ImageIn The Stars Shine Bright FBI agent Raleigh Harmon goes undercover at Emerald Downs racetrack to find out why racehorses keep dying and hopefully salvage her career which is under intense scrutiny by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Her work creates tension between Raleigh and her fiancé DeMott who wants her to give up her work and return to Virginia with him.

Sibella Giorello creates a suspenseful and engaging mystery rich in poetic imagery. Raleigh is a complex character whose desire for truth and justice doesn’t always fit into the meticulous procedural protocol the FBI expects from her. She is out there in the field among tragedy and crime while most of the higher ups behind their desks only have an eye for protocol.

Beloved literature professor Laurence Perrine said in his book Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense “The ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings that words have are an obstacle to the scientist but a resource to the poet.” Both The Mountains Bow Down and The Stars Shine Bright are interesting and enjoyable stories that use poetry to talk about science. Author, Sibella Giorello uses a geologists’ vocabulary to guide her word choice. This gives the story’s narrator a distinct voice. Thematically, the story focuses on juxtaposing the value of human rights and animal rights against a backdrop of financial and career crisis.

The Stars Shine Bright will challenge the readers’ value of human life in spite of the costs using the richness of poetry to talk about the science of truth and justice. I’m glad I read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The ultimate cure

In a few weeks I will be participating in a walk to help raise money for medical research to find a cure for Croh’s disease and Ulcerative Colitus. The cause hits close to home; “inside my own body” close. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in late 2011.

Here is a brief description of the event by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America:

Take Steps is CCFA’s national evening walk and celebration and the nation’s largest event dedicated to finding cures for digestive diseases. It is a casual 2-3 mile stroll to raise money for crucial research, bringing us closer to a future free from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Over 1.4 million American adults and children are affected by these digestive diseases. While many suffer in silence, Take Steps brings together this community in a fun and energetic atmosphere, encouraging them to make noise and be heard.

Through my illness my understanding of medical science has been changing and how as a Christian I choose to value medical science. A few years ago I might have felt that medical research was vain work of people who wouldn’t trust Jesus to be their healer. And after my friend Rob Timpone died at age26 from stomach cancer despite chemo treatments and the removal of the tumor, I really didn’t know what to think. In some ways I still don’t. To reject any help from medical science for illness is an ignorant and inaccurate and potentially dangerous perspective on the issue. And if our faith is informed at all by history we will value and commit to contribute to medical research as well as commit to prayer. The two are not at odds. In the 20th century many diseases have been cured which once took the lives of many and sadly still take many lives in third world countries where medicine is rare. Here is a short list of these diseases:

Chicken Pox


Invasive H. Flu




Pneumococcal Disease

Polio, Tetanus

Typhoid Fever

Yellow Fever


Click here to find out more information on these if you are interested.

The other side of the issue is what the Christian community often emphasizes: the work of Christ is the ultimate cure. Those who experience healing, whether from the hands of a doctor or through prayer, or a combination, will still die someday possibly not knowing the salvation and eternal life offered in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. There is no surgery or drug that can pay the price for the sins that we as humans inevitably commit in spite of our best efforts or intentions. But the wonderful reality is that Jesus paid the price for the sin of the whole world so that anyone who repents and believes can have eternal life.

The tricky and murky part is sustaining this life. Eternal life is guaranteed through Christ. But some lives on earth last longer than others. I have already outlived my friend Rob Timpone and plenty of other people I don’t know I am sure. I was so convinced shortly before Rob’s death that God was going to extend his life further than 26 even though he had cancer. But God didn’t. Rob got 26 years. I have at least 29 and rather than assume that I am going to die with my disease or without my disease I am in a state of not knowing what God is up to. I think God could get rid of the disease for me and maybe even make it the next on the list of cured diseases or He could choose not do that. Maybe I’ll die with the disease and it won’t be cured. Maybe I’ll die before Crohn’s will be cured or maybe I won’t. Maybe I will be healed through prayer and medicine will not play a huge part in the experience. I don’t know. I who was once confident in my own ability to perceive God’s will outside of scripture am less confident. God has a plan and it’s good of that I am certain. I have a bad track record in predicting it with a lot of specificity though. I know my long term future. I will spend it in heaven thanks to the forgivness of sins available through Jesus. I am less certain that I have a lot of my life left to live and live symptom free than I was last year. In a way I feel a bit like a whiner since I have a mild case of Crohn’s disease. But perhaps I am whining not only for myself but for others with far more reason to complain.

