Sunday, February 28, 2010

Music: Through Songs I Was First Undone --Justin McRoberts (thoughts)


The moments I’ve had with the artists whose music makes up this new project have been sacred… undoubtedly. It is key to note that these sacred moments have, for the most part, taken place outside of the boundaries of the christian marketplace and the ‘area’ generally reserved for the the activity of God. These artists and their songs have been central to the necessary undoing of the expectations and limitations I habitually place on God; expectations of how, where and through whom God is revealed. I recognize God in their art and I believe it is a duty, as an artist and a christian, to point Him out where He is and celebrate Him there. from Justin McRoberts' Blog.

Christian music didn't really have a place in my life until I was in college. I don't mean that I didn't listen to it, I went to my share of Petra concerts at Six Flags and the like when I was young, but the music I was passionate about, the music I loved and obsessed over was not a part of the Christian music scene at all. I went to a small Christian college in the south fully armed with my Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Sarah McLachlan cds, etc. That was the music I loved. During my first few weeks at college I remember getting into a very intense conversation with a new friend about Christian music. I didn't really see why I should listen to it. I think I probably made the standard complaints. I don't like it. The lyrics don't feel anything like my life. It's boring. (with a few exceptions. I liked Jars of Clay, I think and maybe a few others) She, of course, argued for it, how good it was, etc.

It was this very friend who eventually introduced me to the music of Justin McRoberts. I can remember resisting at first and then suddenly--listening. Really listening. And that was that. I haven't missed a single album of his since.

Now we live in a very interactive age where it's much easier to keep up with an indie artist with wonderful things like Twitter! So when I saw that Justin was getting ready to release a covers album, I got excited. When I saw the songs, I thought...of course. It just made sense in a way I can't explain that so many of these songs that are so much a part of the fabric of my own musical life would be on a covers album by one of the artists that makes faith influenced music I enjoy.

Let me make two things clear from the start.
1) You do not need to be a Christian to appreciate how awesome this album is.
2) If you are a Christian you will appreciate how awesome this album is even though these aren't songs you'll find on the Christian radio station.

Covers of much beloved songs are always tough. Will they sound different enough? Will they bring new interpretations to the music and meaning of the song? I think there's a lot of value in it, you can often hear something new in a song presented in a slightly different way. And that's what you'll find here.

You will find fresh, beautiful, inspiring versions of songs you may be very familiar with. "Head Like a Hole" is a shot of pure genius, transforming the hard edged Nine Inch Nails song into a haunting song. My favorite track is number 4, "Fly From Heaven" The original Toad the Wet Sprocket song is lovely, but Justin has transformed it into this achingly gorgeous number I just can't seem to stop listening to. And naturally I love "Stripped" and "Please, please, please let me get what I want" I think these are the two I would be harder on than any other, and they pass.

In short, I think this one is worth your time. It's a work that I appreciate on many levels. I appreciate it for its sheer enjoyability, but also for what it means. For the meaning it has in the life of one my favorite artists and for the meaning he wishes to convey. If we would but listen to the world around us, I think we see God has no limits in how He chooses to reveal Himself.

Please visit Justin McRoberts' website to learn how you can order this CD and all of his other music, too.





Amy

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Very Informal Gone with the Wind and The Wind Done Gone Read-a-long

At some point last year I stated that I wanted to read Gone with the Wind. A bunch of other people also said they'd be game and so this read-a-long was born. I CANNOT BELIEVE TOMORROW IS MARCH!!! I meant to post about this ages ago, but the important thing is I'm posting about it now!

I'm not going to make this really structured, basically we'll be reading the book throughout the months of March and April. Nicole of Linus's Blanket suggested we also read The Wind Done Gone to get a better look at the slave perspective. So if you can please, read both books and join in on the discussion.

Here's how I'm planning to proceed with this. I'm going to go ahead and use Sundays as a time when we can post our progress. You don't have to make a post on your blog or anything if you don't want, but you are more than welcome to if you want.

I'm going to make a very relaxed schedule here, and I'll try to think of a discussion question or two each week and we can talk about the book in comments.

