#BlogTour: A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a deliciously dark and creepy multilayered supernatural murder mystery reminiscent of IT and Stranger Things. For this blog tour, we’re looking at A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Deliciously Dark And Creepy Multi-Layered Tale Reminiscent Of IT And Stranger Things. This is one of those dual timeline tales where a group of six kids get pulled together as teens to fight off an incredible supernatural evil in their rural smalltown hometown, then as adults have to come back home to end it once and for all. So like I said in the title, pretty well a blatant homage, all these years later, to IT. And of course, some say “homage”, others say “blatant rip off”. I’ll leave that to those who choose to read both my review and Kurian’s work. But if you have problems with dual timeline or multiple perspectives… just know up front that this book isn’t for you. It is truly a great story, but meh, even I know of what I know to be *phenomenal* stories that even I simply can’t read. (Looking at you, Lord of the Rings.)

Where Kurian shines particularly brightest is in giving these characters realistic Xennial (that weird merger of the youngest of Generation X with the oldest of the Millenials) character arcs, and yes, that does include LGBT discovery for at least one character. Again, if that is a problem for you… maybe not your book here.

Particularly strongest for me personally was Maddy’s own arc, particularly as a teen, as she is deeply immersed in conservative Christian culture of the early and mid 90s – as I myself was as a male just a few years behind her in the same period and in a similar small town atmosphere. (Here, our kids are Sophomores that school year, and I was in 7th grade that year – so just 3 yrs younger than our characters.) Maddy’s arc in some ways has a lot of things that were specific to females in that culture in that era, but in a lot of other ways were common across teenagers of both sexes during this period, and this is where I connected with the story the deepest. Maddy’s struggles as she realized what was going on and her role within it, and her desperate attempts to try to change and correct things… yeah, that was the early years of my own young adult form. So again, and particularly for any females reading this – there is quite a bit of discussion and action around purity culture in the conservative evangelical American church circa the mid 90s, including some of its atrocities being actively shown “on screen”. If this is something you can’t handle exploring in fiction form 30 yrs later (OW!)… maybe not the book for you.

Overall this was a deliciously dark and creepy tale that hit so many strong notes and was so very layered and multi-dimensional… it really was quite a ride. I very much enjoyed it, and I very much look forward to seeing what Kurian thinks up next. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
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#BookReview: The Kingdom, The Power, And The Glory by Tim Alberta

Deep Look At American Evangelicalism Falls Just Short In Being All That It Could Have Been. Up front: I too am a former Southern Baptist Convention evangelical. My own sojourn of the last 20+ yrs has taken me from a child raised by a Deacon under the pastorage of a man through my teens who would later become a President of the Georgia Baptist Convention to a wanderer searching for a truly Christian (as the First Church would have truly understood it) community. As politics fails the Church – as Alberta documents well here – I have become ever more solid in my belief that the Church should have absolutely nothing at all to do with politics – which Alberta is less solid on here.

Structured in the wake of Alberta’s father’s death – a prominent megachurch pastor in Michigan – and some rather nasty political comments some Alberta had known for many years made to him in those darkest of moments, this book travels the United States – and even goes briefly abroad – examining the ways American Evangelicals have allowed the lure of politics to sway them, how some are fighting back, and what others are doing in response. It is a darkly hopeful tale of somehow, someway, potentially maybe clawing back to some semblance of historical Christianity that the American Church has long lost, and the overall narrative here is actually rather solid.

With a *few* holes. One is the complete lack of any documentation whatsoever in the ARC copy I read. Indeed, the ARC copy was so incomplete as to not even have the epilogue to the tale – which alone was an error that I nearly “will not reviewed” the book over, but I was able to obtain an Audible copy instead to at least be able to complete this review. However, the lack of documentation in the ARC was a single star deduction, as I normally expect to see around 20-30% documentation in nonfiction books in my vast experience reading nonfiction ARCs over the years. The other star deduction is the book’s intense focus on Jerry Falwell Sr and his progeny – both biologically (Jerry Falwell Jr and his siblings) and ideologically (Liberty University), a focus that nearly derails the book in taking up such a seemingly large chunk of it.

The final hole, which didn’t rise to the level of necessitating a star deduction but *did* rise to the level of necessitating commentary within the review, were the several times Albert used common mythologies – such as guns being the “leading cause of death of children” – without supporting documentation. (Indeed, when one checks the CDC’s own data, guns are not the leading cause of death for *any* single age grouping of legal children. It is only when legal adults aged 18-19 are included – legal adults who *can and do serve in the US military* – when guns become a leading cause of death according to CDC data.) The presence of such known and easily disproven myths detracts from the reliability of the overall narrative, which is a shame, since for the most part Alberta’s reporting seems to be pretty damn solid, at least from my own part of the world.

Overall, this is a truly strong and truly sobering look at the state of American Evangelicalism circa the late 2010s/ early 2020s, and a clarion call for needed change within the American Church overall. Will anything actually change? Alberta seems hopeful. I too am *hopeful*… if slightly more pessimistic on the actual realities. Filled with case study after case study after case study and interview after interview after interview, Alberta truly does a mostly strong job making his case, with the caveats noted above.

