Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Singing in Babylon, by Ann Galia O’Barr (OakTara)

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Kate McCormack is a college graduate seeking a meaningful profession and relief from beneath suffocating debt. She travels unwarily far beyond her cultural and spiritual comfort zones to satisfy both goals.

Philip Tangvald is a journalist on assignment for a foreign affairs magazine seeking professional recognition and relief from a failed personal and spiritual past. He immerses himself in his work to satisfy both goals.

Kate’s and Philip’s respective quests bring them together in the unlikeliest of places: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Neither of them are prepared for the other. Each of them needs the other.

Thus Ms. O’Barr begins a story of maturation and self-discovery steeped in cultural and spiritual nuance. Arriving fresh to teach English to Middle Eastern female students, sheltered Kate nearly goes into shock confronted by the stifling environment of a single woman in an Islamic state. Philip rescues the hapless Kate from more than one social misstep, in the process becoming drawn to the young woman, the last thing he wants to happen. Kate finds his rescues annoying, but discovers herself warming to him, also the last thing on her agenda.

Together, they live what it means to be an expatriated Christian in a Muslim culture. His assignment on immigration trends—both legal and illegal—exposes their hearts to a world they previously only knew in their heads. Ms. O’Barr’s personal knowledge of the issues involved from her experience as a foreign service officer in the Middle East lend authenticity to the story. Her ability to portray this so well as a writer brings the issues home in an engaging way.

A thought-provoking, even-handed look at faith, culture and love, Singing In Babylon provides solid fodder for personal reflection and group discussion. Beware, though, that some of that reflection and discussion will be uncomfortable—as it should be.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mine Is the Night, by Liz Curtis Higgs (WaterBrook)

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I buy Liz Curtis Higgs' books just for the sheer joy of reading Liz Curtis Higgs. It really doesn't matter what she writes--well, it least it hasn't thus far (now don't go silly on me, Liz...)--it just matters that she writes. There, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the book.

First a disclaimer: I acknowledge that the cover--as nice as it is--puts my guy card in mortal danger. But if I can read this book on a Lifecycle at a military gym every afternoon and escape unscathed, y'all can cut me some slack, too.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

Of all Ms. Higgs' Scotland-series books, Mine is the Night was my favorite. The prequel, Here Burns My Candle, runs a close second, but Night is the clear winner. Picking up where Candle left off, Marjory Kerr, newly stripped of her nobility due to her support of the ill-fated Jacobite cause, flees Edinburgh to her hometown of Selkirk. With her is daughter-in-law Elizabeth Kerr, still in mourning from the loss of her husband in the battle at Fallkirk. With nowhere to go and nothing to her dishonored name, Marjorie finds a hostess in her cousin Anne, who begrudgingly takes them into her extremely modest dwelling.

Marjorie adapts her self-centered lifestyle to menial service in the home while Elizabeth supplements their meager income plying her needle and thread. Enter the Admiral Lord Jack Buchanan, Selkirk's newest resident, retired from a distinguished and highly profitable career in the service of King George's navy. Lord Buchanan needs a dressmaker to outfit his domestic staff, and Elizabeth needs work. What blossoms in the ensuing months of Elizabeth's employ to the Lord Admiral, though, is more than heather on the surrounding hills.

Lord Jack is immediately smitten by the lovely and graceful Elizabeth, and her interest in the dashing admiral grows equally as intense. Hindered by social propriety, the Kerrs' outlaw status as former supporters of Prince Charlie's rebellion, Elizabeth's prescribed year-long period of mourning, and their unwavering devotion to God and His expectations of them, the two must subdue their mutual attraction. But for how long? Ask Marjory, for she holds the key to their happiness. Suffice it to say that, in the end, God is honored. And those who honor Him, He blesses.

Those to whom Ms. Higgs has already endeared herself as a writer have no need of this review. They probably finished the book before I did. Those who enjoy a thoroughly satisfying story told by a master storyteller of the genre, but who've not yet had the joy of reading Liz Curtis Higgs--or even just this Liz Curtis Higgs work--are in for a treat. Really, really recommended; don't miss it.

WaterBrook was kind enough to send me a courtesy copy of Mine is the Night to review. Very thoughtful and greatly appreciated, but, honestly, I'd have purchased the book and reviewed it anyway.