Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Perfect Time


Sarah Sundin's World War II novels combine steady pacing, full-color history, and romance in the midst of turmoil.

In other words, this is a great novel. Kay is a fine, extremely lovable heroine.
She's spirited, and to everyone else she looks confident and assured.
But inside, Kay is convinced that her real self is unworthy of any friendship.

Both her wartime service and her own transformation are here, and you really like Kay by the end.

Ps.... I think Vera deserves her own story.

Thank you Revell for my review copy. 

Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin enjoys writing about the drama and romance of the World War II era. The Wings of the Nightingale series (With Every Letter, 2012, On Distant Shores, August 2013, and In Perfect Time, August 2014) follows three World War II flight nurses as they find love, friendship, and peril in the skies and on the shores of the Mediterranean. The Wings of Glory series from Revell (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow) follows three brothers who are B-17 bomber pilots during World War II. 

Sundin lives in northern California with her husband, three children, an antisocial cat, and a yellow lab bent on destroying her writing career. When she isn't driving kids to tennis and karate, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school and women's Bible studies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jesus with Dirty Feet.

 Jesus with Dirty Feet is a book of sensitive straight-talk.

At first I was going to say that Don Everets takes us back to "bare bones Christianity," but that's not the best phrase.

He isn't explaining the skeletal structure of a religion, he's painting a portrait of a people and their King. 

He starts with one Man (who had been born on a specific day in history- unmarked except that shepherds saw angels, in an ordinary birth as women know it, but to a virgin girl) and the Man is now grown up and spreading Good News.

His message is disarming and terrifying, simple and risky. It demands your whole life but he tells you to give it day by day. Jesus said "Follow me." 

And people did. And do. Always they follow with fear and desires waging war inside them, with pain and sickness crippling them, with poverty or wealth distracting them, with liberal and conservative politics mixing into the faith and skewing things and with pettiness and large hearted generosity mingled together.  As Rich Mullins sang, "I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach." 

And along the way we- those people- picked up steeples and Sunday clothes and systematic theology, and we try so hard to make Christian nations and explain God's word. 

And we forget the Man who is the Only Reason to be a Christian.
(This man who was so crazy and unquestionably Good that He must be God.)
And whenever we glimpse Him again, we find Him perpetually startling and infinitely comforting.

This book helps.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

11 Questions from Miss Aizess....

Miss Aizess over at the Christian Book Review Blog has nominated me for the Liebster Award!
And oh, how that blessed my heart! Thank you Aizess!

(If you go here, you can read her own Liebster interview.) 

And she has chosen some very good questions for me to answer. So here goes!

1. What is your least favorite genre?
Straight-up romance that devolves into mere-chemistry-between-the-sexes.
Now, I LOVE a romance.... but it should include all the loves in it. Filial love, brotherly love, sisterly love, friendship love, God's love, lasting love, lost love, new love and true love. 
Not just attraction. 

2. What is your all time favorite book?
"I cannot pick a favorite child!"
Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring for all time, Ralph Moody series for childhood, 
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes for the Vietnam War, 
Deception, Dominion and Deadline for Randy Alcorn, and Linda J. White's Seeds of Evidence for FBI Agent awesomeness.
And aside from fiction, I love Ravi Zacharias Can Man live Without God? Kay Arthur As Silver Refined, C. S. Lewis anything, Ronald Rolheiser The Holy Longing, and Hugh Halter Flesh.
The last two are about participating in the Incarnation. Very good. 

3. What would be your ideal Christian fiction novel?
Something that deals with life as we know it. 
(Broken marriages, car wrecks, illness, crime, prison, indignity, shame, sadness, fidelity, the USMC, happiness, fun, good food, wet grass, blinding white clouds, and bird songs.) 
There should be a lot of common humanity and uncommon redemption, grace from God poured into human choices. 
Christianity should be shown as the source of all goodness, not just "nice behavior."

4. What is your favorite Christian artist/band or song?
I have a lot of memories associated with Third Day. Revelation, All the Heavens, I'm Ready... those are some of my favorites. 

