Category Archives: Book Review

Balance

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I wasn’t up last night to writing a lengthy blog post. I was reading a book: LIfe Lessons by Kaje Harper. Sometimes you need balance in your life and last night I felt more like reading than writing. It was a good book, and I am glad I finished it. It’s book one in a series of four, and I think I’ll be beginning book two today if I have some free time at work.


Enemies of the State: The Executive Office


I’m very happy that my good friend Susan brought this book to my attention. It is exactly the type of book I like. I love mysteries, suspense, and political thrillers like those written by Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, or Steve Berry, but they never have any gay characters in them, not even secondary characters as there would be in real life. So it was great to see this kind of book written with gay main characters.

Enemies of the State: The Executive Office by Tal Bauer ranks right up there with anything by Brown, Berry, or Clancy. It’s a masterpiece of political intrigue and plot twists set in the near future, and is terrifyingly possible. It builds slowly although I loved the first half of the book as much as the second half (maybe more). And once you hit the halfway mark, hold onto your seat and make sure you have no other plans, because you will not want to put this book down.

This story will have you laughing and crying, but every word is worth it. You’ll fall in love with Jack and Ethan as they are the rollercoaster that brings this wild ride home. A rollercoaster is a great way to describe this book with all it’s twists and turns that build you up and up to the pinnacle at the midway point and then it’s a fast ride to the finish. The whole ride is thrilling. Enemies of the State: The Executive Office is book one of a three-book series, and I cannot wait for book two to release in the fall.

I haven’t read much in the last six months. My friend who passed away was my main reading partner and we loved to discuss books with one another. He was a particularly big fan of Amy Lane and as much as I love her books, I haven’t been able to pick up one of hers since his death. But I am back to reading now, and loving every minute of it.  Here are a few other books I have recently read:

The Orion Mask by Greg Herren

Dark Tide by Greg Herren

How to Howl at the Moon by Eli Easton

Superhero by Eli Easton

The Skyler Foxe Mysteries (five full-length mysteries, one novella and two collections of short stories) by Haley Walsh

All of the books are worth your time. I just happened to be so blown away by Enemies of the State that I felt it needed a good review and I hope you will check it out.


The Porn Phenomenon

Josh McDowell, a well-known evangelist and apologist, commissioned a new study to expose what he calls the “pervasiveness of pornography in the church and among Christians” and to his disbelief, the statistics proved what he had already feared – “pornography has infiltrated the church, especially among young adults.”
“Of young adults 18-24 years old, 76 percent actively – and these are Christians – actively seek out porn,” McDowell lamented to OneNewsNow.
Here are some additional key findings from the church commissioned study titled: “THE PORN PHENOMENON: A COMPREHENSIVE, GROUNDBREAKING NEW SURVEY ON AMERICANS, THE CHURCH, AND PORNOGRAPHY: Impact of Internet Pornography on American Population and the Church.”
  • 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn.
  • About 12% of Youth Pastors and 5% of Pastors say there are addicted to porn
  • 87% of pastors who use porn feel a great sense of shame about it
  • 55% of pastors who use porn say they live in constant fear of being discovered
OneNewsNow reports on McDowell’s one man crusade to turn the tide on all those young Christian’s addicted to playing with themselves.
McDowell tells OneNewsNow young people have a cavalier attitude towards porn.
 
“Of 13- to 24-year-olds, 96 percent would say that when they talk to someone about porn – their friends, which most of them are Christians now – they do it in either a neutral, positive or encouraging way,” he says.
 
McDowell is putting together what he calls the most comprehensive conference for Christian leaders about Internet pornography. Called “Set Free Summit,” it will take place in April in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Source: The Daily Grind, February 5, 2016

 

Read more: http://2anothercountry.blogspot.com/2016/02/church-funded-study-finds-76-of-young.html#ixzz3zOufwhQs


Carry the Ocean


I wrote briefly on Saturday about the book By That Sin Fell the Angels by Jamie Fessenden. My friend who suggested it then suggested another, this one was Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan. I’ve written about Heidi before because I’ve read her books Love Lessons and Fever Ptich. I’d seen Carry the Ocean before but after reading the blurb, I had decided that it didn’t sound like a book I wanted to read. Here’s the blurb:

Normal is just a setting on the dryer.

