Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: Sisters

Lately, it has seemed like everything I'm reading is focused on the relationship between sisters. Must just be a coincidental theme, since I didn't set out to find books about the sister relationship (my own sister relationship has been a rather conflicted journey). This follow-up book to Raina Telgemeier's Smile, is a cute little story about sibling rivalry and the bond sisters share.

Using the framework of a cross-country trip, the story of Raina's relationship with her younger sister unfolds with colorful drawings and predictable emotion. Once again, Telgemeier has captured the pre-teen perspective clearly and presents it with delightful illustrations. I'm not a big fan of graphic books, but can see how these books might appeal to adolescents.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Vanishing Girls

I've only read one other Lauren Oliver book (and that was a middle grade one, The Spindlers) but have seen her name and heard the buzz for a while now. For our June young adult book club we were asked to enter the YA section and simply pick a book off the shelf to share at the meeting (a meeting I knew I would have to miss because of my time at music camp). I selected this one, Vanishing Girls, but failed to get to it until July.

Dara and Nick (Nicole) are two inseparable sisters, until their friendship with a neighbor boy alters their relationship. Parker is Nick's best friend, but when he and Dara begin dating, it causes a rift between the sisters. During an argument about the situation, while driving, Nick and Dara end up in an accident which permanently mars Dara's good looks.

The introductory blurb talks about a nine year old girl vanishing and then Dara supposedly goes missing, too, on her birthday. I guess I assumed the two disappearances were somehow connected. In the end, the story felt kind of like a bait and switch and I, as a reader, felt duped. The story is told in alternating points of view from Dara and Nick and I found that confusing. Moreover, the book jumps around in time frame willy nilly, which makes it difficult to keep a finger on the pulse of where things are heading. Dara didn't even disappear until almost the 200th page of the novel. I kept wondering, "so when is the second disappearance going to happen and how are they connected?" My final verdict? Meh. Not bad, but not one I would have felt bad about missing had I not read it. I did enjoy The Spindlers, however, so I'm not discounting this author entirely.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review: Hallowed Halls

If I have a pet peeve about Christian fiction, it has to be that it so often uses story to hammer a message or preach a sermon. For some reason, this really rankles. I don't mind Christian fiction when the story carries a message, but when the message supersedes the story it bothers me. I am in full agreement with the message. It is not a matter of disagreeing with what is being presented. I simply cannot appreciate the idea that a writer sets out with an agenda and seeks a story to approach the goal.

Part of me feels ashamed of holding such a position. I mean, perhaps a non-believer really does come to Christian fiction and through the message conveyed finds the path to a real relationship with the Lord. But, another part of me says a non-Christian is probably going to feel manipulated by the anvil of the message. Do non-Christians even pick up Christian fiction? Do they set it down the minute they get to a passage which waxes moralistic and preachy?

Because the cover of Hannah Alexander's novel, Hallowed Halls, bears the label of a "Jerry B. Jenkins Select Book" and pegs Alexander as a "Christy Award Winning Author," I went in knowing it would be inspirational Christian fiction. The pitch on the back cover highlighted the key story hooks to rope me in. The story follows a tempestuous period in the life of a female doctor. Dr. Joy Gilbert has just been fired from her job and is headed for her hometown to check on her ailing mother, when her boss's daughter emerges from hiding in the back of her car. Further complicating matters, Joy bumps into her ex-fiance who never really quite explained why he called off the wedding. This was a sufficient teaser to pull me in. In fact, I picked up this book to read before selecting ones which are coming due soon.

The story didn't disappoint. The characters were well-drawn and believable. The conflicts were palpable and pressing. The plot kept things moving at a reasonable pace. By all counts, this was a story worth telling. I simply believe it could have been told with the story remaining in the foreground and the message subtly ringing out in the background. Sadly, the urge to proselytize overpowered the storytelling. Moreover, the images used (especially that of the vintner pruning the vines) felt cliche. The message came through loud and clear - "times of trial are simply methods God employs to bring forth greater fruit and maturity" and "you cannot judge Christianity by the hypocritical Christians you might come in contact with." Again, while I don't disagree with the message, I want the story to more subtly convey the message instead of paragraphs full of truth-telling.