5. Do you have a hobby (besides reading)? If so, what is it?
Is there anything else beyond reading? ;-)

6. What is the funniest/quirkiest thing you’ve ever done?
Well, I have no sense of direction. If I were allowed to navigate I would get people lost.
And I am horrible to zippers. I break zippers all over. My Mother tries to hide her favorite vest from me! :-) 

7. What Bible scripture has impacted your life the most?
That one in Phillipians where he says that Christ promises to bring his work in us to completion.
In other words, he ain't giving up on us. Not even when we give up- which I don't suggest you do, but if a I-can't-do-it moment comes along, Fear Not. As it says in East to West by Casting Crowns, "I'm not holding on to you but You're holding on to me." 
As Amy Grant sings, "He's gonna see you through, He'll never leave 'cause He loves you!" 
That is one huge comfort. 

8. What is your dream job?
Oooohhh.... small town cop, if the department was like the Sparta PD in In The Heat of the Night,
with Carroll O'Connor as the gentle, talk-to-him-about-anything Chief, and Lonnie and Louann and Dee and Bubba and Sweet as the fellow officers, and Virgil as the detective. 

9. How and when did you come to know the Lord Jesus in a deep and intimate way?

I've always known He was there, and the source of all peace and beauty and truth, because of my Mom and Dad and the stories they read me and the prayers they said. But I was about 15 and going through a very trying summer when I first met Him for myself in the pages of Scripture.
It was a floppy 1984 NIV given to me by an Aunt, and I drank it in like a thirsty man when a cool brook opened up in front of him. 

That summer/fall/winter was the beginning of my grown-up love affair with the Rebel Prophet and the Gentle Shepherd. Yet somehow I think I know Him more intimately now than then, because I'm leaving more of it to Him. I'm learning that all fear finds consolation in Him, and all desire has its fulfillment in Him, and everything else will be OK. 

10. What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
Nutty. I like being nutty. 
Ragamuffin. Thank you Brennan Manning for this term, we are beggars at the door of God's mercy who are shocked to discover that He calls us friends! 
Loved. That's the foundation of our identity.... and I have to go back to that a hundred times each day. "I'm scared of _______, but I Am Loved. My thoughts are crazy and they're not good, but I Am Loved. This dream for ______ is so far away, but I Am Loved. This person whom I depend on is feeling far away from me now, but I Am Loved whether they tell me so or not." 

11. What five things do you love/like the most?

Ooooohhhh, BooksMusicFoodWalksPeople. 
I love stories, and we find 'em in books. Enough said.
Music.... thank you Mom for your CD collection! Bob Seger *and* BeBe and CeCe Winans.
Food. My sister cooks. Last night I had this delicious blueberry bar she made. 
Walks. I like walking different places, and that's where we picked the blueberries.
People. They're not a thing, but they give me great joy. People- in all their frustrations and complexities, with all the hurt they give us, they bless us in a way nothing else can.
People bear the Image of God. Creation, as lovely as it is, is just his Handiwork.
We're his Image. 

Thank you Aizess! This was great! 

And because it is so beautiful, and because I love this saint and cannot wait to meet him in heaven, here is How Can I Keep from Singing? by Rich Mullins. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Traitor's Heir

The Traitor's Heir (The Knight of Eldaran #1)

I don't compare books to Tolkien. He is the best. The Lord of the Rings.... often imitated never duplicated. That said, this is the best fantasy novel I've read since then. 

This story takes place in a land called the River Realm. This country is divided into many provinces all around a great and branching river, and those provinces contain both metropolis cities and smaller villages. Our hero Eamon, comes from one of those villages. 
Eamon is 23 years old, and he has one goal: to be a member of the River Realm's elite fighting force, the Gauntlet. When this story begins he is a cadet at a military college, learning to serve his land's Master. His dream is to become one of the Master's official Hands.

Eamon will not be swayed from this course until the night he must help execute a dear friend. This friend's crime was disloyalty to the Master, the friend claimed to serve a truer King.

Now Eamon can feel two forces drawing on his strength, two calls summoning him, two kingdoms vying for his fealty. 
Will he answer to Eamon, or Eben's Son? Will he pursue the power of the Master's red flame, or seek the purity of the Wayfarer's blue light? 

