The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Written in first person from the perspectives of three different women, The Girl on the Train maintains intensity throughout the tale. I like the style in which it is written, jumping from Rachel to Megan, back to Rachel, and then, eventually, to Anna. It turns out that all three of the women have something in common.

Rachel’s part of the story takes place in current time, while Megan’s starts up about a year before. Rachel was once married to Tom, but they got divorced, partly because Rachel started drinking when she couldn’t get pregnant, and then Tom began having an affair with Anna, the woman to whom he is now married. Tom and Anna live in the same house that he and Rachel lived in.

Rachel lives with her “friend” Cathy. She is currently unemployed, although Cathy does not know this. She lost her job because of her drinking problem. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that she is a “black out” drinker.

Even though she has no job, Rachel continues to put up appearances by taking the train into town every morning. The train passes the house in which she used to live. It also passes Megan’s house, and Rachel watches Megan and her husband, Scott (although she doesn’t know their names and calls them “Jason and Jess” as she watches them), every day.

One day, she sees “Jess” intimately kissing a man who is not “Jason.” This upsets her terribly. So much so that, one night, after having too much to drink, she goes to that neighborhood, planning to confront the couple about this. But she blacks out. She wakes up, in her own bed, with blood everywhere and a nasty bump on her head. She remembers nothing of the night before.

Shortly after, the news hits. Megan Hipwell (Rachel’s “Jess”) is missing.

That’s all I will divulge in this review, as going any further would be considered spoiling. The rest of the story is a whirlwind of deceit, plot twists, and more, as Rachel gets way more involved in things than she should. It all comes to an intense finale when we finally find out what has happened.

I will say that I figured out who did it, but only shortly before that truth was revealed in the story. Paula Hawkins keeps us guessing all the way through this thriller.

I haven’t seen the movie, yet, but am looking forward to seeing how it compares to the book.

TTFN, y’all!

Day Shift, by Charlaine Harris

Day Shift is the second book in Charlaine Harris’s series about Midnight, Texas. And I have to say that it is every bit as good as the first book, Midnight Crossing.

Day Shift begins with some big trucks rumbling into Midnight. That, in itself, is not so odd. But, apparently, these trucks were bringing supplies and equipment into town to renovate the old Rio Roca Fria Hotel, at the intersection of the Davy Highway and Witch Light Road.

All of the residents come out to watch. Manfred, the local psychic, who only recently moved into Midnight; Fifi, the witch; Bobo Winthrop, the pawn shop owner; Teacher Reed, who is temporarily running the “Gas N Go” store (the people who ran that store had to make a hasty exit at the end of Midnight Crossing); Madonna Reed, cook and owner of “Home Cookin’,” holding their infant, Grady, in her arms; Joe Strong and Chuy Villegas, Antique Gallery and Nail Salon owners; and “the Rev,” a somewhat mysterious character who runs a pet cemetery behind his chapel.

Only Olivia and Lemuel are missing. Olivia’s out of town on a “job,” and Lemuel is out of town, doing research on some rare books that Manfred found in the last book.

Fast forward a few months, and Manfred is checking into a hotel in Dallas to have some personal sessions with some of his clients. He runs into Olivia in the same hotel, but they pretty much pretend not to notice each other, at least at first.

Then the couple Olivia with which Olivia was having dinner turns up dead, an apparent murder/suicide. Then Manfred’s client dies in the middle of their session. The world turns upside down for Manfred, at that point.

In Day Shift, we learn a lot more about Manfred, Olivia, and the Rev, who is part of a side plot that develops during the story. Not all that we learn is “good.” But, then, that’s to be expected from the residents of Midnight, Texas.

I enjoyed the various plots that threaded throughout this story, and I believe it came to a satisfactory ending. The character development is, in my opinion, rich, even though Lemuel remained pretty much out of the picture throughout this story. I’m hoping he is featured more in the next one, which is, not surprisingly, called Night Shift.

TTFN, y’all!

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I absolutely loved this book!!

As Jacob Portman is growing up, his grandfather, Abraham, tells him stories; stories about a magical place on an island off the coast of Wales, where he allegedly grew up as a refugee from WWII. The house where he lived was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

As time goes by, and Jacob becomes a teen, he begins to lose faith in the truthfulness of these stories. He is especially discouraged from believing them by his parents.

