Friday, May 30, 2008

More Musing about A Voice in the Wind

A Voice in the Wind you'll note below is set in imperial Rome, after the time of Nero. One of the conflicts in the book is the clash between a wealthy merchant and his wife on one side and their young adult children on the other. Dad started with little, made his fortune and has been able to offer his kids every advantage. The kids are just that, kids, despite their age. They want to party, to go to the Games, and to have sex. They are selfish and seek only their own pleasure. In some ways they don't sound so unlike many American young adults today. They don't want kids (at least right now). They are into sexual experimentation. They don't believe in any religion and so figure they might was well have fun in the time they have. Of course in the process of living this selfish, pleasure-seeking life, they don't find happiness but emptiness. There is a guy I work with who has a thirty year old daughter who has five kids, all under ten years old. She is considered odd by most who know of her, but I wonder, twenty years from now, who will be happiest, from a strictly secular view, her, or the thirty year old yuppie who has chosen not to have kids, to flit from relationship to relationship and to pour her main energy into her job? I'll put my money on the mom.

The Good Old Days

My son is taking driver's ed now. It is taught by the public schools but it is an outside school hours, tuition program. Right now they are in the classroom phase and he is failing. The teacher called me tonite, and after telling me what the problem was (he's not doing the assignments or studying, despite having all day off) told me that his mother-in-law, the principal of my son's elementary, told him to tell me hi, and that I'd take care of the problem. Back then I was very successful at solving his problems, at making him do what he needed to do. It just seems that the last couple of years I haven't been able to do that.

Since I'm going to be home to enforce it tomorrow, I just told him there would be no boxes (tv, computer etc) until the packet was done and done right. Then I guess we'll have to study it. I'm going to make his sister his study partner next week--it will give her a head start when her turn comes and I have a feeling she's more motiviated than he is anyway. Maybe I can get the old magic back.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Voice in the Wind



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!




Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Voice in the Wind

Tyndale House Publishers (March 1, 1998)(Re-released June 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Francine Rivers began her literary career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism. From 1976 to 1985, she had a successful writing career in the general market and her books were awarded or nominated for numerous awards and prizes. Although raised in a religious home, Francine did not truly encounter Christ until later in life, when she was already a wife, mother of three, and an established romance novelist. Shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1986, Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books, and then re-released by Multnomah Publishers in the mid- 1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set during the time of the California Gold Rush is now considered by many to be a classic work of Christian fiction. Redeeming Love continues to be one of the Christian Booksellers Association’s top-selling titles and it has held a spot on the Christian bestseller list for nearly a decade.

Since Redeeming Love, Francine has published numerous novels with Christian themes – all bestsellers-- and she has continued to win both industry acclaim and reader loyalty around the globe. Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa.

Francine and her husband Rick live in Northern California and enjoy the time spent with their three grown children and every opportunity to spoil their four grandchildren. She uses her writing to draw closer to the Lord, and that through her work she might worship and praise Jesus for all He has done and is doing in her life.


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

The city was silently bloating in the hot sun, rotting like the thou-sands of bodies that lay where they had fallen in street battles. An oppressive, hot wind blew from the southeast, carrying with it the putrefying stench of decay. And outside the city walls, Death itself waited in the persons of Titus, son of Vespasian, and sixty thou-sand legionnaires who were anxious to gut the city of God.

Even before the Romans crossed the Valley of Thorns and camped on the Mount of Olives, warring factions within Jerusa-lem’s city walls had prepared the way for her destruction.

Jewish robbers, who now fled like rats before the Roman legions, had recently fallen upon Jerusalem and murdered her prominent citizens, taking over the holy temple. Casting lots for the priesthood, they turned a house of prayer into a marketplace of tyranny.

Fast behind the robbers came rebels and zealots. Directed by rival leaders—John, Simon, and Eleazar—the warring factions raged within the three walls. Swollen with power and pride, they sliced Jerusalem into bloody pieces.

Breaking the Sabbath and the laws of God, Eleazar stormed Antonia Tower and murdered the Roman soldiers within it. Zealots rampaged, murdering thousands more who attempted to bring order back to a maddened city. Unlawful tribunals were set up and the laws of man and God mocked as hundreds of innocent men and women were murdered. Houses full of corn were burned in the chaos. Famine soon followed.

In their despair, righteous Jews prayed fervently for Rome to come against the great city. For these Jews believed that then, and only then, would the factions within Jerusalem unite in one cause: freedom against Rome.

Rome did come and, their hated ensigns held high, their war cry rang across all of Judea. They took Gadara, Jotapata, Beersheba, Jericho, Caesarea. The mighty legions marched in the very footsteps of devout pilgrims who came from every corner of the Jewish nation to worship and celebrate the high holy days of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread—the Passover. Innocent tens of thousands poured into the city and found themselves in the midst of civil war. Zealots closed the gates, trapping them inside. Rome came on until the sound of destruction echoed across the Valley of Kidron against the walls of Jerusalem itself. Titus laid siege to the ancient, holy city, determined to end Jewish rebellion once and forever.

Josephus, the Jewish general of fallen Jotapata who had been taken captive by the Romans, wept and cried out from atop the first wall defeated by the legionnaires. With Titus’ permission, he pleaded with his people to repent, warning them that God was against them, that the prophecies of destruction were about to be fulfilled. Those few who listened to him and managed to evade the zealots in their escape reached the greedy Syrians—who dis-sected them for the gold pieces they had supposedly swallowed before deserting the city. Those who didn’t heed Josephus suffered the full fury of the Roman war machine. Having cut down every tree within miles, Titus built siege engines that hurled countless javelins, stones, and even captives into the city.

From the Upper Market Place to the lower Acra and the Valley of Cheesemongers between, the city writhed in revolt.

Inside the great temple of God, the rebel leader John melted down the sacred golden vessels for himself. The righteous wept for Jerusalem, the bride of kings, the mother of prophets, the home of the shepherd king David. Torn asunder by her own peo-ple, she lay gutted and helpless, awaiting her death blow from hated Gentile foreigners.

Anarchy destroyed Zion, and Rome stood ready to destroy anarchy... anytime... anywhere.

Hadassah held her mother, tears blurring her eyes as she stroked the black hair back from her mother’s gaunt, pale face. Her mother had been beautiful once. Hadassah remembered watching her take her hair down until it lay, glistening in thick waves, against her back. Her crowning glory, Papa called it. Now, it was dull and coarse, and her once-ruddy cheeks were white and sunken. Her stomach was swollen with malnutrition, the bones of her legs and arms clearly outlined beneath a gray overdress.

Lifting her mother’s hand, Hadassah kissed it tenderly. It was like a bony claw, limp and cool. “Mama?” No response. Hadas-sah looked across the room at her younger sister, Leah, lying on a dirty pallet in the corner. Thankfully, she was asleep, the agony of slow starvation briefly forgotten.

Hadassah stroked her mother’s hair again. Silence lay upon her like a hot shroud; the pain in her empty belly was almost beyond endurance. Only yesterday she had wept bitterly when her mother had uttered thanks to God for the meal Mark had been able to scavenge for them: shield leather from a dead Roman soldier.

