Friday, November 29, 2013

*Blog Blitz! From now 'til Cyber Monday* Firestorm!




Hi! Thanks for stoppin’ by to participate in our “Black Friday Blog Blizt!”

Today only, get your copy of “FIRE STORM” for 60% off the retail price by following this “Special sale link”!

My Review: 

 Fire Storm has the perfect setting for a mystery: an idyllic farming town in Illinois, where the corn grows tall and shelters the roads, stretching into giant fields with farmhouses and tractors being common sights, and where people still ride horses almost as naturally as they drive cars.

Jim grew up in this town, and loves it with all of his heart. At 24 years old, Jim has a great life here: a few acres of land with a farmhouse hayfields and a barn for his horses, a young bride Jessica waiting for him with their baby in her arms, a fulfilling job as a firefighter at the small local station. Jim also gets to work with his old friend Wade, and Wade's wife Mellissa is best friends with Jessica. Mellissa is expecting her first baby and Jessica's Morgan is a just a newborn. They are blessed and content, and they rely on their Mighty God who has loved, guarded and guided them all their days.

The only thing that has shattered the peace in recent years is Jim's ocasional lead-foot habit when he is driving his red pickup truck on their gravel roads, and Wade's poisonous cooking when it is his turn to make dinner at the firehouse. {The cooking scenes, by the way, were hilarious. Laughing out loud, I was. Ask my family. They heard me laughing several times. Nothing like good humor.}

The first attempt on Jessica's life seems to come out of nowhere, with no reasonable motive behind it. Someone soaked the barn with flammable fluid and lit it while Jess was up in the loft stacking hay. Jim dismisses this as teens out for trouble, more prank than anything, not intended to harm anyone, and certainly not intended to harm Jess.
Then the second incident happens. And the third. And then more.
Who wants to hurt them?
Who wants them to die?
And will they live through this?

Jim and Wade have one man whom they would easily suspect of being behind these frightening events: Derrick, who works at the fire station in town.
Derrick is a true loner who has made few friends and has shared even fewer details of his past.
A brooding one, he has a wall up that keeps everyone out.
He is a crack paramedic, though, and he has no competition on the job. He has shown up quite a few of the older men with his skill and his willingness to risk his life. He is characterized by refusal to give up or give in, but beneath all of this is something disturbing. 
Why would he hate Jim and Jess?
Does he want them killed?

This is the setting, the conflict, and some of the characters that make up the novel Fire Storm.
This book captivated me from scene one where I met Jim driving to work along a country road.
Shortly thereafter, Fire Storm explodes into twists and turns that leave you wondering what will happen next. Putting this book down is not an option.
The suspense builds and we learn that things are not what they seem... as a little game called "survival" is played.
I shouldn't post spoilers, but I want to tell you that my favorite scene involves a cabin, way out in the woods, and grenades, and rifles and..... Well, let me just say Mackenzie Dare knows how to write action scenes.
This book earned its title.

I can't wait to read the sequel Mackenzie is working on! Thank you so very much for sending me Fire Storm to review!

And here is an Author Interview, from another blog Mackenzie visited. :-) 
I love her answers to these questions! 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I don’t remember a conscious decision. I think that’s just the way the Lord made me. I’ve always loved writing and making stories up in my head for as long as I can remember.  Every once in a while, I’ll find a page of an ancient second or third grade short story and chuckle as I read it and try to decipher the context.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 
Right now, I’m self-employed, so I can just flip flop my schedule around to what works best.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Like I have any writing quirks…. ;)  Probably my most interesting one is the fact that my characters refuse to ever conform to my outline. Sure, I start out with a neat and detailed plan, but by mid-story, sometimes before, my characters are all running every which-a-way in their own directions. Sometimes the “good guys” turn into bad guys. Sometimes scenes from the end move up to the middle. Sometimes the wrong people fall in love, and even other times a deep, dark secret that I didn’t even know about will just pop up from somebody’s past. Surprises… that’s what makes writing so fun!

What do you like to do when you're not writing? 
I love life! One of my favorite things to do is to run outside, especially on a dew-glistening, bird-singing, apple-blossomed, spring morning… just to run toward a painted sunrise and feel absorbed in the beauty of God’s creation! I love riding my horse down the gravel road or through the cornfields. I love chilly fall days… a cool breeze floating in a slightly open window and feeling the warm apple-scented  steam as you slide a crusty, golden, apple pie out of the oven just as a drip of cinnamon syrup bubbles out and sizzles. I like a crisp, breezy walk through a pumpkin patch or a swim in a Wisconsin lake. I like camping in the North Woods or browsing souvenir shops. I’ve enjoyed climbing cliffs in the Blue Ridge and drivin’ by buffalo in Yellowstone. I love findin’ deals at garage sales and hangin’ out with my family… cookout style or pizza and popcorn movie nights. My favorite time is Christmas… It’s A Wonderful Life in the DVD player, a fire crackling in the corner, the pop of popcorn, and the sweet aroma of hot chocolate as we hang ornaments and wrap lights around our Christmas tree and nativity scene. I love seeing the Lord work in my life and teach me new things. I love Him because He first loved me. He’s shown me this sooo many times in my life! One of my favorite verses is “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” He’s the giver of life, the one who makes daffodils smile and the thunderclouds clap. I love life, love, loyalty, and laughter.

