Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke (2014)

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is the year 1939 and American, albeit German-born, Rachel Kramer visits Germany once again with her adopted father. It is a regular trip, every 2 years, for her to have a harmless check-up from the doctors at the Institute. Even though she is now a full-grown woman, the check-ups must continue and so, reticent though she may be, Rachel agrees to this trip, not having the heart to refuse her father. But this Germany is not the Germany of her youth. The black spider is everywhere, plastered on flags flying from almost every building, and the SS officers acquainted with her father prattle on about eugenics and purity of race. Yes, her father works in eugenics and has for as long as she can remember, but there is something different about the discussions now that make Rachel nervous. Talk of one race being more valued than another set pings of concern through her brain, but it is only when she Rachel speaks with her oldest childhood friend, Kristine, that she truly begins worrying.

Kristine is terrified for the life of her daughter, Amelie. A deaf child is unacceptable offspring for an SS officer and Kristine's husband, Gerhardt Schlick, is one of the cruelest men Rachel has ever known. She didn't like him as a teenager and she does not like him now, particularly since he still holds an unhealthy fascination for Rachel while emotionally dismissing his wife. He speaks of his daughter as if she were subhuman and when he insists that Amelie receive "treatment" for her deafness, Kristine pleads with Rachel to help her, to take Amelie with her back to the states. Rachel's eyes begin to open to the atrocities of this new Germany, and she agrees, albeit reluctantly for she has no experience with children, but all too soon Rachel realizes that leaving may not be as easy as she had hoped. It is only with the assistance of American reporter Jason Young that Amelie is sneaked away to safety, and Rachel must soon follow. Her father is not who she thought he was, and neither is her past, but can Rachel escape Nazi Germany before it's too late and she becomes a broodmare for the Reich?

Wow. I already knew that Cathy Gohlke was an excellent writer ever since I read William Henry is a Fine Name, but I wasn't expecting the traumatic and terrifyingly brilliant novel she dished out in Saving Amelie. Nazi Germany has never been one of my favorite subjects, but I was willing to revisit the topic because it was Cathy Gohlke. She did not disappoint. As I said, I know very little about the era, but I'm assuming her historic facts and dates are accurate. She writes her novel with an air of authenticity, so I trust she did her research. Plus, I recognized in Jason Young the elements of William Shirer, an actual American reporter in Nazi Germany during Hitler's rise to power. She did, in fact, base Jason off Shirer, so I was not imagining their similarities. If you get a chance and can find a copy, watch The Nightmare Years starring Sam Waterston, Shirer's incredible story.

However, back on track once again, I appreciate the great lengths Ms. Gohlke went to in creating believable characters. Rachel is one of those delightful creations who you sometimes like and sometimes dislike because she is selfish, just like everyone else, but tries to develop a new way of thinking about "lesser" races like the Jews. The girl is a Fi user if I ever saw one, caring more for her own emotions and beliefs about something than the opinions of others, even more about her own fears than the fears of other people. She completely discounts a terrifying experience an acquaintance of hers has near the end of the book. So, Rachel grows, but she's still flawed. It's a good thing she also has many likeable qualities or I would have struggled in accepting her as a heroine. Jason won me over almost immediately, not only because he used amusing Americanisms from the 1930s, but also because I sensed a bit of Shirer in him.

Jason and Rachel both start their journey without any semblance of faith. Jason is transformed through hearing Dietrich Bonhoeffer preach in an underground church, and Rachel begins her transformation through encountering a woman named Lea Hartmana and her grandmother who try their hardest to live the faith they proclaim. The faith elements felt genuine, not pushy or intrusive, a natural progression of questioning during a time when people are desperate to believe in something. From what I know about Bonhoeffer, very few people would have come away from one of his sermons unchanged, so it makes sense that Jason would begin questioning his personal belief system after an encounter with the man.

