Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Best So Far For The Year

The Bookends of the Christian Life. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
My First Read-Aloud Bible. Retold by Mary Batchelor & Penny Boshoff.
Sixteen Brides. Stephanie Grace Whitson.
Maid to Match. Deeanne Gist.
Here Burns My Candle. Liz Curtis Higgs.
The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin.
A Lady Like Sarah. By Margaret Brownley.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

June Favorites

A Hopeful Heart. Kim Vogel Sawyer.
Maid to Match. Deeanne Gist.
The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin.
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review: All God's Creatures

All God's Creatures. Karen Hill. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2010. Simon & Schuster. 16 pages.
Dear God,
Thank you for animals,
big and small.
Heavenly Father,
you made them all!
All God's Creatures is a touch-and-feel board book that celebrates God's creation. There are plenty of touch-and-feel books that celebrate animals. You'll find board books on farm animals, and pets--on cats, dogs, and bunnies, especially. What makes this one a little different is the emphasis on God, on creation.

I found this one to be sweet. I enjoyed the illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

On YA Books

I found through Semicolon an article by David Mills, "Bad Books for Kids: A Guide to the World of Youth Literature & What You Can Do About It." First, I'd just like to say that I am so thankful that Mills' "What You Can Do About It" is not a call for parents and 'concerned' adults to ban or censor books. He makes five points towards the close of his article. I especially loved his last three points.
Third, do not be afraid to upset your child by telling him he can’t read something he really wants to. As I have told ours about movies they want to see but can’t: you will never be harmed by something you didn’t see. I have also told them that I have seen movies I now profoundly wish I hadn’t, because some images never leave you.

Fourth, read to your child as much as you can. Read good books and books slightly too old for him. Use the books as a way to explore certain issues and questions with him as they come up in the books themselves.

Fifth, immerse your child in the worship of the Church and every other activity that can shape his imagination as Christian because he acts it out. The greatest prophylactic against cultural infection is not a shield but his love for something better and greater and more heroic.
What should you know about the article--it's written by a Christian parent for other Christian parents. It addresses the fact that in young adult books there are some things that are at the very least un-beneficial and at the very worst potentially harmful for readers. Assuming that the reader in question is a Christian or being raised in a Christian home.

But at the same time it isn't just a faith issue. It isn't just that these books have spiritually questionable content. Mills is examining morality--the presence or lack thereof--within a handful of YA books. This reminds me of a series of articles earlier this month by a variety of YA authors/bloggers. The conversation started at Shannon Hale's Squeetus Blog. Morals and Values and Lessons, Oh My. It continued in her On the Openness of Stories and Warning: This Post Contains Scenes... Janette Rallison added to the conversation with her own Morals and Values in YA Lit.

Early on, Mills' writes " I was shocked, and I think of myself as someone who is not easily shocked, by the evidence of commercial depravity."

That statement got me to thinking. Are young adult books really more shocking than adult books? I suppose that question needs to be put into context. You can see it in several ways I suppose. Young Adult books are in the middle. They're for an older audience than children's books. They're for readers ready to move beyond Winnie the Pooh, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. But at the same time the assumption is that they're for readers not quite ready to read adult books. (Emphasis on assumption. I don't think any assumption is always true. Since many teens only read adult books. And you've got just as many adults only reading young adult books. And what about books that are published as adult in some countries and young adult in others?)

Adult books can be shocking to Christians. (They can be shocking to some non-Christians too, I imagine.) Young Adult books can be shocking too. When it comes to 'shocking' content: language, violence, sex, drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc. are usually to blame. Though sometimes it's more of what the book has to say about a subject that offends--politics, religion, faith, etc. But all content must be taken within context. That is the most important thing to remember. Context matters. Age matters too. You can't assume that "YA" is for any one age. There are some books that I would feel slightly uncomfortable recommending a 12 or 14 year old but that I wouldn't for a 16 or 17 year old. Age isn't the only thing that matters though. Every person is unique. And what one teen is ready to read, another may never be.

I think by the time your "child" is preparing to graduate from high school, to go to college, to get a job, etc. you've got to have freedom and trust. If the *real* point is that you're worried about the content of books shaping the faith and belief system of your child, then the foundation is the most important. I think focusing on the positive is the best way to do this. What is most important--whether they're six or sixteen--is knowing God, loving and worshipping God, having a relationship with Him. While church can be important--can be central--it is just as important for your family-life to be a good faith model. How central is God in your home? How central is your faith in your daily life? How are you living your doctrine, your beliefs? Sometimes what you do is just as important as what you say you should do.

I did not agree with everything in Mills' article. I don't know how fair a sampling Mills really read while researching this issue. How many did he read? Was he just skimming? Was he trying to pick the most "dangerous" in order to make a point? If he really was just picking books based on their display in bookstores--then that sampling may not have been the best YA has to offer. Since vampires--sparkly and non-sparkly--may have been over-represented. (You'll never convince me that the best-of-the-best YA has to offer are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or fairies.)