High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he’s autistic.

But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When his untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility nearby.

As Jeremey finds his feet at The Roosevelt, Emmet slowly begins to believe he can be loved for the man he is behind the autism. But before he can trust enough to fall head over heels, he must trust his own conviction that friendship is a healing force, and love can overcome any obstacle.

Warning: Contains characters obsessed with trains and counting, positive representations of autism and mental illness, a very dark moment, and Elwood Blues.

I’m glad my friend convinced me that I should read this book. She said, “I consider it one of the best books I have read this year and hope, if you decide to give it a try, you will enjoy it too.” I value her opinion greatly, so I knew I had to give it a try. I downloaded the Kindle sample and began to read. The first thing you do is fall in love with Emmet. You can’t help it.  The sample wasn’t enough, I needed to read the whole book.

I also have to admit that I cried, a lot with his book. When I read Amy Lane, I always cry some, but I don’t think I got through a single page of this book without a tear in my eye. I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I will be honest, since I lost my job, I cry very easily. My depression is harder to fight right now.  Not everyone will cry as much as I did, but it was worth it. You see, I don’t have autism, major depressive disorder, or clinical anxiety, but I identified with them.  Let me break this down so that I can explain it better.

I’ve always felt very intelligent. Like Emmet, I learned you can’t say that to other people, but you can thank them if they tell you that. I am not a genius, but I do possess above average intelligence. For example, I went to the dentist once in high school, the dental hygienist asked me how school was going, and I told her all the things that were going great and about some of my accomplishments. I was set to be valedictorian at the time (I did graduate as valedictorian). She told my mother later, “He thinks a lot of himself, doesn’t he?” I was mortified when I found this out. I’d only told her what she’d asked. I honestly wasn’t bragging, but she thought I was. So, since then I’ve learned not to tell people I’m intelligent but to let them figure it out for themselves. This makes it very hard in applying for jobs and in job interviews because even though you need to sell yourself to the interviewer, I’m always afraid that they are going to think , “He thinks a lot of himself, doesn’t he?” So while not autistic, some of Ememt’s issues hit home pretty hard.

Furthermore, I don’t have a major depressive disorder, but I do have depression. I take an antidepressant for it, and I know that it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. You’ve seen from this blog that I have dark days. For Jeremey, it makes it hard for him to get out of bed; for me, it usually manifests itself as cluster headaches, which can be just as debilitating. I’ve battled depression for many years, and I also understand the influence parents can have on our mental state. Jeremey also feels what others are feeling. If someone is sad, he becomes sadder. If someone is scared, he becomes more scared. He’s a very empathetic character, but he sees that as a weakness. I think one of my strongest traits is that I am empathetic. I can take on the feelings and understand someone else’s emotions, but I use this to try to help people.

Also, I don’t have clinical anxiety, but I do have anxiety attacks. Usually they happen when I have an approaching deadline, and I feel that I’m running out of time. I have them really bad when I have to fly in an airplane, and sometimes have them in crowds. The airplane situation is dealt with easily with Xanax, which I take to ward off the panic attacks, but the other ones I can’t predict until it’s too late. I have coping strategies, what Emmet would call modifications, to handle my anxiety attacks. What works for me is to sing to myself, “You Are My Sunshine.” Mama used to sing this to me as a child and I find it comforting. But also concentrating on the meter of the song, I can slow things down. When I have a panic attack, my heart races and everything moves so fast and I feel completely out of control. “You Are My Sunshine” calms me down and slows down my mind.

When I’d first read the blurb for Carry the Ocean I didn’t think I’d be interested in reading it. Usually, when I find a book that I love, it’s because I can identify in some way with the main character. I didn’t think I could do this with Emmet or Jeremey. However, here’s why I think this book is so extraordinary: Heidi Cullinan has written two characters that seem so different from us, but I challenge any of you to read this book and not identify in some way with these characters. I honestly don’t think you can.

I cried a lot in this book because it was powerful and emotional. I cried because I was happy or empathetic. It’s hard to describe the emotions that this book evoked in me. It made me happy, it broke my heart, and it touched my soul. I think there are three lessons to learn from this book. First, don’t judge a book by it’s cover (literally and metaphorically). There is so much more to this book than that blurb, just as there was so much more to Emmet and Jeremey than most people could see. Second, there is no such thing as normal.  Third, while some of us merely carry buckets of water, some of us Carry the Ocean.