All of this may not be news to you and if not then great.  Either way on June 3rd I am participating in a walk to raise money to find a cure for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitus. Your donation would be much appreciated and go to a good cause as would your prayers.

So if you can donate money, please donate by clicking here. If you aren’t in a position to donate please pray and also keep in your prayers places where medication is not a viable option due to lack of funds.

Edward Adams is Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at King’s College London. He is the author of Stars Will Fall from Heaven: ‘Cosmic Catastrophe’ in the New Testament and Its World and coeditor of Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church.  His most recent book, Parallel Lives of Jesus, invites the reader, even the average Joe in the pew like myself, to consider why there are four accounts of the life of Jesus ( Why not just have have one ? ) and take a fresh look at the four canonical gospels and the qualities that make them unique.

The book is divided up into three parts. First Adams discusses his approach to the gospels. Then he looks at each of the Gospels and their narrative features. Finally Adams puts six episodes ( The Baptism of Jesus, The Feeding of the Five Thousand, The Walking on the Water, The Transfiguration, The Death of Jesus, The Empty Tomb ) found in all the gospels side by side.

The author is very thorough and consistent in his examination of the gospel accounts. The fundamental question Adams addresses in the book is not a new one. The author himself notes his research is building on the work of one of his colleagues Richard Burridge who is the author of Four Gospels, One Jesus? What Edward Adams does is draw a structural parallel between the gospels and Plutarch’s Parallel Lives to offer a literary perspective on the gospels. Since the Bible is literature, Adams looks at literary devices like characterization, style, theme and setting. He also connects the structure of ”the same story told four ways” to the films Vantage Point and Roshomon as well as the Iain Pears novel An Instance of the Fingerpost.

Through the comparisons that Edward Adams draws to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and modern films and novels he effectively gives a perspective on the gospels that is in depth and accessible. Amongst the many other approaches a person can take to reading the Bible ( such as Historical, Archeological, and Cultural ) Parallel Lives of Jesus will be very practical for anyone wanting to develop a deeper understanding of the gospels as well as a helpful resource for Churches and Universities.

The Muir House Book Tour

I am taking part in “The Muir House Book Tour” this month. It began on November 14th since then a variety of bloggers are posting their thoughts after reading Mary DeMuth’s novel The Muir House. The tour runs through December 15th. The full list of tour participants is available here.

The Muir House is the story of Willa Muir, a interior designer whose life is turned upside down by an engagement proposal, a sudden fire and a nagging feeling that she can’t move forward in her life until she can accurately remember portions of her childhood that she can’t remember. As she searches for the truth about her past, Willa revisits her home town of Rockwall, Texas and the people from her past who still populate the town.  Can Willa find the strength to trust, find love and move forward with her life?

Mary DeMuth effectively creates a sense of suspense throughout the novels 322 pages. Each chapter effectively answers questions in such a way that you have two or three new questions. And I found the resolution of the story to be satisfying and the themes challenging as well. The story is full of interesting and flawed characters. Willa has an idealized view of how important knowledge is. She seems to think that information is what she lacks. But through the course of the story I think she finds that informed relationships are what she needs.

The setting of the story helps illuminate some of the recurring themes of the novel. During her visit, Willa stays in her childhood home. It was once a funeral home but is now a bed and breakfast with themed rooms highlighting famous walls from around the world. Willa, her parents, Genie and others all deal with the walls they have up in their relationships. They wall people out to avoid hurt. But I like what Willa’s friend Rheus tells her “…some folks close doors they wish they hadn’t.” This is true of a lot of characters in this story. Reading the book reminded me to be open to risk relationships with people even when it may be emotionally challenging sometimes. It reminded me of the way of forgiveness.

Everyone is broken in some way and we all have walls of some kind that we put up in our lives to shut out hurt. But what good things get shut out along with the bad? Thinking about this reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said:

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.”

I think everyone can find the love Jesus offers which allows them to appropriately give and receive love to others. On my better days, I go to God when I fear I might lose someone close to me and anyone can go there. That’s the amazingly personal and extensive love of Jesus. I found reading The Muir House was a good and challenging reminder to hold tight to Christ and remain open in the relationships around me.

