Book Review: The Governess of Highland Hall

The Governess of Highland Hall

Carrie Turansky’s The Governess of Highland Hall is full of potential. It is a Jane Eyre plot placed in a Downton Abbey setting, promising a story that will keep the pages turning. Unfortunately, the potential in the book is never reached, and the book remains a shadow of what it might have been.

A telling sign for me in Christian fiction is the presence or absence of silent prayers – italicized wisps of character’s thoughts scattered every few pages. As a critical reader, I can find no purpose for these prayers other than to make a book more “Christian.” They rarely tell readers anything about a character that they did not already know, and they never progress the story. It is preferable to see the Christianity of a character by their actions and their words than to overhear the strands of silent pleas. For those who are interested, there are silent prayers in this book.

Turansky narrates the book omniscient, which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a mistake. The plot revolves largely around the romance between governess Julia Foster and the widower father of the children she is in charge of (who recently inherited an estate much like Downton, complete with a full staff and grounds, and the stresses of trying to pay off death duties). The mystery of this romance is eliminated, however, as soon as Julia is introduced to Sir. William. Despite the story’s portrayal of Julia as the central character of the book – the point of view from which most situations are seen – the reader is told at this moment that Sir. William is drawn to her. This leaves no room for the reader to ever wonder if Sir. William might not really care for her the way she cares for him – despite the fact that their feelings are not confessed until the second-last chapter.

Perhaps in an attempt to mimic a selling point of Downton Abbey, Turansky tries to tell stories at all levels of the staff at Highland – from a kitchen maid to the butler to Julia, the governess, to Sir. William’s cousins (who are equivalent to Ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil). This might have worked, except that each story is not given equal time to the others, and none are equal to Julia’s. It becomes confusing and difficult to know how important each of the characters are.

Lastly, I was very confused when, about 3/4 through the book, a name appeared that I hadn’t seen at all before. It turned out to be a nickname for a character who’d been there all along… but if a character has a nickname, it would be helpful if it were introduced much sooner in the story.

All that being said, if you’re looking for a book to read to satisfy your craving for the next season of Downton Abbey and the flaws described above don’t bother you too much, The Governess of Highland Hall might be a nice quick read you need to fill up the time.

Click to read Carrie’s bio, or visit her website to learn more.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Book Review: When We Were On Fire

When We Were On Fire

Remember the 90s? Remember the tidal wave of cool that was flooding our churches, our youth groups, our prayers? Most of us do, in a vague, foggy kind of way. In this beautiful memoir, Addie Zierman writes about this era of Christianity with a candidness and a clarity that not only reminds us of what was going on, but puts into words the questions many have had, in hindsight, about what was really going on.

Starting off each chapter with a piece of “Christianese” (words Christians use that need to be explained to everyone else) and a definition, Zierman talks about things I haven’t thought about in years – things like AWANA, See You At the Pole, Teen Mania, WWJD bracelets. Back then, it seemed like in order to be a good Christian, all you had to do was dress modestly (a Jesus promoting t-shirt for every day of the week), be active at church (short-term mission trips, Bible study, etc.), and pray (fill journals with your girl cursive telling God how great he was and what you were feeling, who you liked, why you wanted God to make you a missionary). To be a super-Christian, you had to be a missionary. You had to be willing to leave it all and go live somewhere else. Because that’s what Jesus did for us, right?

Zierman’s book certainly doesn’t bash missionaries, and neither am I. She simply confesses in an honest and non-judgmental way that the reason she wanted to be a missionary during high school was not because of God, but because of Christianity. I’ve had a feeling about this for a few years now, and I was delighted to read the story of someone who decided not to be a missionary. (She still spent a year in China with her husband, but she was teaching English, not Bible stories, and it was hard, and they came back.)

After painting a picture of how clearly “on fire” for Jesus she was in high school, Zierman describes the experience of going to a small Christian college in a way that shows exactly how it is – for some people (I being one of them). At home she was the Bible study leader, the righteous one. At school, the Christians who had gotten everything right judged her for not having their taste in decorating, listening to non-Christian music, and going on late night walks with a boy. She described this experience not as a backsliding in her relationship with Christ, but as a disillusionment with evangelicalism. It was too stifling, too pigeon-holed, too legalistic.

From there, she describes the loneliness she felt, even after her marriage, as for many years she was unable to find within evangelicalism the community and deep understanding and friendship that she craved. She slid into depression, mild alcoholism, and emotional adultery. It took a long time and a lot of counseling to make it back – a lot of forgiveness directed toward things that happened back when she was on fire. But she did make it, and this book is her beautiful story.