I know this is really short notice! I do apologize.

My proposed schedule:

March 7: Chapters 1-9
March 14: Chapters 10-18
March 21: Chapters 19-27
March 28: Chapters 28-36
April 4: Chapters 37-45
April 11: Chapters 46-54
April 18: Chapters 54-63
April 25: The Wind Done Gone

All of the sudden I feel really excited! I don't have a button or anything fun like that but please feel free to spread the word either on your blogs, via twitter or facebook...maybe we could discuss Gone with the Wind the movie on the first Sunday in May if there's interest.





Amy

Review: Anything but Normal by Melody Carlson

Anything but Normal
I have to admit when I started reading this book (which I accepted because of the author alone) I was nervous it was going to be nothing but a Christian version of Juno and Secret Life of an American Teenager. And in some ways it was, but it occurred to me that there wasn't a good book for YA girls from a Christian perspective about getting pregnant. I think there have been a lot of books for the adult market in Christian fiction but not so much the YA market.

Anything but Normal is the story of Sophie, a girl who gets seduced by a boy at church summer camp and winds up pregnant. Sophie made a purity pledge at her church and her best friend is the pastor's daughter, but Sophie's parents aren't involved in the church or even her life really. This makes it extremely possible for Sophie to hid her pregnancy for a long period of time.

I thought a lot of things Sophie went through were realistic, from living in denial to all of the issues she faced with her judgmental friends. I was a little nervous that the book was going to focus heavily on being pro-life at the expense of Sophie's genuine emotions and experience, but I was actually pleased that while there was a little bit of that mixed into the story, this was more the story of how Sophie dealt with being pregnant. I was pleased that Carlson took the approach she did, that she didn't glorify purity pledges and didn't demonize Sophie. In this way, I often find Melody Carlson's books refreshing, she's not as conservative as many other Christian fiction writers.

Having said that, I think she's almost too prolific. The writing is very simple and the whole second half of the book was much too rushed and didn't dig deeply enough into Sophie's reality for me. Still, it's a much needed conversation starter for the Christian YA market. And parents? Don't wait until your teens are 17 to let them read this. I recommend much younger. It's not graphic or explicit.

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction
Source of Book: Review copy received from publisher
Publisher: Revell




Amy

Friday, February 26, 2010

February Faith'n'Fiction Round Table: Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney

Wounded

Welcome to Faith'n'Fiction Saturday. The last Saturday of every month will be devoted to the Faith'n'Fiction Round Table. This is the very first round table and I want to express my gratitude to each participant for their graciousness, patience, and excellent discussion.

The book we discussed over email was Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney. Here's the publisher's description:

If a miracle happened to you, wouldn't you tell everyone? What if they thought you were crazy?

Poor in health but rich in faith, Gina Merritt—a young, broke, African-American single mother—sits in a pew on Ash Wednesday and has a holy vision. When it fades, her palms are bleeding. Anthony Priest, the junkie sitting beside her, instinctively touches her when she cries out, but Gina flees in shock and pain. A prize-winning journalist before drugs destroyed his career, Anthony is flooded with a sense of well-being and knows he is cured of his addiction. Without understanding why, Anthony follows Gina home to find some answers. Together they search for an answer to this miraculous event and along the way they cross paths with a skeptical evangelical pastor, a gentle Catholic priest, a certifiable religious zealot, and an oversized transvestite drug dealer, all of whom lend their opinion. It's a quest for truth, sanity, and grace . and an unexpected love story.


Our response to the book was very divided, but on one thing most of us could agree--it was very thought provoking. We discussed several issues and you can find each issue at the following blogs. The conversation was edited by me, so that each post can hopefully read as a stand-alone post for the ideas presented and discussed. I sincerely hope you will visit each of the participants blogs and learn about this fascinating book and join in the discussion.