How long before they all died?

Grieving in the silence, she could still hear her father speaking to her in that firm but gentle voice. “It is not possible for men to avoid fate, even when they see it beforehand.”

Hananiah had spoken these words to her scant weeks ago— though now it seemed like an eternity. He had prayed all that morning, and she had been so afraid. She had known what he was going to do, what he had always done before. He would go out before the unbelievers and preach about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

“Why must you go out again and speak to those people? You were almost killed the last time.”

“Those people, Hadassah? They’re your kinsmen. I’m a Benjaminite.” She could still feel his gentle touch on her cheek. “We must seize every opportunity we can to speak the truth and proclaim peace. Especially now. There’s so little time for so many.”

She had clung to him then. “Please, don’t go. Father, you know what’ll happen. What’ll we do without you? You can’t bring peace. There is no peace in this place!”

“It is not the world’s peace I speak of, Hadassah, but God’s. You know that.” He had held her close. “Hush, child. Do not weep so.”

She wouldn’t release him. She knew they wouldn’t listen—they didn’t want to hear what he had to tell them. Simon’s men would slash him to pieces before the crowd as an example of what became of those who spoke for peace. It had happened to others.

“I must go.” His hands had been firm, his eyes gentle, as he had tipped her chin. “Whatever happens to me, the Lord is always with you.” He’d kissed her, hugged her, then put her away from him so he could embrace and kiss his other two children. “Mark, you will remain here with your mother and sisters.”

Grabbing and shaking her mother, Hadassah had pleaded, “You can’t let him go! Not this time!”

“Be silent, Hadassah. Who are you serving by arguing so against your father?”

Her mother’s reprimand, though spoken gently, had struck hard. She had said many times before that when one did not serve the Lord, they unwittingly served the evil one instead. Fighting tears, Hadassah had obeyed and said no more.

Rebekkah had laid her hand against her husband’s gray-bearded face. She had known Hadassah was right; he might not return, probably wouldn’t. Yet, perhaps, if it was God’s will, one soul might be saved through his sacrifice. One might be enough. Her eyes had been full of tears and she could not—dared not— speak. For if she had, she was afraid she would join Hadassah in pleading that he stay safe in this small house. And Hananiah knew better than she what the Lord willed for him. He had placed his hand over hers and she had tried not to weep.

“Remember the Lord, Rebekkah,” he had said solemnly. “We are together in him.”

He had not returned.

Hadassah leaned down over her mother protectively, afraid she would lose her, too. “Mother?” Still no response. Her breathing was shallow, her color ashen. What was taking Mark so long? He had been gone since dawn. Surely the Lord would not take him as well....

In the silence of the small room, Hadassah’s fear grew. She stroked her mother’s hair absently. Please, God. Please! Words wouldn’t come, at least not any that made sense. Just a groaning from within her soul. Please what? Kill them now with starvation before the Romans came with swords or they suffered the agony of a cross? Oh, God, God! Her plea came, inarticulate and des-perate, helpless and full of fear. Help us!

Why had they ever come to this city? She hated Jerusalem.

Hadassah fought against the despair inside her. It had become so heavy, it felt like a physical weight pulling her into a dark pit. She tried to think of better times, of happier moments, but those thoughts wouldn’t come.

She thought of the months long ago when they’d made the journey from Galilee, never expecting to be trapped in the city. The night before they had entered Jerusalem, her father set up camp on a hillside within sight of Mount Moriah, where Abra-ham had almost sacrificed Isaac. He told them stories of when he was a boy living just outside the great city, speaking far into the night of the laws of Moses, under which he had grown up. He spoke of the prophets. He spoke of Yeshua, the Christ.

Hadassah had slept and dreamt of the Lord feeding the five thousand on a hillside.

She remembered that her father had awakened the family at dawn. And she remembered how, as the sun rose, light had reflected off the marble and gold of the temple, turning the struc-ture into a blazing beacon of fiery splendor that could be seen from miles away. Hadassah could still feel the awe she had felt at the glory of it. “Oh, Father, it is so beautiful.”

“Yes,” he had said solemnly. “But so often, things of great beauty are full of great corruption.”

Despite the persecution and danger that had awaited them in Jerusalem, her father had been full of joy and expectation as they entered the gates. Perhaps this time more of his kinsmen would listen; more would give their hearts to the risen Lord.

Few believers of the Way remained in Jerusalem. Many had been imprisoned, some stoned, even more driven away to other places. Lazarus, his sisters, and Mary Magdalene had been driven out; the apostle John, a dear family friend, had left Jerusalem two years before, taking the Lord’s mother with him. Yet, Hadassah’s father had remained. Once a year, he had returned to Jerusalem with his family to gather with other believers in an upper room. There they shared bread and wine, just as their Lord Jesus had done the evening before his crucifixion. This year, Shimeon Bar-Adonijah had presented the elements of the Passover meal:

“The lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs of the Passover have as much meaning for us as for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The Lord fulfills each element. He is the perfect Lamb of God who, though without sin himself, has taken the bitterness of our sins upon him. Just as the captive Jews in Egypt were told to put the blood of a lamb on their door so that God’s wrath and judgment would pass over them, so Jesus has shed his blood for us so that we will stand blameless before God in the coming Judg-ment Day. We are the sons and daughters of Abraham, for it is by our faith in the Lord that we are saved through his grace....”

For the following three days they had fasted and prayed and repeated Jesus’ teachings. On the third day, they sang and rejoiced, breaking bread together once more in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. And every year, during the last hour of the gathering, her father would tell his own story. This year had been no different. Most had heard his story many times before, but there were always those who were new to the faith. It was to these people that her father spoke.

He stood, a simple man with gray hair and beard, and dark eyes full of light and serenity. There was nothing remarkable about him. Even as he spoke, he was ordinary. It was the touch of God’s hand that made him different from others.

“My father was a good man, a Benjaminite who loved God and taught me the law of Moses,” he began quietly, looking into the eyes of those who sat about him. “He was a merchant near Jerusalem and married my mother, the daughter of a poor hus-bandman. We were not rich and we were not poor. For all we had, my father gave glory and thanks to God.

“When the Passover came, we closed our small shop and entered the city. Mother stayed with friends and prepared for the Passover. My father and I spent our time at the temple. To hear God’s Word was to eat meat, and I dreamed of being a scribe. But it would not come to pass. When I was fourteen, my father died and, with no brothers and sisters, it was necessary for me to take over his business. Times were very hard, and I was young and inexperienced, but God was good. He provided.”

He closed his eyes. “Then a fever took hold of me. I struggled against death. I could hear my mother weeping and crying out to God. Lord, I prayed, don’t let me die. My mother needs me. Without me, she is alone, with no one to provide for her. Please do not take me now! But death came. It surrounded me like a cold darkness and took hold of me.” The hush in the room was almost tangible as his listeners awaited the ending.

No matter how many times Hadassah had heard the story, she never tired of it nor lost the power of it. As her father spoke, she could feel the dark and lonely force that had claimed him. Chilled, she wrapped her arms around her legs and hugged them against her chest as he went on.

