Sunday, March 30, 2014

Take This Cup....

Take This Cup

Ever since the amazing Zion Chronicles, I've kept an eager eye out for anything the Thoenes write. 

Last year, they returned to Jerusalem, in the days of Jesus, with a new series. 
We read Jesus Wept aloud as a family. (Thone books make wonderful read-alouds.) 
That story was so good, you could see, hear and feel it all as you read. 

So when we saw that volume two in the Jerusalem Chronicles was coming soon, we were ready. 

Take This Cup.... 

Nehemiah is a young boy, the much-loved son of a shepherd and a weaver. His life is rich with adventures and exploration amid the shepherd camps and lessons about his heritage. And Nehi is curious about everything. 
If it is a matter of importance on the earth or in the heavens, Nehi will ask about it!

What is the legend the shepherd's tell about the Great White Hart? Is he a real deer, like the ones I see? 
What is the name of that constellation? Can you see our Hebrew history in the pictures the stars make? 
Where did the cup Joseph put in Benjamin's sack go? Will it ever be found, or was it lost forever?
When are all these prophecies going to come true?
Do they have anything to do with the Child born in Bethlehem thirty years ago? 
He's a grown-up man now- what do you think He's doing?
Do you think He's the one we wait for? 
Yes, Nehi is a seeker. And he is about to begin a journey, step by step, and be a part of fulfilling a prophecy. 

The Thoenes have woven mystery, mystic experiences, and the Holy Grail legend into the Biblical details. Take This Cup is a captivating read, and it's a joy to follow Nehi through danger and discovery. 

There are characters to love as well: Nehi, his gentle and scholarly Rabbi Kagba, the Sparrows whom we met in Jesus Wept, Joseph of Arimethea, Mary the mother of our Lord, and Jesus Himself.
I love how the Thoene's portray Jesus, as a Person you'd very much like to be with. 
Sometimes I forget that He is the kind of Man I want to spend time with. 
He's tender, and kind, and honest, and understanding, and He comforts and heals and guides, and He's Real. 

Thank you Booksneeze for my review copy. Thank you Bodie and Brock for the story. 
Thank you God for The Story!

BODIE AND BROCK THOENE (pronounced Tay-nee) have written over 45 works of historical fiction. These best sellers have sold more than 10 million copies and won eight ECPA Gold Medallion Awards.

Bodie began her writing career as a teen journalist for her local newspaper. Eventually her byline appeared in prestigious periodicals such as U.S. News and World Report, The American West, and The Saturday Evening Post. She also worked for John Wayne’s Batjac Productions (she’s best known as author of The Fall Guy) and ABC Circle Films as a writer and researcher. John Wayne described her as “a writer with talent that captures the people and the times!” She has degrees in journalism and communications.

Bodie and Brock have four grown children—Rachel, Jake ThoeneLuke Thoene, and Ellie—and five grandchildren. Their sons, Jake and Luke, are carrying on the Thoene family talent as the next generation of writers, and Luke produces the Thoene audiobooks.

Bodie and Brock divide their time between London and Nevada

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Peace in The Storm...

At Peace in the Storm: Experiencing the Savior's Presence When You Need Him Most

Peace. It's something we all crave, so much that the very word promises healing and comfort. 
Between the chaos in the nations and the conflict in out families, between the cancer and the car-wrecks and the career changes and the challenges of our own minds, we all need peace to be whole. Ken Gire's new book is like a steady, calm voice speaking into the storm. At Peace in The Storm is full of "good thoughts" about how God meets our need for peace dose by dose. Seriously, this book is excellent. 

We all know that God is the Giver of True Peace, what we may have forgotten are the diverse ways he can provide it amidst daily life. 

Ken Gire talks about Peace through the fellowship and tenderness of a good friend. 
And Peace through deep, open-hearted listening, which is a gift anyone can give. 
And Peace through Prayer, and Perspective, and Fellowship in the Body of Christ. These chapters are richly quotable, and are filled with great thoughts from other Christians like Henri Nouwen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Catherine Marshall. 

And then there are chapters about Peace in unexpected places. Sometimes the source of peace just won't make intellectual sense. 
Remember that God enjoys showing up in unexpected places, and feel free to accept it His gifts. Do not discount the peace that can come over you from experiencing a Story, either through music or a movie or a book. Immersing ourselves in someone else's story for a few minutes or an hour reminds us of our place in the Greatest Story of All.

