Anomaly (cover)Anomaly
By Krista McGee
Thomas Nelson Publishers
09 July 2013

My best friend, an atheist, asked what I thought of Anomaly shortly after I’d started it. I said something like, “Well, there’s not a ton of God-stuff to wade through yet, and I’m almost a hundred pages into the story. That’s pretty good compared to the overload of God-stuff I usually get less in than ten pages when I read books from this publisher.” He looked suitably impressed. He knows I keep a relatively open mind when it comes to Christianity—I was raised in the faith—but I’m not a Christian, and an overabundance of “God-stuff” is usually a pretty big turn off for me.

That said, I really liked this book. I liked so much that I didn’t have any problem finishing it; I wanted to see what happened to Thalli, Berk, Stone, and the other characters. Utopian/dystopian stories—1984, The Giver, The Hunger Games, and others—have always managed to hold my interest more easily than other types of fiction. It’s asking what could be—and what could change—that intrigues me.

Thalli, the main character, was born with emotions and curiosity in an underground world where such attributes are looked down upon and misunderstood at best and downright dangerous at worst. She lives in a Pod with other young people her age who have all been genetically engineered specifically for the mutual benefit of the whole group. The post-nuclear-war world is run by a group of scientists called The Ten, and they quickly schedule her annihilation when her ability to feel emotion comes to light. Luckily, Thalli’s childhood friend, Berk, a scientist-in-training steps in and convinces the The Ten that they can experiment on her instead of simply putting her to death. While she’s living in the scientists’ Pod, she meets an old man named John who tells her of a Designer—the Designer—who is even more powerful than The Ten.

Thalli’s response to learning of the Designer is similar to my response: she treads carefully with curiosity and skepticism. Maybe she’s so receptive to the ideas John presents to her because she has no knowledge whatsoever of any evil that has been done in God’s name, but I found it difficult to continue her path with her after she decided that she believed. The “God-stuff” became overwhelming for me near the end, but by that time I was too invested in the rest of the story to feel put out by the overt religion. I’m still interested enough in the story that I hope I’ll remember to pick a copy of the sequel, Luminary, which comes out July 2014.

For another excellent review of Anomaly, read thepaxdomini’s thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I received Anomaly free from Thomas Nelson Publishers for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Chasing Francis

Chasing Francis coverChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale
By Ian Morgan Cron
Zondervan Publishers
07 May 2013 (reprint edition)

Who doesn’t like a pilgrim’s tale? And a pilgrim’s tale about a man who’s already a pastor? How interesting. Chasing Francis is about Chase Falson, the pastor of a mega-church in New England, who loses his faith and travels to Italy to spend time with some strange Franciscan monks. He follows in St. Francis’s footsteps in order to regain the faith he lost. (And don’t I missed think that play on words in the title, Mr. Cron. Very funny.)

Honestly, I was intrigued. And then, not even twenty pages in, when Chase’s psychiatrist tells him to watch The Truman Show—“The Jim Carrey flick?” Chase asks—I thought I was hooked. That movie is one of my dad’s favorites, if not because it’s really exactly a good, well-made movie, but because he feels like Truman often enough for it to be relatable.

Unfortunately, not even ten pages later, I read the sentence, “Nor do I doubt that the Jesus who wooed and won my heart… is still real.” And then, not even ten pages after that, “‘I can’t go on like this… I’m sure there’s another Jesus I haven’t met yet. How on earth do I find him?'” I couldn’t help but think, He still has faith. This isn’t a pilgrimage. At least, not the kind of pilgrimage I want to read. I got almost 60 pages in before I had to put the book down; Chase sees himself in the frescoed panels on the wall of a church and… feels. What? Like, he lost his faith for two minutes and got it back (more or less) while standing in a church in Italy? Really?

I don’t know. It’s not what I wanted to read. It’s not bad writing, and it’s not a poor storyline, from what I can tell. It’s just… not the kind of journey I was hoping for Chase to have. He never really really lost his faith—he just knows that Jesus is out there somewhere, and he (Chase) just has to find him (again) in order to rekindle the flame of belief.

I read the rest of the book, but after those 60 pages, it was more out of obligation than excitement. I was happy to read Chasing Francis at first, because it had so much potential. But if I thought the story would speak to me on a deeper level, I was wrong. And if I want to read about St. Francis again in the future, I’ll just pick up a biography.

DISCLAIMER: I received Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale free from Zondervan Publishers for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Bathsheba: Bathed in Grace

Bathsheba coverBathsheba: Bathed in Grace
How 8 Scandalous Women Changed the World

By Carol Cook
WestBow Press
17 November 2012

Stories about women from the Bible? Awesome. No, really: awesome. I love fairytales retold, and Bathsheba: Bathed in Grace is in that vein. The author took what little we know about eight of the 400+ women mentioned in the Bible and expanded upon their stories. (By comparison, there are more than 3230 people mentioned in the Bible, and, of those, less than 15% are women.)

Bathsheba, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Tamar and Eve—the women included in this collection—all have one thing in common: they are primarily defined in the Bible by their relationship to men. Unfortunately, Carol Cook did nothing to move away from that, and it left me disappointed. Cook said she dressed up as the women while she was writing about them in order to channel their specific voices, but I found each telling much like the last. Bathsheba couldn’t say “no” to the king (just look at Henry VIII’s wives for what has tended to happen to women who’ve tried), so—in fear for her life—she slept with him and became pregnant. In her situation, the best thing that could’ve happened to her after that was that her husband died (she never seemed to know that David had him killed) and her marriage to the king. But, that doesn’t make the situation and outcome any less abhorrent.

