Book Review: “The Dog who was There” by Ron Marasco

As a dog lover, I was intrigued to read a story about a dog who experienced first hand the life of Jesus. I didn’t really know what to expect and now having read it I have a mix of thoughts as regards reviewing it.

I appreciated the grittiness of the story. We see the times of Jesus from the ground level so we get a taste of the dirt and squalor of certain areas of Jerusalem and other nearby locales. We get a view of the violence of the period, in particular, the ruthless and callous disregard the Romans had for life, both human and canine. For some readers this may be a bit confronting.

Barley is a rescue dog in the true sense of the description (we have 2 at home) and has a delightful spirit even though for much of his life he is poorly treated. But we do get to see him being loved by a married couple and later by a petty criminal, Samid, which Barley responds well too.

Jesus, or the Kind Man as Barley describes Him, doesn’t really enter the story until about halfway and then it’s not until the last 30% of the book when Barley gets up close to Him in His last days. And the crucifixion scene is tremendously portrayed from the eyes of Barley.

What I found challenging about the novel is that not a lot happens in the first half and I struggled to get through to it. I kept wondering when Jesus was going to become more prominent as that’s what the title alluded to. I was confused by the POV quite a lot. The author jumped between Barley and 3rd person narrator frequently to the extent they almost meshed. I felt Barley often saw things through a human and not, a dog perspective.

The last third of the novel was very good to read with a couple of very clever twists which amped up the emotional connection I had to the story. However, there is so much quality reading material available I’m not sure I’m able to recommend this one.

Note: A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “The Dog who was There” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “Waiting for Wonder” by Marlo Schalesky

waiting-for-wonder-pkWe’re all familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah … how they were blessed by God to be the blessing for future nations and generations. Of how Abraham, the great man of faith, on hearing God’s instruction to leave home, grabbed his family and did just that, not knowing where the Lord was leading them. But in Marlo Schalesky’s marvellous book we hear from Sarah, we gain insight into her perspective, on being Abraham’s wife and being wholly favoured by God not because she was a wife but because she too was the Lord’s beloved.

I liked how Ms Schalesky set out each chapter: we start with a Scripture from Genesis which sets it up, then a short introduction before we “hear” from Sarah herself, well, the author’s thoughts on what may have been going through Sarah’s mind at the time, then a section “Waiting for Wonder” where the author explores what’s to be discovered in the waiting and then finally “Who is this God?”, a short section bringing back to the greatness and goodness of God.

Yes, there is some repetition across 14 chapters of exploring “waiting”, however, there are some outstanding insights to be gleaned from the author’s interpretation of Sarah’s story that makes this book such a worthy resource on the subject. As Sarah and Abraham journeyed through many years of waiting the Lord drew them increasingly towards Himself, to a deeper intimacy and new devotion. This is what He calls each of us too. And that’s the wonder of “waiting”: our Creator woos us. To Himself in order that we discover our Lord in ways we could never have imagined and in so doing fresh perspectives on ourselves and His beloved.

I also appreciated the point that even when they received the blessing (yes, Sarah received it specifically too) from God of a child in a year’s time, they were again tested. And again they initially struggled because of their inherent fears that had always inhibited them. “Sometimes we must go back in order to go forward. We must face the sin, the lies we live, those in ourselves and in the people close to us.We cannot receive the fulfilment of promises to bless the world when we are stepped in old fear, old deceptions, old sins.”(loc 1357)

This so spoke to me. The Lord has something more for us but first of all we need to let go of the past and all its muck, whatever form it may take.

If you’re presently in a season of waiting then buy this book. Ms Schalesky wrestles with Scripture and overlays aspects of waiting in her own life to provide an excellent insight into the wonders that can be gained from waiting.

Note: A special thank you to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “Waiting from Wonder” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

“A.D.30,” Ted Dekker

934503This is the first novel of Ted Dekker’s that could be classified as Biblical fiction. It is breathtaking in its portrayal of the times, the brutality of humans and in Maviah, the central character, someone all readers can relate to. And then we meet Yeshua, the Hebrew for Jesus. It’s hard to put into words the experience the reader has seeing Jesus through Maviah’s eyes. Sitting near Him as he shares many of the parables we’ve come to know through the Bible. I didn’t want Him to leave. I expect that was how the disciples felt as they journeyed with Him.