Ignorant Historian -- The theology presented in the book

Books and Movies -- Jesus as Bridegroom

Booking Mama -- Suffering

Debbie -- Mental Illness and the church

Book Addiction -- The Characters of Wounded

My Random Thoughts -- Wounded as a Love Story (and a few other random things)

Wordlily -- Stigmata

Books, Movies, Chinese food-- The use of "the n word"

One Person's Journey Through a World of Books -- Miracles and Faith

March's round table will be In the Garden of the North American Martyrs which is a collection of short stories by Tobias Wolff. If you are interested in being invited to participate in a round table in the future please let me know. I am looking for a diversity of Christian bloggers. You do not have to (and in fact I'd love it if you didn't) normally blog about books. Just hit the contact button above and let me know.





Amy

Review: Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Quicksand
Frankly, the question came to this: what was the matter with her? Was there, without her knowing it, some peculiar lack in her? Absurd. But she began to have a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness. Why couldn't she be happy, content somewhere? Other people managed, somehow, to be. To put it plainly, didn't she know how? Was she incapable of it?


When I learned the classics circuit was going to be focusing on the Harlem Renaissance, I was really really excited. I don't know many of the writers of this time period at all and it seemed like a good chance to fill in the gaps of my education.

I picked Quicksand by Nella Larsen to read. Basically, I made this choice based on a few blurbs. As it turns out, Nella Larsen didn't write that much, I bought Quicksand (which is a novella) in a complete volume of her work that is less than 300 pages long. I can assure you after having read Quicksand I will be reading the rest of this book.

These people yapped loudly of race, of race consciousness, of race pride, and yet suppressed its most delightful manifestations, love of color, joy of rhythmic motion, naive, spontaneous laughter. Harmony, radiance, and simplicity, all the essentials of spiritual beauty in the race they had marked for destruction.

Quicksand is the story of Helga Crane, a half black half white educated woman. The story opens with Helga's discontent with her current place in life. She's a teacher in a school but she's weary of the conventions of the school, the expectations and conformity expected of everyone. She makes the decision to leave, but when her white uncle's wife won't take her in or offer her help, she's facing a life of the unknown. Helga struggles with her own painful past, a white mother who was abandoned by her father and later married another white man who hated her. When she tells the story to one of her new friends, her friend mentions she should not say she's white to the other black people they are going to meet in New York.

Throughout the story, Helga is trying to find herself, to find something that makes her happy and feel satisfied. I felt like Larsen crawled deeply into the skin of her character (and in fact the introduction suggests that Helga is really a thinly veiled version of Larsen), and I could feel the struggle and the restlessness within Helga so deeply. So much of her conflict is bound up in her feelings about race, but it's certainly not the only thing. Unfortunately, I identified strongly with Helga. I completely identified with that feeling you get at first of mad love and infatuation with a new stage of life only to have it turn into a kind of restlessness and despair after a year or so. Her lack of inner peace is palpable on every page and it's hard not to suspect that things won't end well...because this just isn't that kind of story. Quicksand is about reality.

One thing I really appreciated about the book is the exploration of race and how black people felt during this time period. I'm sorry to say it's not something I've spent a great deal of time thinking about. I understand the basic timeline of how things unfolded in our country in regards to race, but I don't feel like I have a deep understanding of the history. Something I've thought about this year is that I want to have a better, deeper understanding. So I enjoyed reading about where things were at this time period, and in particular the way Helga grappled with it herself. For instance, I wonder how many other women didn't want to have children so as not bring more people into the suffering that is their race? But even connecting strongly with her race didn't give Helga peace.

This isn't the kind of story where big sweeping things happen, but it's a page turner even so. Helga is so well drawn, her inner conflict, her loneliness, and despair such universal themes and so well portrayed that you will want to know how it turns out for her...and you might just cry a little, even if only in your heart, for how it all turns out.



Rating: 4.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There's some negative sentiments about Christianity in the book.
Source of Book: bought it
Publisher: Anchor books




Amy

Thursday, February 25, 2010

FIRST: Desert Fire by Shannon Van Roekel

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Desert Fire

Kregel Publications (September 22, 2009)

***Special thanks to Cat Hoort of Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Shannon Van Roekel has volunteered on the mission field in both Africa and Mexico and much of this novel is influenced by her experiences. She published works in Guideposts 4 Teens and The Upper Room and now lives with her husband and five children in British Colombia.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825439221
ISBN-13: 978-0825439223

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Dear Julia,

I want to die better than I’ve lived. So I ask you, please read this letter to the end.