If you enjoy Christian fiction and are not bothered in the slightest by use of a gavel, you will probably find this to be excellent Christian fiction. The writing is good. The characters learn and grow and redeem their disappointments. No doubt, you will find this story entirely uplifting and enjoyable. You might even want to continue with the series to find out what happens in the future with Dr. Joy Gilbert (the author is at work on a third book at this point). So, don't let my own pet-peeves hold you back, if Christian fiction is your thing. I enjoyed the story, as well. I just would have toned down the moralizing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anticipating Blessings at CBLI

It's almost here. Central Bible and Leadership Institute. Our annual Bible camp. Even though it spells the end of summer (as the boys go back to school a few days after we return home), we are getting thoroughly excited for our departure.

Click here for a promo video from last year (I'm even in the video at the 1:42 point).

We have learned a few things about what we can anticipate. First off, we are being housed in Sandpiper. Schew! That's a relief. No hassling with shared bathrooms or cots or cramped quarters. Really comfy beds. Perhaps we'll get even luckier and find that our friends, the Carrs, will be in Sandpiper, as well.

My boys are old enough this year that I will probably allow them to wander off for free time on their own. Hmmm - sounds like excellent reading/napping time for me! Two of the Carr boys are close in age to Trevor and Sean and they tend to enjoy hanging out together. (Here's a photo of the four of them together two years ago at CBLI:)

There's so much for them to do - fishing, air-hockey, zip-line, high-ropes, swimming, pontoon and paddle boating, archery, or hanging out at the snack shop.

The boys will both be in the CBLI Kids' Track (Trevor's last year as he will advance to the tween group once he is 11) and they received a letter indicating their theme will be Super Secret Spy Academy. They don't seem too enthralled with the theme, but at least it sounds boy-friendly. The introductory letter included a coded message, which we happily deciphered together while on our ride to the Indiana Dunes this past weekend. They are hoping a lot of their regular CBLI friends return again this year.

The special guests are British. I know, it is the little things in life that thrill me. I am looking forward to excellent teaching with the added plus of a British accent! Moreover, I thought Linda Himes was retiring from her stint as a Precept Bible teacher, but she is back again with another Bible class, so I am rejoicing (since I'm not really eager for leadership training - what used to be no problem for me causes anxiety issues now - it is nice to have a Bible class option available instead of the predominant leadership-oriented ones).

For musical entertainment, on Monday night there will be a concert performed by For King and Country, a highly popular Christian group. I am super stoked about this and sincerely hoping they sing one of my favorites: Shoulders.

I'm a little worried I won't secure a good seat, since I will have to drop the boys off at their class prior to the meeting's start and I'm sure there will be loads of people from the Chicago area who will drive up just for the concert, filling the chapel.

Ever since we moved to Indiana, it has been harder for John to come up to be with us for the final evening. This year, he has decided to brave the almost five hour trip and come up anyway. It will be so fun to have him with us for the completion of camp (this is when the boys get most anxious, missing him and wanting to head home to be with him).

I'm praying for good things to happen this year. I'm wanting my boys to receive further spiritual enrichment and solidification of their relationship with the Lord. I'm seeking a blessing for myself. I'm hoping we return refreshed and energized spiritually and ready to tackle another year of school.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: The Shallows

When I knew that my book club would be reading this book by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, I noticed another similar book in my library's recent acquisitions. Thus, I got my hands on the book Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, by Susan Greenfield, prior to reading this Nicholas Carr book. Perhaps if I hadn't read that one first, I might not have had such a difficult time getting into Carr's book. Alas, it was a struggle to keep with it and if it hadn't been for the book club, I certainly would have been tempted to toss it aside.

Nicholas Carr advances the same theory, that our persistent use of the Internet is altering our brains. Because of the brain's plasticity, it is rewiring all the time based on how we use it and our use of the Internet tends to lead to brief, intense, shallow surfing. Carr bemoans the fact that he can no longer sit down with a book and process it deeply (yet he is asking his readers to cast aside this affect of the Internet on attention spans by presenting a treatise full of references to great thinkers, society-changers, and pundits).

I, too, found it difficult to remain focused on his argument. It had a rambling manner which delved into all sorts of tangents and anecdotes. Some of the information was interesting. I loved learning about the use of "commonplace books"  - a notebook of memorable quotations -to retain information for later cogitation. This is a practice I love to employ; indeed, I think of my blog as a repository of concepts, ideas, and quotes I glean from the books I read. Yet, somehow, my mind had a hard time focusing in on his arguments. I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood for digesting the material or if the material was simply too full of quotes and historical tales used to support his argument.

I found Greenfield's book more accessible than this one. The author, a neuroscientist, presented her perspective in clear language, with a persuasive tone, and effective structure. Carr seemed intent upon impressing the reader with how much he had researched the ideas behind the book. For whatever reason, my final analysis is that I enjoyed the Mind Change book more than The Shallows.

