Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review: Bringing Home the Prodigals by Rob Parsons

I am also giving away a copy of this title on my blog. Come and enter before June 02nd if you enjoy this review!

Most of us know a family that is struggling with a prodigal child – seeking to draw their hearts back to Jesus. Watching these families and their grief over the children they love - the children they raised to seek Jesus – awoke a concern for my own wee ones in my heart. Though our children are still small: 5, 2, and one on the way – it is my heart’s desire for them all to come to know and love the Lord. As Christian parents this is the deepest desire of all of our hearts for our children. But what happens when they turn their back on Him and His ways despite our best efforts? What do we do when they become prodigals?

In Bringing Home the Prodigals author Rob Parsons addresses the heart of the issue of prodigal children. It may not be what you think the heart of this issue is either. Instead of focusing on the “why’s”, Parsons goes past the wondering “What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?”, there are other titles available that focus on keeping our children’s hearts - Parsons is here to encourage. He focuses on what we can now do - as parents of these prodigals - to gently guide them home to us, and more importantly, to God.

Engagingly written, this short book of 119 pages can be read in a day, but it will bear re-reading at a slower, more devotional pace to reap the riches to be found here. Though I am not the parent of a prodigal, Parsons ponderings on how we deal with prodigals as individuals, and as a church led me to examine my own spiritual life and dealings with others. I thank Parsons for drawing us back to the heart of God for the lost as demonstrated in the parable of the prodigal son.

As much as I enjoyed reading this title, I would have enjoyed seeing some more scripture directly in the text – for a non-fiction Christian title there seemed to be relatively little scripture presented. The main scripture that the book is based on, the parable of the prodigal son is not once included in the text of the book, which did seem a bit odd. Most of the scripture presented is from the NIV, though some is also taken from The Message (which is not properly scripture, but rather – a paraphrase), and The Amplified Bible. Our family prefers the text of the KJV for accuracy and completeness, however it is becoming more and more difficult to find books that include KJV bible references. Due to the difficulty of finding authors who still work with the KJV I don’t choose my reading materials by this criteria, but I do read with my bible beside me.

Parsons writing voice is warm and encouraging; his years of walking with and teaching the relations of prodigals shine through in this book through the prayers, reflections and testimonies presented. I am thankful to have this book available to lend to the families I know who are dealing with this issue, to let them know that there is hope if we lay our prodigals at the feet of Jesus. Bringing Home the Prodigals encourages us to love, to pray, to stay open, to always be watching and to always keep a light on.


Jennifer Bogart blogs about christian parenting, family living, homeschooling and more! She loves writing Christian book reviews.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple

I was so looking forward to being uplifted by this book -- or even resigned to aging. Instead, except for the title poem, I found it depressing.

Some good writing, though.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

Have you ever had one of those Blair moments when after weeks of being nice to everyone you have to finally make a decision which means that enemies are made as they see a must have dismissed? Well this is one of those moments. I have been struggling with Raymond Carver’s “Where I'm Calling From” a collection of thirty-seven stories chosen from several previous collections published over 20 odd years which should therefore be an ideal introduction to his work. And… wait for it… I am going to abandon it unfinished half way despite him being seen As "the American Chekhov or the laureate of the dispossessed”

Let me say up front, that his prose, ear for dialogue and depiction of the ordinariness of every day life masking unexpressed pain and joy is the best. His stories are like photos that capture the moment frozen with no past or future with all the ambiguity that the unknown allows the reader/observer. The opposite of Norman Rockwell homeliness, more akin to the photos of Walker Evans of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But they have no plot, twists, surprises, or surface complexity of character. These are often blue collar workers in small-town or rural settings struggling with jobs, partners, children and booze and it’s the unsaid that reveals more then the fractured words.

The stories reflect his own drink problems and failed jobs and marriage in his 20s so he turned to writing to escape and short stories could get something in quickly to pay the rent and get food on the table. His life did begin to turn around and his work started to get critical alarm in his 40’s before he died of lung cancer. His accessible prose, realistic situations and comprehensible characters are seen as a counter to egghead experimentalism

But for me, I was left all too often thinking yes and what happens next even while the image created hung in my head. I also think that stories ripped from their original magazine context make the stories work harder then they needed to. I would have welcomed an edition that merged the stories with a set of photographs worthy of the writing. However, if you want to dip in and perhaps read a couple a stories a week or if you enjoy short stories then this is a book for you. As you say at the end of a failed relationship its not you it’s me, and lets remain friends. Knowing it’s really about the lack of passion. Yet the spurned has the chance of real love else where…will that be you?