What does your family think of your writing? 
They are all very supportive and encouraging! I loved giving them my new book and hearing what they thought of it. I really appreciated their suggestions before I was satisfied with my final copy.

Do you have any suggestions to help readers interested in writing become better? 
If so, what are they? 
Always pray about your writing. You couldn’t get a better teacher. 
Just keep writing. Progress can be amazing if you just keep practicing until you get the hang of it. 
Make it fun, and keep it fun. If you get bored with it or lose track of where you’re going, you’ll likely stop. 
Start with an outline for structure, but then add some surprises to keep yourself guessing. 

What do you think makes a good story? 
Action, a good plot, likeable and admirable characters, emotion, human interaction, purity of relationships, cleanness in language, mystery… but most of all, it needs to honor God. I loved writing this book, but it would always feel empty and useless to me if there wasn’t a higher purpose in writing it than making money. If you pray about it and are truly writing for Him, I believe He will cause everything else to fall into place

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?  
Be a teacher…or a vet...a nurse… or a fireman… a restaurant owner… or a mom with 12 kids…. 

For viewers who have not read, but are interested in your book, can you describe it please? 
Fire Storm is about a couple of young families living excessively normal lives in a small-town, farming community in Northern Illinois. Wade is a paramedic. His wife, Mellissa, works in a lawyer’s office, and they are expecting a baby very soon. Their best friends, Jim and Jessica, live on a small horse farm out in the country. Jim is a fireman. Jess is a stay-at-home mom with her recently born little girl. Life is fun and carefree till… Jess starts running into threats at every turn. Are they even threats or just accidents? The thought of a killer being after Jess just seems so ridiculous… though not so much… when she comes eye to eye with murder! Who and Why? What about Wade ‘n Mellissa? Will they remain safe in their young existence as they embark in the beginnings of life’s journey, or will the epidemic of murder spread? How far does it reach? What are the secrets?

How and when did you become a Christian? 
When I was five, I prayed with my mom after hearing a Christian radio testimony, then I prayed the same prayer quite a few times after that whenever doubts arose after a salvation message. I got complete assurance of my salvation when I was eight and started growing in the Lord. I know I was saved before that. That is just when the Lord removed all doubt. So, I can’t honestly point to an exact date, but I’m 100% sure that I’m in God’s family, that He watches over me, protecting me many times, that He loves me, blessing me with countless surprises that are much more then luck, that He teaches me, not only spiritual but also physical things, and that He’s always there whenever I need Him.

What was the hardest part to write in the book? 

The Salvation message. It carries the greatest responsibility.

How does God affect your writing? 
He gave me the talent to write. He gave me an imagination and a love for stories. He put me in a strongly Christian home where I received wisdom about spiritual things and knowledge of true love, sacrifice, and care. He saved me and gave me a reason to write. Fire Storm was written for Him and dedicated to Him, and by His grace, I pray that every book I write will always point heavenward and never downward toward worldly lusts.

Who is your favorite character in your book? 
That’s hard to say. I like all my characters. They are all different and unique.  I like variety. The world needs rich and poor, plain and fancy, strong and weak, dream-chasers and content daily laborers, business women and stay-at-home moms, flippant and flighty and rigid work-a-holics. If there was one “right” type of person or one perfect race, the world would be sooo dull. Everyone fiction or real has their very own story.  

I can't wait for Mackenzie's sequel! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ethics and Moral Reasoning, a Students Guide.

Is morality discovered or constructed?
Is there a set of ethics that transcends every culture's mores and every person's preferences, or is it all based on nature or nurture and one's desire for pleasure and aversion to pain?

If you're ready to begin studying ethics, what ethics is, how ethics have been understood/explained/defined through history, and what their basis is, or if you need a refresher course to remind yourself, then this book is a great place to start.

This book isn't meant to be exhaustive, and it isn't meant to exhaust the reader either.
That's why it is a slender six chapters and 110 pages. It is a starting place to grasp hold of the basic ideas of the study of ethics. This book doesn't overwhelm, rather it gives you an overview of how many different people have tried to pin down that thing we call ethics.

I made notes all through this book, and had conversations with myself as I read.
{So he thinks that the right solution is whatever causes pain for the fewest number of people and pleasure for the most. What about slavery? That fits those descriptions. And pain is always bad? So is locking a man up in jail always bad? And pleasure is always good, so how do you explain that one man's pleasure in adultery causes so much pain to his spouse?}
I know that the first read only scratches the surface here... and this book is an introduction to the field!

Thank you Crossway for my review copy!

