The Birthday Gift by Betty Collier is a short story that follows Mrs. Williams as she finds her world turned upside down amid the sudden passing of her husband while he is away on overseas business. Among the themes present in the book are the difficulty in gaining closure from unexpected bereavement and the struggle to exercise forgiveness for transgressions. The role of religion is also significant in this book.
I appreciated the poignancy of Mrs. Williams’ journey to healing after the loss of her husband. It is apparent from the very beginning that she has much love for her husband – the kind that transcends boundaries of space and time. Collier depicts her in the different phases of grieving in order to reflect the immense pain of losing a loved one without having the chance to say goodbye. She reflects fondly on the memories she and her husband shared, and she even feels anger and disillusionment resulting from her God deciding to take her husband’s kindred soul prematurely. However, her love for her family, in particular her daughter Bella, prompts her to be a strong woman and a strong mother.
On the opposite side of the coin, this book is very evangelical in its message. The role of God and religion is prominently interwoven in Mrs. Williams’ thoughts and motivations, which may be triggering to a reader who may not have an interest in religion yet still seeks an inspirational read. Although I still strove to be objective in my reading, the constant preaching and heavy evangelical language were a bit overwhelming.
I appreciated witnessing Mrs. Williams’ healing process after losing her husband, as well as seeing her gain the wisdom to forgive. If you enjoy similar shorter books, such as “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho, which have a religious theme to them, then you’ll also enjoy this book. The expressions of pain and passion is palpable and is the thing I truly enjoyed about this short story?
Pages: 106 | ASIN: B087THC8P7
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For many people, the acceptance of spirituality, and an understanding of the vastness of eternal life, is a mystery. In a number of cases, there is less of a willful rejection of religion and God, and more a confusion around the topic in conjunction with our often busy and distracting lives. The Spirituality Puzzle by James and Renee Rondinone seeks to grapple with what it means to form a relationship with God, through careful case study considerations.
Not only does each chapter of the four sections, outlining the path to salvation, translate what can often be overwhelming in religious text into simple words that are accessible for everyone, but it also provides bible verses for reference as a tool to contextualize the statements being made. It strikes a comparison between what is commonly believed across ages to be the defining features of a spiritual individual, what the churches say, what is realistic given the lives we lead, what the scriptures say, and how to find a cognizant balance to inform your behavior, beliefs and life.
The book is not simply a means of enlightenment, but also a stepping stone towards religious education. While outlining the reasons to cast out doubt from belief systems, it also explains certain practices – such as baptism and holy water, for instance – the origins and the importance of such, but also the implications of not having been baptized and the effect this has (or the lack thereof). The authors are quick to remind the reader of the value of interpretation over what is being said on the exterior. Given the age of the scriptures, it is important not to take every word at face-value, and to apply them into the meaning they were meant – the book helps with this.
The breadth of scripture used for reference throughout The Spirituality Puzzle is wide, which in a less thoroughly written book could make for convoluted reading. However, the authors are quick to circle back and reiterate both important and relevant information where necessary. This ensures that, like a puzzle with many pieces needed to build a bigger picture, the pieces continue to slot into place at the right time so that understanding comes as a whole, like viewing a completed puzzle.
Though dealing with weighty topics and complicated historical scripts, the tone is light and conversational, achieving an overall sense that the book and reader relationship is that of a nurturing, helpful one and not a preaching or superior one. It’s written in the first person, with anecdotes, and these make all the difference in ensuring the book is read in the way it was intended.
Pages: 185 | ASIN: B081D621D6
Intensely personal and authentic, Susan Weiner’s poems within Before the Foundation of the World are a work of gratitude, faith and love. A labor of devotion and unwavering belief, the poetry in this collection evokes vivid imagery in beautifully illustrated pages that finely compliment the spiritual style of the poems.
The majority of the poems are divided into two categories. They are a. apocalyptic (God being revealed to talk to Man), and b. devotional (Man speaks to God). The effort that’s been put to present the grandeur of the Divine and to create hymns of gratitude fit for God is apparent.
Additionally, some of the poems in this anthology are made for those who are going through dark times and want a source of pious courage to help them through situations that feel excruciating. Poems like “Be Not Far Away” and “Armageddon” are reminders that even the fear of death is possible to overcome through faith while poems like “Joseph in Egypt” are reminders of unconditional divine love through loneliness and rejection.
