Friday, October 24, 2014

Beloved Dust....

Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth about Yourself

Dust, dirt, earth, clay. 
We're made from it. 

We know the basics of this scientifically- human bodies are built with the same elements that the earth is composed of.  (Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Calcium, Sodium, Iron....) 

We also know it instinctively- we talk about having "feet of clay" and being tied to the earth, our sustenance depends on the dirt, and at death we return to the dust. 

Genesis describes this beginning with striking simplicity- The Lord God formed man from the clay, and brought him alive with breath and spirit. 
I love that visual. A human form, made of cool brown clay perhaps, smoothed by the hand of God, lying still on the grass in Eden. And then a rush of Breath, and the man has a soul and spirit and life.

Genesis confirms exactly what we all discover about ourselves- we've got eternity in our hearts, but we depend on bodies that return to the soil. We are "treasures in jars of clay." 
We long for purity and glory, and yet we leave dusty fingerprints all over. 

Those truths give us much to think about, don't they? 
As authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel say, we're "Sons of Dust and Heaven." 
If we forget the dust, we expect too much of ourselves and others. 
When we accept our dustiness, we can find grace even in our failings, and we can be gentle with each other.

If we eliminate the Heavenly reality, all we have are bodies and their needs. 
There will be no greater vision, no purpose, no transcendence. 
At the same time, if we elevate the spiritual too high above the earthly, we become Gnostics- convinced that the physical is dangerous and distracting. We forget that the dust and all it entails was called "very good."

Jamin and Kyle begin by discussing mankind's origin in dust, and what that means. And then they take it further.... they speak of the Word who became Dust, of Christ in the Incarnation. And that changes everything all over again. Now we're not just "very good" dust, we're Beloved Dust. 
We don't just have a spirit, we have the Holy Spirit. 

Everything else they address- from prayer to rest to abiding in Him- is all grounded in that reality.
This is one of those books that is accessible for a new Christian ( I would have loved it, because it makes you think!) and refreshing for a more mature one. 

Thank you to Booklook for my review copy. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yankee in Atlanta

Yankee in Atlanta (Heroines Behind the Lines, #3)

Jocelyn Green writes tour-de-force novels that fire your imagination and teach you a history lesson at the same time. 
Yankee in Atlanta is the third installment in her Civil War series, and I'm enjoying seeing the three thick volumes together on my bookshelf. 

The first, Wedded to War, followed well-bred Charlotte Waverly when she entered the Sanitary Commission and became a nurse to the worst of the wounded.
The second, Widow of Gettysburg, introduced us to spirited Liberty Holloway whose hidden heritage will redeem her or destroy her. 
And this one catapults us into Caitlin McKae's story- as an Irish New Yorker, a female soldier, and a Heroine Behind the Lines. 

Caitlin's time as a soldier is nearly over when we meet her, so this isn't a book about a woman trying to stay undetected amid the ranks. 
(I like those stories, but I'm glad Jocelyn didn't go that direction here.) 
Instead, Caitlin wakes after being wounded, lost in Rebel Territory, being tended by a gentle doctor and his sister. 
Thanks to the kindness of a dying Confederate, she arrived at the hospital with a tourniquet made out of a grey jacket.

There's no reason for anyone to suspect she's a Northern sympathizer. No reason at all. 
So Noah Becker trusts her as guardian of his daughter when the Confederacy sweeps him away to war.  
And Caitlin is worthy of that trust. She has come to respect Noah and she adores his child... but she can't protect Ana from Sherman's shelling, and she can't hide her from the Smallpox, and the local Provost Marshal has declared that Caitlin must be a spy. 

These are books you can feel good about lending to friends. 
They're detailed, but not overwhelming. They're action-packed, but not frenetic. 
They're all about War between the States and its devastation, but the individual human element isn't lost.  
The characters are spiritually strong, yet their faith and doubt and fear all come across naturally as part of them.
And each book includes a healthy dose of love- between parents and children, between comrades at arms, and between couples who dare to hope for the days when the war ends.  

Just like finding the story of Ruth amidst the time of Judges, this series reminds me how the common people survive a national upheaval and/or a personal tragedy. They pick up the broken pieces, they gather their families, they bless their meager food, and somehow they keep on keeping on. 

Thank you MP Newsroom for sending me a copy to review. Five Stars, and I'm now waiting for Spy of Richmond. :-)

    Jocelyn Green
  • If it weren’t for God’s presence in my life, I would not be able to inspire faith and courage in others. He is my inspiration, my strength, my joy.
  • My favorite verse is Isaiah 26:3. And also Psalm 30:5. Oh wait, Psalm 34:18 is another great one . . . I’ll stop now.
  • I’m an ordinary mom. I make lunches, wipe noses, play Chutes & Ladders, read bedtime stories, dispense band-aids, and give lots of hugs and kisses to my kids while they’ll still let me.
  • I fall behind in my household chores from time to time, especially when on deadline. I keep up with laundry pretty well, but my mop doesn’t see any action, for instance, while I write a book.
  • We love traditions in this house. Among our favorites: having pizza and Family Movie Night on Fridays, watching Rick Steves on Saturday mornings, spaghetti dinner (made by my husband) on Sundays.