C. Ben Mitchell (PhD, University of Tennessee) holds the Graves Chair of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Tennessee, and serves as the editor of Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics. He is a senior fellow in the Academy of Fellows of the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and previously served as its executive director. Additionally, for more than ten years he served as a faculty member at Trinity International University. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles examining the intersection of science and ethics, and has contributed to a number of books.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

*Aloha Rose*

Aloha Rose (Quilts of Love #12)

Laney Carrigan is a bold young woman with a spirit full of fire, a strong will, and a desire to prove herself. In her life, she's needed those characteristics.
 Laney was abandoned as a baby,found  left on a door-step wrapped in a distinctive quilt.
Fast forward through the years of her childhood and girlhood as she was raised by a Brigadier General and his loving wife, up to when we meet her where she's waiting in a Hawaiian airport at the beginning of this book.

Even though she knows she was cherished by her real parents {the ones who chose her} Laney still feels rejected and alone.
It was her father who began the process of seeking out her birth parents, using that quilt as evidence. When he posted photos of it to a birth parent/adoption site, there was a response inside of one day.
They are people who claim to know Laney's past, and who were apparently seeking her out.

When Laney arrives in Hawaii she is rightly unsure of who and what is waiting for her.
In this beautiful and strange place, a horse ranch on the Big Island, she meets Aunt Teah, Tutu Mily,
Pastor K. and Mrs. K, and Aunt Teah's foster son Kai.
Kai is a surprise that is both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. The man is about her age, with a military background, and she is drawn to him, but they are both playing keep-your-distance in matters of the heart.

As time moves along and Laney begins to grow comfortable with these people whom she never thought she'd call family, there is a part of her that wishes she'd didn't have to leave, especially because it means leaving Kai. Both of them have reasons why they are behaving this way, but everyone around them can see that these two need each other.
How long will it take before Kai and Laney open their eyes, let God heal the wounded years, and move forward together?

 Now, I've never been to Hawaii, but I think Lisa did a great job impressing the unique and colorful Island culture on me. Her writing is vivid and her descriptions and word-pictures are bright.

This is the second Lisa Carter book I have read.. In both she has created a cast of characters that stand out from the crowd, and has placed them in a one-of-a-kind setting with a plot that keeps things moving. (In Carolina Reckoning, it was a Southern mansion and a murder.)

A few words about the title Aloha Rose? I didn't know what it signified until I closed the book and it dawned upon me, but if I'm right then it is a very clever word-play and a very good title for this book.
One hint: Aloha means Hello, Goodbye and I Love You.

Thank you to Litfuse and Abingdon Press for my review copy.

I am a wife and mother 

My husband and I have two daughters and make our home in the beautiful state of North Carolina.
I am a teacher
With a Master’s degree in history, I have taught at the university, high school and middle school levels. After years of church involvement as a soloist, choir member and worship leader, I also teach music.

I am a writer
Delighted by the rhythm and musicality of words, I have been writing since childhood. In 2001, I won the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) Story Writing Contest that re-ignited a lifelong love of writing.
I am on a journey of faith 
My ultimate desire through my life and my writing is to proclaim the truth of God’s Word, His redeeming love as seen in the life of Jesus Christ and to help others know for themselves this great, awesome God of all comfort and wisdom. He is enough for every need.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas In Apple Ridge!


{Christmas in Apple Ridge contains three Cindy Woodsmall novellas, The Sound of Sleigh Bells,
The Christmas Singing, and The Dawn of Christmas.}

You know, with all the stereotypes about Amish fiction, I had mixed feelings when I began this collection. Let me tell you, put those stereotypes on hold and prepare to enjoy this book!
Christmas in Apple Ridge really surprised me. The stories are so good, and I enjoyed them so much!

This 500+ page  brought me right into the Christmas spirit with its three tales of miracles and magic.
They are tales of family love, first love, new love and true love.
Each couple's story is genuinely sweet, and each story gently brings out a different theme that is important in relationships.
For example, we see the need for forgiveness, honesty, and intentional communication. We see the delicate balance between appreciating each other's strengths and bolstering them in their human frailties. We see the desire for security in a relationship, and at the same time the inherent risks that come with vulnerability.
We see how blessed human love can can be when it points a person to their Lord and His mercy, and provides a place for them to heal.

These three stories are full of moments when the characters became real to me. They may be Amish, but they are people first, and their struggles and joys rang true.

So whether you are reading Beth and Jonah's story where his wisdom helps her through deep grief and misplaced guilt, or Gideon and Mattie's story as they navigate the unfinished business of a bad break-up and a revelation that could give them both the freedom to love, or even Sadie and Levi's story, of a spirited young man and woman who are *almost* content being single, you are in for a treat!

I can't decide on a favorite, because there are portions of each that made me smile inside and outside, and that touched my heart.

Thank you Blogging for Books program for my copy!

