December 2014 Bookshelf

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel by Menna van Praag
Kindle Edition 336 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this advanced copy.  In an exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

This is my first read of this author, she's rather new to the scene.  I really enjoyed this book and the comparison to Addison Allen, Hoffman, and others is an accurate comparison.  Van Praag does what Addison Allen does, insert just a wee bit of magic into reality.  This wee bit always makes sense and convinces me that perhaps a bit of magic is indeed part of our realities.
Etta owns a dress shop. Not just any dress shop but a speciality one. It senses the woman walking through the door and plays music to match her fate. The perfect dress finds the woman rather than she finding it and then Etta completes the magic by making a few quick alterations.  Lives have changed because of Etta's magical dress shop.  Lives that don't include her granddaughter, Cora, however.  Cora is busy trying to fulfill her dead parents legacy and quest to find scientific ways to grow food in any kind of condition for impoverished nations. Joining Etta and Cora is Walt, who owns the bookstore down the street and nurses a secret love for Cora.  Desperate for Cora to see Walt with her heart and to begin to feel life instead of isolate herself from it, Etta does her magic alterations on something Cora wears and opens up a floodgate of emotions Cora doesn't remember ever feeling before.  With this floodgate of emotions comes a desire to research the mysterious fire that killed her parents 20 years prior. Cora embarks on a search for the truth, meanwhile Etta is entertaining breaking a 50 year old promise and Walt is trying to find someone different to love since loving Cora isn't exactly working out.  Interestingly enough there is a central character to each of their stories and as loose ends get tied up the character assists in bringing resolution.  Is there any way that Etta's dress shop might finally work its magic on Cora?

Well written and engaging, Van Praag weaves love, mystery, and friendship together in this title. I really loved how she introduced the story lines and brought them together.  The story kept moving forward and didn't feel slow at any point.  I actually loved Etta's story and almost wish there was a bit more of that but there really wasn't a need.  The ending may have been a bit predictable but it was enjoyable and one that kinda made me feel like cheering.  

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines
224 pages

Last month I read another book of the same topic but with a differing view.  I couldn't get both books read in one month so I continued the exploration of this controversial topic this month.  For my thoughts on last month's read of this same topic click here.

While Vines doesn't make any claims that his book is a thoughtful approach to same-sex relationships, it is.  He presents his views without vitriol, with respect, and with a sincere desire to live within the truth of God's word.  Vines is part of a group of Christians who truly and honestly love God and are also gay.  He is committed to God's design of sex for marriage so until he marries he remains celibate.  You may have winced when you read that statement just now, the one about him marrying.  That wince is one of the many reasons Vines wrote this book studying the Bible's take on same-sex relationships.
What is very clear to me after the book I read last month and now this one is that when people are behaving kindly and with level heads, this is definitely an issue of perspective and how scripture is interpreted.  As the Church has seen with other topics of debate, people hold different perspectives and interpretations of God's word.
Here's the thing I want to say first. There is zero doubt in my mind that Matthew Vines loves God deeply and is most interested in following the words of God.  So he and I get along, so to speak, because those are also my inclinations.
Matthew dives into the history of sex, both opposite and same, in the ancient times.  He then applies that history to the biblical texts that Christians who are against same-sex relationships use for their argument. He also studies, as did the book I read last month, the basis of biblical marriage.  His study of marriage differed in very significant ways than the definition offered by the authors of last month's book.  I'm inclined to lean more into Vines more complete definition rather than the rather limited one offered in Same-Sex Marriage.
Vines makes compelling arguments, using the Bible as his foundation for those arguments. I became especially thoughtful while reading chapter 3, The Gift of Celibacy.  His research on when certain scripture passages started to be translated as sexual orientation rather than sexual behavior was very interesting as well.  As with the other book, lest you take anything I say in this review out of context I would encourage you to read the book for yourself.  It is disheartening that the Church at large has treated people who have same-sex preferences as less than human. As Vines states early on in his book, "This debate is not simply about beliefs and rights; it's about people who are created in God's image." Unfortunately the Church as a whole seems to have forgotten that or have redefined the "qualifications" for who is in the image of God. The image of God is not defined in gender or sexual orientation terms but in characteristics and qualities. Therefore, all humans carry the image of God in them, regardless of sexual orientation.
This is such a complicated and hurtful topic that has been debated and misunderstood.  Deep wounds now exist in many people because of the thoughtless actions and words of people who think they need to take up defending God and his word.  Newsflash: God doesn't need our help, he can take of himself just fine, better than any of us ever could.  Both the authors of last month's book and Vines prove that we can have a thoughtful, respectful, God-honoring conversation about topics of debate - we just have to be willing to be thoughtful, respectful, and God-honoring.
I highly recommend this book, Vines does an excellent job of researching and communicating his interpretation of scripture in regards to same-sex relationships.

Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert
Kindle Edition -  265 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Portable Magic Ltd for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review. 