Peace may meet you in music... and it doesn't matter if it's Rich Mullins, blues, oldies, or 70's rock, if it soothes you, then turn it up! 
*Cues Sweet Home Alabama.* 

You may find peace in watching a new film, or enjoying an old favorite again. One of Ken's friends has watched the 2009 StarTrek film thirteen times. Every time he sees the ending, the collision of life and death, he cries, and every time it meets a need in his heart. I'm that way with Last of the Dogmen and In The Heat of The Night reruns. Ken himself favors A River Runs Through It, for the story, the music, and the beautiful scenery. 

Same with books. It doesn't matter if it's a classic or a mystery novel. If reading gives you some space to breathe then it is worth it. 

Same also with sleep. There's peace to be found in sleep. 
Like Ken Gire suggests, how many of us really are 5 to 6 foot tall cranky toddlers, in need of a pillow and blanket? How much of the insanity of a bad day will melt away in a good sleep? 

As Ken says at one point: "Be gentle with yourself." 

So you're stressed out and everything has gone wrong. Be kind to yourself. Don't expect perfection in the middle of this. Don't even expect to be balanced. That's ideal, no doubt, but it isn't our usual state. In our confused and hurting world we need all the help we can get. 

That's why the best chapter may well be "Peace Through a Balanced Brain." In this chapter, Ken Gire shares some of his own struggles with the "heavy black lead coat" of depression and the shame that comes with adult ADD. I hate the fact that shame was a part of the package. We understand that bones break, arteries weaken, and organs fail. Why would we be surprised or ashamed if our brain gives us trouble? Why should it be considered "weak" to acknowledge that we need a hand, a change, a rest, a dose of medication or vitamins? That attitude really needs to change. 

Ken's story of getting help- medicine wise, nutrition wise, and friend and family wise- is a great encouragement to anyone who has battled depression in themselves or in a loved one. 

The whole book is full of hope. It reassures: No, you may not have Peace now, but you can experience it again someday. It's not gone from you forever. 

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy. 

Ken GireKen Gire is the author of more than 20 books, including "The Divine Embrace," "Windows of the Soul," "The Work of His Hands," the Moments with the Savior series, and the Reflective Life series. He has also co-authored "The Birthright" with John Sheasby. Two of his books have been awarded a Gold Medallion. A full-time writer and speaker, Ken is the founder of Reflective Living, a nonprofit ministry devoted to helping people learn how to slow down and live more reflective lives so they can experience life more deeply, especially life with God and other people. Ken is a graduate of Texas Christian University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He has four children and three grandchildren and lives near the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Monument, Colorado.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sing for Me... Family, Identity, and Jazz Music.

Sing for Me

This is one of those rare novels that feels like it *had* to be written. As you read, you know that it probably wasn't easy to write.
It was most likely birthed with struggle, prayers, and hope. And you also know that is was worth it, because the story is so pure and precious. 

The plot of this novel sounds fairly straightforward. Don't be deceived into thinking it's a simple story. 
Rose Sorensen, a young woman with songs in her blood, visits a jazz club with her cousin Rob. Rob knew that bringing her to Calliope's would change her world, he just didn't know how much. 
Inside the tantalizing atmosphere of music set free, the notes and lyrics touch her soul and make her want to sing even more. 
That's when she meets The Chess Men. They are a mixed band, which means that in 1937 Chicago that they can only play certain venues at certain times, ideally with a white woman singer to accompany them. They are all fine men and excellent musicians, and Rose knows and recognizes them almost instantly through the music. Yet how is a Danish Baptist going to sing at a jazz club?

And from there, we have our story. 
There's a lot of meaning to consider here, and a lot of wonderful men and women to meet. 
Rose's sister Sophy- she intuitively understands far more than her palsied body will let her express. 
Theo Chastain- the man who will not wear the chains formed by other's prejudice. 
Nils- this young man who is in love with Rose. He and her share a past, their heritage, and many memories. 
Rob- the cousin who pushes Rose outside her comfort zone, and helps her find her calling. 

And the descriptions... I could feel the apartment shake when the El roared past, I could smell the sharp tang of smoke and liquor in the heat of the club, and I could feel the cold nipping my face as Rose pushed Sophy through Garfield Park. 

Like the music that Rose and The Chess Men make, this story soars high, drops low, and stretches far as the plot unfolds, and scenes will linger in your mind like a last note played. 

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy!

Karen Halvorsen Schreck's next novel, SING FOR ME, is due out from Simon & Schuster/Howard Books in April 2014. She is also the author of the young adult novel WHILE HE WAS AWAY (Sourcebooks Fire), which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award, as well as the novel DREAM JOURNAL, which was a 2006 Young Adult BookSense Pick, and the award-winning children's book, LUCY'S FAMILY TREE. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize and an Illinois State Arts Council Grant, Karen received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She writes and teaches for a living, and she loves visiting schools and other gatherings of readers and writers to talk about her books the writing process. 