  • I do my best writing wearing pants with elastic waistbands. I call these “writing pants.” My favorite pair is summer pajama bottoms from L.L. Bean.
  • I’m an introvert but enjoy public speaking. Weird, right?
  • I’m really big on list-making. I think it’s hereditary, because my 6-year-old seems to have inherited the gene as well. Evidence at right.
  • I tend to either cook 30 meals in a day or go for three months without cooking more than twice a week (and therefore using the 30 meals I had prepared ahead of time). It works out nicely. Although sometimes I wish I was one of those people who cooked and baked super good stuff for fun.
  •  I’m not very crafty. I’ll just say it. I really admire those who are, though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"I'll Be Me..." A Glen Campbell Documentary.

First I must say that my family has collectively loved Glen Campbell's music since we encountered the haunting notes of "Wichita Lineman."
(Glen is one of those people who could probably sing the phonebook and sound good.)
From "Gentle on my Mind" to "Ghost on the Canvas" our CD collection reflects his long career.

So we were honored to be able to review the documentary about his life, "I'll be Me."

This film, almost two hours long, includes concert footage from Glen's farewell tour, home movie film from his younger days, interviews with artists who were deeply inspired by him, and many candid conversations and personal scenes between Glen and his family.

The love that his wife, children, and close friends have for him is incredibly touching to see.
Together, they are committed to facing this Alzheimer's diagnosis with courage, grace, and humor.
And those qualities are evident in abundance to the viewer.

There were times I laughed, when Glen was goofing around at home in his kitchen or practicing stringing his shoelaces with a young pal of his on the tour bus.
And there were times when I prayed for Glen's family, because this disease is so terrible and they have cried many tears because of it.

This film will be hard to watch at times, because the Campbell family is facing a hard reality.
And yet it is so worth watching, because they're showing us their love and faithfulness in the midst of everything. This film also seeks to make us aware of the need for a prevention/cure for Alzheimer's, the sooner the better.

The interviews with other people (such as Bruce Springsteen and Keith Urban and Kathy Mattea and Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow) add extra insights and pay tribute to Glen as a person and as a performer.

Some of the finest scenes are the ones where he and three of his kids take the stage during his farewell tour, doing new renditions of his old favorites. They pause to hug each other, and do some dueling between his guitar and his daughter's banjo, and sometimes the lyrics come out a little different. But you know what? They're always delivered from the heart.
That's just the way Glen sings.

If you have loved this musical legend's work- for years or for full decades- then you'll appreciate
"I'll Be Me." I know I did.

Thank you to the whole Campbell Clan for sharing Glen with us through this film, and thank you to Flyby Promotions for the chance to review and review it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Welcome to Our Home."

I'm sure you all know that scene in Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold's ever-gracious wife shakes hands with the SWAT team that just burst in,  saying "Welcome to our home?"

Well, when something interesting happens here occasionally one of us will quote her, complete with that particular civility-amidst-chaos tone, "Welcome to our home."

Anything that may happen to get blogged about in the future is going to come under this new category.... "Welcome to our Home."

Today we raked leaves, for two solid hours. It was wonderful... a morning of sunlight and clouds that complemented each other perfectly, and a healthy dose of "October's bright blue weather."
We got half the driveway cleared of leaves.

We had just finished lunch (raking works up a good appetite) when Somebody opened the freezer and brought out a strawberry yogurt container. This person peeked inside, saw thick white stuff, got a spoon and took a bite. They then pronounced that it wasn't yogurt, and it was delicious, so it must be frosting and we should all start eating it.

Our  family Baker, who would have made the frosting if there had been any, grew slightly frantic, insisting that it could not be frosting because the last cake they made left no frosting left over.

Person One just kept dipping their spoon, remarking how sweet and creamy the white stuff was, and proffering tastes to The Baker.
The Baker maintained that frosting it was not, and even cited the fact that their last frosting included bits of cinnamon in it, and this clearly did not have cinnamon.

(Meanwhile, I took note of the time the first bite of suspicious sweetness was ingested, and began looking up the Poison Control number.)

We finally determined that someone must have broken into our kitchen, whipped up some cream cheese frosting, packed it in a yogurt container, and then escaped without us noticing.

I'm not sure whether this is a Public Service announcement for keeping a close eye on the freezer, or a reminder to enjoy the nuttiness around us, but I thought I had to share.

"Welcome to our Home." 

Keepers of the Covenant.

Keepers of the Covenant (The Restoration Chronicles #2)

Lynn Austin wrote the first historical fiction novel that broke my heart. It was Fire by Night, and it was set in the Civil War. She had the ability to take me back to a time I could never experience except through pages, and make me care deeply about people who were birthed from her creative mind. 

