Monday, September 22, 2014

Twice a Slave: The Joseph Willis Story

Twice a Slave

Being part Native American- Cherokee and Cheyenne if the family lore can be trusted- I was raised on Indian tales.

Every time we went to the library, or the used bookstore, my mother scoured the shelves for Indian books.

My favorites were the vivid ones, tales woven around core of truth with real history that teaches us something.
The very best were written with finely imagined characters and attention to detail as their heartbeat, separating living stories from fleshless nonfiction.

When I saw the cover of Twice a Slave, I knew I wanted to read this one too.
This book is the story of one man, the twists and turns that his life took, and the legacy he left. Joseph Willis was a real person, and one of his relatives has written this "biographical novel" to preserve the essence of his life.

This was a well paced read, the kind that carries you along in the telling. There are a great deal of genuine historical people and places to read about, and this history lesson is made memorable because of the human actors living it out.

There is Joseph himself, the badly mistreated child who was neither white nor Indian. There was his dearest friend Ezekiel, who fought beside him as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War. There was love Joseph found in his wife and children, and the mourning he experienced when he lost those dearest to him.

I think the person I loved best in this book was Joseph's own mother. Since the day colonists arrived the Indians were considered filthy and pagan, sometimes even called soulless. Yet it was Joseph's Cherokee mother who lived her faith so truly, so gently, that she sowed the seeds in her son's heart and their growth was slow but sure.

After finishing this book, I ended up reading Lisa Wingate's The Storykeeper, and then Ruth's Redemption by Marlene Banks, and then A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick. If you're looking for some solid history (Native American and African-American and Melungeon history) then you should try these four novels.

Thank you very much to, Fred and Nora St. Laurent, for my review copy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rare Bird~ A memoir

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

"It's as if our brains are operating on two separate tracks. On is the here and now of living and loving. The second is what could or should have been, yet will not be. Most days I can keep the second track hidden. Other days I don't have a prayer." ~ Anna Donaldson, Rare Bird. 

This is one of those memoirs that pulls you in and holds you fast. 

This is a book about the death of a child. The grief of a family. And the Love that held them together. 
Through this memoir, Anna gives us little pieces of herself and her son. She shares her Jack with us, and lets us love him through her words. 

I have a 12 year old in my family, so much like Jack. 
He lives in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, where no deadly threats should ever lurk. 
His friends are two houses down, but his sister is really his best buddy. 
He and his sister voluntarily share a room, and apparently their nighttime hijinks can keep the whole house awake! 
He attends a private Catholic school, and he reads voraciously. 
He can carry on a conversation that is engaging, funny, and thoughtful. 

While I was reading, somebody noticed the beautiful book cover. It's two children, clearly vibrantly alive, flinging their arms up to embrace a pair of soaring birds. "What's that about?" they asked. "Is it good?" And I replied "Yes. It is good." 
And then I quickly explained what I meant. 
"Good" seems like the cruelest word possible to use about a book like this. 
Yet somehow, I think the very act of telling Jack's story is an intrinsically good thing. 
Rare Bird bares a mother's heart and shares a child who was gone from earth too soon. 

And this memoir will meet many readers in their own time of loss. 
Anna is clearly writing her own story, and she never tries to speak on "grief in general." That's what makes her book so powerful. She doesn't outline 12 steps of mourning, she just tells us honestly how she felt. And as she tells us, we recognize the truth.

That's why I want to give this book to two family members at least. In my family, we're missing a Mom/Grandmother/Auntie. And I think we would cling to portions of Rare Bird. At one point Anna says, "But in my grief everything seems meaningless if it doesn't deal with life and death and the promise of heaven." That's a statement that we made, too. 

So thank you Random House for my review copy. I too suggest that almost everybody read Rare Bird. 


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rebels... the end of the Safelands trilogy,

Rebels (The Safe Lands, #3)

Jill Williamson's Safelands Trilogy is now complete. Rebels, the final episode, is here. 

If you've followed this series, then you have vicariously experienced the adventures of Mason, Levi, and Omar. 
These three brothers are coming of age in a futuristic Colorado, where plague a has devastated the people, entertainment is everything, and radicals are punished (or is it rewarded?) by "liberation." 

You've watched Omar betray his village and wrestle with the guilt, his choice reverberates through many lives. 
You've seen Mason pursue his dream of becoming a healer... as well as pursuing an enigmatic girl named Ciddah. 
And now it is Levi's turn to try to rescue his captive family, at great cost to himself.

Oh yes. Buckle up, readers, you're about to take a wild dystopian ride. 

As usual, I dove into this book right away when it arrived. (Haven't we all be holding our breath since the end of Book Two, wondering what becomes of the Liberated? Are they euthanized? Is it all a positive spin on execution? Are the Liberated being blasted into the outer stratosphere? 
What's happening?!!) 

And, as usual, I returned to this book eagerly over a two day period, inhaling the story as it raced along. There is danger, drama, and clandestine missions to save people. There's a wee smidgen of romance. And there is resolution to some of the questions we all asked about The Safelands. 