What an interesting book.  I'm torn on how much I liked it. It wasn't bad at all, just perhaps a tad lacking in details which might be feeding my uncertainty. Mostert proposes and executes a strange premise about memory.
Jennilee is missing. For two years she's been on the run and refusing to come out of hiding. Her guardian, Daniel, keeps trying to convince her but she doesn't trust him.  First of all, he's using the wrong name. Who is Jennilee? Her name is Eloise.  Dark Prayer is a story of a young woman who entered a fugue state two years ago and has zero recall about her life as Jennilee.  In the past two years she has made up her name of Eliose, what her parents did, and why she hears voices and recites a series of numbers constantly. Daniel, her guardian, wants to retrieve her and get her fugue state to end so she can become Jennilee again but so far she isn't cooperating.  Jack, an American rich boy, keeps getting into trouble so to keep tabs on him and as a form of punishment his dad, Leon, sends him to England to assist Daniel in retrieving Eloise.  Jack befriends Eloise through her new hobby of parkour. As he builds trust with her the reader is also privvy to her dead mother's diary as part of a scientific memory group from years before. The more Jack, and the reader learn, the more he realizes Eloise's voices and numbers are a threat to those in the group still alive and interested in memory research. Why do they need Eloise? Well, she's the test subject.
I think part of my uncertainty about the book was Mostert's equal use of parkour and memory research.  Eloise and her parkour hobby are an odd, in my opinion, escape from her former life of which she doesn't remember except in visions that are increasing.  I said earlier that it seemed to be lacking in details, the story as a whole, but Mostert does include plenty of detail.  I suppose a more accurate statement would be that, in my opinion, it lacked the details necessary to give the story more credibility.  It was all just a little me to buy into 100%.  The memory research is fascinating but it was given in such a fictional use that it felt contrived. The diary entries from Jennilee/Eloise's mom felt hurried and stilted.  They were entirely too vague to contribute to the reader's understanding of that part of the story. The story did, however, keep me engaged and interested until the end.  I'm curious to give other titles Mostert has authored a try.

If Only: Letting Go of Regret by Michelle Van Loon
Kindle Edition - 139 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Nazarene Publishing House for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review. 

Regret is something every person encounters in their life.  I am not aware of one person who doesn't have regret in their life. The tough thing about regret is letting it go. So when I saw the title and premise of this book I was definitely curious about what Van Loon would have to share.
The "problem" with having been birthed straight into the church nursery is I pretty have heard it all, very rarely do I hear or read new ideas that haven't been circulated throughout evangelical circles.  Van Loon's book fell into that category for me but it wouldn't for everyone.  I did appreciate and like how she connected shalom with letting go of regret. I don't believe the church has given shalom enough attention and application so I liked that Van Loon brought it into the discussion. Not only does the author discuss letting go of regret but she talks about regrets being redeemed.  Redemption is vital to complete healing and transformation.
It's an important topic but because so much of it was familiar I became restless reading it and was ready to be done with the book.  For newer believers this book would be especially good as they transition from a life of flesh living to that of spirit living.

Growing Up Ugly by Donetta Garman
128 pages

A memoir from Garman about her growing up years. Ugly years. Ugly in physical appearance, ugly in dysfunction as a result of mental illness and addiction.
I appreciate Garman's recollections and places of healing she has discovered. That being said I'm not sure this is a book that has huge impact for anyone outside of Garman's circles.  It felt more like a book for just her family than for the "masses." It was a diary of sorts and one that is more interesting to her family and friends than perhaps strangers. Anne Lamott says we need to write our stories and I agree. But sometimes those stories aren't for the public.  In order to touch the public and be compelling they have to have a purpose, a lesson, a meaning and Garman's stories have those but not for a public audience. Memoirs are always fascinating to me and I believe Garman's held a lot more potential for fascination but she held back on details and the delivery of what she did share was a little too elementary for me.

The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love by Richard Dahlstrom
217 pages

This was a FANTASTIC book to end the month and year with. Richard Dahlstrom paints (pun intended) a beautiful picture of artistry as God's people using the primary colors of mercy, justice, and love to paint pictures of hope in this world. As has happened often I got about 2 pages in, put it down and ordered my own personal copy from Amazon.  (Yay for Prime 2 day shipping!)
Yes, I knew within two pages it was a book I will want to mark up, read again, pass around, discuss.
As I said Dahlstrom draws from the artist pallette for his book about the people of God painting hope on the canvas of this world.  What a perfect metaphor. His thoughts could be summed up in the idea that we color our worlds grey when we are known for what we are against instead of what we are for. When we boldly brush on the canvas of this world what we are for we paint in vibrant and beautiful colors.  As a whole the church has squashed creativity in favor of consumerism and that has led to dull, grey canvas. It's time, past time, to squash consumerism in the Church, which has killed off much more than creativity, and begin to infuse hope into the world once again using mercy, justice, and love.
Fantastic book.  I marked up the majority of chapters. There was so much practical application and so much biblical sense presented.  Dahlstrom also talks about the pastels versus the bold colors of faith. I really resonated with this discussion as I think most anyone who was birthed into the church would. At some point my pastel faith got washed out and when bold colors were introduced it changed my entire world.
Dahlstrom has laid out a gracious and practical plea to be Artisans of Hope.


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