BOOK REVIEW: Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir, chronicles the semesters spent in graduate studies at Oxford University for Carolyn Weber’s graduate work in Romantic Literature.  Along the journey, as the title hints, she is gently drawn to the same faith as C.S.Lewis.  The story reels you in with snippets from the history of Oxford’s hallowed halls, descriptions of England‘s jeweled beauty, stirring quotes caught from her studies, and her personal passage of heart.  An eloquent love story of the most elemental nature, told in first-person prose, Carolyn weaves her history into ‘His’-story to her.

Beginning with an agnostic faith, Carolyn embodies the self-sufficient American as she completes undergraduate work, and finds herself the surprised recipient of a full scholarship to Oxford.  Her interactions bring her into a vibrant group of students and professors, and as the Michaelmas, Christmastide, and Hilary terms unfold, so does her discovery of God in the midst of her simple life.  Chapter 13 brought me tears as Carolyn re-thinks even the relationships dear to her, including fiance, mother, alcoholic father at Christmas, and her sister’s unquestioning love.  Finally, in Chapter 21 my breath is as ragged as a runner while following her final sprint from doubt to the grace of belief.  Throughout, her vague romance with a truly faithful fellow student (TDH, as she names him) bewitched me into an eager desire for the epilogue.  Sadly, the ending is disjointed, hesitant and a misfit with the rest of the well-thought out pattern of the book.  My theory is that she wrote it 14 years later, and had lost the flow of its writing whilst living life.  Overall, I still give this book 5 stars, and have already bought it for a good friend of mine, who will appreciate the depth of faith, sparkling quotes and tender love of both Saviour and TDH found here.  I highly recommend it then, and my hat is off to Carolyn for this valuable and tender story of God’s hand, outstretched in our life.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review, as part of the Booksneeze review blogger group.  You can join also!  Just click on the button at your right.

Book Review: The Skin Map, A Bright Empires Novel, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Breaking into sci-fi layers of history, with gripping action and a web of characters, Stephen R. Lawhead‘s first book of the Bright Empires series, The Skin Map, promises a fast read.  Young Kit Livingstone is astounded when his great-grandfather appears alive before him, and draws him into a tightening race-against-time for the Skin Map – fantastic symbols marking pathways to alternate histories- before the evil Burley Men discover it.  Several story-lines, and time-elements intermingle the characters of Kit, his great-grandfather, his girlfriend Wilhelmina (my favorite), and the instigator of the Skin Map himself, Arthur.  Action, intrigue, and gripping layers of historical events are each woven into a race to the finish.

Stephen Lawhead’s site has a gripping trailer about the book, here.

Having read former works of Lawhead’s, I was pleased to find the intermingling of history, faith and action I expected.
One drawback was the flatness of the individuals – I simply could not drudge up emotion for them (which would have made this more of a page-turner).  The exception for me was Wilhelmina, who is drawn into this astounding alternate history-in-progress, and manages to create her own success.  She exhibits determination and cheerful gumption, while Kit seems to simply float between events.  In all, I give it 3 stars for readability, plot and creativity, but dock it for dull characterization.

Thanks to Booksneeze, for the opportunity of reading and reviewing this new book.  You can too!  Click the link to your right.