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A Return to Maycomb

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For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
Isaiah 21:6

The above passage from the Book of Isaiah is where the title for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman comes from. The title itself tells us much about the book. The twenty-first chapter of Isaiah for tells the fall of Babylon because of its wickedness. Babylon had once been a shining city admired by all, but it was filled with wickedness: decadence, liars, manipulators, and all sorts of other evils. For Lee, Babylon symbolizes the South. While the watchman would tell of the fall of Babylon in the Book of Isaiah, the Supreme Court has ruled that the South must change in its decision Brown v. Board of Education. The old South can no longer stand and its old principles of “separate but equal” must end. Thus the South follows the fate of the fall of Babylon. Nothing will ever be the same.

Like Isaiah, who is an outsider in Babylon, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is an outsider to her home in Maycomb, Alabama. The twenty-six year old Scout has been away for eight years, first to college then to New York. When she returns to Maycomb in the summer of 1954 or 1955, at first she thinks Maycomb has changed, but not as drastically as it really has. She merely sees the cosmetic changes of an ice cream parlor where the house she grew up in once stood. Her Aunt Alexandra is the woman of he house, not Calpurnia, the black maid who helped raise her and is now too old to work. As all people who go away and come home again, she thinks she knows more than everyone and is more enlightened, though she feels that her father is as enlightened as she is. Atticus is her idol, as he is for all who ever read To Kill a Mockingbird.
Then her world crashes around her when she discovers that her father is part of Maycomb’s Citizens Council. For those of you unfamiliar with the White Citizen’s Councils of the South, they were social organizations similar to the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, but with the sole purpose of maintaining segregation. They formed throughout the South in the aftermath of the Brown decision. When she sees Atticus and her fiancé Henry sitting idly by listening to a speaker deliver a hate filled speech, she becomes physically ill. She feels betrayed by her father and all she thought she held dear. The first half of the book is introducing us to Maycomb after a decade or so has passed since To Kill a Mockingbird; the second half deals with the fallout of Scout’s discovery.
First let me address the provenance of the book, the official story is that Go Set a Watchman was the original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird submitted to the publisher. According to the story, Lee was told that the editor liked the flashbacks to childhood, and she should rewrite the book and focus only on the childhood. Lee did this and it became To Kill a Mockingbird, while Go Set a Watchman was placed in a safety deposit box and basically forgotten until Lee’s lawyer came across it a year or so ago. Others have speculated that this was a failed sequel, which I do not believe and let me tell you why. First of all, while it may read like a sequel, there are parts of this book in which the passages are nearly identical to those in To Kill a Mockingbird. I can see Lee using passages from a first draft in a rewritten final draft, but I cannot see Lee using passages from a first book in the sequel. That would be far too lazy and completely out of character for Lee. I don’t think the question should be “Is this books first draft or a failed sequel?” but should be, “Did Lee’s lawyer manipulate the then 88 year old Lee into publishing a book that she had not wanted to be published?” Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s longtime lawyer, protector, and and sister, is dead, and her young partner is now Lee’s lawyer. Alice, who died in November 2014, wrote in 2011, that Lee “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” In February 2015, the State of Alabama, through its Human Resources Department, launched an investigation into whether Lee was competent enough to consent to the publishing of Go Set a Watchman. The investigation found that the claims of coercion and elder abuse were unfounded, and, according to Lee’s lawyer, Lee is “happy as hell” with the publication. I not so sure that Lee wasn’t coerced or tricked into publishing the book, but we have to hope it wasn’t against her wishes. There will always be questions surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman, and I doubt we will ever know the truth.image
Second, let me address the nuances and changes of racial attitudes in the book. This has been one of the major criticisms of Go Set a Watchman, that Atticus is a racist in the book but was a champion of black people in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus was a champion of fairness and the law, but there is no doubt he had prejudices. He was a rural white southerner and a product of his times. Remember that Atticus was a legislator during To Kill a Mockingbird. In Alabama in the 1920s, few politicians were elected who were not members of the Klan. I’m not saying it was right, but most of the people in the Klan of the 1920s thought of it as being members of a social club or civic organization, much like the Masons, the Kiwanis, and Civitans. Hugo Black, a Supreme Court justice and champion of civil rights on the bench had been a member of the Klan. Furthermore, most white southerners felt a paternalistic relationship with blacks during the early 20th century, but southerners have always been conservative which means they don’t like change to come quickly. Southern men like Atticus Finch would have felt that southern blacks were not ready for full equality or for desegregation. He would have felt they needed more time. One of my pet peeves is for people to place modern beliefs and ideas on their interpretation of the past. We can look back and say something is wrong and backwards by our way of thinking, but we also must put ourselves in their mindset. To Kill a Mockingbird is very frank about racial attitudes of the South, and the good guys are champions for southern blacks, but Go Set a Watchman is a far more complex and insightful book on the realities of race in the 1950s. Not everything is cut and dry like in To Kill a Mockingbird.


