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I love to have a nice chat! For this reason, I will talk to many different people and record our chats in this blog. I hope to chat with authors, book characters and readers and I will also share some thoughts and book reviews with you. Enjoy!

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Sticking to Rules is just a Symptom

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Remember Lisa? I’ve done an interview with Lisa a while back. Lisa is my protagonist’s older sister, and she sure knows how a Christian should behave. She knows all the rules and sticks by them. She expects everybody else to stick by them, too! To give you a little impression, here’s an excerpt from “Out of the Dark“, where Lisa meets Josie for the first time, the woman her brother Jim fell in love with – unbeknownst to her.

“We don’t drink alcohol,” Lisa cut in. Josie’s eyebrows shot up.
“You don’t?” She looked at Stacey.
“Oh, Lisa, come off it. YOU don’t drink alcohol. I do once in awhile, but you have yet to see me drunk. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.”
Lisa ignored this statement completely.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked Josie instead. Josie hesitated a moment.
“Is that a prerequisite for moving in here?” Josie asked back, to gain a bit of time. She was already aware of the fact that while Stacey was an uncomplicated and warm-hearted person, Lisa on the other hand was a bit peculiar. She hadn’t quite put her finger on it yet, but it seemed to her that Lisa liked to be in control and set the rules. She was probably friendly and sweet as long as everybody played her tune, but might turn nasty if one decided to play one’s own little melody.
“No, it’s not,” Stacey said very decisively in response to Josie’s question.
“Would you say you are, even if you’re not, if it was a prerequisite?” Lisa went on, eyes shining eagerly like a cat smelling rat.
Josie leaned back in her chair and smiled charmingly, envisioning a tail twitching with excitement sticking out through the back of Lisa’s chair. Now she knew exactly what Lisa was like, but it didn’t bother her in the least. Lisa loved the challenge of getting her way without people noticing it. But – Josie relaxed completely – she was not very good at it. Josie chuckled quietly to herself. Her mother was like that. And her mother was extremely good at it. And so was Josie herself, having learned from her – and used it on her successfully.
“No, I wouldn’t,” she replied to Lisa’s question. “If it was a prerequisite, I would think you are religious freaks and would most certainly not want to live with you. Are you religious freaks?”
Stacey giggled again.
“I don’t think I have laughed so much in the past three weeks together,” she said cheerfully.
Lisa’s smile appeared to be a little strained, but she made no further comment on matters of faith.

 Out of the Dark, Chapter 3, A Good Move

Do you know people like that? I have encountered them and I must admit that they are not the ones who made the Christian faith attractive to me. I tend to do things my own way and people who want to impress their rules on me usually make me squirm and snap.

But faith is all about rules, isn’t it? God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to keep and even Jesus himself said “You love me if you keep my commandments” (John 15:10). Obviously, there is a connection between the rules and love. Most people think the connection is this: If I keep the rules, God is going to love me. I know many people who see it that way, some of them Christians, some of them not.

For the Christians, this attitude means they can earn their way into heaven. And if they can earn their way into heaven, so can everyone else. All you have to do is keep the rules. It gives them the perfect excuse to act like Lisa and call everyone out who is NOT keeping the rules.

For the non-Christians, this attitude is a monstrous barrier between them and God. Either they don’t want to keep all the rules because there are just too many of them and life is no longer fun if you stick by them, or they feel they will never be able to keep all the rules, well aware of their own weakness.

The good news is: It’s a lie. Nobody can earn their way into heaven. Salvation is a gift, and the only thing you have to do to receive it is to accept it. The connection between the rules and love is this: Keeping the rules is just a symptom of loving God.

When I accepted the fact that I needed a saviour and Jesus was the only one adequate to deal with all of my problems, I was far from perfect. I didn’t keep the rules. I didn’t even know all the rules. Some of them I knew and broke willfully, because I wanted to. The only thing that happened was that I hurt myself. It did not diminish God’s love for me. The longer I’ve lived in this extraordinarily loving relationship with God, the clearer the rules became. And with this growing awareness, my wish to keep the rules increased. Not for the rules’ sake, but for my sake. Not to please God and make him love me, but because I learned from experience that breaking the rules hurts – either me or others.

It makes me sad to hear Christians call people out on their sins, because I know it will only drive them away from God. It doesn’t help. Acceptance helps. Helping helps. Sharing in the pain of a broken heart helps. Good advice or empty prayers rarely do. Another small excerpt that shows the difference.

Josie didn’t reply but stared into her coffee cup, wondering why this was so utterly different from what Stacey had said to her about Jesus. Of course, Stacey hadn’t asked Josie to pray with her, she had only spoken about her own experiences. But Lisa had also spoken of her experiences, so why did she feel offended? It felt like an intrusion, this offer of prayer. As if Lisa tried to make things right from a distance, without getting involved. Stacey had gotten involved, had not been afraid to get real close to what was happening.

