Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

This debut novel is an excellent work. It is fashioned after Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and, while it does not require a love of the works of Jane Austen, would be especially enjoyed by Austen fans. The author’s use of Austen quotations at times is brilliant, and at those times it is as if an Austen fan entered a room of slightly distorted mirrors, simultaneously able to see both the original and the slight distortions in the reflection. The only downside to patterning this book after Webster’s work is that from the start, readers of that predecessor know the denouement. The main character, Samantha, is well written and eminently likable, making perfect sense to the reader. Her closest friends are well crafted. The character and story line surrounding Cara, though, seemed contrived and unnecessary, as if to drive home the point of what might have become of Samantha, whose interest in and pull towards Cara seemed borne of guilt rather than caring, making their interactions beyond the first one ring false. Cara accurately reflects that discomfort, and while the course of all the other relationships can probably be predicted, the one with Cara is left completely unresolved, in large part because of the shakiness of the continuing motivations of both characters. Issues around the child welfare system are embedded deeply into the book’s themes, giving it both a darker and richer feel than Webster’s works. The author does a masterful job of incorporating the effects of child neglect and abandonment into some of the main characters in a way that make their challenges make sense and come alive. For those who have never had any exposure to the child welfare system, it will be a bit of an education. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

This Is Your Captain Speaking by Gavin MacLeod

For anyone who loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Love Boat, this book is a treat to read. It is written as you’d expect Gavin MacLeod to talk, in a folksy, in-the-moment style. Unlike many Hollywood biographies, this one is discreet. The author does not routinely badmouth others, although he does give his impressions of them. You get the idea that Gavin MacLeod is a positive person who likes others, which makes him come across as more of an everyday person than a TV star. In addition to narrating his path to fame, the author also talks about his struggles, including the “hole” in his life not met by fame or wealth, and how he gave his life to Jesus at a crisis moment, which changed his life. He details the transition and the change in a way that is easy to understand. The thing that most impressed me about Gavin’s life, beyond the fame, was this: he lived his life in such a way that two of the people who worked most closely with him over the years both came to faith in Christ through his witness. No matter who you are, THAT is an accomplishment, to have earned both the respect and credibility to be heard when people have a need. Having read this book and seen what he considers his most meaningful work on film, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, there is only one thing I wished he would have added to both: a clear presentation of the gospel. In both the book and the movie, Gavin MacLeod talks about “giving your life to Jesus” and recognizing “Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” and while in the book he cites John 3, he says nothing about Jesus dying for our sins nor about His resurrection; I Cor. 15:3-4 includes these two events as “of first importance”. Gavin MacLeod mentions a tract from which he read when he prayed with a friend who wanted to receive the Lord. I wished the book would have included that prayer or a narration of the steps to “give your life to Jesus” so the reader might follow those steps. For the most part, this was a satisfying book to read. I learned more than I had hoped about the author and, as he said, his voyage through Hollywood, faith and life. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.