Oh, the tension is high in this story. And it's wonderful and weaves a strong spell. The scenes of nobility stirred my heart and the scenes of horror made my skin crawl. 
The first half was adventure and warfare, the second half explored more of Eamon's internal crises, his ambitions and cravings. 
I loved Eamon and hated him over and over. His hunger and thirst for righteousness were as real as his moral bankruptcy. One moment he remembered who he really was, and the next he listened to the lying whisper. He was clean and brave, and he was wretched and despairing. 
The characters in this story are vulnerable and they break easily, but they also mend. 

Anna Thayer has written a story that authentically wrestles with big themes. They flow naturally through this fantastic story. 

So... is there another book coming? Yes! I'm glad to report there is. The Broken Blade and The King's Hand. Is there enough story here to fill three four hundred page books? Yes! The history of the River Realm, and Eamon's own history, are unfloded in his visions and prove that there is plenty left to reveal. 

Thank you Kregel for my review copy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Circle of Spies

Circle of Spies (The Culper Ring, #3)

The Culper Ring series got better by the book. 
I enjoyed Ring of Secrets. I liked Whispers from the Shadows. I loved Circle of Spies. 
The mystery ran deeper, the suspense was tenser, the characters felt even more alive to me. The family bonds that carry on from book to book through marriage and children, linking each story, are even more loving by this last volume.

Roseanna White's stories have now carried us from the Revolutionary War where we met the quick-witted Winter, to the War of 1812 where we met the sensitive Gwyneth, to the Civil War where we meet Marietta Hughes of the photographic memory.  
Marietta is existing, but not really living when this book opens. She is full of fears and desires, and she sees no true consolation or fulfillment on the horizon. 
She's lost a husband and a brother in the War between the States, and she lives now with her mother in law. Her dead husband's brother wants to marry her, and part of Marietta wants to give in. He promises a future for them together, and that may be the best she can hope for.  
Renewed joy, purpose, peace.... dare I say redemption?.... that is all beyond her. 

How odd that Marietta would get her first glimpse into hope the day she is introduced to horror. 
Her Grandfather shows her a secret: both her late husband and his brother are members of The Knights of the Golden Circle, and as a Confederate group they want to sabotage Lincoln. They've written it in blood. 

And Marietta must act as if she knows nothing. And she must help Slade Osborne, the Pinkerton Detective who is investigating. 

My favorite part of this story? Marietta's awakening. She had lost pieces of herself so many times that she was sure wholeness was gone forever. God restored her own soul, and her faith in Him. She gained back her passion, and it was no longer squandered on lesser gods.  

Roseanna White's trilogy richened with each installment. 

Thank you Harvest House for my review copies. 

Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing, reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband, or homeschooling her two small children.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Making of a Man

Making of a Man, The: How Men and Boys Honor God and Live with Integrity

The Making of a Man by Tim Brown, former NFL player for the Oakland Raiders, is a wonderfully scripted book with enough football facts to be of interest to me, a so-so NFL fan. 

Tim Brown had ample opportunity to hook-up with many women, many drugs, and much alcohol. It appears that his Faith in God steered him away from all of this and into family life, a sound marriage, and a lengthy career. 

Even if you're not a professional football player (and most of us are not) the book sheds light on this world from a Christian perspective and Tim Brown could serve as an example for young people looking for guidance. 

The numbers that Tim Brown put up player will someday put him in the football Hall of Fame, but he feels that the number of people he leads to God's Kingdom will be a far greater accomplishment. 

I agree. 

Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Henri Nouwen, The Prodigal Son

Returning: Reflections on The Return of the Prodigal Son

"As I look from God's welcoming love into the world, I discover that God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all woman and men their uniqueness without ever comparing."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into his joy...." 

"In the context of a compassionate embrace, our brokenness may appear beautiful, but brokenness has not other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it." 

~ Henri Nouwen, The Return of the The Prodigal Son.

This is my first Henri Nouwen book. I looked at it and thought "This is a slim book, I'll have it finished in a day."  Wrong. Five days later, I am still reading. The the truth in this book is falling on my mind like rain... it is refreshing and life-giving, but I must stand still to let it soak me all the way through.
And I want to soak this stuff in. 