When she began The Restoration Series, which takes us all the way back to the Old Testament, I was excited. 
For me, novels are the best way to cement the historical facts in my head *and* spark my imagination at the same time. 

I reviewed the first book last year, Return to Me. Volume two is Keepers of the Covenant, and this one follows the writing of the book of Ezra.  
(If you remember, Ezra's Biblical book is oddly enough written in first person, like a journal. Throughout this novel we see Ezra recording his days, and that will eventually become his prophetic book.) 

Ezra himself is our main character, a Rabbi and a scholar, and he wants his people to return from exile and heed the Word of God again, because their lives depend on it. Lynn shows us Ezra's struggle to be faithful to the Word, and she adds the dimensions of a personal life. For in this story, Ezra marries Devorah- a widow named after the woman who was braver than a general. This Rabbi who wants justice and purity finds a perfect counterpoint in his wife, who tempers his convictions with mercy and grace. 
I like the way Lynn pictured that- an Old Testament couple where the man and the woman balanced each other as they worship the Lord. 

The minor characters are excellent as well. There's Rueben, a Jewish boy who disavowed his God and his heritage to live like a pagan Babylonian. 
And there's Amina, an Edomite orphan who loves the God of Israel as much as Abraham himself did. 
These characters are swept up in the grand drama of being called back to the Living God, back to their land and their temple. 

A final word: the book of Ezra culminates in a powerful and terrible decree- every Jewish man who took a pagan bride must send her and their children away, to cleanse the land from idolatry. 
I wondered how Lynn would handle this. She does it with sensitivity and honesty, showing us how torn they must have been, yet she stays within the realm of possibility. I can imagine a scene like she described really happening. I hope it did! 

So my verdict? This series would make great reading, especially to complement a Bible study. I would have found it enthralling as a home-school student. 

Thank you to Litfuse for my review copy!

Lynn AustinFor many years, Lynn Austin nurtured a desire to write but frequent travels and the demands of her growing family postponed her career. When her husband's work took Lynn to Bogota, Colombia, for two years, she used the B.A. she'd earned at Southern Connecticut State University to become a teacher. After returning to the U.S., the Austins moved to Anderson, Indiana, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and later to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It was during the long Canadian winters at home with her children that Lynn made progress on her dream to write, carving out a few hours of writing time each day while her children napped. Lynn credits her early experience of learning to write amid the chaos of family life for her ability to be a productive writer while making sure her family remains her top priority.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Covered Deep....

The Covered Deep

This is quite an unusual novel! 
Bianca Marshal, a bookish Appalachian girl, wins an essay contest in 1877. The prize is a trip to Europe and the Holy Land. 
Such an adventure would have been impossible for Bianca if it wasn't for her father. He'd watched her chafe at being an "old maid," and he understood that she had dreams that needed nurturing, even if they carried her away across the world for a time. 
So he encouraged Bianca to pack her baggage and her Bible and begin the voyage. 

Thanks to Brandy's expressive writing, we become part of the pilgrimage. Brandy brings multiple scenes and references of Scripture together with places and settings that the travelers visit, and you can understand why they would have been so moved. Being near the Sea of Galilee, riding through Bethlehem, sailing over the same sea where Jonah encountered his whale... she describes it all through Bianca's eyes. 
This novel reminded me why I'd love to visit Israel someday. (And Ireland. And Italy.)

Bianca wants to badly to refresh her soul through this experience, and she also wants to find love. As the Rich Mullins song put it, she wants to find somebody tender and find somebody true. 
What do you do when you love someone who thinks their past has rendered them unworthy of any crumb of grace? How do you help them see the truth?

Yes. This is an intense story, a historical novel with a taste of intrigue, and a romance. 

Thank you to Worthy Publishing for my review copy.

Brandy VallanceBrandy Vallance fell in love with the Victorian time period at a young age, loving the customs, manners, and especially the intricate rules of love. Since time travel is theoretically impossible, she lives in the nineteenth century vicariously through her novels. Unaccountable amounts of black tea have fueled this ambition. Brandy hopes to avoid a similar fate as the writer, Honoré de Balzac, who met his death via caffeine poisoning. At this point, the balance may not be tipped in her favor. Brandy's love of tea can only be paralleled by her love of Masterpiece Theater Classics, deep conversations, and a good book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thunder~ A Dystopian

Thunder (Stone Braide Chronicles, #1)

Considering that I am a very fearful person by nature, I try to steer clear of dystopia. I think I've read three of them, and each one is the story of a world gone wrong.  
(Remember- I'm the eight year old who stayed up one night worrying frantically that the sun would explode. And then worrying that I'd never sleep again.) 

So anything set in a Post-Nuclear-Devastated America where a small but iron-handed group of elites run the show and the common people fight, kill, and struggle to survive is probably a no-no for me. 

