Monday, October 25, 2021

More by Dee Henderson

I have returned to some of Dee Henderson’s other books, having enjoyed her writing earlier this year. She has quickly become one of my favourite authors.

Full Disclosure introduces FBI team leader Paul Falcon and highly respected Midwest Homicide Investigator, Ann Silver. Ann brings Paul a case providing the first decent lead in a cold-case centred on a female assassin. Paul is also heir apparent to the Falcon dynasty, a large extended family business with ties throughout the country. Ann has her own personal history and secrets which are revealed throughout, but interestingly she also is a fiction writer who writes the love stories of her friends, like Dave and Kate. Here astute Henderson readers will note the suggestion that Ann Silver is actually Dee Henderson (as many of these couples are in the O’Malley series). Perhaps she’s leaving a clue as to how she writes and who she writes about. There is certainly very little biographical information available about her. It’s possible she does her research very well, but her depth of insight reads as if she is in law enforcement of some type herself.

In Undetected, Gina is a genius who has discovered ways to improve sonar in submarines, thus also protecting her brother Jeff, a submariner. However Gina longs to marry and has not found a a man who can cope with her intellect. Mark Bishop, submarine captain, widower and good friend of Jeff’s, becomes a close friend as they work on Gina’s new discovery, which will have startling implications for the US Naval fleet. They both dismiss the idea of romance, with 11 years between them, but just maybe this friendship could turn into something more. 

Unspoken turns to Mark’s brother Bryce and picks up a storyline alluded to in Undetected, and as such should probably be read first. (Paul Falcon and Ann Silver appear here as well). Bryce, a rare coin dealer is approached by Charlotte Graham to sell the inheritance of coins from her grandfather. As he moves into business dealings with her, he begins to grasp the magnitude of what she has inherited. Yet, at the same time, he figures out that she not who she seems. Charlotte has an awful story in her past, she was abducted and held for four long years when she was 16, and never speaks of it. 
I really liked this book. While what happened to her is truly horrible and it’s alluded to in her behaviour, but never actually named. So, while as a character she experienced dreadful evil and violence, as a reader you are not given details. Charlotte’s biggest challenge is accepting that a God who loves her would also have offered forgiveness to the men who hurt her, had they asked. As she and Bryce move towards a close friendship, things become more complicated as details of her life and inheritance emerge. I really liked the way Henderson dealt with major trauma, large amounts of wealth, and a complicated relationship. It’s the most mature yet gentle writing I’ve read on such topics: sensitive, realistic, and yet hopeful. Her characters have long term complex trauma and pain, and she doesn’t pretend there are simple solutions to such things, but moves them forward in a positive way. 

Taken begins with Matthew Dane, former cop and now PI, speaking at a law enforcement conference. Waiting to speak to him in the hotel is a young woman, who reveals she is Shannon Bliss, missing since she was 16, some 11 years previously. She has sought him out after some research, his own daughter was abducted at age 8 and released at 16 some five years ago. She slowly reveals a decade of being held by a crime family, involved in their ongoing child abduction and various thefts, crossing the entire US in a complicated network. She has enough evidence to bring them all down, but needs to take her time, both for her own safety but also for others still involved. Matthew becomes her confidante and safe person, who manages her return to her family and her interactions with law enforcement. Paul and Ann Falcon, Charlotte and Bryce Bishop and a few characters from other novels also appear. Yet again, a story with depth and interest, of someone who has survived a horrible ordeal, yet with little description of what it was really like. 

I continue to be impressed with how Henderson can write stories of dramatic and traumatic situations yet not give in to the temptation to glorify them in technicolor detail. There is nothing lost in power of her storytelling, in fact I think it is strengthened because of it. 

That’s enough for now! I’ll tell you about some more another time…

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Great Sex Rescue

The Great Sex Rescue, Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach and Joanna Sawatsky (Baker Books, 2021) 


This is going to be a long review, and contains frank language about sexual expression.

For those that want the condensed version:

This is a challenging and insightful book that encourages Christian marriages to great, passionate, other person-centred sex that is enjoyable for both spouses. It includes lots of research about the things that Christian women experience, enjoy and struggle with in the bedroom, as well as tearing apart the teaching in a range of Christian books on sex and marriage.

