Monday, January 30, 2012

a january dream come true (#829-840 of 1000 gifts)

"Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It's been a while since I've done a 1000 gifts update. Of course the blessings haven't stopped. Here's a quick overview of my thankfulnesses since my last 1000 gifts posting (a month ago!).

829. An honest evaluation of my novel from a trusted writer/editor/friend who knows about such things. There is much work to do before I submit the final draft!

830. I found two books to help me with the edit (James Scott Bell's Conflict and Suspense, and Revision & Self-Editing). Both excellent!

831. A Kindle e-reader on which to download them in mere seconds.

832. A fabulous, dream-come-true, 15-day winter vacation on Maui (I'll be blogging some of the highlights in the days ahead).



833. Safe trans-Pacific flights to and from Kahului with luggage to meet us both away and home again.

834. Good health for the duration.

835. We found our car on the huge Vancouver long-term parking lot when we got back. Don't laugh. We've lost it in much smaller places.

836. All was safe and sound at home when we got back.

837. A dependable washer and dryer to wash the summer togs, which now need to go back into storage (*sigh*).

838. The comforts of our familiar home.

839. A "Yes" from qarrtsiluni (for the "Imitation" issue).

840. My review of A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider was pub'd in the January/February issue of Faith Today.

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If you'd like to join me and many others collecting One Thousand Gifts, please do. Some members of this gratefulness community post their gifts on blogs, while others list them in private journals. Instructions on how to join are here.



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Friday, January 27, 2012

book review: Shadowed in Silk by Christine Lindsay

Abby Fraser has one dream and that is to return to India and make a home for her British soldier husband Nick and their 3-year-old son Cam. But when Nick doesn’t answer her telegrams and isn’t there to meet her at the Bombay dock, she begins to have forebodings.

Thanks to fellow passenger Major Geoff Richards, who is also part of the 1918 British force in India, she is delivered safely to Nick’s home in Amritsar — the home she dreamed he was preparing just for her. But there, more cruel surprises await. Nick doesn’t seem a bit pleased to see her. He is preoccupied and distracted. And at night the servants take her, not to the master bedroom (that smells mysteriously of jasmine) but to a side room with a single bed.

Shadowed in Silk, a debut novel by Christine Lindsay, follows Abby and Nick’s stumbling relationship against the backdrop of restless times as the Indian people chafe under British rule. We witness the lavish lifestyle of the occupiers and cringe at their haughty treatment of the natives.

There is an element of intrigue as one of the British soldiers is a double agent—a Russian spy. Suspense mounts as we see his ruthless Russian side and try to figure out which of the Brits is the imposter. Through Geoff’s Indian friends Miriam and Eshana and their Christian mission, Abby finds meaningful work and the support she so badly needs to carry on in the charade of her marriage in front of the other officers and their wives.

The characters are interesting, complex and well-drawn. Main character Abby is likeable with just enough strength of personality to make her convincing as the daughter of a general, yet not too much to make her modernly independent. Nick is mysterious and unsafe. Geoff is strong, silent, secretive, and hurt.

The exotic Indian setting was a highlight of the book for me. Here, for example, is Lindsay’s description of Abby’s introduction to India:

“As soon as the liner stopped, it was as though an oven door dropped open, and hot air rushed in. On the quay, a kaleidoscope of color and humanity dazzled Abby’s eyes — Hindu women in saris of every hue, hot pinks, ochre yellows, lime greens. Parsee women wore their skirts of equally brilliant shades, their black hair ornamented with lace and gold. People balanced immense bundles on their heads. Bengali clerks rushed here and there, wearing yards of white muslin and Hindu caps, while other men wore turbans or solar topis. On the dock, uniformed soldiers joined the throng. So many people. She had forgotten that claustrophobic feeling, the teeming press of millions. But she loved it” – Kindle location 220.

The Indian words for food, clothing, religious practices, etc., that pepper the text (and for which there is a glossary) add authenticity. Though I am not familiar with the historical setting, other reviewers praise the book for its accuracy.

The Christian angle of the book is prominent, yet handled with a deft touch. Miriam, Eshana and, Geoff live their faith more than talk about it, demonstrating compassion, charity, service and forgiveness in some truly testy circumstances.

For an authentic experience of an interesting time in British history lived through believable, sympathetic characters, Shadowed in Silk is an excellent choice.

View the book trailer.