Most of the poems have end rhyme schemes, with Weiner using sonnets and couplets to craft the speaker’s unconditional love and devotion to God. The poetry in this will be appreciated by any religious lovers of poetry, history and Christian symbolism, as the poems are filled with religious symbols, historical references and evangelical parables, while at the same time being accessible and easily understood.
Before the Foundation of the World is highly recommended for poetry lovers seeking a deeper spiritual connection through both spiritual and intelligent poetry.
Pages: 45 | ASIN: B08232HWG3
Hearts Set Free follows the interweaving tales of characters on a journey that illuminates both faith and love. What served as your inspiration for this wonderful novel?
People who know that Hearts Set Free contains autobiographical elements (and several historical characters) sometimes ask me, “How much of the story is true?’ And I answer, “Perhaps twenty percent—and the rest is even more true!” What drives my writing is the desire to convey truths that transform lives. Truths of the heart. There were several inspirations: the first was my own journey, from being an arrogant atheist (for the first fifty years of my life!) to a follower of Christ. The story was also born out of tragedy. At the prime of her life, only a few years after we had both become Christians, my late first wife was diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. She’s very much the model for one of the major characters, Joan Reed. We chose to spend her last days on earth together in a small town in Alaska, and lived not far from the headquarters of the Iditarod, the iconic thousand-mile dog sled race. It’s no coincidence that my novel begins with the Great Race of Mercy of 1925, the heroic effort to get diptheria serum to Nome to save ten thousand lives, which inspired the Iditarod.
Yura and Luke are intriguing and well developed characters. What were some driving ideals behind their character development?
One of the themes of Hearts Set Free is how people come to faith and deal with doubt. I put aspects of myself into several of the characters, including young Luke, although I only wish I had his courage and purity of heart. Yura and Luke Noongwook are native Alaskans, mother and son, and they embark on a quest to bring back Victor, who is Yura’s husband and Luke’s father. He’s a hero of the Great Race of Mercy who has abandoned them for a beautiful reporter from New York. Yura has a warrior’s spirit, and has resolved to kill the woman who stole her husband. Thirteen-year-old Luke is desperate to have his father back. I won’t spoil the plot by revealing whether or not they find Victor and bring him home, or whether Yura follows through on her plans for revenge, but I’ll say this: on their long journey, these two, who at the beginning know only the Inuit gods, do find their true Heavenly Father. God draws all people to Himself, though some respond quickly and others come kicking and screaming. How they respond when the Hound of Heaven is nipping at their heels is the key to their character development.
Your characters overcome many obstacles and are testaments to the human spirit. What do you hope readers take away from your story?
First of all, I hope they enjoy the story and love the characters as much as I do. What I’d love for readers to be inspired by is how many of the characters seek to make their faith a reality in their day-to-day lives. There are several points in the story where characters are discussing Scripture, wrestling with difficult passages, and coming to terms with doubt. What does it really mean to follow Jesus? What is involved in forgiving our enemies, let alone loving them? My characters struggle to come to terms with these things, not out of some academic interest in theology, not as a Bible-study exercise, but out of a burning desire to love God with all their heart, strength, soul, and mind. If a reader is motivated to do the same, I’ve accomplished everything I could ever hope for in writing Hearts Set Free.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’m hard at work writing The Church on Misfit Row, which is set in Las Vegas in 1955. God willing, it will be completed in 2020 and available shortly thereafter!
Hearts Set Free weaves together three tales of men and women who journey from the darkness of doubt to triumphant faith and from the ache of loneliness to everlasting love.
In 1930, the rag-tag riffraff of a railway stop called Las Vegas need a fighting man to shepherd their tiny church after their pastor is murdered. Might David Gold, a washed-up boxer and Bible-school dropout who fights as the Pummelin’ Preacher, be the answer to their prayers?
At the same time, Luke, a native Alaskan boy, is on a quest to find his father, who has abandoned his family for a beautiful woman his warrior mother vows to kill. The journey of mother and son will lead them to the Nevada desert, and to truths–and terrors–of which they’d never dreamed.
In 2011, Science Cable T.V. producer Tim Faber is determined to prove that mankind has no need of God, while his lover, Joan Reed, strives to regain the faith of her youth. They’re bound for Las Vegas to meet with a 99-year-old man who holds the key to a mystery they must solve–and answers that will forever change their lives.
