Allegory · Full Reviews

Full Review, The Book of Told

“Where were you when I wrote the first words of this story? Tell me if you understand. Who marked out its chapters? Surely you know. Who stretched the story arc across it? On what were its structures set, or who laid the first cornerstone?”

~The Author, when Brew accuses him of being responsible for the painful death of his brother.

What if you found out you were just a word in an author’s book? That this world was His creation and story, but that he had given you free will to decide what kind of character (word) you would be? What if the author penned himself into his own story and promised that those who were words of life in his book would be granted to become ‘real’ at the end of the final chapters, and live in reality with him? What if in six years, you and the inhabitants of your valley experienced an allegorical version of nearly all of human history?  This is The Book of Told: Mere Words.

No matter how I summarize K. A. Gunn’s work, I feel as if I am swaying back and forth between either over-simplification or representing it as extremely complicated. While it is unique in concept, it is not entirely hard to understand or follow – just challenging to describe. You could almost imagine that it is like Pilgrim’s Progress, if Pilgrim made his journey as a Christian but was also traveling through world history, in addition to his own life. However, unlike Pilgrim’s Progress— or even Hind’s Feet in High Places— the main character is relatively stationary in his valley and the narrative involves all the things taking place between the different people who live there.

The language and plot-line of The Book of Told are much easier for me to follow than the aforementioned allegories, given that it was written in a modern-day style and vernacular. Human history doesn’t always condense down into the smooth pacing desired in fiction, so the story can at times feel… fragmented. That said, Gunn does a decent job of weaving the main character’s life though the larger picture to hold it all together and keep things moving. (Side thought… have any of you read Ted Dekker’s Black? This reminds me of Black’s “other reality”, but a lot less fantastical/outlandish.) Like many allegories, there are plenty of “theological pauses,” where the characters stop to discuss or try to wrap their minds around ideas, such as creation vs. evolution or the dangers of entertainment.

What the book lacked in a few minor ways I’ve already mentioned, it more than makes up for by practically fulfilling the very definition of ingenuity: the quality of being clever, original, and inventive. Gunn employs a lot of wordplay and wit, and some of it borders on genius. But ultimately, what I love about this book is that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to our Lord and His brilliance.

At times quiet and reflective, at other times (especially in the second half) full of action and conflict, I would recommend this book to anyone who’s been a Christian for some time. It can be difficult to draw out the parallels and soak up the meaning–frankly, I’m still scratching my head and wondering what a lot of the symbolism stood for. I recommended it to my Pastor, and perhaps he will point me in the right direction; notwithstanding, I can easily see myself re-reading this treasure in the near future to see if I can glean some more goodness from the details I glazed over. When I do, or if I alternatively discover something I disagree with upon understanding the meaning, I would love to write up another post to share my findings.

History lovers, allegory readers, and English language devotees, I hope you grab a copy, and be encouraged that the author pledged all the royalties from your purchases to the A21 Campaign, a non-profit which works to end human trafficking and slavery.

To close, which Christian allegory do you think you’ll be more likely to read next; this one or Hind’s Feet on High Places (review here)? Let me know in the comments.

An arrow zinged too close, and I held up my shield swiftly to stub it. Cheers of approval rang out behind me. Still, Told held us back from the attack.

This time, an Untold phrase charged madly into the dome with weapons aimed. “Between ignorance and intelligence!” they shouted their war cry.

Startled they would claim intelligence, given their name, I laughed tensely. Again, they ran by us to attack Som, Duso, and Reson on the stairs. Again, we shouted tribute. “Fear of the author is the beginning of wisdom!”

– Chapter 59

Disclosure for readers– I should note that a mild swear word is used near the beginning of the book when a character grieves the death of a family member. It is not used in any passage thereafter.

Full Reviews · Historical

Saving Amelie, Full Review

I’ve been busy, book friends—I’ve been on a trip to Germany! More than two weeks spent mostly in the little Bavarian village of Oberammergau. It’s a place where fragrant breakfast rolls and strudels warm your mouth and your heart… and the Alps reach up with snowy hands as if ready to catch the sky if it falls. This is the home of the Passion Play, which has been performed by the locals once a decade for over 350 years.

Of course, I haven’t been there literally; who has money to travel? I’ve been immersed in a WWII novel by Cathy Gohlke—Saving Amelie. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember it as one of the books in my bargain haul from Tyndale. $5 for a ticket back in time is certainly a fare I can afford!

Based on the back-cover summary, I initially thought that the story would be at least partly from the point of view of Kristine Schlick, a young mother unsure how to protect her deaf daughter. Married to an SS officer who views the little girl as a blight on his Aryan bloodline, Kristine is forced to turn to an old friend for help. Rachel Cramer, the true protagonist, steps in as a hesitant hero and escapes with Kristine’s child to the little village of Oberammergau. There, she deals with some shocking discoveries about her own past.