Cindy Woodsmall's real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, seeds were sown years ago that began preparing Cindy to write these books. At the age of ten, while living in the dairy country of Maryland, she became best friends with Luann, a Plain Mennonite girl. Luann, like all the females in her family, wore the prayer Kapp and cape dresses. Her parents didn’t allow television or radios, and many other modern conveniences were frowned upon. During the numerous times Luann came to Cindy’s house to spend the night, her rules came with her and the two were careful to obey them—afraid that if they didn’t, the adults would end their friendship. Although the rules were much easier to keep when they spent the night at Luann’s because her family didn’t own any of the forbidden items, both sets of parents were uncomfortable with the relationship and a small infraction of any kind would have been enough reason for the parents to end the relationship. While navigating around the adults’ disapproval and the obstacles in each other’s lifestyle, the two girls bonded in true friendship that lasted into their teen years, until Cindy’s family moved to another region of the US.
As an adult, Cindy became friends with a wonderful Old Order Amish family who opened their home to her. Although the two women, Miriam and Cindy, live seven hundred miles apart geographically, and a century apart by customs, when they come together they never lack for commonality, laughter, and dreams of what only God can accomplish through His children. Over the years Cindy has continued to make wonderful friendships with those inside the Amish and Mennonite communities—from the most conservative ones to the most liberal.
Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in their now empty nest.

For Love or Loyalty...

For Love or Loyalty (The MacGregor Legacy, #1)

Revenge, Bitterness, Betrayal. Three of the ugliest concepts man knows came together at the beginning of For Love or Loyalty....

The first pages describe the Scottish hills on a cold March day.
Two MacGregor brother's are riding home. As they draw near to their village of Inverawe, they can smell the tang of smoke and hear the wailing of women.

Their landlords, the Campbells, have torched their possessions and dragged away some of their wives, mothers, and daughters. This was all because the rent wasn't paid, despite the fact that the MacGregors had sold there cattle in preparation for paying.

Out of revenge for what the Campbell landlords did to their MacGregor tenants, Malcolm MacGregor kidnaps Glenn Campbell's daughter Lauren.

His bitterness drives him to this insane act: Kidnapping the beautiful daughter of a Campbell leader!

And yet somehow this lass doesn't hate him for what he's done. She has a spirit with fire in it, and she is not afraid of him, but she has a greater peace over this situation than even he does.

This adventure, Malcolm's desire to find and recover his mother Iona, takes them all the way from Scotland to the American Colonies. Theirs is a long and perilous voyage over the ocean, and the danger does not end when they reach the shore.

It seems like their journey is just beginning....
Somehow, Lauren Campbell and Malcolm MacGregor have come to trust each other, to depend on each other, and this new land offers a chance to bury old hatred and build new love.

The way is not easy, even when the ending is worth it, and there is plenty here in For Love or Loyalty
to keep the pages turning!
Thank you Abingdon for my review copy.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of inspirational fiction set in historical Europe & the Carolinas. She provides keynotes and presentations on the publishing industry, the craft of writing, building an author platform & social media marketing.

Both her debut novel, Highland Blessings and Highland Sanctuary, received a 4 1/2 star review from RT Book Reviews. Highland Blessings won the Holt Medallion Award for Best First Book and she has had reviews appear in USA Today Book reviews. Jennifer's work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, RT Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism. When she isn't writing, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, visiting historical sites, parasailing, horseback riding, cycling, long walks, genealogy and reading.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

*How God Makes Men*

 How God Makes Men: Ten Epic Stories. Ten Proven Principles. One Huge Promise for Your Life.

This is a book about something I'm very passionate about: The need to show the world that the
Real Men are God's Men, and that every man has a place in God's army.

We have a hideous disconnect in our culture today between men and God.
Too many churches have neutered religion and made it a thing that men with marrow in their bones have a hard time connecting with.
Men today look at "church" and see nice traditions that they don't really need.

The deep irony here is that Jesus men to carry His Gospel, men of all backgrounds, all real men.
It is only when the radical, redemption of the Gospel is presented that men realize how much greater and more serious is their calling. Only when men meet the Living God will they discover how much, much more there is in Christianity than just stale religious traditions.

It's time to remember that God is a Real Person, who demands worship from every man and offers His grace to every man, and calls every man to a purpose.

My review:

How God Makes Men is a book for the man who is slowly discovering his purpose as one of God's men, and also for the man who has been God's man for a long time and who needs refreshment for his soul.

In this book, Patrick Morely uses plain speaking language to communicate Rock-of-Ages eternal Truth, the truth that has always guided God's men.

This is big stuff we're talking about here, heavy theology made chewable but not watered down.
This is the rich, Biblical, meaty truth that strengthens God's men.

There are thoughts on suffering when it seems like there is no purpose for the pain, thoughts on God's sovereignty and on surrendering control when all you want to do is "fix it" with your own actions.

There are thoughts on laying aside you own agenda when it run's contrary to His, and on still believing that he has a purpose for you when it seems that all your work is coming to nothing.