I don't think YA books are bad. I enjoy reading YA books. There are books that I read that I would feel comfortable recommending to Christian teens (and adults)...and there are books that I wouldn't recommend to Christians. But I also think there are some books (with some shock content) that have definite worth for most (if not all) readers. Even if you don't agree with everything within a book. Some books are good for discussions. Some books are good for challenging you, for making you really think. And that can be a good thing too.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: June 20-26

This week I...

finished Matthew in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Hebrews 1-9 in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Genesis 19-24 in the Holman Christian Standard
read Esther 1-2 in the ESV Study Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: Simon's Crossing

Simon's Crossing. Charles William Asher. Dennis Patrick Slattery. 2010. January 2010. iUniverse. 172 pages.

A life can be a river or a still pond. The river chose me. When? I'm not sure. I cannot measure in years the beginnings or endings of my life story any more than I can trace the origins of the stream that fed our well that morning when the Roman soldiers first appeared. However, I became this man, Simon of Cyrene, referred to in Mark's gospel, and I know I'm no longer the man I used to be. How could I be after the Roman soldiers returned that very same night, out of the deep darkness, to tear our lives apart forever?

Simon's Crossing is a fictional account of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus' cross. We know very little about the man. We know his name. We know the name of two of his children, Rufus and Alexander.

Asher and Slattery have created a dramatic story, rich in detail, to give readers a firsthand account of what it might have been like to witness the crucifixion. Most of the novel takes place on that one day, on that very slow walk to Golgotha. With each step, Simon struggles--not just physically, but emotionally, with the disappointments, the frustrations, the injustices of life. Simon is a very human character. He's hurt, he's angry, he's bitter. Carrying Jesus' cross offers him a unique opportunity: by carrying this burden for Jesus, will Simon learn that Jesus can carry his? Just what can Simon learn from Jesus?

I'm not sure if Simon's Crossing is being marketed as christian fiction or general fiction. And I think in this case it may matter a good deal.

One thing I wasn't exactly expecting in this one is sex and violence. Granted, I think the crucifixion is violent; it has to be portrayed violently. It should not be glamorized. Readers should see how cruel, how ugly, how torturous it was. But the sex was slightly unexpected. On the one hand, it occurs within a marriage. And so it isn't that its immoral or even distasteful. (There is also a violent rape/murder within the book. Because of these scenes, I would think this one should probably be classified as adult.)

One thing I was expecting but didn't find was a gospel message. On the one hand, it may keep the book from being classified as 'preachy.' Readers are left to make up their own minds when it comes to who Jesus was, what his main message was to his followers, and if he did in fact rise from the dead. On the other hand, you could see it as a missed opportunity. In so many ways the cross is central to Simon's Crossing. But I think, perhaps, that it is more symbolic, more mystic, than I'd have liked.

After having read What is the Gospel? earlier this week, I couldn't help but notice what was missing in Simon's Crossing. For me, what was missing was Jesus as Lord and Savior. The emphasis seemed to be instead on Jesus as a good teacher--a great teacher even--who can show us how to change the world, how to live in peace and love, how to embrace others, how to build the kingdom here on earth.
The kingdom of God is not here yet, and so we know it is our task to contribute whatever we are able, with God's help, to bring it about for both the present and the future. If, as Nava suggested, Jesus died to put God's kingdom among us, the least we can do is make our modest contributions to its creation. (153)
I found the narrative to be compelling. I thought it was well written. It was a unique perspective. And I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read the book.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: Maid to Match

Maid to Match. Deeanne Gist. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 368 pages.

Biltmore Estate
Near Asheville, North Carolina

August 1898

Like a butterfly breaking free from its confining cocoon, Tillie Reese emerged from the barren, tan-colored servants' hall into the opulence of Biltmore's main level. These predawn hours were her favorite. All was dark, no one stirred, and she had the entire floor--easily a half acre in size--all to herself.

Tillie, our heroine, has trained to be in service for most of her life. When the novel opens, she is head parlormaid. But there's a chance, a good chance, Tillie is about to be promoted to being a lady's maid.
Lady's maid to Mrs. Vanderbilt. The thought of it alone brings a smile to Tillie's face. This is what she's been hoping and praying for.

Next to housekeeper, the highest ranking position for a woman. The servant who had morning tea brought to her by the first housemaid while the second housemaid made up a fire in her room. The servant who was free to take a bath as often as she liked. Who traveled with Mrs. Vanderbilt. Who read books--books!--aloud to Mrs. Vanderbilt. Best of all, a lady's maid earned quite a bit more money, so she could help her family and others in the community who were in need. (13)
Of course, it's a job that will require some sacrifice on her part. No marriage. No children. No home of her own. But Tillie, for better or worse, hasn't met a man who could even slightly tempt her away from her dreams. No man who would make her feel that the job would require any sacrifice on her part. That is until she meets Mack Danvers.

Our hero, Mack, does not want to be in service. He does not want to be a useful man or a footman. (Though if he had to pick between the two, he'd pick being a useful man.) But he desperately needs to earn money. Why? Well, since his parents died, he's had to divide his brothers and sisters up. His sister, Ora Lou, is in an orphanage. And when he learns that she's being mistreated--that all the children are being mistreated--well, he's got to do something with that anger, that frustration. Working for the Vanderbilts, like his twin brother, Earl, will be the best way to make enough money to get his sister out of the orphanage. He never expected to meet someone like Tillie while he was there.

From the start Tillie and Mack are drawn to one another. Their chemistry is undeniable. Can Mack convince Tillie that a life with him would be better than a life in service?