Throughout the series, Shaylinn has been my favorite leading lady. She's tenderhearted, and she slowly gains self confidence. 
And Omar was my favorite of the brothers. Both his fall *and* his redemption make his character stronger.

In some ways, the saga is now complete. In another way, the story has hardly ended here. 
There could be much more told about The Safelands and its people. I imagine there will be readers begging for more books. 

Thank you to Booklook for my review copy. Now all three books sit upon my shelf: Captives, Outcasts, and Rebels. They're waiting for a re-read, or for a new dystopia fan to be introduced.

Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including By Darkness Hid, Replication, The New Recruit, and Captives. She got into writing one day when someone was complaining about teen books and she thought, “I could do that! How hard could it be?” Very, she soon learned. But she worked hard, and four years later, her first book, By Darkness Hid, was published and won several awards. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lost in Translation... words!

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

If you've ever felt like you were at a loss for words, then this volume may help. 
It's 52 words from other languages that capture in a couple syllables emotions and moments that whole English sentences can't grapple with. 

I would have devoured this book as a 12 year old. Words to say the seemingly unsayable are right up my alley, then and now. 

Let's say somebody asks you how long it takes to eat a banana. A few moments ago that was a difficult concept to capture. 
But now you have the Malay word "pisan zapra." That's how long it takes to eat a banana. 

And next time you cup your hand under a cold stream running with snowmelt, the word for how much water your palm holds is "gurfa." 
That one's German. 

And when somebody says something, and you think of a clever response after they're gone? The Yiddish call those "trepverter," or stair-case words. 

Hows about the Hungarian word "szimpatikus?" That word means a person you immediately feel good about, by your intuition and soul. 
And when you see that special person coming, you probably get "tiam." That's a sparkle in your eye. 

Or how about the word Brazilian word "cafune," which is the gentle stroking of a loved one's hair? 

And hopefully you have some "naz" people in your life, those who would follow you anywhere and love you all the way. That's an Urdu word. 

I also like the German word "waldeinsamkeit." That is the word for time spent peacefully in the woods, releasing our cares and breathing free.

And the Japanese word "komorebi," which describes the green fire of sunshine through leaves. 

Or the Swedish word "mangata," the silver-road that the moon spreads over the water. 

Yes. There are some gems that we'd never know about if we stuck exclusively with our own tongue! 

So if you have a language student in your house, or your friend is a world traveler, or your beloved is a word-lover, then Lost in Translation will bring a smile to their face. This book won't end up as a "tsundoku"- the Japanese word for an unread tome.

Thank you to 10 Speed Press through Blogging for Books for my review copy. 

Book Three in the Restoration Series...

The Desire (The Restoration Series, #3)

I have now read all three of the Walsh and Smalley Restoration saga, and this is the one that truly made me cry.

The Desire is all about the hopes and fears of the heart. Alan and Michele are a young married couple, torn between her longing to bear a child and his intention to build an African orphanage. How can two dreams be so right, but so incompatible?

Michele wants Alan's intensity directed toward their infertility, and he wants her to care about the children in Korah.
Will it destroy them, or teach them how to communicate and to share their visions?

One thing stood out to me about Michele's story.
She was convinced that she couldn't be fulfilled and happy until she had a child, and in the "meantime" she was understandably miserable.
As I read, I imagined that Michele probably had been searching for the pinnacle of purpose and peace all her life, like most of us do.

I imagined that at once point she would have thought catching Alan's eye was her greatest goal.
Then dating him, seeing him often and being with him- that was her longing.
Then marriage became the mountaintop for her, and now her hopes are bound up in starting a family. And all of those are right things, and good dreams. They are holy desires.

Watching Michele come to a place of acceptance- not resignation, but acceptance- is a good reading journey. We see her preparing her heart for a blessing that she hopes will come.

So... on to my next favorite storyline- Christina, a young woman expecting a child.
This plot gave us an opportunity to model a holistic pro-life lifestyle, the kind that embraces the mother and the child.
Being pro-life can't end with sidewalk counseling, and in this story it doesn't.
Marilyn brought Christina home and installed her in the garage apartment, helped her find employment, and began treating her like family.
This is exactly what we need more of. In a crisis pregnancy we need to help remove the crisis instead of the unborn child. Marilyn put her money and time and heart where her mouth was.

These books are quiet. And steady. And I like that. A series of novels like these is a great way to introduce a vision of marriage and family where loving commitment and honest communication are the glue. I love the way faith was woven in, and there was much truth here.
I do wish the characters had been a little more broken, at times.

I guess I think they needed some desperation. In Scripture, Rachel told Jacob that without children she would die. I somehow doubt she dropped that bomb during a quiet chat over coffee. I imagine more of a ragged cry. (And a husband bowed by the weight if being unable to heal her.)
And I don't know if a neglected kid like Christina- who must have known something about longing and frustration- would settle down so smoothly.

I needed to feel Christina's struggle to decide what to do (because I think she would have struggled like a drowning woman.)
I needed to feel her heart break when she realized that she was nurturing another human inside her own skin.
I needed to feel her emptiness when she delivered her baby girl and then gave her to the loving couple.
Because even the knowledge that she had done the right thing wouldn't soothe empty arms and full breasts, calling out to both cradle and feed the child that she couldn't keep.

