Monday, July 21, 2014

THE THEFT OF THE VIRGIN by John Scherber



THE THEFT OF THE VIRGIN by John Scherber

John Scherber, The Theft of the Virgin (San Miguel Allende Books, 2012).

Also available on Kindle.





(MYSTERY)

Reviewed by Wilda Morris

When I visit a city, especially outside the US, I enjoy reading novels set in that location. In the shop of the Biblioteca in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico (the library with the second largest collection of books in English in all of Mexico), I found a series of mysteries set in that fascinating city. I should have selected the first in the series of Paul Zacher mysteries, Twenty Centavos, but The Theft of the Virgin, the ninth one, was a bit lighter, and I had already purchased several books (i.e., my suitcase was getting heavy!). As with most such series, later books give away some things that happened in earlier books.

I was in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) to attend The San Miguel Poetry Week (http://www.sanmiguelpoetry.com/) and to enjoy the many delights of the old colonial city and its environs, so I read only the first few pages while I was there. I finished the rest on the flight back to Illinois. The main characters in the series are Paul Zacher, Maya Sanchez, and Cody Williams. Paul is an American expat living in SMA. Like many expats there, Paul is an artist, or more specifically, a painter. In Twenty Centavos, he got pulled into the investigation of the murder of an antique dealer, and he has been investigating crimes ever since. His Mexican girlfriend, Maya Sanchez, has become the manager of the Paul Zacher Detective Agency. She is beautiful and witty. She unhappy when Paul gets her into dangerous situations although she is very good at dealing with them. Cody is another American expat, a retired detective. The characters three-dimensional and interesting.

Much of the story takes place in SMA, where who knows what (or who) lurks behind the omnipresent high privacy walls. Dr. Bernard Glass heads the Vergruen Reference Collection, a collection of fakes of paintings by the old masters. Glass exhibits his collection (or parts of it) in various cities around the world and makes presentations on how to recognize forgeries. When the exhibit of fakes comes to Belles Artes in San Miguel, Paul is astonished to discover that the Georges de la Tour painting titled St. Jerome is the genuine article, not a fake at all. He goes to Texas to inform Dr. Glass, only to discover he is a man who taught art history (under a different name) at Miami University in Ohio when Paul was a student there. Dr. Glass dismisses him out of hand. Paul is quite certain the painting is genuine because it is one he studied deeply and copied during his student years.

Paul goes to the Minneapolis Academy of Art where he meets with the executive assistant to the director, to inform her that the Academy is showing a forgery, while the real painting by de la Tour is being shown in an exhibit of fakes. A break-in at Belles Artes results in the disappearance of the painting and—this being a mystery—a murder. To find out what happens next, you will have to read this fast-paced book.

Scherber works in details of the history of Mexico (especially SMA), descriptions of parts of the city, and art history. Far from slowing down the story, these details enliven it. I plan to read more of the series, starting with Twenty Centavos.
 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

COMING HOME: A STORY OF UNDYING HOPE by Karen Kingsbury



Karen Kingsbury, Coming Home:  A Story of Undying Hope (The Baxter Family) (Zondervan, 2012).

Karen Kingsbury, Coming Home: The Baxter Family, Audiobook read by Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki (Zondervan.com, 2012)

Also available on Nook and Kindle.


(FICTION)
Reviewed by Wilda Morris

When I was given the CDs of Coming Home: The Baxter Family, I was not familiar with the novels of Karen Kingsbury, although she has been at the top of the charts in the field of Christian fiction. Thus, when I put Coming Home in the CD player in my car, I had no idea that  Kingsbury had featured members of the Baxter family in fourteen previous books (The Redemption Series, The Firstborn Series, and the Sunrise Series). If you think you might like to read or listen to Coming Home, you might want to read the earlier books first. Coming Home is a “stand-alone” book that you can understand without having read the others, but it gives away much of what happens in the earlier volumes.

There was a major problem with listening to Coming Home while I was literally “coming home”—driving from Green Lake, Wisconsin to my home to Illinois: crying and driving are not really compatible activities. The story provides a lot to cry about.

The set-up for Coming Home is that John Baxter is about to celebrate his seventieth birthday. One daughter wants to bring all her siblings and their spouses to her home in Indiana to celebrate with him. She thinks the best gift would be for each of John’s children to write a letter to their dad, telling him what he has meant to them.

As the novel switches focus from one branch of the family to another, old family secrets (revealed in earlier Baxter family novels) come to light in a way that makes me suggest that this book might be considered an epilogue for Kingsbury’s Baxter family books. Each character relives old experiences of joy and loss, and of times they let their father down and found him unwilling to give up on any of them.

The birthday party does not go off as planned, because . . . . well, should I give it away? Let’s just say the books deals with a lot of loss. In addition to the question of why God allows tragedy, the book takes on such issues as jealousy, organ donation, open and closed adoption, sex outside of marriage, forgiveness, and redemption. For all the sorrow in the book, there is also joy. As members of the Baxter family deal with loss, they have their weak moments, but in the end, lean on each other and their shared faith to get through difficult days.