So how did I end up reading Thunder? I'm reviewing it of course. And yes, I did find it rather scary. Those mutant rabbits were really creeping me out!

My Mom asked me why kids gravitate to dystopia today. "Is it because they feel such hopelessness?" 
I think part of the lure of dystopia *is* that the settings are dark, and the author gives us permission to feel vulnerable and anxious about the darkness. Yet the authors also go a step further beyond wallowing in fear- they introduce us to ordinary young people who becomes heroes. 
These boys and girls help fight the evil government, their own souls, and restore balance to the world. 

I think if you've enjoyed Veronica Roth's Divergent and Jill Williamson's Safe Lands Trilogy, then you'll love Thunder. 

Selah is a girl determined to be as tough as her brothers, yet she's also unsure of herself when her world shifts under her feet. 
She wanted to prove her worth, but now she has to risk her life to rescue an enemy. 
And then she finds herself bonding with the enemy when she realizes their fates are linked. 

Add in the "adolescent" emotions Selah feels (longing for responsibility, sibling rivalry, beginning to romantically "like" somebody) and this book will grab many a teenage reader. 

Thank you Revell Reads for my review copy! 

Bonnie S. Calhoun

I love to write, but it doesn't make me happy unless there are the three B's...body count, blood, and blowing things up. I also have mad skills at coding HTML, and website design. I live in a log cabin in the woods with fifteen acres and a pond full of bass, though I'd rather buy fish at the grocery store. I share my domain with a husband, a dog, and two cats, all of whom think I'm waitstaff!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hardest Peace.

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard

I began reading this book the day Kara Tippetts and her husband Jason spoke on Focus on the Family.
The story Jason and Kara were telling- of their love and their family and living with Kara's Stage IV cancer- had both Jim and John in tears.

There are so many reasons why this book should be read.
Read it because Kara tells the truth about the good and the hard. She's honest about what frightens and what redeems.
Her story involves the harshness of chemo and the desolation of lonely radiation treatments, and her story encompasses dancing in the kitchen with her daughters and snuggling goodnight with her son.
It's a reminder that being human is a good, good thing- and it's a hard, hard thing.

Her book is (obviously) a reminder that our Time together is a gift. That each day is another gift for us to life in.

I'm hesitant to try to review this book, because Kara is real and beautiful, and her story flows out of that, and my understanding and attempts to explain what I read will be shallow. Let me put it this way, you need this book if you're facing hard right now, if your reality may not change and you need grace to carry on. She will introduce you to the One who gives that grace.

You also need this book because her words about marriage and family will not fail to inspire you. The tenderness and grace between this wife and husband and their four children has been refined in the fire.

She lets us into her own heart, starting as a little child. She begins by introducing us her her Grandma Elnora. "She loved big, instigated laughter, and was never afraid to get dirty," Kara tells us. Her Grandma had joy inside her that spilled over and poured into Kara every time she was near.
Kara wanted to be just like her, and when Kara met Jesus as a young adult, she recognized Him right away as her Grandma's superpower.
I think this was a perfect way to begin, with a woman who lived so fully, so good, that she blessed everyone around her, even though her story was so full of hard.

So I'm keeping my personal copy- with the notes in it- and I'm waiting for the right soul to give my extra copy too.
And we are praying for the Kara and her family.

Litfuse Publicity and David C. Cook Publishing sent me this book for review.

I am the blessed mama of four amazing children, and the wife of one excellent man. Our family has been carefully kept and loved by Jesus through some remarkably hard circumstances. We are currently planting a church in the northwest side of Colorado Springs. I spent the last year battling breast cancer with the help of family and our amazing community. It currently appears that I'm headed into another difficult battle. Join me as we seek to live faithfully in the midst of suffering.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Waiting for the Sun....

Waiting for the Sun

I have had Waiting for the Sun on my review shelf all Summer long, and it was only this week that I finally took time to fall into the story.
(And that's the right word for it, I fell into the plot and the setting and the character's lives. And I enjoyed my reading time greatly.)

Waiting for the Sun has a little bit of everything- possible romance, true friendship, suspense and mystery and daily-life comedy. 

There's a really good heroine, Gillian, who doesn't think of herself as anything special, but we readers know that she is. 
There's a farm house full of foster kids, each one with a bright personality that jumps off the page. 
(I love Shurita... she's a street-smart girl with a soft heart hidden under a bunch of friendly sarcasm and a wild hairdo.) 

The cast of characters is a fine one. There's Gill's Mom, who believes it's time for her baby to fall in love again. 
And there's Gill's ex-husband, who destroyed their marriage but keeps calling on the phone. 
There's Clint, Gill's new handyman at the ranch, who seems determined to charm her at every turn.
And there's Sam, the older ranch manager who's straight-talking, serious and a dear friend to Gill.
There's Charley, the over-zealous police officer who delivers each foster child in a blur of lights and sirens. 