This stuff resonates with the man in the trenches. Why would you feel called to start a business to do God's work and then have to close that business due to America's economic recession?
Whether it is fiscal collapse or cancer or a car wreck, how do God's men stay on their feet when the world seems to be caving in around them?

This book is not made platitudes, and not full of easy answers to a man's dilemmas.
It *is* a look at the faithfulness of God in the lives of some great men {Gideon, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Job, Peter and Paul} men who weren't great because they were perfect, but because the LORD was their God.

Thank you Reader's Favorite for my review copy of How God Makes Men!

Friday, November 22, 2013

*The Captives*

Captives (The Safe Lands #1)

As a science fiction/dystopia lover, I found the premise of Captives to be intriguing. I recently read Partials by Dan Wells.

A theme that both books share is the lack of healthy babies being born in their societies, and the desperate measures the government is enacting to try to correct that. 
The idea that the majority of people wouldn't be able to reproduce at will, that suddenly the freedom to delay and prevent conception would morph into the inability to achieve conception and produce a healthy child has frightened people for decades. 
The book The Children of Men P. D James is a classic, from what I've heard, and began asking these questions in 1992. 
Today, with birthrates dropping drastically especially in developed countries, and with fertility being taken for granted by many healthy people, the idea of a world without babies needs to be explored seriously. 
With themes of betrayal, guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness between brothers, this book probes human relationships.
With questions of how to live in a society that is based on extreme gratification and personal liberation that is never reigned in, this book examines our own desires and excesses.
In the Safe Lands, almost everyone is doing drugs, including the expectant mothers. {That is always a frightening though, a society of addicts dependent on a substance and willing to do anything to get a hold of their fix. I first encountered a society like that in Ursula K. LeGuin's The Farthest Shore } 

The Safe Lands is also a world of ironies.
They have lots of sex, and produce no healthy children. 
They have much physical contact and yet no tenderness. 
There are many open relationships and no real love. 
They have lots of social activity and also terrible loneliness. 
Sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?
We are poisoning ourselves with the pleasures we choose. 
We are using our freedoms to knife ourselves in the heart.

Like Malcolm Muggerridge pointed out. "(The Western Man decided) to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.” 
That man was brilliant, and what he said is true. 

So yes, this is a good read for youth, with characters that engage and a plot that compels you to turn pages. I am personally looking forward to the sequel to find out what happens to Shaylinn, because she was my favorite character. 

If you go deep, and you talk about the book once you've finished it, and you bring out all the themes that Jill Williamson has woven in, you will have learned and pondered quite a bit. 
You will have used a story to spring-board a discussion about life and ethics and choices and morality. You will have let a story hit you and impact you, and that is when a story is at its best, when it helps you form convictions and think through ideologies. 

Thank you Booksneeze for my copy!

Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is a Jesus following, 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. 

Jill is a Whovian, a Photoshop addict, and a recovering fashion design assistant, who was raised in Alaska. She loves teaching about writing, which she does weekly at She lives in Oregon with her husband, two children, and a whole lot of deer. Visit her online, where adventure comes to life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

*Dear Mr. Knightley*

Dear Mr. Knightley

There's a reason I described this book as "Nearly Flawless!"
I'm a tough reader to please, but I finished this book in one evening and a morning.

This story sure kept me turning pages.
It's about a girl whose been raised in the foster care system, bounced about from temporary home to temporary home. This girl, Samantha, lives and breathes Jane Austen.
Reading those books was one of the only bright spots in her childhood, and she always has an Austen quote ready on the tip of her tongue.
In fact, she is more likely to respond with Jane's words than she is her own!

When a chance comes for Samantha to go on in her an education, she is hesitant.
Samantha wanted to grow in independence but her first roommate hadn't worked out, and though she loved words and was skilled with them she worried that journalism wasn't for her after all.
Then her benefactor makes an offer: In return for writing to him honestly about her progress in school, her college would be paid for.
That's all.
In this reassuring, familiar-yet-distant world of letter writing, Samantha begins to open up more and more, and Mr. Knightley becomes a special friend.

The characters were extremely well drawn: lovable in their humanity, with flaws and good qualities mixed together. {That's my definition of a real character.}

Samantha is an example of resiliency, over coming the obstacles and keeping her spirit.

The touch of humor in this book was just right.
This story digs into Samantha's past as she grows to feel more comfortable writing her letters,
and her sense of the quirky and funny was evidence that her difficult girlhood was not going to keep her down!

I'm sure am eager for a sequel.  :-)

Thank you Litfuse for this book.

Katherine Reay Katherine Reay has lived all across the country and Europe and is now settled with her family in Seattle. She is a writer, wife, mom, runner, and, most randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. Her debut novel "Dear Mr. Knightley" (ThomasNelson/HarperCollins) will be released 11/05/13. It is a contemporary story with a dash of Jane Austen and other nineteenth century writers thrown in for the fun of it.

The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt brings you into the lives of two young Amish women, both soon to be mothers.
Annie and Leah were sisters in heart before they became sisters-in-law.
They've shared so many life experiences, it makes sense that they shared a wedding day and that their first children will be born within months of each other.