I loved this one. I loved the characters. I loved the romance between Tillie and Mack.

Other Deeanne Gist titles I've enjoyed: A Bride in the Bargain (2009), Courting Trouble (2007), Deep in the Heart of Trouble (2008), The Measure of a Lady (2006), A Bride Most Begrudging (2005).

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. Foreword by D.A. Carson. Crossway. 127 pages.

From the introduction:
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?
You'd think that would be an easy question to answer, especially for Christians. In fact, you'd think that writing a book like this--one asking Christians to think carefully about the question, What is the gospel of Jesus?--would be completely unnecessary. It's like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?
Gilbert insists that for the good news to be the good news, you need to present the full picture. A full picture that includes plenty of bad news. The good news isn't good if you don't view it within the correct framework. For people to accept Jesus as their Savior--as their Lord--they need to know that God has authority over them--over the world, over creation; they need to realize that they are sinners, that God is a God who hates sin, a God who judges sinners; they need to know what they're being saved from. Only if they recognize that they are in need of a Savior, can the good news have power, have relevance. The good news about the "bad news" is that there is a but.
The Bible is the story of God's counteroffensive against sin. It is the grand narrative of how God made it right, of how he is making it right, and how he will one day make it right finally and forever. (61)
Using Scripture, Gilbert creates a framework for presenting the gospel--this framework is found in chapters two through five.

The book uses four crucial questions to answer the bigger question. These are:
  • Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
  • What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
  • What is God's solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it?
  • How do I--myself, right here, right now--how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me ant just for someone else?
Or, if you prefer, four main points: God, man, Christ, response.

The remaining chapters deal with what it means to be a Christian; what it means to be part of God's kingdom; why it is so very, very important for Christians to know what they believe and why; why it is crucial for Christians to keep the cross at the center of the gospel message; how essential it is for Christians to not change the gospel message in an attempt to stay current, stay relevant.

From chapter two, God the Righteous Creator
Let me introduce you to god. (Note the lowercase g.)
You might want to lower your voice a little before we go in. He might be sleeping now. He's old, you know, and doesn't much understand or like this "newfangled" modern world. His golden days--the ones he talks about when you really get him going--were a long time ago, before most of us were even born. That was back when people cared what he thought about things, and considered him pretty important in their lives.
Of course all that's changed now, though, and god--poor fellow--just never adjusted very well. Life's moved on and passed him by. Now, he spends most of his time just hanging in the garden out back. I go there sometimes to see him, and there we tarry, walking and talking softly and tenderly among the roses...
Anyway, a lot of people still like him, it seems--or at least he manages to keep his poll numbers pretty high. And you'd be surprised how many people even drop by to visit and ask for things every once in a while. But of course that's alright with him. He's here to help.
Thank goodness, all the crankiness you read about sometimes in his old books--you know, having the earth swallow people up, raining fire down on cities, that sort of thing--all that seems to have faded in his old age. Now he's just a good-natured, low-maintenance friend who's really easy to talk to--especially since he almost never talks back, and when he does it's usually to tell me through some slightly weird "sign" that what I want to do regardless is alright by him. That really is the best kind of friend, isn't it?
You know, the best thing about him, though? He doesn't judge me. Ever, for anything. Oh sure, I know that deep down he wishes I'd be better--more loving, less selfish, and all that--but he's realistic. He knows that I'm human and nobody's perfect. And I'm totally sure he's fine with that. Besides, forgiving people is his job. It's what he does. After all, he's love, right? And I like to think of love as "never judging, only forgiving." That's the god I know. And I wouldn't have him any other way.
Alright, hold on a second....Okay, we can go in now. And don't worry, we don't have to stay long. Really. He's thankful for any time he can get. (37-38)
Are you guilty of remaking God--of trying to remake God--into who you would have him to be? Does this passage make you think--or rethink--how you think about God?

I liked What is the Gospel? I liked its message. I liked its emphasis on Scripture, on gospel truth. I thought it was straight-forward and accessible.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Summer Reading Challenge 2010

Start Date June 21, 2010
End Date September 21, 2010
Host: A Southern Daydreamer Reads

The books I am considering:

Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck
Touching the Clouds by Bonnie Leon
The Sister Wife by Diane Noble
Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz
Serendipity by Cathy Marie Hake
Masquerade by Nancy Moser
What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert
The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies
Through His Eyes: God's Perspective of Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs

What I Read For the Challenge:

1. What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.
2. Magdalene. Angela Hunt
3. A Morning Like This by Deborah Bedford
4. When You Believe. Deborah Bedford
6. Touching the Clouds. Bonnie Leon.
7. The Sister Wife. Diane Noble.
8. Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz
9. Fancy Pants. Cathy Marie Hake.
11. Masquerade by Nancy Moser.
13. The Devil in Pew Number Seven: A True Story. Rebecca Nichols Alonzo with Bob DeMoss.
14. Wildflowers of Terezin. Robert Elmer.
15. Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope. Mary Beth Chapman. With Ellen Vaughn.
16. The Vigilante's Bride. Yvonne Harris.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musing Mondays: Favorite Genres

This week’s musing asks:

Name your top 2-3 favorite genres (the ones you read most from).

I read a lot. I read 'secular' (aka mainstream, or general) books and christian books.