“My mother said friends were carrying me along the road to my tomb when Jesus passed by. The Lord heard her weeping and took pity. My mother didn’t know who he was when he stopped the funeral procession, but there were many with him, followers, as well as the sick and crippled. Then she recognized him, for he touched me and I arose.”

Hadassah wanted to leap up and cry out in joy. Some of those around her wept, their faces transfixed with wonder and awe.
Others wanted to touch her father, to lay hands on a man who had been brought back from death by Christ Jesus. And they had so many questions. How did you feel when you arose? Did you speak with him? What did he say to you? What did he look like?

In the upper room, with the gathering of believers, Hadassah had felt safe. She had felt strength. In that place, she could feel the presence of God and his love. “He touched me and I arose.” God’s power could overcome anything.

Then they would leave the upper room and, as her father walked the family back to the small house where they stayed, Hadassah’s ever-present fear would rise again. She always prayed her father wouldn’t stop and speak. When he told his story to believers, they wept and rejoiced. To unbelievers, he was an object of ridicule. The euphoria and security she felt with those who shared her faith dissolved when she watched her father stand before a crowd and suffer their abuse.

“Listen to me, O men of Judah!” he would call out, drawing people to him. “Listen to the good news I have to tell you.”

They listened at first. He was an old man and they were curi-ous. Prophets were always a diversion. He was not eloquent like the religious leaders; he spoke simply from his heart. And always people laughed and mocked him. Some threw rotten vegetables and fruit, some called him mad. Others became enraged at his story of resurrection, shouting that he was a liar and blasphemer.

Two years ago he had been so badly beaten that two friends had to help carry him back to the small rented house where they always stayed. Elkanah and Benaiah had tried to reason with him.

“Hananiah, you must not come back here,” Elkanah had said. “The priests know who you are and want you silenced. They are not so foolish as to have a trial, but there are many evil men who will do another’s will for a shekel. Shake the dust of Jerusalem from your shoes and go somewhere that the message will be heard.”

“And where else can that be but here where our Lord died and arose?”

“Many of those who witnessed his resurrection have fled imprisonment and death at the hands of the Pharisees,” Benaiah had said. “Even Lazarus has left Judea.”

“Where did he go?”

“I was told he took his sisters and Mary of Magdala to Gaul.”

“I cannot leave Judea. Whatever happens, this is where the Lord wants me.”

Benaiah had grown silent for a long moment and then he nod-ded slowly. “Then it shall be as the Lord wills it.”

Elkanah had agreed and laid his hand on her father’s. “Shelemoth and Cyrus are remaining here. They will give you aid when you are in Jerusalem. I am taking my family away from this city. Benaiah is coming with me. May God’s face shine upon you, Hananiah. You and Rebekkah will be in our prayers. And your children, too.”

Hadassah had wept, her hopes of leaving this wretched city dashed. Her faith was weak. Her father always forgave his tor-menters and attackers, while she prayed they would know all the fires of hell for what they had done to him. She often prayed that God would change his will and send her father to a place other than Jerusalem. Someplace small and peaceful where people would listen.

“Hadassah, we know that God uses all things for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his pur-pose,” her mother said often, trying to comfort her.

“What good is there in a beating? What good in being spit upon? Why must he suffer so?”

In the peaceful hills of Galilee, with the blue sea stretched out before her and lilies of the field at her back, Hadassah could believe in God’s love. At home, in those hills, her faith was strong. It warmed her and made her heart sing.

In Jerusalem, though, she struggled. She clung to her faith, but still found it slipping away from her. Doubt was her companion, fear was overwhelming.

“Father, why can we not believe and remain silent?”

“We are called upon to be the light of the world.”

“They hate us more with each passing year.”

“Hatred is the enemy, Hadassah. Not the people.”

“It is people who beat you, Father. Did not the Lord himself tell us not to cast pearls before the swine?”

“Hadassah, if I am to die for him, I will die joyfully. What I do is for his good purpose. The truth does not go out and come back empty. You must have faith, Hadassah. Remember the promise. We are part of the body of Christ, and in Christ we have eternal life. Nothing can separate us. No power on earth. Not even death.”

She had pressed her face against his chest, the rough woven tunic he wore rubbing against her skin. “Why can I believe at home, Father, but not here?”

“Because the enemy knows where you are most vulnerable.” He had put his hand over hers. “Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat? The sons of Moab and Ammon and Mount Seir came against him with a mighty army. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and God said through him, ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ While they sang and praised the Lord, the Lord himself set ambushes against their enemies. And in the morning, when the Israelites came to the lookout of the wilderness, they saw the bodies of the dead. No one escaped. The Israelites had not even raised a hand in battle, and the battle was won.”

Kissing her head, he had said, “Stand firm in the Lord, Hadas-sah. Stand firm and let him fight your battles. Do not try to fight alone.”

Hadassah sighed, trying to ignore the burning in her stomach. How she missed her father’s counsel in the silent loneliness of this house. If she believed everything he had taught her, she would rejoice that he was now with the Lord. Instead she ached with grief, which swelled and spilled over her in waves, spreading with it a strange, confused anger.

Why did her father have to be such a fool for Christ? The peo-ple didn’t want to hear; they didn’t believe. His testimony offended them. His words drove them mad with hatred. Why couldn’t he, just once, have remained silent and stayed within the safe confines of this small house? He’d still be alive, here in this room, comforting them and giving them hope instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Why couldn’t he have been sensible this one time and waited out the storm?

The door opened slowly and Hadassah’s heart leapt in fright, snapping her back to the grim present. Robbers had broken into the houses down the street, murdering the occupants for a loaf of hoarded bread. But it was Mark who entered. She let out her breath, relieved to see him. “I was so afraid for you,” she whis-pered with feeling. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

He pushed the door closed and sank down, exhausted, against the wall near their sister. “What did you find?” She waited for him to take whatever he had found from his shirt. Whatever food was found had to be secreted or someone would attack him for it.

Mark looked at her hopelessly. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a worn shoe, not even shield leather from a dead soldier. Noth-ing.” He started to cry, his shoulders shaking.

“Shhh, you’ll awaken Leah and Mama.” Hadassah gently laid her mother back against the blanket and went to him. She put her arms around him and leaned her head against his chest. “You tried, Mark. I know you tried.”

“Maybe it’s God’s will that we die.”

“I’m not sure I want to know God’s will anymore,” she said without thinking. Quick tears came. “Mama said the Lord will provide,” she said, but the words sounded empty. Her faith was so weak. She was not like Father and Mother. Even Leah, young as she was, loved the Lord wholeheartedly. And Mark sounded so accepting of death. Why was she always the one who questioned and doubted?

Have faith. Have faith. When you have nothing else, have faith.

Mark shuddered, drawing her out of her gloomy thoughts. “They are throwing bodies into the Wadi El Rabadi behind the holy temple. Thousands, Hadassah.”

Hadassah remembered the horror of the Valley of Hinnom. It was there that Jerusalem disposed of the dead and unclean ani-mals and dumped the night soil. Baskets of hooves, entrails, and animal remains from the temple were carried there and dumped. Rats and carrion birds infested the place, and the stench fre-quently was carried in hot winds across the city. Father called it Gehenna. “It was not far from here that our Lord was crucified.”