Sometimes a story has to be painful for the reader. And I'm not talking about the child-birth scene. It's like in the Love Comes Softly movies. By law each episode had to include five minutes of screaming labor, just to remind the kids why abstinence is always the best choice. :)

This series has been inspiring. Tender. Gentle. And at times, very real. I do think a few more ragged edges, a few more exposed nerves, could have made it even more powerful.

I am eager for volume four in the Restoration Series.

Thank you Revell for my review copy.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Before Amen

Before Amen (International Edition): The Power of a Simple Prayer

There are some beautiful ways to pray~ 
We can pray through the Valley of Vision book.
We can pray through Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
We can pray by just talking and thinking towards God all day. 
And Max Lucado has offered us another way... the Pocket Prayer. 
It's quiet, simple, and direct. From our lips to His ear, our heart to His hand. 

I am wary of books on prayer. I hate the idea that we'll distort prayer somehow, and make faith more difficult for people. 
I'm afraid we'll make prayer seem like a formula or a machine.... something that "works" or "fails" or is "reliable." 
I don't know if prayer "works." That's kind of like saying a Mother's love for her baby "works." I think that is the wrong concept for it. 
I don't know if prayer "fails." I know Love never fails, and God is love. 
And I don't like the idea of prayer being "reliable" either... Do you mean you always get God's ear and His care, or that you always get the answer you thought you wanted? 
I'm frankly unsure what to make of my own Lord Jesus's promise that if we ask we will receive. I know that He is Love, and He is Good, and He always does the Right thing, so if we're asking for goodness, love, and righteousness we receive it. We are encouraged to pray for our dear ones, our dreams, and our desires. And He delights in protecting, providing, and preserving. 
Yet I also know that sometimes death, disease, and destruction come to us as well. 
Prayer doesn't ward those things off like an incantation. Prayer brings us close to God, and takes out cares before Him. 
And He acts for us. That's all I know. 

So I was eager to get this book, but cautious about it as well. 
I really like Max Lucado. His writing is calm and steady and not fearful. It's good for the soul.
This book isn't an extensive how-to-pray manual. (Do we even need those anyway?)
This is a very thin book that introduces us to The Pocket Prayer, and reminds us that when we pray our posture or phraseology ain't that important. 
It's all about the fact that God loves His kids, and we are the kids, and we can tell Him anything and He waits to listen. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

All's Fair in Love... and Cupcakes.

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes

When I saw that this was a story about a baker and a cooking contest, I knew my sister would want to read it. (She loves cooking, and I love eating her creations. Her latest was a dark chocolate cake with a raspberry compote on top of it, and it was the perfect marrying of flavors.)
So consider this a two-perspective review from both of us.

Kat is a baker, and she loves the craft with a passion. It  is her one and only interest, and at times she wonders if that makes her weird. Can you build your whole life around baking?
Kat wants to believe she can. Especially because she works hard to be extraordinary. She balances "order and creativity," and the results make you glad to have tastebuds.

But personally, Kat feels stuck. She needs something more... she needs a specific platform for her work, beyond her Aunt's bakeshop. She needs new people and new challenges and a horizon to aim for.

And what's a best friend for except to launch you toward your dreams? Enter Lucas, Kat's best friend. And his plan to help Kat involves Cupcake Combat.

Picture one baker with big dreams leaving her smallish town and heading for an LA Tv studio. See her coming out of her shell and surprising her whole family. "Kat, Miss Predictable, about to participate in a Food Network show?!" And as her assistant, picture Lucas. A man who takes himself far too serious. A man who has a good heart.... but no kitchen intuition.

Combat indeed. Did somebody mention Love and War? This book is one comedy/fiasco after another, all with a layer of bantering-friendship-turning-into-something-more on top.
Lucas and Kat may be dear friends, but that doesn't mean they know how to navigate romance!

This is a Rom-Com with all the tension of friends falling in love, cooking triumphs and disasters, and a woman trying to chase her dreams. Sometimes it's dramatic, sometimes it's tender... but it's always a delight to read. 

Thank you Litfuse for our copy of All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes!

Betsy St. AmantBetsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers group. Betsy is multi-published through Steeple Hill and has been published in Christian Communicator magazine and Praise Reports: Inspiring Real Life Stories of How God Answers Prayer. One of her short stories, ‘Kickboxing or Chocolate’, appears in a Tyndale compilation book, and she is also multi-published through The Wild Rose Press. She has a BA in Christian Communications and regularly freelances for her local newspaper. Betsy is a fireman’s wife, a mommy to a busy toddler, a chocolate-loving author and an avid reader who enjoys sharing the wonders of God’s grace through her stories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's not too early to think about Christmas....


Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old

    Now, I devoured this delightful Christmas treasury in July and August and I thought that was a perfect time to read it. But you may not have been ready for Christmas in mid-Summer. 

So I'm sharing my review with you now in September, because Fall is definitely in the air. 
I don't know if this is just a feature of New England or not, but seasons here don't come when the calendar dictates. I've had Spring arrive on Valentine's Day, and Spring sail in on April 9th.

