Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Feldman

When I was offered a copy of The Book of Jonah by the publisher for review I was intrigued with the premise that it was a retelling of the Biblical story of Jonah in the form of a modern novel. This is the first novel by the author, Joshua Max Feldman.

Although I didn't expect to find the plot to include a whale that swallowed the protagonist, I did expect that the story would carry a discernible religious theme of the call of God on the life of an individual. However, I was disappointed to find almost no resemblance between the theme of the Biblical story and this novel.

The Jonah of this book is a young, Jewish, ambitious attorney whose career and romance are derailed by strange visions that he decides come from God but that do not bring him a clear message. The visions are erratic and confusing and so are his responses to them. The Biblical Jonah received a very clear message from God that he didn't like and did his best to avoid fulfilling. The Jonah of this book believes the visions are from God but can't interpret them.

After his dramatic termination from his law firm he crosses paths with Judith Bulbrook, a brilliant but deeply disturbed young woman who is also Jewish and whose emotional problems stem from the loss of her parents who were on one of the planes that crashed on 9/11.

Neither of the major characters are particularly sympathetic--but then neither is the character of Jonah in the original Biblical tale. The plot meanders between the two of them and then brings them together in an unbelievable turn of events at the end of the book. It is at this point that the author seems to remember that he intended to strengthen the religious themes of the story and suddenly they are made explicit but don't seem to relate to earlier development of the characters and the plot.

Ordinarily I would quit reading a book that I found unappealing at the halfway point or earlier, but since I had accepted a copy for review I was honor-bound to finish the entire thing. If the themes suddenly brought forward at the end of the novel had been developed throughout the narrative the novel would be much improved.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book Review: Dance The Moon Down by R. L. Bartram

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the guns of August--the outbreak of World War I. Dubbed the "war to end all wars" by American President Woodrow Wilson, it sadly was nothing of the sort as World War II followed close behind.

World War I marked the end of the Victorian/Edwardian era in Great Britain and is viewed as a watershed moment in its history. Dance the Moon Down by R. L. Bartram is a historical novel set in England during this time and centering on the experiences of Victoria Avery, an educated upper middle class woman of the period.

The strength of the novel is the author's ability to describe civilian life during this epic period of British history with a particular focus on the experiences of younger women like the heroine who lives through the changing social mores, brushes up against the rising suffragette movement, marries and suffers uncertainty about the fate of her soldier husband, and finds herself learning more about manual labor than she ever expected as she scrambles to support herself in a wartime economy.

However the weakness of the novel is that the narrative is contrived in a way to systematically place Victoria into every possible experience of women of this time so that it can be highlighted. Another problem for me was the failure to develop the plot and characters through the narrative of the novel. For example, the author often tells the reader what to think about the characters rather than letting their words and actions reveal their personalities. And too often the author reveals to the reader what is going to happen next rather than allowing the plot to develop without prophetic commentary.

That said, Dance the Moon Down is a thoughtful and well-researched portrait of the effects of the Great War on British society. I recommend it to those who are interested in social history and the history of World War I.

This is an Authors Online book and the author contacted me and offered me an e-copy for review. My apologies to him for taking much longer than I should have to finish the book and write this review and my thanks to him for the opportunity to review it.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Book Review: Faithful Unto Death and Safe From Harm, Sugar Land Mysteries

It's been awhile since I blogged regularly, but I've been feeling  nudged to begin again and what better way to do that then to share a couple of favorites from my recent reading with my Gentle Readers.

Faithful Unto Death and Safe From Harm are two new mysteries featuring a minister sleuth set in my own town of Sugar Land, Texas. "Everything is perfect in Sugar Land, except it's not" is the theme of this new series.

Walker "Bear" Wells is the head pastor of the mega-size Church of Christ in this upscale suburban master-planned community. A former University of Texas football player, he lives with his wife Annie Laurie, his rebellious younger daughter Jo, and his Newfoundland dog  and texts regularly to his college age  daughter Merrie away at Texas Tech. Rounding out the continuing cast of characters is the church secretary Rebecca and her two badly behaved porcine pugs, and local Detective James Wanderley who Bear clashes with frequently.

Stephanie Jaye Evans is the daughter of a Church of Christ minister and a long-time resident of Sugar Land. In fact, she lived down the street from one of my best friends. She wrote the first book, Faithful Unto Death, as the capstone project for her masters degree in liberal studies at Rice University and it won the 2010 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. No, I never heard of that award before either, but I'm not surprised because both of these mysteries establish that Evans has serious literary chops as well as being a master story-teller.

My RevGals who enjoy mysteries featuring clergy amateur sleuths will really love these two books. Bear, his faith, his family, his neighbors and his church are portrayed realistically and not sentimentally. Trust a PK (preacher's kid) to understand the humanity beneath the collar. Texans, Houstonians and Sugar Landers will particularly enjoy the familiar places, people and attitudes they will find in the books.