Mark pushed his hand back through his hair. “I was afraid to go closer.”

Hadassah shut her eyes tightly, but the question rose stark and raw against her will. Had her father been cast into that place, des-ecrated and left to rot in the hot sun? She bit her lip and tried to force the thought away.

“I saw Titus,” Mark said dully. “He rode over with some of his men. When he saw the bodies, he cried out. I could not hear his words, but a man said he was calling out to Jehovah that it was not his doing.”

“If the city surrendered now, would he show mercy?”

“If he could contain his men. They hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed.”

“And us along with them.” She shivered. “They will not know the difference between believers of the Way and zealots, will they?
Seditionist or righteous Jew or even Christian, it will make no dif-ference.” Her eyes blurred with tears. “Is this the will of God, Mark?”

“Father said it is not God’s will that any should suffer.”

“Then why must we?”

“We bear the consequences for what we have done to our-selves, and for the sin that rules this world. Jesus forgave the thief, but he didn’t take him down off the cross.” He pushed his hand back through his hair. “I’m not wise like Father. I haven’t any answers to why, but I know there is hope.”

“What hope, Mark? What hope is there?”

“God always leaves a remnant.”

The siege wore on, and while life within Jerusalem ebbed, the spirit of Jewish resistance did not. Hadassah remained within the small house, hearing the horror of what was just beyond their un-bolted door. A man was screaming and running down the street.

“They’ve ascended the wall!”

When Mark went out to find out what was happening, Leah became hysterical. Hadassah went to her sister and held her tightly. She felt near to hysteria herself, but tending her young sis-ter helped calm her.

“Everything will be all right, Leah. Be still.” Her words sounded meaningless in her own ears. “The Lord is watching over us,” she said and stroked her sister gently.

A litany of comforting lies, for the world was crumbling around them. Hadassah looked across the room at her mother and felt the tears coming again. Her mother smiled weakly as though trying to reassure her, but she felt no reassurance. What would become of them?

When Mark returned, he told them of the battle raging within the walls. The Jews had turned it and were driving the Romans back.

However, that night, under the cover of darkness, ten legion-naires sneaked through the ruins of the city and took possession of Antonia Tower. The battle had come to the very entrance of the holy temple. Though driven back again, the Romans coun-tered by overthrowing some of the foundations of the tower and laid open the court of the Gentiles. In an attempt to divert them, zealots attacked the Romans at the Mount of Olives. Failing, they were destroyed. The prisoners taken were crucified before the walls for all to see.

Stillness fell again. And then a new, more devastating horror spread through the city as word passed of a starving woman who had eaten her own child. The flame of Roman hatred was fanned into a blaze.

Josephus cried out again to his people that God was using the Romans to destroy them, fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets Daniel and Jesus. The Jews gathered all the dry materials, bitu-men, and pitch they could find and filled the cloisters. The Romans drove forward, and the Jews gave ground, luring the Romans into the temple. Once inside, the Jews set their holy place on fire, burning many of the legionnaires to death within it.

Titus regained control of his enraged soldiers and ordered the fire put out, but no sooner had they succeeded in saving the tem-ple than the Jews attacked again. This time all the officers of Rome couldn’t restrain the fury of the Roman legionnaires who, driven by a lust for Jewish blood, once again torched the temple and killed every human being in their path as they began plunder-ing the conquered city.

Men fell by the hundreds as flames engulfed the Babylonian curtain, embroidered with fine blue, scarlet, and purple thread. High on the temple roof, a false prophet cried out for the people to climb up and be delivered. People’s screams of agony as they burned alive carried across the city, mingling with the horrifying sounds of battle in the streets and alleys. Men, women, children— it made no difference, all fell to the sword.

Hadassah tried to shut it out of her mind, but the sound of death was everywhere. Her mother died on the same hot August day that Jerusalem fell, and for two days, Hadassah, Mark, and Leah waited, knowing the Romans would find them sooner or later and destroy them as they were destroying everyone else.

Someone fled down their narrow street. Others screamed as they were cut down without mercy. Hadassah wanted to jump up and run away, but where could she go? And what of her sister and her brother? She pressed further back into the darkening shadows of the small rooms and held Leah.

More men’s voices. Louder. Closer. A door was smashed open not far away. The people inside screamed. One by one, they were silenced.

Weak and gaunt, Mark struggled to his feet and stood before the door, praying silently. Hadassah’s heart beat heavily, her empty stomach tightening into a ball of pain. She heard men’s voices in the street. The words were Greek, the tone scornful. One man gave orders to search the next houses. Another door was smashed in. More screams.

The sound of hobnailed shoes came to their door. Hadassah’s heart jumped wildly. “Oh, God . . .”

“Close your eyes, Hadassah,” Mark told her, sounding strangely calm. “Remember the Lord,” he said as the door crashed open. Mark uttered a harsh, broken sound and dropped to his knees. A bloody sword tip protruded from his back, stain-ing the gray tunic red. Leah’s high-pitched scream filled the small room.

The Roman soldier kicked Mark back, freeing his sword.

Hadassah could not utter a sound. Staring up at the man, his armor covered with dust and her brother’s blood, Hadassah couldn’t move. His eyes glittered through his visor. When he stepped forward, raising his bloody sword, Hadassah moved swiftly and without conscious thought. She shoved Leah down and fell across her. Oh, God, let it be over quickly, she prayed. Let it be swift. Leah fell silent. The only sound was that of the sol-dier’s rasping breathing, mingled with screams from down the street.

Tertius gripped his sword harder and glared down at the ema-ciated young girl covering an even smaller girl. He ought to kill them both and have done with it! These bloody Jews were a blight to Rome. Eating their own children! Destroy the women and there would be no more warriors birthed. This nation deserved annihilation. He should just kill them and be done with it.

What stopped him?

The older girl looked up at him, her dark eyes full of fear. She was so small and thin, except for those eyes, too large for her ashen face. Something about her sapped the killing strength of his arm. His breathing eased, his heartbeat slowed.

He tried to remind himself of the friends he had lost. Diocles had been killed by a stone while building the siege works. Malcenas had been fallen upon by six fighters when they had breached the first wall. Capaneus had burned to death when the Jews had set fire to their own temple. Albion still suffered wounds from a Jew’s dart.

Yet, the heat in his blood cooled.

Shaking, Tertius lowered his sword. Still alert to any move-ment the girl made, he glanced around the small room. His vision cleared of the red haze. It was a boy he had killed. He lay in a pool of blood beside a woman. She looked peaceful, as though she merely slept, her hair carefully combed, her hands folded on her chest. Unlike those who had chosen to dump their dead in the wadi, these children had lain out their mother with dignity.

He had heard the story of a woman eating her own child and it had fed his hatred of Jews, gained from ten long years in Judea. He had wanted nothing more than to obliterate them from the face of the earth. They had been nothing but trouble to Rome from the beginning—rebellious and proud, unwilling to bend to anything but their one true god.

One true god. Tertius’ hard mouth twisted in a sneer. Fools, all of them. To believe in only one god was not only ridiculous, it was uncivilized. And for all their holy protestations and stubborn persistence, they were a barbaric race. Look what they had done to their own temple.