The Contractor by Charles Holdefer

To appreciate this book you have to ignore the misleading hype on the cover that suggests that The Contractor by Charles Holdefer exposes the secret detention and interrogation system expanded and ran by the Bush Administration outside of US and international law. It is political book but not at the level of who is doing what to whom. Instead, it goes to the heart of the western moral and ethical war aims as raised in this passage:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

It is clear that George Young, civilian interrogator contractor and a veteran of the first Gulf war would say no. His reaction when he comes across the burnt out remains of the Revolutionary Guard convoys is to argue:

…Because that day, I learned the price. Sure, I was shaken and sickened, and it is something I’d rather not think about or dwell on, but it also taught me something, steeled me, gave me the resources necessary to understand politics in the grown up world and later to become a contractor. This is what I learned: what we take for granted, hold precious, and celebrate remains viable because of our willingness to do this…To let those men get away would’ve been a serious strategic mistake…Any other description is special pleading or making excuses. Or simply lying to oneself. It gives me no satisfaction to say so, but not only will innocents die-they must die.

The story starts with the consequences of this when in a powerful opening scene we discover what how prisoner #4141 dies. The humanity of the Prisoners are denied, as they are merely oranges being crated when they arrive or faceless numbers.

George Young is not a monster, which would let us off the hook so the story needs to show us why a good man would get to that position. It does in that we discover that economic and family pressures that lead systematically to that meaningless death. We learn about his poor business track record and happy second marriage (which is being slowly killed by his need to keep secrets). The political playing out of the theme is also examined in his personal life as his big brother is his keeper at key points in George's life.

Away from the heat of the desert island and in the cold of a mid west winter on a family Christmas visit we have the amusing and poignant scenes of having to tackle the Father in Law,( think of Spencer Tracy at his most grumpy) a minister of a struggling flock and a die in the wool fundamentalist. The family idea of fun is Bible Baseball ( questions are asked with the harder they are the more runs they are and George and his son are clueless). At one level this as they are trapped by the snow falls this illustrates the horror that the prisoners have to face. Unlike them, he escapes and answers a call by his brother, which sets of a chain of events where he finally does decide that he is his brother’s keeper.

The story moves between George’s professional and family life in the now and with flashbacks so that we understand his actions. The other characters are sketched in nicely that make the horrors of the camp and the choices he has to make even more chilling. The use of language and jargon is also clever and the first person POV gives you the reader chance to understand his world whilst questioning it. If it makes more of us more aware of the travesty of a war on terror for Democracy, and Human Rights based on lies and torturing rather then the politics of being my brother’s keepers then I hope it gets the wider readership it deserves.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was an instant popular and critical success when it came out in 2000 being nominated for a raft of awards. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 and Hollywood has been sniffing around it ever since. Michael Chabon the author wrote the only known screenplay, which struggled to reduce a 635-page book to a 2-hour film. At one point, the cast was Toby Maguire (Peter in Spiderman) to play Sam Clay, Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta) to play Rosa Saks and Jude Law to play Joe Kavalier.

The difficulties for the film is what makes the book a joy as it starts in 1938 as Superman bursts on the scene and ends in 1954 as the Kefauver Senate hearings delivers the death blow to a declining comic book industry. A central theme is the roles of the Jews in the comic book industry: it explored the mythology of comic hero and its impact Joe and Sam own struggles and personal journeys form the stories of the Escapist which in turn shape their lives. Sam struggling to come to terms with being Gay and Joe trying to rescue his family stuck in an increasingly bleak Nazi run Prague. It also explores the historical rip off the artists and writers of the period. Superman’s creators did not come into the real money until the blockbuster Superman movies and a court case prised the money out of Hollywood’s coffers. Historical characters from the period from the comic industry and the movie, art and political world some in and out of the story. The Escapist also draws on Joe Kavalier’s training and experience of magic and Houdini type tricks and the impact this has on his life.

The writing is a tour deforce so that you hear, touch and smell the period. Each character has their own voice and even minor characters when they enter the story in a few paragraphs you have their back-story and motives seamlessly woven in so they become real characters. The point of view moves from character to character and no easy option or resolution is allowed as the story builds to the magic trick ending. Scenes are comic one minute and bitterly tragic the next as you join in the roller coaster of their lives. Yes I am going say it…if you only have the chance to read one book this year make it this one, you wont be disappointed.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Night's Landing by Carla Neggers

The novel is typical of this author, romance + suspense combined in an easy writing style. A quick read.

Sarah Dunnemore, an archaeologist by profession, returns home after having finished her latest project, a biography of the president Poe's family, roots and house, and is now wondering what should she do next. The answer comes right away with a phone call that her brother, a deputy marshal has been shot and is in the intensive care in the hospital. She immediately takes off to New York to visit him, and in the process meets her brother's colleague, Nate, who has been also shot, but not as gravely as her brother.
Of course Nate is the typical male so eloquently described in these sorts of romances, all rugged and rough, with that wicked sexy smile and direct look at you which undresses you to the soul.