It’s the only one I’ll send.

Cold, fluorescent light shone down on the metal desk where Fred Keegan sat. His hair was closely shaven along a massive neck between a pair of muscle-bound shoulders. He hunched over white notepaper, his right hand engulfing the pen.

A sigh escaped him, a moment passed, and then the pen scratched its way across the paper again:

If you receive this, it will mean I am gone from this world—so you can relax, I won’t come and disturb your life.

There are some things, however, that I’d like you to know about me.

One is that I’ve always loved you. I guess your mama didn’t spend much time talking about the father you probably had no trouble forgetting. I don’t blame either of you for having nothing to do with me. I was a real jerk. I was guilty, as charged, for the crimes I committed. That life, I am ashamed of, and I paid a high price. Thirty years in the slammer. And counting. I won’t bore you with the sorry-old-me stuff. Mostly, I want to tell you about the last eight years. Something important happened, and you should know not just who I was, but who I got to be and the Treasure I found. This is why I write to you.

I’ve got a picture of a cute kid taped to my wall. You’re missing your front teeth and have two of those pony things. You’re a cute gal and no mistake. Pretty, like your mama. The picture came in the last letter with the divorce papers.

Fred stopped, head bowed, eyes squeezed shut. The memories of that day still filled him with remorse. The rage he’d felt and his inability to control it. Two guards had taken the brunt, both of whom still carried scars marking the event. Two weeks in solitary was his punishment. Regrettably, not long enough to cure him of his anger-management problem.

Picking up his pen again, he gazed at the photo. The tape had yellowed with age. The girl never aged. She smiled back with sweetness and youth.

I guess you were seven in that photo. That means you’d be thirty-three now. I wonder if I’d know you if I saw you today. Can a man walk past his own kin and not feel the bond of blood that connects them? Recognize the spirit in the other who shares his same history, ancestors, and perhaps God? Maybe that’s why we get goose bumps. Maybe I’m a crazy old fool who’s had too much time to think about the inner workings of this thing we call life.

“Keegan, you got a visitor.”

Fred looked up as the guard unlocked the steel door and stepped aside, allowing a tall man access into his cell. His frown at being interrupted from his writing smoothed immediately into a grin when he recognized his guest.

“Mr. Lawyer, good to see ya.”

“Good to be seen, Keegan. How are you feeling today?” Joel Maartens returned Fred’s grin with one of his own.

“Feeling? I guess I’m fine. I’ve got things to do, and that helps keep my mind off the pain.” Fred tried to ignore the pity in Joel’s eyes.

“Let me guess, you’ve got new books?”

Fred followed Joel’s gaze as he glanced at the bookshelf on the opposite wall. His cell was compact: bed, desk, chair, toilet, sink. But the bookshelf reaching from floor to ceiling was the focal point.

“Nah! Not books this time. I’ve got a letter to write, and it’s not an easy thing to do, Mr. Lawyer.” Fred folded his large frame into a sitting position on the edge of his bed so Joel could take the chair. “That’s why I asked to see you. I need some help with its delivery.”

“You need a letter mailed?” Joel asked.

“Not mailed, delivered,” Fred explained.

“Got an address, Keegan?”

“Well, no. No, I don’t. But it’s to my daughter.”

Fred watched Joel, wondering how his lawyer would respond to his proposal. They had known each other for the last five years, and during that time, he had learned to value the man’s opinion. Joel seemed less like his lawyer and more like a nephew.

Joel leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers laced together as he spoke.

“I wouldn’t think it should be too difficult. There’ll be a marriage certificate if your ex remarried—would she be the type to remarry?” As Fred nodded and grimaced, Joel continued. “And of course, school registration forms. Maybe with some help from the Web, I could find an address or addresses where you can send the letter—”

“No,” Fred interjected. “I don’t want to mail it. It’s taken me a long time, Joel, but now that I have something of value to offer her, I want to know that it’ll get put into her hands. I don’t know who else to ask. I thought this thing through till my head feels like I’ve got two tumors, not one, and I keep coming back to you. I need you to do this.

