Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Global War On Christians

When I first received my copy of "The Global War On Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" by John L. Allen Jr. to review I was really excited. I wanted to learn about the persecution issues that other Christians in other parts of the world were facing and relatedly, about the socio-political climates that create or foster those conditions. I have been disappointed to find this book not as helpful I hoped.
In all honesty, this has proven the hardest book for me to review both because of the substance of the book and logistically. Numerous extraordinary personal circumstances have kept this book at the top of my TBR pile but just out of reach of completion for many weeks past when this review was due.

The book is laid out in three sections:
~Anti-Christian Persecution Around the World
~Myths About the Global War on Christians
~Fallout, Consequences, and Response

After a brief overview, part one launches into a region by region, country by country discourse on conflicts in the given area. Regions covered are Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. I was first excited by this section of the book. The Introduction and the Overview are filled with the type of content that I hoped to find- informational, well thought our and reasoned and impassioned- even if I didn't agree with all the arguments made. But here is also where I felt the book start to fall apart.
As the author begins to relate accounts of persecution and martyrdom I began to notice the distinct lack of footnotes documenting the source of the stories. A quick perusal of the rest of the book and I soon realized that there wasn't any bibliography for this book. Imagine my surprise then that as I continued to read the author of this book actually addresses the lack of footnotes and basically says that to document all the sources for every account he cites would be "unwieldy" and recommends the reader use an "internet search engine" to find everything he talks about! In a non-fiction book, especially one where the author is lauded as "the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNBN and National Public Radio" as well as being an Associate Editor of The Boston Globe this is unforgivable and simply shows the willful lack of credible reporting! An academic type non-fiction book without footnotes is simply a book of fiction and opinion.
As I moved into what I anticipated to be the meat of the book in the region/country breakdown chapters another thing that became very evident from this point on was that the author was relating stories that were 95% about members of the Catholic church and 5% about Christians from other faith traditions. When selecting this book I knew going in that the author was a Catholic- but with this being a more mainstream publisher not a Catholic one I expected there to be a balance in the material that he related. I was not expecting a book that read like a church periodical, unfortunately that is just what it feels like.

In addition, I was really frustrated that the majority of the 'info' given on each country was not explaining the socio-political climate but relating the individual stories of the Catholic lay people on the scene.  I really didn't learn anything about the area itself or about what Christians face in a particular country, I just heard basic accounts about individual people.  As wide spread as persecution is I think it would have been better to relate one powerful story and use it to illustrate what happens, or how and why this is typical of the country instead of overwhelming and (dare I say it?) boring the reader droning on and on with nothing more than news clippings that could be found on the internet.

In all honesty after a certain point I did give up on completing this book. In all my reviews I've never done that, and in all the reading I've ever done I could count on one hand the books that I've 'quit' on but try after try there was just nothing that engaged or attached me to this book. Nothing stirred me to better understanding or to action on my Christian brother and sister's behalf- and in a book that is meant to do just that that is what I perhaps find the most disappointing....

The issue, the war on Christians and Christianity is real. It is real and it is powerfully evil but today on some level we all have just tuned out to the realities of this fact. This issue, this war, deserves- and should demand- our attentions. In reading this book the reader should not feel further disconnected and discouraged; they should feel enlivened and ready to help wherever they can. The sad reality of this book is that however much I read about individuals the author never introduced me to and made me care about the people and has instead effectively raised another barrier to the readers dismissal of the issue due to the way the material was presented in this book.

Final Rating: 1.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: Into the Whirlwhind

It’s taken me a long time for me to write this review – in many senses! First off I want to thank Amy at Bethany House for investigating and help resolve a problem I was having at the end of the year with my reviewers account! She was kind enough to let me have my pick of recent available new releases; right at the top of my list was Elizabeth Camden’s newest “Into the Whirlwind”! Once received I was eager to read it and eager to get my review posted, but my own life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of the year and has kept me from posting as planned.

Camden’s newest offering centers around Mollie Knox, single daughter of a Civil War veteran and owner and proprietor of her father’s beloved 57th Illinois Watch Company. Just like the exquisite watches she lovingly assembles Mollie is a woman of delicate parts moving precisely in time and according to expectation. Zach Kazmarek is the exact opposite of Mollie. Raised from humble immigrant beginnings to become one of the city’s most prominent attorneys Zach is bold, passionate, and not afraid to get what he wants; working for one of the city’s biggest and best department stores he’s developed a reputation for just that. For three years Mollie and Zach have met for strictly business purposes, she thinking him cold and unfeeling; he thinking she was the most beautiful creature on earth. After three years neither really knows the other but that is about to change….

Set against the background of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 Mollie and Zack are thrown together in a way they never expected. Amidst the chaos of that night and the following weeks Mollie is carried away on a whirlwind of events and emotions that throws her tightly ordered world into a tailspin that she may never recover from… Conflicted about what she truly wants from life, and from Zack, Mollie struggles to rebuild her company and her life and learns that sometimes the only way to survive the winds of change is to embrace them.

Having fallen in love with Camden’s work in the stellar “The Rose of Winslow Street” I have followed with interest her subsequent releases these last few years. Going into this book I had only a little knowledge about the Great Chicago fire and found many of the details she shares truly interesting as she, from the first pages, grabs the readers hand and pulls them along into the fire. In many places it really felt like you were there with Mollie, Zach, and little Sophie, whom they pick up during their flight from the city. I don’t know why, but in the past when I think of the Fire I think of the great destruction that accompanied it- but I’ve never considered what that meant personally, logistically, and financially to the people affected. Through Mollie and Zach’s eyes you really get a picture of how the city was rebuilt and changes made and it brings to the reader a personal connection to an event from long ago.

 Over all my feelings on this particular Elizabeth Camden novel are mixed. There are things I really liked about the book like the time period, the neat way the historical info was presented, and the character of Zach who has a strong presence throughout. But there are things that I felt left something to be desired. I would have loved to dig a bit more into Mollie for example, though she is the main character and the story is told mainly from her perspective there were times that I felt disconnected from her- like she wasn’t telling the whole truth with a particular thought or action. There were times that I questioned her sincerity in what she thought or did with her relationships with Colonel Lowe vs. Zach and how she treated both of them. In both cases it seemed that the relationship was more about her then about two parties and equal ground. At the end I got annoyed because when she’s ready for what she wants she goes all angsty over whether or not she can get it, and get it when she wants it and I don’t find that attractive in any heroine.

Having said that however, I realize that the issues that I have with Mollie’s character are not a deal breaker for this book. Despite her being more indecisive than I would have liked for a woman with the futures of others in her hands I couldn’t really dislike her either. Mollie finds her security in her routine and in knowing what to expect from herself and others- and I can’t say that I have never been that way myself. What Mollie learns however is that with the right people by your side the storms of life are nothing to fear.

Final Rating: 3.5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.