Book Review: A Stand Up Guy

Publisher: Zondervan

Author: Michael Snyder

A synopsis

In Michael Snyder’s new novel A Stand Up-Guy Oliver Miles works as a night security guard at the Harrington hotel where frequent reports of robberies and ghost encounters keep him and Mattie, the attractive and sneaky night auditor, guessing. But few dream of becoming a night security guard or an auditor for that matter. So Oliver spends his off hours pursuing his comedy career and Mattie writes songs when she isn’t crunching numbers. As time goes on, the cases go unsolved, security cameras are installed, and hunches turn into accusations. Oliver and Mattie’s relationship grows and each uncover hard truths about the others families that test their relationship. The question then becomes will the truth discovered about Oliver’s mother and Mattie’s father strengthen their relationship or break it?

My personal reading experience

I almost didn’t finish this book. But I did and I am glad that I did. I think I expected the story to be funnier than it was. But at the same time I think after finishing it I see it as a story about an aspiring comedian and not a comedy. Perhaps genre expectations, though sometimes helpful for both readers and writers navigating the ocean of books available to read, can be somewhat of a hindrance to seeing characters clearly. I find stories of aspiring anything really quite interesting. I’m an aspiring writer and also used to be a guitarist in a metal band not too long ago and so I can relate. The characters in A Stand Up-Guy had to make tough choices that must be made by any artist who wishes to develop an audience and also maintain healthy relationships with those they are already close to. The internet has exacerbated the tension between these two desires dramatically. This made the themes very timely. I found the story to be far more tragic at times than I expected but overall the story was a challenging, thought provoking and satisfying read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley.com. <http://www.netgalley.com> I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Author: Charles Martin

Wrapped in Rain is the story of internationally celebrated photographer Tucker Mason. He returns home to Alabama from his work and is reunited with his ex-girlfriend(Katie) and her son who are seeking refuge from a violent ex husband. Soon they are out looking for Tuck’s brother Mutt who has escaped from a mental hospital. But it turns out Tucker’s brother is not the only one who hears voices. Tucker communicates with his dead Nanny Miss Ella from beyond the grave as he deals with his anger towards his abusive alcoholic father Rex. Will Tuck give in and choose the life of self centeredness, greed, anger, and alcohol he learned from his father? Or will Miss Ella’s no nonsense paternal voice be able to get Tuck, Mutt, and Katie on the straight and narrow ?

The author of the book, Charles Martin, maintains interesting tension till the very end and what creates that tension varies. But there are very little loose ends left after the novels 300 or so pages. Some points in the story felt less than plausible top me but these developments created interesting conflict and I was willing to drop my skepticism in the name of story. Wrapped in Rain finds its structure and strength less in a series of linked events and more in the transformation of its central character Tucker.

One complaint I had was with the character development of Rex, Tucker’s father. He felt a bit flat. All through the book there’s basically nothing to like about him or make the reader sympathetic. This is something that might stem from the difference between storytelling and theology. From a theological standpoint you don’t have to understand someone to forgive the way they treat you, but it helps. And it is a requisite for believable characters that play as important a role in this story as Rex does that they have likeable qualities as well as flaws or some exploration into how those flaws developed. Rex is both a father and a son and I think shedding light a little on what his childhood was like may have made him a more interesting character.

Tuckers nanny Miss Ella is flat in very different way. She is the closest thing to a real mother that Tucker has but at times it feels like she is less of a person and more a vehicle for the application of Bible verses to situations in the story. Charles Martin develops Tucker well on the other hand. We’re in his head for most of the book and see him as a conflicting paradox of a man that hides from the messy reality of relationships behind his camera and busy travel schedule at times and in other times comes through as an emotionally available friend tested and proven through adversity.

I feel like Charles explored dialogue more than any other literary device in this book with mixed results. I had to read the dialogue between Tuck and the voice of his dead nanny several times before I got it on a few occasions. Then at other times, particularly near the end, Tucker’s dialogue with other characters sounded contrived and didn’t match his personality. He sounded like he had a degree in Christian counseling or was reading aloud from the pages of Wild at Heart. Hearing Tucker talk about boys and baseball earlier in the novel seems to flow a little more naturally and is rooted more in who he is as a character.