Since I tend to read extensively, I don't feel a sense of danger in my own use of the Internet. I would say I use it minimally. I log on for an hour in the morning to check mail, Facebook, and news. I might write a blog post later on in the day and check Facebook again, but that is pretty much the extent of it. In fact, my husband recently bought me a phone with more capabilities than I could ever figure out how to use. While it was a godsend during my time at camp, enabling me to check my mail, forward information on to Bryce about scholarship requirements, and browse Facebook, I wasn't tied to it as some people are with their phones.

Yet, even with a limited use of the computer, I do fear the results I see in my boys who are so easily bored and often eschew genuinely fun activity in favor of sitting around on their devices (I took them to Sky Zone this week and had to cajole Sean to keep going when all he wanted to do was go home and get back on his I-pod). I observe their need for instant answers, quick-paced presentation of ideas, and the feedback of others on things they post to Instagram. They are clearly the product of their technological environment. They are fully "digital natives," while I will always be a "digital immigrant." Other parents suffer from similar dilemmas (my friend Amy linked to this mother's lament on summer and it gave me a good-natured, empathetic laugh, especially the line "Netflix ... isn't going to binge-watch itself").

I can only make a stand for myself and say that I will continue to read bound books, I will continue to write letters from time to time, and I will continue to seek balance in my life when it comes to today's technology. I don't want to live in the shallows. I want to be able to read a book with depth of concentration and mental interaction.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a little tale of orphans in a fix. The children triumph despite the odds. The atmosphere of the story is dark and foreboding, but the characters are bright and plucky. I appreciated the author's daughter's comments about the story at the beginning of the audio version, as well as her narration of the story.

Bonnie cannot wait for the arrival of her cousin Sylvia from London. She flies out with enthusiasm only to find that it is a governess, come to look after the girls in her parents' absence. Her parents are heading off on a sea voyage to a more pleasant climate in the hopes of restoring the health of Bonnie's mother. The governess, a Miss Slighcarp proves to be a nasty old woman with a sharp disposition and a sinister design. The children are thrust into immediate peril and must fight back with the aide of their little friend, Simon, and two loyal servants.

This was a story full of British flair, from grim orphanages to elaborate country estates, from evil governesses to doting maids. The threatening wolves serve to intensify the dangers and darken the atmosphere. Though recommended for listeners between the ages of 9 and 14, I think it will equally appeal to adults. I will have to look into the movie version to see if I can find it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review: The Rooftop Inventor

One of the many great things about joining the Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) movement, is that it put me in contact (though minimal and virtual) with other writers in the Indianapolis area. I really only personally know one other writer in the Indianapolis chapter of NanoIndy. She encouraged me to join the Facebook group. As a result, I see the postings (often inspirational cartoons about writing) and read posts from writers in the group. This is how I first encountered Nooce Miller.

You have to admit, the author's name is unique and stands out in your mind. Several months back, she posted something about a book she was self-publishing. This cover art is amazing and instantly sucked me in. Then, when DailyE-Books posted a link for the very same book, The Rooftop Inventor, I snatched it up (despite a growing worry that my love of free e-books is the cause of my current laptop woes).

Sometimes self-published fare lacks polish and finesse. Often these books could do with a decent spin with an experienced editor. Thankfully, this book does not reflect that tendency. No, indeed. Nooce Miller has written a delightful book for kids between the ages of 12 and 18. With a strong, feisty heroine and a well-paced plot, this story will entertain young and old readers alike. I delighted in the Victorian setting. As the author mentions at the end of the book, there are many books set in the Victorian era which are focused on London, but it was pleasant to transport to a Victorian era in our own local environs (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio). She weaves in historical elements gracefully and captures the nineteenth century feel.

Theodocia (Theo for short) Hews is a spirited young lady. Her father is an inventor and she takes after him in many ways. Even though she dreams of inventing something grand, she is held back by her age and her gender. But that is not going to stop Theo. She is determined to succeed. When her father is knocked unconscious and his current invention stolen, Theo feels compelled to board her latest invention (a flying machine) and chase after the culprits. Her plan is further complicated by the presence of a thief aboard her vessel. What follows is an adventure with twists and turns (and a little bit of romance).

