Archive | Religious RSS feed for this section

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

24 May

“This is a Story…”

 

We’ve already heard The Greatest Story Ever Told right?

We’ve seen it in movies, in books about Jesus Christ, in novels that retell his story again and again. Anne Rice’s recent books Christ the Lord Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord The Road To Cana come to mind.

The Greatest Story Every Told, that of Jesus and his birth and the miracles he performed has been told and retold so many times that there’s no possible way to give it a new spin for a modern age. Or is there?

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy and supplemental books, featuring Lyra Belacqua (or Lyra Silvertongue). The books received a lot of notice when they were first published as they are very anti-religion, very anti-God. This should come as no surprise to fans of Pullmans. Pullman himself as admitted that he is an atheist.

When I first heard that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was being written by Pullman, I wondered why an atheist had chosen to retell The Greatest Story Ever Told. I wondered if Pullman would colour the narrative with his own negative views on Christianity.

Thankfully, he keeps his views to himself. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an incredible new retelling of the life of Jesus…and his brother.

Pullman sets up the story in the very beginning. Mary gives birth to two baby boys, twins. One, she names Jesus, one she names Christ. Christ seems to be a bit sickly and thin whereas Jesus seems strong and thriving.

When the three Wiseman come, following the star, they see two babes in the manger. When they ask Mary which one is the messiah, which one will be their saviour, she points to Christ. He’s a little sickly and can use the attention, she thinks.

This sets in motion events that no one could have foretold, not even the angels. As Jesus becomes more and more well known, and his miracles become more and more exaggerated, Christ begins to receive visits from a stranger who seems very interested in him.

Who is the mysterious stranger? Will Christ ever be out of Jesus’ shadow? And when Christ begins to write down Jesus’ doings and exaggerating them beyond all truth, the consequences for Jesus and for Christ will be dire indeed…

I’ll admit, this book surprised me. I didn’t expect a book about the life of Jesus written by a well known and vocal atheist to be any good. But it wasn’t just good; it was fantastic. Not only did Pullman give us a new retelling of the life of Jesus that seemed entirely plausible, he kept the story historically accurate.

Pullman has obviously done his research and has written a story that is at once historical novel and modern parable. Though a lot of people will and have react badly to the idea that Jesus Christ was actually two children, Jesus and Christ, it makes the reader stop and think about the history of the story.

It makes us stop and remember.

That, in the end, is the true power of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. You remember it long after you’ve turned the last page. Though it is written in very simple language, though it is written in a style much like a fable, it makes you stop and remember.

I found myself remembering pieces of scripture as I read it, remembering the commandments I had been raised on. It also helps to make you remember what it was like when you were a child and the whole world was at your fingertips. All you had to do was reach out and grasp it.

Though this is the greatest story ever retold, you’ve never ever read it this way before. The ending is cataclysmic and the book will leave you breathless. Told in simple, lyrical prose, The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is indeed The Greatest Story Every Re-Told.

The Circle of Friends Book I: Lori by L. Diane Wolfe

15 Mar

loricoverforsite

What would you do if your life went in a direction you hadn’t planned? Would you charge on forward? Would you have the confidence to continue down an unknown path? Or would you crumble under your own self doubt?

Lori Anders lives the good life. She is the child of wonderful parents. She has incredible grades in school. She is popular and well liked by everyone. She is also an amazing swimmer who has dreams of swimming in the Olympics.

But, even with all sorts of good things going for her, Lori still feels empty. Though she puts on a good face to the world, always appearing happy and content, inside Lori is unsure of herself and extremely unhappy.

That all changes when she meets Jason Phillips.

When Lori is attacked after helping her friend deal with some bullies, Jason Phillips comes to her aid. He marvels at the fact that Lori is able to stand up to so much pressure, so much tension and still think positively.

Lori immediately tried to pull within herself, unsure as to why one of the most popular guys in school would even stop to help her. As Lori battles her self doubt and her lack of confidence, her relationship with Jason develops into something more than friendship.

Jason’s interest in her and their growing love help force Lori out of her shell and build up her confidence. But when something happens that tests her newfound confidence, will Lori give in to her old demons?

The Circle of Friends Book I: Lori is an absolute delight from start to finish. Never have I read such an emotionally charged wonderful book. Wolfe has succeeded in writing a book about people that matter, about people you can grow attached to. Real people.

