Friday, March 22, 2013

Roseanna M. White's spectacular "Ring of Secrets"

In the first novel of her series, Roseanna M. White pits spies against each other in the American Revolution, through America's first spy ring, the Culper Ring. With the war well under way, New York City is a stronghold of the loyalists.  Winter Reeves, helping her childhood friend Robert Townsend, collects information of the Redcoats movements from her soldier suitors to be smuggled along the ring out to George Washington.  Bennet Lane, a professor from Yale, is watching and seeking to identify the patriot spies in New York, knowing that at least one moves among the elite.  The two find themselves courting, and, though each is devoted to their cause, falling in love.  

Ring of Secrets, Culper Ring Series #1   -     
        By: Roseanna M. White
I really liked that the main characters, though essentially spies, felt like real people.  Winter struggles with hiding her personality and lying about her past to appease her abusive grandparents; she is hurting and alone, with only two people who truly care for her, neither of which can see her socially.  God is her main source of strength and comfort in her grandparents' loveless home.  When Bennet comes along, she appreciates that he can glimpse her real personality and humor beneath the empty-headed facade, even though it threatens her gathering of military intelligence.  Bennet, though typically bumbling with women, is drawn because of her personal intelligence.  However, he refuses to propose because of her flirtatious, empty-headed mask; he knows there's a real person in there, and he pursues her, not the lovely face.  He needs to know her true self before committing to marriage.  It speaks volumes of his integrity and wisdom in pursuing a wife; for a character, he has great depth of character.  

In her author's notes at the end, White includes details of the historical facts behind her novel.  Like the characters of her novel, in history patriots and Tories alike mourned the death of John Andre, and Benedict Arnold was trusted by none.  It is a good reminder that just because politics says that a man is an enemy, don't let your heart be closed to a good person, nor be blinded to a friend.

The plot was solid, the characters real, and the history fascinating,  For the sake of spoilers, I shall not reveal more of the end, but I admit to being blindsided, which is quite a feat.  Now I must reread it in my enlightened state and see what hints I missed!  I eagerly await the sequel, set during the War of 1812.  5 out of 5 stars!

The Culper Ring:
1. Ring of Secrets
1.5. Fairchild's Lady (novella)
2. Whispers from the Shadows
2.5. "A Hero's Promise" (short story)
3. Circle of Spies

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How to love in spite of "unchristian" emotions

What do you do when someone you know, especially a friend, even a christian, grows increasingly unlovable?  How do you still love them when you have increasingly unchristian emotions, like bitterness, frustration, and anger, towards them?  A friend's cry for help over a friend (of my friend), led me to do some thinking about the subject.

Before we go any further, just remember that you know that you know that you know that you know who Jesus is.  And since you know who He is, you know what comes from Him and what is truth.  So don't doubt yourself, and even if you do, look in His word.  The bible will go a long way toward reminding you who He is!

That said, ultimately, you can't fix your friend, no matter what you do - God has to do that, and your firend has to be willing; just remember that he is not your responsibility.  However, I'm pretty sure you still need to love him anyway.  If there's one point marriage counseling and all the marriage advice books pound in one's head, it's that love is not an emotion, it's an action.  Bitterness, however, is an emotion - and you can still feel bitter at someone and love them anyway.  You can't really help emotions - even Jesus had emotions, like anger. 

1. Guard your heart first
So though you can't fix your friend, you can at least take care of yourself.  As a spiritual wreck, you're no good to anybody.  Think of "unchristian" emotions as temptation - the temptation to act in an unloving way.  You can choose to act on them or not.  Remember: being tempted is not a sin (Jesus was tempted but didn't sin; He was angry, but didn't sin in his anger!), it's acting on that temptation that's the sin.  While the bible doesn't say all that much about emotions as such, it does talk about temptation:

A. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make you a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." I Cor: 10:13.  So if you're about to explode, crumble, lash out, or whatever - just get out of there.  The bathroom is a grand excuse when others might fail.  Note, also, it doesn't say anywhere in the bible that God won't give you more than you can handle - He does that all the time, it's why He's here - it proves that HE can handle it.  You just won't be tempted beyond what you can handle. 

B. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Matt 26:41.  So one major way to guard yourself is to pray, pray, pray.  Pray that God will guard your heart in this incredibly difficult situation, as well as change his.  Your job is to look after yourself first, because if you are dead, what good are you to anyone else?

C. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  (James 1:12).  God will bless you for not acting on your frustration and bitterness (and remember, retreat is recommended in the bible, ergo it is not sin when it prevents you from sinning).