Sarah’s and Hagar’s stories are intertwined, and they’re no better. Rebekah and Leah, sisters married to the same man by their father, also had terrible circumstances to deal with. Tamar had to essentially prostitute herself (but it was totally cool for Judah to sleep with a “fallen woman”), and Eve is the naive mother of all of us, including all of our sin. Obviously, I take issue with many of the women’s stories in the Bible, and I was hoping that Bathsheba would provide another, more woman-friendly perspective. Despite the potential, I was thwarted on all counts.

In the book’s description, Cook says that “Leah stole her sister’s fiancé”—something that’s categorically untrue. Or, if it was true, I wasn’t convinced at all. I wasn’t invested in the characters or their respective plights. Bathsheba was most definitely a victim, not a temptress, as the description implies, and I sincerely hope that Eve wasn’t as naive as she was portrayed. It’s just… this collection of stories could’ve delved so much deeper and yet… it didn’t. I really, really wanted to like Bathsheba, but I couldn’t.

DISCLAIMER: I received Bathsheba: Bathed in Grace free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

30 Days of Truth 19

Day 19: What do you think of religion? Or, what do you think of politics?

Well, let’s think about this. According to Merriam-Webster,

re·li·gion noun \ri-‘li-jen\

Definition of RELIGION

    • a : the state of a religious (a nun in her 20th year of religion)
    • b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
  1. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
  2. archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
  3. a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

— re·li·gion·less adjective

I tend to believe definitions 2, 3, and 4 over the first one; politics can become a religion if adhered to so deeply that it blinds the adherent(s). It also includes atheism, though many (all?) atheists specifically deny being part of a religion. Here’s what stands out to me:

  1. an “institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”
  2. “scrupulous conformity”

You look around at the religions (and political parties) today and tell me with a straight face that their members don’t fall headlong into those two categories. “Archaic”—yeah, right.

Now, as for what I think of religion/politics: I dislike them. I think religion is a way to keep people from thinking for themselves because they can just follow a prescribed list of rights (good) and wrongs (evil) and get into heaven without having to really do that much. Or, at least, they won’t have to feel guilty about not doing more good because they’re already doing “enough”. And they can look down on and write off other people who aren’t doing “the right thing” because whatever the other person is doing is apparently “obviously” wrong. No one in those institutionalized systems actually thinks about good and evil; everyone just conforms—and that’s the whole point. And that’s beyond distasteful to me. Give me a thinking, doubting person over someone “who just believes” any day of the week.

30 Days of Truth

“Messages from Margaret” review

Messages from Margaret coverMessages from Margaret:
Down-to-Earth Angelic Advice
for the World… and You

By Gerry Gavin
Hay House, Inc.
17 December 2012

Do you believe in angels? Gerry Gavin does, and in Messages from Margaret, he channels his guardian angel to give advice to the world… and us. I admit that when I first picked up this relatively short (135-page) book, I thought it was fiction. I’m not a big believer in angels or any other spiritual beings that claim to guide humans out of the goodness of their hearts, and guardian angels fit right into that category. I can, however, suspend my disbelief long enough to get into a good story. If you think about this book as fiction, it’s a pretty easy, thought-provoking read.

Messages from Margaret isn’t presented as fiction, though; it’s presented as a medium truthfully and honestly writing down his angel’s messages from which everyone (everyone who can read in English, at least) may learn. It’s clear that Gerry Gavin truly believes he’s speaking with Margaret, an angel who was among the first created after the Creator decided to expand its consciousness (that is: create the universe and our world). “It has been an incredible experience for me,” he writes near the beginning of the book, “because when you are channeling information, you are both writing and reading the book at the same time!” So, while I was reading the book, I had to keep remembering that even if I didn’t believe it, he did (and does).

All right, so. Assuming I believe that Margaret is a real angel and is speaking to the author, who is simply writing down what she tells him, the first chapter is Gavin’s introduction to Margaret’s directions to anyone who’s willing to listen (that is: anyone who is interested enough to pick up the book and read it in the first place). Gavin speaks very (very) briefly about his initial reluctance to believe in spirit guides and angels and then suddenly (it seemed sudden to him, also, apparently) he was doing “readings” for people when they asked for advice from Margaret.

Ask yourself this: are you a “glass half empty” type person or a “glass half full” type person? Margaret, Gavin’s guardian angel, says that most people in the world today are actually neither. Instead, the majority of people are the “I’d rather not think about the glass at all” type—self-interested, disenfranchised, and weary of politics and religion. I definitely fall into that category. It feels like a lot of Margaret’s advice is genuine and earnest, but also like some of it is so vague that anyone with half an ounce of logic and common sense would already know it. (But then again, the world is falling apart, Mayan calendar or no [don’t even get me started on that], so maybe I’m assuming most people have more logic and common sense than they actually do? What am I talking about?—of course I am. /sigh)

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Messages from Margaret, but I think I wanted to know more about the medium/author than I learned. The title isn’t misleading, once I was able to get past the idea that Gavin was channeling an angel, so I realize that learning more about the author wasn’t really the point of the book. The messages Margaret wishes to portray seem too general and often too rooted in the English language (his-story rather than “history”, separating “conscience” into con [against] and science [knowledge], and so on). That’s not to say they’re incorrect, but I don’t think that this book will be as helpful as Gerry Gavin (or Margaret) hopes. It’s well-intentioned, don’t get me wrong, but it’s too centered on English-speaking peoples and too American-centric for my tastes. (Mentioning having a little voice in your head tell you to check the gas gauge on your car before you run out of fuel assumes so much about the reader that I don’t even know where to begin.)

I think this book may be an all right read for someone who already tends to believe in the supernatural, spirit guides, and the general goodness of beings that we can’t see. But I don’t think it’s advice for the world—unless the entire world looks a lot like the United States. Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it for me.

DISCLAIMER: I received Messages from Margaret free from Hay House, Inc., for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.