Go Set a Watchman
may never be seen as the masterpiece that To Kill a Mockingbird was, but it has a historical significance far greater than its literary significance. Go Set a Watchman allows us to see the nuances of racial attitudes in Alabama in the 1950s. Whether that is how Calpurnia is portrayed, how Atticus is portrayed, or how Jean Louise is portrayed, the realities and subtleties are portrayed quite vividly. In Go Set a Watchman we get an almost firsthand account of what it was like for Harper Lee to return to Alabama after living in New York City. Jean Louise thinks she has become enlightened through her education and her time in New York City, but the big question is: has she? We get to see her real attitude, and we are fortunate to have Uncle Jack Finch guide us through the subtleties of southern racial attitudes. We like things to be in black and white, but in reality they never are. And that’s what makes Go Set a Watchman a true masterpiece.

I had planned on discussing the parallels of race in the 1950s to gay rights in the 2010s but I’m not up for writing that right now. Hopefully, that will be a post for next week. In the meantime, go out and buy Go Set a Watchman if you haven’t, and give it a chance. I think if you read it objectively and with an open mind, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I look forward to a day when someone collects the writings of Harper Lee from the newspapers and journals she contributed to as a student at Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. I’m not sure that will be anything soon because of copyright and legal issues, but maybe some day. And there has always been the rumor that there really was a second book, Harper Lee’s great race novel, that Lee has refused to allow anyone to see because she was afraid she could never live up to To Kill a Mockingbird again.


P.S. I personally think she already did live up to it with Truman Capote’s
In Cold Blood, which I believe she wrote as she had the talent for it and Capote did not. It was well known that Capote, a childhood friend (Dill in TKM and GSW) was jealous of the success of TKM, and I’ve always suspected that Lee actually wrote most if not all of the book but let Capote put his name on it because she had already decided she wanted out of the limelight.


Brad Boney Hit It Out of the Park

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It’s the summer of 1983, and Trent Days is Major League Baseball’s rookie sensation. Born in Alaska to an Inupiat mother, the press have dubbed him the Eskimo Slugger, but a midseason collision at home plate temporarily halts his meteoric rise to the top.

Sent back to Austin to recuperate, Trent visits his favorite record store, Inner Sanctum, where he meets amiable law student Brendan Baxter. A skip in the vinyl of New Order’s “Blue Monday” drives Trent back to Brendan, and their romance takes them into uncharted territory.

As Trent’s feelings move from casual to serious, he’s faced with an impossible dilemma. Does he abandon any hope of a future with Brendan and return to the shadows and secrets of professional sports? Or does he embrace the possibility of real love and leave baseball behind him forever? As he struggles with his decision, Trent embarks on a journey of self-discovery—to figure out who he really is and what matters most.

If you have read Brad Boney’s The Return, then you know how The Eskimo Slugger ends, but don’t let that deter you from reading this book. Boney like Trent Days, the Eskimo Slugger, hits this one out of the park. The way Boney is able to interweave these stories together is truly awe-inspiring. If you have read The Nothingness of Ben and The Return, you know that the end of this book is really the beginning of The Nothingness of Ben. Boney has managed to create this beautiful circular set of books that literally bleeds one into the other so that you want to just keep going round and round the merry-go-round. (If it weren’t for the fact that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchmen was released yesterday, I would have done just that, but I’ve waited all my life for another book by Harper Lee.)

