"No one is aware that the world is on fire."
- Mother Maria
A quick, inspiring look at seven fascinating women who made a huge impact in their generation. While not comprehensive, it is neither superficial, but rather appetizing, in that it makes you want to go on to discover more about these women.
The book looks at women from the three major Christian traditions (Protestant (mostly), Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) and how their faith in God inspired and empowered them to do great works for the good of others. I had previous (and varying degrees of) knowledge of all these women, except for Mother Maria, aka Elizabeth Pilenko (maiden name), aka Elizabeth Kuz'mina-Karavaeva (from her first marriage), aka Elizabeth Skobtsova (from her second marriage), and aka Maria Skobtsova (from when she became a nun). In 2004 she was canonized by the Orthodox Church, becoming Saint Maria of Paris. Her varied names are only a hint of her complexity; she is easily the most interesting and fascinating of this small group of women.
The book also features:
The author, Eric Metaxas, wrote a previous book (titled, strangely enough, Seven Men ;p) and he was encouraged to write a similar one for women. The next step was deciding which women to highlight. In seeking out suggestions, he noticed that many people suggested women who were the first ones to do something that men had already done. I appreciated what he had to say about that:
"What struck me as wrong about these suggestions was that they presumed women should somehow be compared to men. But it seemed wrong to view great women in that way. The great men in Seven Men were not measured against women, so why should the women in Seven Women be measured against men? I wondered what was behind this way of seeing things, that women should be defined against men? Or that men and women should even be compared to each other?
Two interrelated attitudes seemed at play. First, men and women are in some ways interchangeable, that what one does the other should do. Second, women are in some kind of competition with men, and for women to progress they need to compete with men. This thinking pretends to put men and women on equal footing, but it actually only pits them against each other in a kind of zero-sum competition in which they usually tear each other down."
- from 'Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness' by Eric Metaxas
It was a pleasure meeting and becoming inspired by these women, to see in each life the awareness that not only is the world on fire, but each in their own way did something about it, because this is what love does - it acts (John 3:16). And, most of all, to be challenged: what am I doing about my own small burning part of the world?
(In expressing my appreciation of this book, I feel I must also give this small disclaimer, that I'm not endorsing everything these women believed (as revealed in the book, of course), because I find the theology of a few of them somewhat questionable, and the author gives no caveats but rather seems to embrace all as good. I would encourage Christians to read this one with discernment, as we should always be doing, anyway.)
I received this book free from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.
outside the door
A beautiful, elegant collection of 81 haiku poems, most of them inspired by the winter season, though the other seasons are also represented. The majority are three-liners, but a small few are other lengths, including one, two and four lines:
the park bench seats two summer dreams
deserted tennis court
wind through the net
the daylight gone –
to her granddaughter
I love every single one, each evocative in some way or other. This is my second read through and, for some of the poems, the meaning remains fixed (like coffee in a paper cup), but a few have new or weightier significance. If you love haiku poems, get this. Also, I’d love some recommendations! I’m definitely buying this collection, Take-Out Window, edited by Gary Hotham.
one hand warms
(this is one whose meaning has evolved, infused with more, I think, gravitas)
”Here.” The boy handed Gamache the stick. “If anything bad happens to me, you’ll know what to do.” He looked at Gamache with deadly earnest. “I’m trusting you.”
Everyone is so used to nine-year old Laurent Lepage’s outlandish stories that when he finally tells the truth, that he’s found a giant gun with a monster (with wings) on it, in the woods, no one bats an eyelid. But someone believes and Laurent is found dead a couple days later in what initially looks like an accident but turns out to be murder. Who would kill a child? This has to be one of the most heart-wrenching questions ever, and the closer we got to the answer, the more unnerved I became.
The pacing was good, starting out slowly to set the groundwork, but taking off as soon as poor Laurent was found dead. The plot was great as usual, but somewhat ambitious, IMO – a child murder exposing events that took place about 30 years ago, even now with present and dire international repercussions, and yet, for the most part, contained in the small space of Three Pines, where much of the story takes place. So many monsters and so much darkness; it got a little claustrophobic at times. The identity of the murderer, if you do not allow yourself to be sidetracked by everything else that’s thrown out at you, isn’t hard to figure out. I was a little afraid, with all the diversions, Ms Penny would pull a jump-shark on me, so it was with relief I got safely, though not too shockingly, to the end.
