Friday, February 24, 2012

Not Jane Austen

Last week I read a book that who's author's writing was described by someone on the back cover as "comparable to Jane Austen's..."  The comment made me curious about the author and her new book, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall.  

Julie Klassen wrote this book with an interesting premise--that is very reminiscent of Austen and the themes of her books.  A young English woman lives with her mother and stepfather in London.  Her stepfather is conspiring for his nephew to marry the daughter and take possession of her coming inheritance.  When she realizes these intentions, she runs away with her maid and faces the harsh reality of servants' lives.  She becomes a maid at Fairbourne Hall, the home of a man who she once rejected as a suitor.  Hmmm... Can you tell yet where the story is heading?

If you've been enjoying Downton Abbey on PBS, then I think you'll enjoy the author's descriptions of the life of the servants in this novel.  I did.  

As for this book being like a Jane Austen novel, well...  don't expect that.  When you think of a historical Christian romance, that is exactly what this is.  The writing is not like Austen's.  The writing of this book is fine, but the author's writing didn't stand out to me as being especially good or clever.  Her writing honestly constantly reminded me that this is "romance" because of the descriptive words she chose.  That was my least favorite part of this book.  

I enjoyed the plot, the characters, and the details about servant life, but not the author's romantic style of writing.  In the end, the book is fine.  It is okay.  If I had an empty afternoon and a warm cup of tea waiting, would I recommend it?  Still no.  I think I'd recommend sitting down with The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers or The Covenant Child by Terri Blackstock.  If you're looking for a good historical romance, I'd recommend The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser or Angel Sister by Ann Gabhart.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1 more week to go...

It's already been a week since I deleted my facebook account.  That's a funny statement to make, isn't it?  It makes me think of a brooding teenager who's been grounded or someone who wants a cigarette and doesn't have any.  

The positives of not being on facebook?

1) I've prayed more and talked to God instead of running to other people to share what I'm thinking.
2) I've found that I have much less to do online and don't spend as much time online--because there just isn't anything to do.  I've never been much for surfing the web.
3) I have one less distraction in my life.
Overall, I'm relieved and glad not to be on it.  It's amazing to see how often I am realizing that facebook has complicated my relationships with my friends, rather than simplifying them.  

The negatives?

I have felt a bit disconnected, but not entirely.  I'd put it this way.  If you don't know that a party's going on that you weren't invited to, then you don't feel left out.  At this point, there isn't any way for me to know what I may be "left out of" by not being on facebook.  

It still makes me chuckle to think that I have to wait another week before my deletion from Facebook is final. They really know how to draw this thing out!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Deleted Facebook Comment

Last night, I wrote a post about Klout and social media influence.  Just after I posted a link to the post on Facebook, I added a postscript.  The comment I posted on Facebook said something like this:

"This week I also read several articles in The Economist magazine about Facebook and the future.  The articles referred to how much Facebook tracks our online practices and how much they know about us."

This morning I checked my facebook account and the comment was deleted.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist at all, but this deletion makes me genuinely uncomfortable.  What else will they delete?  Is there a computer application on Facebook that automatically deletes any comments referring to Facebook?

I'm not sure what to think of this, but it does make me feel even more wary of Facebook.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Blogging Program...


Could you please let me know how to withdraw from your blogging program?  I have deep concerns about Klout and the idea of social influence when it comes to blogging.  (The program decided that what books would be available to me would be determined by my "Klout".)  Mars Hill Audio had a great discussion of this in this issue: (the last two essays on Part 2).  As a Christian and as a blogger, my goal is not to be branded or to seek greater social influence.  It is to do what God has set before me--to spread the word about good books I find, not for selfish gain (or influence) but that other believers might be encouraged as well.

In Christ,

This is the letter I emailed to a blogging program tonight in response to an email I received from the publisher informing me that they would be using Klout to determine individual blogger's social influence and using that determination to then determine the selection of books I would be offered the choice to review.  

The letter explains a little about how I feel about it.  Honestly, it deeply grieves me.  The idea of "social influence" that a blogger might have unsettles me.  I wish I could do the audio essays from Mars Hill justice.  If you are interested in this topic, You can download the MP3 of the issue for only $6.  For people like me ;) who don't have time to read the books these authors have written, Mars Hill is a great way to hear their ideas... But, back to the topic at hand--social media influence.

Have you heard of Klout?  I hadn't until this week.  Klout basically monitors social media outlets (facebook, twitter, linkedin, foursquare (?), and google and wordpress accounts)  to determine one's social influence and the effectiveness of one's words (how much power your words have)--I think that basically means how much people follow their advice and ideas.  It eerily makes me think of the forming of idols.  

A few months ago, my husband had me listen to that episode of Mars Hill Audio while on a date.  We discussed the idea of branding bloggers.  Neither he nor I wanted my blogging to go that way.  I blog because I want to encourage others and share what I'm reading.  I want to share the ups and downs along the way,   I can't always say exactly why, except that it comforts me when I know I'm not alone in my struggles--that others have been there.  So, I assume that someone else might be going through what I'm going through and that me sharing my struggles (and joys) might encourage them as well.  

The danger of online blogging for this reason is that it can threaten to take the place of real, face-to-face relationships.  One of the positive things about moving for me has been the change I've seen in my computer habits.  I am much less drawn to the internet.  I generally post less on my blogs and facebook.  The computer doesn't feel like it's as needed for me.  It has also helped to have my mom living with us.  I have an adult in the house that I can discuss what I'm thinking with throughout the day.  

Speaking of which, my kids and husband are reading the Chronicles of Narnia and I need to go be present! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A quick thought

Two weeks ago at small group, one of the fellows (who happens to be a psychiatrist) in the group shared this definition of anger:  "Anger is being upset that you didn't get your way."  I thought that was very insightful and definitely worth pondering.