In each case, the child steps out of the police car and into Auntie Gill's heart. She would keep every foster daughter forever if she could. 
I think that was my favorite aspect of Waiting for the Sun: this is a very family centered story, full of joy and tears. 
Gillian spends her days dispensing simple delights of childhood and coping with the terrible complexities of abuse and neglect. 
Her love for her girls reminds me of God's love for His kids. He's always there, always ready to give grace, always has a good word, loves each child's smile, and has high hopes for every one. 

The plot weaves together all kinds of emotions and a strong trust in God, even when things look dark. Gill strives to teach all the kids that in the middle of a scary night, you need to wait for the sun. It always rises. That's a beautiful description of a life lived by faith and not by earthly sight. 
Sometimes we have to trust that the Light will return. 

(The book cover, a rising sun over a farm field, fits this story perfectly.) 

Thank you very, very much to Elizabeth Bourgeret for sending me a review copy. I'm putting this on my keeper shelf. A sequel with more about Gill's next chapter  (or any other story you have to tell) would be much appreciated!

Elizabeth BourgeretElizabeth Bourgeret is a Missouri native that loves to spend her days writing, teaching or speaking when her busy schedule allows. She's always ready to take her work on the road where she finds inspiration around every turn.

Mother of two supportive daughters and "Grammy" to two adorable grandchildren, Elizabeth can be found soaking up the local culture of whatever town she finds herself in accompanied by her ever faithful Great Dane, Meera.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Their Name Is Today

Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World

This past Sunday, we had a conversation with a neighbor. 
It was a conversation about what a strange, violent world this is. We talked about how so many young people are committing crimes- acting with utter disregard for the sacredness of life. We talked about how so many parents are giving up on their kids, and then kids become the delinquents they were expected to be. 

It was, obviously, a sad conversation. And I didn't know what to say. I came home, shaking my head, and returned to the book I was reading.
The book was "Their Name is Today" by Johann Christoph Arnold. It is exactly the book to inform that conversation.

This is a book about bequeathing a better world to our children, and reaching their hearts and touching their souls. It's a book about "winning children for the good" and giving them the best opportunities to grow up confident and content. 

The author comes from an interesting background. He is a chaplain for several law enforcement agencies, so his eyes are wide open to the havoc that crime wreaks on victims and responding officers. He is also an advocate for a more just, peaceful and merciful world, so he believes that a better way exists if we seek it out. 

The question of children and how to raise them falls right in between these issues. Children are the victims of our broken world, and yet if they aren't guided and nurtured, they will become the next generation of victimizers. 
Do we shut our eyes to the problems and pretend that America's children are just fine, or do we let the obvious problems shape our dialogue and  become negative and prescriptive? 

Mr. Arnold has found the good middle path to walk. 

For example, he has an entire chapter called "Screening Out," in which he addresses specific dangers of of the internet age, such as violent video games. He also addresses the general effect of electronic entertainment in our homes and computer-based education in out classrooms. He never retreats to talk of "the good old days," and his concern isn't motivated by dislike of progress or technology. 
Rather, he quotes educators and child specialists who question whether tethering our schools to screens is a good thing for children's literacy, social skills, and even motor control. 

Some of my other favorite chapters include Discovering Reverence, In Praise of Difficult Children, and Material Child. 

In Discovering Reverence, he says "Our response upon encountering a child must be nothing less than reverence. Perhaps because the word sounds so old-fashioned, its true meaning has been blurred. Reverence is more than just love. It includes an appreciation for the qualities children possess (and which we ourselves have lost), a readiness to rediscover their value, and the humility to learn from them." 
My local library has a sign on the wall. It states that children will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Imagine how children would feel if they were respected, right from the start. Not as little princes whose every whim is honored, but as little human beings who have dignity and purpose. 

In "In Praise of Difficult Children," he brings a ray of hope to any parent or teacher who does not want to give up on any child, but can't seem to make any headway with a certain child either. I love this radical idea... be grateful for the "difficult" boy or girl, they are teaching you a new way to love them. 

And in "Material Child," he deals with consumerism. He doesn't cast blame on the children or the parents who are caught in the trap of more-is-better, he points to gratitude and family togetherness as the source of true satisfaction. 

I'm grateful to Plough Publishing and Propellor Consulting LLC for providing me with a copy.

Johann Christoph ArnoldA writer whose down-to-earth perspective has helped his books sell more than a million copies in twenty languages, Johann Christoph Arnold offers sound advice on a wide variety of contemporary issues. An outspoken social critic, he has addressed gatherings from Sydney to London and visited hotspots around the globe, including Ireland, Iraq, Chiapas, and Israel/Palestine. His work has also taken him into hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers, and even to death row.