Read Chapter One of Shadowed in Silk.

Title: Shadowed in Silk
Author: Christine Lindsay
Publisher: WhiteFire Publishing, September 2011, paperback, 276 pages
ISBN-10: 0976544490
ISBN-13: 978-0976544494



(Review first posted on Blogcritics.)

This post is linked at Semicolon Saturday Review of Books, January 28th where you will find links to many more book reviews.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

book review: Light Under the House by Aaron L. and Donna Dawson

Light under the House by Aaron L. and Donna Dawson is a family saga in which we follow several generations of the Levi/Quince clan. We see how the decisions and choices of one era impact the next, and witness how the results of bad choices expand to impact many beyond the family circle.

The story starts out simply, almost like a fable or parable (the opening scenes reminded me of the story of the Prodigal Son from the Bible). However, it soon becomes much more complicated and unpredictable as fantasy and paranormal elements enter the plot. In some places the writing reminded me of apocalyptic passages from the Old Testament prophets and Revelation. Other scenes took me back to Pilgrim’s Progress. In still other places I saw similarities to modern tales where characters go in search of religious artifacts (e.g. The Ark by Boyd Morrison).

The book is labeled Christian suspense, but overt Christian content is practically non-existent until the last few chapters. Though there are references to biblical imagery in various places (the biblical character Jezebel figures prominently in the book; in one vision John Quince sees a lamb; in another a stone crashes into and topples an idol; and in still another he experiences an ever-rising flood of water), the meaning of these story elements is never explained.

I wasn’t sure if the authors were attempting to evoke the Bible themes they suggested or were using these scenes as a simple link to the Bible, as in causing us to ask: Where have I seen that before? Ah, the Bible. By the end we discover that the Jezebel theme is meant to convey all that that character conveyed in the Bible. Similarly, the theme of light and dark — note the title — runs true to biblical form.

In trying to understand my reaction to the book, something writer Sol Stein says about reading and writing came to mind: “…the reader most wants an experience different from and richer than what he daily abides in life …. Good writing is supposed to evoke the sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon”Stein on Writing, p. 8.

In that last sense this book has lots of good writing. The description is detailed. The interactions between people are believable. The conversations are realistic. The conflicts are intense. The fights are brutal. The taste of blood is metallic...

The trouble is, I didn’t enjoy the amount of time I had to spend submerged in this story’s dark places, amplified because they are portrayed with graphic realism. This story contains a lot of violence, abuse, mayhem, and murder. There are many sexually suggestive scenes. None of the characters is in a good place emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. Up till two thirds of the way through the book I had to force myself to read on. The story does end on a positive note, though.

According to author Aaron L.'s recent Blogcritics interview, the book is somewhat autobiographical in that it deals with a lot of his personal issues. For someone wrestling with the same demons, the book will no doubt come across differently than it did to me, and may well provide a sense of companionship and hope.

The anything-goes setting was also a problem for me. So many things just happened out of the blue. For example, two characters were in the supposedly secure compound of an estate, but then were assaulted by a host of intruders with not even any puzzlement on the part of the victim as to how they got in. People appeared and disappeared willy nilly. Half the time I didn’t know whether the main character was having a vision or experiencing "reality" — and sometimes neither did he. The journey through the random setting the authors created— a universe in which there seemed to be no rules and anything the writers dreamed up could happen — left me disoriented.

As you can see, this book is not my preferred genre. However, if suspense/fantasy/paranormal is yours, and you like it served up by flawed, edgy characters via a plot that is completely unpredictable, Light under the House may be your cup of tea.

Aaron L. is a newcomer to writing fiction. He was recently interviewed for a Blogcritics article. Donna Dawson is an award-winning Canadian writer and the author of numerous books.

(I received this book as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.)

Title: Light Under the House
Author: Aaron L. and Donna Dawson
Publisher: Ravensbrook Press, October 2011, paperback, 362 pages
ISBN-10: 0615556035
ISBN-13: 978-0615556031


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Friday, January 13, 2012

book review: Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby

If you’ve wondered what life is like for the veiled women of the Middle East, this book is a revelation. Author Audra Grace Shelby, along with her husband Kevin, were Baptist missionaries to Yemen for nine years. In Behind the Veils of Yemen, Shelby tells the story of that time. She describes in detail the friendship with her language tutor Fatima. She also tells about incidents that stretched her faith like the sickness of her husband and her daughter, and the birth of her fourth child.