How many Jews had he killed in the last five months? He hadn’t bothered to count as he went from house to house, driven by bloodlust, hunting them down like animals. By the gods, he had relished it, accounting each death as a small token payment for the friends they had taken from him.

Why did he hesitate now? Was this pity for a foul Jewess brat? It would be merciful to kill her and put her out of her misery. She was so thin from starvation that he could blow her over with a breath. He took another step toward her. He could kill both girls with one blow... tried to summon the will to do so.

The girl waited. It was clear she was terrified, yet she did not beg for mercy as so many had done. Both she and the child beneath her were still and silent, watching.

Tertius’ heart twisted, and he felt weak. He drew a ragged breath and exhaled sharply. Uttering a curse, he shoved his sword into the scabbard at his side. “You will live, but you will not thank me for it.”

Hadassah knew Greek. It was a common language among the Roman legionnaires and so was heard all over Judea. She started to cry. He grasped her arm and yanked her to her feet.

Tertius looked at the little girl lying on the floor. Her eyes were open and fixed on some distant place to which her mind had escaped. It was not the first time he had seen such a look. She would not last long.

“Leah,” Hadassah said, frightened at the vacant look in her eyes. She bent down and put her arms around her. “My sister,” she said, trying to draw her up.

Tertius knew the little girl was as good as dead already and it would make more sense to leave her. Yet, the way the older girl tried to gather the child in her arms and lift her, roused his pity. Even the child’s slight weight was too much for her.

Brushing her aside, Tertius lifted the tiny girl easily and gently slung her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Grasping the older girl by the arm, he pushed her out the door.

The street was quiet, the other soldiers having moved on. Dis-tant cries rang out. He walked quickly, aware that the girl was struggling to keep up.

The air of the city was foul with death. Bodies were every-where, some slain by Roman soldiers pillaging the conquered city, others dead of starvation, now bloated and decaying from days of being left to putrefy. The look of horror on the girl’s face made Tertius wonder how long she had been cooped up in that house.

“Your great Holy City,” he said and spat into the dust.

Pain licked up Hadassah’s arm as the legionnaire’s fingers dug into her flesh. She stumbled over a dead man’s leg. His face was crawling with maggots. The dead were everywhere. She felt faint.

The farther they walked, the more horrifying the carnage. Decaying bodies lay tangled together like slaughtered animals. The stench of blood and death was so heavy Hadassah covered her mouth.

“Where do we take captives?” Tertius shouted at a soldier sep-arating the dead. Two soldiers were lifting a Roman comrade from between two Jews. Other legionnaires appeared with plun-der from the temple. Wagons were already loaded with golden and silver sprinkling bowls, dishes, wick trimmers, pots, and lampstands. Bronze shovels and pots were piled up, as well as basins, censers, and other articles used in temple service.

The soldier looked up at Tertius, casting a cursory glance over Hadassah and Leah. “Down that street and around through the big gate, but those two don’t look worth bothering with.”

Hadassah looked up at the temple’s once pristine marble, the marble that had appeared as a snow-covered mountain in the dis-tance. It was blackened, chunks had been gouged out by siege stones, the gold melted away. Whole sections of wall were broken down. The holy temple. It was just another place of death and destruction.

She moved sluggishly, sickened and terrified at all she saw. Smoke burned her eyes and throat. As they walked along the wall of the temple, she could hear a rising, undulating sound of horror coming from within it. Her mouth was parched and her heart pounded harder and faster as they approached the gate to the Women’s Court.

Tertius gave the girl a shove. “You faint and I’ll kill you where you drop, and your sister with you.”

Thousands of survivors were within the court, some moaning in their misery and others wailing for their dead. The soldier pushed her ahead of him through the gate, and she saw the ragged multitude before her. They crowded the courtyard. Most were gaunt with starvation, weak, hopeless.

Tertius lowered the child from his shoulder. Hadassah caught hold of Leah and tried to support her. She sank down weakly and held her sister limply across her lap. The soldier turned and walked away.

Thousands milled around, looking for relatives or friends. Others huddled in smaller groups weeping, while some, alone, stared at nothing—as Leah did. The air was so hot Hadassah could hardly breathe.

A Levite rent his worn blue and orange tunic and cried out in an agony of emotion, “My God! My God! Why hast thou for-saken us?” A woman near him began to wail miserably, her gray dress bloodstained and torn at the shoulder. An old man wrapped in black-and-white striped robes sat alone against the court wall, his lips moving. Hadassah knew he was of the Sanhedrin, his robes symbolizing the desert costume and the tents of the first patriarchs.

Mingled among the crowd were Nazirites with their long, braided hair, and zealots with dirty, ragged trousers and shirts over which they wore short sleeveless vests with a blue fringe at each corner. Divested of their knives and bows, they still looked menacing.

A fight broke out. Women began screaming. A dozen Roman legionnaires waded into the multitude and cut down the adversar-ies, as well as several others whose only offense was to be in close proximity. A Roman officer stood on the high steps and shouted down at the captives. He pointed out several more men in the crowd and they were dragged away to be crucified.

Hadassah managed to draw Leah up and move to a safer place by the wall, near the Levite. As the sun went down and darkness came, she held Leah close, trying to share her warmth. But in the morning, Leah was dead.

Her sister’s sweet face was free of fear and suffering. Her lips were curved in a gentle smile. Hadassah held her against her chest and rocked her. Pain swelled and filled her with a despair so deep she couldn’t even cry. When a Roman soldier came over, she scarcely noticed until he tried to take Leah away from her. She held her sister tighter.

“She’s dead. Give her to me.”

Hadassah pressed her face into the curve of her sister’s neck and moaned. The Roman had seen enough death to become hard-ened by it. He struck Hadassah once, breaking her hold, and then kicked her aside. Dazed, her body laced with pain, Hadassah stared helplessly as the soldier carried Leah to a wagon stacked with the bodies of others who had died during the night. He tossed her sister’s fragile body carelessly onto the heap.

Shutting her eyes, Hadassah drew up her legs and wept against her knees.

The days ran together. Hundreds died of starvation, more of despair and lost hope. Some of the able-bodied captives were taken to dig mass graves.

Rumors spread that Titus had given orders to demolish not only the temple but the entire city. Only the Phasaelus, Hippicus, and Mariamne towers were to be left standing for defensive pur-poses, and a portion of the western wall. Not since the Babylo-nian king Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s temple had such a thing happened. Jerusalem, their beloved Jerusalem, would be no more.

The Romans brought in corn for the captives. Some Jews, still stiff-necked against Roman rule, refused their portions in a last and fatal act of rebellion. More grievous were the sick and weak who were denied food because the Romans did not wish to waste corn on those who would not likely survive the coming march to Caesarea. Hadassah was one of the latter, and so received no food.

One morning, Hadassah was taken with the others outside the city walls. She stared with horror at the scene before her.
Thousands of Jews had been crucified before the crumbling walls of Jerusalem. Scavenging birds feasted upon them. The ground on the siege work had drunk in so much blood it was as red-brown and hard as brick, but the land itself was beyond anything Hadassah had expected. Other than the great, gruesome forest of crosses, there was not a tree, nor a bush, nor even a blade of grass. A wasteland lay before her, and at her back was the mighty city even now being reduced to rubble.