This is a hard topic. This book deals with cruelty of the most abominable kind to Jews and to handicapped children and to anyone the Nazis deemed subhuman. Women are viewed as property by Nazi Germany and Ms. Gohlke doesn't sugarcoat that fact, although she never goes into too much detail. There is a horrific, but not surprising, near rape scene about 3/4 of the way through the book, but nothing happens. Nazi Germany was nightmarish, and Ms. Gohlke makes sure her readers understand that without detailing it out in unnecessary descriptions. I admit that I never cried, but I was invested in all of the lives in this book, from little, adorable Amelie in her red coat to Rachel whose life has been turned upside down to Lea Hartman who also has a large role to play in the story though I can't go into detail for fear of spoilers.

You know, I look at Nazi Germany and the murder of the "undesirables" and I see a parallel in our own society. Think of the cruelty of racism until Martin Luther King Jr. took a stand. Think of the millions upon millions of children sacrificed to abortion every year while Christians stand back and do nothing. These characters realize that the only way for evil to take charge is for good people to do nothing, but by this point, it's too late to stem the tide of Hitler's evil. If the church had taken a stand against the tyranny early on, as Bonhoeffer urged, maybe Hitler would have been stopped before he even got started. I just hate seeing history repeat itself, but that is what I see in the American society I love so much. We've become Hitler in our own way, and that's an ugly confession to make to anyone.

Saving Amelie is hard-hitting and brilliant, and should be read by every Christian reader.

- I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review: Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black (Wars of the Realm #1)

Cloak of the Light (Wars of the Realm, #1)Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For college boy Drew Carter, the world will never be normal again. When he and his friend Ben begin experimenting with a machine that can help a person perceive the world at faster than the speed of light, Drew sees something he never anticipated, an enormous, malevolent creature who is like a man, but not like a man, all at the same time. When the Lasok machine, a device invented by Ben's physics mentor, explodes, Drew finds himself blinded and his friend injured. Against all odds, his sight returns slowly, but he has been changed by the explosion. His senses are heightened, his instincts sharp, his reactions swift and sure, and now he can see these beings without the aid of the Lasok machine. By studying these creatures, the Invaders as he calls them, Drew realizes there are two kinds, the dark ones who influence evil thoughts in men and are usually capable of turning those thoughts to action, and then the light ones, who do all within their power to defend humanity against the dark ones. Drew, for all his new superpowers, sees but doesn't understand what's happening, and until he believes in more than just his own abilities, Drew will remain lost.

I'm a long-time Frank Peretti fan. I first listened to his This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness audio books when I was a tween and practically have them memorized, even now so many years later. I love books about angels and demons (it's not hard to guess that's what these light and dark invaders are), so when I found out about Chuck Black's new series, I was determined to give it a try. I admit that no author has ever taken Peretti's place in my affection for supernatural fiction, but Chuck Black comes in a close second.

I like how he's modernized these supernatural beings. They're not in togas and sandals. They wear jeans and dark shirts, and while they do carry swords, they also carry guns, seriously awesome guns. If I were to change one thing about how these supernatural beings are developed, it's that I wish the reader could hear them. Drew can't hear them, only see them, and so the reader suffers the same fate. One of the many things I loved about Peretti is how his story follows multiple characters. I would have loved to have been on the other side of this story, seeing it from the perspective of the angels and demons. Still, nothing's perfect, and it certainly isn't enough of a complaint to decrease my rating.

The book is rather preachy, however. I know, I know, this is Christian fiction, and it's expected to be preachy, but sometimes it felt a little bit much. Sydney, a girl who Drew likes, is the one solid Christian influence in his life, and she's a very forthright girl about her faith, more forthright than any fellow Christian my age that I've ever met in real life. She must be very unique. So I wish the Christian aspect of the novel was shown more through doing and less through preaching, but oh well.

Chuck Black has created a fascinating world. Right now demons and angels are very popular in secular culture, so it's refreshing to find an author tackling them from a new perspective, reinventing them, as it were, so they're beings of the modern age, armed to the teeth with guns and toting swords on their backs. It's awesome. And, if I may say, Cloak of the Light is a much wiser choice for Christian youth than, oh, say the City of bones books that are quite sacrilegious. I eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.

- I received a free copy of this book from Multnomah in exchange for an honest review, which I have gladly given.

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Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...