I love Shelby’s creative non-fiction style. A skilled storyteller, she helps us experience Yemen and her Yemeni friends, their homes, celebrations, and customs through color, touch, sound, and smell. Using specific detail she recreates incidents in settings as varied as a hospital room, a beach-side vacation cottage, and the home of Fatima. Here we see a Yemeni market:

“We arrived at the suq, an open-air Yemeni market. On one side of the entrance women sat on the ground with round stacks of pancake-like bread. They wrapped them in newspapers and waved as we approached.


On the other side of the entrance four men displayed aluminum trolleys with mounds of glossy dates, pressed together in sticky cubes. They flicked swarming flies with rags tied to sticks and called to us to sample a date.” – p. 75.

Her recall of events and details is quite amazing (she must have kept detailed journals), as is her ability to analyze people and situations. Of Fatima she says:

“She had a manner that was both transparent and secretive, faltering and arrogant, all at the same time” – p. 50.

When she attends a women’s wedding celebration and is coaxed to dance with the women, she reluctantly complies. After she makes her clumsy way across the floor, the reaction of the onlookers surprises her:

“Applause thundered from the crowd of women around me …. They were beaming at me. I realized they were pleased more by my willingness to dance with them than they were by my skills in dancing.” – p. 68.

I enjoyed the book for a variety of reasons.

I loved the glimpse Shelby gave me into the world of veiled women. Never had I imagined that under their black burqas may be vivid caftans, bejeweled silk scarves, even the odd mini-skirt. She introduced me to a vibrant and cohesive female community which is devoutly religious and has its own colorful wedding and funeral rituals.

Despite the exotic setting, Shelby’s story showed me that mothers everywhere struggle with the same things. I ached for Fatima as she tried to find reasons why her almost year-old baby was still not holding up his head or sitting unsupported. One of Shelby’s own mothering crises resolved when she faced the question: “Do you trust Me (God) without having to know why?” It is a question Christian mothers are bound to face wherever they live.

Finally, I found Shelby herself inspirational. I admired the way she parented her kids, stifling her own anxieties in order to keep them feeling safe and distracting them with made-up stories instead of sweeping them into the vortex of her own tensions. Her sensitivity to her women friends’ customs and feelings along with her generosity, kindness, and passion to introduce them to Jesus were beautiful to witness.

I have one little beef with the book. It has no table of contents; thus it’s hard to locate passages one has read without using a bookmark or dog-earing the pages.

The end-matter alerts us to the fact that the name of the author and her family members have been changed to protect friends whose work goes on in the Middle East. You can find out more about the book, the author’s experiences in the Middle East, and her current speaking schedule from her website and Facebook page.

(I received this book as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.)

Title: Behind the Veils of Yemen
Author: Audra Grace Shelby
Publisher: Chosen - reprinted edition September 1, 2011, paperback, 238 pages.
ISBN-10: 0800795180
ISBN-13: 978-0800795184



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Thursday, January 12, 2012

best of 2011 - part 2

The theme for Thursday Challenge is Best of 2011 (again). One of my favorite photographic subjects is the little people in my life. As the grandkids grow older it's so much fun to watch them grow and develop--through play, which is really their work. Here are two collections of my favorite little boys.

Kids at work



Thursday Challenge

Next Week: TOYS (Stuffed Animals, Sports Equipment, Dolls, Video Games, Board Games, Lego,...)


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Saturday, January 07, 2012

book review: The Third Grace by Deb Elkink

Aglaia Klassen’s jaunt to Paris has been a long time in coming. But now it’s three days away — a business trip for which the main character in Deb Elkink’s debut novel, The Third Grace, has significant plans of her own. On the evening we make her acquaintance she is trying to inveigle from her worldly friend Lou, how one would go about finding someone in that vast city.

When Tina, her country bumpkin mother, bursts upon their little soirée with the embarrassing request that Aglaia take the Bible that Francois left at the farm 15 years ago and return it, Aglaia is beyond humiliated. But the Bible does find its way into her luggage and becomes a magnet once she discovers the notes the French exchange student scribbled in its margins all those years ago.

As she reads them, she is transported back to that summer of young love when she was 17 and sure that Francois’ heart was all hers. She recalls the Greek myths of which the Bible stories they read in youth group reminded him, and finds tucked inside a photo postcard of the Three Graces. The Third Grace, Aglaia, is what Francois called her. That’s why she has not been Mary Grace — the name her parents gave her — for many years.

