Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses 

Written by by Malorie Blackman, Narrated by Syan Blake and Paul Chequer

Reason for Reading: Group read for my Social Justice February theme (which didn't go so well this year due to a month of hospital runs....but things are looking more perky now!)

Callum McGregor and Sephy Hadley have been best friends for as long as they remember. But recently their feelings for each other have begun to develop into something...stronger. Unfortunately, Sephy is a member of the dark-skinned upper class of Cross, and Callum is a pale-skinned, low-class Nought. The teens' romantic problems intensify when Callum's family gets caught up in a terrorist liberation organization that Sephy's father (a politician) has sworn to stamp out. Sephy and Callum must learn to love each other in a tumultuous world of hatred. Does this scream out "star-crossed lover" to you? But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? (I got the same Romeo and Juliet vibe from Warm Bodies, which I just finished reading. I think it's fun when the cosmic net of connected concepts captures me.) 

I've heard fantastic things about this book, but I wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be. Maybe it's just because I wasn't in the mood to read depressing race-relations books (and they're all a bit depressing, aren't they?), but this book wasn't a slap in the face of my preconceived notions.  It was just another book about racism, much like a book written about a white girl and teenaged member of the Black Panthers. The whole skin-color switcharoo seemed like an unnecessary literary device to me. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it was a bad book...I was just expecting more amazingness, that's all. It was a tragically-sweet love story about a very important issue - racism, and the ease with which we can be swept away by other people's causes. But I think the book would have been more powerful if she'd focused on  the realism of the story instead of trying to build a new world that was simply too similar to our own to justify the effort of creation.  

What do other people think? I imagine there are people out there who think the skin-color switcharoo added to the story? If so, please let us know. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Lesson, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Lesson, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Reason for Reading: This is the third book in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series. An ARC was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mary Kate (M.K.) has finally reached adulthood and she wants to spread her wings and explore the world. Although she dearly loves her family and friends, she's not sure the Amish life is for her. However, her big plans grind to a halt when she accidentally crashes into the community's school teacher, and she has to teach the kids until the regular teacher has recovered. But she is much more interested in playing detective than teaching. She wants to solve a murder and find out more about the mysterious strangers that moved into town. In this third and final book of the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, M.K. matures, but she is also the same fun-loving M. K. She learns to stay true to her nature while learning (once and for all?) that she should keep her nose out of other people's business. But will she stay in Stoney Ridge, or leave the community to explore the world?

I'm really glad The Lesson gave me the opportunity to tie up all the loose ends on the Lapp family. The book is a quick read, with a light and humorous writing style. M.K. is probably the most complex character in the series, and this exploration of her strengths, weaknesses, and quirks makes for a satisfying conclusion to the Stoney Ridge Seasons series. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle

Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle

Reason for Reading: This is my first (and feature) book for the 2013 Social Justice Theme Read. An ARC was provided by the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review. 


When Robin Duncan takes on a security/translator contract in Democratic Republic of Congo, she doesn't expect all of her old wounds to open. Then she meets a man that she hoped to never see again, and she is reminded not only of her disappointment in humanity but also of the senseless death of her brother. Duncan must struggle inwardly with these issues while she maintains military efficiency in her team's efforts to capture a deadly insurgent leader. Soon, she learns that not all is as it seems - sometimes, good seems evil and evil seems good. Sometimes well-intentioned people can become monsters while fighting monsters. 

Most Christian Suspense I've read is fairly fluffy, so I was surprised (and impressed) with the meatiness of this plot. I found the intensity of the mercenary action against the insurgency convincing. Often, I found myself unable to put the book down for suspense. The romantic tension was delicious, and added emotional depth to the characters without distracting from the suspense plot. And, of course, I always find stories about social justice medical personnel heartwarming. I also learned a lot about the Democratic Republic of Congo while reading this book. Windle has done a lot of research to back up all aspects of her plot - and it really shines through.

The only con would be a con ONLY to people who specifically avoid Christian Fiction. At one point, the suspense is, well, suspended by a philosophical discussion about why God allows bad things to happen to good people. This discussion would be interesting to any reader of Christian Fiction (i.e. the target audience), and the philosophy is demonstrated in the story by action. For those of you who generally avoid Christian Fiction because you feel it is "preachy," I recommend that you give this book a try anyway. Yes, there is that short section, but the rest of the book is all philosophy-demonstrated-by-action. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I am eager to read more of Windle's works now that I've had this taste. :) 

Interview with Jeanette Windle

Jeanette Windle Biography: As daughter of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in more than thirty on five continents. Those experiences have birthed 16 international intrigue titles, including bestselling Tyndale House Publishers release Veiled Freedom, a 2010 ECPA Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist and sequel Freedom's Stand, a 2012 ECPA Christian Book Award and Carol Award finalist and 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year finalist. Jeanette mentors Christian writers in both English and Spanish on all five continents.


1. You write international suspense, dealing not only with contemporary events from Bolivia to Afghanistan, Amazon guerrilla zones to the Congolese rainforest, but a variety of social justice issues as well. Why these particular stories?

The answer is actually simple. As authors, we're told to "write what we know". I write about the world I know, a world well outside of safe American borders. I grew up the daughter of American missionaries in rural areas of Colombia that are now guerrilla hot spots. After marrying another missionary kid, my husband and I spent sixteen years as missionaries in Bolivia, one of the world’s top-five most corrupt countries. From Bolivia we were called to leadership with a ministry that serves in more than fifty countries on five continents. As result, I've now lived in six countries and traveled in more than thirty, including some of the planet’s more difficult corners.