For more information, please connect with Karen at:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dancing with Fireflies

Dancing with Fireflies (Chapel Spring #2)

Adjectives to describe Dancing with Fireflies: Beautiful, Absorbing, and Pitch-Perfect. 

It's a really good thing I began this book on a slow day at home, because once I started it I had a very hard time setting it aside. Jade's story is just that engaging. She's a colorful, passionate person. She has big dreams and bright eyes that are so green "God must have invented the shade just for her."
When people meet Jade, they remember her. They remember that she lives life with joyful abandon. Or she used to. 

When Jade shows up on his doorstep one evening, and she was supposed to still be in Chicago, Daniel couldn't understand what had changed. 
Daniel became Ryan McKinley's best buddy in middle-school, the whole McKinley family came along with the deal. Jade had been Daniel's honorary sister for years. He worried about the boy's who weren't good enough for her. He taught her to drive a clutch when she was 18. He watched from afar as she fell in love and then dealt with loss. And he never forgot the first time he saw her spinning on the lawn, dancing with fireflies. 
The Jade who just returned is missing her sparkle. She seems lost, fragile, and desperate. Something bad happened, something broke her, and she's scared now and needs a friend. 

Ad there's nobody better than Daniel to be Jade's helper and supporter. 
What a fine, decent, kind man Daniel is in this story. His all around goodness and patience and willingness to slow down and listen and understand what was going on in Jade's inner world won my heart. Thank you Denise Hunter for introducing us to Daniel, whose generosity and gentleness stand out among literary heroes. 
You nailed the romance in this story by beginning with the content of their character, and then adding real connection between them.

I also want to say that in far too many books, when a female character undergoes an assault or attack, it is dealt with in a most unreal manner. It is swept aside, brushed under the rug, and it makes me hate the whole book for being false about something that serious. 
It was different with Jade's story: her trauma left her with PTSD. It lingered on in her memories and in her reactions. She was triggered into panic by various things, and she was clearly on a road to wholeness that wouldn't be traveled easily. The way that part of her story was told rang truer to life. 

This novel is rich will memorable lines, it has many serious and sweet moments as people live this thing called Life, and sometimes it made me laugh out loud. Again, excellent book. 
And....the Small Town is also presented here in all its zany glory, with its wild politics and the spare key to the county building not being hidden very well and the volunteer firemen being called away in the middle of a family dinner. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy. 

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter is the award-winning author of 20 novels, including The Accidental Bride and Convenient Groom

Denise lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons. In 1996, Denise began her first book, a Christian romance novel, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she's been writing ever since. Her books often contain a strong romantic element, and her husband Kevin says he provides all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

Tide and Tempest

Tide and Tempest (Edge of Freedom #3)

The story of Tide and Tempest is filled with historical detail: the setting is New York City back before it was divided into boroughs, when ships docked in the harbor and sailors overran the streets and the Irish Freedom Fighters were alive and well. 

Braedon and his beloved Tillie were coming to America two years before, when he suddenly died. 
His grieving fiancee has made the best of her life for those long years. She's forged friendships in NY and is beginning to dream new dreams. Just when she thinks the past is almost behind her, Captain Morgan reappears in her life. A deathbed confession from his ships doctor has left Morgan convinced that Braedon's death was murder, and that Tillie isn't safe. 

This story is rich with suspense and mystery. What secrets did Braedon carry beyond the grave? Why is Tille in danger now? What secrets could the strange ring she wears unlock?

And if well-depicted Irish heritage and deadly Fenian intrigue isn't enough to hook you, 
Elizabeth Ludwig completes the story with a cast of characters who are real enough to walk off the streets of New York and into your heart. 

Captain Keondric Morgan, called simply "Morgan" by almost everyone. He's a man who does what's right without question or complaint. He will see a good cause through to the end, to the best of his ability, and ask for nothing in return. He's solid, stable, and committed. Morgan contrasts nicely with his younger brother, Cass. 

Cass has a fine sense of humor-he can tease a smile from anyone- and he laughs with abandon. 
The relationship of genuine care and lighthearted bantering between the brothers reminded me of Buck and Slade Donovan in Pam Hillman's Claiming Mariah. 
Once again, I sure hope the younger brother gets a book of his own, because he possesses the seeds of excellent character. He just needs time to grow into them. 

