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Book review: A novel of women surviving ISIS

whatcomeswiththedust

“Today is Nazo Heydo’s wedding. The day she will set herself on fire.”

Thus begins What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind, Gharbi Mustafa’s gripping novel about women who survive the abuses of the Islamic State.

I have read Gharbi Mustafa’s first novel, When Mountains Weep, which is the story of a Kurdish boy coming of age when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate the Kurds. I knew Mustafa was as excellent novelist, so I was looking forward to this second novel about the suffering of Yazidi Kurds under ISIS. I was totally blown away by this new book. Mustafa’s first book was very good; this book is great.
What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind is a long title, which comes from the Yazidi religious legends that are explained in the book. It is a story about two Yazidi women, Nazo and Soz, and their struggle to survive. Nazo must escape slavery from ISIS to reach her forbidden lover. Soz is a female soldier who fights ISIS but also struggles with a secret love. Their fates are intertwined in a heart-wrenching story taken directly from the events we see on the daily news.
In 2014, the world watched in horror as Kurdish helicopters dropped relief supplies and tried to rescue thousands of Yazidis on Shingal Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, trapped there by ISIS. Since then, the United Nations has recognized the Yazidis re the targets of genocide by the Islamic State.
Who are these Yazidis? Why are the Kurds so eager to rescue them? Why is ISIS so eager to destroy them? This novel answers these questions, even though it is a work of fiction. In story form, the novel unravels the mysteries of the Middle East to western readers. Along the way, Mustafa shows us the mysterious religion and culture of the Yazidis, and contrasts these peaceful people with the fanatical cruelty of ISIS. Rich in culture and characters, and jarring in its account of jihadist brutality, it is a story that keeps the reader turning the pages to the end. I simply could not put it down until I finished.
Gharbi Mustafa is uniquely qualified to write this story. A Kurd himself, Mustafa is professor of English at the University of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He has personally interviewed Yazidi women who escaped ISIS, and knows the culture like few writers in the English language. As a novelist, he writes in a way that is at once deeply moving and enlightening. It is well worth the two hours and 200 pages.

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Book review: “Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt”

snoop

Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt (Published by Parables, 2016), by C. Wayne Harrison, is a 98-page book that tells stories of war, grouped together for devotional reflection. That may sound like an unusual approach, but Harrison makes it work.

Harrison was a private in the U.S. Army, who fought in the jungles in the Vietnam War in 1969-1970. Today he is Baptist minister in Booneville, Mississippi. In ten short chapters, he recalls his desire to be a soldier and relates in vivid detail the horrors he experienced in the war. Although the stories tend to move chronologically from early in his life through his year in Vietnam, the chapters are more thematic in nature, with titles such as, “The Heart of a Soldier,” “The Hands of a Soldier,” “The Hardships of a Soldier,” etc. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Bible, then focuses on stories that relate to the theme of the chapter, followed by some discussion questions and a prayer.

The reader identifies with the young man, who is nicknamed “Snoop” because of his lapel pin of Snoopy, the dog who imagined he was a fighter pilot, in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Some descriptions of war in the book may be disturbing to young readers, and the stories certainly are sobering even to mature readers. I believe Harrison’s writing will connect well with soldiers who read the book, and would make an excellent resource for military chaplains or anybody, especially soldiers, who are willing to reflect on God’s purpose for their lives.

The book is well-written, using excellent images and descriptions, and is easy to read, although I noticed a typo on p. 64, where the word “scar” was spelled “scare.” There are black-and-white photos of Harrison as a young soldier in the back of the book. In interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, with no obligation to write a favorable review.

Book review: “Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales”

DeadLawyersTellNoTales┬áIf you like John Grisham, you will probably like Randy Singer. I have read many of Singer’s legal suspense novels, and I found his plot twists to be consistently good, often better than Grisham. Singer is a Christian writer who avoids profanity and has a Christian worldview to his books. As a Christian myself, I really like that. But if you are not a Christian, don’t let that put you off, especially in Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales. Although his previous novels are not “preachy,” this novel is even less so. Singer simply weaves a captivating story of redemption. Landon Reed, a former SEC football quarterback who went to jail for taking a bribe to throw a game, wants to redeem himself by becoming a lawyer and helping others. He is an imperfect man who nearly falls again, and then gets caught up in a law firm where somebody is slowly killing every lawyer at the firm.

From beginning to end the plot kept my interest. Each short chapter seemed to end with something that made me want to read the next chapter and learn how the plot would resolve. Singer is a lawyer himself, and is able to describe complicated legal situations with clarity and detail. But what made this story engrossing in the first half was the theme of forgiveness and a second chance. In the second half, the plot accelerated and I couldn’t put down the book until I finished. This is probably Randy Singer’s best book to date.

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Book review on discipleship: “Growing Up”

GallatyCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

Robby Gallaty’s life was radically changed from drug-dealer to the pastor of a growing church. He credits the transformation not only to his conversion experience, but also to the process of personal discipleship he enjoyed under David Platt and others. His book, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples, shares his passion for discipleship that he is living out as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Gallaty gives a strong Biblical argument for the need for discipleship. The focal point of his book is the suggestion that instead of depending on Sunday School classes to do discipleship, churches should have small, closed discipleship groups with a leader and 3 or 4 other people of the same gender. He uses the name “D-group” for such discipleship groups. He prefers such small groups over discipleship by one-on-one mentors, saying one-on-one mentoring is harder to reproduce and may turn into a counseling relationship instead of a discipleship process. While he gives good reasons for the D-group, he seems to overstate the case that his is the best way. After all, Gallaty himself was mentored one-on-one by David Platt, while Jim Putnam’s book, Real-Life Discipleship, describes some effective discipleship with small groups that are larger than the size that Gallaty suggests.
Nevertheless, Growing Up is a useful resource for church leaders wishing to get serious about discipleship. The book is filled with practical advice about growing in one’s prayer life, Bible study, evangelism, and discipling others. Gallaty is fond of acronyms. The last six chapters of his book form the acronymn for the discipleship process: “CLOSER” which stands for Communicate, Learn, Obey, Store, Evangelize and Renew. He suggests the “HEAR” method of Bible study: Highlight, Explain, Apply and Respond. He says the D-group needs “FAT” belivers: Faithful, Available and Teachable.
While I would argue that D-groups are not the only way to do it, the fact remains that Gallaty is actually leading his church to do something, rather than just talk about it. I would highly recommend Growing Up as a resource that church leaders can use to implement true discipleship in their churches. It is “REAL” (Realistic, Easy to Read, Applicable, and Life-changing).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I received a free copy of this book for review, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

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Book Review: “Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel”

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Crime Scene Jerusalem
Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel by Alton Gansky (published by David C. Cook, 2007) does a masterful job of pulling off a peculiar premise: Max Odom, a forensics expert, is taken back in time to investigate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gansky makes the story much more than believable– he makes it gut-wrenching. The forensics expert doesn’t want to be there, and expresses all of the sarcastic humor of a jaded American man. But when he comes face-to-face with the cross, and sees how Jesus’ death speaks to the pain in his own life, he… well, read the book yourself. You will not be able to put it down, and you’ll be changed by the experience. Gansky describes life and culture in first-century Jerusalem vividly, and Gansky keeps the reader guessing what hurt Max Odom experienced that must come to the surface as he witnesses the Passion of Christ. A fascinating read for the Easter season or any season.