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Sweet Sanctuary

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma. 352 p. Published August 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced review copy provided by the publisher in electronic format through their BookSneeze program in return for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Contemporary Fiction

Short Bio (from the publisher):

“Without the storm, how would we know the sweetness of shelter?” -Ruth

Out of the clear blue, Wren’s Grandma Ruth arrives on her doorstep, dreaming of a grand party to celebrate her 95th birthday. Wren and her young son Charlie love the idea, but it quickly gets complicated: Ruth wants Wren’s estranged siblings to attend and she wants Wren to sing her all-time favorite song: “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” It’s the very song Wren sang one fateful day during her childhood . . . and Wren hasn’t sung a note since.

Though she’s glad to have Grandma back in her life, Wren’s sleeping on the couch in her own house now . . . and worried about the expenses piling up. After all, her job at the community library is in jeopardy after budget cuts, and the fancy music program she wants for her son is getting farther and farther out of reach. What’s more, Paul—the guy she’s drawn to yet avoids—ends up being a major part of an important library project.

With family arriving and old wounds resurfacing, Wren’s about to fly when she discovers something special—a gift of grace beyond her wildest dreams.

Eyewitness Account:

Sweet Sanctuary is the story of a single-mom who fights all the usual battles – bringing home the bacon for her little family of two, delving into the ultra-emotional question of what role her ex-husband should have in their lives, moving beyond the relational failures of the past for new dating opportunities, and carrying the great burdens of parenthood alone.   Because no (wo)man is an island, Wren faces all of this on top of the emotional scars of her childhood.  The family tragedy of long ago not only created deep psychological wounds, but has left Wren without the support and presence of her mother and siblings.

Wren’s story is engaging and real, relatable even to those who aren’t in her particular situation.  She’s easy to empathize with, partly because she makes the same mistakes that we probably would.  I liked that her struggles were the usual daily life ones of figuring out how to help her son when he has trouble with his friends, how to handle the difficult family relationships in her life, and how to make life-changing decisions like where to live and what job to take.  I also liked that her journey of faith was authentic – there were times when she remembered to turn to God in faith and times when she didn’t.  Wren’s story emphasized the importance of having faithful friends to remind us to look toward God in all things instead of worrying.

I really loved the writing style throughout (see the excerpt below!) but the plot development at the end felt a little heavy-handed and was followed by a tidy wrap-up.  However, the characters and topics covered made it a worthwhile book to read.  This book had the definite plus of not being a solely “romance” novel – although Wren has a love interest, her potential relationship with a guy is not the crux of the story and blends in much more realistically than many contemporary fiction novels.  I’d recommend this anyone who likes contemporary Christian fiction.   

Sweet Sanctuary was not an incredibly original, fantastic, or mind-bending book – but it was definitely an enjoyable escape and a good reminder that God is into the fixing-up-our-messed-up-lives business. 

Notable Quotes:

(Excerpt)

Working in a library was similar to bartending or sitting in the confessional box. She’d see library patrons at the Friday film nights or around town and many treated her as if she knew all their secrets, based on the books they read, the ones they hated and the ones they loved.

Wren especially enjoyed when a child carried off a new library card, holding his or her head high as if some rite of passage had just occurred, which was exactly how she saw it. The books the patrons borrowed told their stories for them. Wren wondered how the changing of the library would change the people who came searching for books.

In one year at the Cottage Cove Public Library, she had fallen in love with the community like they were the family she longed for.

There were layers here, stories alive in the patrons who visited the library and stories through the characters of the books. The books breathed love, places, stories, cultures, mysteries, evils, beauty, the divine, the humble . . . everything of life was found here.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Small Kucing, Christian Fiction Addiction, Maria’s Handmade Love,

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★

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Counterfeit Gospels

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Trevin Wax. 240 p. Published April 2011 by Moody Publishers. Advance review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Theology

Not-so-Short Bio (from NetGalley):  What if the biggest danger to the church of Jesus Christ is not blatant heresy, the moral failures of church leaders, persecution, the rise of Islam or the loss of our rights? What if the biggest threat is counterfeit gospels within the church, ways of thinking and speaking about the good news that lead to a gradual drift from the truth of Scripture?

The gospel is like a three-legged stool. There’s the Gospel Story – the grand narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration). Within that overarching framework, we make the Gospel Announcement about Jesus Christ (His perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, exaltation). The gospel announcement then births the Gospel Community: God’s church – the embodiment of the gospel, the manifestation of God’s kingdom.  A counterfeit gospel is like a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of this stool until the whole thing topples over. This book exposes six common counterfeits (Therapeutic, Judgmentless, Moralist, Quietist, Activist, and Churchless) that would get us off track.

The goal of Counterfeit Gospels is to so deepen our love for the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ that we would easily see through the many counterfeits that leave us impoverished. So come, love the gospel, recognize and overcome the counterfeits, and be empowered for ministry!

Eyewitness Account: The title of this book intrigued me – and I was not disappointed!  Wax and Chandler break out their definition of “the gospel” (mainly the three pieces mentioned above, Story – Announcement – Community) and how many of the “gospels” being taught/preached in churches today change one of those pieces.  I was impressed not only with the content of this book, but also with how the authors organized it; after each “counterfeit” is defined and explained with examples,  the authors describe why we fall for it (what elements of truth are still in it) and what dangers result from holding to that counterfeit.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what the core beliefs of Christianity are and how Christians and the Church can most accurately reflect those beliefs.  Counterfeit Gospels is a very thoughtful and well-written response to the increasing number of Christian churches who have succumbed to off-target or incorrect doctrine.

Notable Quotes: 

“But in most cases, counterfeit gospels represent either a dilution of the truth or a truth that is out of proportion. There may still be enough of a saving message to reconcile us to God, but the watered-down version never satisfies our longings. Nor will it empower us for service, or embolden our witness before a watching world.”

“. . . true happiness does not line up with the world’s definition. True joy is much deeper and richer than that offered by the various versions of the therapeutic gospel, because true joy is found in God Himself, not just in His gifts. The god of the therapeutic gospel is too small. We think that because God is love, we will be delivered from trials and discomfort. But God loves us too much to only give us comfort and prosperity. God is not interested in our self-actualization; he’s interested in our Spirit-actualization. He is forming us into the image of Hs Son. And if we are to look more like Jesus, the Suffering Servant, surely we will pass through times of suffering.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Mere Orthodoxy, Covenant of Love, Blogging Theologically

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★