“My daughter, Julia, will be my only heir, and you will be the executor—if you agree to it, that is. This search shouldn’t be complicated, but if it is, you can take any funds you require for it from the inheritance provision that you will write up with my signature and a third-party witness. I’m not a rich man, but I’m not a poor one, either, thanks to some of the investments you’ve helped me with.” He stopped. His outburst had winded him.

Fred prepared himself for disappointment as he watched Joel struggle with the ramifications of his request. Things that should be simple and straightforward were sometimes the opposite. For a lawyer to take on the unknown with no guarantee was a leap, and Fred knew it.

Joel hesitated for a moment, then gave a quick nod.

“I’ll do it, Keegan,” he told him.

As they shook hands over the agreement, Fred sighed with relief. He knew Joel would see it through. It was enough.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Two Totally Different Books

I have two books I am eagerly waiting to read for your consideration today. The first is by Julie Lessman.
The 1920s are drawing to a close, and feisty Katie O'Connor is the epitome of the new woman--smart and sassy with goals for her future that include the perfect husband and a challenging career in law. Her boyfriend Jake fits all of her criteria for a husband--good-looking, well-connected, wealthy, and head-over-heels in love with her. But when she is forced to spend the summer of 1929 with Luke McGee, the bane of her childhood existence, Katie comes face to face with a choice.
Will she follow her well-laid plans to marry Jake? Or will she fall for the man she swore to despise forever?
A Hope Undaunted is the engrossing first book in the Winds of Change series from popular author Julie Lessman. Readers will thrill at the highly charged romance in this passionate story.


It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Julie the author and the person and so I'm very much looking forward to this one since Katie was a favorite of mine in the other series. Due out in August!

The other is coming in April and is a memoir.
A loving, hard-working, godly couple has long been denied a family of their own. Finally, the wife makes a deal with God: if he blesses her with a child, she will dedicate that child to God's service. The result of that prayer was the birth of an influential — some say prophetic — voice. This is the story of Stanley Hauerwas, once named by Time magazine as the "best theologian in America." In this compelling memoir he gives a frank account of his own life interwoven with the development of his thought.

The story of Hauerwas's journey into Christian discipleship is captivating and inspiring. With genuine humility, he describes his intellectual struggles with faith, how he has dealt with the complex reality of marriage to a mentally ill partner, and the gift of friendships that have influenced his character. Throughout the narrative shines Hauerwas's conviction that the tale of his life is worth telling only because of the greater Christian story providing foundation and direction for his own.


Haurwas's book Resident Aliens has had a sort of big impact on my life, so I'm looking foward to this one due out in April from Eerdmans.





Amy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

LOST 6.5 Recap and Discussion: Lighthouse




What follows is a full on discussion of LOST. If you have not yet watched the episode, I recommend you not read this post.

Jack: How is it that we've never seen it before?
Hurley: I guess we weren't looking for it.


Even though this was a Jack-so-not-my-favorite-character centric episode, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I mean, psychotic Claire what's not to like?

Jack off the Island

Is a daddy!!!!!! This surprised me and I very much enjoyed this storyline of Jack trying not to repeat the mistakes of his father and working towards having some sort of relationship with his son, David. The fact that he did break through and connect in the end was...perfection. Resolution. Redemption for the way he totally screwed up with Aaron. Would Jack have been happier in the alternate reality? (what do you think is up with his father's missing body? Also, the bit about him not remembering having his appendix out...what do you think that's about?) Oh and he saw Dogen! What does this mean?

Jack on the Island
Is the same old slightly psychotic Jack. He's not about to do anything that doesn't seem like his idea. So when Jacob (still love him and hope he's a good guy) shows up and tells Hurley he needs to get Jack to the lighthouse, he also tells him exactly how. Hurley has to tell Jack "he has what it takes." Suddenly, it's Jack's idea to go figure out what this means. Thank God for the comic relief Hurley provides!
So they head off to the super cool Lighthouse. They stumble upon the caves on the way where they find Shannon's inhaler (shout out to the Comic Con panel!) and the skeletons again where Hurley voices the theory that the skeletons are the LOSTies.