I've seen Winter start on a bone-cold October night with a billion stars, and I've seen it wait until almost Christmas. 

In 2014, I think I'm seeing Fall outside now. My maple tree is putting on a reddish chocolate color, and the tansy is crisply brown. We passed a small yellow house the other night in the curve of the road, with their woodstove going and the smoke was Fall's sharpest perfume. 

So I'm thinking Christmas. And without further ado, let's here about Home for Christmas. 

Home for Christmas is a thick book packed with lovely stories.
Some of them are slightly comic, some of them have a clear moral lesson, some of them will make your heart swell with happiness, and all of them celebrate truth, goodness, and beauty.

Brother Robber~ When St. Francis hears that robbers have threatened one of his brothers, he is grieved. He is grieved because the brother sent the robbers away empty handed! Can you call a robber a brother at Christmas? 

Three Young Kings~ Every Christmas, it happens the same way. Three boys from the local school ride through the streets of this Cuban town, dressed in finery and riding cream colored stallions. To the children they visit, they are The Three Kings, and they give out gifts. 
Except this year, the boys are Lazaro, Ramoncito, and Eduardo. Their nicknames are Macaroon, Monkey, and Elephant... and they can't give out gifts to the rich kids when the beggar children are crying so hard! 

Transfiguration~ Sister Egg, a nun, is walking home to the Convent on a cold New York street when she meets two homeless people. 
What does a harsh world- desperation and crucifixion- teach us about God, at Christmas or anytime? This story is by Madeline L'Engle. 

Willibald's Trip to Heaven~ Surely a man who has devoted his life and talent to carving Manger scenes would be escorted straight into heaven and given a banquet, right? His ego, arrogance, ill-temper and narrow mind back on earth are all just part of the artistic temperament, aren't they? 

The Guest~ Set in Siberia, where the men and women are prisoners of exile. This is a story of forgiveness with a surprise ending that is wonderful, and so fitting. 

Christmas Day in the Morning~ Pearl Buck's wonderful story about the boy who milked the cows on Christmas morning. 
Weaving past and present together, this is one to share with a father or grandfather in your life.

The Other Wise Man~ Oh, how I love this tale. Again, the ending is precious and true, and the way it is brought together reminds you why God told stories around his sermons. Artaban sets out with three treasures to give, and spends his life working and searching and serving.

The Miraculous Staircase~ It is almost Christmas, and the Sisters in the Loretto Chapel of New Mexico need a staircase. The traveling carpenter who arrives is very kind and good-hearted, but surely he can't build stairs where such construction is impossible! 

No Room in the Inn~ A teenage boy has just been sentenced to a terrible fate: he's "home alone" for Christmas at a ski-lodge, with food aplenty! 
It all suits his self-centered plans just fine, until a guy drives a junker of a car up to the door and asks for shelter. Katherine Paterson's stories are always memorable because they combine "real-life" with a "what if we saw the true significance of this?" 

The Chess Player~ "God comes. He brings something new into life. Love!" 

The Christmas Lie~ This story is saturated with family love in every scene. 
A quiet little girl tells her family that their closest neighbor has invited them over for Christmas dinner. Starved for human companionship after months on the Canadian prairie, her mother and father immediately begin making plans to attend. Oh, the guilt in this child's heart as Christmas approaches, and her many siblings anticipate a surprise that isn't really coming! 

The Riders of St. Nicholas~ From the author of the classic Western "Shane" comes the story of three cowboys left to tend the ranch while the rest of the crew goes off to have Christmas fun. Monte Walsh, Chet Rollins, and Sunfish Perkins are all set to be miserable... until they discover that a feast has been left behind for them! Now they just have to wile away the day. But their peace can't last long... a stretch of fence is down! 
Every Christmas, we read a similar story by this same author, about a cowboy named Stubby Pringle. Now we have two cowboy Christmas tales. 

Grandfather's Stories~ Grandfather tells two stories about the Child who was born at Christmas, whose voice alone can change a lying, hard heart.

The Vexation of Barney Hatch~ Barney, a panhandler, is dreaming of a Christmas to remember. He has visions of a glowing Christmas, packaged in a bottle with a gold seal, his to drink up for only $3.49.
Now how can he get rid of the kid who's convinced that Barney is Santa Claus?

The Empty Cup~ This is a story about a young couple and their son who is born at the same time as Jesus. 
When the edict goes out that all boys under two be killed, Rachel weeps for her slaughtered child and then descends into depression so deep that her husband cannot help her. 

The Well of the Star~ This story treats the whole of Christmas night as if it were Really Real. 
The mighty angels in the fields right with the common shepherds, the poor and dirty town of Bethlehem full of tired people waiting to be taxed. 
The star that lit the way and moved to rest over a plain building, where kings found the Baby.
And after reading this, I realized that the Holy Spirit who orchestrated that Night now lives in me, and I must remember that I am never alone.