Friends of the Tsar, by Jon de Graaff, is a story about the author’s “Aristocratic Grandparent’s harrowing escape from the Russian Revolution of February 1917.” The story starts near Petrograd, Russia in 1916 with Vera and George, with George and his mother, Adelaide, saving Vera from a wolf attack. They are at the country estate of George’s father, Baron Alexander Zuckschwerdt. Adelaide and Alexander are very much aristocrats. Vera and George are not on board with the aristocratic ways of their parents. Vera, who also came from an aristocratic family, started rejecting her parents’ ways after Bloody Sunday when even children were killed during a protest.
Vera has ten sisters. Three of them come to stay with her. Monica is 16. Mary is 15. Natty is 10. Vera often gets strong premonitions when something bad is about to happen. Blue is Alexander’s friend. He is an Australian cattle breeder. He comes to stay as well. Blue saves Natty from choking. He learned how to do it on a chance visit with friends. Vera sees it as meant to be. Blue tells story after story of things that happened that seem to have a lot of coincidences. Vera does not see them as coincidences at all. He dismissed them as being luck in the past. He now thinks differently.
The family finds itself in trouble. The country is in trouble. Their money is not worth as much. The people in the country are starving. The family decides that they need to leave. Blue offers to let them stay with him in Australia. Alexander books passage for himself, George, Blue, Vera and the girls for February 27, 1917. The story goes on from there to cover how they escaped and the challenges they faced as they did.
I felt that the story could not decide on what the book was going to be. As I went from chapter to chapter, I felt like many of the chapters could have been stand-alone chapters and were not connected very well. It lacked continuity. There are different stories being told that don’t seem to reach any conclusions. At first, I thought the book was going to be a love story about Vera and George. After the first chapter or so, they seemed forgotten and the book focused on Blue’s stories. Then it would jump to near misses while trying to escape and spy stories. I found myself confused a few time. The language seemed a bit stilted and formal and did not flow like normal dialogue in places.
There is a good story in the book though it would benefit from a bit more organization. The author writes well. Some of the stories were definitely interesting. Some of the story lines had definite possibility and begged for further development as the characters were intriguing and were usually placed in exotic locations.
Pages: 126 | ASIN: B071ZQ6CG8
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Trillium follows three Canadian families as their stories intertwine over generations and through many obstacles. What served as your inspiration while writing this novel?
I began this novel in my mind almost a decade ago. I did a rough outline at the time and popped it into my writing box. I had wanted to write a work about the rural farming landscape that supports us in an engaging and believable way. At the same time, I wanted to investigate the moral dimensions of humanity on a broader canvas than my previous two novels.
It was while I was researching ‘screen culture’ for an article that I began to see the ‘key’ in how I could manifest this current work.
Many of the revolutionary technological innovations that we now take so much for granted, like electricity, indoor plumbing, the automobile, aviation and the pill, happened within the last century. These life-changing innovations have allowed us to leap forward in an unprecedented way. As a result, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to fathom what life was like, (and still is like for many), without these modern conveniences.
Using a class structure, over the passage of time, allowed me to examine the impact of these techno-innovations on the evolution of the three very distinct families. As example, the O’Sullivan clan, because of their wealth, had immediate access to the innovations of the day long before the poorer classes, be it a telephone or a tell-a-vision. This access established ‘privilege’ for generations to come.
The characters and families were well developed and distinct. What were some driving ideals behind the families development throughout the story?
As I mentioned above, one of my desires in crafting this work was to examine the adopted moral structures of humanity.
Firstly, each family in this story comes from a very different inherited religious background. Religious doctrines shape our morals and are often manifest in the minute decisions that we daily make, for good and/or evil.
When we decide on anything, underlying that decision is a choice about the betterment or ruin of ourselves and others. Whether it be the 10 commandments, or The Golden Rule, or social ostracism or foul play, organized religions provide humanity with a moral framework. How we internalize these inherited religious codes greatly impact how we socially engage with others, especially within families and within civil communities.
A bully, as example, is, fundamentally, someone who never internalized the difference between ‘right or wrong’ behaviour. If they did internalize the ‘rules’ at an early age, they know full well that they are choosing ‘wrong’ behaviour when they bully. The inevitable internal conflict can manifest in many ways through the eventual self-destructive use of drugs and alcohol or the exercising of perverted power in intimate relations. Very often bullies continue to act out destructive behaviours on themselves and others because they have no understanding or fear of consequences. Simply put, they have no self-governing set of ‘rules’.