Henri Nouwen was deeply moved by Rembrandt's painting, The Prodigal Son. Most of us have probably glanced at a Rembrandt work, and we think we know the prodigal son story, but Henri pored over this painting, and as he looked he meditated on the parable as it is found in Luke 15. 

His own experiences, what he had learned about life and God, found their center in this parable and this painting, and he shares his story in this book. 

By the end of this book I can see parts of the beauty in this painting thanks to Henri's words. 
And not only the obvious aesthetics either, but the truth expressed in art. 
Rembrandt's own lasciviousness, his own heartbreak and losses, his own spiral of darkness, all influenced his work. Henri suggests that there is a change in Rembrandt's paintings as he grows older, one that culminates in The Prodigal Son.
When he was young he painted himself, drunk and carousing in a brothel, with the light glinting off of his sneering eyes and flashing finery. 
When he was old, he painted himself as a tender, blind old man, welcoming his son home, with light shining out of his face and hands. Is it possible that Rembrandt realized that the only light that lasts is the one that shines out of you, not the one that momentarily reflects off your earthly glory?

It is seamless, Henri's own transparency and humility, his thoughts on the painting, and his meditations on the parable. It all comes together. He returns the parable to what it should be, not a mere dusty metaphor died up and dead a few thousand years ago, or a simplistic tale, but the real story of every man and woman looking for their Home. 

Henri Nouwen appears to be one of those rare people of faith whose words are actually accessible to seekers. I would feel comfortable giving this book to anyone. 
You know how some Christians talk about this certain book that they re-read every year? 
It could certainly be this one. 

Another thing I liked? The front cover folds out and there is a little copy of the painting, so you can look at it from time to time. 

"I will discover the joys of the second childhood: comfort, mercy, and an ever-clearer vision of God. And as I reach home and feel the embrace of my Father, I will realize that not only heaven will be mine to claim, but that earth as well will become my inheritance, a place where I can live in freedom without obsessions or compulsions." ~ Henri Nouwen 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Teachable Moments"

Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith

Books about parenting are a lot like books about dating: there is a steady stream of new ones coming all the time, and they tend to miss the larger picture. 

With dating books, they focus on sex -not having it-  and they forget all about wholesome relationships in general. They don't talk about conversation, communion, and closeness, the intimacy that we are designed to have with multiple people of both genders and all ages. 
They boil it all down to sex, and fail to guide us into a fuller relationship reality. 
With parenting books, we hear about returning to the old days of obedient children and a nice clean world to raise them in. (Without music videos, Instagram, and same-sex marriage.) 

It's a rare parenting book that sets your relationship with your kids in the context of your relationship with God, and their relationship with God, and points to a child and parent's roles in the world today as it is. 

The premise of Teachable Moments is a great one. Wouldn't you love to use "everyday encounters with media and culture to instill conscience, character, and faith?" 

I read this book with a mixture of feelings. 
Some of it is extremely helpful, and exemplifies "sanctified common sense." 
Other parts of it never would have worked on me as a child. Certain explanations parents give children for why we do this or why we don't left me cold even now, reading them. They probably would have just piqued my curiosity and sent me to the dictionary to try and figure it out myself! And maybe that's the point... there is no human guidebook, no perfect plan, no two-step process for parenting. And the author tells us that right up front. 

Yet something about this book rubbed me wrong. Three hours after finishing it, I think I've hit upon it.
There seemed to be very little grace in this book. And by grace I don't mean no-consequences-la-di-da-parents-with-their-eyes closed. This book seemed less about leading your children into the full-bodied Gospel of life than it did about using Biblical principles to make your kids "be good."  

Like somebody said, we drive our kids away from Christ when we tell them that He came to make them good, instead of He came to give them Love. 

At one point, there is a sentence suggesting that shame and guilt need to be reintroduced in our children. I know this is semantics, but shame is not equivalent to healthy Biblical conviction. Shame is a chronic state of mind, a feeling of unworthiness that no amount of good behavior can scrub away. Ironically, in a world that has cast off so many moral ties, shame still exists, and it's not leading to repentance in the sinners-it casting them further down. It's not keeping the righteous on the straight and narrow, it's intruding in their peace.

