Tag Archives: Steven James

Review: Sailing Between the Stars, by Steven James

Sailing Between the Stars: Musings on the Mysteries of Faith, by Steven James (Revell, 2006)

Sailing Between the Stars is the best book I’ve read in 2010. And I’m writing this in December, not January. I felt safe, understood, reading Steven James’ musings. Not that it’s comfortable reading, but that he talks honestly about many of the same questions I have. He affirms the value of asking the questions, of not trying to pretend we know all the answers correctly and absolutely.

I may have finished the book with more questions than when I started, but that’s okay. It means a lot to know I’m not the only one who has them, and I’ve learned that honest questions don’t cause us to vanish in a puff of confusion. If anything, they let us be more real. And they point us to the Source of all answers, the God who is bigger than our comprehension.

Steven James puts it this way:

“The questions, not the explanations, are what draw me deeper into the wonder of the dance.” p. 164

His writing is gentle and lyrical. If you like Mark Buchanan’s books, you’ll like this. It’s poignant at times, whimsical at others, and there are a few places that had me laughing out loud.

And while the topics aren’t easy to nail down with a “definitive” answer, there’s no philosophical mumbo-jumbo to exclude the average reader. There is one heavy-duty word, agathokakological (follow link for definition), but it’s introduced naturally through an anecdote about a child’s spelling bee and since it describes us, I think it makes the point that we’re more complex than we can understand.

You can read an excerpt of Sailing Between the Stars here.  Here’s a quote from the beginning of the book to set the tone:

“Imagination dwells at the heart of Christianity. It’s a worldview of wonder. …And it’s packed full of paradox…which makes many believers today uncomfortable.” p.19

If the mystery and paradox of faith threaten you, you’ll want to give the book a miss. I don’t know what I’d have thought if I’d read it in my younger days, when I “knew” more of the answers. Now that I’ve begun to be more sure of God and less sure of myself, I found a lot of truth in this book.

In prose and occasional poetry, the author ponders some deep topics: the good and evil in each of us, joy and pain, love and failing, humility, free will, doubt, unanswered prayer. In voicing our common weaknesses, he points to the mystery of Jesus, who alone lived life to the fullest and who came to point us to the Father.

None of these topics are addressed with an “I’ll tell you what to believe” agenda. He just explores them and leaves us to explore too… and to trust the God who actually sees the full picture.

Right now, Sailing Between the Stars is featured at Christianbook.com for $1.99 USD. It’s worth full cover price, but at this price why not buy in bulk for your spiritually-musing friends? It’s also available through amazon.ca. Amazon.com and chapters-indigo.ca are both sold out, and I can’t find it on the publisher’s site. So glad I found a copy when I did. This is a definite keeper and re-reader.

Steven James blogs occasionally on writing, faith or life, at Musings and Meanderings. His website showcases his intense thriller series, The Patrick Bowers Files. I’ve reviewed book one, The Pawn, and I’d love to know what happens next in Patrick Bowers’ life. Still working up my nerve….

[review copy from my personal library]

Review: The Pawn, by Steven James

The Pawn, by Steven James

The Pawn, by Steven James (Revell, 2007)

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers’ assignment is to find—and stop—a serial killer in North Carolina. Even though few law enforcement officers are familiar with his approach, his success using high-tech geographical profiling makes him highly respected.

Pat comes into this case with troubles of his own: his wife’s recent death and his step-daughter’s attitude. And while he’s glad to have an old friend on the investigative team, he’s less than thrilled to discover the agent in charge still bears a grudge from their last meeting.

Steven James does an excellent job of pulling readers into the characters’ heads. With Pat, this is great. He’s intelligent, interesting, and has a low-key sense of humour I like.

Scenes with Pat’s step-daughter Tessa or with other characters were fine too. Each time I hit a villain scene I read timidly, but I made it through.

The characters are rich and have depths we won’t fully explore without reading the whole series. Some of the relationships in this book, most notably the one between Pat and Tessa, reach a new level but definitely have room for further growth. Even the dark characters have depth, albeit disturbing.

As for the plot, “masterfully crafted” is perhaps over-used but here it fits. Looking back at how everything unfolded, all I can say is “Wow.” So many threads and details, all drawn together into a satisfying conclusion.

The novel’s intense delivery and the killer’s deep point of view reminded me of Dean Koontz’ The Good Guy. That was another can’t-put-down thriller that skirted the very edge of my comfort zone. The plots—and characters—aren’t similar, but both novels give the same feeling.

The Pawn’s pace is fast, yet Steven James slips in some interesting insights and thoughtful language. Remembering his wife’s death, Pat says, “Spring was trying to unfold; winter trying to die. She passed away in between the seasons, in the middle of the empty spaces of the year.” (p. 138)

One advantage of the villain scenes is that readers see more of the danger than Pat and his team do. The author makes us aware of the ticking clock on a few different occasions, and it effectively ups the tension. (For example, he introduces us to a woman who has no idea she’s the killer’s next target but we know, and she’s a nice lady.)

The Pawn is published by a Christian house, and I should point out that it’s a fine read for any thriller-lover, regardless of their faith stance. Pat has only a hazy belief in God, mostly anger-based after losing his wife. He remembers conversations—arguments, mainly—with a pastor he and I don’t think much of, and occasional wise faith words from a deacon. The author’s faith shows through, but it’s a subtle glow and not anything preachy or overt.

Why have I not heard of Steven James before now? Tender-hearted chicken that I am, I’ll need to recover a bit before taking on the rest of the series, but I look forward to spending more time with Pat and Tessa in The Rook and The Knight.

You can learn more about Steven James at his blog, Musings and Meanderings, and his website, and I’m delighted to see he has some highly-acclaimed Christian non-fiction. I want to check out Story and Sailing Between the Stars. Certain brief moments in The Pawn convinced me he can do justice to thoughtful non-fiction too.

The Pawn is available in bookstores and online at Chapters-Indigo, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com… and the best price I saw was at Christianbook.com. Also, if you’re looking for a copy of Sailing Between the Stars, check out Christianbook.com—when I looked, it was only $1.99 US. Plus shipping, of course.