What I found most interesting about The Circle of Friends Book I: Lori was its warmth. You can tell that the author has so much love for these characters that it is not possible to love them as well. It’s rare for me to become emotionally involved with a book but, while reading Lori, I was hoping and cheering right along with the characters.

It’s also rare for me to read a book with a message and not come away feeling as if I’ve had half a pound of sugar. Most books with a message usually hit the reader over the head from page one; but one of Wolfe’s strengths is that she doesn’t do that. She lets actions speak louder than words, lets the characters speak for themselves.

Wolfe manages to teach us some very wise advice while giving us an incredible story: never stop yourself from going after your dreams. Never give up on yourself. Never let lack of self-confidence stand in the way of achieving your dreams. It’s an incredible, inspiring message interwoven into one of the best novels I have ever read. Period.

If you want to read an incredibly well written novel that will change the way you see yourself, this is the book for you. Once you become a part of The Circle of Friends, you will never want to leave.

The Circle of Friends Book I: Lori is an amazing book that will leave you breathless for more.

The Circle of Friends Book II: Sarah by L. Diane Wolfe

15 Mar

sarahcoverforsite

Everyone has self-doubt inside of them. We carry it around inside of us and, most of the time, we’re able to ignore it, to push it aside. But what would you do if you let self-doubt control your life instead of ignoring it? What if self-doubt began to take over your life?

Sarah Martin is heading for great things in life. She’s bold, smart, fun and a talented student in biochemistry at Georgia Tech. But Sarah is very good at hiding problems, at masking what she is really feeling.

Even though Sarah seems to have it all, she suffers from self-doubt, from a lack of self-confidence. It colours everything she does. Instead of confronting the doubts she has about herself, she tries to ignore them by acting out, by acting rashly.

Estranged from her father, envious of her best friend Lori’s perfect life, Sarah feels as if she will never meet the expectations of others. That all changes when she meets Matt.

Matt is friends with Sarah’s roommate, Heather. Sarah enjoys Matt’s visits, even if he doesn’t come to se her.

But then something begins to spark between them. Something that feels dangerously like love. This has Sarah wanting to run away, and fast.

Still suffering from self-doubt, and unable to love herself, Sarah can hardly believe that Matt loves her, that he finds her beautiful. What Sarah doesn’t know is that Matt has trouble trusting others and by loving her, by giving her his heart, he has made himself incredibly vulnerable.

They will both have to face their own demons so that their love will have a chance to bloom. Or they will lose everything they hold dear…

Words can’t describe how much I loved this novel. Out of all of L. Diane Wolfe’s Circle of Friends novels, The Circle of Friends Book II: Sarah is definitely my favourite.

There are several reasons for this. She has written a novel that has real people going through real ordeals. The warmth and love she has for her characters shines through on every page and the people within The Circle of Friends feel like your friends. It is as if you have known them for years.

Wolfe also deals with difficult and emotional issues. Where most authors would run screaming from writing emotional scenes that deal with difficult emotions and buried feelings, Wolfe manages not only to make the scenes emotionally charged and well written, she has also managed to show people as they really are without making it all seem like an after school special. Not an easy feat, I assure you.

But ultimately, it is my own personal reaction to the novel that has me loving it so much. I continually suffer from self-doubt. I continually battle that little voice inside the back of my head that tells me I’m too ugly, I’m too fat. I’m not smart enough, I’m not talented enough. I am continually fighting with that voice, who tells me there is no way anyone in their right mind could love me.

I connected with Sarah on so many levels mostly because it was as if she was living my life. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and pull her close to me, wrap my arms around her to comfort her; and in turn, myself.

The message in this book is clear: Never let self doubt stop you from living your life. Don’t let self-doubt stop you from giving an accepting love. Do not let self-doubt stop you from really living your life. These are wise words from an incredible author.

Sarah: Circle of Friends Book II is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing and moving books I have ever read. Wolfe has written the impossible: a story of real people facing lifes real issues and she does this with style, grace and aplomb.

Anyone who has suffered from poor self-image and low self esteem needs to read this book. It will not only restore your faith in yourself but your faith in others.

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice

11 Jan

new_splash_bookcover2c

In 2005, I witnessed one of the greatest changes in literary history.

Anne Rice, the woman known for writing about vampires, witches, mummies and spirits announced she was going to write books about the life of Jesus Christ.

I remember thinking that this was someone’s really great idea of a joke. But the joke was on me. The first book, Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt, was released shortly after the incredible announcement.