Born in 1940 to war resisters driven out of Nazi Germany, Johann Christoph Arnold’s parents fled Europe when he was a baby and settled in Paraguay. It was a childhood of dire poverty, but his upbringing gave him a special sensitivity for the downtrodden. At fourteen, he moved to New York, where he has lived ever since. In the 1960s, his interest in the Civil Rights Movement led him to the American South, where he met Martin Luther King Jr. and marched with him. The ensuing friendship was to impact him for life.

A father of eight with more than three dozen grandchildren, Johann Christoph Arnold and his wife, Verena, have always taken a lively interest in children and young people, and in family life. In 1999, in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, they formed Breaking the Cycle, a program of nonviolent conflict resolution that has since been brought into hundreds of schools in the United States and England. Its essential message reflects Gandhi’s famed advice to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Johann Christoph Arnold devotes time almost daily to corresponding with his many readers.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Mason Jar...

The Mason Jar

The Mason Jar is indeed a Nicholas Spark's style novel.
It has a fast moving Love-at-First-Sight romance between two graduate students who both have big hearts and world-changing dreams.
It has a wise, gentle Grandfather who prays, works, and speaks blessing into his Grandson's life.
It has an aching separation, a romance ended prematurely that haunts the would-be lovers for years.
It has twists and turns worthy of a Hallmark film. (My Grammy would have loved this story brought to the screen!)

The strength of the writing in this story is the descriptive power. Whether he's describing the farm back home or the university in California, you experience the place and come to know the people.

And there are many good thoughts that are worth highlighting, from character's conversations, letters, and inner dialogue.

"My own experience has taught me that if you love people and let them be themselves in your presence, you'll never be short of friends. When you... allow them space to grow, they'll always remember you because they know they were loved unconditionally."~Grandpa

For me, this was mostly a story of two twenty-somethings wrestling with their roles in a troubled world. Finn and Eden were both striving to turn their youthful energy into something useful and lasting. In both cases, they turned to humanitarian work.

Finn's thoughts on this matter give him depth. He has a vision for charities that give aid without violating the culture and traditions of the local people, the kind of aid that empowers people instead of "rescuing" them.

That adds extra meat to the story, as we follow Finn overseas to work with orphans. There are some timely and real-world relevant discussions about how we American's can extend our hands to the needy and "help without hurting."

Litfuse Publicity provided me with a review copy of The Mason Jar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Sea House, by Elisabeth Gifford

The Sea House

I've been fascinated by selkies and seal-people ever since watching The Secret of Roan Inish as a six year old. 
(I've since watched that movie at least twenty times, and the story, the people, and the place still captivate me.) 
So I wanted to read The Sea House. And... I just finished it. 

This story is wild and stormy and gray and shining and wind-blown. 

There is the present, in Ruth and Michael's lives, as this young couple renovates the Sea House to make an inn out it. 
There was something there that made Ruth uneasy, and she had no idea what it was. It wasn't the sea itself... despite the fact her mother had died in water, Ruth never let that haunt her. 
And there's no reason for the house to be anything other than a welcoming home, until the skeleton was found.
A tiny skeleton, of a baby with curved and joined leg bones. The bone structure of a mermaid. Who was she? Whose was she? 
And why do her bones lie underneath a manse floor? 

That leads us to the past... to Reverend Alexander Ferguson and his household. To Moira, his maid, who tells us her own story. To Lord Marstone, and the cruelty he inflicted upon Moira's impoverished people. To men and women of the sea who find themselves on land, trying to make life out of seaweed and peat smoke on the edge of an island. To the intersection of scientific discovery and the mysteries of creation. 
To love that runs deep and lore that comes true.  

Back to the present, Ruth herself is a woman trying to get through the day without letting her past either kill her or rule her. She is a character who was cut deeply by the jagged edges of life, and in telling her memories she nicks the reader a tiny bit, letting us share her experience through the page. 
Throughout this tale are tiny threads of grace and peace, as Ruth begins to accept her own story and she finds the truth for the mermaid baby. 

I can picture this book being a Chinaberry recommend.  Thank you to St. Martin's Press through Litfuse Publicity for my review copy. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Citizen~ Rob Peabody

Citizen: Your Role in the Alternative Kingdom

"If Heaven is a Kingdom, then we are citizens, correct?" 
Yes. That's right.
"So what does that mean? Does it mean I get to go straight there when I die?"
Yes.... but that is not all. It means you get to have a life of citizenship right now. 
And that citizenship gives us our identity and encapsulates our purpose and determines our goals. 
Your Heavenly citizenship is the most important fact of your life. Your confidence stems from that knowledge, and it will motivate you into your best actions. 

If you've ever gotten frustrated trying to explain that Christianity isn't spirituality disconnected from daily living, then this book is for you. 

If you need a reminder of our calling, role, duties and rights of Kingdom citizenship, then this book is for you. (Perhaps that means it's for most of us?) 

The world is not our home, yet we're called to love it- intensely, practically, personally.
We pray "Your will be done on earth," how do we help bring that to pass?