There’s also a side story about a play written by a convicted serial murderer, and Gamache is adamantly against its production. This causes Reine-Marie to ask Clara a thought-provoking question: “You’re an artist,” said Reine-Marie. “Do you think a work should be judged by its creator? Or should it stand on its own?”, to which Clara responds: “I know the right answer to that. And I know how I feel. Would I want a painting by Jeffrey Dahmer, or to serve a meal from the Stalin family cookbook? No.”
The book incorporates details from at least one real life event and from the life and work of one real life person that I felt were well done. The details I found online about the event mentioned were horrifying, and they added to the overall dark feel of the story.
The usual characters are their usual great selves. Ruth is still rude and intrusive though we see new layers to her character in this one, things that explain more about the woman she is today. Clara seemed a bit off-color but that is to be expected from the events of the previous book; her artistic eye comes in handy in helping to expose another one of the book’s monsters - this one was a shocking twist. Lacoste is growing into her new role and Beauvoir is still maturing nicely (I’m liking him more and more). And we have a new protégé! Maybe it’s the distance of waiting some months for this book, compared to reading the previous 10 in about two weeks straight, but I found the character of Gamache a tad deified. While he’s quite humble himself, those around him, especially his former colleagues, have him firmly set on a pedestal. I don’t know how I feel about that. But I like how he’s starting to consider what next, as he’s had some time to heal. Many offers are coming in but Gamache is nothing if not deliberate, and Reine-Marie is taking it all in stride.
Overall, there’s a fantastical feel to the book, starting with Laurent and his absurd cry wolf stories, and the beasts and monsters uncovered by the investigation into his death. There was a lot of mask on, mask off going on from beginning to end. In all, I enjoyed this entry in the Armand Gamanche series and I’m eager for what’s next for Three Pines and its residents.
“Through the window he could see splashes of astonishing color in the forest that covered the mountains. The maple and oak and apple trees turning. Preparing. That was where the fall began. High up. And then it descended, until it reached them in the valley. The fall was, of course, inevitable. He could see it coming.”
“Oak walls. Ah, my soul! It has come soon!”
A traveler is caught out during a storm and is warned, by a fellow traveler, against seeking shelter from the old, dilapidated inn. They move on to a more welcoming refuge, where the helpful traveler gives the other a manuscript that will explain his warnings against the inn, which he calls a ‘charnel house’. The story itself starts out in 1775, during the unrest of the American Revolution. Edwin Urquhart visits the ironically named Happy-Go-Lucky Inn with his new bride, Honora; they only stay one night but it is enough to show Mrs Truax all is not well with the couple. Mrs Urquhart, while veiled, seems unwell and unhappy, and Edwin seems falsely jovial and uncaring of his wife’s comfort; he seems more concerned with an inexplicably large box he has brought with him. Edwin makes a tour of the available rooms and insists upon the least favorable one, the oak pallor with its stuffiness from disuse, because it’s on the ground floor and easier to move his great big box into.
In the night both the landlady and Burritt, her man-of-all-work, are wakened by a strangled shriek coming from the oak pallor. They investigate and both occupants of the room claim all is well.
The couple leaves the following morning and this would be the end of it, except for two things: Honora seems strangely happier and more energetic, and Burritt claims the big box was markedly lighter that morning than it was the night before. Both he and Mrs Truax can find nothing to account for these two changes and that makes them uneasy.
Sixteen years pass, and a new guest makes a startling revelation about the inn’s oak parlor, a revelation that causes Mrs Truax to reflect back on that long ago night of the Urquharts’ stay. From there, the story turns to the past, to the events leading up to the couple’s arrival at the inn, and then back to the present as the long-brewing consequences of that time come to a disastrous conclusion.