But one day, he gets a frantic call from his grandfather. As he and his friend drive to his grandfather’s house, they find the place completely torn apart, as if it had been ransacked. They find a trail, out the back door, into the woods. The follow the sounds that they hear, culminating in a scream. Eventually, they find his grandfather, bleeding and dying. When Jacob follows the noises he hears, he sees something unimaginable, something monstrous. The thing runs away. Abe dies.

Jacob is later inclined to believe the eventual police report that his grandfather was killed by wild dogs. But then he finds a letter, supposedly written to his grandfather by Miss Peregrine. It was postmarked from Cairnholm Island. But it was only fifteen years old. Abe had been at the home in 1939-1940. That would put Miss Peregrine in her nineties.

Dr. Golan, his psychiatrist, convinces Jacob’s parents to let him take a trip to Wales, and to this island, and when Jacob’s father finds out that the area is replete with bird wildlife (his dad is an aspiring ornithologist), he readily agrees to take him.

They book a room at the only pub on the island. On Jacob’s first trip to the old home, all he finds is a partially demolished shell of a building, with rooms containing old stuff that probably belonged to the children. He does find what he believes to be his grandfather’s room. But that’s all he finds. Nothing magical. Nothing mysterious.

He is not satisfied, however, and makes a return trip, inspired by a visit to his bedroom by a peregrine hawk! He finds an old trunk that turns out to be filled with photographs similar to the ones that his grandfather showed him. One thing I like about this book is that it includes this photographs, which are authentic photos found by the author at places like flea markets. Only a few of them have been retouched for the purposes of the book.

It is at this point that Jacob finally encounters some of the “peculiar children.” From this point on, the book takes a fantastic turn that is, indeed, magical and mysterious. Miss Peregrine and the children are in a manufactured time loop, so that they are always on, I believe, September 3, 1940. There are monsters that are after them, though, and one of these was what killed Jacob’s grandfather.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am anxious to read the second book in the series. As for the movie, I saw it first, and enjoyed it, but they added so much that wasn’t in the book. For example that whole bit about the amusement park was nowhere in the book. The book, in my opinion, is infinitely better than the movie.

A truly fantastic read!

TTFN, y’all!

The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young

The first thing I want to say is that this book is dangerous. Dangerous, most especially, for someone who has recently become a Christian, or whose faith might be weak. I would never recommend this to anyone unless I felt that their biblical knowledge was strong and their faith mature.

After hearing so much about this book over the past few years, and then the movie arriving earlier this year, I decided to read the book to determine what I think of it. I read it with as much of an open mind as I could, having seen opinions all over the place. So here’s what I think.

The first third of the book is a pretty good thriller story, as Mack and his family suffer a tragic loss while on a camping trip. His daughter is taken by a serial killer. Previous abductions by the same perp have never been found. All are assumed dead. The period of time following the loss is called The Great Sadness.

The story begins with Mack going to his mailbox during an ice storm. All he finds is an envelope with only his first name on it. No stamp. No postmark. No return address. Inside is a slip of paper with the following note: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. ~ Papa.”

It is only after the discovery of the note that we get the story of what happened with his daughter. “Papa” is his wife’s name for God. The only evidence of his daughter that was found was her dress on the floor of a run-down shack in the middle of the forest where they were camping.

At first, Mack is angry, thinking that the note is a joke. Then he decides that he’s going to travel to that shack. He borrows a jeep from his friend “Willie” (we are supposed to believe that this is the author of the story) and, not telling his wife, drives to the “scene of the crime.”

What happens next is where most people begin to struggle with the story. Mack encounters the Trinity at this shack. Things are said about God throughout this entire scene, which, allegedly was all a sort of “dream/vision” while Mack was passed out on the floor of the shack. I made quite a few marks in the book from this point on.

The first thing I would say is that we must remember that this is fiction. Even though there is a foreword and afterword, in which the author tries to deceive us into thinking that he really met Mack and this is a real story, it is pure fiction. We should never try to build theology from fiction. Not even Narnia-type fiction. It is analogy for what is the author’s belief.