Now for the much more detailed review:

The time spent reading this book, and many of the resources around it has been an interesting and eye-opening one. I had never heard of Sheila Wray Gregoire or read any of her books, but she is quite prolific and has an extensive blog & website (To love, honour and vacuum) which specifically addresses sex in marriage, amongst other things.

The Great Sex Rescue (2021) is trying to do three things:
  • give sexual and intimacy advice and instruction to married couples who are trying to live in honourable Christian marriages; 
  • explore in detail the results of a large survey on sexual intimacy collected by Gregoire of over 20,000 evangelical women, as well as the results of academic research and focus groups; and 
  • examine the bestselling Christian marriage and sex books to analyse their teaching and the messages given in them (mainly in order to point out the problems within them). 
These all have value, and need to be done. We need excellent books on sex in marriage, we need research to know and understand women’s (and men’s) experience of sexual intimacy to help us understand people’s joys and challenges. And we need to analyse critically what published resources are saying and hold them up to scrutiny. Having said that, it’s hard to do all three well. This one seems to start with the aim of tearing other arguments down, giving it a combative, polemical feel.

I wish they could have found a more balanced way to provide all the same information by focusing more strongly on the positive messages they wanted to explore, providing advice and insight for couples, while still pointing out the clear faults in some Christian teaching in this arena.

They come up with seven principles about what sex should be:
  • personal - so that two truly become one 
  • pleasurable - really good for both people 
  • pure - each person being responsible to keep themselves free from sexual sin 
  • prioritised - even while acknowledging different levels of desire 
  • pressure-free - freely given and never achieved through coercion or threat 
  • put the other first - considering the other’s needs before their own 
  • passionate - to be able to surrender to each other in trust and love 
The remainder of the book explores these principles in detail.

Two chapters explore ‘pleasurable’ in detail - one focussing on orgasm (mainly about enabling more women to experience it) and arousal (noting that sex cannot be pleasurable until you figure out arousal). They posit that:
  • no man should be satisfied unless his wife is regularly satisfied 
  • women’s sexual pleasure matters for her own sake, not just his 
The chapters on purity starkly and repeatedly point out that women are not responsible for their husband’s purity. Men (and women) are responsible for their own self-control, and their decision to view pornography. Wives have had unrealistic burdens placed on them with the assumption that men cannot control themselves and they are required to ‘keep the home fires burning’ so they do not stray. This message is as insulting to men as is it to women, reducing men to brute beasts, and wives to gatekeepers and receptacles for lust control.

Addressing differences in libido, they note that couples who manage them well “are naturally satisfied during sex and treat each other well outside the bedroom too”. Hardly rocket science! Considering further, they note:
"Perhaps frequency has been used as the main measure of satisfaction because it is easier to tell couples to have more sex than it is to help her reach orgasm or solve underlying marital problems or deal with the stresses of life. But what we’ve found is that when you work on marital satisfaction, reducing stress, and making sex feel pleasurable and passionate, libido difference usually take care of themselves."
They then turn to consider the sexless (or very low sex) marriage, and the main scenarios into which these fall:
  • The sexless marriage due to selfishness or brokenness - this is where either laziness or selfishness reigns, or deep seated problems aren’t being addressed 
  • The sexless marriage due to emotional protection. Here where one is refusing sex, it is the other’s ongoing behaviour that has prompted it. 
  • The sexless marriage in disguise (they are actually having regular intercourse, but for one partner it’s completely void of connection or pleasure) 
They propose five strongly contributing factors to a sexless marriage: pornography use, male sexual dysfunction, anorgasmia, vaginismus, and not feeling close during sex.