I loved the characters. I loved the setting. I enjoyed the pacing and the resolution. This is a delightful little book and I am glad I risked further memory problems for my failing laptop by uploading it to my Kindle for PC. The only thing I would have liked better would have been more illustrations to support the text. The cover art is so beautiful and inviting. It captures the essence of the main character and draws the reader into the story. Given its YA label, further illustrations really would not have made sense, though. Still, if it were me, I would have lowered Theo's age from 17 to 13, making it a MG book, which would have left room for further supportive illustrations. All moot points, really, since I thoroughly enjoyed the book as it is.

I read on the author's website that she originally planned to title this book, The Airship or The Magenta Airship. I'm glad she changed the title to its current one and also thrilled to see her book fared so well on the Amazon lists. If you enjoy period fiction from the Victorian era or are looking for a good steampunk genre book, this one is well worth the price even though it is no longer free. Kudos to Nooce Miller for a well-written debut book and to Melanie Berg for the lovely enticing cover art!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: Smile

Even though there's nothing really special about the cover to this book, I found it very inviting. I actually came across the sequel to this, Sisters, before I discovered Smile. But, as usual, I wanted to read them in order (although it seems fairly certain that they will both turn out to be stand alone-worthy books).

Smile is a comic book novel (otherwise called "graphic novel" these days), with great comic book appeal. The pictures are bright and inviting and convey the story line nicely. This is the tale of Raina's experience getting braces after a fall caused her to lose her two front teeth. In this sense, I'm guessing this is really more of a memoir than a novel, but the library has labeled it as a graphic novel. It was a quick and easy read and is sure to be a book young girls will relate to, especially if they have to endure the pain and social discomfort of wearing braces for any period of time. I don't think the book will appeal quite as much to adults, unless ... again ... they have had a traumatic experience with braces in the past. Still, if you are into graphic novels, this book provides an interesting story full of pre-teen perspective.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: Last One Home

Once again, needing some audio fare to accompany my daily walking, I stumbled upon this book by Debbie Macomber, Last One Home. The author provides a bit of introduction telling a brief account of what triggered the impulse to capture this story. I love it when I get a glimpse into a writer's mind.

Cassie Carter is a wounded woman struggling to reclaim her life. At the tender age of 18, Cassie fled her home and family to marry Duke, the young man whose child she was secretly carrying. Duke moved them to Florida and forced her to cut all ties with her family. His abusiveness grew to the point where she feared for herself and her daughter, Amy. Finally free of Duke, she is rebuilding her life, working in a job as a hairdresser, and putting in hours with the Habitat for Humanity group so that she can one day work for her own home. Putting in those required hours means working with the brusque Steve Brody, a man who instantly disliked her. But Steve is battling his own demons, after the loss of his beloved wife to cancer, and eventually decides to give Cassie a chance.

The author expertly weaves in images of Cassie and her sisters as kids playing hide and seek and running to the base tree to be the "last one home." While Cassie desires a reunion with her sisters, she is unsure they are willing to reconnect. With tentative steps and the help of friends, she is able to regain her footing with her sisters and find the forgiveness her heart has longed for. Realistic characters and the promise of reconciliation and romance propel the reader along. While a bit predictable, the story is easy to absorb and leaves one with hope and encouragement at the end.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: In the Unlikely Event

I expected great things from this Judy Blume book, In the Unlikely Event. After all, Judy Blume! My opinion is that it was true to her writing style, but not as good a read as I had anticipated. My biggest issue was with the extensive cast of characters. It took a good 150 pages to get to the point in the novel where I had a grasp on which characters were important and which were incidental.

The story revolves around 15 year old Miri Ammerman. It is the winter of 1951-52 and Elizabeth, New Jersey, experiences three plane crashes within the space of two months. While the crashes are factual (Blume lived in Elizabeth and was a junior high student at the time), the characters are fictional. Miri is exploring a new relationship with a boy named Mason. She is living with her single mother and worried about her best friend, Natalie (who believes that one of the dead passengers is now living inside of her).

As I intimated, the cast of characters is extensive and often difficult to keep a handle on. It is somewhat like viewing a kaleidoscope (an image used in the novel) where different colorful bits and pieces flash into different patterns to reveal visually stunning images. The glimpses are brief and hard to follow at times. The end result creates a whole picture, but the process of getting to the final picture is a fragmented journey. I think it was the fragmented nature I struggled with most.  While I don't regret continuing with the novel (despite several moments where I was sorely tempted to cast it aside), it still wasn't as satisfying as I had anticipated and not one of my favorite Judy Blume reads.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Review: 100 Christian Quotes by 10 Great Christians

Who can turn down a free e-book promising highlight-worthy quotes? Not me. This book, 100 Christian Quotes by 10 Great Christians, by Pastor Duke Tabor held many pearls. While I wouldn't have highlighted all of them, here are my favorites:

"A saint's life is in the hands of God as a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see; He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says I cannot stand any more. But God does not heed; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly." - Oswald Chambers

"I wonder if people who asked for God to intervene in our world really know what they are asking. Will they want to be there when God really does intervene?" - C.S. Lewis

"We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.... It is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Go for souls. Go straight for souls, and go for the worst." - General William Booth

"I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost; Christianity without Christ; forgiveness without repentance; salvation without regeneration; politics without God; and Heaven without Hell." - General William Booth

"We are all making a crown for Jesus out of these daily lives of ours, either a crown of golden, divine love, studded with gems of sacrifice and adoration, or a thorny crown, filled with the cruel briers of unbelief, or selfishness, and sin." - Aimee Semple McPherson

"The central significance of prayer is not in the things that happen as results, but in the deepening intimacy and unhurried communion with God at His central throne of control in order to discover a sense of God's need in order to call on God's help to meet that need." - E.M. Bounds

"The heavenly Father does not ask for golden vessels. He does not ask for silver vessels. God asks for yielded vessels - those who will submit their will to the will of the Father. And the greatest human attainment in all the world is for a life to be so surrendered to Him that the name of God Almighty will be glorified through that life." - Kathryn Kuhlman

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book Review: The Five Money Conversations

Several months back, I read a book about nurturing children, regarding the use of money, in ways to keep them from being "spoiled." When my library highlighted this book in recent acquisitions, I thought I'd check it out to see if it had anything new to say. The books were totally different with a different focus in each case. While the first book focused more on behaviors to take with kids in regards to money, this book focused more on things to guide your conversations with kids about money.

In The Five Money Conversations to Have with Your Kids at Every Age and Stage, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer zero in on five different money personalities people can have: 1) Saver, 2) Spender, 3) Security Seeker, 4) Risk Taker, and 5) Flyer (a sort of vague title for people who don't really think about money but rather about relationship). They claim that each individual has two of these money personalities at work in their lives. While it was immediately obvious which two I veer towards (Saver, Security Seeker), I did wonder if all people fall so neatly into two categories, even if my own boys are pretty easy to peg. Both Bryce and Sean are definitely Savers and Trevor is clearly a Spender (that boy wants something every time we enter a store, wants to spend money as soon as he gets it, and is generous with others almost to a fault).

The key message of the book is to speak to your kids based on their personality type and attempt to establish balance. Encourage Spenders to think and plan and rein their impulses in, but encourage Savers to not be so hesitant to spend money having fun with friends. Encourage Security Seekers to realize that some things simply cannot be planned for or avoided and remind Risk Takers that "there are ramifications to their financial decisions." At times it felt like things were a bit too formulaic and that balance seemed to be the only thing the authors were preaching.

The authors assert that they are both Spenders. As a Saver, it was hard for me to believe that it is really okay for Spenders to simply be impulsive and enjoy the act of purchasing things. At one point, the authors mentioned that debt is not necessarily a bad thing. I had to balk at that. It sounded too much like, "Hey, I want to go on a big fancy trip because it is something I value and want to do, therefore I'm simply going to go, even though I know I cannot afford it, and debt be damned." I have a hard time accepting that such thinking is fine and merely an expression of a particular money personality type.

I do think there is always value in addressing your individual children based upon what you know about their personality types. I cannot deal with my ten year old in the same way I do with my eight year old because it simply doesn't work. They are as different as night and day. If only all three of my children were the same (two of them are very similar in personality type and disciplinary responsiveness), it would be easier to raise them to be responsible, contributing citizens of society. Alas, every individual is unique and they pose different challenges. I may not get it right, but I can try my darnedest to understand them and to try to speak their language. Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, I'm worried about more serious parenting challenges than speaking wisdom to my kids in regards to their views on money. Still, the book provided valuable thinking points for that particular topic of parenting.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Book Review: Dicey's Song

This was a book I had heard of but failed to read yet. Dicey's Song is a familiar title in children's literature, having won a Newbery Award. I wasn't aware that it is the second in a series of four books. The story unfolds in a very slow, meandering manner (or perhaps that was just the way the narrator presented it in the audio form). It was sweet and tender, but also a bit sad.