Finally, to be clear, the Audible version (and presumably the fully released text version) does include the epilogue and *hopefully* the also-missing bibliography.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Kingdom, The Power, And The Glory by Tim Alberta was originally written on December 26, 2023.

#BookReview: Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore

Welcome Back, Dr. Moore! For roughly a decade now, the once-phenomenal Dr. Russell Moore has been either a shill for SBC Leadership in his role as head of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission or embroiled in controversy over his rabid anti-Trumpism. Here, while not *completely* stepping back from either position, Moore does an excellent job of calling American Churchianity – not just the SBC, but *all* of American Churchianity – back to a focus on Christ, Him Crucified, and Spreading the Gospel. Full of Southern aphorisms that even this native Son of the South rarely heard in the exurbs of Atlanta, despite being barely a decade younger than Moore, this text also shows just how knowledgeable and insightful Moore at his best can show himself to be. And yes, while allowing that he is still wrong on a few positions (which I’m sure he and others would disagree with me over), this really is a return to the best of Moore, the Moore that made me at first *excited* that he was taking over the ERLC.

Indeed, the only reasons for the two star deductions are simple: the dearth of a bibliography – less than 10%! – when 20-30% is more normal, and even at least 20% is more normal *within this specific genre*, and the frequent use of “prooftexting”, the practice of citing Bible verses outside of their context as “proof” of some point or another, which is a rampant problem in this genre in particular.

Still, if you’re a Christian in America today… you need to read this book. If you’re just interested in studying the decline of Christianity in America today and what could be done about it… you need to read this book. And if you’re actively anti anything remotely Christian… maybe skip this one. 😉 Still, that means that several million Americans… need to read this book. Very much recommended.

This review of Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore was originally written on June 18, 2023.

#BookReview: This Earthly Frame by David Sehat

Mostly Solid History Of Official Religious Life In The United States. Sehat manages to trace the history of official religious life in the US fairly well from its pre-Founding roots through its current fights over religious liberty. There are a couple of glaring weaknesses – the largest being his claim that Natural Rights theory originated in the Christian Church (it was actually created outside of the Church as a challenge to the Church’s position that rights come from God). But as with that particular case, most of these tend to only exist in areas where a rare person might actually know the particular topic particularly well – as this former Libertarian Party of Georgia official and candidate happens to do re: Natural Rights theory. 🙂 Otherwise, a solid if slightly dry – though nowhere *near* as dry as other treatises of its type – history that would be beneficial for many Americans (or those seeking to understand America) to read. Recommended.

This review of This Earthly Frame by David Sehat was originally written on February 18, 2022.

#BookReview: Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren

Too Much Faith, Not Enough Doubt. I’ve read McLaren for a few years and knew him to be of the more “progressive Christian” bent, so I knew what I was getting myself in for in picking up this book. But as always, he does have at least a few good points in here, making the book absolutely worthy of reading and contemplating. However, he also proof texts a fair amount, and any at all of this particular sin is enough for me to dock *any* book that utilizes the practice a star in my own personal war with the practice. (Though I *do* note that he isn’t as bad as other writers in this.) The other star removal comes from the title of this review, which is really my core criticism here. As is so often in his previous books as well as so many other authors, McLaren has good points about the need for doubt and how to live in harmony… but then insists on praising cult figures on both sides of the aisle such as Greta Thurnberg and David Grossman. In encouraging evaneglicals to doubt their beliefs, he seems rather sure of his own beliefs in the religions of science and government – seemingly more comfortable worshipping these religions than the Christ he claims. Overall, much of the discussion here truly is strong. It simply needed to be applied in far more areas than McLaren was… comfortable… in doing. Recommended.

This review of Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: After Evangelicalism by David P. Gushee

Liberal (Maybe Even Post-Christian?) Baptist Faith And Message. The Southern Baptist Convention‘s Baptist Faith and Message is the doctrinal screed for the group, listing various points of beliefs with proof-texted “reference verses” claiming to provide “evidence” that this belief is grounded in their view of the Bible. As someone who was a Southern Baptist for the first couple decades of my life, it is a document I’m pretty familiar with. Here, Gushee effectively recreates it for the more anti-white-male crowd, arguing (correctly) against prosperity theology while openly embracing humanist and liberation theology. Ultimately, he makes enough solid points to be worthy of discussion, but due to the constant proof-texting (a flaw in many similar works, and one that in my own personal war against is an automatic one star deduction in my reviews) and near-constant near straw man level attacks against more conservative theologies is to be read with a healthy amount of skepticism. That noted, as I generally try to do with such texts, I’m trying to be a bit balanced here. A much more conservative reader will probably find much more to attack in this text, and a much more liberal reader will probably find much more to love. Overall a solid work of its type, and recommended for any interested in such discussions.

This review of After Evangelicalism by David P. Gushee was originally written on August 13, 2020.