Thursday, May 23, 2013

Love Lives on by Sidney Frost

This book is a sequel to the book Where Love Once Lived.  (The link my review of that book is at the end of this post.)  It has come out in time for all of those who are looking for another book to add to their summer reading list.

I don’t want to give the story away so I will do my best to list the ingredients and let the reader decide if it is their kind of read.

This is a story about Karen and Brian. They were in love when they were young.  The story that comes before this one tells of their separation and eventual reunion.  This one starts where the other leaves off. 

Karen and Brian are on their wedding day.  It supposed to be a day of joy and love and happiness and a court summons....what?

That’s what Karen receives on her wedding day.  She is being sued by a woman she never met for child support for a child she never bore nor reared.  Needless to say, this puts a damper on wedding romance.

For their honeymoon, Karen and Brian travel around Europe while being stalked.  They return home only to be harassed and threatened by this same person and someone else who they don’t know.  On top of that Karen and Brian have to learn how to trust each other, overcome emotional baggage of the past, and start a life together.

This is a nice short story, involving real people with real problems.  How do they cope?  How do they work together?  Is God involved in our lives at all?  Can we trust Him to see us through every problem?  These are questions that Karen and Brian learn to answer.

I’ve mentioned what I like about the book and I only have two complaints.  The first one is there are a couple of characters that Frost borrows from another book, The Vengeance Squad. (A link to my review is below). This is my favorite book of the three Mr. Frost has written.  The characters in this book are strong and interesting and I wish he would have used them to a greater extent in this story.  Or better still, write another story starring them.

My other complaint is that he mentions the University of Texas too many times.  Being an Aggies fan I found this rather boorish (whoooooop!!).  But that shouldn’t be an issue for all the Longhorns out there.

Aside from that, I hope that readers of my blog who enjoy mystery and romance from a Christian perspective will consider all of Mr. Frost’s books.

I received this book for free from the author.

Sidney W. Frost writes Christian novels. He was an Adjunct Professor at Austin Community College where he taught computer courses for more than thirty years. He received the adjunct teaching excellence award in 2005. While attending the University of Texas in the 1960's he worked part-time at the Austin Public Library driving a bookmobile and that’s when he got the idea for his first novel, Where Love Once Lived. (From the author's web site.)

On Kindle for $2.99

Other books by Sidney Frost reviewed by Gently Mad:

The Vengeance Squad

Where Love Once Lived

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Knight Death and Devil by Albrecht Durer (1472-1528AD)

This is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable books I’ve read in a while.  It was written in the early 19th century and the story is placed a century earlier than that. 

The story takes place in Scotland where a family of Colwan live on the lordly estate of Dalcastle. George Colwan, the Lord of the Manor marries a woman, Rabine, as different from himself as if he were trying to create a marriage out of chiaroscuro counterpoint.  George is one for gaiety and frivolity while his wife, a staunch Calvinist, rejects any practice that might be even remotely light hearted. Their differing views cause such a breach in their relationship that at first Lady Dalcastle returns to the home of her father.  Therein follows a pretty funny episode.

Rabine's father wants to know why she has left her husband and returned to his estate.  His daughter rants for a while describing her husband’s moral and religious failings.  Her father professes to be so upset and offended by his son-in-law’s unchristian behavior towards his daughter that he proceeds to beat his daughter claiming that since his son-in-law is not present to receive his due flagellation, his wife is the appropriate proxy.

“What do you mean, sir?” said the astonished damsel.

“I meant to be revenged on that villain Dalcastle,” said he, “for what he has done to my daughter.  Come hither, Mrs. Colwan, you shall pay for this.”

So saying, the baillie began to inflict corporal punishment on the runaway wife.  His strokes were not indeed very deadly, but he made a mighty flourish in the infliction, pretending to be in a great rage only at the ‘Laird of Dalcastle’.  “Villain that he is!” exclaimed he, “I shall teach him to behave in such a manner to a child of mine...Take you that and that, Mrs. Colwan, for your husband’s impertinence!”