The backstory is very complex, but not so complex that the average reader is unable to keep up with the nuances of the story. This is Brad Boney at his finest. He had a tremendous talent for weaving several stories together at once, but the reader doesn’t necessarily know that. Then at the end, it all comes together. However, if you love a good puzzle (I won’t call it a mystery), you will love finding all of the pieces within the story and putting them together. I found myself referencing both of the earlier books time and again with the “treasures” that were revealed throughout this book. Without completely giving away all the secrets just know that all three books are inter-related in various ways and little bits of their stories, past and present are slipped in throughout the story.

This being 1983 and thirty years before today’s openness about sex, there are some pretty funny forays into discussions of gay sex. The two main characters explore each other and relatively unexplored aspect to their personalities. Today’s youth doesn’t have the same issues with coming out and being open as young men in the early 1980s, even in a progressive southern city like Austin, Texas. It was a different time period when AIDS was unheard of in the public, and being in the closet was a way of life for many Americans outside of places like New York City and San Francisco. Even though New Orleans had a gay community at the time, it was not as open as today. Boney realizes this as he discusses homosexuality in the early 1980s.

I wish I had a portion of the talent Brad Boney has for story telling. He really is a master, and I highly recommend this book. Boney has a tremendous talent, and he doesn’t disappoint in this third installment of this series that began with The Nothingness of Ben. I highly encourage anyone to read The Nothingness of Ben and The Return before reading this book, or else the ending will not make sense and you’ll be left greatly unsatisfied.

I listened to The Eskimo Slugger as an audiobook, because I just don’t have the time to stop and read, so when I am driving, this is when I get in my “reading.” The Nothingness of Ben and The Return were narrated by Canadian actor Charlie David who did a wonderful job. He gave all of the characters a distinct voice and emotions, and he was an absolute joy to listen to. I was disappointed to see that he did not narrate The Eskimo Slugger. That job went to Michael Ferraluolo who did an excellent job with the book.  I think the continuity would have been great if Charlie David had been the narrator, but Michael Ferraluolo didn’t disappoint with his performance. He has a great voice that is easy to listen to and did a nice job differentiating the characters, though there were a few instances when his character’s accents slipped away. I really got into the emotion of the story and even managed to do a nice job with the female voices.

And yes, Eskimo Slugger is the name of an alcoholic beverage:

1 1/2 oz Bailey’s® Irish cream
1 oz Absolut® vodka
1/2 oz Rumple Minze® peppermint liqueur

Pour all three ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a small old-fashioned or rocks glass, and serve.

I agree with Trent Days in the book, it sounds terribly vile to me too.


Riding in the “Sidecar”

The year is 1987. The boys wear pink Izod shirts, the girls wear big hair, everyone has a stash box, and AIDS is just an ugly rumor rumbling like a thunderstorm from the cities. A teenage runaway wanders the side of the road, a heartbeat away from despair, and is rescued by a long-haired angel on a Harley.

But that’s just the beginning of their story.

Josiah Daniels wanted peace and quiet and a simple life, and he had it until he rescued Casey from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Then Joe’s life is anything but simple as he and his new charge navigate a world that is changing more rapidly than the people in it. Joe wants to raise Casey to a happy and productive adulthood, and he does. But even as an adult, Casey can’t conceive of a happy life without Joe. The trouble is getting Joe to accept that the boy he nurtured is suddenly the man who wants him.

Their relationship can either die or change with the world around them. As they make a home, negotiate the new rules of growing up, and swerve around the pitfalls of modern life, Casey learns that adulthood is more than sex, Joe learns that there is no compromise in happy ever after, and they’re both forced to realize that the one thing a man shouldn’t be is alone.

I was looking for a good image of the book, Sidecar, to use today, and of course, I should have known to look at Amy Lane’s blog, Yarning to Write. The hi-def version of the picture was posted on the day the book was released in 2012. I’m always at least a year or two behind in reviewing Amy’s books but I always love them. The reason I mention finding the book image on her blog is because it was interesting to see what Amy said about the book on the day it was release. She was worried about how the book would be received and wrote:

I’m still going to be… well, fidgety, until I see how this one [Sidecar] is received. I just am…. I worry, I guess. I always will. It ALWAYS feels like a profound act of hubris to share that weirdness that goes on in my oversized noggin with the whole rest of the world. I can’t explain it, I only
know it to be true. I’m just really excited when other people seem to think that what I’ve got in my head is worthwhile.