A lot of parents seem more concerned with having tidy, presentable, un-troubled kids to show off than they do with getting their hands dirty to help their kid wrestle with life. That kind of parent wants the book that tells them what not to allow. They make actions, outfits, words, and websites the enemy.
We think that we have to protect our preteen from makeup and high-heels, when we really need to guard her against the heart-breaking hookup culture.
We think if we can keep our son off of Facebook that he will never cave in to peer pressure or use foul language, but we need to address his desire to fit in. 

So many parents seem to give their kids access to all the bad stuff and then punish the child for getting sucked into it. 
They spend 18 years worrying about weaning their kids off of the world's evil influence, instead of loading the kid up on so much good music and good stories and good times that they won't want to seek out much else. And if they do taste lesser food, it won't appeal to them. My own parents never forbid a single song or book or movie- they gave me access to so much quality, pleasurable, fun stuff that I hardly regretted missing the alternatives. 

I also wonder if maybe we can spend *too* much time trying to explain situations, behaviors, and other people's choices, when we could be just living well and falling in love with our Savior, and inviting our kids to join us. I don't know where the balance is on this between explaining everything over and over vs. confusing our kids with silence, but there must be one. 

If you already like Marybeth Hick's earlier books, then this is probably one to add to your shelves. 

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Love Letters from the Edge

Love Letters from the Edge

Love Letters from the Edge, by Shelly Beach and Wanda Sanchez.

This book is worthy of its title. It is one long, lovely letter from the Heart of God to your heart. 
And unlike some "letters from God" this one isn't fluffy, or New-Agey, or written for happy people with tiny problems.
No. Every word here is written in light of His Word, and the situations Shelly and Wanda speak to are the raw ones. 
As the subtitle states, these are meditations for those struggling with the pain of life. 

There are 12 "weeks" worth of meditations, but you read them any way you want. 
Each week has one foundation. I see you and know you. I cradle you in My arms. I comfort you. I remember you. I restore you.
I bless you with the power to forgive. I secure you in my love. I accept you. I send gifts and renew you. I bless you with power to release the past. I promise to love you forever. I promise you a hope and a future. 

If we believed those foundational truths, our world would change right here. 
And yet how many people have never even heard this stuff from God, never mind dared to believe it was meant for them so fully? 

This book should be given out by the basketful, in every infertility clinic, every crisis pregnancy center, every PTSD and grief support group, any addiction recovery group, each at-risk-kids group, every domestic/sexual abuse healing group, and every patient-caregiver situation. Add anybody who has lost a loved one, anyone who has been ill and gone through a traumatic situation, and anyone who has been homeless. 

Anywhere that anybody is hurting, they need the healing that this book holds out. They need the love of God, and they need some good human help. Give them both. Take their hand, hug them, listen to them, press this book into their arms, and write your phone humber in the front cover. It is a start. 

The other great thing about this book is the information on PTSD itself. Post Traumatic Stress is a perfectly natural reaction to the terrible things that happen in life. Obviously, time in combat will cause PTSD in veterans, but so will an attempted rape on a 16 year old girl. So will a car accident in a 50 year old woman, a bout with cancer in a 30 year old man, a hard childbirth with a medical error in a new mom. There is no shame in suffering with post-traumatic stress, and there *is* hope... for your mind, body, and emotions. 

There are many websites listed in the back, including,, and 

Thank you Kregel for my review copy. I already shared this book with a friend, who is navigating loss of a parents and difficult family circumstances. She greatly appreciated Love Letters from the Edge. 

Wanda Sanchez Wanda Sanchezis the executive producer of one of the nation’s top talk shows in a highly-ranked California market. She has worked with the world’s top political leaders, as well as Hollywood personalities, New York Times best-selling authors, and top-ranked cultural analysts. She has also worked as a television producer and is the founder and president of her own publicity firm, representing authors and speakers. A sexual abuse survivor who has experienced a journey of dramatic healing from post-traumatic stress disorder, Wanda speaks to medical and mental health professionals in conferences, seminars, as well as to women in the nation’s prisons. She can be reached at
Shelly BeachShelly Beach is an award-winning author of eight books, including The Silent Seduction of Self Talk. She has written with a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and New York Times best-selling authors, as well as providing writing and consulting services for a producer of a recently-launched Lifetime television reality series. Shelly is the co-founder of two writers’ conferences and an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University. She is also a sexual abuse survivor who speaks to medical and mental health professionals at conferences, seminars, and in the nation’s prisons. Shelly is also an “expert” consultant for, the Internet’s most frequently consulted site on caregiving issues, receiving approximately 2 million hits per month. Shelly can be reached at