A Certain Small Shepherd~ Jamie is the small boy from Pine Mountain, who cannot talk with his lips and who desperately wants to be a shepherd at Christmas. When a wild storm snows in Hurricane Gap, and two strangers shelter in the stable... what will Christmas morning bring?

What the Kings Brought~ A young boy with the ethics of a man makes his way to the city to buy a burro for his father. Two tourists see the boy's pride and diligence and wish to help him earn the money. The Three Kings are coming for Epiphany, will they bring a boy a burro?

The Carpenter's Christmas~ The story of a man who worked (and swore!) while his neighbors went to Mass. 
Can a gentle and wise priest explain that in this instance, working was praying? 

The Christmas Rose~ Ah, this one is a sad one. A family of robbers stumbles into a Convent, and a lay brother tries to chase Robber Mother out of their herb garden. She says she is not impressed with their garden, they should see the garden that blooms on Christmas Eve in the forest. The descriptions of the Christmas Eve paradise here are beautiful... words used well! 

This is truly a fine collection, and if you read-aloud from this book you will touch hearts and make memories. Start with any story, snuggle in on the couch with some children, and prepare to have your heart readied for Christmas.

Thank you Plough Publishing for my review copy.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the Wilderness

Jane Kirkpatrick knows how to spin a yarn! 

Her leading ladies are strong and courageous, they make sacrifices and are confronted by hard choices in troubled times. Often the heroine deals with personal pain as well as larger conflicts in her world, and over the course of the novel she is refined by the fires. 

In A Light in the Wilderness, we have the chance to befriend Letitia. This woman's keen mind is ignored due to the shade of her skin, and her opinion does not matter, yet Letitia knows what is most important about her identity- she is free. She has the papers that prove it. 

People may still walk around her as if she's garbage and talk over her as if she is a fence post, but she is not a slave. 
When Letitia serves somebody now, she does it because she has a kind and giving heart, not because she is property.  

And she even has a few dreams that her freedom should allow her to reach. She wants her own bit of land, some seeds to grow her own vegetables. She wants her own cow, and her own sewing things to make her clothes. It will be a quiet, industrious life, and it will be a free life.

Letitia never imagined the battles she would have to fight, the trouble she would face, and the inner reserve of faith and hope that she would gain.

Once you begin this book, it will absorb you. Letitia's story combines with several other women's stories, including an aged Indian grandmother and a white woman who accepts Letitia as a human being and a friend.  

The basic striving for dignity, the gain of love and the experience of loss, the birth of a child and the death of a child, all these come into the stories. 
There is harshness that makes you wonder how these women kept their head up, and then there are spots of tenderness and you think "Yes, we still feel this way today." 
In pioneer times and in our times, the real stuff lasts: our grit, our persistence, our ability to take a stand for goodness and human rights. 

Thank you Revell for my review copy. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dancing on the Head of Pen

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

"With my elbows on the old table, my chin in my hands, my pencil in my fingers, the lights of the city below and beyond... I fell in love with the craft of writing. I learned not to chase the words but to listen for them." 
~ Robert Benson, Dancing on the Head of a Pen 

This book is a pleasure to read. Once I got started, I completed my first leisurely reading in a single evening. 

As a lover of stories, I'm fascinated by what goes into telling them and the making of the books that come into my hands. 
This book is replete with quotable lines from Mr. Benson, personal vignettes, and quotes from fellow writers. 
Mr. Benson talks about the craft of writing without ever reducing it to mechanics or formula, and he talks about the business of writing without ever forgetting that word work is "fragile magic at best." 

Mr. Benson is a wanderer when he writes, and not in an aimless or unfocused way. He wanders in a "Don't cheat yourself out of a beautiful dirt road" kind of way. As he points out, the moments you never expected may be exactly what the journey was all about after all. 

I like the bits about the actual way he writes... fountain pen, sketchbook, six hundred words a day, lots of colored markers in the editing. 
He talks about the times you pretend to write a book when you're really planting four new flower beds, and he talks about how writers need to remember the world they live in when they're so deep inside the world in their head. 
He talks about the three hats that writers wear... the Beret, old Gamer, and the Fedora... and how each hat corresponds to the work of the moment. (Passionate artistry, dogged editing, and smooth marketing of the finished book.)

This book is ultimately a celebration of writing: the thing that lets us tell out stories, the thing that lets us save pieces of ourselves we would otherwise forget, the thing that lets us give ourselves away to dozens of people we may never meet. 
Writing. It is something as down-to-earth as bursitis from typing and as other-worldly as the power of paragraphs that shape our spirits. 

There's a reason God gave us a book of literature to begin revealing His heart. 

Thank you Waterbrook's Blogging for Books program for my review copy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Making Marion


I have loved Sherwood Forest ever since I read my first children's Robin Hood when I was small. 
I was eager to revisit the paths and glens in all their lore, and I needed a good guide, somebody with a sense of humor and a sparkle in her eye. I found her in Making Marion. 

This is a quietly hilarious and subtly romantic tale of a modern Irish girl in search of something more.
Marion has lived her whole life within a predictable circle of less than helpful relationships. 
Some were flat out abusive, and these have left her with panic-attack battles to fight to this day.
Many of them were habitually damaging, often using words to cut the deepest wounds.
Despite everything, Marion had one cheerleader who encouraged her to spread her wings and be unconventional. 
That's how she ends up in Nottinghamshire England, chasing down her father's past based on one photograph of him dressed as Robin Hood. 