"Love your neighbor." That oft-quoted old saying is far more than sentiment. 
It's a vision big enough to fill your whole life, through every step and every stage, and yet it's particular enough to guide your mundane tasks. 
Only Jesus could come up with something like that. 

Remember, He's the one who told us to go give the Good News to the nations, and then He said that even a cup of cold water in His name builds the Kingdom. 

Rob talks about Fear and Apathy, the enemies of Kingdom living. He talks about being an Ambassador and doing Justice, two of our roles. He talks about Intentionality... something that we have to remember to be Intentional about. 

At the risk of being too obvious, may I suggest that whenever somebody becomes a Kingdom citizen, we give them this book? I know I would have devoured it. 

Thank you Monarch/ Lion Hudson publishing for providing me with a review copy. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Facing the Music... A memoir.

Facing the Music: Discovering Real Life, Real Love, and Real Faith

"Facing the Music" is a rather lack-luster title for this finely crafted true story, but don't let the cliche title stop you.

I knew nothing about Jennifer Knapp until Howard Publishing sent me a review copy of her memoir. 
For me, this book was two things. First, it was her account of her journey on the path called Life. 
Second, it was a reminder that whenever Christianity becomes a culture (with certain norms, mores, and a herd mentality) instead of individuals before God, we've probably got to reconsider. 

Jennifer takes us right back to her beginnings, to the birth of herself and her sister. They were twins, and so much a part of each other that people called them "the girls" as if they were one body, one entity. 
This shared identity lasted them through a turbulent youth, as the sisters had to live in the tension of divorced parents. 
She describes her best memories- working with horses and building things with scrap wood alongside her Dad, and peaceful visits and camping trips with her Mom. 

Somewhere along the way, Jennifer and Music met. It was love at first note. A plastic recorder- the dreaded instrument of elementary school- was a precious treasure to her. I laughed when I read the passage about her playing "Erie Canal" over and over again, until she could visual the flowing water and the mule named Sal. 

With her father and her stepmother beginning a new family of their own, and her sister beginning to grow up and become her own person, music was the light at the end of the tunnel for Jennifer. 
And it was certainly a tiny light at first.... the music class was taught in the school gym, with the music written on the floor. 
The more advanced class required staying after school and possessing an instrument, and her parents couldn't and/or wouldn't grant either request. 
Not for a very long time. 

It was playing and singing and writing- and then eventually writing music- that carried her through her teenage years. 
She shares her cherished hopes and then reveals her broken dreams, and you will find yourself reading this memoir as if it were a novel- engrossed. 

I also think once a reader finishes this book, they may want to check out "Thrashing about with God" by Mandy Stewart, and "When We Were on Fire" by Addie Zierman. Both of these books are written by women attempting to recover from 1990's evangelical church culture and live out Truth, Beauty and Goodness. 
So many of the attitudes that seemed right have produced sad fruit today...
Scared-straight evangelism and two minute "decisions" led to people being afraid to talk about their faith lest they seem to be a "Gospel mugger." 
The promoters of purity often failed to show purity as the presence of Love and Reverence, instead of just the absence of sex.
The attempt to steer us towards safe, "Christian" books (and music and films) led to a neglect of real art, and a widening of the sacred/secular gap. 
The desire to be Biblically faithful led to conversations that were confrontations, and now we as the Body of Christ are paying the price, having alienated so many voices who could have brought valuable words to the table. 

That's what I think Jennifer does here. I think she asks us to sit down and listen, to her as a human being, and to chew on what she has to say. 
Then, if we were face-to-face, she invites us to talk. 

I think that it's time we tried it. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Promise to Cherish~

Promise to Cherish (The Promise of Sunrise #2)

Elizabeth Byler Younts brings storytelling skill together with her own Amish childhood experiences and the result is "bonnet fiction" that isn't a cliche. 

Promise To Cherish is volume two in The Promise of Sunrise series. Ever since I read Promise to Return in September 2013, I've had a spot ready on my bookshelf for the sequel. 

We met Eli Brenneman in book one, and he was a rebel and a trouble-maker. Eli wasn't thinking seriously about either taking up a responsible Amish life or entering the English world... he was just doing as he pleased. 

Being footloose and fancy free suited Eli, until he realized that it was a life with no definite goal or purpose. While all his friends came home to wives and families, Eli had neither. And when this book begins, he has been drafted. As an Amish man during World War Two, Eli is a conscientious objector, and as such he will serve stateside in a Civilian Public Service Unit. 

The CPS brings him to the Hudson River State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital where the patients are all but ignored by the outside world and the staff is over-tasked and under-paid. It would take a special woman to endure the conditions and continue to serve the patients as individual human beings, and
that woman is Christine Freeman. Christine is attempting to keep her financially unstable family afloat, trying to tend her patients, and trying not to think about her wartime losses. The last thing she needs is any trouble from the new CPS orderlies. 