I also think that definition could be expanded.  Being irritable or frustrated is also being upset that you didn't get your way.  As a society, we make distinctions between the three--anger, frustration, and irritability--as if to diminish or rationalize our right to feel that way (depending on the situation and who we're talking to).  This definition really made me think about how justified--or rather that I'm actually unjustified in feeling these three emotions at times.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Exhausting Reading

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend in which she responded with her thoughts about a particular book.  She described the book as "exhausting" to read.  I thought that was a very good way to describe some books and also why I have a hard time reading them.  What I have found in myself when I read is that it isn't wise to read books that overly romanticize life (because they feed discontentment in my heart), or that dwell deeply in the depravity of man (they overwhelm me).  Sometimes books are simply too exhausting for me to read.  The book I read 2 weeks ago fits that description well.

The book was Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry.  Fabry's book, June Bug, is one of my favorite books.  I read the book that came after that book, but struggled with all of his depiction of angels.  But, still, he is a very good writer.  So, I wanted to try this book.  This book is the story of Truman Wiley, a writer who has run away from his family--his wife, daughter, and son who is dying of a defective heart.  A man is about to die on death row and wants Truman to write his story.  The overarching plot is well developed and interesting.  

But, this book delves into the addiction of gambling and its consequences on both addicts and the people who love them.  The vivid description of how gambling enticed him if even a few bucks were in his pocket was both shocking and sad.  After reading some of the description of how Truman felt as he gambled away what money he had--regardless of its consequences, I simply couldn't keep reading.  It overwhelmed me with the depressing nature of the addiction.  

If you enjoy drama movies and tear-jearkers, you will enjoy this book.  It is well written and characters are vividly described.  If, you feel overwhelmed by deeply sad movies, you may find that you have the same reaction to this book as I did.  The ending is a bit like one from the old Kevin Costner movie Message in a Bottle.  This book is not a feel good, happy, ends all neatly tied up at the ending sort of book.  

In the end, this is one of those books that I can't give a blanket recommendation to.  It is one of those books that I would suggest you read an excerpt of online first before ordering.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing.

Unsettling Reading

This past weekend I picked up a book with what I thought might be an interesting storyline.  One thing I've noticed in my reading is that there are all sorts of books.  There are books one would call Christian fiction and then there are books that are written by Christians which I would simply call fiction informed by a Christian worldview.  Then there are books written by Christians that are simply fiction--there is no discernable Christian worldview or "inspirational truth" underlying the story.  Christian publishers today publish books that fall into all three of these categories.  The book I read this past weekend would probably fall under the last category.  I expected it to fall in the middle category and because of that expectation, it was quite a disappointing read.

The book I read is titled Beyond Molasses Creek. It is written by Nicole Seitz.    The main character of the story is a 60 year old, overweight white woman who has come home to her father's home near Charleston, South Carolina.  He has recently passed away and she has moved home.  Her friend Vesey, a black man her age, lives across the creek from her.  Where Ally has walked away from God, Vesey has walked faithfully with him through the years.  There is a third main character, Sunila, who lives in India.  She lives in a rock quary, indebted to its owner and a slave to the quarry.

When I first began reading, I was struck by several things.  1) The writer, Ms. Seitz, is a pretty good writer.  Her words do paint a picture, although it's not always a flattering or easy to read one.  I had to puzzle for a few pages to discover whether Ally was white or black (this is an important component of the plot of the story).  2) I was also struck by the fact that most fiction books I read are about people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.  Only rarely do I read a book about someone in their 60s.  Realizing this made me more interested in the story.

As the story went on, I began to see that the main character in the book is searching.  I, as the reader, hoped she would find peace in God.  Seemingly, she does to a certain degree (please forgive this spoiler), but only from a deist perspective, rather than a Christian perspective.  What this means is that one believes that a God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over everyone.  The main goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.  God wants people to be good and nice to each other.  God doesn't need to be involved in one's life unless He's needed to solve a problem.  And finally good people go to heaven when they die.  In November, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio sent out a letter explaining why he feels American deism is a greater threat to Christians than atheism because basically they can believe in God and have some kind of hope but live however they want to--pursuing their own happiness.  These ideas are what I found embodied in this story and it deeply troubled me.  

Let me give you an example.  One piece of the plot is that Ally's dad lied a white lie to her.  She has been hurt by this for many years and held it against him.  But, when she finds herself in the shoes of being a parent, she knowingly chooses to tell a white lie--because it's the best thing for her child.  This white lie she tells is quite a big one actually and because of the nature of it, I cannot imagine it eventually coming to light!  She tells this white lie after coming back to faith in God.  Her way of living embodies what I just wrote about in the previous paragraph--both before and after she believes in God again.  

Aside from the moral and theological struggles I had with this book, I was concerned about the setting of part of the story.  It is set in Nepal.  I gathered from the back of the book that the author has not visited Nepal.  My brother and his wife lived there for several years.  So, I checked some of her information in the story with them.  Yes, there are rock quarries and their could have been indebted laborers there.  Bonded labor is now illegal in Nepal.  Would a Dalit have stolen a white baby?  My brother and his wife both said no.  Even to sell?  No.  But, this is fiction.  The details the author included about Nepal were not enough for me to picture it.  For example, the vehicles they were transported in weren't accurate to how people get around Nepal.  But, a good deal of her information was correct according to my brother and his wife.  

Sometimes there are books that I read that bring more unsettledness to my heart than peace.  This is one of those books.  

It is never easy for me to write a negative review, but I always seek to write honestly about what I think.  I hope I have written this review with gentle, but firm points rather than harsh ones.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.