I love reading Christian books. Particularly historical romances and christian nonfiction. Right now I'm reading What is The Gospel by Greg Gilbert. And I was thrilled today when Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz and The Sister Wife by Diane Noble arrived in the mail. Both are tour books for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. (You probably don't want to know how excited I got when I "discovered" that there is going to be a MacArthur Study Bible in the ESV translation released later this year. Giddy doesn't even capture it.)

I also love reading historical fiction--historical romance. Think Georgette Heyer. I love, love, love Heyer's romance novels. Especially the Regency ones. If you haven't read her, you should definitely give her a try! I just finished reading The Black Sheep. I'll have a review up of that soon at Becky's Book Reviews. Sylvester is the one I finished just before that.

For my third choice, I'd pick classics. I love Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell to name just two.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: June 13-19

This week I read...

Matthew 10-24 in the ESV Thinline Bible
Genesis 17-18 Holman Christian Standard

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Spring Reading Thing 2010 Wrap-up

I finished thirteen books for this reading challenge:

1. Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis
3. Be Still My Soul edited by Nancy Guthrie
4. As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson
5. She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
6. Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson
7. Raised With Christ by Adrian Warnock
9. Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word. By Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach.
11. The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin
12. A Hopeful Heart. Kim Vogel Sawyer.
13. Purity: A Godly Woman's Adornment. Lydia Brownback.

Did you finish reading all the books on your spring reading list? If not, why not?

I listed ten books.
  • Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa by Melanie Dobson
  • Heart Of Stone by Jill Marie Landis
  • As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson
  • Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson
  • She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
  • Be Still My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose & Provision in Suffering. Edited by Nancy Guthrie
  • Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
  • Scandolous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson
  • The Kingdom of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • Raised With Christ: How The Resurrection Changes Everythingby Adrian Warnock
I finished nine of those ten. I added four more.

Did you stick to your original goals or did you change your list as you went along?

My goal was to read ten books. I added to my list as I went along.

What was your favorite book that you read this spring?

Probably my favorite was Raised With Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything by Adrian Warnock. Though it is *really* difficult trying to choose between a fiction and nonfiction title. I went with nonfiction because I learned so much more from it. But the fiction I read, for the most part, was very enjoyable as well.

Did you discover a new author or genre this spring? Did you love them? Not love them?

I read several new-to-me authors. Jill Marie Landis. Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach. D.A. Carson. Adrian Warnock. Bryan M. Litfin. Lydia Brownback.

Did you learn something new because of Spring Reading Thing 2010 — something about reading, or yourself, or a topic you read about?

I read a lot of great christian nonfiction!

What was your favorite thing about the challenge?

The reading, of course!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: Unburdened

Unburdened: The Secret to Letting God Carry The Things That Weigh You Down. Chris Tiegreen. Tyndale. 240 pages.

The mood over Jerusalem was tense.

Last year, I read and reviewed Chris Tiegreen's Fixing Abraham. I also reviewed Max Lucado's Fearless. Is Unburdened about fear? Yes and no. It's about worry. It's about stress. It's about fear. It's about being weighed down with things that we shouldn't be carrying around in the first place.

He begins by discussing the things that do weigh us down.
He then discusses why God is the answer. Why giving our burdens to God is the only way to make it through. But how do we do this? Tiegreen explores that as well. One of the answers is praise and worship! Another is to make God our "one thing."
The unburdened life isn't so much about avoiding burdens as it is about carrying them with the strength of Another. The former leads to a life of purposelessness the latter builds an eternal Kingdom. The first approach is a choice to be weak; the other is a choice to be supernaturally empowered. This isn't a matter simply of living with abandonment, but of living with abandonment to God. (12)

In many ways, worship is where heaven and earth meet. And the things of earth--the concerns and worries and fears that burden us--can hardly survive the encounter. (169)

Joy is the climate of heaven, and that's where we want our hearts to live. (185)

Reading Unburdened made me think of Rich Mullin's "My One Thing."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Review: Love Finds You In Golden, New Mexico

Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico by Lena Nelson Dooley. 2010. May 2010. Summerside Press. 320 pages.

"Are you plumb crazy?" Jeremiah Dennison's loud retort bounced around the main room of the adobe house and returned to mock him. "Where did you get such a harebrained idea?"

Historical fiction. 1890. Golden, NM & Boston, MA.

Jeremiah thinks his old friend Philip Smith is crazy. It's bad enough--in Jeremiah's opinion--that Philip is "crazy" enough to believe in God. But now Philip has gotten the notion that God is telling him to place an advertisement for a wife in a Boston newspaper. He feels God telling him that some woman desperately needs his help. And though he doesn't admit this to Jeremiah right away, he feels this woman may have a child. So before he even gets one response to his letter, he begins adding two rooms onto his home. (Jeremiah thinks this is crazy too.)

So who is this would-be damsel in distress? Madeline Mercer is grieving the loss of her father. She takes comfort in her work with the poor. She has taken under her wing, a poor widow woman named Loraine, a woman cut off from her parents because they didn't approve of the marriage. She's pregnant. She's starving. She's about to lose her home because she can't pay her rent. But she is not alone in her troubles. Madeline is right there with her. Though Madeline has some troubles of her own. Madeline's support comes--in part--from Frank and Sarah Sneed, the ever-faithful servants that have worked for her family for decades.