At the time, I worked in a bookstore. I had seen the book on the shelf and ignored it, largely because I thought it wouldn’t be any good. How could a woman who wrote such incredible books about legendary figures switch to writing about Christianity?

In the end, out of sheer curiosity, I bought the book. After the first page, I was held spellbound. Indeed, Anne Rice was writing about the most incredible legendary figure of our time: Jesus Christ.

I devoured the next book about Jesus Christ: Christ the Lord – The Road to Cana. I felt that Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana were Rice’s best work. The reserved, elegant prose read like liquid poetry and the passion and spark that had been lacking in some of her later books had returned in full force.

But I was still left wondering: why? Anne Rice did made a living out writing about characters that go about trying to prove God doesn’t exist. Her books had been incredibly angry towards God and Christianity in particular.

Now here she was writing about the life of Jesus Christ. There is a lengthy authors note in the back of Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt, but I was still left with questions. Though Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana were her best books in years, possibly the best books of her entire career, why did she make such a drastic change?

We finally have an answer.

That answer arrives in Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. It is Rice’s first memoir and first work of non-fiction. It also seeks to explain her spiritual transformation that resulted in an incredible change in her literary career.

 Rice begins the memoir by telling us of her strict Catholic upbringing. How she was surrounded by God and the Church and Catholicism. How she was required to go to church every day and be thankful for God, though he was cruel and vengeful.

What is most interesting, however, is when Rice begins to talk of her years at college and how her strict Catholic upbringing does not fit into her new life away from home. The struggle that Rice goes through to hold on to her relationship with God while being confronted with the normalcy of life outside the Catholic church is truly harrowing.

You feel for her as she struggles internally with what she feels inside and what she sees and experiences all around her. I actually found myself moved emotionally when Rice decides there is no God, that there is no Christ, and becomes an atheist.

And yet, though she claimed not to believe in God, each of Rice’s novels prior to her new relationship with God as a Catholic, has to do with God and those who seek him. Each of her novels featured those who are constantly searching for a bliss they do not feel in their souls.

Through out all those years, she was really a closet Christian, a woman obsessed with God but unwilling to admit it to herself. It takes something miraculous to bring her back to the Catholic Church.

And back to God.

Now, I am not a Christian. I don’t normally read what I would call Christian books. They don’t appeal to me, they don’t interest me and I normally pass them by in the bookstore. In fact, they usually make me slightly uncomfortable.

There are a few reasons for this. Like Rice, I grew up in an incredibly religious home. I was subjected to rules and regulations that were all dictated by the Church. God seemed to be filled with more hate than love, more vengeance then forgiveness. My church at the time and my family were not able to show me a God capable of love.

I moved away from the Catholic Church as soon as I could.

After much searching, found a spirituality that suited me, that sated the need for spirituality I had. But I still get a sour taste in my mouth when I think of Christianity. Regretfully, it is my families’ skewed version of Christianity that always comes to the light first. 

All that to say: I don’t normally read what I would call Christian books. However, Called out of Darkness is beyond wonderful. The same beautiful writing that shines on the pages of Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord – The Road to Cana graces the pages of Called Out of Darkness in abundance.

But the most beautiful thing about Called Out of Darkness is that Rice makes the distinction between God and the Church. One of the most beautiful parts of Called Out of Darkness is when Rice laments her lost relationship with God and realizes that it has nothing to do with the Church. It all has to do with God and with God’s love.

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession is an intimate account of Anne Rice’s journey back to Christianity, back to Catholicism. Back to God. It is a story of one woman’s search to find herself in a world that is often confusing.

Called Out of Darkness is an incredible, moving story of one woman’s search for who she is and what she believes. It is the story of one woman who searched for, and found, her spirit.

More than that, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Journey is a beautiful, haunting book. Regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, or have even read any of Anne Rice’s books about Jesus Christ, read this book.

Your spirit will thank you for it.

The Road to Cana by Anne Rice

20 Jun

 

People fear what they do not understand. But what if you feared yourself?

Jesus, or Yeshua Bar Joseph as he is known to his family, is just past thirty years of age. He is well aware that there are those around him who still whisper about his birth: the Magi, the gifts, the Angel coming to prophecy his coming. But he wants nothing more than to live a normal life amongst his family.

He longs to be a normal man but those around him watch. They wait. The winter has been cruel, dry and no rain has graced the land around them. And so they hope that Jesus will bring great change. It is only a matter of time.

While those around him wait for his greatness to reveal itself, Jesus struggles with his lot in life. In love with a kinswoman, Avigail, Jesus knows that he cannot marry her. He does not know everything that is planned for him, but he knows she is not for him.