Prepare to love this girl... this girl who sometimes loses her very voice, yet always has a heart full of feelings and thoughts. 
This girl who needs some time to be herself, without her mother who seemed to hate her or her "maybe-fiancee" who tried to love her. Prepare to sigh with her and be confused with her. Marion is about to learn to let go and live... fully. Messily. Beautifully. Boldly. Alive unlike never before. And Marion will be making friends, the kind who make life worthwhile and who help us shed the lies we've been told and learn the truth. 

These friends are all characters, but none of them felt too-zany-to-be-real. Scarlett- indomitable spirit and Southern accent, whose "life lessons" are solid gold. Valerie and Grace, the younger girls who both annoy and bless Marion. 
Rueben... who is hard to categorize, and who accepts Marion without questions or demands.
The writing in this book really carries the day. The descriptions of Sherwood Forest and the Village, the storytelling inside Marion's head... it lets us hear her voice. 

Thank you Kregel and Lion Fiction for my review copy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Love Letters From God~

Finally, a Bible story book with objectively lovely illustrations and text that focuses solely on God's love His children!

Love Letters from God is a wonderful gift of a book. As soon as I saw the premise- a love letter with a Bible story- I knew I wanted to have this book in my hands.  

Glenys Nellist has re-written almost 20 Bible stories using words and phrases that will capture the imagination and convey the character's feelings to a child. I love the titles she chose. There's "The Tiny Tax Collector" - we know he's the one who climbed the tree! "The Little Boy Who Listened" - Samuel, who falls asleep confident that God knows his name! 

She takes us from the very beginning in Genesis to Joseph's bravery and David's trust in a big, strong God. Then she takes us to Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and to the one lost sheep that the Shepherd treasured, and to Communion, when Jesus said "Remember me."  

And every story on it's two page spread is illustrated all over the page. I don't know how to describe it, but the illustrations include fabric and buttons and paintings and sketches and leaves and coins and tissue paper and flowers. And it's like a collage on each page, especially because you have a lift the flap letter, where God assures the child of His love, care, presence, and protection. 
Sophie Allsopp did an incredible job with the artwork. 

What a lovely way to talk about Jesus and His Abba. We all need to take the Love Letters here to heart. Our God will never leave us. Knows us fully. Loves us dearly. Stays with us always. 

I can't wait to use this book with children, and to give it as a gift. 

 Thank you Zonderkids and Booklook for my review copy. This one's going on my children's shelf!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Love Story~ Nichole Nordeman

Love Story

Love Story... The Hand that Holds Us From the Garden to the Gate ~ 
Isn't that a beautiful way of looking at the narrative of Scripture, the history of humanity, and our own period in time- we're in between the Garden and the Gate? 

Nichole Nordeman would probably shy away from being called "profound," so I'll phrase it this way- this is a book of honest seeking. 
It's a book of stories. Some of them are about recognizing God's gentle hand, some about reaching out and touching His strong and saving hand, some about waiting in the night for His hand to spill down the dawn. 
Come to think of it, those are the stories we live and tell over and over, aren't they? That's why the Bible is still relevant- because Adam and Eve and Ruth and Naomi and Mary and the Thief all have stories that have to do with yours and mine. 

And the things Nichole comes up with... like she talks about Esther, and then muses on how we're sometimes afraid of beauty, of being taken in by it, to the point that we shun it and think godliness means life lived in grays and browns. And Esther knocks that idea out because she won the heart of the King with her absurd loveliness. 

Talking about Paul, and how he'd probably be easier to understand if we could chat face to face, and then pondering on how we want so bad to be "sold out" Christians that we will "sell out" when we're with a more outspoken Christian crowd. She talks about laughing at the political jokes and affirming stances that we aren't convicted about, hoping to keep from seeming lukewarm.

And her honesty! She admits that she tries to avoid the Book of Job! (So do I.) 

I've never listened to any of The Story soundtrack, so my first exposure was through reading the lyrics to Nichole's songs in this book.
Some of them have already been added to my poetry scrap-book. 

"This is how Love wins, every single time,
Climbing high upon a tree where someone else
should die.
This is how Love heals the deepest part of you,
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds." 
~Lyrics from Nichole's The Thief 

Thank you Worthy Publishing for my review copy...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Angel's Walking

Angels Walking

I think there are more than a few readers who get excited when they see Karen Kingsbury start a new series. 
This series is Angels Walking, and this book is the first part. 

My review is going to be small, so bear with me.
This story is everything it should be. It has a multi-layered plot where grace shines through and faith beats at its heart. 
The characters are lovable and real, and you cheer for them as they decide to live each day expecting God to work miracles. 

Karen's stories, for me, are all about John 10:10, where Jesus said He came to give us life and life abundant. The men and women of Karen's novels discover this time and again. They learn to see God in each moment- the emptiness and the fullness, the bitter and the sweet, the presence and the absence. 