I don’t think Amy should ever worry about how her books will be perceived because she is a great writer. I know she does a lot of research for her books, and I personally love that. Also, she creates characters that you really wish you knew in life. Amy is a master at creating a level of intimacy among friends, which occurs long before any romantic interest pops up. By the time things get heated in Amy’s work you’re so invested in the characters you can’t stop reading because of the need to know what might happen next.

I know Amy Lane isn’t for everyone because she puts a lot a angst and hardships as obstacles for the characters in her novels. Occasionally though, she writes a book that is not as angsty and occasionally one that has no angst at all. Sidecar falls into the latter category, while there is some angst, it’s not nearly what some of her books have.

What I loved about Sidecar was the attention to detail Amy spent on her main characters, Josiah and Casey and how she weaves their story through a 25 year span. The story begins and ends with the he present day, but after the first chapter, it takes you back to 1987 and then progresses with snippets of different significant moments through the years. Each title is a song from the top 100 songs of 1987 (the first and last chapter are from 2011). Amy did a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the different times. Each time she went forward in time, it was very clear where we were and the differentiation between the two periods showed how much effort she put into perfecting the feel of each of them.

In Sidecar deals with the very real issues of homelessness, friendship, loyalty and love set against a harsh backdrop of a remote California town where it’s hard to buy a decent meal, let alone wind up homeless. In Casey, Amy creates an energetic and loving young man with many redeeming qualities and dreams for his future regardless of the fact he’s found himself in what most would consider a very negative situation. In Josiah (Joe) we meet a man on a mission.  Joe is one of the, if not the, most caring and giving of the men Amy has created for us.  Joe may look like a regular biker dude, but he has a heart that more people in this world need (Joe says that it’s because he was raised as a Quaker).  While his life didn’t quite turn out like he thought it would, he’s found a way to add value and help his fellow man in a way he finds noble nonetheless. When you put the two together, the magic, along with some tears, a few fights and a few sleepless nights, can’t help but happen.


Promises, Promises, Forever Promised

Back in 2010, Amy Lane wrote Keeping Promise Rock and began a beautiful series of books: the Promises series. Only in the last year have I read all four books, of which I’ve reviewed the first three on this blog, but I finally got the chance to read the final book in the series, Forever Promised. I am not going to give a synopsis of Forever Promised because if you have not read the other three book, it would give too much away. However, here’s a quick recap of the previous books, without giving too much away.

In Keeping Promise Rock, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters of Crick and Deacon, little Benny and Parry Angel. Lane writes in a way that connects you with them deeply and with a heartfelt passion. After reading the first in the series, I wanted more stories about them and The Pulpit, the horse farm where they lived in Levee Oaks, California, and Amy Lane gave that to me, along with all of her readers. Next, she gave us Making Promises (Promises #2) which introduced us to Shane and the feisty little Mikhail, causing us to fall in love with a new set of characters while keeping our adoration for all things Crick and Deacon intact and up to date. Big dorky Shane is still on of my all time favorite Amy Lane creations. The third book, Living Promises, reintroduced us to Jeff Beachum, who we’d met before in Keeping Promise Rock, and Collin Waters. In Living Promises we get the chance to see Lane take on the narrative of characters with HIV. And as in all the Promises books, our beloved characters were all there from the previous books, continuing on with their lives and loves. Each book gave a further glimpse at the characters I’d come to love. Lane knows how to make you laugh and she sure as hell knows how to make you cry, but she always touches my heart. With Forever Promised, Lane brought the series to an end.

Forever Promised brings a wonderful closure to the series. Not everything is neatly wrapped up in a bow, but we can see what the future may hold for the people of Levee Oaks, who we grew to love and with any good book, they became our friends. Lane writes stories about real people who live through real things that happen in everyday life. We recognize the important moments in the characters lives because they are ones that happen to us. Her characters bleed and cry and laugh as we do. Lane writes good people trying to be the best they can be in situations both normal and stressful, so how could we not love them? We would in our real lives and the author understands the importance of that connection.