The story is told from the perspectives of different characters, through letters and journal entries, but all in the first-person POV. The manuscript given to the traveler is really Mrs Truax’s journal, with her own observations, but also includes letters from other characters, and in these letters are observations from other characters; think nesting bowls.
I liked this book more than I thought I would, and would’ve liked it even more if not for the overwrought, heavy-handed writing and the melodramatic characters. It also has a few paranormal elements, is not much of a mystery, and the plot is very contrived. Ah, fun stuff!
Mrs Daniels, housekeeper to Holman Blake, requests the help of the police in the possible abduction of the sewing girl. She is frantic about locating this missing girl but very sketchy on details about her: what is her background, and why was she staying in such a sumptuous room clearly unsuited for a servant. It is also apparent she knows more than she is revealing. Mr Blake is equally unhelpful, claiming no knowledge of the missing girl, and not being privy to much of the day-to-day workings of his household, a duty he leaves to Mrs Daniels. He is also an ‘important man’ in society, who cannot be bothered with such trivial matters, and must be handled with kid gloves by the police.
Through a friendship with a maid in the house, Q, one of the detectives on the case, learns that both Mrs Daniels and Mr Blake are exhibiting peculiar, unusual behavior, and takes to surveilling Mr Blake, who seems to be on an investigation of his own. This surveillance takes Q to a small town outside the city, where Mr Blake visits a house where no one is at home. Q searches the house and questions the locals, where he learns the house belongs to two bank robbers, the Schoenmakers, who recently escaped from prison. How did Mr Blake come to know these men and why is he visiting them?
As the story progresses, the disappearance of the sewing girl and Mr Blake’s visit to the Schoenmakers starts to connect, but in the first half you are completely bewildered as to what is even going on. The writing is chunky, the plot is good but sometimes needlessly convoluted, and the characters are eye-rollers – all usual things for Ms Green. All these things were expected, so no disappointments there. An OK read but nothing that can’t be passed over.
More than 75% of the food we (husband and I) eat is home-cooked, and we grow a few vegetables and herbs and have a few fruit trees. We aren’t health freaks but we are keen on healthy eating. So, much of this book was simply interesting without being anything of an epiphany.
The author’s relating of the history of food transformation (minus all the speculative evolutionary ‘millions/billions of years’ stuff, meh) and the science of present-day food preparation is quite fascinating. My favorite chapter is the one on Air, which deals with baking bread. There he goes into the history of white flour, which was very eye-opening. The book advocates the use of a sourdough starter for breads, and I’d love for us to look into that. We bake our own whole-wheat bread (my husband does, actually) but we use regular yeast. The other chapters were equally interesting but not to the point of wanting to test out.
His style is engaging; he mixes funny and serious very well, and his accounts of the cooks he met during his research make for lovely snapshots. Also, he relates scientific info in a way that doesn’t make your eyes glaze over. I would definitely read other books by Michael Pollan.
Some excerpts from Cooked:
“The premise of this book is that cooking—defined broadly enough to take in the whole spectrum of techniques people have devised for transforming the raw stuff of nature into nutritious and appealing things for us to eat and drink—is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do.”
“Cooked is divided into four parts, one for each of the great transformations of nature into the culture we call cooking. Each of these, I was surprised and pleased to discover, corresponds to, and depends upon, one of the classical elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.”
“Taken as a whole, this is a “how-to” book, but of a very particular kind. Each section circles around a single elemental recipe—for barbecue, for a braise, for bread, and for a small handful of fermented items—and by the end of it, you should be well enough equipped to make it. (The recipes are spelled out more concisely in appendix I, in case you do want to try any of them.) Though all the cooking I describe can be done in a home kitchen, only a portion of the book deals directly with the kind of work most people regard as “home cooking.””
“Tongue taste is the straightforward chemical phenomenon that takes place whenever molecules make contact with taste buds, something that happens with any food as a matter of course. Tongue taste is the kind of easy, accessible flavor that any food scientist or manufacturer can reliably produce in order to make food appealing. “McDonald’s has tongue taste,” Hyeon Hee explained.