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy!

Karen Kingsbury Karen Kingsbury is the author of Life Changing Fiction. Try one of her many books and see if it moves you, too.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Barefoot Tribe... a way to love Jesus and change the world.

The Barefoot Tribe: A Manifesto for a New Kind of Church

Barefoot Tribe is like a very encouraging kick in the pants. It's timely, it's bold, and it will broaden your focus as you serve Christ. 
This book is fruitful reading for any Christian, but those under thirty may resonate with it the most. (However, maybe not... two of my neighbors are marching for social justice next month, and they're in their sixties.) 

I dislike sweeping generalizations, but there a few obvious truths about modern youth~ 

1. The world really is our classroom/playground/neighborhood today. We get the news about slavery and war and famine and plague from all over the globe, and we're empathetic to international pain and ready to act if only somebody will point the way.*
And you don't need to be Billy Graham or a billionaire to lead us... you just need a heart in line with God, hands ready to help, and a way to spread the word. 

2. We live in a consuming nation, but individually we're increasingly aware of our consumption habits, and we want to change them for the better.
We realize that there's something wrong with our plenty when poverty still stalks and kills. 

3. We are accustom to diversity, and we know that common humanity and true Christianity demand that we stop dividing into ever-narrowing denominations. Some of us are ready to abandon the word "Church"for now, because the original meaning- so alive and vital- has been exchanged for a shallow one. That's where the word "Tribe" comes in handy. It's a word that gets attention, and shakes up Christian stereotypes. 

*Case in point: Ebola. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how an African hospital lost their staff to the disease because of a lack of basic medical gear, by which I mean plastic gloves. Dear God, what a tragedy! The same day the WSJ featured their WSJ Life magazine, in which luxury clothing, cars, watches, and vacation destinations paraded across the pages. While a nurse dies because she didn't have protective gear when she cared for a deathly ill patient, a six-figure necklace is being sold somewhere.

This book covers a lot of ground, and in each case the ultimate goal is oh-so-worthy.
The Barefoot Tribe vows to make art that beautifies the world, promote sustainability, love like Jesus, put down the weapons, tend the earth and the environment, be abolitionists right now, and end the pandemics that should not be claiming lives. 
Oh yes. This is good stuff here, folks. Lets read it, Talk about it. And then find ways to live it. 

I think Palmer Chinchen asks a great question near the end of the book, and I want to use it as a barometer for my own life.
If we had to close our doors (as a church) and move away, would people miss us? Would our city miss us because of all the ways we had served them, worked with them, and blessed them? Or would they not notice our absence, or would they be glad to see us go?

What a good question. 

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy of Barefoot Tribe. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Story Keeper, by Lisa Wingate


To use the modern parlance, this book blew me away. 
I requested it for review based on the Appalachian setting, and I didn't spend too much time pondering what to expect. 

What I got was wonderful. 
Our first-person narrator is Jennia Beth Gibbs, a girl who grew up poor in the hills of North Carolina. 
Fleeing from paternal abuse, generational poverty, and stifling religion, Jennia Beth headed to New York and transformed herself into Jen-the-editor.
Jen's voice is delightful. She's single, with a portly Chihuahua for companionship, and she tries hard to make her own life while still worrying about the sisters she left behind. 

One of Jen's dreams has just come true... she's working at Vida House Publishing, a place where manuscripts are still made of paper and stories change the world. "Slush Mountain" rules the boardroom at Vida House, and it is indeed a mountain of old submissions stacked ceiling high. 
Jen never expected to touch- much less read- any of the manuscripts, until the morning one is found resting on her desk. 

And that brings us to the second heroine, whose story is told bit by tiny bit. Sarra, a Melungeon girl of other-worldly beauty that is born from her mixed ancestry. The same heritage that makes her lovely to look upon also brands her as sub-human, a soulless blend of Indian, African, and White. 

Jen is so caught up in Sarra's tale that she risks her fragile position at Vida House to go back to the hills and seek out the unknown author. 
Her odyssey will take her to Looking Glass Gap, the home-that-was-never-home. 

If you've read Miss Willie, set in Kentucky, or Christy, set in Tennessee, you have some of idea of what Jennia Beth's girlhood was like.
Now transport that dirt-floor-poor image into the 21st century. Keep in mind both the good and the bad: smoky hills rolling one atop the other, wild and abundant beauty, large families with deep roots, mountain lore and wisdom and superstition, fear-based religion and punishing isolation. 

This rural close-knit community breeds certain vices, seemingly without ever counting the cost.
Young marriages between ill-equipped partners. 
Multiple children without care for the mother or employment for the father. 
Families that "stay together" but allow deep shame and abuse to go on. 

Lisa Wingate brings it all to life, sympathetically through Jennia Beth's eyes. 

There's a touch of mystery, a thread of adventure, a glimpse of light in the darkness and the first steps to redemption are taken in this tale.

The Story Keeper is, not to be too cliche, a keeper. 

Thank you Tyndale House for my review copy! 