Torn inside, Jesus wonders what his lot in life truly is. He wonders how long he will have to wait before his true purpose is made clear to him. When brigands attack Nazareth, Avigail is harmed, shamed. To save her virtue, Jesus prays to God to bring rain.

And he does. When the townspeople come to Jesus to ask him to stop the rain, He again asks God for help; and the rain stops. The whispering around Jesus reaches a fever pitch when news reaches them: Jesus’ cousin, John, has emerged from the woods speaking of a prophet, a Messiah. John knows that this Messiah is Jesus.

Now Jesus must come to terms with who he is and his destiny; or succumb to temptation by the Devil…

Having read Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, I was more than eager to get my hands on Anne Rice’s new novel Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. It continues the story of the life of Christ as he heads towards his destiny.

Frankly, I was a little worried. I was worried that the second book wouldn’t be as good as the first one. I loved Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt so much. I’ve read it countless times and it’s become one of my all time favourite books. Would The Road to Cana be as breath taking, as incredible, as beautiful?

I needn’t have worried. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana is just as meticulously researched as Out of Egypt was and just as beautiful if not more so. In Out of Egypt we saw Christ as a boy. Now we come to know him far more intimately as he struggles with the man he has to become.

What I love most about this book is that, though Jesus is divine, Rice has done an amazing job of portraying him as human. She has really given us the ultimate study in human nature as Jesus struggles and then accepts what he is, what he must do. She shows us a man who knows what he must do and the sacrifices he makes to do it.

Now, I’m not a Christian. I normally don’t read what I would call Christian fiction. Most Christian fiction actually makes me a little uncomfortable. But that doesn’t matter. Rice has written a novel that goes beyond the religious aspect of Christianity and embraces the spiritual. This is not a book about religion but a story of love, family, forgiveness and redemption.

You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this book. I know that there are plenty of people out there who probably don’t want to give it a chance based solely off of its subject matter. I’ve had people scoff at me when I told them how incredible Rice’s Christ the Lord books are.

I know that some of you, reading this review, are still scoffing. But they’re amazing books, people. And Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana is the best book that Rice has ever written. It transcends genres and religion and is seriously good storytelling and amazing historical fiction. Its prose is like poetry and I was moved beyond words as I read it.

I know that I will be reading Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana again as I eagerly await the next instalment in the life of Jesus.

 

MIKE by L. Diane Wolfe

8 Aug

mike.jpg

Have you ever wanted something so badly you could taste it? Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and erase past mistakes so that you could start fresh? Have you ever regretted something you have done?  

Mike Taylor is a troubled young man.  

Though you wouldn’t know this to look at him. Hard working and down to earth, he is well liked by everyone who knows him. Having achieved high marks at Georgia Tech and athletic success, you would think that Mike is a man on top of the world.  

But secrets, especially those that are deeply buried, will eat away at even the most convincing façade. And they usually have a way of getting out.

Years ago, Mike got one of his girlfriends pregnant. After she had an abortion, things were not the same for Mike. How could he live with himself after letting a human life be taken away?  

Worse still, he is in love with his best friend’s wife. Sarah has no idea of Mike’s feelings towards her and if she did, it would change everything between them. Loving and admiring her from afar, his heart and spirit suffers. He feels guilty for loving his friend’s wife, guilty for all the mistakes he has made.  

Needing a fresh start, Mike moves out to Albuquerque to start a job at the Sandia Labs. Hoping to escape his past, Mike finds himself instead isolated and alone. Away from his friends and family, Mike does nothing but obsess about the mistakes he made in his past and the ones he has made in his present.  

All that changes, however, when he meets Danielle. Her energy and her bright personality bring a spot of light into Mike’s dark life and the two bond quickly. Mike finds himself falling in love with Danielle and the two are married shortly after meeting. Mike feels that nothing can go wrong, that nothing can destroy the relationship they have built. 

But Mike has not counted on the power of secrets. Even if you keep them tightly hidden, they will find a way to break free.  Can Mike find a way to be honest with Danielle and himself? Or will he let past misjudgements ruin what could be the greatest love of his life?  

Simply put, MIKE is amazing. I have fallen in love with Wolfe’s Circle of Friends series since reading the third book and working my way back to the beginning.

Thus far, I’ve read MIKE three times and it’s better every time I read it. For those unfamiliar with the series, never fear! Each book is a stand alone novel but you will meet characters from the other books in the series.  