The "threat" to Maddy comes in the form of her father's business partner. And he is a poorly fleshed villain. (And that's a bit of an understatement.) Oh, the villain talks big--makes threats, stomps around, shouts and bullies and whatnot. But why? The reader is clueless to his motivation. We're just expected to see Horace Johnstone as the biggest threat ever. (When one of the reasons for his behavior does come out, it's laughable.)

Maddy flees her home because Mr. Johnstone is threatening her. Marry me, or else. So Maddy sets off (and not alone) to find this Mr. Philip Smith. She doesn't have time to wait for his response. So their arrival surprises some. No one more than Jeremiah.

This is his response.

This was the woman he and Philip had sent a letter to yesterday. And here she was. On the way to Golden. Right now.
He stared at the faint road ahead. If it hadn't been for the other people in the wagon, he wouldn't try to miss the worst of the rocks and ruts. He'd just as soon shake the stiffness right out of Miss Madeline Mercer.
Why hadn't he pegged her right off? With her rose-scented letter and her fancy clothes, she'd slipped under his defenses. But he had her number now. She had to be a gold digger. Probably living off some other man's wealth she'd stolen and looking for a way to finance her high standard of living, as evidenced by her clothing and luggage, when that ran out. Well, it wouldn't be Philip's gold. He'd see to it.
Talking about God the way Philip did, she had to be a hypocrite. Evidently, this was just her way of playing on emotions to get what she wanted. It wouldn't take long to have the retired miner eating out of her hand. He had to think of something fast to keep her from meeting him. A single woman with a baby shouted immorality. She was more suited to work in one of the saloons than to marry a decent man. (118)
And that's only the beginning. Jeremiah goes to the sheriff to tell him about the "criminal" woman and her "gang" that arrived in town. Begging him to find out the truth about these "evil" newcomers before it's too late. Luckily, the sheriff isn't quite as stupid as Jeremiah.

Most in the community do welcome these newcomers. And Philip welcomes Maddy, baby Pearl, Sarah and Frank. He knows that these are the people God wanted him to help. Of course, there is no convincing Jeremiah just how wrong, just how stupid he is. Is there hope for Jeremiah yet? Will this man see the light, fall to his knees, and become a believer? Will Maddy get her happily ever after yet?

I didn't like this one. I've been trying to figure out why. Did Jeremiah and Horace lack in character development? Horace certainly did. But what about Jeremiah? Is he underdeveloped? Or did I just not like him? There was something so hostile, so vicious about his character--and this one trait defined him for most of the novel. So is my dislike of Jeremiah because of his hostility towards God? Towards Christians? Or do I dislike him because of his hostility and mistrust of women?

If Jeremiah was developed as a character--and for whatever reason I just didn't like him--then the fault is mine. Would Jeremiah be able to make me this angry if he wasn't developed? Just because I didn't like him doesn't mean that there aren't readers out there who will. There may be some who find Jeremiah a good love interest even.

Now, I'd like to focus on what I did like. I liked Philip. I liked his faith. I liked seeing his devotion to God. His willingness to act on faith. How God spoke to him and he listened. Even though it didn't exactly make sense, he believed that God was going to use him. I also loved his tenderness with Maddy and Pearl. I liked Maddy. She was a good woman with a big heart. I did find her a bit too-good-to-be-true at times. I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more. (Would I really have been so quick, so eager to forgive?) But overall, I did like her as a heroine. I liked Sarah and Frank too.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: A Tailor-Made Bride

A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 352 pages.

"Red? Have you no shame, Auntie Vic? You can't be buried in a scarlet gown."

A Tailor-Made Bride is set in 1881.

Our heroine, Hannah Richards, is a seamstress, a dressmaker, who has been given a unique opportunity--she couldn't have dreamed of a better opportunity. One of her crankier patrons has left a piece of property to her, along with money to set up a dress shop of her own. This property is located in a small Texas town. Her arrival in town upsets a few folks--most especially Jericho "J.T." Tucker, who had hopes of buying this property.

Tucker has no use--at all--for those interested (even slightly) in fashion and finery. He is carrying a great big grudge--associating all women with his mother. To his reckoning, a woman can't be genuine, can't be kind, can't be godly, if she cares about her wardrobe at all. A well-dressed woman, in his opinion, is a deceptive one. Though J.T. is cranky, he does his duty by her. He helps her when she needs help. (He introduces her to his sister, Cordelia, a young woman who is in need of a friend, in need of some female advice too.) Though neither has a good impression of the other--these two, J.T. and Hannah--can't seem to help being drawn together time and time again. Slowly, J.T. sees that everything he's been thinking about women is wrong, wrong, wrong. Perhaps he doesn't know everything after all. Can Hannah and J.T. make a match of it?

First, I'd like to start with what I liked about the novel. I really did enjoy the romance between J.T. and Hannah. I liked the tension between them. How it took some time to get over misconceptions and prejudices. I liked that their relationship had to develop. I also appreciated many of the minor characters in this one. I liked this community, for the most part.

I had a two main issues with A Tailor-Made Bride. Both dealing with the inclusion of Warren, a "villainous" character with a birthmark. This one-dimensional character is perpetually angry and frustrated and lonely. What we do know about Warren is filtered through J.T's long held prejudices and Hannah's new-to-town observations. J.T. certainly puts the blame all on him--that it is Warren's own fault for not being more likeable, for not making an effort to fit in and be a part of the community. That if Warren would just "be a man" then his problems would be solved. Is it Warren's fault that he's friendless? Is it Warren's fault that he lacks the social skills needed to interact with the community? I'm not convinced it is.