As the dream portion begins, the chapter titles get super-cheesy. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” “A Piece of (symbol for Pi).” “God On the Dock” (“God In the Dock” is a book of essays by C.S. Lewis). “A Breakfast of Champions.” “A Long Time Ago, In A Garden Far, Far Away.” I mean, c’mon! Enough already! “Here Come Da Judge.”

As I began marking places, the first place dealt with creation and Eden. Oh. I almost forgot. “Papa” presents as a matronly black woman. Personally, I had no issue with that, but I’m sure a lot of people went ballistic over it. Anyway, regarding the “Fall,” Papa said, “But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole creation, we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess–that’s what we have done in Jesus.” In my mind, this kind of puts forth the idea (as Watchman Nee also does) that Jesus was “plan B.”

On the same page, Papa tells Mack that Jesus “has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.” Further, when Jesus healed the blind, “He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” I can’t agree with this at all. I believe that Jesus had all the power within him while he walked the earth. How else could a woman have been healed just by touching the hem of his garment, without him knowing about it?

On page 105, is that idea that makes me cringe every time I hear it. You know the one. Jesus would have died even if you were the only one.

There are some good things in the book, even if they still fall a little short of the mark. I did enjoy the depicted relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They enjoyed each other’s company immensely, and there was perfect, untainted love between them. I have believed, for a number of years, now, that this relationship between the members of the Holy Trinity is what fuels our relationships with each other. Or at least, it should be. The Spirit, depicted as an elderly Asian woman, says, “Relationships are never about power.” This is truth. Our relationships should never be about holding power over one another. At one point, Mack’s reaction to the Trinitarian relationship is this: “He had never seen three people share with such simplicity and beauty. Each seemed totally aware of the others rather than of himself.” I like that.

At one point, Papa says, “We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love.” And then the Spirit says, “Broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them but will neither fill them nor free them.” Again. Good truth, here. “They are addicted to power, or the illusion of security that power offers.”

The chapter about judging, where Mack encounters the embodiment of Wisdom, is tough. There are some good things said regarding our propensity to judge others, as Mack is told to sit in the judge chair and judge God and everyone else. He hesitates, saying that he doesn’t have any ability to judge. Wisdom counters with, “Oh, that is not true. You have already proven yourself very capable, even in our short time together. And besides, you have judged many throughout your life. You have judged the actions and even the motivations of others, as if you somehow knew what those were in truth. You have judged the color of skin and body language and body odor. You have judged history and relationships. You have even judged the value of a person’s life by the quality of your concept of beauty. By all accounts, you are quite well practiced in the activity.”

Ouch.

And then, “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.”

OUCH!!

However, then, the author makes the mistake of trying to tackle God’s thoughts on predestination. He falls far short of understanding God (who among us can, right?) and assigns purely human emotions to the concept of election. A pastor that I know said this, “When we tinker with anthropomorphizing God we diminish His true glory.” I’m not sure “anthropomorphizing” is a real word, but you get the drift. At some point, it is necessary to use anthropomorphism to help us understand God. But when it comes to something as tricky as eternal election, we dare not. At some point, we simply have to accept what Scripture tells us and not deal with it emotionally. Mr. Young has failed miserably at this point.

At the end of chapter 12 is probably the biggest thing that most people have issue with, and I have to question it, myself, as it is not quite clear what Young is trying to say. At first, it seems to say that all roads lead to God, but then he even refutes that statement. But it insinuates that all religions love Jesus equally, or at least that people from all religions love Jesus. We have to be clear, though, that Jesus, himself, said that he was the only way to God. Young never exactly speaks against that truth, but what he does write is very vague.

There are some emotional moments. But I believe that I failed to feel the emotion that I think I was supposed to feel when Mack had an opportunity to reconcile with his dead father (whom, if I read the first part of the book correctly, he murdered and was never called to account for that?). To me, the climax of the entire story is when, in a conversation with Jesus, Mack is forced to come to grips with the thought that he must forgive the killer of his daughter. In this case, I think Young did very well.

So there you have it. I could write a lot more, but that’s a good summary. Again, I believe this is a dangerous book. I came away with some food for thought about the Trinitarian relationship. I was also forced to look at my own propensity to judge unfairly, a problem that I deal with on a regular basis.