There is a clear progression and development of characters from Faithful Unto Death to Safe From Harm that I expect to see continue with the next book. The mysteries have unexpected twists and turns and the conclusions have some ambiguity--just like real life.

I can't wait for the third book in this series!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Of Newtown and Magical Thinking

The Newtown tragedy brings to mind my experiences many years ago as an assistant district attorney when, among other things, I was assigned to cover the mental health hearings in the probate court of Bexar County, Texas. Every other Wednesday I met the probate judge and his clerk at his office in the courthouse and we drove together down South Presa street to the county mental health hospital. There we held involuntary and voluntary commitment hearings in a small conference room. At that time it was much easier to extend commitments than it is today.

Most of the inmates suffered from mental illnesses combined with related addictive behaviors. The hospital was pretty shabby but the inmates were at least housed, fed, medicated and protected from injuring themselves or others. The unintended consequences of the later movement to protect individuals from abuse of the mental health commitment processes of that day has been to drastically reduce mental health treatment and increase danger of injury to these patients and to the public. 

I read about twice as many calls for gun control legislation as I do for increases in funding for mental health. And I have not yet read or heard of anyone advocating changing the laws relating to involuntary commitments for those with potentially dangerous untreated mental illnesses. Yet the news today tells us that the shooter in Newtown may have become enraged because he knew that his mother was trying to get him committed to a mental health facility for treatment. That process is very cumbersome and takes too much time when a patient is in a potentially dangerous mental state.

As a society we tend to engage in magical thinking in times of tragedy like this. We think that the solution to tragedies like this lies in the legislative process. Pass some new laws to restrict gun possession and increase funding for mental health treatment and, VOILA, problem solved! 

I'm not saying new legislation in these areas is not needed, but neither will it be a cure. If not carefully thought through, new laws may bring negative unintended consequences, just as the well-intentioned changes in involuntary commitment processes resulted in growth of a troubled, untreated homeless population across the country.

I don't have the answers and I wish that I did. I do know there are too many  struggling with the problem of getting good, consistent treatment for mentally ill family members and that they also need counseling and training themselves in helping their loved ones manage these difficult, chronic conditions. 

It's going to take a lot more than magical thinking and political posturing to prevent future tragedies like Newtown. God help us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Number 703 on the alphabetical chart

In answer to the question, "where are the Christian women bloggers?", the author of the blog Slacktivist at the website put together a list of 1,001 blogs by Christian women you should know. 

The list is strictly alphabetical and so Quotidian Grace comes in at number 703 here.

Thanks for the mention! Now maybe I'll be inspired to blog more regularly in the New Year?


Thursday, December 06, 2012

BSD Blogging: Lesson 11 Standing Firm

Reading Paul's letters in an ekklesia.
Here is a link to my lecture today on Lesson 11 which is the second lesson in the BSD study of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians: Standing Firm.

I focused on giving more background and history on the culture and city of Corinth and the new Christian community there in order to deepen our understanding of Paul's message in this letter. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BSD Blogging: A Brief Intro to Corinth

This week our BSD groups begin studying Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth--which we learned in the lesson is the fourth known letter to these early Christians, with the first and third having been lost to us. We can better understand Paul's message if we put on those "three-dimensional" glasses to see what the city of Corinth and the church were like in Paul's day.

First of all, Corinth was really a new Roman city built on the ruins of the Greek city of Corinth which was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC and resettled  by decree of Julius Caesar in 446 BC. Situated on a narrow isthmus of land, Corinth had two seaports: one leading to Italy and one to Asia. The city was a major commercial center and, like most successful port cities, attracted a very diverse population.  

That population included many Jewish refugees from Rome, who had been expelled by order of the emperor in 49 AD. Among these Roman Jews were Priscilla and Aquila, leaders in the early church in Corinth. 

Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth were read and shared by a number of house churches, not just one congregation. At this time the church was organized by households which in Roman culture (remember this is a Roman city and the Jews in Corinth were Roman Jews) which included more than the nuclear family. Slaves, freedmen, hired workers, tenants and skilled craftsmen were considered part of the household and were expected to follow the faith of the head of the household. They gathered for worship and a shared meal in private homes, not in synagogues or separate buildings. Some of these house churches were led by women who were independently wealthy either by inheritance or through their own business dealings.

Imagine Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians being read aloud in one of the early house churches and then being copied and passed along to the next Christian household! Many of those hearing his words were illiterate and could not have read it for themselves. We are going to spend the rest of our BSD study learning this letter that gives us a window into the early church in Corinth and Paul's sometimes strained but always loving relationship with it.