Wolfe manages to write a novel about difficult situations and still manages to make it light, funny and heart warming. While there is a lot of focus on Christianity and faith, it never comes off as preachy. Most books that involve even a hint of references to Christianity make my skin crawl but Wolfe manages to juggle many storylines, plots and characters all at once and always comes out shining.

Faith is an important part of MIKE but not the central focus. It takes an incredibly talented writer to tackle the subject of faith and religion and not make it sound preachy. 

Another reason that Wolfe is such an amazing writer is her ability to write such well defined, amazing characters. And in MIKE she has sharpened her pen and her inner eye to crystal cut clarity. You know just from reading the beautiful prose that Wolfe loves these characters, that she aches for them. Because she does, you do too. 

I wanted to tell Mike that it was all going to be okay, that he needed to take one day at a time. You KNOW Mike after this novel, you feel for him, you ache for him. Many writers try to accomplish this and even more fail. Happily, Wolfe manages this with flying colours.  

Wolfe’s novels also have a moral or important message to take away from them. This one is important for everyone and I want to make sure you’re reading carefully, that you pay attention to this next line. It’s such an important message and everyone needs to hear it. Are you ready? Here it is:  

Do not let past mistakes determine your future.  

Sounds simple, right? But that theme, that message, is woven through out every word in this glorious novel. It’s such an important message because everyone does this.

Everyone judges themselves so harshly for the things they have done that they never stop to forgive themselves. If you don’t forgive yourself for your mistakes, how can you move on? How can you live your life?

  MIKE is such a powerful, engrossing, incredible, beautiful novel. But it still manages to be light hearted, funny and heart felt. There is real emotion and real people in these pages and I enjoyed MIKE more than any other book in the series.

I know that when the fifth and final book comes out, it will be like saying goodbye.  Do yourself a favour and make some time for this book.

This is a life changing novel and you will look at yourself, and the world around you, once you have finished.   

The God Interviews by Natalie d’Arbeloff

24 Jun

the-god-interviews.jpg

Have you ever stopped to wonder who God truly is?

 

 

Is he a man or a woman? Is he black or white? Maybe she’s purple or yellow? Would he be wise? Would she be menacing? What if we could sit down with God and ask those questions we all have burning a fire inside of us. What if we could actually interview God?

 

 

D’Arbeloff gets to do just that. In a series of comic strips, first featured on Natalie d’Arbeloff’s highly popular blog Blaugustine, her alter ego Augustine gets to interview God and ask him those burning questions. It might be interesting to note that God is a balding black man who is sometimes deep and sometimes evasive.

 

 

The God Interviews is flat out incredible. Augustine asks God some difficult questions: How do we know that God exists? Why does he allow hate? Why is there evil in the world? What is the most accurate portrayal of God? Why does God allow horrible things to happen?

 

 

You would think that a collection of comics dealing with such questions would be dark and morose fodder for evangelists everywhere, but d”Arbeloff manages to transcend religion and brings The God Interviews to another level entirely. The book is bright, fun and thought provoking and I found myself awed in quite a few places.

 

 

The focus in the comics isn’t religion. Instead, each comic focuses on something different and forces us to look within ourselves to view our personal reactions. In reality, each short strip (fourteen in all) is really a short piece of wisdom delivered through pictures and words. Each strip is so subtly simple you don’t realize that it’s affected you until much later.

 

 

I was charmed by The God Interviews. I was moved, awed and impressed. Is it good? No; it’s incredible. I had wondered at the start whether or not a comic strip about God could work and, in d’Arbeloff’s hands, it does. Her simple but colourful art is the perfect compliment to such simple and wonderful wisdom.

 

 

I’ve read the book three times already and each time, the fourteen comics just speak to me and touch something in me. d’Arbeloff has given us a comic strip with a soul and one I love very, very much.

 

 

If you haven’t had the chance to be charmed by The God Interviews, get yourself a copy, won’t you? It’s a beautiful, lyrical look at life and the world. It will make you laugh, think and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. That is the real power of d’Arbeloff’s work.

 

 

It stays with you days after the last page has been turned. Truly wonderful and very inspirational and incredibly enjoyable. Don’t believe me? You’ll just have to get your own copy and find out for yourself.

 

Details of “The God Interviews” are on this page of Natalie’s website:

http://www.nataliedarbeloff.com/interviewgod.html

and can be ordered from:

http://www.lulu.com/content/610429