During a war that called every able-bodied man to fight, it must have been difficult to see perfectly healthy Amish youths opting out. Christine feels that resentment toward Eli when she meets him, and as readers we get to see both sides. The idea of serving your country and yet objecting to violence comes through strongly in both books in this series, and it makes for interesting discussion if you read with a friend. 

We get to watch Eli become dear friends with Nurse Freeman, and then when her world is shattered he wants so badly to help. 
What can Eli Brenneman offer? Perhaps he can share his Amish home with her, and maybe his country community will heal her heart. 

This book is a historical novel, and it's also a love story of the sacrificial, giving kind. 
I connected with the characters right away, and their emotions and struggles tugged on my heart. 

Promise to Cherish is a keeper on my shelf. 
Thank you Howard Books for my review copy. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Sacred Year.

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice  -     By: Michael Yankoski

The Sacred Year became a 2014 favorite right away. 

Michael Yankoski's writing epitomizes "productive contemplation" without ever devolving into navel-gazing. 
This book is full of stories and he takes the time to tell them well, tasting, touching, savoring... meditating on each experience. 

His observations in the opening chapter are spot on. We are all busy with working and caring and dealing with problems and chasing dreams. It's a crazy world, and we have noisy minds and often broken hearts. 

It can all become one big carnival ride (inside our souls and out) and we can lose touch with reality as we live our lives.  

We need something to bring us back, to center us, to reassure us and to hold us. 

When Michael took his concerns to a spiritual retreat, an older monk understood the unasked questions. And this Brother guided him toward his first Sacred Year. Those intimidating and misunderstood things called "spiritual practices"  would soon become the rhythm of his days. 

The unfolding year was spent "trimming the sail" of his soul, hoping to better catch the Wind of the Spirit. 

And Michael brings us into that year, through 18 chapters, each one devoted to a different practice. 

As Brother Solomon carefully explained, these practices aren't methods of earning grace or getting God's favor. 
In fact, they aren't strictly methods at all, in the sense of "systematic procedures."  

There is a chapter about Daily Bread, the process of growth, harvest, and preparation that links us humans to our sustenance. It's funny, most of us eat three meals a day and it's so easy to forget that our food comes from the earth, and that nourishing is more than caloric intake. It made me want to go cook something. 

There is Guilty as Charged, on confession. He delves into the heart of what confession is, the pain and darkness that we can feel, and then points to the merciful Hand that reaches down to us. He reminds us that confession should bring healing instead of shame, and be life-giving instead of threatening.

Into The Wild, this chapter is on seeking out nature. There's a reason why Anne Frank, St. Francis, and Dostoyevsky all found God in His creation.  As Edna St. Vincent Millay cried in her poetry "O God, I push the grass apart and lay my finger on Thy heart!" 

Taste and Become, a chapter on reading Scripture to soak it in and thus be transformed, rather than striving to dissect the text. He was dead on with his description of my own "skim and scavenge" reading habits. It may be efficient for completing a book, but is that the worthiest goal, to get things done fast? 

Ah, all this review can be is a basic outline. If you read the book you'll get much more meat. 

In full disclosure, I originally thought the subtitle "contemplating apples, living in a cave, and befriending a dying woman revived my life" made this sound like one of those trendy 12-Steps-to-a-Spiritual-High books. 
Nope. The Sacred Year is the farthest thing from that. 

This is his personal journey of communion and community, and something in here will assuredly speak to you. You'd better have a pen and a highlighter handy as you read, and then expect to give some copies out as Christmas gifts. 

Final thought: The Sacred Year is delightful, ecumenical, and honest. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Julianna Deering Mystery...

Murder at the Mikado (Drew Farthing Mystery, #3)

I did jump into the third book in a series with Murder in the Mikado, but the plot was easy enough to follow without the backstory.)

This is the third Drew Farthing mystery, and when this one begins Drew is madly in love with his fiancee Madeline and buried in wedding plans.  

While Madeline dreams of choosing china patterns and wearing heirloom lace, Drew dreams of a future with this girl who understands him so well. She loves his home, appreciates his friends, and even solved two crimes with him! Drew hopes for domestic bliss in the years to come, and perhaps a few more detective cases. 

Of course, Drew doesn't want a case to land in his lap during pre-nuptial planing! And when the suspect is a woman Drew was once involved with, how is he to clear her name and keep Madeline happy? 

This mystery is just English enough to have that particular flavor. Drew talks about "traveling the Continent," and teatime is a fixture every day. Murder in the Mikado reminds me a bit of a Josephine Tey mystery. 
The extra characters are just difficult enough to peg that you will probably have multiple suspects. 

Drew and his friends Nick and Madeline make a fine and funny trio. They've still got a lot of growing-up to do, as they try to clear the suspect's name and prepare for their own futures. I heard that Julianna Deering is contracted with Bethany House for three more mysteries in this series, and we surely need further installments after this. The case may be solved, but we have to know more about the characters!

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy!