Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: The Yellow Birds

The Yellow BirdsAuthor: Kevin Powers
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, War Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company, 2012

First Lines: "The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers."

Book Description from GoodReads:  

"The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

My Review

Described by turns as "compelling" (Colm Toibin), "inexplicably beautiful" (Ann Patchett), "powerful" (Anthony Swofford), and referred to as "The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars," The Yellow Birds is indeed a tour de force. Powers' MFA training is evident, as is his background in poetry. His personal experience as a soldier in Iraq makes for an authenticity you don't find from those who haven't "been there". The reader feels like s/he is on the ground with the characters, experiencing what they are going through on all levels (physical, mental, emotional).

Lyrically written, the descriptions can go on a bit long. If they become too tedious, skim ahead as it is well worth reading the story to its conclusion.

A powerful debut novel.


My Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent: Joy

Image from Pixabay
Though even the dictionary confuses joy with happiness, calling the former "a state of happiness or felicity", when Christians talk about joy we mean something much deeper. You see, happiness relies more on feelings and our level of happiness can go up and down like a carousel horse depending on our circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, comes from our relationship with God and exists regardless of what's going on in our lives.

A friend recently pointed out that we often think of joy as a positive in our lives, but not necessarily as a strength. However, the Bible tells us in Nehemiah 8:10 that "the joy of the Lord is your strength." It is this joy, this strength, that helps us to press forward in difficult times when we might otherwise feel like giving up.

Christmas is a happy time for many people - there's the prospect of being together with family, the delight in giving and receiving gifts, the Christmas music and movies, the parties, the food. But there are those who do not look forward to the season. Perhaps they've lost a loved one this year or can't get together with family or friends, perhaps they've run into financial difficulty and can't afford much of a celebration. Even in sadness and loss, they can reach into a deep well of joy and know that God is still with them and will never leave them.

If you know someone who is going through difficulty this Christmas, why don't you remind them of the joy they have? Remind them that Jesus is also called Emmanuel, "God with us", and be Jesus with skin on to them.

Have a joyful Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gift Ideas: the Best Books of My Reading Year

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” ― Napoleon
I was hoping to share some gift ideas long before this. It's hard to believe there are less than two weeks until Christmas. But, if like me, you are still looking for presents that will wow the ones you love, and you have readers on your shopping list, consider the best titles I encountered this year. The links below will take you straight to, though your local independent bookstore would appreciate your support.

For Adults:

Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do by Christine Caine, inspirational memoir

No Relation by award-winning Canadian humorist Terry Fallis

Ithaca, a novel by Susan Fish, also a Canadian author

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, the latest novel in the Mitford series by Jan Karon

Bird Box, horror fiction by debut novelist Josh Malerman

Five-Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants by Nancy J. Ondra - perfect for the non-savvy gardener, who wants a beautiful garden but has no idea where to begin and doesn't want too much work

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, the novel that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Need I say more?

For Children

These are all picture books, my favourite type of literature for children! I love that three of these are by Canadian authors!

I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau (Canadian)

My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee (Canadian)

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee

The Stamp Collector by  Jennifer Lanthier (Canadian)

 And what best books would you recommend to me?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: Christmas Blessings

 Authors: Susan R. Sweet, Judith Leigh, Patty Howell, Cheryl Norman
Genre: Christmas romance anthology, Christian fiction
Publisher: Highland Press, 2014

Description from Goodreads:
Don’t miss any of these stories – timely issues, Godly answers…

A Flood of Blessings – something that keeps us from moving forward. God forgives us, but we must be able to forgive ourselves.

Dan can't forget his inability to save his wife and daughter. Betty's daughter Amber can't remember her past. Will Betty's love for her daughter and her blossoming feelings for Dan be enough to save these two most important people in her life?

Mistletoe Blessings – Can the magic of Mistletoe mend a fearful heart and bring a troubled man what he has been searching for?

Home for Caroline Martin has always been a safe haven. But the one man who’s sworn to protect her scares her the most. Does she have a reason to trust Tony or should she run as fast as she can from the cynical sheriff?

The Blessing of Forgiveness – Forgiveness? Bah-humbug, who needs it? For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Like a warm blanket, Susan Hunter’s dislike of her father and his abandonment of her and her mother was a comfortable place to remain. But like a cancer difficult to excise, unforgiveness held in the heart too long becomes a festering wound that spills over and affects every relationship. Confronted with holding on to hatred or embracing The Blessing of Forgiveness, Susan comes to a crossroad and has to make a choice.

Hometown Blessings – A small town deputy receives an unexpected Christmas miracle, thanks to a courageous young waitress.

Deputy Derek Frost needs Beth Jones to help him put away a pedophile, but his attraction to her presents a serious conflict of interest. Beth has good reason for her reluctance to get involved. Will Derek get through her defenses and claim her heart?

My Review:

Like all good romances, each of these stories moved me and brought me to tears. Set during the Christmas season when God demonstrated His great love for us by sending His son, what could be more appropriate than reading stories about love, forgiveness and the power of God to heal our wounded spirits?

Recommended for the romance reader in your life.  Makes a great Christmas present.

My Rating: 4 stars 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: The Terrorist's Son: a Story of Choice

The Terrorist's SonAuthor: Zak Ebrahim
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/TED, 2014

Ebrahim is the son of El-Sayed Nosair, the man who killed the leader of the Jewish Defense League in 1983 and went on to co-plan the first bombing of the World Trade Center. Raised in an environment of hate, bigotry, and with no positive male role models, it seemed like Zak might follow in his father's footsteps. An opportunity to work at Disney World's Busch Gardens introduced the teenaged 'Z' to a variety of different people and opened his eyes to our common humanity. He decided to choose a different path, a path of peace.

This is not a long book, and it doesn't necessarily take long to tell a story well. In the end, Zak's is a story of the resilience of the human spirit and of the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Hate is taught and caught, and the reality is that too many sons of terrorists won't have the chance or ability to choose as Z has done. But breaking the cycle of violence can be done, and we can only hope that the message reaches others who need to hear it.

While I was sad to learn that today Z no longer believes in God, I can understand how his experience could have this result. When people see and hear of atrocities being committed in His name, it's easy to get turned off. And people tend to view God through the lens of their earthly fathers. From this standpoint, it's good to know that Z and his siblings no longer consider themselves Nosair's children. Hopefully one day Ebrahim will be able to separate a good God from an evil biological father.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent: Peace

Image from Pixabay
Christmas can be anything but peaceful. We rush to and fro, trying to find the perfect gift for that special someone, trying to plan the perfect menu, buying ingredients, making meals and goodies, going to Christmas parties. On and on it goes. For many it can be depressing because no matter how well you plan, something always seems to go wrong or not live up to what was hoped for.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they sang, "Glory to God... and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." This was how they heralded the arrival of Christ, with a salutation of praise to God and a declaration of peace to those who would accept his gift. The word 'peace' is often used as a greeting today, especially among the Jews ('shalom' means 'peace').  

If you are not feeling especially peaceful as you approach the celebration of Christmas (or at any time of year), consider what changes you can make to your schedule or plans. Can you scale back, create more realistic expectations? What are some of your best Christmas memories? Were those the times when you went all out, or when something major happened, or were they when little things meant much? Were you happiest when you were busy or when you were at rest? Talk with your family about making the season more peaceful by doing less, committing to fewer events, etc. Strive for peace with God, with fellow believers, and with anyone in your sphere of influence.

Have a peaceful Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent: Hope

Image from Pixabay
Yesterday was the first Sunday in the Advent season. If you don't already know, Advent represents the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is capped by Christmas Day. Traditionally, each Sunday expresses a different theme, usually in this order: hope, peace, joy, love. So today we will talk just a bit about hope.

Every day when we turn on the news or read about it in the paper, we hear and see stories of people living without hope. While there are occasionally positive items as well, more often than not we are treated to significant doses of murder and mayhem; people wigging out on drugs, drowning their sorrows with alcohol, and literally killing themselves. It's evident that there's a great heaviness in our world.
The reality, though, is that where there's life, there's always hope. And at Christmas, we remember the hope that was given to us through Jesus, who came to earth and was born as a human baby for the purpose of living among us, teaching us how to live, then dying that we might be saved for eternity. He is the bridge between us and God and came that we might have hope and abundant life (John 10:10). 

Even preschoolers can learn about Biblical hope. This can be done through examples: when Grandma says she has a Christmas gift for them, do they feel excited or disappointed? Do they expect to receive the gift? Explain to them that this is hope, knowing that Grandma will fulfill her promise just as we know God will fulfill all the promises he has made to us. You can also show how true hope differs from false hope (e.g. ‘I hope that if I drop something heavy on my foot, it won’t hurt.’  Or ‘I hope that if I push my brother, I won’t get in trouble with Mom or Dad.’ Those are foolish hopes).

And now May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)