Book Review: The Day The Angels Fell

I love YA literature even as an adult. Authors have freedom within the genre to do so much more than with books marketed for adults in most cases.

I don’t know if this is because the audience is more willing to suspend disbelief or more open to new ideas, but there’s more for a writer to play with that still has a greater chance of being published. That said, Christian fiction has been in a YA drought for a while.

I was worried that works like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and L’Engle’s beautiful works were past us. Instead, there are romance primers for girls and next-to-nothing for boys and that’s been the case for many years now.

So imagine my relief and excitement when I heard about Shawn Smucker’s debut novel The Day The Angels Fell.

Smucker’s magical realism novel explores themes of death, good vs. evil, friendship and family. He tells the story of Sam, a twelve year old boy whose mother has just passed in a freak accident in his place. Immediately he decides that he must go on a quest to find the mysterious Tree of Life he’s heard from mysterious characters in town and his best friend, Abra, is along for the ride with him.

Smucker’s writing is clean and his voice is strong. I loved the images he colors his scenes with and his characters are complex and relatable. I was right along with him the whole way.

I often find that contemporary childrens and young adult literature in CBA gets quite preachy or at least harps on the “moral” far too much, but this is not an issue with Smucker’s novel. His themes are clear, but have such a depth. He trusts his audience and I think that will be appreciated by young readers and adults. He—and his characters, for that matter—don’t talk down to the reader. He’s pacing alongside the whole while with some truly profound insights tucked naturally within the story. I was often sent racing from the couch for a pen to underline some absolute gems. (See the meme below!)

I would recommend The Day the Angels Fell to fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and L’Engle’s a Wrinkle in Time.  At turns dark and others heartwarming, Smucker’s world is original, heart-wrenching, and profound.

Pick up your copy here!

Book Review: Dark Matter

Total honesty: I’m reviewing this book because someone needs to read it so I can talk about it with them.

It’s that good.

I have been trying to broaden my reading horizons by reading genres I’ve shied away from in the past: sci-fi, memoir, philosophy—namely things I found intimidating as a young reader.

Pulling up my big girl pants at last, I have certainly found some of my new favorite books as a result. Case in point:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

After I finished this relentless sci-fi thriller, I flipped back to the copyright page to see if it was a first edition. I was and I honestly contemplated asking the library if I could buy their copy because it’s good enough to be worth something some day. (Jury is still out on if I’ll buy it from the library. It smelled like cologne which was weird…)

The book centers around Jason Dessen, a college physics professor and family man who once had the potential to be a great scientist, but gave it up to raise his son alongside his beautiful wife who gave up a promising art career to do the same.

After celebrating the scientific achievement of an old college roommate who has eclipsed him professionally, Jason is on his way back home and is kidnapped. His abductor drugs him and keeps asking him if he is happy with his life or if he has any regrets. Jason is drugged and falls unconscious.

Once he wakes, he finds he has never been married to his wife, his son was never born, and he’s made scientific strides far beyond what he thought was possible. I don’t want to spoil anything more, but I promise that the stakes only get higher and the plot even more engaging.

Crouch moves fast, spinning a truly original plot with healthy doses of suspense and humanity. He delves into physics in a way that is graspable, interesting, and tightly intertwined in the plot. (He had me interested in physics—a near miracle!)

Dark Matter takes you in and doesn’t let you go, so don’t start this unless you’re ready to devote pretty much every free moment to it.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sci-fi genre and Dark Matter has certainly helped with that. If you read it, let me know! I’m dying to discuss with someone!

Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple

If you haven’t realized that the unifying theme of all of my blog posts is that I do not have my act together, well…then you probably haven’t been poking around here for very long.

When I ran across Jared C. Wilson’s latest release, The Imperfect Disciple, I knew immediately that this was a book I needed to read. “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together,” the subtitle boasts. Yeah…might as well have titled it, “The Stuff that Jesus Has Been Trying to Tell Lex for A Long While Now.”

Wilson writes with a straight-to-the-point style that is at turns both humorous and heart-wrenchingly honest. Reading this book was like having a late-night talk over beers with a friend who pulls no punches.