When the two brother's learn that Tillie is a target, they vow to keep her safe and to solve the mystery of her fiancee's death. 
Their personalities jumped off the page and these men and women became people in my mind while I read.

Ah, Tillie herself. This girl is spirited and tenderhearted. When her life comes under threat, everyone who has become a dear friend is at risk. And that's when she decides she must solve the riddle of Braedon's past. 

In 2012, the popular EDGE OF FREEDOM series released from Bethany House Publishers. Books one and two, No Safe Harbor and Dark Road Home, respectively, earned 4 Stars from the RT Book Reviews. Book three, Tide and Tempest, received top honors with 4 1/2 Stars.

Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Summer of Joy!

Summer of Joy

When I read Ann Gabhart's Small Town Girl, I wanted to run away to Rosey Corner. I wanted to be a clerk at the store where Kate Merritt worked and to go possum hunting with my hound dog and to eat brown sugar pie with Birdie. 

Now Ann Gabhart has given me another place for mental retreat, in Hollyhill. Oh how I wish I could move to Hollyhill, or transplant its good citizens to my town. There is an awesome cast of characters in Summer of Joy. 
They are complete with loss, learning, loneliness, tenderness, new beginnings and happiness. 

Zella, what a hoot she is! A reader of fantastically imaginative romance novels, with a flair for constructive meddling in her neighbors lives. She keeps the ship sailing and she knows that the town couldn't live without her. 

Wes, oh dear Wes. May I adopt him as Grandfather the way Jocie did? I see why she attached herself to this soft-spoken, motorcycle riding, white-haired, zany-story-telling man. This book begins with Wes getting "dunked"- baptized in a nearly frozen Redbone river. He's so glad to be able to profess his faith that he doesn't even care if his ears freeze and fall off. And I loved his Jupiter stories. 

And Jocie herself, our thoughtful and inquisitive girl who feels life with all its textures and absorbs it into her soul, then saves it with her words. 

And Tabitha, Jocie's sister, who is mothering her precious baby son and helping Jocie understand the things that happen with the adults around them. Both girls are finding their path amidst 60's upheaval and family changes, and Iit is Tabitha who explains why their Father needs to remarry... 

Which brings us to their father David and his love, Leigh. A good man with a sad first marriage and a dear woman, and they both feel like God crafted them perfectly to be with the other. 

Ann Gabhart's novels are the comfort food of the book world: warm and rich and full and flavorful, and nourishing as well. Whether you pick up Angel Sister, Words Spoken True, or Summer of Joy, you're in for a great experience.

Ann H. GabhartAnn 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, are popular with readers. The Outsider was a Christian Fiction Book Award Finalist in 2009. Her Heart of Hollyhill books are Small Town, America books set in the 1960's.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Married, but Lonely" ~Do your people skills need a tune up?

Married...But Lonely: Stop Merely Existing. Start Living Intimately

This book carries a message of hope, ultimately. Marriage is hard but surely isn't meant to be miserable. 
The Clarke's agree. That's why they wrote Married but Lonely. 

Nothing matches the pain that you find in a wife's eyes when she feels disconnected from her husband. 
She knows that he loves her, she knows she loves him, but the daily love relationship is barely breathing.
She speaks, and all he hears is the fed-up tone of her voice instead of what her heart is saying. 
She brings up an unsolved issue, and he thinks she's a nag. 
She starts an overdue conversation, and he runs out of the room and claims that she's too moody to deal with.
She wants to debrief with him on a situation that has her worried, he dismisses her concerns as farfetched.
She reminds him of something cutting he said, he claims he doesn't remember that at all.
She is still processing a pain from the past, he tells her to just let it go. 
And any attempt to point out where they've disconnected just makes him defensive and snippy. 
Sound familiar? I bet it does. I've heard and seen it all, and I'm not even married. 

This book is definitely for married couples, but I'm reading it because it is ultimately about relational connectedness, engaging conversations, and opening our hearts. 
This book is also written with a liberal dose of snark/sarcasm, which at first made me feel like it wasn't respectful to the husbands. And then I read a little further, and the snark began to be so effective at making a point and making me laugh. Just from my own experience of living in a family, I've already observed much of what the author is talking about... and when you think about it the way he describes it, it's pretty hilarious. 

This a a serious book with a twist of humor all about intimacy in marriage or the lack thereof. And by intimacy we mean sharing our hearts, growing closer through the years, having deep conversations, meeting the other person where they are, and making them feel treasured and loved.
Although this is primarily aimed at husbands (hard hitting wake-up call to them and encouragement for their wives) I can learn from this book too. All the Intimacy-Avoidance techniques that most men have perfected are things I'm tempted to resort to. That's why I needed this book: Because I want to know how to deal with Intimacy Avoidance issues when I'm married, and I don't want to get into bad habits now. 