To finish up, I want to add some words that my pastor gave me, regarding how he felt about the book. “I thought in trying to deal with the ‘problem of evil’ it did a mediocre job. The relationship of the Trinity was fun and at times insightful. The depiction of the Trinity doesn’t quite do Trinitarianism justice. But it was an enjoyable and emotional read. I think the controversy over [it] is largely based on interviews the author did where he essentially claimed those were based on a ‘conversation’ with God. The author saw it as ‘more’ than a fictional story, and large numbers of readers seem to also [be] getting more theology from The Shack than Scripture and Creeds. But to me, that’s more their fault than the book’s fault.

“I agree that it’s dangerous for people who aren’t already firm in their faith and theologically trained enough to discern the heretical aspects of it. But if you can do that, it is an enjoyable book and the emotional wrestling with a very real philosophical problem that we all go through can be helpful taken with the proverbial grain of salt. I don’t recommend the book unless I’m sure the person can handle it well.”

TTFN, y’all!

Revival, by Stephen King

Revival follows the interactions of Jamie Morton and a small town reverend, Charles Jacobs, over the span of several decades. Jamie and Charles first meet when Jamie is a young boy. Jacobs is the new reverend at their local church. He infuses new life into the church, and things are going great until tragedy strikes Jacobs and his family. Everything begins to crumble at that point. Jacobs loses faith, and so does Jamie. But not before Jacobs apparently healed Jamie’s older brother’s voice with electricity.

Time goes by, and Jamie runs across Jacobs again at a state fair. Jacobs, having always been fascinated by electricity and lightning, is running an attraction at the fair, involving electricity and photography. Not exactly fake, but not exactly real, either. Jamie is strung out, addicted to heroin, having just been kicked out of his touring rock band. When he passes out at Jacobs’s demonstration, he awakes to find himself in Jacobs’s RV.

Jacobs eventually convinces Jamie to travel with him to his workshop in Oklahoma, where Jacobs administers a sort of shock therapy to him. Jamie will never touch drugs again. This is just the beginning, though.

Later on, Jamie encounters Jacobs once again. He seems to have returned to his religious roots, running a healing ministry. Again, electricity is involved. The intensity gains force as the story goes on, and strange things begin to happen to a number of people that Charles Daniel Jacobs has “healed.” Things that are not good.

All of this comes to a head with one big event, toward the end of the book. Jacobs blackmails Jamie into helping him by offering to heal his first love from his teenage years, who is dying from cancer. Jacobs is intent on seeing what is behind the “door” that many of his “patients” have seen, immediately after their “healing.” He finds out. I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t.

I enjoyed the book, although it is far from a favorite. As has been the case more than once, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. But it held my attention, and I enjoyed the character development and interaction.

TTFN, y’all!

God’s Prayer Program, by T.M. Moore

There’s a bit too much alliteration in this book. And the word “program” is, quite possibly, used more times than there are pages in the book.

However, I did find some positive things in the book. There are a number of good reasons given as to why we should consider using the Psalms as a foundation for our prayers.

I love the Psalms, and have for at least two decades. Maybe that came out wrong. I have always loved the Psalms, but for at least two decades they have captivated my soul. I do believe that they are, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the “prayer book of the Bible.” And this is one place where T.M. Moore nails it.

I was able to, in a way, get around the over-usage of the word “program,” and glean some positive things. Moore begins by alerting us to the need for the idea of using Psalms as the basis for our prayer life. Most of us need some serious help when it comes to praying, and pretty much anything we need can be found in the lengthy book that can be found in the exact middle of most Bibles (unless there are several hundred pages of study helps in the back of yours, in which case you will likely find Revelation in the middle). I have long felt that that this is no accident.

For centuries, the Psalms were prayed, daily, by the Church. Some monks would even pray through them in a week, or perhaps even one day. Somewhere along the way, the church lost track of this. We got modern. We got techno. But we lost something precious. We forgot about praying the Psalms.

Moore specifically gives us his goal for praying the Psalms. He borrows from Athanasius who, in the fourth century said, “He who recites the psalms is uttering [them] in his own words, and each sings them as if they were written concerning him . . . [H]e handles them as if he is speaking about himself. And the things spoken are such that he lifts them up to God as himself acting and speaking them from himself.” Moore goes on to say, “Simply put, the goal of learning to pray the psalms is to make the psalms our own prayers.”