The action also unfolds from here. Urged by her brother, Sarah goes back home to Night's Landing, where (of course) Nate follows her almost immediately.
The rest is left to your imagination and invites you to read the book :)

Several copies of the book (including mine) can be found here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is a first novel by Mark Dunn who is in fact a successful writer of over 25 plays. The novel structure is epistolary, which means that the story unfolds via letters between the characters. This is supposed to add greater realism to the story and demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the device of an omniscient narrator. The approach was a popular 18th century device but mostly abandoned for most of the 19th and mid 20th century with the notable exceptions of Dracula by Bram Stoke and the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Recently it has a bit of a popular revivable with works such as The Boy Next Door (2002) by Meg Cabot and We Need to Talk about Kevin (2003) using the format.

Ella Minnow Pea is a slim 200-page book about Nollop, an isle off the coast of South Carolina, and home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The island folk are best imagined as a type of Amish or Plain People who are happy to be in a pre industrial idyll. Then one day tiles fall off Nevin Nollop’s statue knocking off a letter. This sets in train events in which that letter is forbidden in speech and writing on pain of punishment and eventual banishment.

The story is more then wordplay although the letters read aloud are a joy to hear. It also explores how an open accepting community gradually falls apart as neighbours turn on neighbour and as willing followers gradually also become victims. This is explored politically as free speech is lost and an increasingly power hungry elite take over and theologically as rival cults emerge and the emptiness of worshiping idols is shown. Alongside these important themes, we also see a love story unfold and a race to find a new pangram before all freedoms are lost that will reveal that Nevin Nollop’s is a fraud.

In the end, you will either like the book because of the fun wordplay and important themes or you dislike the format and the limited characterization. I am of the former camp and so strongly recommend it.

The Wanderers by Richard Price

The Wanderers by Richard Price was a first novel written in 1974 and draws on his teenage years around the Bronx street gangs of the early 60’s. It became a successful movie in 1979, which like the book went on to be a cult classic. Richard Price went on to write many other street crime stories such as Clockers and many successful screenplays as in The Colour of Money..

The story follows the last months of members of a teenage street gang called The Wanderers. These are an all-Italian gang comprising of 27 members. They wear bright yellow/brown jackets and blue jeans. Their leader, Richie, is dating Despie Galasso, the daughter of an infamous mobster, so The Wanderers have connections We also get involved with the fights and alliance of the other local gangs such as

  • The Fordham Baldies: As their name suggests, they are all bald, reportedly to prevent their hair from getting in their eyes during a fight.

  • The Del Bombers: The toughest all-black gang in the Bronx.

  • Ducky Boys: An all-Irish gang , all short- 5'6" and under and the most vicious

  • The Wongs: An Chinese gang, all with the last name of "Wong" and highly skilled in Jiu-Jitsu

But it’s more then being in a gang as we explore their relationships, schools, neighbourhoods and often dysfunctional families. Its not a book for the politically correct or maiden aunts, you get unfiltered real street language and behaviour and no moral judgements by the author. The bad aren’t punished and the good rewarded, its left messy as in real life. The story whilst a novel is structured like a series of inter connected short stories so characters pop in and out of the set events as we move through the lives of the gang members. I should add apart from the high energy dialogue many of the scenes are funny,( ask me about the lasso, stone and what was tied to the rope when thrown over a bridge!) sad and even chilling. Well worth reading

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry a children’s SF for 8-12 year olds written in 1993 is part of a loose set trilogy set in the same imagined world but not necessarily with the same characters. It deals with a world where your life is one of conformity and happiness. The short novel honestly faces why a society such as this would arise with its benefits and essential failure explored. The core of that failure is that…grief is the price you pay for love. Without sadness, can love and laughter really exist?

We discover a community of unlimited happiness and good manners set in a green and pleasant paradise of high but largely hidden technology. In this world, only 50 children per community are born from genetically approved placements in birth mothers. Regulations define your clothes, toys and your role in society from your first year. From eight you have to volunteer for a range of community duties so that your life long occupation from twelve can start. We join Jonas as the ceremony for 12’s is near for the allotment of his calling. Much to his and the communities shock he is not allotted a job but is selected to be the Receiver. In learning what this is, he discovers the hidden pain and dark side of unlimited happiness. This sets off a chain of events as Jonas discovers what being released really means. He faces what growing up means, and consequences whose meaning you have to decide.

The book has over 3000 ratings on alone so we are talking popular and critical success (it won the Newbury Medal- the USA children’s literature award). Even so, it is banned in several USA State’s School and Library systems because of the dark emotional issues dealt with. Surprisingly doesn’t to have attracted the same attention in the UK. If you or your children have not read it then you have missed a classic. But if you have read it then you know why it’s enjoyable and highly recommended!