Unless you *know* what it feels like to have a birthmark, unless you've lived your life with people looking at you, staring at you, pointing at you, unless you know what it feels like to be teased or ignored, unless you know what it feels like to be an outcast, to be the one always left out, then you have no idea at all. Even though the boys and girls that grew up with Warren are all grown now, memories aren't so easily forgiven and forgotten. Think about it, most of us have people we'd rather not see from our past--from our school days. Aren't there a few people that can make us feel small and insignificant no matter how much time has passed?

Not that I'm excusing Warren's behavior--he's presented as a creep, a villain, and he does in fact live up to this. He says things, he does things that are wrong, wrong, wrong. So I don't "like" Warren either. But still I think he was misused as a character. Which brings me to my second point. I do think his character is entirely unnecessary to the novel. (And unnecessary villains are a pet peeve of mine. As are unnecessary floods, fires, hurricanes and the like. Acts of nature designed to bring the stubborn hero and heroine together.) This novel has plenty of tension on its own. Plenty of conflicts without him. So in conclusion, if you're going to have a pointless villain, a one-dimensional villain, why give him a birthmark?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Read Nonfiction

While I've read fiction for most of my reading life, I haven't always been a big fan of nonfiction. That includes Christian nonfiction--whether you mean "Christian living" or "theology." (Some devotional material counts as nonfiction as well. Especially if it's expository in nature--examining short passages of Scripture.) I first started reading Christian nonfiction as an adult--around the same time that I started college--give or take a semester or two! One of the first books I read was Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life. It was just what I needed at the time. It was such an amazing find for me. I read it. And read it. And read it. I underlined this and that passage. Smith got me thinking, really thinking, about life, about faith. And that was just the start.

There were other titles, other authors, that influenced me then, that were stopping points on my faith journey. I wouldn't say each book stayed influential. As I grew in my faith, I came to different conclusions than some of the authors whose works I'd read. (I don't know that I *believe* exactly the same way as Hannah Whitall Smith did. Or C.S. Lewis.) But. Each was important--in one way or another--in shaping me. Now, I am NOT saying that you can read a book and have your beliefs shaped, twisted, transformed. I don't think what you read has the power exclusively to mold you one way or the other. If it did, then perhaps reading would be too dangerous to allow. Think about that.

Some books that did help me along the way were Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Putting the Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton, Ten Lies About God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception by Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God by Erwin Lutzer, Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture by Duane Edward Spencer, Why One Way by John MacArthur, Found: God's Will by John MacArthur, The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink, Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, and that's just what comes easily to mind.

It is important to read carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully. It is important to keep Scripture in mind with each and every book that you read. The more a book relies on Scripture for its argument, for its focus, then the more I trust it. Not that certain authors can't twist Scripture to make it say what they want it to say. Many authors (at least the ones I've read lately) do put Scripture in context. They will discuss a passage of Scripture in its context. Not half a verse here and there. Not making a patchwork of God's promises.

I think reading books--like listening to sermons (whether in person, on the radio, on TV, on the internet)--does require discernment. But to read with discernment isn't a terrible task, it isn't a heavy burden. All it requires is time in the Word and a prayerful relationship. (I think it is a good idea to pray before you read the Bible, and equally important to pray before you read Christian nonfiction.)

Now, I'm not saying that EVERY book is EQUAL. Some are more beneficial than others. Some are filled with incredible truth, incredible hope. Some are definitely worth our time and attention and study.

Why do I love Christian nonfiction? It engages me, challenges me. It makes me think. Sometimes so much so that I just *have* to talk about it with someone else. It is discussion-worthy. It makes me question. It has me asking questions of myself that I'd never think of on my own. Like this little gem from Purity.

"Do you find that you cannot live without a relationship with God? To the degree that you do, you will serve him. We all serve whatever it is we think we cannot live without." (41)
It can convict. It can enlighten. It can educate. It can bless. It can inspire. It can lead you to discover other authors. (If you read a book that uses a lot of quotes from others--believers, preachers through the generations, through the centuries--it can open up a whole new world of books to explore.) It can help you have a closer walk, a deeper relationship with Jesus. Reading some books really can change your life. For example, just read this little excerpt from Bookends of the The Christian Life.

There's an old play on the word justified: "just-as-if-I'd never sinned." But here's another way of saying it: "just-as-if-I'd always obeyed." Both are true. The first refers to the transfer of our moral debt to Christ so we're left with a "clean" ledger, just as if we'd never sinned. The second tells us our ledger is now filled with the perfect righteousness of Christ, so it's just as if we'd always obeyed. That's why we can come confidently into the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19) even though we're still sinners--saved sinners to be sure, but still practicing sinners, every day in thought, word, deed, and motive.
The perfect righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us, is the first bookend of the Christian life. The news of this righteousness is the gospel. Christ's righteousness is given to us by God when we genuinely trust in Christ as our Savior. From that moment on, from God's point of view, the first bookend is permanently in place. We're justified; we're credited with his righteousness. Or to say it differently, we're clothed with his righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) so that as God looks at us in union with Christ, he always sees us to be as righteous as Christ himself. And that changes everything. (26-27)
Do I believe for one minute that it is the book itself doing the changing? No! What I mean to say, what I hope to convey, is that God uses books (through the Spirit) to change us, to touch us, to grow us. Just like God uses the spoken words of a preacher, HE is able to use the words we read on the page to accomplish his will, his purpose.