Hand taste, however, involves something greater than mere flavor. It is the infinitely more complex experience of a food that bears the unmistakable signature of the individual who made it—the care and thought and idiosyncrasy that that person has put into the work of preparing it. Hand taste cannot be faked, Hyeon Hee insisted, and hand taste is the reason we go to all this trouble, massaging the individual leaves of each cabbage and then folding them and packing them in the urn just so. What hand taste is, I understood all at once, is the taste of love.”
This is a new book (published Feb 2015) giving a concise, overall sweep of Christianity, from the Apostolic age to the present. It posits itself as "an ideal introductory survey for undergraduate students and any reader who desires to know more about the broad scope of Christianity" and I'm in complete agreement with that statement. It is accessible and well-written and should be beneficial to just about anyone (including non-Christians) who is interested in getting a general view of the shaping of Christianity through the ages.
So much fascinating stuff in there: the development the NT canon, the heresies, the persecution of Christians, the melding of Church and state (that creeped me out the most, to be honest), the Holy Roman Empire, the Reformation, the Christianization of the New World, modern Protestantism! I learned so much from reading this book; it provided much needed context and grounding for all the bits and pieces of Church history I’d absorbed here and there. I gained not only a greater appreciation for the Christians of the past but also a sober reinforcement that no man, movement or institution has a perfect theology. There were some great defenders of the faith who brought in their own aberrant doctrines that needed defending against. And that, gasp, my own theology may certainly have suspect bits scattered throughout. Yeah, sobering.
I felt the author did a great job of putting flesh on the information he provided, without resorting to speculation. I also felt he was fair in his presentation; he didn’t shy away from some of the more unsavory aspects of the Church’s history in general or, as he is a Baptist believer (like me), of Protestantism in particular.
One thing I was tempted to complain about at the beginning of the book, but I came to appreciate later, is the lack of footnotes. The author addresses this in the preface, that he chose to note only the primary source documents. I appreciated this later when I was tempted to visit the endnotes time and time again, which would’ve kept me at this book for another month at least. Just so much fascinating stuff to track down! Actually, about 35% of the book is allocated to endnotes, the bibliography, and various indices.
In summary, I believe this is an excellent resource and I recommend it to all lay Christians, and anyone else who is a fan of history but hasn’t yet explored this particular aspect. For my part, I see more indepth study of Church history in my future!
“Perhaps more than any other academic discipline within Christian education, church history is holistic and integrationist in nature. It encompasses the study of theology, ethics, philosophy, pastoral ministry, preaching, missions, and evangelism, as well as others. Church history helps us better understand Scripture because it is a further unfolding— through many cultures, times, and places, of biblical history— of the story of God’s working in the world among His people.”
– from the foreword by J. Bradley Creed,
Provost and Executive Vice President and Professor of Religion
Echoes is a lovely collection of rhyming poems, elegant and witty. Most are wonderful, a few need editing (I found typos). I enjoyed this collection a lot and I plan to pick up her second volume, Echoes II: More Neo-Victorian Poetry, soon.
An excerpt from Mr Bleak’s Tomatoes
The land was thin, exhausted, bled,
Where Mr. Bleak’s tomatoes fed
On substances contrived to force
A hastening of Nature’s course.
Globes of sunlight, pipe-fed shower
‘Neath a vaulted plastic bower,
Lavished with a lethal spray
To keep all other life at bay.
Thus did Bleak’s tomatoes grow,
Mile upon mile and row by row.
Ambrose Ashley, Phillip’s beloved guardian and cousin, goes off to the Continent for health reasons, and there he meets and marries a distant cousin, Rachel, and they settle at her villa in Rome. Everything seems to go well at first, but later Ambrose becomes sick, and his letters carry hints of paranoia, almost raving. Phillip takes himself off to Italy, but not before receiving one more damning letter from Ambrose that implies his death is imminent, and Rachel may have something to do with it. By the time Phillip gets to Rome, Ambrose is already dead and buried, and Rachel has left the villa. Phillip returns to England, vowing to repay Rachel for Ambrose’s death.
Not long after Phillip’s return, Rachel comes to visit, and Phillip’s suspicions fade almost immediately. How could this tiny, charming woman have done anything to Ambrose, this woman who is genuinely grieved at his death?