2. Show Love Anyway (the tricky part)
It can be super hard to show people love when you're frustrated and they make you unhappy.  I don't know how much time you can spend with your friend and still be whole-hearted, so you have to figure that out yourself, but in what time you can give him, always love, even if you only spend one evening with him every other week. 

Try to show love through what truly makes him tick (not to pander depression neediness, since I don't think that helps overly).  For useful advice, Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages comes to mind; while geared toward married couples, it has sound advice on how to show love to anyone.  The five "languages" are physical touch (hugs are good), quality time (that might be hard when he makes you not want to spend any time with him, but activities that he enjoys that leave less room for talk might work), words of affirmation (honest compliments that you really mean), gifts (self-explanatory), and acts of service (help them out).  Usually people have one or two that are especially meaningful to them.  Sometimes it feels a little clinical when you don't actually like the person in the moment, but you're still showing God's love and not acting on sinful impulses.  It means God is winning in your life, and using you to touch his at the same time!  Win-win, even if it's not the most fun.  And remember, take care of your spiritual health first!

3. When in doubt, Get More Help
Not so much for yourself (well, do that too, whenever you need it), but if there's anyone in a position of higher authority whom your friend respects, see if you can talk them into talking with him.  I'd say that as a friend alongside him, you are too much on the same level as him, but appealing to a respected higher authority might help him.  If nothing else, it should remove some of the burden from your shoulders.   Talk to pastors, professors, grandmas, bosses - anyone your friend looks up to. 

Above all, trust Jesus.  Trust His word.  And pray, pray, pray, and fast for their heart, that they would open it to the love of God, and that that love would be made clear in His actions and your own. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lisa Wingate's leisurely read, "Firefly Island"

Firefly IslandIn her latest novel, Firefly Island, Lisa Wingate flies through the story of love at first sight and a whirlwind romance, and then her rather whimsical writing ambles through the adjustment to a new life post-wedding in the slower-paced south.  Transmogrifying from a Washington, D. C. legislative assistant to a stay-at-home country mom, Mallory has a lot to learn, but life in Moses Lake, Texas turns out to be a little more exciting than she expects.  Besides, politics is politics, whether on Capitol Hill or in the boondocks. 

Most novels end with the wedding, not begin with it, so you never really know how it works out for the newlyweds.  Not so with Firefly Island.  It was fun to read about Mallory's adjustments to married life and her struggle to stay herself in this completely new role.  What she does not seem to realize is that being part of a couple means change.  No matter how well you may know each other prior to marriage, knowing each other as a couple is a completely different world.  Both parties must bend and flex in order to survive as a couple, and it does not mean "losing yourself," but rather growing more into who you are.  Marriage is stretching for the heart, mind and soul - it highlights the flabby, underused parts that need work (often a lot of work), and it gives greater confidence in the toned parts at which one already excels.  Everyone has to give and take.  Mallory discovers a number of places for growth, from ugly white upper class attitudes to the rather spoiled, uncompromising behavior of a youngest child, but throughout the book she is working through them to reach her potential. 

I do wish we had gotten to know her husband Daniel better; he remains in the background too much to really get a feel for his personality and feelings.  Besides his green eyes and dark hair, all I really know about him is that he is generally easygoing, is passionate in the bedroom, and will occasionally completely lose his temper - nothing much new from chapter six onward.  What makes him tick?  Besides love at first sight and love of his son, why are he and Mallory so great together?  He just seems kind of out there instead of in tune with his family, job, etc.  What does he need to change to make their marriage work?  To me, the novel has more to do with the other man in her life, her new stepson Nick, than her relationship with her husband. 

In the blogging world, when life goes wrong for the blogger, there are two main responses: a) humor, and b) a rant.  Wingate did a good job portraying Mallory as the humorist blogger, whose many mishaps - though perhaps unpleasant at the time - translate well into comical memories, which, in conjunction with her epiphanies and other sundry country experiences, make for an interesting blog.  However, it is very difficult to believe Mallory could have drummed up several hundred followers in only a couple weeks, even with all her acquaintances back east, every Moses Lake resident with internet access, and a blurb in the middle of an article of one "Women's Day" magazine.  She could have dredged up several hundred page views maybe, but followers?  I am skeptical.

Overall, it was a pleasant novel with enough of a mystery to make it more than just a drama.  A little predictable and light on God (Mallory prays on occasion now that she's married), but a nice leisurely read - nothing spectacular.  It has little connection to the others in the series, so it works as a stand-alone.  Three stars.  I received a free copy of this novel from Bethany House Publishers as part of their book review program.  I was in no way required to write a positive review.