And there is only ONE book that is the inspired Word of God. One book that is infallible. And that book reveals God to us. It is incredible to think about how much we can learn about God just by reading and meditating on his Word. We come to know God by reading about Him, by talking to Him. But how would we know who God is, how to come to God, if we didn't take the time to read the Bible? So I will always, always, always be passionate about how the Bible is the MOST important book you can read.

I would never say that reading Christian nonfiction should take the place of reading the Bible. A well-written Christian nonfiction book relies upon Scripture, relies upon explaining Scripture--discovering, understanding, exploring Scripture truths. Of course, there are examples where a book relies more upon stories and situations, parables and metaphors. And some people, perhaps, learn this way. So I wouldn't say those types of books don't have eager readers who do gain from them. I think they do have an audience in the market. Or why would so many be published each year?

I value Christian nonfiction. I value the time spent reading Christian nonfiction. Yes, it is sometimes easier to just cozy up with a nice fiction book. And I do include Christian fiction in my reading. My particular weakness is Christian historical romance. And I do love these! But I try to make a balanced effort to include Christian nonfiction in my reading life.

I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it if you'd leave a comment. I'd love to start a discussion. I would LOVE to know what you think about Christian nonfiction.

It would not be fair to write this post without at least mentioning that there is currently a Christian Non-Fiction Reading Challenge.


Annette from A Well-Watered Garden wrote a post called Fiction Versus Non-Fiction.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: June 6-12

This week I...

finished Isaiah in the Holman Christian Standard
read Genesis 1-16 in the Holman Christian Standard

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: Purity

Purity: A Godly Woman's Adornment. Lydia Brownback. 2010. May 2010. Crossway Publishers. 136 pages.

We don't hear the word purity much today except in descriptions of cleaning agents and snow-covered landscapes. We do hear the word spoken more frequently in the Christian community, but usually only as it applies to sexual purity. We have lost sight of all it means to be pure as God intended. So what does it mean? Purity is much more than moral behavior. Purity is first and foremost a matter of the heart. To be pure is to be single-minded. It is to have a single goal, a single focus, and a single purpose for ourselves and our lives. That is biblical purity, and from it springs moral behavior--the good we do with our bodies. At its core, purity is having a heart for the Lord that isn't watered down or polluted by lesser things.
I enjoyed reading Purity by Lydia Brownback. I found it insightful and thought provoking. I found the first section--A Pure Heart--especially helpful. (The second section--The Fruit of a Pure Heart--is good too. I'm not saying it's of lesser value. But for me, the first section meant more.) Here are the chapter titles for the first section:
  • A Pure Woman is Clear-Sighted
  • A Pure Woman Has One Desire
  • A Pure Woman is Single-Minded
  • A Pure Woman Is Perceptive
  • A Pure Woman Treasures God's Word
  • A Pure Woman Abides in Christ
  • A Pure Woman Loves the Lord
  • A Pure Woman is Discerning
  • A Pure Woman Esteems Christ
  • A Pure Woman Hopes
  • A Pure Woman Chooses the Narrow Way
  • A Pure Woman is Wholehearted
  • A Pure Woman Is a Cross-Carrier
Here are some of the gems I found:

"Putting Christ first is the essence of purity." (10)

"God wants us to know what it's like to desire nothing but him. That's why he allows us to find such little lasting satisfaction with the world's toys and joys." (13)

"If we find God and his Word confusing or frustrating, it's because something in our heart is resistant to him and his truth." (21)

"We will never love God purely--wholeheartedly--apart from immersing ourselves in God's Word because it is only in Scripture that we learn what God is like. To know him is to love him, and we always desire more of what we love most." (23)

"Do you find that you cannot live without a relationship with God? To the degree that you do, you will serve him. We all serve whatever it is we think we cannot live without." (41)

What I liked best about Purity was how straight-forward it was, how relevant, how accessible. I found the chapters to be short but thought-provoking. Many ask the reader to question, to evaluate themselves. I found the read pleasantly challenging.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: A Hopeful Heart

A Hopeful Heart. Kim Vogel Sawyer. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 352 pages.

Curling her fingers around the leather handle of the battered carpetbag that held her carefully selected belongings, Tressa Neill fell in line behind the tittering row of young women disembarking the train. She didn't mind being last. In the homespun dress and outdated straw hat acquired by Aunt Gretchen, she felt dowdy and conspicuous. No matter that her attire closely matched that of her traveling companions--with the exception of Evelyn. She still harbored an intense desire to hide.

Mrs Wyatt (aka "Aunt Hattie") has decided to open up a small school to teach eligible young women (from the East) the skills they'd need to be a proper help-meet to their potential rancher husbands. The skills include milking cows, branding calves, cooking, etc. She thinks these young women need to learn how to manage a ranch before they start socializing with all the young ranchers. That way they know what to expect before they fall in love, before they say I do.