Lisa WingateLisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Good Hope Road, The Language of Sycamores, and Drenched in Light. Her work was recently honored by the Americans for More Civility for promoting greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa and her family live in Central Texas.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thief of Glory... a WWII Story

Thief of Glory

This is one of those stories that you wish wasn't true, yet you know that it was, for so many people.

Jeremiah Prins, an old man now telling his boyhood story, is a true character. 
He was the kind of boy that we don't write about anymore, and he sounds just like the youngsters who lived in the 1940's. 
He's respectful to adults- but he certainly has his own mind. 
He's a scrapper who fights often, but always fights clean. 
He never expected to fall hard for a golden haired little girl, but he has a secretly romantic heart. 
He's got too much individuality, too much integrity, too much honesty, and too much intelligence to ever cheat or ever give in. 

Jeremiah's narrating voice is perfect. 
He guides us back first to a banyan tree and a marble game, and then to a girl, and an enemy invasion, and the loss of his father and all of life as he knew it. He takes us into a camp with his mother and sisters and brother. He shows us how women and children were stripped of their dignity by captors who had renounced their own humanity.
First he tells us about imperfect-but-kindly innocence, then he opens our eyes to cruelty. 
His descriptions of the Japennkamp are chilling, and the history level is high. 

This is one of the few Christian fiction books I can actually recommend to a man. Despite the beautiful girl's face on the cover, the "romance" was properly reserved. This is a story of survival, of trying to keep "soul and body together." Fighting for food and medicine and shelter and sanity and strength for one more day. Some people had more strength, others had far less. You'll want to cry as you read. 
I think my father would treasure this story. I did. 

Thank you Waterbrook for my review copy. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Smell....

 My Grammy wore a very strong perfume. It was the kind that's so strong that mosquitoes came from miles around to follow her, sensitive people got raging headaches, and the smell crawled up into every nostril it encountered an stayed there all day.

It was r-e-a-l-l-y bad, but it was her scent. Blend it with the smell of cat- faint but evident- and the smell of cigarettes from Grampy, and you have her signature scent. (The smell of cat is hard to explain, because their cat Chunky died years ago. There must have been an uncleaned catbox left somewhere in the house.....)
She loved that perfume, and we do too. Not for itself, but because we think HER when we smell It.

Now that she's not on earth to wear that stuff, every whiff of it left in her room or on her clothes is extra-precious. Once, in a grocery store, I smelled it on another woman. It nearly knocked me over.

(As an it of note Grampy himself is particular about smells. Last time we visited, we made the mistake of mentioning that I needed to replace my sneakers, because they stunk. He nodded sympathetically, and then he proceeded to introduce us to various better smells we could add to our home. He showed us several Glade air fresheners and an economy bottle of Febreeze oder-eliminator. Last came his personal favorite... a container of Snuggle, which he washes his clothes in, gels his hair with, and eats on his toast in the morning.

I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his help, so I leaned forward and sucked in a deep breath of Snuggle. I regretted it when I nearly sneezed my sinuses loose. Sweet mercy!

Maybe the stuff isn't as natural as we thought.
Some things smell amazing. If you forgot that a working nose is a gift, walk into the kitchen in October when the first apple crisp is browning in the oven. You'll find you have something new to praise God for.

A field of mint in the setting sun on a dirt road. The coffee aisle in the grocery store, even to a non-coffee drinker. Tomato leaves when you brush against them in a garden. Salt marsh air.
Woodsmoke. Clementines, that leave their scent on your fingers for hours after you eat them.
Hamburgers and steak cooking. Lilacs.
(I wish they made a perfume that was a combo of the last two... fresh cut lilacs in an old Coke bottle and hamburgers cooking. Trust me, it works.)

So I was at the barn today, with my neighbor's goats. She went away for the weekend and let me come and help. And when you enter a barn, you think of smells. Some people love it. Others find it terrible. She apologized for The Smell before we went in. We told her not to apologize, please.
I think the smell of a barn is objectively good, whether it tickles your fancy or not.

I think it's good because it's the smell of life. The fifteen year old goat, all arthritic and fuzzy, made docile only by age. The rambunctious four month old boy goats, knocking against their stall wall. There's sweet feed, all sticky and oatey and mollasses-ey, and hay, which is the grass and flowers of lost sunshine and rain. There is milk, pulled out of three nicely rounded milking Mothers by an ancient milking machine.  (Isn't it funny that a land of milk and honey requires rather contrary goats and rather fragile bees, each working all day to make our world sweet and creamy out of their own bodies?)

After the milking room emptied out, a little orphan in a pink collar named Ida hopped up on the milking stand, to finish off the grain. She's practicing for when she's a milker. I sat down beside her, petting her shiny clean sides. She turned toward me, and I fed her from my hand. She has soft lips and warm breath, as she picked each piece out of my fingers. I loved the smell of her. She was small and alive.

And so I have two thoughts. One is that we should be glad we can smell. Two is that we shouldn't be too quick to cover up the smells of barns. Wet dog and July sweat and old-fashioned skunk are part of our experience. Don't worry about coating everything with Snuggle and drinking oder-eliminator. You're alive. I can tell by the smell. Let's smile. :-)