Here's the description from the back cover:

"It took 13-year-old Dicey Tillerman all summer to get herself and her three younger siblings to their grandmother's run-down farm on the Chesapeake Bay. Now the four of them face the difficult challenges of fitting into a frightening new world, one where once again, they are outsiders. Gram told Dicey to just hold on, to do all that she could to keep the family together. The trouble is, Dicey has only two hands, and quite a few problems of her own. Growing up, she discovers, is more than just holding on to what is important; it is learning how to let go."

The story brought me to tears a few times. Although I enjoyed it, I probably wouldn't rank it as one of my favorites for the year. It would be a good book to suggest to a child who is having difficulty with new circumstances or with family troubles. I don't think I enjoyed it enough to seek out the rest of the series, although if our library had another one in audio form, it might bump it up for consideration since I'm always looking for more books to listen to while I do my daily walk.

I will say that I like the cover posted at the top of this post far better than this one (to the left) on the cover of the library's audio version. I couldn't tell if the child on this cover is a boy or a girl. Perhaps that was intentional, but I think the first cover conveys more emotional pull than this particular one does. The downcast face also expresses more of the internal angst of the main character. Just a better cover, in my humble opinion.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: The Furious Longing of God

Every once in a while, a theme gets hammered into my psyche by repeated, seemingly coincidental exposure. Sunday morning's sermon was centered on the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. Our congregation was reminded of God's intense, unwavering love for us and further, of His desire that we go on to express that same love to others, not just the ones who are easy to love (even the pagans do that), but the most unlovable ones. It was an inspiring time of worship.

Then, I came home and my boys packed up to leave for a brief trip to Holiday World. Following their departure I sat in our quiet house, enjoying the calm and attempting (unsuccessfully) to make my failing laptop work. In frustration, I gave up and decided to simply open up my Kindle library (on my laptop) and read one of the many books I keep meaning to get to. I opened up the most recent acquisition, this book by Brennan Manning, called The Furious Longing of God.

This brief book cemented even further an understanding of the depth of God's love for me, even when I don't feel that I deserve it, even when I am at my most despicable. He loves me, even me! What a marvelous revelation.

As Manning writes: "The revolutionary thinking that God loves me as I am and not as I should be requires radical rethinking and profound emotional readjustment." He asserts that it is easier for people to believe that God exists than it is for them to believe that God loves them. Yet, it is true that "He loves me whether in a state of grace or disgrace."

Later, in talking of the power we have to heal someone else with our affirming love, seeing in them what they cannot see in themselves, he writes, "Lodged in your heart is the power to walk into somebody's life and give him or her what the bright Paul Tillich called 'the courage to be'." What a great commission!

He goes on. After talking about the healing found in the story of Don Quixote and Dulcinea, Manning writes: "The question is not can we heal? The question, the only question, is will we let the healing power of the risen Jesus flow through us to reach and touch others, so that they may dream and fight and bear and run where the brave dare not go?"

What an opportunity lies before each and every one, to rise to the occasion and be the conveyor of a moment of healing in the life of another. I want to not only experience the unfathomable love of God but also extend that love to others in ways that produces great healing in their lives!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: Kidnapped by River Rats

How fitting to be reviewing this book on July 1st, 2015, as Salvationists from around the world gather in London, England, to celebrate the 150th year of The Salvation Army's existence. (Wishing I could be there too, as I watch all the photos and videos shared on Facebook from friends and family who are delegates attending the "Boundless" International Congress.) I became aware of Kidnapped by River Rats when Catherine reviewed it on her blog, A Spirited Mind, and was surprised to find it at my library. As a person affiliated with The Salvation Army since birth, I'm kind of amazed that I had never heard of it. The book, published in 1991 by Bethany House Publishers, gives a brief exposure to the early days of The Salvation Army in London, England, and the persecution early Salvationists endured.

Jack and Amy came to London with their mother to search for an uncle to provide for them. When their mother dies, Jack and Amy are left to fend for themselves and search for a man whose address they don't even know in a city full of danger. After they encounter The Salvation Army marching past on their way to an open air meeting (not actually termed in such a way in the book, but that is what we in the Army would call it), they must decide if William and Catherine Booth are going to harm them (they are told the Army is "after their souls") or help them.

The book provides a fairly basic introduction to the Army. I believe more details could have been used to flesh out the historical perspective. Still, it was a slightly interesting tale and does indeed provide a fairly good picture to kids of what it must have been like to live in the 1880s in London in poverty. It also touches on the evils of child sexual trafficking, so the reader should be aware of that before reading it aloud to children. It will open up some difficult, but important, discussions. I probably won't be reading it aloud to my boys simply because I don't think they'd find it to be engaging enough to hold their attention.