The trouble is that most of us get by with shallow relationships: among our extended family our friends, and our coworkers. We are convinced that because we can exchange pleasantries with these people, and none of them openly shun us, that we are just fine. 
We think that these risk-free surface-level relationships prove that we are good conversationalists, good friends, good at relationships, and that nothing needs to change. So all the sudden when a wife tells a husband that he doesn't listen properly, that he doesn't apologize well, and that she doesn't even know why she tries to engage with him anymore, he's confused. 
Most of us aren't prepared for marriage, for true communication or for dealing with conflicts when they arise. 
And then once we're married, we think we're done learning. We've got the spouse we wanted, now we're cool. 
We really don't want to change "Our Style" even if it isn't working. 
This book is all about how our habits and patterns often need to change. 

Married But Lonely can be fruitfully read and applied by someone who is dating, newly married, or who is well on the way to their fiftieth anniversary. The foundational messages are that you, as a wife, are worthy of respect and that he, as a husband, is capable of healthy change. 

Thank you Booketeria for my review copy. 

A Heart's Rebellion.

A Heart's Rebellion

   This is my first book by Ruth Axtell, and I think that it will strongly appeal to fans of Regency Romance who love the elegance of England's high society, and who are willing to put up with the intrigue that comes with it, (and also put up with London's smog!)

Our leading lady, Jessamine Barry, defies social convention by maintaining her spunk and showing her intelligence. She wants independence, a role in society that is all her own. 
She wants a fate not determined by prestige, money, or past hurts.

The betrayal that rocked her heart still haunts her, and she will feel the pain again as the past seems to return to her present. How is she supposed to deal with all of this? 

The faithful support and gentle guidance of her friend Meg will aid her throughout this season, and she will learn that True Love doesn't push for its own way, and that Real Love wishes for what is best for others. 

Excellent storytelling about a fascinating time in history. I read this the first time, put it down, and then found myself picking it up again multiple times, just to re-read parts of the tale. 

I have one thing I would certainly change about this story: A near rape of a character. 
I wish fewer books contained this content of attempted sexual assault unless there was room in the story to give it the time and space needed to process it in a real way. 
Frankly, for any woman, a violation of her person would require much space to deal with, even if she was rescued "in time." And what does that mean, anyway? 
The fear and knowledge that you were in danger is enough to leave you anxious and off balance for a long time. 
I know of several books that have included such an attack on a character, and while I often find the whole rest of the story wonderful, that always disturbs me when the woman recovers (without any further PTSD or depression) in time to celebrate with the hero on the last page. I almost think that unless the book is entirely about healing after an attack on a women that it shouldn't include that theme at all.
It's the one thing that I would change. And it's Something to think about.
********End Spoiler*********** 

My review copy was provided by Revell.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Broken Kind of Beautiful

A Broken Kind of Beautiful

I love Katie Ganshert's books, because each one carries a serious theme within a wonderful story.

This one is a story about recognizing that we are loved, accepting that we are forgiven, surrendering our strivings, and receiving the sweet blessings that we've longed for. 

Marilyn was betrayed by an adulterous husband who fathered a child with another woman. Despite her family telling her that it was unnatural, Marilyn loved her husband's child and would have kept her forever. But Ivy grew up, and Ivy grew distant. Marilyn's attention and protection couldn't make up for James' lack of love.

And so Ivy found the respect and admiration she needed from other men in other places. 
A modeling career carried her for ten years, and now at twenty four she has once again been told she's not worthy. A quarter-century old and the dress-'em-up-and-use-'em-up modeling industry is done with her. 

The harsh edges of the fashion and beauty world have cut and scarred Davis Knight as well. A rising star in fashion photography, Davis could draw your soul out through his camera lens. Yet for reasons he won't share, he gave it all up. The camera that felt so natural in his hands has been packed away for years. 
Now his biggest goal is to make things better for his sister Sara. 

Sara... one of the best characters. She's got real personality and she lives with joy. You'll be glad you met her. 
You'll be glad you visited Greenbrier South Caroline, 'cause that's where you're going. 
You're about to see these individuals brought together, you will see the past revealed, you will see that each of them has something to give and something they must receive. 
Ivy- and Davis- and Sara- and Marilyn- they all learn about the Tenderness of God. 

When we crave something- and we don't even dare to name what it is- (Love, Grace, Peace) and then it comes and it's so real, will we be scared and push it away? 