The only thing they don't seem to be sharing is a similarity in home life.
Annie's husband Samuel is attentive and caring, dealing well with the unfamiliar territory of having an expecting woman as his wife. He makes jokes that make her smile and offers to crawl behind the sewing machine to fetch her missing fabric.

Leah feels that her husband Adam is rejecting her in her new and difficult state of very-pregnant-and trying-to-cope, and he really seems unprepared for life with twin babies in the family.
Granted, he is young, and he has never been a father before, and nerves are natural, but Leah craves understanding that he can't give because he doesn't understand it all himself.
Of course, Adam thinks that nothing he does makes her happy anymore.

This book is a gentle reminder that whenever a wife is feeling misunderstood, her husband {if he's at all sentient} is most likely feeling the same thing and {if he's worth his salt} is wondering what he's doing wrong.

I have a feeling, from stories I've heard, that Leah and Annie's experiences with their pregnancies will draw sympathetic smiles and nods from any woman who has traveled that blessed and bumpy road before.

And all of  this is wrapped up in an Amish tale of close knit community, hearts aching and hearts healing, and a special quilt. The Christmas Quilt. The stories that flow remind them {paraphrasing a quote here} that every story, even those centered on Joy, have corners that are bittersweet.

Vannetta Chapman Headshot The first thing you need to know about me is that I write Fiction full of GRACE.  Every plot is different. The characters change. Some of my books are mysteries, others are novellas, and some are romances. But they all are stories of light, hope, and truth. Stories that at least for a moment touch the deepest places in our heart.
Tales that whisper hope. That speak of family and community. That remind us of God and His love.
What do I write? If I had to reduce it to four words, I suppose I’d say I write Fiction full of GRACE.
I live and teach in the Texas hill country with my husband, cats, and a rather large herd of deer. Our four children have flown the nest; however, we are fortunate that they all live close enough to visit.
I have always felt that my faith was at the very center of who and what I am, and I am thrilled beyond words to be able to now write about something that is so near to my heart. At various times I have served as a pianist, teacher, church secretary, and worship team member. While living in the Dallas area, I served as an adjunct professor of English Literature at Dallas Baptist University. When we moved to a small town in Central Texas, I continued teaching for a few years, but I now write full-time and I play the keyboard in our church’s praise band.

Monday, November 18, 2013

*The Kingdom Agenda*

The Kingdom Agenda: What a Way to Live!

This is a big, thick, beautiful book that unfolds a vision of all of life being brought under God's loving rule. 

The vision is both amazingly comprehensive and boots-on-the-ground simple. 
Great things are achieved by small and steady steps, and the way for the church to change the world for good and to Glorify God in a worthy way is for every Christian to live for Him, personally and then corporately.  

My review is this: If you are a Christian and you want to make a change in your own life, and then your family's environment, and then together create a strong church, and then as the holy and healthy body of Christ you want to bless your nation, you need to live with a Kingdom Agenda. 
And that's what Pastor Evans has outlined for us here in this book. He's sketched out what that looks like. 
And he's given us more than just a sketch, he's painted a bold, bright, Biblical portrait of the way God's people can live... actively and actually grasping His calling on their lives and ministering effectively from there. 
No Christian's life is without a calling, no Christian has been overlooked when it comes to gifts and talents, no Christian's life is without a purpose, and God will provide a place for us to work for Him.  

The Kingdom Agenda is over 400 pages, broken down into five main sections as we trace Kingdom living from an individual's calling and discipleship, to their family dynamics as a single person or as a wife, a husband, a child, or a parent. This part was excellent. I was dog-earing and writing notes and underlining. The wisdom in these chapters exactly what we need! 

From there we see how that family together affects a church, and how the Church is way, way more than a building or a place where Comforting Religious Traditions are dispensed. 

{Tangent here: That's a big part of our problem. We've cut the Church right out of it's Biblical functions, and reduced it to an optional place that often isn't bleeding and serving the way it should be, so very few give it any respect as a serious culture changer. 
We've got to restore the Church to being the Church!} 

Pastor Evans does a great job explaining this, and more than that the Church he preaches at lives that wisdom out! 
That Church has connections to a Christian college to help people start/finish their education, they have a Christian school for children, they go deep into ministry to the secular public schools in their area, they do work with at-risk youth and their families, their ministries have helped rehabilitate individuals who were in trouble with the law, and they have programs that help get welfare recipients training and employment to get them into the best and most economically stable life possible. 
In other words, I was cheering as I read this book and learned all of this, because folks, that there is a Church! 
That is the Hands and Feet of Jesus actually getting the blood moving, and making a difference! That is what we need. And you know, most of the stuff I was reading I was thinking "That's not Church business! Running a consignment shop to put thrifty people in touch with good bargains on used items, that's not the Church's job!" Oh, but it is. And it is a really cool and creative way of doing their job!  