There were very few things in this book I disagreed with. Usually I take this as a warning sign, that maybe I am not thinking about the book critically enough. But it’s a memoir! It’s hard to disagree with someone’s life. What I did feel was an astounding sense of recognition. That Zieman’s story is not just hers. That it belongs to a generation that was duped into believing they were holy if they wore enough Jesus t-shirts, sang enough songs, met every dilemma with WWJD? Anyone can learn from this book. Everyone can respond to it, whether you grew up in, were consumed by, or are struggling to recover from the Christian subculture that led everyone to believe that fires could never go out.

In short – YOU should read this book. (But you should read this first.)

Addie’s website and author bio, and you can read a sample chapter here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: As You Wish

As You Wish

In As You Wish, African-raised Mercy Lokulutu shares the insight she received one evening while watching The Princess Bride. In short, the dialogue from one particular scene in the movie inspired her, and it follows:

Grandpa: [voiceover] Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Westley around.

Buttercup: Farm boy, polish my horse’s saddle. I want to see my face shining in it by morning.

Westley: As you wish.

Grandpa: [voiceover] “As you wish” was all he ever said to her.

Buttercup: Farm boy, fill these with water – please.

Westley: As you wish.

Grandpa: [voiceover] That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.”

Mercy  writes that when she thought about these lines, she realized that we as a human race should be saying these same things to God. Rather than ordering him around and asking him to do things for us, like Buttercup does to Westley, we should be showing our love for God by showing him our willingness to submit and surrender to his will. This is a pretty cool way to think about things! Most of us are willing and able to say that we love God, and even to tell him, but how willing are we to truly surrender to God and tell him “as you wish”? To back up her case, Mercy explains that this is exactly what Christ did when in the Garden of Gethsemane he told his Father “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). If we are to be like Christ, we must follow his example in expressing our love for God by saying to him “As you wish.” Food for thought!

Book Review: Why God, Why?

Why?

Writer Karen Jensen is a traveling motivational speaker as well as a professor at RHEMA Bible Training College in Broken Arrow Oklahoma. After her husband’s sudden death at the age of thirty-seven, Jensen became a single mom as well as the senior pastor at the church where she and her husband had previously pastored together. This traumatic experience of great loss gave Jensen a first-hand look at how a Christian should believe, question, and think about God when bad things happen in our lives, the subject of many of her studies and of the book Why God Why? What to do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.

In her book, Jensen gives the believing reader permission to question God when things go wrong and we don’t understand why. Her primary analogy throughout the book is that of a stove, where questions can go into the front-burner pots, but when we are done asking they need to be moved to the back-burners so that we can go on living our lives on the front-burners, rather than stewing in the questions and being unable to move on. Each of the following chapter presents the reader with a “front-burner truth” about God and our circumstances, and suggests ways in which to put these truths into action in our lives.

Because Jensen has experienced great loss herself, she provides insight into what a journey toward moving on might look like, as well as encouragements through stories of God’s provision for her and her sons. In some places, however, it might seem to someone who is struggling to have faith in God after loss that her experience was easier than theirs may be because she is so strong. In general, however, this book would probably have a positive influence on someone who is struggling with unexpected loss or great change in circumstance.

Book Review: Fearless

Fearless

Fearless, by Mike Dellosso, is a Christian mystery/thriller in the vein of  Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.  It starts of a little bit slow, allowing the reader some time to get to know the characters, and it follows three primary story lines. The book is 286 pages long, and it took me quite a few of them to feel like I had a firm handle on those plot lines. The action takes place in plot #1, which follows the movements and rationalizations of a serial killer, while the emotional and developmental part of the book occurs in plot #2, where a mysterious little girl appears in a burning house and continues to surprise everyone from then until the end of the book. Plot #3 follows a woman with an abusive live-in boyfriend. These stories seem entirely unconnected, but Dellosso’s talent shows in the skill with which he manages to weave them all together.

Dellosso’s writing is engaging and easy to read, making this a great book for someone who doesn’t have a large chunk of time to sit and read but instead reads in spurts in the doctor’s office or on the bus. The story is a bit slow, however, until about halfway through, and picks up considerably towards the end. The characters are believable and round; due to the nature of the genre they each harbor specific emotional and/or spiritual wounds. Sometimes the way these wounds or the characters’ thoughts about them are described feels repetitive. All in all, this isn’t great literature – but it doesn’t claim to be! It is a good, fun book that is great for summer reading. It’s worth putting on your list!

Mike Dellosso’s newest book, Fearless, was published this year by Realms, a division of Charisma Media. To purchase your own copy, click on the book cover above.