Kingsbury is a best-selling author, beloved (I have since learned) by readers of Christian fiction, and is a highly-regarded speaker. Her book Like Dandelion Dust was made into a major motion picture. Besides the fact that the book kept making me cry, it was a bit preachier than I prefer. There is no question, though, that Kingsbury’s books are well-written and “wholesome.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

MISSION FOR LIFE: THE STORY OF THE FAMILY OF ADONIRAM JUDSON by Joan Jacobs Brumberg



Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Mission for Life:  The story of the Family of Adoniram Judson, the dramatic events of the first American foreign mission, and the course of evangelical religion in the nineteenth century (The Free Press, Inc., NY, 1980).



(BIOGRAPHY)

Reviewed by Dorinda Rupe


This is a fascinating, well researched book and an excellent one to read now. Last year (2013) marked the 200th anniversary of Adoniram Judson's embarkation with his bride of two weeks, Ann Hasseltine, from the U.S.A. to become the first American foreign missionaries. This year (2014) is the 200th anniversary of their mission in Burma, since the British East India Company had the power to deny them the right to do mission work in India. As the title indicates, this is not a biography of Judson, but the story of his family, including his three wives (not polygamy, as was practiced in Burma, but due to the deaths of his first two wives) and three of the six children who survived into adulthood and were involved in some sort of religious education/ministry.

The book emphasizes the interplay between the Protestant evangelical movement of 19th century America and the Judson family and how they impacted each other. Although the Judsons converted from Congregationalist to Baptist based on Biblical study during the long voyage from the U.S.A. to India, which convinced them that their own pedobaptisms were not biblical, their names became household words to all evangelical denominations. Adoniram and Ann, believing strongly in the "power of words" sent regular reports back to the states—both to the supporting Baptists and Ann to secular magazines. Their readership excitedly looked forward to the next installment of their story. The names of Adoniram and Ann became well known in the U.S.A. and both their lives became models for evangelical thinking and behavior. Each of the three wives was dedicated to the "mission for life" commitment.  His third wife brought new talents in communication, not to the "heathen" of Burma, but the unreached in America. None of the three children who survived to adulthood became a foreign missionary, but they were impacted not only by their parents, but also the changes in life and culture in the U.S.A., each finding new ways to express their faith here in the states.
Interesting facts:

1.  Ann was not commissioned, since she was female, but received the following words from her pastor, the Rev. Jonathan Allen, "on her wedding day, February 5, 1812, in the Congregational Church at Haverhill." This farewell sermon by Rev Allen, included remarks addressed specifically to Ann and to her friend, Harriet Atwood Newell, who was also to go: 

It will be your business, my dear children, to teach these women, to whom your husbands can have but little or no access.  Go then, and do all in your power, to enlighten their minds, and bring them to the knowledge of truth.  Go, and if possible, raise their character to the dignity of rational beings, and to the rank of Christians in a Christian land.  Teach them to realize that they are not an inferior race of creatures; but stand upon par with men. . . . (page 88)

2.  Ann was very much an advocate for women's rights, in a country where women were considered worse than dogs and practices such as polygamy, suttee (with sometimes, not just one, but  multiple living wives being burned on the funeral pyre with their deceased husband), and others were common.

3.  The Judson's, unlike missionaries from some other churches, did not try to turn converts into Americans, but instead allowed them to continue to wear their normal Burman attire, learned their language instead of insisting that they learn English, etc. They valued the customs of Burma. The king praised them for that.

4.  The American Baptist Church, International Ministries is having a 200th anniversary conference this summer. All 113 of the commissioned missionaries will be in attendance as will 100 representatives of mission partners in the various countries. It will begin with a huge birthday party and conclude at the end of the week with a re-commissioning of those already involved in their work, the commissioning of new missionaries ready to go into the field, and the commissioning of all participants, as we are all called to preach, teach and serve others. See World Mission Conference for more information.

I am so impressed by the missionaries that I have had the privilege of meeting and/or learning about. Two I am especially excited about and support are Dan Buttry and Lauren Bethell.  Dan travels the world, mediating and training others to do mediation. He is apt to be wherever there are crises. I was happy to hear that he went prior to Kenya's last elections to work with tribes that had been killing each other's members following the previous election. I know there were others, helping with this, but what a different election this one was! He is wonderful about keeping those who support him updated as to his trips and work in the various fields.  

Lauren is in Switzerland and working in the area of human trafficking. She also travels all over and trains others in this field of work. It is so wonderful to be part of these 2 vital areas that are so needed in our world today. I have met Lauren and will meet Dan at the conference.  

5.  Our Uncle Aaron Webber was one of the ABC missionaries. He and Aunt Margaret served many years in Puerto Rico, training Puerto Ricans so they could take over American Baptist work there. Later he served in Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.