The story is mostly told from the point of view of Tucker and Miss Ella who speaks to Tucker from beyond the grave. This may be off-putting or confusing to some not familiar with the Bible. About a boy or Big Fish might speak to you better. Wrapped in Rain explores the sometimes conflicting co existence of the current medical health profession and the Biblical narrative which reflects a time when medicinal practices were more mystical than scientific and “demons” were far more widely accepted explanations for some behaviors. But by the same token the cursing and sexual content in About a boy or the lack of religious discussion in both it and Big Fish may frustrate others. Wrapped in Rain will speak to you better. There is very little sexual content or language in Wrapped in Rain. It is however far more violent than Big Fish or About a boy, though in its defense, the story is an exploration of “turning the other cheek” as Jesus would say it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Published by Penguin Books

In 1881, fresh out of medical school at the University of Edinburgh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sat in his empty medical practice in Portsmouth and waited for new patients seeking his help. As few patients darkened his door Doyle had to find some way to bide the time. He began writing and publishing short stories and soon Sherlock Holmes was born. Holmes was inspired by Doyle’s teacher and mentor Joseph Bell who was known for his power of observational insight and deduction.

First published together in 1893, these stories chronicle the ever increasing fame and renown of Sherlock Holmes detective work throughout London and beyond as told through Holmes faithful friend Dr. Watson. It features stories like “The Silver Blaze,” “The Musgrave Ritual,” and my personal favorite “The Resident Patient.” Sherlock Holmes stories were by far Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and popular of all of his writings, much to Doyle’s resentment. For him passion and success were not often words found in the same sentence. He felt most passionate about his writings on the subject of Spiritualism yet his writings on the subject did not fare well with audiences. He was knighted for his work in the Boer War and also wrote a book on it called  The War in South Africa. Though few associate him with anything other than Sherlock Holmes.

From a literary stand point there is no wonder that this would be the case. The stories are fit exercises in minimalism and have influenced many a writer. John Le Carre remarks on this in the introduction to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. “Peek up Conan Doyle’s literary sleeves and you will at first be disappointed: no fine turns of phrase, no clever adjectives that leap off the page, no arresting psychological insights. Instead, what you are looking at is a kind of narrative perfection: a perfect interplay between dialogue and description, perfect characterization and perfect timing.”

As brief and plot focused as these stories might be when read individually the cumulative effect of reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes reveals a more well rounded Holmes. Doyle noted that often stories in magazines of his time were islands unto themselves. Calling them “disconnected stories” he suggested that “a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the attention of the reader, would bind that reader to that particular magazine.” This certainly proved true of Sherlock Holmes and “The Strand Magazine.” In his article “The Story of the Strand” Chris Willis notes that “the combination of Sherlock Holmes and the Strand had made Conan Doyle one of the most popular authors of the age. Fifty-six Holmes stories appeared in the magazine from 1891 to 1927, many of them illustrated by Sidney Paget’s now famous drawings.” Sprinkled throughout the cases a complex and intriguing sense of who Holmes character emerges. These traits are often overshadowed by his intellect and deductive powers when reading a single Sherlock Holmes short story. He is not just brilliant and logical but also bizarre, playful, lazy, compassionate and eccentric. Frederick Dorr Steele says of Holmes “Beginning as a self-disciplined thinking machine who rigidly excluded from his mind all information not pertinent to the case at hand, knowing or caring nothing for the arts, Holmes developed within a few years into veritable encyclopedia of such knowledge.”

What makes The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes distinct from the other collections in terms of plot is the introduction of the villainous mastermind Dr. Moriarty. Moriarty appears to be Holmes intellectual match. But where Holmes uses his mind to see justice served Moriarty runs a syndicate of thieves throughout London. He chases Holmes to the edge of Reichenbach Falls in the dramatic conclusion of the memoirs “The Final Problem.”

Guy Ritchie’s sequel to the 2009 Sherlock Holmes is in theatre’s December 16th and is inspired by this collection of stories. The sequel will again feature Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams from the last film. Joining the cast are Stephen Fry as Holmes brother Mycroft, Noomi Rapace from the Stieg Larson trilogy and Jared Harris from Mad Men.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley.com. <http://www.netgalley.com> I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”