I originally started on My Cousin Rachel in late 2014 but had to put it aside for some reason (too busy or something) and didn’t get to back to it until this month. I’d initially read up to Chapter 8 (where Rachel enters the story) when I first put it down, and these chapters were great. But from the time Rachel gets grafted in, my enjoyment plummeted somehow. Everything about the book was still going well but I just couldn’t connect with the characters. Phillip is so painfully open and credulous, and immature; he seems to lose all steam as soon as Rachel comes into the picture. Rachel, on the other hand, seems sly and manipulative, but is she really? There is a lot of ambiguity in this novel, and it’s told in Phillip’s first-person POV, which makes it harder to get a clear sense of what is really up with Rachel. Her character is drawn very well. I just couldn’t like Phillip or feel any sympathy for Rachel. My anti-feelings got so bad I even considered giving the book up as a DNF. To carry on, I did put away the ebook and got the audiobook from the library. I didn't like the narrator's voice but I sped it up to the max and carried on.
Despite how I felt about it, the book is a good read. Everything about the writing is great, and the atmosphere is amazing, that low-grade dread that something awful is going to happen, just wait for it; for my money, nobody does atmosphere as well as Daphne du Maurier. It’s just that all my appreciation is for the writing only, and not the story so much, in which I found nothing redemptive, no real take-away. This is definitely a ‘hangover’ book for me (I read it days ago and it’s still on my mind), but more in a ‘carnival freak-show curiosity’ kinda way, like "uh, what just happened here?"
So, while my overall feeling about it is not overwhelmingly positive, I feel my 4-star rating is fair.
‘'There are some women, Philip, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch somehow turns to tragedy. I don’t know why I say this to you, but I feel I must.’'
This is a superb collection of twelve thoughtful, well-written stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. They are slice-of-life with an introspective feel, with characters who are mostly observing circumstances unfold around them with a seeming passivity that belies the strength it takes to endure and not be folded up into these circumstances.
The stories are populated by a wide spectrum of characters (varied by gender, economic level, occupation, the works), and we follow them as they deal with the consequences of war, relationship ordeals, the loneliness of assimilating to a different culture; just all manner of life upheavals. They are all unique, told from a variety of POVs, including two of them in the second person perspective, which was quite interesting and delightful, because I rarely come across such.
My favorite story in the collection is The Arrangers of Marriage. I first read this story in the Granta Book of the African Short Story and I was very sure then that there would be more Adichie in my life. Everything about it just blew me away. Rereading it now after more than two years, it has lost none of its initial impact. For me, it is a very evocative and relatable story, not in the terms of Chinaza’s relationship with her new (practically a stranger) husband, but with her experience of coming to the United States, to Brooklyn, New York. A lot of her experiences, as her husband clues her in to her new way of life, mirrored my own when I first visited the US, also Brooklyn, New York. All the talk of Flatbush, and Key Foods, and how to do the grocery shopping, and how to take the bus – these were all things my sister-in-law initiated me into. Basically how to assimilate, even while losing parts of yourself in the process. While my time there was short, it was still a little arduous. I felt empathy for Chinaza as she underwent her own initiation, and with an unsympathetic spouse to boot.
"Our neighborhood was called Flatbush, my new husband told me, as we walked, hot and sweaty, down a noisy street that smelled of fish left out too long before refrigeration. He wanted to show me how to do the grocery shopping and how to use the bus.
Inside the air-conditioned bus, he showed me where to pour in the coins, how to press the tape on the wall to signal my stop.
“This is not like Nigeria, where you shout out to the conductor [*],” he said, sneering, as though he was the one who had invented the superior American system."
[*This is what we do here as well, which is why I absolutely hate using the bus system in any other country but my own. I’m always terrified I’ll forget to press the strip at the right place, find myself blocks away from my intended stop and I, being navigationally challenged, will be lost, lost, lost. Yikes!]