Rachel isn’t a gallant hero, despite the whirlwind of danger and deception she finds herself entrenched in. She’s somewhat selfish, a consequence of being raised in the affluent and prejudiced home of a eugenics scientist. Unable to stomach the depravity she comes face to face with among her father’s circle in Germany, Rachel takes a stand for morality… but remains reluctant to help others with their more mundane and down-to-earth needs.

There’s a romantic interest—Jason Young, an American journalist with resistance connections—as well as a whole host of other lovable characters. As both Rachel and Jason begin to understand Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, they also become more selfless… and this is where the core of the story lies, in what Gohlke emphasizes as “costly grace”—grace that requires a servant’s heart and a surrendering of your own desires.

Despite the hard realities of WWII, Gohlke manages to keep the book from becoming too gritty. She deftly paints the heartaches and struggles of her characters but manages quite a bit of good luck (or perhaps she would call it providence!) for them as well. One or two key plot lines seemed utterly far-fetched and unconvincing to me—ultimately hurting my rating of the book, which otherwise could have been a 5/5. That said, if you relish stories that feature undercover subterfuge or a mysterious underground resistance, you’ll probably still find yourself thoroughly enjoying Saving Amelie.

4/5

Suspense · Thriller

Full Review, Centralia

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“Centralia.” He said it out loud, hoping the auditory stimulation would trigger something, anything. But it didn’t. It was just a word, nothing more than a string of letters, a compilation of sounds.

Again tears came to his eyes, and he brushed them away. Regardless of whether he knew what the note meant, this was the proof he’d been looking for. Lilly was alive. And her note said they’d both gone together. If Lilly was alive, he had every reason to believe Karen was too.

He had to find them. He had to figure out what Centralia was and what he was supposed to remember.

Centralia
by Mike Dellosso, ©2015
Tyndale House Publishers

Centralia holds a special place today because it is the first suspense/thriller I have reviewed on the blog. This book is also the first one I finished from the Tyndale book haul I shared a while back. It’s also the first book since Sutter’s Cross by a male author. So, is it worth all those firsts?

Centralia is the story of Peter Ryan, who wakes up one morning looking for his wife and daughter only to discover that they both died in a car accident he doesn’t remember. As the back cover puts it, “Haunted by faint memories and flashes of details, Peter becomes convinced that something isn’t right and begins to question reality.” Peter goes on the run to try to find his family –if he even still has one. But confusing memories aren’t the only thing haunting him; hit men follow him every step of the way and Peter can’t afford to make any mistakes.

While this isn’t the kind of story I typically read, I really enjoyed it. One thing author Mike Dellosso did right was including the strong family element. In a book full of shootouts, close calls, car chases, and questions, Peter Ryan’s need to find his wife and daughter kept things grounded and meaningful. On another level, Peter also begins to remember a relationship with God he didn’t know he had, buried somewhere in his confusing and jumbled past.

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Between trying to figure out which memories are real, (was he a mild-mannered scientist? An army ranger with a medal of honor? A divorcee or happily married?) I should warn you that a lot of people die. I lost count after fifteen (mostly nameless assassins after Peter) people expired, so this book might not be for you or for younger people. I did appreciate that Dellosso included this section dealing with Peter’s grief over the lives lost as he’s tried to escape:

…But in the aftermath, looking at the collection of casualties in the parking lot, he wondered who these men were when they weren’t being used as killing machines. Did they have wives who would grow ashen at the news? Children who would never again hear their father’s voice reading them a bedtime story? The thought made Peter sick.

God in heaven, forgive me. Deliver me from this evil.”

As for negatives, I did think the ending was a little bit underwhelming, and some components of the story were a  or bit over-the-topespecially convenient for the hero. A ventilation chimney leading straight out of the bad guys’ bunker complete with a ladder to the top and a metal grate cover (that isn’t even fastened on!) comes to mind. But it’s ultimately all part of the Marvel movie-ish fun and action.

The front cover quietly warns that “things are not what they seem.” But if you think this book seems like an energy-infused story full of revelations and heart…you might just be right.

Contemporary · Full Reviews

Full Review, My Hands Came Away Red

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The long sweep of beach that fronted the village was my favorite place. During those first days on the island, it became the spot I headed for with my Bible every morning after breakfast, the place I went when I needed five minutes alone. A row of tall coconut trees growing on the fringe of the jungle curved out over the sand like a one-armed embrace, and if you looked back from the beach you could see how the village had settled neatly into the bowl of the valley, as if hundreds of frail toy houses had tumbled down the surrounding hills and come to rest together at the bottom.

My Hands Came Away Red
By Lisa McKay
Moody Publishers, ©2007

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