We will be so sure that we're unworthy that we will feel like we're stealing a present not meant for us instead of accepting a gift from our Father? 

I love this book.

Thank you Waterbrook for my review copy!

Katie Ganshert

Katie Ganshert is the author of Wildflowers from Winter and Wishing on Willows, both published by Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House. Her debut, Wildflowers from Winter, is a Christy Award finalist, as well as a Christian Retailing’s Best finalist in the contemporary romance category. She lives in Iowa with her handsome husband, their dinosaur-loving son, and their goofy black lab, Bubba. When she’s not busy writing or playing or reading or snuggling, she is obsessing over the paperwork and the waiting that comes with adoption, which she and her husband hope to complete sometime before they are fifty. You can learn more about Katie and her books by visiting her website or author Facebook page.

Monday, March 17, 2014

An interview with The Writing Sisters! + The Shepherd's Song

 Today we are delighted to feature The Shepherd's Song, written by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers and published by Howard books!

Betsy and Laurie, welcome to Found a Christian blog. 
Thank you both for seeking me out to be a reviewer, and for giving me an interview. I love telling the world about meaningful stories and discovering new favorites for my bookshelf!
Shepherd's Song is both a keeper for my library and a story I'm eager to share. 

First, you are "The Writing Sisters," and you're really sisters, aren't you? That is so neat. 

Yes, we are sisters - not just spiritual sisters, but real biological sisters too. We grew up in a writing home.  Our mother wrote children’s books and our father was a college professor who wrote books about aviation.  We were surrounded by books and have always valued reading and writing. 

How and when did you first team up to write together?

We wrote independently for twenty years, but we had collaborated on four books with our mother. We loved collaboration - writing can be a lonely endeavor.  We enjoyed the excitement of sharing the writing, sharing the pain of rejection and also sharing the joy of successes.  When our mother decided to retire, we decided to form the Writing Sisters, specifically to show about the power of God’s word to change lives.

Where did the inspiration for Shepherd's Song come from? 

The inspiration came straight from God. We were not even thinking about writing for adults. We had been writing children’s novels for twenty years so when we moved to the Christian market we thought that’s what we’d be doing. But God placed the idea before us and we were shocked. We had great doubts about whether we could do it, but we knew we had to try it. God doesn’t call the capable. He makes you capable. 
We were intrigued with the idea that without any explanation the Word of God could change a life. In fact one character doesn’t speak English, and only recognizes one word of the Psalm - water. Is that enough to find the one true God? We loved that thought.

I think it is a reassuring story, because it reminded me that God can take a simple act and use it to change the world. When one person receives the news of God, who knows how many people they will touch in turn? You really can set off a landslide. I think from time to time we all ask: "Is anything I'm doing really making a difference?" Was that question part of the spark behind the story? 

Yes, we all want to make a difference - and the things we do don’t have to be big to make a difference. In fact, little things prompted by love that can make the biggest difference of all. 

I so enjoyed following the Psalm around the world, and meeting the people who received it one by one. Their individual stories were each compelling. How did you come up with them as characters?

Characters come from all different places. Physical traits can come from someone we know, or a stranger we spot on the street. Personality traits can also come from people we knew when we were children, or someone we read about in the paper. And sometimes characters come straight out of our heads with no connection to anyone. The feelings of the characters come from our own experiences. Grief, pain, love, shame, fear all are in some way and at different levels common experiences for everyone.

I want to ask this question… you can laugh if you like! When you are out and about, do you look at people and think that they belong in your story? Do you imagine their past and their fears and their motivations? 

Ha - occupational hazard of writing. It doesn’t happen often, but yes, sometimes in an airport or on a street you’ll see someone intriguing, and wonder about them - what’s their story, what makes them tick.

And another thing that really stood out to me was the way each person found a special meaning in the Psalm. For one, it was the anointing of the oil. For another, it was being led in the right paths of life. You must have meditated over this Psalm often to absorb each meaning. Which meanings meant the most to you at the time of the writing? 

That’s such a hard question. The all-encompassing role of the shepherd is significant to us and we saw that when we visited the sheep farm. The shepherd is everything to the sheep. What a great picture of the role of Jesus in our lives. 
If we had to pick individual lines from the Psalm if would probably be the first and last lines - “The Lord is my shepherd” that opening line where God is confirmed as completely in control.  And the final line with that remarkable promise of dwelling with Him forever.

Thank you again for visiting, and for my copy of Shepherd's Song. 
I hope to visit with you again sometime, Writing Sisters! 