Along the way I've come face to face with a depth of human depravity and injustice to break my heart. A two-year old street urchin scrabbling for garbage scraps. An 11-year-old girl in prison for running away from a forced marriage with a 60-year-old degenerate. A 14-year-old girl setting herself on fire to escape being forced into prostitution by husband and mother-in-law. Boy soldiers with their cold, dead eyes and lost dreams. Church and civic leaders murdered or imprisoned for speaking against injustice that threaten business profits of the rich and powerful.

On the flip side, I've learned even more of the over-riding sovereignty and passionate love of our Creator God, of love and self-sacrifice expressed by God-followers, in the darkest of situations. Those places and people, the spiritual lessons God has taught me along the journey, have spilled over to become the settings and themes of sixteen novels to date. 

2. Is there a story behind your newest Tyndale House Publishers release, Congo Dawn?

Growing up in the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, I was captivated by missionary biographies from its second-largest African counterpart, the Congo. Among them the story of Dr. Helen Roseveare, who helped establish several mission hospitals and medical training centers in the Ituri rainforest despite violence and unrest of impending Congolese independence, herself held captive for five months during the 1964 Simba rebellion. The largest of those centers Nyankunde was in turned razed in 2002 during the continuing conflict that has taken more than five million Congolese lives in the last decade. Today's fighting is greatly aggravated by the value and pursuit of conflict minerals in that zone. 

As always, it has been the mission pilots, medical personnel both expatriate and Congolese, and other followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ, who have been first back into the conflict zones well ahead of United Nations, embassy, local law enforcement or any other humanitarian and corporate interests. Their courage in shining bright the light of Yesu's love in one of the planet's darkest corners gave voice to this story.

3. How did you come up with the concept for Congo Dawn?

For the story's actual suspense thread, I've had personal opportunity to witness what a multinational corporation is capable of in dark corners of the Third World when no one is watching (an experience in itself too unbelievable to write up as fiction). In Africa as elsewhere, both the protective and striking arm of such corporations has historically been hired foreign mercenaries. But today's private military corporations are vastly different, possessing more fire power than the average country. What struck me was the lack of any accountability to outside oversight beyond some paid-off local warlord.

So what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power in a Congolese rainforest where the ultimate 'conflict mineral' is up for grabs? Coming up with one very plausible possibility birthed Congo Dawn

On a deeper spiritual level, Congo Dawn addresses the age-old question of how a world filled with such darkness, injustice and pain can possibly be the creation of a God of love. How can followers of Yesu [Jesus]  in the bleakness of an Ituri rainforest conflict zone or any other dark corner of this planet take seriously a Scriptural mandate to rejoice in their suffering [James 1:2; I Peter 4:13]? What value beyond our own comprehension might human suffering possibly hold that a loving Creator God permits it to continue?

4. Congo Dawn's main protagonist Robin has a strong sense of social justice herself. How much of her quest for justice and faith comes from your own real life experience?

At one of the story's high points, the main protagonist Robin asks a question with which I think every reader can identify:

“I would give my own life to stop the pain I’ve seen. To stop little girls and boys from being raped. Or just as bad, forced into armies where they’re turned into killers. To keep families from being torn apart by war. Children dying of preventable diseases for lack of a dollar’s worth of medicine. So am I more compassionate than the God who created all these people, created all this beauty? How can an all-powerful God who claims to love humanity look down on our planet and watch such unspeakable things happening, innocent people hurting and dying, bad guys winning over and over again, so much suffering, without it breaking His heart? Without reaching down and putting a stop to it?"

Robin's personal faith journey through the pages of Congo Dawn reflects my own spiritual wrestling with the above questions and the whole issue of a world that falls so far short in areas of social justice.  The answer begins ultimately with recognizing as the protagonist does that I am not more compassionate than my Creator. Any love I can possibly feel or show is a dim reflection of our heavenly Father's love.

So if I begin with the recognition that God is truly love, that He loves us far more than we can love others, I must come to the same simple, yet profound realization to which Congo Dawn's main protagonist is ultimately drawn. The coexistence of a loving Creator with human suffering is no oxymoron, but a divine paradox those refined in the fires of adversity are best equipped to understand. The smallest flames of love and faith shine most brightly against the darkest night. Our heavenly Father really does know what He's doing, and His ultimate plans for our lives and all His creation will not be thwarted.

And in that realization is the basis for a faith that cannot be shaken however dark the night.

5. Have your books prompted any "social justice" responses?  

I will never forget a Guatemalan aristocrat who wrote that my novel Betrayed had so convicted him of the role his own family had played in his country's situation that he'd dedicated a part of the family fortune to just such a "garbage dump children" outreach as I described in the book. A similar letter came from a humanitarian aid worker in Tajikistan who wrote me she'd been motivated to found an outreach for women as depicted in my Afghanistan novels Veiled Freedom/Freedom's Stand.

Another reader of my Afghanistan titles wrote that my characters Jamil, Steve, and Amy had become so real she found herself praying for their situation. Then reminding herself they were fictional characters, she'd been impelled to commit herself instead to daily prayer for the Afghan people.

I could tell such stories with every book; this is why I write!

6. What would you like your readers to do once they have finished reading?

Choose to be more involved in their world beyond the four walls of their home and the streets of their own neighborhood, even if it is only by becoming more informed and through prayer.

7. How can a reader connect with you on the Internet?

I'd like to invite any reader interested in knowing more about Congo Dawn, my other titles, or my own life journey to visit me at my website (www.jeanettewindle.com) or contact me directly at jeanette@jeanettewindle.com. I'd also be delighted to participate with your local book club or discussion group through Skype video or on-line chat conference (or in person if I am in the vicinity).