And then, once you've got a Church made up of broken people willing to help each get other heal, then y'all have a chance of changing the nation! 
And that's the final section... One Nation Under God. 
This final section covers Freedom, Justice, Economics, Racism, Education, and Politics. Big topics and important issues that desperately need God's truth applied to them. 
I really liked those chapters, because they point to eternal principles to grasp onto in the middle of a sea of shifting ideologies and right and left wing arguments. 

Straight shooting truth with lots of vivid word pictures to help you remember, that's the way The Kingdom Agenda is written.
Pastor Evans writes the way he preaches. Clearly, and clearly stating that action needs to be taken. 
This book is built for multiple readings, and the message inside deserves to get them. 

Thank you Pastor Evans for putting this together! 
Thank you Moody for my review copy! 

  Dr. Tony Evans is one of the country's most respected leaders in evangelical circles. As a pastor, teacher, author and speaker, he serves the body of Christ through his unique ability to communicate complex theological truths through simple, yet profound, illustrations. While addressing the practical issues of today, Dr. Evans is known as a relevant expositor. New and veteran pastors alike regard him as a pastor of pastors and a father in the faith.

*Christmas At Harmony Hill*

Christmas at Harmony Hill: A Shaker Story

I love Ann Gabhart's prose.
When I start one of her books, it's like time-traveling right back to the era that she so richly describes.
When you begin one of her stories, you know your heart is in good hands. You may get tears in your eyes as you read, you may feel the character's fear, yet you know that you will also feel their love for each other and feel God's love for all of His children, and you will find hope right along with the characters.

In this case, I was transported to a Shaker village during the War Between the States, and my new friends were Heather Lou, Gideon, and Sophrena.

Heather is a young war bride expecting her first baby. For the last two years this woman has followed her soldier husband from camp to camp, washing uniforms for the privilege of being near her beloved. Heather doesn't want to leave Gideon, but love for their unborn child convinces them that she should return to her family for her confinement.

All Gideon wants is for the war to end; to be reunited with his Heather Lou. The thought that she is safe and sheltered, away from the war, convinces him that they made the right choice.
Until they meet again, Gideon's memories of Heather and her prayers for him will sustain him.

And Sophrena, Heather's great-aunt, who has lived a simple, serene life with the Shakers for the last decades. Sophrena doesn't know why, but recently she has felt a dullness in her spirit that she can't whirl away even in the worship dances. In the midst of that she has also felt a longing for the things she revoked long ago: certain things of the world.

All of these longings and loves converge when Heather Lou finds herself seeking help from her Great Aunt.

Ann Gabhart alternates chapters between these three characters, building tension and anticipation as we follow the stories. We are waiting for Heather's child to be born, knowing that Gideon will soon face battle, and watching for Sophrena to decide where God truly wants her to be.

All this makes for one of the best Christmas novels I have read.
Most definitely a book to read as we enter the Christmas season, a book to curl up with on a cold afternoon when there's a snow flurry outside the window, with a cat on your knees and a cup of good Chai tea close at hand.

Thank you Revell for my review copy!

*Available November 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.*

Ann H. Gabhart grew up on a farm in Kentucky. By the time she was ten she knew she wanted to be a 

writer. She's published over twenty novels. She and her husband have three children and nine 

grandchildren. She still lives on a farm not far from where she grew up. She loves playing with her 

grandkids, walking with her dog, reading and, of course, writing. Her Shaker books, set in her fictional 

Shaker village of Harmony Hill in the 1800's.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Al-Ed, or Why We Should Teach Safe Drinking in School.

You know, I think it's time for the schools to have an Al-Ed class.
This proposed class would teach alcohol education using the same model we now have for Sex-Ed.
I think the schools should teach kids how to drink, (safely of course.) And I think they should hand out drinking paraphernalia, such as shot glasses of different sizes and perhaps beer funnels.

You probably think this all sounds crazy, but is isn't. 
It makes perfect sense if you open your mind for a moment and follow through logically. Kids want to drink alcohol. Great percentages of them try alcohol. The studies produced by experts indicate that experimentation in teens in normal, and even healthy. We should encourage exploration and protect them all at the same time by teaching safe drinking right in the schools. 

Why the school, you ask? Because the parents can't possibly teach it. Parents of teens are not involved enough in their offsprings' lives, and parents are mostly clueless anyway. 
Even more harmful, some parents operate out of a schema were teenage drinking is morally wrong and completely out of the question. Their kids are made to feel shame when they try drinking, and the parents attempt to 'correct' their child. 
Children from a home like that will never receive any other input outside of the parent's narrow worldview if we don't provide it. 

Wait, you ask, how on earth can we teach kids how to drink safely when "safe consumption of a known poison by juveniles" seems like an oxymoron? After all, you object, 

Alcohol increases the risk of:
  • Alcoholism or alcohol dependence
  • Falls, drownings, and other accidents
  • Head, neck, stomach, and breast cancers
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Risky sex behaviors, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Suicide and homicide
Thus sayeth the National Institute of Health. 