This book is about absolution and reflection. It’s about moving on soberly, being able to let go of the past with a clear understanding of just what a miracle it is that even after all their noble efforts at self-destruction they all made, they got their bright future anyway. Many are not so lucky, so many people never get a second chance (this goes for some of Lane’s characters as well, but even those who don’t allow others to Beth their second chance), but those who do need to look at that miracle in the face and be thankful.

It was hard to say goodbye to Promise Rock, the Pulpit, and the family that Deacon Winters made for himself out of the people he loved. Forever Promised is not your typical end to a series. It really didn’t try to come up with implausible and fantastical storylines to wrap up the previous three books, but it was a natural progression of things to come in the series. At the center of the story is the heartbreak and sacrifice that comes with loving someone so much it hurts, but that sacrifice is made out of love and it brings everyone together and takes everyone to make it happen, just as the wedding dress in the story did. I didn’t want the Promises series to end, but Lane knew how to end it perfectly.


The Mesaage

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 
John 1:1, 14

 A few weeks ago, I used a Biblical quote from The Message, a different translation of the Bible than I usually use.  Most often I use the English Standard Version, but I have always been partial to the King James Version.  I love to read the Bible in the KJV Elizabethan English, for its beauty, but it can be a bit difficult to fully comprehend at times unless you are an Elizabethan scholar.  It’s one of the reasons I love teaching my literature students Shakespeare. However, sometimes I want to read a version that gives a close word-for-word correspondence between the original languages and English. 

The Message was written by Eugene Peterson and to best understand this particular biblical translation, here is what Peterson himself said: “While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”  Eugene Peterson recognized that the original sentence structure is very different from that of contemporary English. He decided to strive for the spirit of the original manuscripts—to express the rhythm of the voices, the flavor of the idiomatic expressions, the subtle connotations of meaning that are often lost in English translations.

Language changes. New words are formed. Old words take on new meaning. There is a need in every generation to keep the language of the gospel message current, fresh, and understandable—the way it was for its very first readers. That is what The Message seeks to accomplish for contemporary readers. It is a version for our time—designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koin Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.

Some biblical scholars have denounced The Message because they say that Peterson did not just translate the Bible but changed portions of it to fit his on biblical beliefs.  Other critics declare The Message to be not a paraphrase of what the Bible says, but more of a rendering of what Peterson would like it to say.  However, I would have to disagree.  Peterson captures the Word of God like no other translation I have ever read, but sometimes he does seem to be a bit too idiomatic.  The goal of The Message is to engage people in the reading process and help them understand what they read. This is not a study Bible, but rather “”a reading Bible.”” The verse numbers, which are not in the original documents, were left out of the original print version to facilitate easy and enjoyable reading, but have since been added so that readers can compare biblical versions. The original books of the Bible were not written in formal language. The Message tries to recapture the Word in the words we use today.

Here are a few comparisons between the King James Version, the English Standard Version, and The Message:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14 (KJV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:1, 14 (ESV)

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.  John 1:1, 14 (MSG)

In the instance of John 1:1, 14, there is not a great deal of difference, but I want to give a few more examples of passages where I think many modern translations have gone astray and Peterson has brought back the intent of the Word.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (KJV)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (MSG)

If you read the three different versions, you will see that modern translations, such as the ESV, translate arsenokoitai as homosexual, most true scholars realize that the world was one that was created by Paul, and we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the word “paiderasste.” That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual activity between males. Add to that the fact that homosexuality was not a word or a concept of sexual orientation in ancient times, and there is no doubt that the modern translations of “clobber passages” are incorrect.  We can conclude that Paul probably meant something different than people who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior, for which I think Peterson translates better than most.

There are numerous examples of translational differences, but I think that Peterson creates an imminently readable translation of the Bible.  I agree with Peterson that it is not a study Bible but a reading Bible.  I think that the most important aspect of Peterson’s translation is that he writes with the intent of the Word, and it makes it a beautiful translation, at least in parts.