Rabine may be narrow minded but she’s not completely stupid.  She understands that this is her father’s not so subtle way of saying, “you made your bed etc...”  So she returns to her husband at Dalcastle.  They lead separate lives and stay in separate parts of the castle.  Lady Dalcastle develops a close relationship with the local Presbyterian minister while Mr. Colwan blatantly takes on a mistress.

 It’s not clear whether Mrs. Colwan and the minister have anything other than a relationship based on common religious principles, but she produces two sons, the oldest, George, who belongs to Lord Colwan and a younger, Robert, who may or may not be the Reverend's son.

It’s these two sons from which the real story begins.  George is raised by his father and the other by the mother. It is the son, Robert,  raised by Lady Dalcastle around whom the story centers. 

George is found murdered.  As the facts come to light, it reveals that it is his Robert, brother (or half brother) that murdered him.

The story is narrated in an interesting way. It’s not many writers that should attempt switching person narratives in a story but Hogg does it brilliantly.  First the circumstances surrounding George is described through an editor who briefly uses first person but for the most part writes in third person.  As the culprit is eventually found to be Robert, the narrator changes to first person narrative with Robert as the narrator. The final chapter of the book uses a different first person narrator and concludes with a final statement of the murderer.

This book reflects James Hogg’s fascination with the religious beliefs and country lore of the Gaelic people of Scotland.  It is rich in colloquial dialect and idiomatic use of the language as well as a sophisticated eloquence in expression that no longer exists in our modern usage of the language.

The story is deeply psychological in nature.  After he is arrested for his brother’s murder, while in prison, the Robert writes down his confession.  It is titled, “The Private memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: written by Himself.”

In his narrative, Robert explains his religious upbringing at the hands of his simple minded mother and the religiously narrow Reverend Wringhim.  It is imprinted on him from an early age that those who are chosen cannot lose their salvation therefore, they cannot do anything-be it ever so heinous- that would send them to hell.

From the first section of the book through the eyes of  the editor, we get a picture of Robert as an arrogant, anti-social person.  This enables the reader to understand how such a person could become led into a false understanding of what it means to be chosen or the assurance of salvation.

I believe some people might read into Hogg’s book an anti-reformed theology attitude, but this underestimates the level of sophistication of Hogg’s writing.  People’s beliefs are so much more complicated than simply black and white.  It is possible to hold onto a vestige of the truth and through one’s own pride and self-will distort that truth until what the person believes is no longer truth but falsehood.  This is the case with Rabine.  Her intention was never to cultivate a close relationship with God or glorify Him through sincere worship, but to inflate her own vanity in believing she was superior to her husband. 

She nurtures this same pride into her son who develops it to a degree that she never anticipated.  In the end she dimly begins to understand the Frankenstein she has unwittingly created. 

And that is what happens.  In his own words, Robert meets with a man, Gil-Martin, who wields a powerful influence over his life.  As Robert expands on his relationship with this other man it becomes apparent to the reader that this other person is not human but in fact something evil.  As the story progresses we become aware that Robert is under the complete sway of a demon.

The demon persuades Robert that he must “purge” the earth of all of those who are not chosen.  That it was not murder to do so, but, in fact, was work commissioned to him by God.  He quotes all sorts of scripture to justify this point.  Robert wavers at first, but doesn’t have the strength or knowledge of Scripture to counter him.  Apparently, for all his mother and the Reverend’s teachings, endowing her son with a grounded knowledge in Scriptures wasn’t included.

The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli 1500AD

The discussions back and forth between the demon and Robert remind me of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert.  The difference was that Jesus did know his Bible and was able to point out how Satan twisted Scripture in an attempt to tempt Jesus into committing wicked acts.

Gil-Martin uses the same tactics on Robert but, unlike Jesus, he has no defense.  Consequently, he commits various acts of murder and other wicked deeds, even some to his own horror. It’s a great illustration of someone who becomes a slave to his own corrupted nature.

The story ends a hundred years later when a grave is found at a crossroads.  It is the burial of a suicide.  The grave is dug up and Robert’s manuscript is discovered in the grave site.
I've read some reviews on this book that suggest that Gil-Martin could be a figment of Robert's imagination but the reason I don't think so is because after Robert's death, third party witnesses claim to see two people preparing to hang themselves but the grave reveals only one.

James Hogg came from farmer stock.  He over came the British class caste by educating himself and becoming a nationally renowned writer.  His stories often target the upper class and portray the common man as the hero.

Indeed, it is in the servants that we hear the truth of God’s word spoken. 

The servant John tells Lord Dalcastle exactly the sort of man he is:

“Well, John, and what sort of general character do you suppose mine to be?”

“Yours is a Scripture character, sir, an’ I’ll prove it.”

“I hope so, John.  Well, which of the Scripture characters do you think approximates nearest to my own?”

“...Ye are the just Pharisee, sir, that gaed up wi’ the poor publican to pray in the Temple; an’ ye’re acting the very same pairt at this time, an’ saying i’ your heart, ‘God I thaink thee that I am not as other men...”

A debate ensues between the servant John and Dalcastle where as the latter thinks it is a good thing to be a self-righteous Pharisee while John correctly points out that Jesus' parable was a warning against religious hypocrisy.

It is a clever method on Hogg’s part to have true wisdom disguised in heavy Gaelic dialect while the aristocrats, with their cultivated speech, are blind to the truth and are full of self-satisfaction.

The book should be a matter of interest, I think, to all Christians, simply because the topic of predestination and assurance of salvation are hotly debated subjects between denominations.

Below I’ve included the links to other blogs that have also reviewed this book from a different viewpoint than mine.  Thanks to Brian at Babbling Books for calling this great book to my attention.  I have since downloaded all of James Hogg’s books onto my Kindle (they’re free!)

James Hogg

 $1.99 on Kindle

Babbling Books

Monday, May 6, 2013

When Children Want Children and Rosa Lee: two books by Leon Dash

In 1984, Leon Dash, a journalist for the Washington Post, rented an apartment in a Washington D.C. ghetto for eighteen months and became intimately involved with six families.  He journaled his experiences with these families in an attempt to get at the heart of why so many black girls become unwed mothers.

 What he found was that it was not a lack of education or government intervention plans that allowed it.  These young girls knew exactly what they were doing.  They were not simply being promiscuous and finding themselves pregnant.  They were having sex and multiple sex partners with the objective of getting pregnant.

 They knew all about sex education from school.  The local clinics provided them with free birth control as well as state funded abortions.  These girls used none of these things.  They wanted to get pregnant.  They pursued sex with the intention of getting pregnant.

Dash realized these girls were not the victims but were the aggressors who pressured boys and even men to have sex with them for no other reason than to have children.

This unexpected discovery led Dash to search for answers.  Why were these girls engaging in a practice that produced poverty and misery?  His search caused him to delve into the back story and family tree of each of these girls. 

His conclusions were that these girls were not getting pregnant to increase a welfare check or out of ignorance but because the culture of their community elevated the status of women when they became mothers.  He traces this phenomenon back to the generation of these girls’ great grandparents who were sharecroppers in the south.

  He holds the white plantation owners who enslaved and sexually abused the black women responsible for this generational cycle of out of wedlock pregnancy.

Dash’s second book, Rosa Lee:  A Mother and Her Family in Urban America is about a woman in her fifties, Rosa Lee, who is a heroin addict and is HIV positive.  All but two of her eight children are also drug addicts and criminals and two of them are also HIV positive.

Dash spent four years with Rosa getting to know her and her family.  Again he searched their backgrounds and pretty much arrives at the same conclusion as in his first book:  that living as share croppers in the south caused a break down of the family and produced the lawlessness, out of wed lock pregnancies, and eventual death of Rosa and her two children.