“Keep moving!” a guard shouted, his whip hissing through the air near her and cracking on a man’s back. Another man ahead of her groaned deeply and collapsed. When the guard drew his sword, a woman tried to stop him, but he struck her down with his fist, then with one swift stroke, opened an artery in the fallen man’s neck. Taking the twitching man by his arm, he dragged him to the edge of the siege bank and pushed him over the side. The body rolled slowly to the bottom, where it took its place in the rocks amongst other corpses. Another captive helped the weeping woman to her feet, and they went on.

Their captors sat them within sight and sound of Titus’ camp.

“It would seem we must suffer through a Roman triumph,” a man said bitterly, the blue tassels on his vest identifying him as a zealot.

“Be silent or you will be crow bait like those other poor fools,” someone hissed at him.

As the captives watched, the legions formed and marched in tightly drilled units before Titus, who was resplendent in his golden armor. There were more captives than soldiers, but the Romans moved as one great beast of war, organized and disci-plined. To Hadassah, the rhythmic cadence of thousands of men marching in perfect formation was terrifying to watch. A single voice or signal could make hundreds move as one. How could any people think they could overcome such as these? They filled the horizon.

Titus gave a speech, pausing now and then as the soldiers cheered. Then the awards were presented. Officers stood before the men, their armor cleaned and gleaming in the sunlight. Lists were read of those who had performed great exploits in the war. Titus himself placed crowns of gold on their heads and golden ornaments about their necks. To some he gave long golden spears and silver ensigns. Each was awarded the honor of removal to higher rank.

Hadassah looked around at her fellows and saw their bitter hatred; having to witness this ceremony poured salt in their open wounds.

Heaps of spoils were distributed among the soldiers, then Titus spoke again, commending his men and wishing them great for-tune and happiness. Jubilant, the soldiers cried out their acclama-tions to him time and time again as he came down among them.

Finally, he gave orders that the feasting begin. Great numbers of oxen were held ready at the altars to the Roman gods, and at Titus’ command they were sacrificed. Hadassah’s father had told her Jewish law required the shedding of blood as an atonement for sin. She knew priests within the holy temple performed the sacrifices daily, a constant reminder of the need for repentance. Yet her father and mother had taught her from birth that Christ had shed his blood as an atonement for the sins of the world, that the law of Moses had been fulfilled in him, that animal sacrifices were no longer needed. So she had never seen animals sacrificed. Now she watched in grim horror as one ox after another was killed as a thank offering. The sight of so much blood spilling down over stone altars sickened her. Gagging, she closed her eyes and turned away.

The slain oxen were distributed to the victorious army for a great feast. The tantalizing aroma of roasting beef drifted to hun-gry captives across the night air. Even had they been offered some, righteous Jews would have refused to eat it. Better dust and death than meat sacrificed to pagan gods.

At last, soldiers came and ordered the captives to line up for their rations of wheat and barley. Weakly, Hadassah rose and stood in the long line, sure she would again be denied food. Her eyes blurred with tears. Oh, God, God, do as you will. Cupping her hands as her turn came, she waited to be shoved aside. Instead, golden kernels spilled from the scoop into her palms.

She could almost hear her mother’s voice. “The Lord will pro-vide.”

She looked up into the young soldier’s eyes. His face, weath-ered from the Judean sun, was hard, devoid of any emotion. “Thank you,” she said in Greek and with simple humility, with-out even a thought as to who he was or what he might have done. His eyes flickered. Someone shoved her hard from behind and cursed her in Aramaic.

As she moved away, she was unaware the young soldier still watched her. He dipped the scoop into the barrel again, pouring corn into the hands of the next in line without taking his eyes from her.

Hadassah sat down on the hillside. She was separate from the others, alone within herself. Bowing her head, she tightened her hands around the corn. Emotion swelled. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” she whispered bro-kenly and began to weep. “Oh, Father, forgive me. Amend my ways. But gently, Lord, lest you reduce me to nothing. I am afraid. Father, I am so afraid. Preserve me by the strength of your arm.”

She opened her eyes and opened her hands again. “The Lord provides,” she said softly and ate slowly, savoring each kernel.

As the sun went down, Hadassah felt oddly at peace. Even with all the destruction and death around her, with all the suffer-ing ahead, she felt God’s nearness. She looked up at the clear night sky. The stars were bright and a wind blew softly, remind-ing her of Galilee.

The night was warm...she had eaten . . . she would live. “God always leaves a remnant,” Mark had said. Of all the mem-bers of her family, her faith was weakest, her spirit the most doubting and the least bold. Of all of them, she was least worthy.

“Why me, Lord?” she asked, weeping softly. “Why me?”

My Review of Voice in the Wind

Voice in the Wind is the first book in a trilogy. I read the second book a couple of months ago and enjoyed it, so when I saw the chance to get a copy of this one at no cost, I jumped at it. I haven't been disappointed. As you can see from the first chapter, Francine Rivers paints a detailed picture of life in the Roman Empire. She gets into who her characters are inside rather than just how they appear on the surface. The book is Christian fiction, in the best sense of the word. The main character is a Christian Jew who is taken captive when Jerusalem falls to the Romans. The story is very much about how her faith effects her life and the lives of those around her, and it is shown not by sermon snippets but by her actions. I highly recommend the book. Much of what is sold as Christian fiction couldn't be sold to those without faith because the stories are trite and the dialogue preachy. This book could be enjoyed even by someone who didn't care a bit about religion.



You'll note I said I got the book at no cost. That new button on my sidebar will take you to the homepage of the First Blog Alliance. Basically, if you like to read Christian fiction and have a blog, you can sign up with them. They send you emails stating what books are set to be reviewed in the near future. If you want one, you email the publisher or author (an email address is given) and order a free copy. Your only obligation is to post the author bio and first chapter (they give you the code) on your blog, along with a review. Considering I review most books I read, that's no problem. Stay tuned for the next review, I just got another book in the mail today.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Paying the Price

At this point we are waiting to see where my daughter is going to school next year. This year she was at our district magnet school. To remain there, she has to maintain a C average in all subjects. If she fails to do so one nine weeks she is put on probation. That happened during the third nine weeks because she chose not to do her work. During the fouth nine weeks I followed her work in that class very carefully. She was grounded, but told that we would re-asses when interim reports were issued. When interim reports were issued that class grade had improved tremendously; but she had neglected another subject. There is a distinct possibility that she won't get her C. While there is an appeal process; I rather doubt her reason is what it was designed for. She insists she likes the school and wants to stay there, and I'd like to keep her there, but she does seem to spend a lot of time on homework. I keep trying to tell myself that if she fails to get her C she has made her own bed and the consequences are hers (and mine--choice #2 is a Catholic school with tuition).

