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40 on 70 review by Phillip Bliss
Why, hello there. Welcome back!
So, I started a new thing. You know about my love of sharing my opinions to a bunch of people who don’t interrupt – thanks for being my audience! I especially love media reviews and discussing how creations like books, shows, and movies relate to faith, society, and mental health. There’s this platform you might have heard of called Discovery by Reedsy, where independent writers showcase their work and opinionated reviewers like me leave their thoughts. It seemed like a fun thing to try – let me know if you want to get into it, there’s a system where you can get $50 for referrals just for having someone sign up under your link and post their first review with your link. I definitely wouldn’t mind $50, so click here if you want to support me. And if you like my reviews on there, you can leave me a tip of $1, $3, or $5. Yay!
Other than using this to try and make my fortune, this feels like a natural extension of the critiquing work I’ve loved since I was in middle school. It’s a middle-ground between reviewing mainstream authors that I will never meet and working with authors directly as they craft their next great masterpiece. It feels so good to have these little pieces of my life fall into place in a way that might become a career, whether it pays or not. I know that God’s got me either way, and as hard as that is to trust sometimes, I’ve never been let down when I do. I highly recommend it.
Without further ado, I present to you my first extended Reedsy review: Forty on 70 by Philip Bliss!
(Gleefully preceded by a spoiler-alert! First, check out my spoiler-free review on Reedsy here, and leave a comment for me and/or Philip Bliss.)
After a heartbreaking tragedy destroys his family, Pastor Jake Anderson is faced with a straightforward choice: trust God with one of His out-of-this-world ideas, or do the sensible thing and stay in his comfort zone. Although Jake has had some natural confusion, grief, and anger, he decides to give God his “yes” – and what falls into his open palm has life-changing consequences for not only himself, but those he meets along the way.
The premise is compelling, and the kickoff of this novel is certainly an emotional rollercoaster.The actual synopsis for this book is so exciting, and the opening chapter is extremely impactful. I was hooked from the opening line, and was curious to know how exactly a bag of peanuts could change someone’s life. The intrigue was palpable, and in only a few pages, I was crying. But often, the delivery just wasn’t it for me. The writing style and structure distracted from the fantastic premise and insights that this book has in spades.
This novel seems to be written in an autobiographical style, and I found myself checking to see whether this was supposed to be a true story. You know what I mean? It reminds me of someone recalling a journey from memory. Or someone writing a journal as their life is happening. Sometimes it slows down for each word of conversation, sometimes it speeds up into a montage or a summary. It was an uncanny read because it blurred the lines of fiction and nonfiction, first and second point of view.The dialogue is something that I found especially distracting, both because there were some conversations that felt unnecessary, as well as lack of contractions that gave it a strange vibe. The characters interrupt each other a lot, and this is marked by ellipses instead of a dash, as though the character who was talking just trailed off, either losing their train of thought or expecting to be interrupted. I say this not for proofreading purposes, but because of the odd way the book sounded in my head fas I read. This made it hard for me to get into and stay in the story, waiting for the important bits to come into play.
The pace was also just off. Although I love taking a breather to establish a scene, philosophize, reminisce, or absorb some description, there seemed to be too much focus on scenes that don’t move the story forward or give important or interesting information. And like most Christian fiction that I’ve read, there’s always a touch of preachiness – feeling as though the author is pausing to address the audience with his or her opinion, either through inner monologue or dialogue. In this book, it was lengthy at times. Taking a stand on an issue is important, and novels can be an awesome way to present a view in a way that will be better received than an editorial, but characters must still be characters and the story must still be a story, not an agenda (see what I did there?)
There was a lot of explicit and lengthy “telling” instead of showing. I would have also appreciated more subtext left to the imagination, and for the plot to be clearer. Even though it’s an epic journey, it’s difficult now and then to see how the various checkpoints culminate to the final realization.
The book probably could have been a lot shorter and while still getting the main points across without losing anything.
Forty on 70 is the work of an industrious and passionate pastor who knows how to get people excited about God. This book is all about listening to God’s voice, even when it doesn’t make sense. Jake Anderson is a character that can speak to all of us in some way or another, and those of you who read it will definitely learn something about yourselves, God, and how we all relate to the world and each other.
