated so many times, throughout my childhood.

In my own experience, even when I have heard repentance preached as a daily activity, the connotation I have of it (with hell) makes it into a very scary thing.

My mom has helped me a lot with this, discipling me to understand more about what it means to walk with God on a daily, moment by moment, basis. My mom has explained to me that repentance is the choice, at any given moment, to turn back to God. It’s not this big, scary, thing. It’s not about being terrified of hell. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the Savior.

With that said, I’d like to share this song by Fred Rogers.

What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel

“What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel” is a song about how we respond to anger (see Eph. 4:26). For me, the song is also a beautiful reminder that repentance is always an available option. I believe that the Gospel is not about fearfully praying your way out of hell, but about having the ability, at any moment to turn and return to God. Because Jesus made the way. THE GOSPEL IS ABOUT THIS LIFE— NOT JUST THE LIFE TO COME.

In Mr. Rogers’ song, I especially appreciate this lyric, which, for me, sums up the message of repentance:

It’s great to be able to stop

When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,

And be able to do something else instead

And think this song:

I can stop when I want to

Can stop when I wish

I can stop, stop, stop any time”

When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,

And be able to do something else instead

And think this song:

I can stop when I want to

Can stop when I wish

I can stop, stop, stop any time”

At any time, I can stop and turn back to God. We all can.

Perfect in Weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)

I am inadequate. Praise God!

This beautiful truth came as such a relief to me as I was out in the garden, thinking (read: worrying) about the upcoming school year. As excited as I am to begin work as a library tech in a brand new school, I have been freaking out about beginning the school year amidst a global pandemic.

Face masks will be required– for which I am very grateful. Social distancing will be enforced– but what in the world does that look like when checking out books to students?

“Here. Step up to the desk while I step away. Okay, now I’ll grab your books (now breathing “your air” from two seconds ago) while you step away. ‘Kay. I’ll take another step back while you grab your stuff. And, next.” Shall we call it the COVID Tango? Or the COVID Shuffle, if you will. The COVID COVID Shuffle.

Photo Courtesy of Free Photo Library on WordPress

I have been freaking out about this. Not wanting to think about it, but also (with just a few weeks until school starts) feeling that I really need to think about it. If I just keep thinking (again, worrying) about it, I WILL FIGURE IT OUT. 

I’ve got this, right?

I mean, sure, I was convinced, when I first got hired, that the Lord had given me the job and would have to take over. But that was back when I thought that my biggest challenge would be working with high-schoolers. So, yeah, God had it, but also I kind of did.

But, of course, I didn’t.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness .”
(Photo Courtesy of PxHere)

It’s funny how the greater challenge has increased my urgency, my need to “figure things out.” Because even though the crisis situation has strengthened my knowledge that I cannot do this job alone, somewhere, in the back of my mind, I have also felt that if I don’t “pull it together” on my own, there’s something wrong with me. Like, I can say that I am inadequate, but I have trouble actually believing it. I mean, I can feel it, but I also feel like I don’t really have permission to be inadequate.

As the Lord was speaking to me about this tonight, He showed me that the problem isn’t that I am inadequate. The problem is that I think I am addequate. In fact, I think that this false confidence (even when I don’t really feel confident) can be a major stumbling block.

When my feelings of indequacy come up against the lie that I should have it all together, I think that there is something terribly wrong with me when I don’t. So I waste a lot of time worrying and trying to “get it together.”

In fact, there is something terribly wrong when I think that I can “figure things out.” Because I wasn’t created to walk through life without God.

So, yes. I am inadequate. And I praise God for that, because, bearing this truth in mind, I am in a much better place to surrender to Him. His grace is sufficient. (And, as far as worrying goes, much more efficient.)