Love Doesn’t Come with a Syllabus

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Usually, when I listen to an audiobook in my car, I’m okay to stop when I get to my destination.  My daily commute to and from work is a 30-40 minute drive, so a ten hour long book usually takes me about two weeks to listen to fully..  However, every once in a while, I come across a book, and it is impossible for me to leave it in the car.  I find myself listening every moment I get outside of my car, including just before going to bed.  I’ve had books that I’ve read that I just couldn’t put down.  Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City was like that, but it’s generally easier to pause an audiobook.  In fact, I can only think of twice when this has happened.  The first time was Brad Boney’s The Return, and the second was Heidi Cullinan’s Love Lessons.  I got invested in the characters and their situation so quickly, I just couldn’t let go, and though I loved the ending, this was a book that I almost cried because it was over.  I wanted more and thankfully, on the author’s website she has a link to a short story that is a continuation and I loved those twenty pages almost as much as I loved the whole book.  One quick thing, I do love Amy Lane’s books (one of my all time favorite authors) but when I’m listening to her books, sometimes you have to take a break from the emotional roller coaster or your heart will explode.

I’ve already reviewed The Return, but Love Lessons is a book that captured my heart and wouldn’t let it go.  Initially, you might not be endeared to the two main character Walter and Kelly, but these boys quickly work their way into your heart.  Neither are perfect characters.  One is overly idealistic, while the other is overly cynical, and whereas that might sound like a turn off, Walter and Kelly are far more complicated than that.  I absolutely fell in love with Kelly after he suffers a major allergic reaction and is mortified.  Cullinan wrote:

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Kelly’s allergies set him apart.  I think this touched me because so many of us find that there is something that sets us apart and keeps us from feeling normal.  I have a dear friend who suffers from anxiety and depression, and I’ve heard him say, “I just want to be normal.  I’m so fucked up.”  The truth is, he is not “fucked up” but his anxiety makes him feel different and separate.  My depression and headaches make me feel the same way.  We all see that thing that sets us apart as something that is abnormal or fucked up, but we learn to love with our separateness and not let it stop us.  It doesn’t stop Kelly, and probably more so than anything, it allows him to understand the demons that haunt Walter.

The complexities of Cullinan’s characters are not the only only thing that drew me into this book.  It takes place at the fictional Hope University, where diversity and acceptance are supposed to be its major mission beyond excellent academics.  Hope is billed as a family and community for its students and faculty.  However, like much of life, the university isn’t the Disney fantasy it portrays itself to be.  There are loopholes in the system.  They may technically deliver on promises,  but they aren’t following the spirit of their mission.  Corners are cut and the students and faculty find that it’s at their expense.

Heidi Cullinan says she has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending, which means she’s a woman after my own heart. Though her writing spans across many genres, she loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. Cullinan is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. And because it may be of interest to at least one of my readers, I think I read that Cullinan lives in Ames, Iowa, but I couldn’t find the reference again.  You can find out more about Cullinan, find the short story sequel “Frozen Heart”, and links to her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.  I think I’ve found a new author to love.

The narrator for Love Lessons is Iggy Toma, a voice-over artist, musician, and activist based in New York City. He is an avid reader of romance and mystery, and he has a soft spot for daytime soap operas, which comes through in a good way as the narrator of a romance novel.  I was really drawn into his narration and it really brought the emotions alive for me.  I only have one complaint, and this is just a small (very small) thing that bugged me, but I can’t let it go.  As part of Hope University, the upperclassmen dorms, called the Manors, has each individual “manor” named after civil rights martyrs.  Kelly notices one called Dahmer, to which Walter explains, “Vernon not Jeffrey,” which would be clever and I assume that’s what Cullinan meant, but the names are actually pronounced quite differently, no matter the spelling.  The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is pronounce “DAH-mer” but the Mississippi civil right martyr Vernon Dahmer (and someone I have always found to be a true hero) is pronounced “DAY-mer”. I know that is being petty, but I’ve met Vernon Dahmer’s widow, Ellie, and their children several times, and I’ve heard firsthand how they pronounce their name.  I can’t help it that as a historian I caught on to that.  I’m sure most people wouldn’t.

This is one instance where I loved that the book wasn’t filled with angst.  Will they or won’t they get together?  Except for Walter and Kelly, everyone knows exactly where this relationship is headed.  There’s plenty of drama and heartbreak but you know they will overcome it in the end.  Their relationship grows from a great friendship and mutual lust for one another, but grows deeper throughout the book.  I know I’ve said this already, but you become invested in these characters.

There are a lot of lessons in this book, but at its heart is a love story. A beautiful love story and we should remember that as the books tag line says, “Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.”

A blurb for Love Lessons:

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.