Dash in both books is unapologetic and honest.  He traces Rosa’s life of crime to when she stole as a child that led to her shoplifting as an adult.  She even trained her children and grandchildren how to steal and sell the stolen items.

 Her recurring theme is, “I’m just trying to survive!”  However, that doesn’t explain that most of the money she obtains through her criminal behavior, prostituting herself as well as her children, and also her and her children’s welfare checks go to maintain her heroin habit.

Dash shows the remorselessness of Rosa.  She admits that what she’s doing is wrong but she doesn’t try to stop.  She not only endangers her children but gets them addicted to the drugs as well.  When a man offers her money to have sex with her nine year old daughter she accepts.  This daughter eventually becomes a heroin addict and also develops AIDS.  Even after being diagnosed with the disease, Rosa and her daughter and a son, who also has AIDS, refuse to stop having sex.  They bluntly inform Dash that they don’t care if they transmit the disease to anyone else.

She makes drug transactions through her grade school aged grand children because the police won’t arrest them.

I found both books to be tragic tales of self-destructive lives but I did not find Dash’s conclusions (basically, it’s the white man’s fault) to answer every question.

First of all, as Dash himself admits, most black families who came up out of poverty in the post Civil war south, including sharecroppers, did not turn to a life of drug addiction and crime.  Secondly many white families (my father’s included) came out of similarly hard circumstances.  Before the 1960’s the majority of black and white families from poverty-stricken backgrounds moved up to middle class status.

Even out of Rosa’s extended family, out of all her brothers and sisters, she’s the only one that turned to a life of crime and drug addiction.  The cycle of criminal behavior started with her, not before.

Finally, the percentage of white and black families that are being raised by single moms, and more and more often grandmothers, has grown exponentially since the 1960’s.  Before 1965, less than thirty percent of black children were born out of wedlock.  That number is now eighty percent.  Forty percent of white children are now born out of wedlock.  The majority of these children live under the poverty line.

Dash insists that government welfare checks aren’t the reason the women in his first book are having babies or causing people like Rosa to become drug addicts.  Maybe so, but they certainly aren’t preventing it and they definitely are enabling it.

Rosa and her children-with the exception of two who left and joined the middle class- never made it past grade school.  The pubic school just kept passing them through the grades until they dropped out.  Rosa couldn’t even read.  Yet she was a rocket scientist when it came to working the system.  She knew how to get a welfare check for every single child she had.  She went to a methadone clinic to get her drug fix for free, yet still spent most of the government checks on drugs and used charity organizations to feed her children.

 The checks didn’t stop her from shoplifting.  When she was in the hospital, one son came to visit her and while there stole the phones from the rooms on her floor and sold them to local stores.

Leon Dash said he wrote these books to alarm the rest of us into action.  But he provides no solutions.  He can’t.  As a secularist he has to admit that man made institutions did not help urban America, they enabled it.

The problem is a moral and a spiritual one.  As Rosa herself proved, even if Dash, while faithfully recording her life, refuses to come to that conclusion. 

In the year before she died of AIDS.  Rosa joined her local church and became a Christian.  For the first time in her life, her body was free from drugs.  For the first time she looked back on her life and regretted the devastation she wrecked on herself and her family. 

Her body may have become a victim to disease, but in the end her spirit was delivered from corruption.

Even though I don’t agree with Dash’s viewpoint, I congratulate him on boldly taking on a serious plight in our society that is eating away at its stability like a cancer.  I saw this first hand when I taught in public school and he’s right.  The rest of America needs to acknowledge this travesty and seek ways to take action.

As a Christian I have my own opinions, of course and I also have opinions about seriously reforming our government welfare and educational system but those are subjects for another time.

Leon Dash (born (1944-03-16)March 16, 1944, in New Bedford, Massachusetts) is a professor of journlism at the University of Illinois in Champagne.  A former reporter for the Washington Post, he is the author of Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America, which grew out of the eight-part Washington Post series for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.  (From Wikipedia)