I say 'Don't bogged down in details, and don't be worried by alarmists.'
People, mostly uptight religious fanatics with right-wing agendas, have been trying to convince us for years that Sex-Ed leads to premature sexual activity, and is harmful to children, but we know better. 
Kids are just going to do these things, and we need to teach them how to do it well.  I mean, safely.

Of course, we should also have live demonstrations of how to use the tools of the drinking trade both casually and creatively, much like classrooms have had demonstrations of how to use various birth-control.
We could have a whiskey tasting course, a drink-mixing course, and introduce kids to your basic drinking games, and maybe we could tap a keg right in the classroom so that they can learn how to do that right.
{Our goal is drinking proficiency, with adequate precautions as determined by trained Al-Ed teachers.}
And it's not too far out to suggest that kids could receive academic credit for attending these functions.

My most radical idea also happens to be my best one: Provide a bar in the school cafeteria. Yes, a bar. Fully stocked, too. {I would advise calling it a Drinking Center.}
For years, knowingly or unknowingly, schools have been providing a place miles away from parents for teens to explore their sexuality. Why not provide a place to safely explore the world of alcohol? 

To announce our Al-Ed class, and the new Drinking Center, we could hand out flyers to kids, with a message like this: 

"Drinking is very common. 

Only you can decide what is right for you. But teens considering taking up the bottle often find it helpful to talk it through with someone else. You may choose to talk with your sexual partner(s) or a trusted family member or friend. Pick someone you think will be supportive... no matter what your choice is. 

It's important to remember that you get to decide who is a part of your decision-making process.
Al-Ed centers, like the one right here in your school, have specially trained staff who can talk with you about all of your drinking options. But beware of so-called temperance or sobriety leagues. These are fake centers run by people who are anti-alcohol. 

They often don't give teens all their options. They have a history of scaring teens into avoiding healthy alcohol use. Absolutely no one should pressure you or trick you into making a drinking decision you're not comfortable with.

It may be important to take your time and think carefully about your drinking decision. But you may not want to wait too long. Whether you to chose drink or to stay sober, you should know that drinking is very safe, but the risks increase the longer you wait to begin. Lack of experience and knowledge can increase your risks when you choose to drink. "

Just imagine, a school cafeteria, bustling with teenagers, all of them filling up their trays with a nutritious and body-building school lunch, and then perhaps stepping down to the bar to add a drink to go with it.  Alcohol will be put in a positive, socially acceptable light. It will be a normal and natural part of a teens day, and gone will be the need for backroom drinking parties held in absent parent's basements. 
{Cafeteria workers will have to be trained in appreciating different drinks, so they can better guide the children. Perhaps one or two could be specially trained as bartenders. 
In this degenerate age most schools have security officers already on hand, so they will act as bouncers if a situation needs interruption} 

Our Al-Ed counselors will be the most valuable part of this operation. 
Imagine a single student, a plain girl in a pink sweater, seated at a table, looking across the room at the bar. Around the bar swarms the popular crowd: the cheerleaders, the football jerks. This girl sits alone, with a look of mixed envy and illness on her face. She wants to join them... but she also loathes them. 

Our Al-Ed counselor steps up beside her, and they begin talking. The girl, desperate for anyone to listen and understand, pours out her heart. She is conflicted about what she should do. Everyone, she says pathetically, everyone who's anyone is drinking. But she doesn't want to drink! 

Our counselor replies something along the lines of "It's an Ok choice to stay sober. Just remember, no-one can make this choice for you, and their is no right choice. Drinking and staying sober are both equal.  Staying sober isn't better than drinking. You just have to do what feels right to you. 
This is your choice. You are of the age when you'll want to try new things, and some of them will be unfamiliar, and may even feel risky and uncomfortable at first. That perfectly natural. Remember that 
almost everyone tries drinking, and it's normal to want to. I do think you want to, don't you?" 

At this point the girl will probably appear confused, as her present wants tangle up with her former prejudices. 
She will need our counselor's guidance. 

The counselor continues: "I suggest you practice drinking right here at school, at the bar we provide. If anything goes wrong as you learn your own limits, we are here for you. We can teach you the principles of safe sipping. The most important thing is that you drink because you want to, that it's consensual."

"But," the girl protests "What is consensual? I mean, how do I know if I'm drinking because I want to or just because Kelli and Cristi are drinking and I want to be in their crowd? I mean, how do I know what I really want?' 

Now it is time for the counselor to sooth: "Well, once again, nobody can make that choice for you, but neither choice is wrong, so really, both choices are right."

In a moment of unguarded honestly and lingering innocence, the girl whispers "But I'm just a kid. I don't even know what I'm getting into."

And the counselor replies, "Of course you don't understand it. You have to do it to know what it's about." 

{The above message I suggested could be handed out as a flyer was copied almost verbatim off of Planned Parenthood's website, I simply inserted drinking as the topic while they were talking about sex and abortion.}