What is a parent's responsibility as far as homework goes? Is it really my job to check every assignment to make sure it is done? Does that fact that she isn't willing to do the homework mean that despite the fact that this is where her friends are and despite the fact that she likes the classes, the school isn't for her? I don't watch her every second she is doing homework so I don't know if she is actually doing it, or sitting in her room reading (and to some extent she has to do that because reading is an assignment), or how efficient she is at homework, but I have read that some parents pulled their kids from the school so they could have a life. I don't know how the homework compares to other schools, but at this point, I couldn't imagine her on a sports team having to practice daily or trying out for a play or some other time-consuming extra-curricular activity. I don't know how the homework compares to honors classes in other schools, but those kids do seem to manage to play sports, put on plays, march in the band etc.

Did I ever say how much I hate homework?

I Guess I Should Write about Something Other than Books...

but maybe later.

I just finished a trilogy by Catherine Palmer. The books are Prairie Rose, Prairie Storm and Prairie Fire. They are set shortly after the Civil War in Kansas. They are Christian romances and I enjoyed them. They deal not only with affairs of the heart but also with the gritty work of making a home on the prairie. I got through three of them in two days so obviously they aren't heavy reading but for the genre they were pretty well well written. If you like this kind of book, I' d recommend it.

I also read the first book in another trilogy, Lawana Blackwell's The Widow of Larkspur Inn. It is Christian historical fiction and a bit more substantial than the Prairie books. It is set in Victorian England and tells the story of a widow who finds all her assets gone due to her husband's gambling. All her assets that is, except an inn in a small town. This is the story of her moving to that small town and establishing her new life. While the book has romantic elements, she is still single at the end of the book. I'd definitely trying to find the rest of the trilogy.

Coming Soon

There is a new button on my sidebar and I've found a new way to feed my book habit. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Catholic Novel


I read about this book on Catholic Fire (and who knows how I surfed onto that) and decided to order it. I mean if a Catholic reader like me won't buy this kind of book, why should anyone write it, right? I really wish I could write a gushingly great review of it, but I can't.
First the good: It is a really good story that kept me engaged throughout the book.
Now the bad: The author can't seem to decide if he is writing a novel or teaching a religion class. He makes sure that every cliche' of conserative Catholicism made it into the book at one place or another. The main character prefers the old church with classical lines to modern ones. His spiritual director is a young, cassock-wearing Opus Dei priest. Most of the main characters met at Catholic Youth Day in Denver. NFP is discussed. There is a family with quite a few young kids with a homeschooling SAHM. Of course they say the rosary as a family nightly. Moms all breastfeed and attachment parenting and slings are big. In several spots in the book the characters are discussing religion, but IMO it comes off as phony.
What is the story? It is told through the eyes of a non-Cafeteria Catholic young man. It is mainly the story of his relationship with the mother of his child. It is also the story of his relationship with his best friend from college, who is now an organic farmer, married, with lots of kids. The friend's wife is the SAHM of course. Another main character is another college buddy who is your basic "typical" guy of that age who is living with his girlfriend and not really growing up. It is the story of an overaged adolescent who had to grow up in a hurry--and did. It is a story of self-sacrificing love.
In a lot of ways, I'm disappointed because this could have been a much better book with better editing. It almost seemed like the author had a list of points of doctrine or Catholic moral teachings that he wanted to include in the book, and after he outlined the story, he plugged them in. Some of the Catholic stuff seemed to be there just for the sake of putting it there--like when it mentioned that he always prayed for his parents as he passed the cemetery. That's nice, but so what? It really had nothing to do with the story, and there were plenty of other keys to his Catholic identity.
To compare this book to other books I've reviewed, it was a lot more like those Lori Wick books I've read recently than like the Francine Rivers books. Like Lori's Wick's characters, I found most of these to be too good to be true. I found many of the faith elements of the book to be preachy and not well-integrated into the story.
However, as mentioned earlier, it was a good story, and I recommend that Catholic readers give it a shot.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Books

Let's see what's in my "to be entered in Bookmooch" stack.

Debbie Macomber's Mail Order Bride. It's a Silhouette Romance about a lonely guy in Alaska who runs a personal ad for a wife. Two maiden aunts of a woman who has just broken up with her long-time beau answer the ad, in her name. Of course he picks her, and the aunts "give" her a trip to Alaska, sending her off with some spiked tea, so she is three sheets to the wind when she gets there. She thinks the wedding ceremony/reception is some type of tourist reception and doesn't realize she is married until the next day. Of course she is furious. Of course it all works out in the end. The book was exactly what I expected when I picked it up.

Debbie Macomber's Christmas Wishes is a compilation of two romances, both set at Christmas time. One is set on Blossom Street, where her yarn shop books are set. Again nothing unexpected. As romance novels go, both these and Mail Order Bride were relatively clean--steamy kissing scenes but no vivid bedroom scenes.

Turner's Crossings by Penelope Stokes is a collection of short stories about people in a small town in Minnesota. Some people make appearances in more than one story, but each story stands alone. Each is headed by a Bible verse and then each story illustrates that verse. I've heard that Ms. Stokes' books are classified as Christian fiction, but as I've noted here in the past, most aren't typical of that genre as they don't have clearly religious messages, and characters who don't follow evangelical Christianity aren't made out to be bad guys. This book is somewhat more typical of the genre, but even so, it doesn't fit the pigeonhole completely. One story is about a fraudulent revival preacher. In another, a Protestant makes a retreat at a Catholic convent, and while looking at a crucifix (which she has been taught is either an idol or demonstrates lack of faith in the resurrection) finds what she came seeking.

A New Song is another Mitford book, only it isn't set in Mitford. Fr. Tim has taken a temp job on an island and shepards his new flock after a hurricane damages their church. Sweet, and if it was the only one of these books I'd read, I might have better things to say, but I think I'm getting tired of the series. I guess if I had read it when it came out, I wouldn't be as O'D on it. Nevertheless, I also read A Common Life which tells the story of the engagement, wedding and honeymoon of Tim and Cynthia. It was a quicker, easier read than the other books. I have two more of these and I think I'm going to wait to read them. A month or so from now, I may appreciate them more.

A couple of blogs I've perused have mentioned that Lori Wick is a good writer of Christian fiction, so I mooched a couple of her books. I read Leave a Candle Burning which is the last book in a trilogy. It is set in a New England town in the 1840's. The main characters are a disabled man, his wife of convenience, the new doctor in town and the niece he adopts when his brother dies. It is a romance. It is also very preachy. One thing I like about Christian fiction is seeing how people's faith affects their lives, for good and bad. The characters in this book were all too good. There was a minor character whose choice for salvation, which had nothing to do with the story, got several pages. We went to church with the main characters several times and got the sermon. I guess what I'm saying is that if you are looking for a sermon dressed up as a story, this one wasn't bad, but Wick had a basically interesting story that could have been fleshed out more, and she spent too much time preaching at her readers. I doubt I'll read a lot more of her books.

Another Wick book was The Proposal which was set in England in the early 1800's. Three orphans are bestowed on a bachelor cousin they have never met. He has always wanted kids, but never wanted a wife. It doesn't take him long to realize he is in over his head to he heads to his estranged sister (who became estranged because of her religous beliefs) for help. In time he meets the lovely Christian lady down the street. Eventually he finds Jesus and they live happily ever after. Again, all too good to be true. Again, lots of church services.

One Catholic writer whose stories I enjoy is Andrew Greeley. For those who don't know, he is a priest. Happy Are Those Who Thirst for Justice is a murder mystery. The matriarch of an Irish family is killed on her yacht at the end of a weekend family "party" where, as she usually did, she inflicted psychic wounds on all her children, and where she tried to end the engagement of her grandaughter. A priest, Fr. Blackie Ryan, is asked by the police (they are his friends) to help with the investigation. Of course he solves the murder. For what it is worth, I guessed early on who dunnit. Fr. Ryan talks a little about religion, mostly along the lines of God loving us, forgiving us and even laughing at us. If there is deep theology in this book, I missed it.

It is interesting to note the difference between Greeley's writing and Christian fiction. The evil matriarch in this story is a daily communicant. One of her sons in a priest (actually a suffragen bishop) and another is an ex-priest. The family history is riddled with adultery and fornication. Instead of the characters being too good to be true, they are almost too bad to be true--but still Catholic. My experiece in real life tells me Fr. Greeley may be more honest about the human condition. Even with faith, we are sinful. That's why churches have confessionals.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Devil's Advocate

Sometime ago I ran across a list of "Catholic" novels, and added them to my Bookmooch wishlist. One I recently received, and read was Morris West's The Devil's Advocate. For those not familiar with cannonization (the process by which a person is declared a saint by the Catholic Church), it begins with people who knew the person advocating to the local bishop and to Rome. Next, the person's life is studied by two people. One of these people has the job of finding the good, promoting the cause so to speak. The other is called the defender of the faith and his job is to try to find out anything that would disqualify the person for cannonization. This person is also known informally as "The Devil's Advocate".

This novel is about a priest who is dying of a carcinoma of the stomach who is assigned to be the devil's advocate to study a man who was executed in a small Italian village during WWII. The story was written in 1959 and appears to have been set in about that time as well. He goes to the villiage, meets people who knew the man he was investigating and becomes involved in their lives. This priest has spent his life as a Vatican bureaucrat rather than as a pastor and finds more relationship with these people in his dying days than he has ever had.

My dad once said "Every generation thinks they are the ones who invented sex, but if it wasn't here before them, how did they get here?" I say that because our society today seem so sex-saturated and those yearning for "the good old days" make it seem like "back then" everyone was a faithful, chaste heterosexual. This book challanges that idea without itself containing a lot of sexual content. One of the characters is a homosexual who truly feels he was born that way. He tells the priest that all he wants is what everyone wants, namely to be loved. He complaines about the way people judge him. Another character has tried to use sex to find love, and failed.

I really enjoyed the book and recommend it. The writing is far more complex than most of what I read, and while the priest dies at the end of the book; the ending really is pretty happy. I'm going to try to find more of West's books.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What I've Been 'Reading

My last entry was about why I read. Today I'm going to write about what I've been reading. I'm working my way through the Mitford books by Jan Karon. Thanks for the recommendation, Carrie. I'm really enjoying them. I read Where Willows Grow by Kim Vogel Sawyer. It is Christian fiction. It is about a couple who lives in Kansas during the Depression and what happens when he leaves home to seek work a few hours away. The book did a good job of showing how sin hurts others, even when you mean for it to do good. This is the second book I've read by this author and I'll look for more. Finally, I read a couple of Debbie Macomber romances. One was called Mail Order Marriages and was about a small town in Alaska. The owners of a bush pilot service hire some women to work in the community, but of course the job isn't the REAL reason they want the women there. The other was called That Summer Place and was about three different couples who met at a summer cottage on a Washington island. They are all on my bookmooch list now if you want them.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why I Read

Amy Welborn linked her readers to a discussion titled "What Happened to Catholic Popular Fiction" I tried to comment there but wasn't able to figure out what question I needed to answer in order to get my comment posted. Maybe that's a reflection on my intelligence (or lack thereof). Some of the commentors were writers and one of the things they panned was Christian fiction. They mentioned great fiction by writers like Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor. They talked about themes like sacramentality, forgiveness, redemption, repentance etc. and how good novelists bring forth their themes without explicitly stating them as is done in Christian fiction. In response, I'm posting here about why I read, and what I'm seeking in a book.

I read for entertainment. I do not read to stretch my intellectual horizons, to experience deep catharsis or to solve the problems of the world. I do not generally read as a form of prayer, and if I do, I choose devotional books, not novels. I read things during my workday that make me think, that make me learn about a myriad of topics such that I know a little bit about a lot of topics (I work for a lawfirm) but on my time, I want to relax. I read quickly and want a book I can finish in just a few hours. I want a happy ending. In my opinion, the trouble with Romeo and Juliet is that they died, they didn't live happily ever after. That's not a sophisticated viewpoint, but it is mine, and judging by what I see on sale at the average bookstore, it isn't an uncommon view, except, perhaps, among English teachers.

I'm trying to think if "happily ever after" was part of any book I was ever assigned to read. My son's class is now reading Tuesdays with Morrie which is about, to quote Epinions, " the meaning of life taught by a man who was dying. The dying man was a former professor and his last lessons were taught to one former student on Tuesday afternoons at his home." Fun stuff, not. When I was his age, we read A Separate Peace, a coming of age novel where one of the main characters dies. Another one we read in school was Death Be Not Proud which was about a teen dying of a brain tumor. My son has had to read A Lesson Before Dying about a man condemned to death for a crime he did not commit and Whirlygig about a boy who drove drunk and killed someone. If these are "good" books, give me "bad" books. When I pick up a trashy romance novel, I know it will leave me smiling, not crying. It isn't going to move my soul or open up some new intellectual horizon, but I don't have to worry about the heroine dying in the last scene.

I'm a Catholic who reads Christian fiction. I know this stuff isn't great literature. I know that no English teacher will ever assign these books to a bunch of high school kids. I know that the overwhelming majority of these books will be long forgotten in not too many years. I also know that I enjoy reading them. They have happy endings, usually. They have characters for whom faith is important and whose life is influenced by their faith. I'd love to read a Catholic version of that, but when I search Amazon for "Catholic fiction" I get books about people struggling with the Church's teachings on sex (and the church generally losing) or seeing visions (not a typical Catholic experience from what I've heard). Why can't I find a novel about someone whose life is changed for the better because of the sacrament of reconciliation? Would a novel about a young couple who struggles with the Church's teachings on contraception -- and comes to accept them--be less "good" than one in which they accept freedom and responsibility and reject the church's teachings? I'd love to read about a handicapped baby who makes his parents take a look at the meaning of life, and who decide that life is precious, even if "imperfect", and to show the Church caring for such people.

Walk into any drugstore and there is a rack of books, most of which are trashy romance novels. Look at what is taking up shelf space at the local mega bookstore. They don't devote rows of space to books about death and dying. Their best sellers don't usually require a college graduate to keep a dictionary handy when reading. If you want to write a book that sells, write one that isn't hard to read, that has a happy ending, makes me feel good when I 'm reading it. Maybe the other kind will get you recognized in literary journals and win you awards so if that's what you want to write, go for it, but don't complain when I don't buy it.

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