Out of the Dark, Chapter 7, The Workings of the Heart

There are those who are not afraid to get involved. Those who do not judge. Those who stand by you without asking questions. They might tell you their opinion, but they will never condemn you. They are the forgiven ones. The ones who remember the times when they themselves were helpless, hopeless and in need. The grateful ones who serve God not out of duty, but for love. If you meet one of those, don’t be afraid to trust them. They make great friends.

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

41hVfXozwZLThis collection of short stories by highly acclaimed Sri Lanka author Shirani Rajapakse has touched me and left me with one dire, unanswered question: Why?

‘I exist. Therefore I am’ is written in a very quiet, yet poetic style. For the difficult topic it addresses, it uses no drama and no judgment. The stories tell individual episodes of lives of women in India from all ranges of society, thereby drawing a devastating picture of an entire culture. Even before I read the book I knew that women are not highly regarded and suffer a lot in India. Arranged marriages, infanticide and lack of rights or education were familiar topics. But the depth of hatred running deep in the mindset of an entire people shocked me and left me speechless.

‘Why?’ I asked myself after every story. Why would a mother poison her newborn child, just because it was a girl? Why would a girl spend all of her family’s money just to get a socially acceptable husband? Why, oh why would a woman douse her daughter-in-law in kerosene and burning oil and watch her burn to death? And why are these things not only accepted by the majority, but passed on through generations?

For me, the most striking piece of the collection is the one that gave the book its title. The reader gets to share the thoughts of an unborn girl from first awareness to the point of abortion. As a Christian and a mother of two (I would be highly esteemed in India, having borne two sons!) it is inconceivable how women can be put under so much pressure (by other women!) that they begin to hate that which they are called to love and protect, nourish and raise.

It makes me sad and calls me to pray for a nation hopelessly lost and without love. This is a far cry from Bollywood!

I read the book knowing it was not an easy topic. I’m glad I read it because I cannot close my eyes to the fate of millions, even if they live far away. The author has done a marvelous job in portraying each of the women without making it garish sensationalism. Her calm recounting of facts and feelings make the stories digestible, despite their often cruel contents; and her poetic language give the thoughts and feelings depth and beauty.

In the introduction she states that she has lived in India for eight years, taking the risk of leaving the tourist trails to discover the true heart beating in that big and wildly differing country. I commend her for that and for her aim of raising awareness on behalf of women who are so deeply suppressed they often have no way of standing up for themselves.

I highly recommend this book. It has filled me with gratitude for my own loving family, the respect I am treated with and the freedom I may enjoy every day. I am also deeply grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ, which has given my life purpose and meaning and has established an identity and value as a person that nobody will be able to take from me. I exist. Therefore I am – able to love with the freedom to do so.
My prayers go out to women in India now more than ever.

BadgeTLI

For the beautiful language used, the touching storytelling that kept me turning the pages and the depth of topic I gladly award ‘I exist. Therefore I am’ a Chatworthy Read badge.

Congratulations to the author!

 

Four Knights in Alaska by Nyna Toney

FourKnightsWhen receiving a request from the author to review this book and seeing the cover, my gut told me not to read it. I figured there’d be a lot more sex in it than I’m able to digest. I openly addressed my apprehensions with the author and she assured me that the story did have a number of sex scenes, yes, but was focussed on character development and it was definitely not Erotica. So I gave it a shot.

I have to be honest: The amount of sex and cursing in this book offended me, right along with the notion of abuse turning into pleasure and one woman sharing her bed with three men. Not something I want in my head.

BUT – I read to the end. I read it to the end because the author did a tremendous job with her characters. They start out as stereotypes, three guys in debt to a rich lady money lender, who treats them cruelly and is therefore faced with their revenge in the form of a five day retreat in a lonely cabin in the mountains, where she is at their complete mercy.

Toney then proceeds to peel layer after layer of circumstances, loss and hurt off each character to reveal the personality inside, making them bond and form relationships where the reader certainly didn’t expect them – and neither did the characters.

The story is well written and flows naturally, relying heavily on intelligent dialogue, while interspersing the hot, but not too overly graphic bedroom action with adventures in the Alaskan wilderness. It never dragged and pulled me in by the sheer strength of multilayered human emotion it contained.

If you’re a bit sensitive like me, don’t read this book. It’s offensive.

If you enjoy a unique story free of morale, by all means, read it. It’s really good.

Kisses, Suzi by Joanie Chevalier

KissesSuziThis short thriller bordering on horror was my latest translation project. Want to know why I was done so fast translating it? I wanted to know what happened next!