Blessings~ Faith 

The Shepherd's Song: A Story of Second Chances

My Review: 

This book begins with several scenes from the perspective of Kate McConnell, and the scenes are made up of her impressions.
Sounds: sirens and then doctors telling her to "Stay with them," and sights: worried faces of nervous paramedics and then hospital walls, and feelings: pain, and fog, and trying to fight her way up through it...
Kate had just been freed from her car after an interstate pile-up. 

It had been a busy, snowy, yet happy day for her. True, life had been a bit difficult recently: Kate was worried about her college-age son, and her husband wasn't able to help her in that department. So Kate had taken the time to sow yet another good seed in Mark's life.
She had written out Psalm 23 and slipped it in his coat, praying that he would find it at an unexpected moment and be touched by it. 
For Kate, that was a characteristic action, to reach out to someone with a word and a kind gesture. 
Yet she still wondered if what she did really made an impact. Did those ordinary little acts leave any lasting marks on the lives around her? 

And then the focus zooms out, as it were, and we leave Kate while she is being prepped for surgery. 
It is time to follow that folded piece of plain white paper with the eternal words penned on it in a hopeful mother's handwriting. 
Kate's "ordinary little act" is about to travel the world and invite everyone who reads it to come closer to God. 

Psalm 23 moves from dry-cleaner-destined-coat to envelope headed overseas. It is passed hand-to-hand, blown by a sand-storm in the desert and thrown out a hotel room window. The men and women that it comes to are in an olive grove on the Gulf of Naples, a military base hospital, running in a marathon in Italy and waiting their turn in a tattoo parlor in Barcelona, just to start with. Psalm 23 found one man in the valley of the shadow with a suicide plan. It found a young woman who had always feared the evil that had abused her so thoroughly in the past. 

For one recipient, the Psalm was about the peace offered in the green pastures. 
For another, the Psalm spoke of a Shepherd who cared for ALL the sheep with tenderness. For another who was deep in grief, Psalm 23 was about the restoration of the soul. 

And each of these short stories-within-the-story is beautiful. This isn't a fluff book at all, the characters, even in the brief glimpses we get, are solid and rough around the edges. And the insight is deep. The authors crushed the grapes of Scripture here and pressed out new wine from the beloved Psalm of comfort. This story makes you sad and happy at once. The Shepherd's Song is a pleasure to read. 

Thank you Howard books for my review copy!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In The Land of Blue Burqas.

In the Land of Blue Burqas

If you ask me what the book *In The land Of Blue Burqas* is about, I'll tell you that it's mostly about Love. 

It's about Jesus' Love for us, our love for our neighbor, and one woman's love for the women and men who make Afghanistan their home. 

Kate McCord went to Afghanistan as part of an NGO. She stayed because she became friend and family to so many people. 
And in this book, with names and details changed for protection, she tells us some of her stories. 

This book is a real reminder of several things. One is that we all share common feelings and basic experiences.
From Afghanistan to American, from poor to rich, from Muslim to Christian: we all share our own humanity. 
That seems far too self-evident, but it isn't. To some extent, we are all taught to resent and fear somebody.
When we encounter a stranger, we tend to look for a threat instead of a friend, especially when it's two whole cultures meeting. 
Kate reminds us that an Afghan woman fixing dinner in her mud courtyard while her children play around her and her husband does business in the marketplace is probably feeling the same things you feel at the end of a long day. 
Even when Kate's life was literally a world apart from her Afghan friends' lives, the women often rushed to empathize with her. They wanted to hear her story as much as she wanted to hear theirs. Sometimes, after hearing a story of a life scarred by war violence or forced marriage, Kate felt like her American story wasn't worth telling. The women wanted her to tell it anyway, and when she did they laughed, cried and connected. God moved in these intersections of life.

And the second thing is that the answers aren't found predominately in America, and the best way isn't the American way. The answers are in Jesus and the best way is God's way. When the Afghan women would ask shining-eyed questions about American life and marriage, she would always try to draw them back to the Source of Real Life. 

Reminder number three is the power of Story. Possession of a Bible isn't exactly encouraged in Afghanistan, and Kate didn't quote verses and chapters to her listeners. Instead, when a spiritual concept was up for discussion- and that happened all the time- she would tell a story about Jesus. There was a great familiarity with OT stories in her audience, and a respect for Jesus as a Prophet. She would take that foundation and build from there, going higher and deeper through stories. As an American, I tend to forget that Jesus spoke to a culture that was far more Middle Eastern/Arabic than it was European/American. They understand the parables, the mindset, and the meanings of Jesus' words far better than I do sometimes. And when she gave them portions of the Gospel as stories, it laid bare Truth with great simplicity. 