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)

In 1954, a young woman arriving somewhere alone was suspicious. 
If she came with a child it was scandalous indeed, and it got even worse if she was pretty. 
Perla Long was all three... lovely, very alone, and with her past spelled out in bold letters by the presence of her five year-old Sadie.

She was hoping to be anonymous when she came to this close-knit Appalachia town, but there was no chance of that. 
Soon everyone would think they knew *what* she was, and perhaps nobody would know *who* she was.                                          

Casewell Phillips was born and bred in that place, and the music of the hills ran in his blood. He was equally at home playing the mandolin or crafting furniture, and he was known for both. At 35, he was almost resigned to living life spouseless. He had his work, and his mother and father close by. Until he laid eyes on Perla. 

This seems like a simple tale of second chances and love blooming. It is, at the heart, but it is far more than that alone. 
It is a story of drought, and longing for the rain that we humans cannot call down from the sky. 
It is a story of judgement, punishment and shunning, and a story of innocence leading the way. 
It is a story of great love coming through terrible circumstances. 

This book reminded me of a fairy-tale. What I mean is the story seems magical at times, and mystical, and the dark circumstances let the final light shine brightly. 

The cast of characters also belong to a uniquely Appalachian fairy tale.
The sweetly impish child Sadie. 
The elvish elderly ladies/ who want Casewell to build them a new potato bin. 
The wild-haired town drunk/prophet who broke hearts back in 1902. 
Perla, the princess-in-disguise, whose gift may save the Kingdom.
Casewell, the one who finds that strength isn't always shown best by proud opposition, sometimes we are strongest when we are accepting another. 

I'm am delighted to know that this is the start of a series. I think you will be too. :-) 

Thank you to the author, Sarah Loudin Thomas, for a chance to be one of her first reviewers. I received my copy in exchange for sharing my thoughts. 

Sarah Loudin ThomasI’m a Christian, wife, fundraiser and writer living near Asheville, NC. I grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV. I used to say “rural WV,” but realized that’s largely redundant. I LOVE my home state and the fact that I’m the seventh generation to grow up on the family farm. My love of the Appalachian Mountains informs my writing. I want you to be as wild about these hazy, blue mountains and the wonderful people who live in them as I am.

I’ve been married for eighteen years and I not only love my husband, I really, really like him. We started our journey together with three big dogs–Crockett, Precious and Sammy. We now have one small dog that requires more energy than the first three did together.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

All for a Sister

All for a Sister, All For a Song Series #3   -     By: Allison Pittman

(This is a book I'm going to have trouble giving a star rating to. I mean, do we really need those light-up yellow things to tell us whether a book is worth reading?) 

Anyway, I've had my eye on Allison Pittman's books for a while, and I finally read All for a Sister. 

What do I think? I think this is a dark story, with all seven deadly sins splayed upon the pages. 
I think it is a raw story, and because of that you begin to care for the characters. Both Dana and Celeste have experienced damage at the hands of the world, in different ways. And both need a genuine friend, an opportunity for a brighter future.

Some people have objected to this book, protesting the content. My answer for all such protest is that no topic is ever wrong, the only wrong is in how you address it. Somebody said they only like "uplifting" books. Of course, we all should... but mustn't we be honest about the rock-bottom depths before anyone will believe our testimony about the heavenly heights? 
I don't like fluff novels. A good book must bump up against actual life in the actual world, or else it is just lies. 
This book repeatedly encounters life, and the author also pours in a cup or two of Grace.

That is far closer to true "Christian fiction" than a sugary and naive novel where nobody sins, nobody kills, nobody misuses their body or anyone else's, and nobody is converted by the straight-up mercy of God. 