Some of the issues addressed very well and very openly in this book are the areas where few others dare to tread. These include:
  • the challenges and reality of vaginismus 
  • the reality of sexual pain for many women 
  • the sexless marriage (above) 
  • the concept of duty sex, and the problems it can create 
  • the sinfulness of sexual coercion and marital rape 
The final chapters are the better ones - with the exhortment to all to ‘just be nice’. It sounds simplistic, but they are right - if we longed to love the other as much as we love ourselves in marriage, there is so much that could be better, and so many problems that could be overcome. Jesus’ words may be simple, but we all know that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

They try hard to celebrate that there are wonderful men and husbands out there who long for a close, passionate, mutually enjoyable sexual experience with their wives. But a man reading this book could certainly feel like he is much to blame for intimacy problems. It certainly points the finger hard at the unhelpful and sometimes destructive messaging that the church, and certain books, have given to people. And there are elements where this is needed. Some of the quotes included from certain books made my skin crawl. They come down hardest on Love and Respect and Every Man’s Battle. One I have recently stopped recommending, another I have never read.

There is much more that I could say in more depth. Some things might be:
  • Just because books are Amazon bestsellers does not mean they are the best books on a subject. I would have liked to see analysis of some books written in the last 15 years, most covered are quite old. 
  • However, that’s also a reminder to re-read marriage books. I have certainly changed my views on some over the years (eg Sheet Music, Love and Respect
  • We need to encourage people to read critically. Just because an author writes it doesn’t make it true, biblical or wise. And this applies to Gregoire et al. as much as others. We need to be discerning. 
  • The use of statical data is varied. Sometimes it helps (it is helpful to know how many women are orgasmic, how many experience pain, how much sex people are having). But it also complicated information, and often the data tables weren’t clear. 
  • As mentioned above it is more combative that it needs to be. If you spend time on Gregoire’s blog, this is also evident. 

Who should read this?
  • Those who want to explore their own perspective on sex and pleasure, and how that may have been impacted by church teaching. 
  • Those facing sexual challenges in their marriage, and have uncertainty about where to turn (you could try her blog too to get an idea of the topics she covers, for while some posts are combative, some are very helpful) 
  • Those in marriage ministries or counselling Christian marriages (or engaged couples) - to consider what messages, even subtly we might be sending without meaning to 
  • Those pastoring marrieds could benefit from understanding more broadly the depth of issues marrieds face, and the challenges some will not openly speak about. 
  • NOT those embarking on marriage. This is not for newlyweds. Sadly, many of the issues she addresses do come up early in marriages, but I don’t think this is the best delivery format for that stage. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady

The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady, Sharon J. Mondragón

I was invited to read this book as part of a blog tour, and very much enjoyed it. Sharon Mondrag√≥n has created a likeable tale about four women who meet to knit prayer shawls. 

I’ll be honest, I had no idea knitting prayer shawls was a thing. But I can see how it would naturally develop. Christian women who love to knit, gather together, and create shawls to give to people in situations of need. It seems they pray silently as they knit, and pray at the beginning and end of each shawl project. It seems to be a ministry of creative, thoughtful care.

In this novel, Peter McIlhaney, rector of Hope and Glory community church, has been told that his church is going to be shut down. He devises a last ditch effort to reach out to the community, by sending the Heavenly Hugs Prayer Shawl Ministry off site. To date they have happily met in silent tranquility in the prayer chapel.

Margaret, self appointed head of the group is outraged. How could they possibly go to the busy mall and pray while knitting? The other members of the group are a little more open to the idea. Rose has recently entered aged care, and is struggling to adjust to the changes. Fran’s husband died 18 months earlier, leaving her completely bereft. Jane struggles with a well-kept secret about her son as well as parenting two bickering, teenage daughters.

As they set up in the mall, they slowly become known to the shop staff and regulars who pass by. People start asking for prayer. Some want to learn how to knit. Some end up coming to church on Sundays. As they become more involved in the lives of all these new friends, they each have to face their own hurts of the past.

If I was going to be picky, I would say that the entire model of prayer seems to be supplication; all about things people want God to do for them. No praising God for who he is, what he has done in Christ, or how we receive salvation through him. Yet, it’s not all about passing tests and getting jobs, either. Some relationships are healed and restored, both with people but also with God.

An enjoyable book with a satisfying group of (primarily) mature female characters, who are complex yet long to serve others. I can imagine numerous female readers, especially those who knit or are Christian, enjoying this one.

If you want to enter a competition for a free copy - go here. And if you go to this post, I think you can link to read an excerpt.