I would argue that, basically, bullies secretly desire the ‘structure’ of ‘good parenting’. Many bullies, aside from a deep craving for attention, want to be disciplined. But if their own parents never exhibited ‘good behaviour’, (as result of their own upbringing), the likelihood that a child will develop ‘good behaviour’ is very slim. When a child sees how their bullying parents achieve their desired ends, that child naturally internalize these ‘lessons’ and will act out in the same way in later life. And thus, the cycle of abuse continues. I have demonstrated how this vicious cycle re-occurs within generations throughout the novel.
Secondly, the impact of ‘media’ to shape our moral structures has increased exponentially over the past few decades. Within this historical fiction, I have slipped in some of those media innovations, beginning with the literate broadsheets of the eighteenth century. I moved into radio culture prior to WW2, and then introduce the advent of black and white film and television in the mid to late 1940s. Computers began to impact our work places and then enter our homes as recreational ‘video games’ in the mid 1990s.
Today, we are rapidly moving from a hard-won literate culture to a super stimulated visual culture. We are bombarded by a visual plethora of ‘info-entertainment’ from an assortment of screen sources that are designed to over-stimulate our dopamine receptors. All of us have succumbed to ‘click bait’. I wanted to reveal some of this increasing intrusive dependency towards the end of this novel. Though, overall, the latter media intrusion of the internet is intended as a sub-text to the on-going generational actions and reactions of the dominant characters at that time.
Finally, to be clear, I am not suggesting that organized religion, per se, is a panacea for the ills of humanity. We all know that religious indoctrination can obviously swing too far to the extreme. But I do believe that sound ‘elder’ teaching, supported by tight communities of engaging families, can sincerely help floundering individuals who flail. I demonstrated that kind of communal guidance and support when Tom Hartford’s descendent, Faith Hartford, wisely counsels Tony Di Angelo after his unhinged act of revenge. Her display of forgiveness was a profoundly social act of instruction – and acceptance. Faith was very kind to an emotionally wounded man.
This story takes place in the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario Canada during the 1750’s. Why did you choose this time and place for your novel?
The story starts in the 1750s. Like a skipping stone on a body of water, time does skip forward quickly. At the middle of the book, the lineage of the three diverse families coalesce at a summer bonfire bash in 1965. The remainder of the novel plays out over the following decades, and the story ends in 2001. I ended the work then because I did not want to enter too far into the digital age.
I chose the Niagara region as emblematic of a ‘border-territory’ and the evolution of a farming culture that eventually specializes in wine-making. This region is beautiful, with the escarpment above and the great lake of Ontario below, and relatively unknown on the world stage. It’s a fascinating area, historically, and well worth a visit.
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am developing an audio version of this title and hope to have that available by the summer of 2019. I also feel that this work has the innate potential to be an engrossing television series that will appeal to a broad range of viewers. I am going to attempt to do that too.
Screen culture now rules the marketplace of ideas. If I hope to impact others with this story, I really must try to reach a wider audience beyond the realm of the literate.
TRILLIUM could easily have a sequel, but, at this time, I have no intent to do that. As I mentioned, it has the potential to be a wonderful television or Netflix series …
Insightful, compelling, engrossing and enlightening, TRILLIUM intimately portrays the intertwining evolution of three very distinct families in the wine-making region known as Niagara in the Golden Horseshoe region, Ontario, Canada. …It all starts when 19-year-old Tom Hartford crosses over the mighty Niagara River in the 1750s … Readers will meet Maaka, an ingenious indigenous trapper; Franco, a dirt poor Sicilian labourer; Paddy O’Sullivan, a sweet-talking Irish con-artist and sweet Cate, the Hamilton port prostitute. And that’s just the beginning! All unfolds with a pair of motherless red-headed twin brothers, a diabolical hate-filled drunkard, two devoted raven-haired sisters, an obsessed land developer, hard-working Mexicans, a blind man, a handsome Italian-Canadian wine-maker, a blessed treasure trove of attentive mothers, one demented vineyard-wandering wife – and a startlingly beautiful, simpleton savant, Anna.A 250 year-old story about three families: the good, bad … and ugly.