Thank you Moody for my review copy. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lookism and Literature.

Annie Oakley.  One of my favorite quotes from her as there is still the myth and sexism today about women and their shooting skills.

I want to address something that's lying heavy on my heart.

 I read a lot of books. I own between 1,000-2,000 books. In the last few years, most of my new books have been Christian Fiction specifically.

I am super-blessed to be a part of many blogging programs, where I get to read the best new books coming out in so many genres. Every time an envelope comes in the mail, I feel like it's Christmas!

But recently I've been noticing something. It's something that greatly disturbs me, and I don't even know if It's obvious to anyone other than me and the women in my family. I'm going to mention it anyway. Please, take this with the grace I want to wrap it in.
I'm seeing lookism in modern Christian Fiction.

I love a description of a character, because it lets me visualize them. That description should include physical details. God made every hair and eye color, he made designed every shade of skin.
He knew that we would delight in the way hazel eyes sparkle in the sun and brown hair gains copper highlights. He knew that some of us would be drawn to blond hair and blue eyes (or black hair and black eyes) and some of us would immediately notice the redheads.

(Frankly, appreciating the beauty and diversity of people in books helps me see more of the beauty and diversity in the people around me.)

In Hallee Bridgeman's books for example, I know that Robin is a tall blond with beautiful blue eyes. That gives me a basic mental picture of her outsides. Then when I read further and see that her abusive childhood left her with many walls around her heart, I can see pain and distance in the deep blue eyes and I can see a "I must take care of my self- leave me alone" attitude in the toss of her blond hair and the way she walks and talks. The description didn't stop at the physical. Yes, it was mentioned that she was slender, but as I read I wasn't assaulted over and over with the idea that She. Was. Thin.
That's what I'm trying to say here.

In way too many books I've read lately.... by authors who craft stories and worlds and people that I absolutely love, there is this obsession with pointing out the thinness and weight of the characters, as if it is a badge of honor or worth or value. Exactly what NONE of us wants to believe, or would want our daughters to believe.

successful women

And these references crop up specifically in Romances, which is where they should be least present. Because True Love is not about looks, and Love sure don't come only to thin women.

I'm a woman. I know the struggle not to look in the mirror and think "Well, other than *that* I think I look OK." Or, "I just hope I meet somebody someday who will love me in spite of *this*."

And I see the women in my family struggle to conform to the culture that says "Look this way. Be this weight. Change yourself achieve beauty." And I DO NOT LIKE it when a book seems to capitulate to that deadly attitude. I know women.... beautiful, precious, smart-as-a-whip ladies who are all sizes, shapes, and weights, who are Totally Miserable with their own bodies. And I can't imagine how reading a book where the character is constantly described with variants of the word "thin" will help them. Even for a lady who is "thin" it feels like that's the only thing worth being. Thin. As if the worst thing that could happen to us is for that to change.

It's as if being thin defines whether your story is worth telling (or living) or not.

Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls - "This article is more about how the media portrays Lawrence than how Lawrence really is - because the truth is, we don't know what she's like when the cameras are off and that's the point. This article is spot on about how the media perpetuates certain myths about women. It's the media's gimmick." but anyway, i'd love to know more about J-Law :)

In one book I received last week, there were at least two full handfuls of "thin" references. And it turned my stomach.I love the authors who collaborated. I love the publisher.  I love the stories! I hate the lookism!

I don't need to hear every ten pages that "She may have tipped the scales at 100 pounds."
And "I've lost my baby fat."
And "She had a narrow waist..."
And "She weighed hardly anything."
And "Oh, I can't eat that, I want to stay thin."
Or "Oh, she eats anything and stays thin."

I'm tear-my-hair-out tired of the constant idea that thin is pretty.

I gave this book to a young friend who is growing up in a culture obsessed with the size and weight of her body. This culture will drive her to hate her own flesh if it can. It will steal her health and vitality away and convince her to chase "thinness" at any cost... and I can't give her a book that unwittingly supports that!

So to close, I'll probably be wishing soon that I had said everything so much better.
I want you-whether as an author or a reader- to know that I only want to say something I think needs saying.

When I read about a heroine, I want to get inside her mind, spirit, and psyche. I want to hear her heart beat and see what makes it beat faster. I don't want to hear how much she weighs. I don't want to reenforce the idea that it even matters what she weighs. That's all I'm trying to say.

Let's change the conversation -- no more self-criticism, especially with other women and in front of our little ones!