The frame of the book includes the death of an infant, a young woman sent to prison, sexual carousing that eats away at the heart of a family, and an unrelieved rage that destroys lives. 
There is also confession and renewal, learning to see with God's eyes, and ceasing to identify yourself with your past history.

So if you're ready for a meaty novel set in the 1920's, with a complex storyline, then All for a Sister is the one.
And then if you get stuck on a 1920's kick, you can add Carla Stewart's The Hatmaker's Heart and Karen Halvorsen Schreck's Sing for Me. 

(Ps. I intend to read Allison Pittman's Lilies in Moonlight next!)  

Thank you to Fred and Nora St. Laurent of the Book Club Network for my review copy. 

Allison Pittman

Allison Pittman is the author of For Time and Eternity, Stealing Home, the Crossroads of Grace series, and her nonfiction debut, Saturdays With Stella. A high-school English teacher, she serves as director of the theater arts group at her church. She is also the co-president of a dynamic Christian writers group in the San Antonio, Texas area, where she makes her home with her husband and their three boys.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Astonished: Life with God


"Are there bushes burning all around us all the time, but we are too distracted to notice? Am I asleep to the God who is right here, right now?" 
~ Mike Erre  

This is one disturbing book. And I mean that in the best of ways. It shook me a little, and it made me look at things again that I had been ignoring.

Mike Erre is pointing us to the God who spoke about Holy Ground and the Gates of Heaven, where the humans thought that it was all just "plain" earth and sky. The God who told us we must worship in spirit and in truth, who definitively moved the debate right away from what we could control- our outsides and appearances and locations.

The God who told us that citizenship in the Kingdom is a free gift that costs us everything. 
And who described that Kingdom in terms of "smallness and hiddenness" and yet established it to over turn all the orders of the world. 
A God who says that His strength lies in our own weakness, and when we are frail he is mighty to save. 
A God who allows desperation, instead of shielding us from it, and who draws faith out of that. 

A God who is reliable- we can trust Him with everything, but who is never predictable. 
A God who is everywhere present and always with you, but who allows lengthy stretches where you will feel nothing but empty and dry. 

He is a God of truth and paradox and mystery and whimsy. And we need Him desperately. 

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy of this book. It is well worth your time. 

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Cor. 4:7 

Mike Erre is senior pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California. He has previously served at both Mariners Church and Rock Harbor Church in Orange County. A graduate of Talbot School of Theology, Mike speaks at universities and conferences around the country. This is his fifth book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flesh: Learning to be Human Like Jesus.

Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth

"If we bear the artistic, altruistic image of Jesus, something remarkably natural and yet miraculous will become the new norm. It may take a little time to get used to, but Jesus's life can have a nice, snug fit in the natural rhythms and cadence of living here on planet earth." ~ Quote from Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth.

The Incarnation has been on my mind a lot lately, and so this was the perfect time to encounter Flesh. 

I did my first reading of this book in one four hour sitting, in the dentists office. I was making notes (always a sign of engagement) underlining (capturing my favorite quotes) and laughing (yes... laughing out loud.) 

This book really gave me a lot to think about. It is a flesh-and-blood centered look at imparting the good news of the Gospel, living in the full-bodied peace of Shalom, and walking in the reality of the our place in the Incarnation. 

Hugh Halter talks all about Jesus... how he arrived in the world, how he moved into a town, how he knew names and faces and cared about people, how he presented himself and offered us himself when he entered a scene. 

Several things jumped out at me, including the parable of planting seeds and the Kingdom growing while we sleep, and our call to be whimsically holy, rather than religious. How accurate! People think they know what to do with a "religious person." 
We religious people are common enough that we can be ignored, like the coffeemaker that you see each morning. 
Religious people can quickly be put in a box, unexamined, packed away in the bubble wrap of preconceived notions. 
We can be categorized: "Right wing conservative fundamentalist... gun rights and America as a superpower," "Cafeteria Catholic who's skipped confession since Reagan was in office."

But a person who lives by Truth and Whimsy? One who has a sense of humor and dirt on their hands because they work hard and play easily on earth? 
One who walks in the light of a Holy God and talks about Him all the time? A person who is joyful and calls you to Christ because He is calling everyone as children to come and be adopted? Someone who invites you to celebrate, and then tells you "By the way, that was worship." Who eats with you and says "That was communion."   