Maviah is a Bedouin slave who at the request of her dethroned father to seek out King Herod and secure his assistance to free her people from the Thamud. This takes her on a wild journey through the desert with her valiant aids Saba and Judah. Their journey will take them past Jerusalem. Judah who knows of Jesus, being a descendant of the kings who visited Jesus at his birth, and is desperate to meet him. Circumstances outside their control unexpectedly lead them to the house of Nicodemus where Jesus is happening to supper.

Maviah is a wonderful character. We see her courage in undertaking the journey and the many fears she will fail. It is in meeting Jesus she is able to begin to realise her destiny as Queen of the desert. The final scenes are simply extraordinary storytelling as Dekker demonstrates the power of faith when the odds appear insurmountable.

There are many other notable well developed characters; Judah and Saba in particular. It was fascinating to see Dekker present his interpretations of such people as Herod, Herodias, Aretas as well as Stephen and some of the disciples.

This is Dekker at his absolute best. In fact, he’s stepped up a level as he combines the truth and power of the gospel with a breathtaking tale of good and evil that makes me want more and more.

Everyday Grace

ID-10097497

Photo courtesy of jannoon28/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been dithering writing this post. I’ve wanted to write something about repentance, sin and grace for a week or so. As I walk through Lent many of my readings have covered similar matters that have further stimulated my thoughts.

Further, we had a visiting Pastor speak at church the other day on the topic: “God is after my thoughts”, which added weight to some of my own ideas.

Read more

“Fight Back with Joy,” Margaret Feinberg

book2“Joy is one of those words that has been overused, distorted into a cliche.”

I nodded in agreement as I read that statement in the first few pages of this book. I confess I’m one of those people who doesn’t really understand it and too often relates it to happiness and/or my circumstances. Besides Margaret’s brilliant Biblical teaching, I was drawn to read her latest book to better understand “joy.”

Margaret drew me into her 18 month battle with cancer. We visit her doctors, the wards at the hospital, her standing in front of the mirror to inspect the surgeon’s handiwork and the downtime spent with her husband and puppy, Hershey. My eyes were never far from tears as my heart cried out for her but always awestruck at her bravery at sharing such details of the battle.

As I read this inspirational book I was constantly reminded of Brene Brown’s words, “Numbing the pain numbs the joy” as I believe that is how I’ve lived much of my life. Margaret stepped into her battle mindful of this and sought to discover joy. “No one is immune to sorrow, and only those who learn to grieve well can recapture the healing it brings.” and “Running from sorrow will only take you to scary places.”

Embracing our pain and sorrows enables us to experience joy. The sense of being intentional about experiencing joy was a key point I took from the book. Whether it’s in choosing to be alert to how we numb our pain, to loving intentionally with simple gestures as “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” or something grander like giving everyone in the hospital ward a red balloon as Margaret did, grabbing a hold of joy is a choice we make.

Often a challenging read, this is one of the books that lingers long after you’ve read it. As you’d expect, it’s full of relevant Biblical illustrations, Margaret’s sense of whimsy and brave storytelling. It also comes with some added extras at the end including tips on what to say to people going through a battle when you don’t know what to say and from Leif, her husband, on how a caregiver should care for themselves.

Fight Back with Joy

book2Many of you will know of Margaret Feinberg, a wonderful Bible teacher and wordsmith. Some of you will also be aware that Margaret has been in a mighty battle with breast cancer over the past 18 months.

Margaret has recently released Fight Back with Joy which chronicles her journey and some of what she’s learnt along the way. Before I provide some of my thoughts on the book over the next week or two, I thought it would be useful to read some background on the book from Margaret herself.

Margaret was kind enough to share some pre-written responses to a number of questions.

Read more

New Year, New Beginnings

ID-10022902

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love the anticipation of what a new year may bring. There’s something about the change in year heralding something new, fresh and vibrant in one’s life. As I only read last night in RELEVANT magazine, the new year offers a “psychological reset button.”

I make a point of taking some time out to reflect on the year past and what is ahead. I typically will set some goals across all aspects of my life. My wife and I will do likewise to ensure we understand hopes and dreams plus identify specific targets for such things as home improvements, holidays, leisure activities and such like.

