What I’ve Been Reading: Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, Trigger, Bitter Seeds

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Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? (Montmorency #1)
by Eleanor Updale

This is a fun, quick read about a thief who becomes a gentleman. It wasn’t anything mind bending or breathtaking, but I found it’s historical detail  interesting and the main character enjoyable. I felt like there were some unplumbed depth missed by the author especially with the protagonist developing split personality.
If you have a kid in love with all things steampunk and Victorian this is a great book to get them started on. I think both boys and girls will enjoy the story. One review I read about it complained that it was considered YA but there were no children in it. I, personally, don’t think a book has to have or be about children to be considered YA. When I was a kid, I never complained if a book told the story of an adult. For some reason that struck me as an odd grumble against the book. It’s nothing super well written, granted, but it was fun and had some great ‘historical’ moments.
Rated PG: mild references to the seedier parts of life with out any details or depth.

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Trigger by Susan Vaught

A good friend recommended this author when I asked her about the genre Contemporary Fiction. I have to admit that while I appreciate this genre more it’s not my favorite. I’d much rather read a well-done historical fiction or a well-done adventure story. But! I did realize reading Trigger that I have read some other Contemporary Fiction in the past…I just didn’t know that’s what it was called.

This story sits on the middle to older end of YA fiction with its topic of suicide and some pretty vivid descriptions of the damage a bullet does to a human brain and the horror of finding your child in that manner.
In a very imaginative and creative way, Vaught lets us see what happens to those left behind when someone takes their own life by having the protagonist fail to kill himself. Instead, he returns home to his family and friends with brain damage. The book covers his search for the reason he shot himself in the first place and his attempt to fix everything he broke.
The story is well written, easy to read, and interesting. It is moralistic, which I appreciate, finding the motivation to not commit suicide in the damage it does to your parents and friends. It challenges teens to step back and get a more realistic view on what is depressing them and isn’t afraid to use the word selfish and self-focused.
On the other hand, because it is a moralistic tale, it can’t offer anything more than that. It can’t demand you protect life, even your own, based on God’s command. It can’t offer the reader or the protagonist any deeper healing or deeper hope then a “sorry”. Ultimately, this is a moralistic tale, not a Christian one.

The main issue I find with this is that when you are tempted as a teen to commit suicide you want to hurt your parents and those around you. You want to end the pain not push through it, or you want to injure those who you feel have injured you. Knowing they will be injured isn’t going to stop you. Knowing you are about to face a higher power, a higher authority or demands the sanctity of life might help you not go through with it. I also think that if you know a family struggling with a suicide or someone who has attempted it, you will be better armed to offer help and hope if you believe in the grace of the gospel, the shed blood of Christ and his work for us. This is true hope, not my ability to not hurt those around me.
Rated PG-13: suicide.

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Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

I’m gonna admit that this is one of those books that I loved as soon as I saw the cover.

Hee! This book just makes me want to laugh with joy. Such a fun, dark, interesting, unique book. When I tried to describe it to my sister it came out sounding like a reboot of X-Man: people with powers fighting on different sides of WWII.
What it really is is an alternate history of WWII where the Germans develop five children with super powers run off of batteries. These children almost win them the war until Britain starts to fight back with their warlocks and the help of demons. HEE-HEE! Very creative premise that is totally off the wall as you read it.
But that isn’t even the interesting part! The characters really make this story. Each is struggling, each is broken down my what they have to do for their countries. And you are semi-rooting for all of them.
The writing is beautiful! I kept being caught off guard by a simple yet amazing description. I loved the way the ravens carried the story from beginning to end including an interlude to remind you of their perspective: haunting and captivating.
It starts off just a bit hard to follow as all the different characters and settings are introduced, but push through. It’s worth it. I find myself at a loss when I try to describe this dark story because I felt like the characters were very surface, as if you learn about them more by watching what they do than internal dialogue explaining what they are thinking. In some ways you never feel in touch with them. Everything feels very surface and yet very deep at the same time. Even now, I think back on them all with great fondness even while wishing the book was deeper, longer…more!
If you enjoy WWII history or alternate histories, give this a try.

The only part I didn’t like about this story was that I read it on my Kindle. I didn’t realize I was almost done with it until I hit the next page button and it said that I had reached the end of the book. I was not emotionally ready for it to be the end of the book. No. There needs to be more! I instantly bought book 2. I’m a sucker like that for sure.

This might make it on my favorite books list…
Rated R: Dark subject matters. Surprisingly clean when it came to sex. It’s mentioned but never shown. Some language.

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Favorite Books

A friend of mine, Bethany Jennings, posed the question of favorite books on Facebook the other day. While I have a running list in my head of favorite movies, I was stumped to think of my favorite books. This bothered me since I consider myself a reader. After much thought I came up with this list:

  • Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  • Mindhunter by John Douglas
  • The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley
  • Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz
  • All Band of Brothers Books but especially: Easy Company Soldier: The Legendary Battles of a Sergeant from World War II’s “Band of Brothers” by Don Malarkey, Biggest Brother: The life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who led the Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander, Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Bothers Tell Their Story by William Guarnere
  • The Lost: The Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelssohn
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • 3000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and the Men who Fought it by Sean Flynn
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Les Miserable by Victor Hugo
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • With the Old Breed by Eugene B. Sledge
  • The Killing Zone: My life in the Vietnam War by Frederick Downs
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Most books by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
  • The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
  • The Railway Children and Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
  • Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon

These are books I have either read several times, quoted from, was strongly influenced by, stuck with me, or I learned from. The longer I think about it the more books I want to add. This list is not static, but growing all the time.