This historical fiction novel is set in Kansas in the 1880s. It's narrated by Tressa, one of the young women who have come to the school for a "second best" chance at life, and Abel Samms, one of the ranchers who is determined not to take a wife. (How long do you think that resolution will last once he meets Tressa?) What Tressa finds is anything but second-best. For she finds some of the best friends she could ever have. Aunt Hattie also introduces her to Jesus. Tressa realizes that it is part of God's plan for her to be in Kansas, but is that oh-so-handsome Abel part of the good Lord's plan? She hopes so!

There are a handful of conflicts in A Hopeful Heart--some a bit predictable for the genre--but all in all, A Hopeful Heart is more than enjoyable. It is a good, clean, romantic read just right for historical fiction fans.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Blog Turns Two!

Operation Actually Read Bible turns two today. If you're a new(ish) visitor, then this post might serve as a good introduction (at least as good as any other) to the site. And if you're a regular visitor, then I thank you for supporting me. I want you to know that I do value you! I love hearing from you in the comments. (And feel free to email me too, if you want!)

So who am I and what do I hope to accomplish with the blog? Well, the first part is easy. My name is Becky. And I blog. And blog. And blog. This is my third site actually. But that doesn't necessarily mean its third in importance.

As to what I hope to accomplish here, that's a good question. It's a site for me, but it's also for you. You can participate in the challenge. It's an ongoing challenge that invites/encourages you to actually read the Bible. (You can sign up on this initial post). You might also find a few books to read. I review christian fiction and christian nonfiction. I review books for all ages. (So you might find board books, picture books, bible story books, children's books, young adult books, and adult books. Though I review mainly adult titles.) Yes, these reviews serve as a journal for me to record what I read. But I also hope they encourage you to read more in the genre. If you've read a book I've reviewed, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

Here are a few of my favorite posts:

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: May 30-June 5

This week I read...

Isaiah 54-60 in the Holman Christian Standard
Matthew 1-9 in the ESV Thinline

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Review: The Sword

The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin. 2010. April 2010. Crossway. 412 pages.

Prologue: In the year 2042, the world as we know it came to an end. The edifice of civilization proved far more fragile than anyone ever realized. One hard blow, then another--that was enough to shatter it into a million pieces.
The collapse all began with the friendly exchange of a papaya for a photograph.

Chapter One: The lone man deep in the woods of the Beyond knew a good sword could make the difference between life and death.

If I seem to stumble through this review, blame me not the author. Bryan M. Litfin has created a compelling, futuristic novel with a great premise. Four hundred years after the world (as-we-have-known-it) has been destroyed, there remains the thriving kingdom of Chiveis. A kingdom ruled by a king strongly influenced by a high priestess.

Chiveis doesn't have one god--it has four! Vulkain, Pon, Elzebul, and Astrebril. The high priestess has dedicated her life to serving Astrebril, and there is little she wouldn't do for her god. Officially, the people are allowed to worship--or not worship--as they see fit. (The worship can get a little out of hand. It can be a bit wild, a bit violent, a bit lusty.) Not all in the community are happy with the gods--with religion as they know it. Some wish there was another god, a better god, a god who is good instead of being a scoundrel.

Teo is our young hero. He happens--while saving a damsel in distress, though Ana isn't your typical damsel in distress--upon a forgotten text, an ancient one. Teo has discovered the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the New Testament has been damaged so badly that Teo can't salvage it. But he does start to translate the Old Testament, and he does start a small gathering of god-seekers. Men and women (all ages) who want a little bit more out of life. Men and women who are asking questions and finding little to love in the gods they've grown up with. Ana, Teo's love interest, finds this sacred book amazing. Its description of God--or Deu--creates a sense of wonder, of awe for her and some of the others. She is more than willing to take this God at His word. To worship him, to love him, to serve him--with her life if need be. Others in the community aren't as sure, as confident. Some would prefer to keep this text as mysterious as possible. To distort the straight-forward message, to make this 'wisdom-text' more about them being special and less about God. (One man in this community reads Genesis 3 and sees the snake--the serpent--as the hero of the story!)

Ana, our young heroine, is a beautiful woman. And though Teo does rescue her on numerous occasions throughout the novel, she rescues him several times too. These two seem to need each other. Is Ana everything Teo dreamed of? She comes close. Is Teo everything she dreamed of? At first it seems that way. But as Ana becomes more devoted to Deu, she realizes that the man by her side needs to love and worship the same God she does. What Ana wants is for Teo to be that man. She wants Teo to come to love her God. Not just have an intellectual curiosity about him. But to love him, trust him, to be willing to follow him no matter the cost. (She wants Teo to be her Boaz.)

This 'new' religion--one belonging to the Ancients--may just cost them their lives if the High Priestess has her way.

What I liked best about The Sword was the opportunity to see the Bible--the Old Testament--through new eyes. When was the last time you read the Bible with a sense of wonder, of awe, of appreciation? I think it is easy--quite natural--to take the Bible for granted. Many Christians (though by no means all Christians) grow up hearing Bible stories, singing Bible songs. The message of the Bible seems so familiar--in a way. In this scenario, the Bible is being read for the very first time in generations. Hundreds of years have passed since this message was known, was preached, was followed. Everything is brand new. To see Ana and others awaken to God's truth, his Word, it was thrilling.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible