Review: A Place to Land


Gentle Reader,

Pass go, collect two hundred dollars and get this book.

Seriously. This is not one you want to miss.

I had the joy of “meeting” Kate Motaung several years ago when she took over as the Fearless Leader of the Five Minute Friday community. (She did not give herself this title. I did. I don’t remember why, but it’s stuck in my brain). We have chatted via Twitter, Voxer and blog comments. As I’m sure others can attest, Kate has the unique gift of making one feel at home; I don’t doubt that, were I to show up in her driveway today, that I would be welcomed inside for tea and good conversation.

This is part of what made this book so fascinating for me. Kate writes of being torn between houses following her parents’ divorce and between continents after moving to South Africa in her early twenties. Her story is one of longing for home, of never quite knowing where or what that place is. Out of that longing, I believe she strives to give others a sense of comfort and security. Even those of us who have only connected with her through electronic means pick up on this and celebrate her gift of welcoming embrace.

Ultimately, and encouragingly, Kate reminds both herself and the reader that our true Home, the place our souls ache for, is not to be found in this life. We get teases, little glimpses, that give us hope and keep us going when things get hard, but we never get the full picture. We have to wait. So we sit in the discomfort, knowing that all is not as it should be, asking Jesus to daily give us the grit and the grace to navigate yet another bump in the road.

The pages of A Place to Land are full of honesty and humor. Kate looks unflinchingly at herself and allows us to do so as well. In that, we are given permission to be that honest. To acknowledge that we don’t always know the answers or do the right things. Her choice to tell her story in such a raw way is deeply refreshing. There are no neat and tidy bows, no pristine images of perfect kids and conflict-free living. There is, instead, a woman who consistently, constantly, preaches Jesus. His presence, His love, His guidance, His help. Over and over again, Kate finds Him in the middle of the mess. She shows the reader how to reach out for His hand.

God took the tug-of-war that waged in my soul, the thick rope that spanned across the ocean, and yanked from both sides. He cut it clean through the middle, somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic. And He made me look up. To see that the greatest and strongest pull is neither east nor west, neither here nor there. It’s the heavenward pull.

It’s the pull toward home.

I now know how to respond the next time someone asks me the simple question, ‘Are you heading home?'” Regardless of my earthly destination, and purely because of the grace of Christ’s sacrifice, I’ll be able to answer with confidence, ‘Yes. Yes I am.'”

– p. 266-267

To that I can only say, “Amen.”

Thank you, Kate, for sharing your story with us. Thank you for the hours you spend leading the ragtag FMF troop. Thank you for being who you are. Usikelelke.



Review: I Will Not Fear

I Will Not Fear

Gentle Reader,

I would learn that God is everywhere… His love exists without limitations of color or race…

Their very special acceptance and love would become a life-changing experience for me. They would remain my primary family throughout my life until this very moment. Living with the McCabes and being welcomed so completely by them also would initiate a major shift in my perspective of my place in the world and my sense of humanity.

– p. 86

In the fall of 1957, nine African-American students enrolled in the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Melba Pattillo Beals, just fourteen, was among them. Surrounded by an angry mob, the students were denied entry that first day. The hostility and resistance to integration rapidly necessitated intervention by the federal government. Soldiers of the 101st Airborne division were brought in, escorting the nine to and from each class. Yet the violence, the natural child of racism, continued unabated.

Beals was slapped, punched, kicked and even had acid thrown in her eyes. She, along with the others, received death threats. In 1958, Governor Faubus shut down Central High and the other high schools, resulting in a year lost to the Nine and to all the African-American students in the town. Eventually, Beals was forced to relocate to California, with the help of the NAACP, for her own safety. The white McCabe family, Quakers who were active in the Civil Rights movement, opened their arms to this young woman who had experienced little in the way of kindness from white people.

One cannot be an honest student of history and believe that racism never existed, doesn’t exist today or that it was/is “not a big deal.” Nine teenagers wanted the chance for a better education. They chose to put themselves on the line so future generations would not have to suffer the “separate but equal” nonsense. Ignorance and evil exploded in their faces. Why? Because someone, somewhere, long ago decided that the color of their skin made them inferior.

Racism is idiotic and anti-Gospel. Beals makes this clear as she shares bits and pieces of her story. I Will Not Fear is not told in a strictly chronological format, which is really my only complaint about the book, because I love a tidy timeline. She invites the reader to share in her experiences with hatred and violence. There is no hemming or hawing in her words. Black type on white pages force the reader to grapple with the very real evil done to a very young woman.

Throughout, Beals returns to the lessons her Grandmother India taught her:

Are we a faith family or have we given up on trusting God for His protection? Isn’t that the bottom line? When you go, Melba, God will be with you.

– p. 40

That is the bottom line, isn’t it? God is with us wherever we go. He will empower us to do whatever He has called us to do.

This is not a light read, despite the page count coming in at just 200. It took me several weeks to make my way through, because I had to step away and think about what I was learning. We are just 60 years removed from these terrible events. We would be naive to think that “it’s all over” and “everything is fine.” This country has yet to truly come to terms with its past or its present. While nobody needs to take on guilt that isn’t theirs to own, it is important that we listen to the stories. That we take it all in. That we let God expose what needs exposing.

I Will Not Fear is well worth your time.



Review: Death at Thorburn Hall

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

I tried. I really did.

But I could not get into this book.

When I was 13, I began reading Agatha Christie mysteries. Murder on the Orient Express will always be one of my favorite novels. I loved the challenge of attempting to figure out who had committed the crime before the author revealed the answer. I loved the setting and the descriptions. The Britain of the 1930s will forever belong to Hercule Poirot.

Death at Thorburn Hall, volume six in the Drew Farthering Mysteries, has been marketed as a must-read for Christie devotees. The novel takes place in the Scottish countryside among the upper crust. The crime happens at a golf tournament. Julianna Deering writes for a Christian publisher, so nothing too gruesome would appear on the pages. On the whole, I was expecting a genteel yet challenging story.

Instead, it was boring.

The plot moves far too slowly. I’m all for letting things unfold at a leisurely pace, but if an author chooses that route than the characters need to be engaging. Drew Farthering and his companions simply aren’t. Further, the way they speak doesn’t feel authentic to that time and place. No anachronisms, but rather too much of the “pip, pip” and “tally ho” sort of speech. This would be easier to overlook if the characters had personality, but they all just sort of glide across the pages without making any lasting impact.

Perhaps I would have a different opinion if I had read the five preceding novels. (From now on, when choosing books to review, I won’t choose titles that are part of a series). I may see if I can find the first entry at my local library, because I would like to give Julianna Deering a fair shot. I’m not at all sure that my introduction to Drew Farthering, deep as the series is into his story at this point, is how she intended our meeting to go.


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Review: Love and Kindness

Love and Kindness

Gentle Reader,

Christine Topijan has launched a series of picture books that explore Christian virtues. The first in this series, Love and Kindness, written in a simple format (the book is only 12 pages long), is one that children will learn from and adults will appreciate. Topijan reminds us to look out for ways that we can help and support others, because that’s what God does for us. He is faithful, true and unceasing in His outpouring of love and, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, He wants us to become faithful, true and loving.

My favorite line in this book comes from page 10:

He reminds us of how much He loves us when we feel down and alone.

There is not a child or adult on this planet who doesn’t need to be consistently reminded of this truth.

Nobody has to be taught how to be self-centered. That’s our natural inclination. We all have to be taught how to be observant, compassionate and willing to help others. This little book provides great examples for parents to share with their children as they teach them to be kind to those they meet. I especially appreciated her inclusion of special needs children; the reader is encouraged to reach out to those who are different instead of fearing or shunning them.

Topijan keeps it simple. She doesn’t waste a lot of ink and she doesn’t use the big words. Yet this book will easily stir up big conversations between parents and their children, conversations that should not be avoided. In this, Topijan aids readers everywhere in obeying the command of Deuteronomy 11:19 –

You shall teach them [God’s ways] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.