Moore lists several ways to pray the Psalms. You can pray them verbatim. There are many psalms with which this will work just fine. But then there are others that you might want to paraphrase as you pray. You can allow the reading of a psalm to inspire you to pray for other people and/or circumstances.

Of course, anyone familiar with Psalms knows that there are a few “problem” psalms. The most obvious of these is Psalm 137. You know the one. It begins “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” Not so bad, at first, but it’s the ending that is troublesome. “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” I can’t very well pray THAT!! But I can read that psalm and allow it to inspire me to pray for persecuted and oppressed Christians in other parts of the world where scenarios such as that might just be reality.

There are benefits to praying the Psalms, including a deeper sense of the presences of God, a more comprehensive prayer life (Psalms runs the gamut of the emotional state of humanity), greater consistency in prayer, more freedom in prayer, and an enhanced prayer life.

Don’t be fooled, though. Prayer is hard work. And our enemy definitely doesn’t want us to be praying. So if you plan to make use of this wonderful tool, be prepared for obstacles to rise up in your path.

I have already begun praying Psalms, but am still working on incorporating them more into my daily prayer life. Moore offers some sample schedules at the end of the book, but, frankly, I found the monthly one to be a bit confusing. I do know that if I read five psalms a day, I can read through all of them in a month. So that’s where I’m starting. I also believe that, based on a previous book that I read (The Psalter Reclaimed, by Gordon J. Wenham), that they are arranged the way they are for a purpose, and for that reason, will be reading them in sequence.

I would recommend this book for people who are interested in using Psalms as a foundation for their prayer lives. Hopefully, you can get around the many appearances of that word, “program.”

TTFN, y’all!

Clinging: The Experience of Prayer, by Emilie Griffin

This is an incredible little book. Weighing in at only 72 pages, it might not seem worth your while, but it most definitely is, especially if you are interested in developing a deeper, more intimate prayer life.

This is not a theology book, nor is it a technical kind of “how to pray” book. This is a book about doing exactly what the title says: Clinging. Clinging to what or who, you ask? Clinging to God/Jesus. Clinging to our Father like there is no one or nothing else that can help us.

I was immediately captivated in the first page of the forward when Ms. Griffin says, citing William Johnston, “the mystic must cling to God (‘for God is his truest being’), but need not cling to views and ideas about God.” Earlier in the forward, she says, “As for ‘clinging,’ I have consciously chosen an image of attachment to God, in hopes of conveying our dependency on him.” And truthfully clinging to God will detach us from “false dependencies that bind us hand and foot.”

There are seven chapters, each describing an aspect of prayer. The first, rightfully so, is called “Beginning.” Again, I was captivated by the first few lines. “There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as dark as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying. For some of us, this split second may last for decades.”

That still gives me goosebumps, for it is truth. Beginning is the hardest part of prayer, isn’t it? We think about it, we plan for it, we commit that we will do it, and then we do almost anything else to keep from actually starting it.

The book works through other aspects, such as yielding and transparency, then concludes with the final chapter, “Clinging.” This paragraph sums it all up quite well.

“We must cling to the one reality that does not crumple. The one rock that will not be washed loose in the tide and onslaught of anything. We must cling to the one reality that will hold firm, though the earth be destroyed and the mountains flung into the sea and the sun put out. We must cling to the One who holds eternity in his hand, who will not perish in the end, and who has power to save us, too. The One who knew us before we existed, in whose thought and by whose hand we exist from moment to moment. He chose and shaped us from our mother’s womb to be intimate with him. This intimacy is what we were made for. Apart from it, we feel at odds with existence and even with ourselves. Close to him, we are at peace. This is the one intimacy of which we need not be afraid, for it will not disappoint or betray us. On God we can loose all the intensity of what we are, all the passion and the longing we feel. This is the one surrender we can make in utter trust, knowing that we can rest our whole weight there and nothing will give way.”

Clinging. This is my goal in prayer and devotion. I want to cling to my Father like there is nothing else.

I will be reading this book again. I can easily see it being one of those that becomes completely worn out over time.

TTFN, y’all!