Meet Jimmie and Brenda, who are on their way to a friend’s house, whom they obviously don’t visit that often, because they need directions from the GPS. That GPS, however, develops a mind of its own and it’s notions aren’t exactly consumer friendly. As a matter of fact, it plots to get rid of Brenda, having somehow fallen in love with Jimmie.

I must admit that I don’t regard Jimmie as one of the brightest candles on the tree, but the string of circumstances that turn the trip more and more into a horror ride kept me thinking “Oh, no!”, while almost desperate to read on.

If you need a quick dose of suspense and thrill with a touch of gore, grab a hold of this book. But beware, you might never want to update your GPS again after reading this!

The Westwood Witches by Sarah Northwood

41z2+JNKEtLLiving in the Westerwald (Westwood) region in Germany, I HAD to read this book. I’ll keep a close look-out if anyone around me displays magical notions. This YA adventure sure is imaginative! Time and again I thought ‘Oh, what a neat idea!’ or ‘What? I didn’t see that one coming.’ while reading.

17 year-old Aero’s life changes dramatically when she finds out she belongs to a family of powerful witches – and has some powers of her own she simply hasn’t discovered yet.

Aero is your average teenager, going to school, struggling with herself and the rest of the world, getting bullied and hanging out with her bestie. But when her Grandma dies, she is devastated, because they were real close. Grandma left her a bit of magic and Aero soon discovers that there is a lot more to the world than she ever dreamed of.

On the whole, I highly recommend this story, because it will grip you with its twists and turns, touch your heart with loving relationships and keep you in suspense with a very dark side hovering around the corner.

And yet I feel the story could have been more. It opens up so many wonderful thoughts and worlds to dive into, but it only grazes them. It doesn’t delve deeper, into the shadow realm for example. The author built up my expectations until I was hungry and yearning to learn all about it, but then we pay it only a short visit and I thought ‘This was all?’. I would have loved to stay longer and take a look around.

If I had written this story, I would have put a different focus, would have spent less time analyzing feelings and relationships and more time playing with magic. My focus would have been more on the legends than on the present, more with the magical creatures than the ordinary people. But I haven’t written it, couldn’t have written it because these unique ideas never occurred to me.

So please, read it for yourself and form your own opinion about where you would have put your focus. You certainly won’t regret it!

Wingless by Heather Trim

Following the airy YA adventure of Wingbound, which ended in a dragon-infested battle chaos, Wingless picks the story of the flying island Ellery up and moves it along at a good pace.

We meet almost all our familiar characters in prison – winged and wingless alike, which makes the reader wonder what is going on. Things are cleared up pretty soon and the Balfourians have only one wish: To get home to their village in one piece. Or do they?

It’s hard to describe this story without giving away any of the twists that make it so enjoyable. Let me just say that black and white no longer exist, there are good guys and bad guys with and without wings and Ledger, Tolliver and the rest of the crew have as much trouble figuring out whom to trust as the reader.

Personal relationships and development of characters are clearer, more natural and more intense than in book 1, fuelled by the introduction of new friends and foes.

The only criticism I have is that the ending is a bit too smooth. Given the characterization of the bad guys, I doubt that the massive changes necessary to achieve peace between the winged and wingless people would be possible as described. But if you enjoy a happy ending, this book will have you close it with a deeply satisfied sigh.

Wingless

The author kindly provided me with an advance copy for this review. If you would like to know more about the series, click here for an interview with Hollis, the girl who thinks dragons make wonderful pets. 

Unrelenting by Marion Kummerow

519Axv7uruL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Set in pre World War II Germany, this unusual love story is bound to fascinate, especially with the knowledge that it is based on real life experiences by the author’s grandparents.

Meet Wilhelm Quedlin, Q for short, who has only one love in life: science. He is an inventor, works on gas masks and echo sound systems and would happily have continued to do so, if he hadn’t been arrested for industrial espionage. Even though it turns out that the accusations were false, he loses his job and his life turns into a completely different direction. In the midst of Hitler’s grab for power, he meets Hilde and all of a sudden there is more to life than science.

Written in a quiet and undramatic style, the author nevertheless unfolds the historic developments in a way that won’t leave the reader untouched. The suffocating atmosphere in pre-war Germany is captured perfectly, while the reader hopes and fears with the young couple.

Their personal story is expertly interwoven with well-researched occurrences such as the burning of the Reichstag building or the Olympic Games in Berlin. The craziness of Hitler’s racial laws and his tight grasp on the media will certainly get readers thinking and probably answer a few questions about how all of this could have happened.

In the light of a growing right wing movement in Germany using Nazi propaganda today, this book is an important work that might help to open a few eyes and avoid a repetition of history.

Being part one of a three book series, I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.