Not just this story but most of the others have other tidbits (especially cultural) that are so similar to my own Afro-Caribbean context, it was amazing. In The American Embassy, Ugonna is standing in line, waiting to get into the US Embassy, where she’ll apply for a visa. There is a lot of talk all around as applicants engage with each other, and attempt to include her, but her mind is distracted by the terrible events of the past couple of days. At one point, the woman in front of her gets annoyed and says to her, “I have been talking to you and you just look at me like a moo-moo!” When I read this line, my mouth must’ve hung open for a full 30 seconds. I never thought I would ever come across a novel (except maybe a St Lucian one) where someone would be referred to as a ‘moo-moo’. I honestly thought that was a distinctly Lucian thing. Ah, the things you learn …
If I had one complaint, it would be that some of the stories end a little too abruptly, just as I was getting invested in the characters. But I would say this is a personal thing; I like closure ;-)
Once again, this is an excellent collection, and recommended to all readers. You won’t regret it.
“Udenna never said ‘I love you’ to me because he thought it was a cliché. Once I told him I was sorry he felt bad about something and he started shouting and said I should not use an expression like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ because it was unoriginal. He used to make me feel that nothing I said was witty enough or sarcastic enough or smart enough. He was always struggling to be different, even when it didn’t matter. It was as if he was performing his life instead of living his life.”” – from The Shivering
Private investigator Jade de Jong returns to Johannesburg ten years after she fled the country following the death of her father, the former Police Commissioner. She is back, and Superintendent David Patel, former mentee and deputy of her father, requests her help in solving the murder of Annette Botha, the victim of a possible carjacking gone wrong. In the course of the investigation, Jade discovers a string of violent murders which may be connected to Annette’s death. Along with this investigation, Jade is also pursuing her own agenda of revenge, against the man she believes is responsible for her father’s death.
This book is filled with bloody and senseless violence, and whack-job is just about the only descriptor I could come up with for the main antagonist, and his cohorts. Nothing complex about him, just crazy-violent. And greedy.
Jade, Jade, Jade … what about her? She’s done things that wouldn’t stand the light of day. She has blood on her hands, vengeance in her heart, and she’s keeping bad company. She’s also a good investigator.
David Patel is pretty much a cipher for most of the book and, even accounting for the pressures of ongoing racism (he’s of Indian descent, in a position traditionally help by white Afrikaners), I felt he added nothing substantial to the investigation, and was mostly just whiny and ineffective for most of the book. I kept wondering when he was going to ‘man up’.
Though I didn’t much care for the main characters, I liked the tight writing, the post-Apartheid setting (some interesting insights there) and most of the overall plot. The ending, though, was somewhat head-shaking and dicey, and convenient.
Not great; not awful.
“There’s always crime, Jade. Stay here for a month and you’ll hear the stories. Same as anywhere in the world. It always looks like paradise till you buy a house.”
This was an easy, breezy quick read. It follows Caddie and Aven as they forge a solid relationship despite the challenges of their jobs with the US Coast Guard which, most times, have them going in different locations from each other. The characters have some internal conflict but little conflict with each other. That secret from the past thing? It was interesting but mostly just fizzle.
As for the internal conflict, Caddie is insecure about her job; with a superior who seems to be out to undermine her, she’s not sure if she can cut it or if she even wants to. Aven is worried about his family; his mother, sister and grandfather are all pulling to make ends meet since his father’s death, and even though he’s helping out financially, he’s still torn as to whether he should quit the Coast Guard and move back home.
There is a small storyline about drug smuggling and the theft of native art objects that makes up for the lack of interpersonal conflict.
I liked the characters and the way they expressed their faith; it was alive and real to them. I liked how Aven constantly reminded Caddie of God’s sovereignty in all circumstances. With much so-called Christian fiction (especially the romance variety), you sometimes get a ton of vague God-talk, without even one mention of Jesus Christ. At first I thought it would be like that but I was happy to be proved wrong.
A cute, uncomplicated and predictable story; not all that exciting but I liked it.
"... when I think of our motto [*], I don’t just think of being ready to fulfill my duties or being ready to help people in trouble. I think about being ready for whatever God brings my way.”
[* semper paratus (always ready) - motto of the US Coast Guard]