Posted in Interviews
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No Reflection: Are You Who You Thought You Were? By Christopher Johnson is an introspective religious and spiritual book. It contains many quotes from the Bible as well as quotes from famous people and some other religious figures with thoughts connecting it. Each chapter in the book covers a topic, such as love and forgiveness and then they all follow the same formula of having different quotes and speculation on these quotes. Johnson mentions in the book that his work is the result of conversations with different people in his life and his thoughts on these quotes.
Johnson’s work is interesting. He has quotes followed up with statements that are thoughts on these subject matters. The thoughts connecting these quotes are not always religious, some of them are statements referring to life, but the bulk of them are religious. In addition to quotes, there are topics for each chapter, and some contain metaphors. The metaphors, connecting quotes and thoughts are well done and seamlessly flow into one another. I quite enjoyed the vampire metaphor a lot. It fits into what the author was doing with that chapter perfectly, and I never thought of why vampires cannot go into the sunlight before, but his explanation of it made sense and fit so well with the text. Another analogy I greatly enjoyed was the tortoise and the hare. Johnson relates this to life and states that some are fast to separate but slow to come together, and I found that I agreed with that to a point.
I think for some, this book could be controversial, more specifically the parts addressing homosexuality. I personally do not agree with the sentiments made. I think when making claims similar to these, it would have been nice to have other sources other than Bible quotes and quotes from people that back up thoughts to make it more balanced. Without the balance, it comes off more as a strictly religious text. I do not think Johnson is intending to be biased, but I would have enjoyed other sources with similar statements.
Some of it seems contradictory at times too. For instance saying that God does not have a part in everything because He gave us free will and does not pull all the strings in everything, but then stated God supplies our money. But from the text, it would seem if we choose to work to make money, then we are supplying money through choice. Definitely a mind bender! The book is definitely thought-provoking at times, such as the chapter on forgiveness. That was an interesting read.
Overall, I liked the book. I would recommend this book to those who are open to religious talks, as the book felt like a church sermon in each chapter, or those who are of Christian faith. I am open to seeing others’ perceptions and thoughts who are different from my own, so it was an engaging read and food for thought.
Pages: 144 | ASIN: B07964NR4B
Posted in Book Reviews
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Whatever He Wants: The Pleasures and Perils of Power By Joan Conning Afman is a contemporary story set in West Palm Beach, Florida. The books starts with Mel Martinelli and Sam Abrams, two unethical businessmen, looking for an up-and-coming politician to groom for state senate. They want a man they can control, who will serve their own interests. They decide that David Shepherd, a young, handsome lawyer is the ideal candidate. David insists that he will not be a party to anything illegal, and with their insincere assurance that they would never ask him to do anything like that, he agrees to their proposal to fund his campaign. Mel goes so far in his machinations as to encourage a romantic relationship between his daughter, Michelle, and David, which eventually leads to marriage. Will David’s ambitions cause him to act contrary to his beliefs? Or will he stand firm against others’ attempts to compromise his determination to do what is right?
Michelle Martinelli is a controversial character that had me shaking my head at the beginning of the story. She was entitled and snobbish, with no ambition and was supported by her rich father. She was a character perfectly created to be hated. She was drawn to a man based on his looks alone, without any thought for what kind of person he was. What I really enjoy about the characters in this book is how they evolve over time. Michelle starts to develop some redeeming qualities as time passes, although still unlikable, I was impressed with how well developed here character was.
While the books started with me loathing Michelle, I had the opposite feeling of David Shepherd. He seemed to be an ethical man who refused to comprise his principles for others. But as the story progressed, he abandons his scruples and becomes corrupted by power. This slow decline into the very worst sort of politician reveals how someone can change, and the contrast is stark and revealing–accepting bribes, having an adulterous affair, fathering a child with a woman who was not his wife, contemplating and condoning murder to further his own ends.
I enjoyed the author’s writing style, it flowed easily and was frank and to the point with only a few editing issues. The story was well paced but there were a few sections where I would have enjoyed a little bit more information before the story moved on. The story follows the development of the characters over the course of more than twenty years so there were points where there are large time jumps leaving me with a few questions in an otherwise well written story.
This is a fascinating story that examines how people change over time. This is a character driven story that I highly recommend to anyone who likes stories that put humanity to the test.
Pages: 190 | ASIN: B0793QKWYF
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