Love Amid The Ashes

I found this book in our public library’s NEW section.  Looking at the title I thought ‘ick, another Harlequin or Avon romance type’.  But the cover illustration drew me in, and I picked it up and read the back, then glanced inside.  Hooked, and intrigued by our librarian’s seemingly sudden propensity for Christian fiction, I checked it out at the desk.

Set in Uz, (actual location lost, but several possibilities in Middle East) Love Amid the Ashes interlaces the Biblical stories of Job, Jacob and Esau, Joseph (of the many colored coat), the migration of the Hebrews to Egypt, and Dinah (sister of Joseph), in a very compelling way.  By the end, I was ready to reread the book of Job, and start my own investigation to see if I could pick up on the threads Mesu Andrews so skillfully weaves together from the Bible as well as other ancient texts and rabbinical tradition.

As Dinah nurses and cares for Job during his long suffering, the story of her ill fated love, betrayal by her vindictive brothers (the same ones who sold Joseph into slavery) and her subsequent rejection by her clan as “ruined” is presented.  The distinctive stories finally combine in Egypt, when it is discovered that the great vizier and “Father of the Pharoah” is none other than Joseph himself.  Job and Dinah’s tale comes to a gratifying conclusion and the reader is left hungry for more.

A little research on the internet and a look into Biblical, as well as ancient Egyptian timelines, convinced me that Ms. Andrews did, in fact, do her homework.  That yes, it is just possible that these stories which we normally take separately in the Bible and in history, could maybe have intersected with each other in this or some other way.  Which makes it all the more fascinating for me.

Love Amid the Ashes, by Mesu Andrews, (c) 2011, is available from http://www.revellbooks.com/ and other booksellers.

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The Damascus Way

Tiberius, Jerusalem, Damascus, in the year 40AD.  Saul of Tarsus is hunting down followers of The Way and brutally bringing them to justice.  Julia is the pampered daughter of Jamal, a wealthy merchant, and Jacob is one of his best caravan guards.  Both are couriers of secret messages between the dispersed groups of Christians.  When Saul and his retinue of temple guards join Jamal’s caravan to Damascus, Jacob and Julia risk discovery as well as their very lives to warn believers there of the impending danger.
Christian historical fiction just keeps getting better and better.  I really enjoyed The Damascus Way for its portrayal of daily life and business in the first century after Christ.  I also liked the light romance and heavy suspense.  Not only are messages being smuggled, but also frankinscense, a rare and costly spice.  Bandits and Zealots threaten lives and livelihoods.  Then there are the Roman guards who are also secret Christians…and the temptation on the road to Damascus to simply do away with Saul and his threat to their new faith.
With a guest appearance by the apostle Philip, and his encounter with the eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), Bunn and Oke continue to bring the Bible alive, especially the Acts of the Apostles.  A refreshing story, full of adventure and imagination without being morally offensive or degrading to other faiths.
New from Bethany House Publishing, this is the third book in the Acts of Faith series by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke.
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The Human Experience – Dignity in the Midst of Poverty

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Two young men from Brooklyn, New York set out to find out what it means to live the gospel in misery and poverty.  From the homeless in New York, to the forgotten orphans of Peru, to modern day leper colonies in Africa, we are presented with the powerful drama that is “the rest of the world”.  The masses living on the outskirts of the comfort zone that we know as modern daily life.

The creators of The Human Experience attempt “By spotlighting heartwarming stories from around the world, (to) show viewers that every single person, no matter his or her lot in life, is beautiful.”

This award winning documentary is brought to us by Grassroot Films, which also produced Fishers of Men, to inspire vocations to priestly service and God in the Streets of New York City.   Grassroots Films strives to “make great films that inspire true change”.  The Human Experience has won over 30 awards since its release last year and emphasizes this year’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development theme:  Fight Poverty. Defend Human Dignity.

A truly inspiring film for private or group viewing, highly recommended by Catholic Traveller’s A Simple Catholic.

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The Third Secret, by Steve Berry

I enjoy Steve Berry’s books.  He is definitely a gifted historical/mystery/suspense writer.  I don’t even mind his frequent digs at the Catholic Church.  Heaven know, we deserve some of it.  But it goes way too far in “The Third Secret”, based on the mysterious Third Secret of Fatima.

Whether you believe in the apparitions of Mary the Mother of Jesus at Lourdes, Fatima, La Salette and Medjugorje or not, to even concieve of the woman who carried our Savior in her womb would even suggest that abortion was a woman’s choice (“know that your body is your own”) is repulsive.  Mary’s entire story (the biblical one) is about the sanctity of life.  Without Divine intervention, Mary’s life would have been seriously hampered by the birth of this baby.  In fact, she should have been stoned to death when the pregnancy was discovered.  Even Mr. Berry’s statement in the author’s notes, that the “second half” of the Third Secret, upon which the book centers, is completely a product of his imagination, does not redeem this novel in my eyes.

My advice, don’t even waste your time.  Cotton Malone doesn’t even appear in this book, and though it does give structure to the character of Colin Michener, who finally reappears in the Venetian Betrayal, you won’t be missing out on anything  by skipping “The Third Secret”.

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Book Club

A book club is an interesting place.  I joined because I love to read and am writing a book.  I thought it would help to discuss books with fellow readers and learn their likes and dislikes.  It is certainly an ear opener!  For instance, the general consensus seems to mandate the “obligatory sex scene” in a book, whereas I feel my imagination needs no assistance in that particular area.  However, obviously it sells mainstream books, because it tends to be in most of them.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that I frequently find I have greatly enjoyed a book that the others disapproved of and vice versa.

Case in point:  a couple of months ago, our book was “Mutant Message Down Under” by Marlo Morgan.  It is
a story about an American doctor who goes on walkabout in the Australian Outback with a group of Aborigines.  The sufferings she endures help the tribe to teach her their spiritual principals of interrelatedness, divine creation, unconditional love, and being non-judgmental. I felt that it presented a powerful reminder of spritual principals we should all be living.  Most of the others discounted the whole thing because “obviously she didn’t learn anything from the experience because she still wears makeup and colors her hair”.  Huh?  Not everyone is called to be a St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa.  We are all called to proclaim the Good News in our particular circumstances in life.

Then there are the ever-popular vampire books currently circulating as the “Twilight” series.  Many of my book club confreres rave about them, but vampires simply do not appeal to me.  Now give me a good historical suspense novel.  I have the new Amelia Peabody mystery on hold:  “A River in the Sky”.  After seeing the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie, I reread the books in a whole new light, with new enjoyment.  And my friend from the Baptist church turned me on to Terri Blackstock’s novels – who knew such wonderful work was being produced by Christian publishing houses?  I am thrilled.

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