Read more

“Kept,” by Sally Bradley

kept-RGB-front-1-2-198x300

Photo courtesy of SallyBradley.com

I don’t read much romantic fiction but I was drawn to “Kept” by the comments of some reviewers whom I respect dearly. What grabbed my attention in their reviews was the notion that this novel wasn’t your typical Christian romance as it grappled with some tough issues.

It didn’t take long to get absorbed in the story. It’s powerful storytelling with wonderfully believable characters (well maybe the good looks are a little exaggerated but my wife tells me that’s essential to most romance novels). I expect Miska, the drop-dead gorgeous freelance editor who has an arrangement with a married pro baseballer (whom she loves) whenever he comes to town, may create some tension amongst readers.

Next door are two brothers: Garrett, the cool soon-to-be-married lawyer and Dillan, the clumsy giant who happens to be a youth pastor. Christian men who befriend Miska and soon become aware of her arrangement.

There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters any of whom you can meet on the street. My favourite was Tracy who demonstrated how to love someone without any judgment or preconceived notions of who or what they should be. Even when grappling with her own heartbreak she takes Miska on and simply loves her.

But what stirred me most about this story is how Bradley demonstrates the power of Christ’s pursuit of individuals and how His love transforms. Miska reflects all of us; her life is complicated and messy. Sure her particular situation may be extreme compared to the “stuff” we grapple with but it all reflects our fallen natures.

Oh, and there’s a very sweet love story.

We need more Sally Bradley’s to write such novels that portray the rawness of life and the transformative power of Christ’s love.

Erin Healy discusses her latest novel, “Motherless.”

erinhealybooks_1367526975_600

Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

Erin Healy’s latest novel, “Motherless”, was released a few weeks ago. Being a keen supporter of Erin and her work I was delighted she was willing to respond to a few questions I posed her.

There is also the opportunity for two readers to win a copy of Motherless. More on that at the end of this post.

Introducing Motherless

The tale of two young adults trying to solve the mystery of their mother’s seventeen-year-old suicide.

A whispering voice at the back of my mind reminds me that I’ve been this way for some time. Dead, that is.

The dead have a very broad view of the living, of actions performed out of sight, of thoughts believed to be private. I would know. Losing both parents is a trial no child should endure, and Marina and Dylan have endured enough. They deserve the one thing I could never give them: a mother’s love.

A mother’s love, and the truth.

My children have believed a lie about me for years and years. After all this time I can still feel their hurt in my heart. But the tether holding me to them is frayed from years of neglect . . . and I have to find a way to make my confession before it snaps.

But when the truth comes out, what other beasts will I unleash?

“Why do we lie to the children?” someone asked me once.

“To protect them,” I answered.

How terrible it is that they need protection from me.

Read more

“Motherless,” Erin Healy

Motherless-small-196x300

Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

“This is truth: we all tell the stories that we want to believe. We tell them for so long that we forget what we really know. Occasionally we convince others to believe them too.”

Motherless is the story of brother and sister, Marina and Dylan, who are coming to terms with the anticipated death of their father (he’s in an induced coma) having lost their mother many years earlier from an apparent suicide.

Marina, even though only a few years older than 16-year-old Dylan, has taken on many of the responsibilities of being a mother. She is especially protective of him as he suffers from agoraphobia, which can be tremendously debilitating.

Their story is told through the eyes of a first person narrator who has a particular interest in their welfare. This individual takes on a far greater role in their story and especially the key themes as it unfolds.

Healy uses vivid imagery in describing her characters, the Californian coast and the delicacies created by Sara, another key character. At any moment Healy is able to transport the reader into being a cocktail party guest, harvesting grapes in a vineyard or sitting on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in.

I particularly appreciated how Healy took me into Dylan’s mind, the young poet who was at his happiest surfing the break outside his home even though stepping out the front door to pop down to the shops crippled him with fear. I know what that feels like.

Lies, deception, grace and forgiveness. Key themes at the heart of most families as they reflect the darkness and light we all must navigate through life.

This is what makes this story so compelling: it could be any of our families that Healy has captured on the page.

Highly recommended.