Much has happened since that crossroads summer at the farm in Nebraska. She has made an impression on the cultural scene in Denver where she works as an up-and-coming costume designer. As far as she’s concerned, her Mennonite past is history despite the longing in her parents’ eyes and their thinly disguised pleas for her help with the farm.

Aglaia’s friend Lou has her own agenda. Their paths get crazily entangled in this story that explores young love, faith, identity, and loyalty to family and friends.

The well-realized characters make The Third Grace a delight. Lou is a devious college prof who we don’t trust from the minute we meet her — though Aglaia wants to and tries to, to our dismay.

Eb, Aglaia’s boss at the costume shop, is an eccentric, wise, father-figure and my personal favorite. His love for the Bible and the Christian classics creates a fine foil for Aglaia's fascination with Greek mythology.

Francois, the charming, lascivious student from the past plays a large role through Aglaia’s memories.

Aglaia’s Mennonite parents ring true, with their homespun sensibilities, their ethnic cuisine, and their Plautdietsch-inflected pronunciations: “trock” and “tanse” for “truck” and “tense,” and Germanisms like “Na jo,” En betje.”

Finally there’s Aglaia herself — talented and ambitious, yet idealistic, wistful, and conflicted in the way she continues to carry the torch for her teenage sweetheart.

Elkink’s writing is a tailored garment of sensuous description, trimmed with just the right words to signal deeper meanings. Note this bit from the opening scene where Aglaia is entertaining Lou in her apartment:

“Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her” p. 12.

Or this snippet describing Aglaia’s relationship with her craft:

“From the time she was a child…she’d hankered to sew. She learned the smell of the flax beneath the linen, savored the variance between silk and wool. She had a habit still of chewing a strand each time she laid out a length of yard goods ready for the shears. She made a sacrament of touching and sniffing and tasting—a sensual adulation” – p. 42.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Eklink is herself a seamstress and has designed costumes.

I enjoyed this tale for its writing style and literary forays as much as its finely crafted characters. Elkink seems as comfortable recounting Aglaia’s fall from faith and attraction to the occult world of Greek myth as she is describing a scene of teenage infatuation, a Paris bistro, or a child-squirmy kitchen. The story is enriched with quotes from the Bible and Christian luminaries like Saint Augustine, Dante and others through Eb.

For a reading experience as layered and sumptuous as Aglaia’s period costumes, The Third Grace by Deb Elkink won’t disappoint. Could we please have some more?

(I received this book as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.)

Title: The Third Grace
Author: Deb Elkink
Publisher: Greenbrier Book Company, December 2011, paperback, 306 pages
ISBN-10: 1937573001
ISBN-13: 978-1937573003

This review is linked to Saturday Review of Books: January 7, 2012 at Semicolon Blog.




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Thursday, January 05, 2012

best of 2011 - part 1

The theme for the Thursday Challenge for this week and next is "Best of 2011."

I'm going to cheat and present two series of photos. This week I'm offering three collages from our visit to the Vancouver Aquarium last February. What a fun place for my camera!




Vancouver Aquarium - February 25, 2011

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Thursday Challenge

Next Week: Best of 2011 (part 2)

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

promptings' potpourri: 'start the year off right' edition

Happy New Year!

In my blog reading over the last few days I've come across a wealth of interesting articles. Some of them might interest you too.

  • Apparently the puritan minister Jonathan Edwards had 73 resolutions for life which he reviewed once a week. Blogger Matt Perman has not only listed them but put them in categories (such as Overall Life Mission, Good Works, Time Management etc.) in "The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in Categories."
  • Literary agent Rachelle Gardner muses on the process of making resolutions. This discovery of hers resonated with me: "Last year ... I identified that for me to be successful with my goals, I needed to first identify the underlying emotional reason for the goal." Read all of "Goals, Resolutions, Words."
  • Ilya Pozin's "7 Things Highly Productive People Do" contains Tony Wong's common sense advice like "Be Militant about eliminating distractions" and "schedule your email" as well as anti-intuitive suggestions like "Stop multi-tasking." Read all of "7 Things Highly Productive People Do
  • Finally, Janet Martin gives her thoughtful and poetic take on the changing of the calendar in "Year."

Enjoy!


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