I’m sure there’s someone out there who loves this casual, informal and loose-knit writing style in a novel, but it might not be the type of book for me! It’s like the way I write these blog posts. It feels like someone writing a journal as their life is happening, or like a series of anecdotes being told while someone is literally on a road trip. This could be a really cool concept if some of the other issues were resolved. It reminds me a lot of the campfire style of Keeper’n Me by Richard Wagamese (one of my all-time favorite books!), but not quite done in the middle.
Still, I can’t help but admire how much courage Jake has to share the gospel, as well as his dreams and his visions with the people he meets for the first time. Seeing him do it gives me just a bit more bravery to give it a try myself the next time the opportunity presents itself. That’s one thing we can say about Jake – despite his phobia of dogs, he’s fearless in the ways that count. And honestly, dogs can be terrifying, so who can blame him.
A couple of my favorite lines from the book:
Solomon’s whole speech about church being a place to worship without getting wet really resonated with me! I’m not sure if I’ve written much about this yet, but this is something I struggle with all the time. As the member of a megachurch, I wrestle often with whether it’s where I should be. I mostly agree with the messages of my church and how it’s presented – I consider it to be Biblically honest and usually more compassionate than most. But a concert-sized stage? Fog machines? Hollywood-level video productions for announcements? When I’m giving my last penny, it can be hard to justify. Although, as I dig deeper, I’m finding out more about their ministries that help those most in need. These churches have a balance to strike between ministry and marketing to grow that ministry, which is tough, and the bigger they grow, the more top-heavy they become. And, ironically, tonight at one of the midweek-services that I’ve started attending, they addressed the very issue of parishioners originally being ostracised for their spiritual experiences and discouraged like Jake was. But, as the book points out:
This book had a lot of solid inspiration that really spoke to me. For that reason, I’ve subscribed to Bible Time on Fulcrum Radio, and am happy to have it as part of my listening lineup. I’ve also followed the Pop-Up Pastor Facebook page as myself, Planet Hope, and Unfinished. The summation of people who influenced the journey was very poignant, but I wished the plot points had been a bit more comprehendible. It may not make sense on this end of the interstate, but once you get to the end, you’ll wonder why you ever questioned!
The ending was especially heart-felt and relatable, and reminiscent of Forrest Gump. Zion the beagle is certainly humorous, and along with other elements, shows how God brings good and bad things together for good eventually.
I enjoyed the extra bits of this book, including the Excerpt from 4 hearts, the fact or fiction, and the description of fulcrum radio (which I would LOVE to be on.) Even the very last page of this book had me feeling the feels. I’m excited to see how Book 2, Four Hearts, with Charlotte goes. Maybe some of my suggestions will make it in! The excerpt has a lot more of the richness, drama, intrigue, action, and suspense that I usually expect in a novel, as opposed to the more straightforward autobiographical writing of this book. Some of the writing problems are still there, but I’ve enjoyed books lacking in technical aspects that tell an intriguing and gripping story and make me feel something. I think people who liked the Screwtape Letters and Angels Walking by Karen Kingsbury would LOVE that book, from what little I have read so far. I would actually be really excited to read it if the excerpt is a representative sample of the pacing and quality of the rest of the book. Honestly, I could write an entire review just on that handful of pages. It connected with me in a way that Forty on 70 did not. Five pages of Four Hearts had me crying, re-evaluating my life, fanning the flames of my paranoia, and giving me crystal clear clarity about everything that’s happened to me in the last twenty-four years, all at the same time.. The allegory to the beast at the birth of the word in the book of Revelation is chilling; even as a stand-alone short story, it would be excellent. I’d love to see this inspirational and unique gem shine in the setting of what I think could be better pacing, structure, dialogue, and development.
Overall, even reading a few parts of this book will give you something to think about and maybe even inspire you to change your life or point of view. This would be a great book for a road trip with lots of uninterrupted time, and for readers who enjoy a slower pace and aren’t distracted by writing mechanics.
Thanks for Stopping by!
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13