I do things that I know are bad and I avoid doing things that I know are good. This makes me imminently unqualified to write one of those awe- some, take-the-next-hill, “be the change you want to see in the world” books on discipleship churned out ever-presently by the evangelical leadership-industrial complex.

But on the other hand, it makes me uniquely and distinctly qualified for the hope Paul offers in response to the crushing predicament bemoaned by Romans 7.

His premise of the book comes out of Romans 7 and 8—namely Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Wilson digs into this tension and does not let it go, bringing to light the full hope of Romans 8.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking so far about discipleship and worship and how I do—or don’t do—both. The Imperfect Disciple hits on the honesty we need as we figure out how to live out our faith!

Living in light of the gospel is often messy because we are broken people trying to work out the reconciliation we’ve been given with God—the holy creator of the universe! As Wilson describes it, our relationship with Jesus is like bringing home a fiancé who is “a much better catch than anybody, including yourself, ever thought you’d end up with.” (Seriously, this is his writing style. I laughed often while reading—couldn’t hold it in!)

We are broken and so in need of saving—saving that has only be done! Now we partner with the spirit in the work of sanctification. We surrender to what God is working out in us so that we may look more like Jesus. This is a daily putting on of the gospel. This is a daily reminder of the story that I have been grafted into. It is getting down on my knees, getting in the word, and accepting the great, expensive grace lavished upon me like it’s cheap.

How often I forget. How often we let ourselves become desensitized to what Jesus has done and the spirit is doing. Wilson’s book was a refreshing, honest reminder. I loved this book!

Here’s the heart of it: “Jesus is looking specifically for the people who can’t get their act together.” That you and me. And that is why so many of us need Wilson’s message.

I’ll leave you with one last nugget from the book to think on:

You and I come to Jesus looking for some kind of pick- me-up, and Jesus offers his flesh. We come looking for Jesus the life coach when what we really need is his glory. We need to behold him.

This is really the point of following Jesus—to become like him. And in order to become like him, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we must behold his glory.

Purchase your copy here

Book Review: At Home in the World

When trying to hunt for my vacation reads, I was at a loss of what to bring in the non-fiction category. I always bring both a fiction and non-fiction book when I travel. My only requirement is that I have to be able to read it in a distracted state—during airport people-watching, or driving to the next destination.

I discussed my predicament with my friend and boss and she instantly had a title for me. She was on the launch team for Tsh Oxenreider‘s latest release At Home In The World and she could not say enough good things about it.

My friend and her family lived abroad as missionaries for a time and is very well traveled, so with that stamp of approval, I was so down for a good travel memoir.

Tsh’s story is so intriguing to me.

She and her husband made a pact shortly after their third child was born that they were going to take their family on an around-the-world trip once the youngest could carry his own pack. They made good on that promise and Tsh document’s their journey in this fantastic book.

For nine months, the Oxenreider’s ventured through Asia, down to Australia and New Zealand, over to Africa, and then up through Europe. Tsh describes both the adventurous explorations of their trip as well as the everyday things they needed to do to keep their family rolling on their trip—schooling, booking the next leg of the journey, replacing lost flip-flops.

All through the book, she unpacks the tension between feeling wanderlust and the urge to stay home. She is ultimately trying to discover what is home and what does it mean to live in a world we are ultimately told is not our home.

Oh, how I felt her quandary! So often, I’m dreaming up that next trip, but while I am traveling, I often find myself longing for a good book and tea at home. I think about how to capture the place I am in order to bring pieces of it home to my people. I think many of us simultaneously carry the urge to explore and belong.

I so appreciated how Tsh described her predicament post-college and even as a young parent. All of her friends got married, but she didn’t want to because she wanted to see the world. Once she was married with children, she and her husband found that that didn’t take away their wanderlust. They still wanted to venture out and explore the world—just now with children.

I decided I wanted to travel before settling down, but the more places I go, the more places I discover I have yet to see. Travel only brings a desire for more travel. This is something I will probably always desire.

And like Tsh, I will also always desire a cozy night in with an engrossing novel and my wool blanket. This is a tension many of will wrestle and I think Tsh unpacks it well.

Reading this book was like being on the trip alongside them. I was amazed, I cried, I added all sorts of locations to my must-see list and I could not put this book down even though I was in the midst of my own traveling adventure.

You need to add At Home in the World to your summer reading list stat!