And, due to popular demand, some of my favorite books are also:

  • When Skies are Gray by Abby Jones
  • Never Know, Dear by Abby Jones
  • Don’t take my Sun by Abby Jones (Unfinished)
  • Happy Thought by Abby Jones
  • Hero’s Story by Abby Jones
  • Hope’s Journey by Abby Jones (Unfinished)
  • The Cost of Two Hands by Abby Jones
  • The Sparrow and the Star by Abby Jones (Unfinished)
  • The Seventh Son of the Seventh Son by Abby Jones (Unfinished)
  • The Playground Children by Abby Jones (Unfinished)
  • The Texas Cousins Adventure Stories by Abby Jones

 

Quote of the Weekend

“In one word, the whole soul, wrapped up in carnal delights, seeks its happiness on this earth.

To counteract this, the Lord by various and severe lessons of misery, teaches his children the vanity of the present life.

. . . That they may not become too complacent or delighted in married life, he makes them distressed by the shortcomings of their partners, or humbles them through willful offspring, or afflicts them with the want or loss of children.”

Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin.

(I find it so encouraging to know that suffering has a purpose, to know that the Lord is using our suffering to grow us to be more like him and help us to lay our treasures up in heaven, to cling less and less to this world. He has used the “want of children” in my life exactly this way. I’m thankful that Calvin listed it there amongst the other everyday lessons of misery.)

Sunday Thoughts: Training

steve-rogers-i-understood-that-referenceA few weeks ago Pastor Eddie Florentino used an illustration for affliction that really stuck with me and has been a source of encouragement to me over the last few weeks. The passage for that morning was Hebrews 12: 4-11:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

While walking us through the text from Proverbs quoted in Hebrews during Pray Meeting, Pastor Eddie asked if we expected Navy SEALs to get easy training? Do we expect their training to be hard or just a walk in the park?

Well, the obvious answer is we expect their training to not only be hard, but the hardest. These men are supposed to be the elite of the elite. They are supposed to make all our other soldiers look like guys hanging out for the weekend. No soldier should have it easy in basic training. To make it easy on them is to do them a disservice because it leaves them open to attack when they go to war. The better trained our soldiers are the better chances they have of surviving and coming home to their families. (You should always worry if the standards of training are being lowered. That means someone is not getting the training they need. That puts them and  everyone around them in danger.) The Navy Seals and all our other special forces should, and do, have training that makes basic look easy. We should hold them to a high standard and we should expect lots of men to be unable to cut it. If just anyone can make it through Navy SEAL training than we have a problem.

So what does this have to do with affliction and why did it stick with me?

It says in Hebrews that our affliction is God’s disciplining and training for us. It is how God molds us and makes us into his children. This world, in some ways, is our boot camp, our basic training, and God uses trials and and sufferings to get us in shape.

Yet for some reason we always complain that our “training” isn’t easy. Why oh why am I suffering?? We moan and complain when the Bible makes it very clear that God is perfecting us. You see that? Perfecting!  I don’t know about you, but that seems like something that would require a lot of work. Perfection isn’t easy.

For six months, I’ve been struggling with health issue, and yet when I put my mind on them as training, as my spiritual boot camp, I find them much easier to bear with hope. I have hope in my trials because I know God is using them to make me a better soldier.

Navy-SealSee, I’ve read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (one of my top 10 favorite books) and American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Through their books, I have gained a very small understanding of what our Navy SEALs do in their training. I have vicariously experienced the mental and physical strength needed to survive to become a SEAL through their stories. Pastor Eddie’s illustration really struck home with me. I truly felt like Captain America in the picture above. I got that reference. It made many things click into place in my head. Their training is hard for a reason and our training by God is hard for a reason. It made my trials logical because I understood they were God’s work in my heart. God is not perfecting everyone. But, He is perfecting His people and that means my life is going to be a struggle, a battle, filled with trials and afflictions, because He loves me and isn’t going to leave me to myself.

That, my dear brothers and sisters, is hope!

Hope!

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are here to make me more Christ-like, not give me an easy life, and just like a Navy SEAL, I’m in for a world of hurt. Not because instructors or God is mean. No. Quite the opposite. The instructors what to make sure each SEAL is the best he can be so that he survives and helps bring everyone home. There is a point to the suffering the SEALs endure in their training. There is a point to my trials and suffering. God is loosening my grip on this world, making me holy, and teaching me about Himself. One day, He will bring me home.

We are being trained. That is a hope-filled thought.

I may never have gotten to be a Navy SEAL in this life (that’s another blog post for another day) but, God is training me as a soldier of the Lord in a much bigger war with a much greater Captain.

Quote of the Weekend

“W.H.Auden once wrote, “Teach the free man to praise.” For that freedom, America has generously praised the generation of World War II. But of their Vietnam progeny, of those who returned to jeers rather than parades, the press has projected the face filled with fear, unworthy of praise. It is left to others in unlikely places to trace callused hands over rough cement and to remember the faces which were stalwart.

The village remembers.”

– The Village by Bing West

(This book tells the story of a group of marines who lived, worked, protected, and died in a Village in Vietnam. The village remembers them with honor and friendship to this day.)