That's a person who you can't overlook, can't silence, and can't dismiss. They're too compelling, too real, too honest, and too obsessed with Grace. And frankly, their message actually sounds like Good News, and you don't want them to shut up. 

That's a good start for envisioning whimsical holiness. And I like it a lot. I see that in various saints, people such as Rich Mullins and Gladys Hunt and Ravi Zacharias and my own uncle who can morph from spiritual counselor to comedian in 30 seconds flat... and remind us that it is often one and the same role. 

"The people of God are to be a stabilizing presence among all the swirling opinions...."
"Remember, if you let grace ooze out of your life, people will eventually seek the truth in your life." 

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Secret Flower

The Secret Flower: And Other Stories

"And so I travel homeward, though I have never seen that city- yet I will know it, and its fair meadows are even now green with winter wheat before my eyes, and I hear its children singing in the streets, and its quiet bell proclaiming God's love."  
~The Secret Flower

Jane Tyson Clement's volume of poetry "No One Can Stem the Tide" overflows with both reflection and contentment. 
Her verse convinced me to read her prose, as collected in "The Secret Flower: And other Short Stories." 

This book is made of six tales, five short and one lengthy. The first five are beautifully mythic, according to the old definition of myth... a fable that seems to be from an imagined world, but tells us truth about our world. 

One tells of three brothers who each take shelter during a night of terrible storms, stoking their fire and supping alone.
Each brother locks out the weather and the cold, only to hear a child's cry through the wind and rain. 
And each man must decide whether he will risk his life and venture out into the wild darkness to rescue the child. 

One tells of a King who rules a land where there is always abundance and never rebellion, where a sophomoric peace lies over everyone. He and his people never feel pain or suffer, but they never feel joy or celebrate either. Work has no satisfying meaning, and there is no true need to serve anyone. 
All is lukewarm and acceptable each day... there is no variation to make you more glad or more regretful. 
The veil is torn away from the King's eyes the day a young traveler arrives, coming from a land in famine, and the King burns himself on his coffee. 

One tells of a troop of schoolboys who love a robin that is pure white but tease a boy whose skin is deep black. When a fire rages through the village, will the test of heart bind them together as brothers?

The final tale, The Secret Flower itself, is the longest, and it is a story that sings and grows and overflows in joy. 
Her writing is so pure and precise in her descriptions of the created world and the converted heart. Whether she's telling us about a great beech tree losing its leaves in a wind, or describing the tears of a man who realizes that love is all around him, her word pictures remind us what language gives us when we use it right. The Secret Flower is like a small version of the Narnia stories. In a way, it is the story of every soul that God ever entered. 

I am... "fit for nothing but to serve the beggars or be one. But over the years I have found it a grace to serve the poor for I count no man, neither myself, better than they, and we are all poor in God's sight, those who sleep on silk or on the cobbles of the street. And I will help thee all I can, if thou wilt send back to me, if thou findest that city, God's city, for such there must be! Surely Christ came to earth to change this miserable earth, as well as promise the hereafter!" 

I hope more people discover this book. Unlike so much "moral literature" that used to be produced for children, these are not short stories with a lesson hidden in them. They are little snippets of fable and tale, that say something genuine and real. 
They remind me to look at everyone the way Jesus did, and he often told people they were "not far from the Kingdom of Heaven," and then he bid them follow to him there.

Thank you to The Plough publishing for giving me a review copy. 

Jane Tyson ClementPoet and writer Jane Tyson Clement (1917 – 2000) grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But she always preferred Bay Head, New Jersey where her family owned a summer house. “There was something eternal about it that was always a rock and an anchor for me.” Jane earn an English degree at Smith College and married Robert Clement, a Quaker attorney. Together they sought for meaning in life and an answer to social injustice. They eventually joined the Bruderhof, a Christian community. Jane taught school and raised a family, but her unquenchable thirst for justice, and for the wonders and mysteries that lie hidden in nature, kept her restless. Her poetry and short stories mirror this lifelong quest for truth and wholeness.