Occasionally, I’ll be sharing some of my reviews here, under Relevant Fiction Reviews. I don’t review every book I read. Not even close. So these are hand-picked selections that I either loved or struck a chord with me. Maybe some time I’ll even sneak in a little nonfiction. Three of my recent reviews follow, all very different books but with similar themes.
I read two novels in one weekend, both of which dealt with the suffering endured by Iraqi and Afghanistan war vets. Both are, at their essence, love stories. One was a romance, the other was literary fiction. In both, the protagonist struggles with PTSD and the age-old question of how a loving God can allow evil. In both, we learn God’s love can heal our hurts. (A longer version of my review of Wounded Healer will appear at CatholicFiction.net.)
Passport also concerns love, but whereas A Love Like Ours portrays romantic love and Wounded Healer portrays God’s love, Passport‘s emphasis is on sacrificial love. Not long after reading Passport, I came across this post at The Cor Project.
Chris West’s thoughts tie beautifully to Passport’s themes: “Christian marriage is a call to love ‘as Christ loves,’ and that call always passes by way of the cross. There’s no getting around it. To live Catholic teaching on marriage (and life in general) is to become well acquainted with the sufferings of Christ, which were, indeed, bitter.”
As a general note, I have difficulty with the star system. I wish there were half-stars. I would bump Passport up to 4.5. Also worth noting, I tend to be stingy with stars. I have to really love a book to give it five stars. And my genre biases will be evident in my reviews as well. Not sure that I can help that.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I devoured A Live Like Ours like an addict on a bender – in huge chunks and in tiny bits at red lights, between baseball innings, and while I washed dishes. There is nothing new in the pretense of childhood friends, a wounded hero, and a strong, loving heroine, but the details and the way they are crafted bring those archetypes new life.
Becky Wade’s writing is crisp, modern, and fresh. There is enough humor to make you smile between the scenes of exquisite tension and longing. The author is gifted in squeezing every last bit of heartfelt emotion from seemingly mundane slices of life.
The Christian element is woven gently throughout the story with true-to-life characters and experiences.
An enjoyable read from start to finish that made me want to re-read the series from the start – but unfortunately, my kids can’t afford for me to go AWOL for that length of time.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wounded Healer is the love story of God and man, in which God waits patiently for an opportunity to reveal Himself to his beloved.
Gabe Flynn is an emergency room surgeon gliding through a superficial life. Learning that doctors are in short supply in the armed forces and feeling patriotic, he makes a hasty decision to volunteer and is whisked to a remote hospital complex in Iraq.
Gabe is thrown into an untenable situation in which casualties outnumber manpower and resources. He is assigned to a triage team that decides who will live and who will die. The guilt he feels at abandoning soldiers to die spawns drives him to take an irreversible, life-altering action.
Thrown back into civilian life, Gabe’s guilty secrets metastasize, driving him to the depths of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, a loss of purpose, depression, and despair.
Searching for freedom from the guilt that dogs him, he pursues the widow of a local national guardsman whom he left to die. The young widow, Theresa, is also coming to terms with the unfairness of life and war.
Gabe also seeks out the priest-friend of his father, pinning his hopes for a return to normalcy on his absolution. Despite the priest’s counsel, Gabe eventually falls into a pit of despair so deep he opens his mind and heart to an experience of the living God.
What follows is Theresa’s attempt to prove or disprove Gabe’s mystical experience. The author successfully manages to keep the metaphysical explanations from becoming didactic. Instead, they play out as investigative.
Wounded Healer has elements of suspense, romance, action, and courtroom drama, enough to keep the reader invested and engaged. Above all, it is a story of redemption and finding peace. The story is well-written and satisfying with enough twists to hold the reader’s interest. Its ending affirms our humanity and the reality that our lives can change drastically in an instant.
A couple elements in the narrative didn’t ring true and it could use another pass by a copy editor. In spite of those minor distractions, Wounded Healer is worth reading both for its entertainment value and as a reflection on God’s redemptive love.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Passport is an unassuming but important book. There are no explosions, hospital scenes or violent crimes. It’s all quite ordinary, yet, at its heart, is all about the extraordinary – the interior drama created by simple choices about what we do, how we relate to others, and how we live.
Stan, an average guy looking for the right woman to marry, demonstrates that no sin is truly private. Sins and mistakes have consequences both for ourselves and others. We each have crosses to carry – daily – even those who lives look idyllic from the outside, like that of his friends, Jim and Maggie. Some crosses are of our own making (like Stan’s) and others just happen. Either way, it’s how we accept them that matters.
Stan (and the rest of us) live in a culture of instant gratification, but perhaps more insidious than our unrestrained desires is our belief that we can control every outcome. We can improve our appearance, our body, our home, our job and create lives that reflect our image of perfection or satisfaction. Stan’s biggest challenge is to let go of his will and make supreme, quiet, and generous sacrifices born of a desire to do what’s right, no matter the cost.
The pacing slows in the second half of the novel, and at times, it seemed like some of the messages served the author more than the narrative. Minor diversions into baby-wearing, natural family planning in hard cases, paying down debt, and living together before marriage come to mind here. These aren’t egregious tangents (with which I happen to agree), and as with the rest of the novel, they are well-written and not pedantic.
Christopher Blunt is not afraid to tackle the big issues and the hard cases, allowing the reader to walk through Stan’s struggles and doubts as well as those of his friends.
The ending is tension-packed with a satisfying and hopeful resolution. Overall, it’s a novel I’d highly recommend (and would like to give 4-1/2 stars if it were possible). Passport allows the reader to see the big picture – the supernatural picture, which we often overlook, thereby missing God’s constancy and generosity.