I am sure there is all sorts of significance to the lighthouse with the mirrors and the wheel that those of you who are smarter than me can figure out. Do the mirrors reflect alternate realities? Do they reflect what's truly inside? Are they like the Mirror of Erised and show the heart's desire? In any case, all we saw was the house where Jack grew up. And then Jack goes truly psychotic on us and smashes the mirrors. Jacob's not too concerned, his only goal was to get Jack to realize his importance.

Other Stuff

Claire is in some ways living like Rousseau believing her baby to be with the others. But she's totally psychotic. Probably because her head has been stuffed full of lies from her friend. She ties up the Other and fixes Jin's leg. When Jin tries to tell her that Kate took Aaron, she still kills the other guy. Does this mean she's really evil? Does this mean Sayid is evil? Jacob didn't care that Sayid was still back at the temple he only wanted Hurley and Jack. What does this all mean?

Oh and did anyone else yell out do eeeeeeet!!!! when Claire said she'd kill Kate? :)

Overall I really enjoyed this episode but I suspect I will enjoy them all until the end. And I'm dying with the lack of previews!

Tell me all your thoughts and remind me of all the stuff I forgot about.




Amy

How Often Do You Read What You Think You Won't Like?

Earlier this year I read this piece on Salon from Laura Miller about challenging yourself to read a book you think you'll hate in 2010. I've been meaning to blog about it since, unfortunately time got away from me, but naturally, I love this idea.

I thought about it again when Ana mentioned that she doesn't often have to write negative reviews because as she says, "But it's true that these negative reviews are largely outnumbered by ones of books I did like, simply because as someone who reads for pleasure and has limited time in which to do so, I naturally gravitate towards literature I'm likely to enjoy - and over the years I've come to know my own reading taste well enough that the hits are far more common than the misses."

Well fair enough, I think a lot of us feel the same way, but it made me think about challenging yourself consciously to read something you think you won't like.

I can see you raising an eyebrow at me now. "Why, Amy?" you're asking. "Why would I purposefully look to read a book I think I won't like? Seems like a huge waste of time." I cannot say it better than Laura Miller said it,

Champions of the book like to think that reading broadens the mind and expands the sensibility. It can't do that, though, if the reading lists we choose from are too narrow.


Exactly. Reading narrowly doesn't expand our minds, because we've purposefully set out to limit ourselves already. If we read only within our own idealogy, political persuasion, religion, preferred time periods, or genres, or people we know will agree with us we're not going to learn as much as if we set out to read something totally outside of our normal experience. If we avoid a genre, a time period, a plot device, or setting, we are effectively shutting ourselves out of that part of the human experience and determining it has nothing to say to us.

I'm not suggesting we all go fill up our TBR piles with something we think we'll hate, but I am asking how willing we are to try to read a book we think we'll hate and open ourselves up to experience life and humanity in a different way. To boldly assert that books speak...and that there's value in reading all kinds of books.

One book. One book you shy away from, not because you're scared but because you think you won't like it. It might be chick lit. It might be translated work. It might be a western, a romance, a sci-fi novel, or YA. It might be a children's book, or Christian fiction. It might be a political thriller or a classic. It might be a nonfiction work or even poetry or a graphic novel. It might be a prize winner or a best-selling book. Or maybe this just means seeking out a book that is written by someone who has a different world view than you.

Will you join me in reading a book you think you'll hate in 2010? Will you take the chance?




Amy

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: No Such Thing as the Real World: Stories about Growing Up and Getting a Life

real World
No Such Thing as the Real World is a collection of short stories for the young adult market featuring some pretty heavy hitting names. I'd like to preface this review by saying that for people who think literary writing doesn't exist at the YA level, they ought to check out this book.

The concept behind this collection is that "the real world" begins at different times for different people and each story explores just what that means. I had only read two authors in here, and it's probably no surprise that their stories ended up being my favorites. I am interested in checking out work by some of the other authors as well, though. I'm going to go through and rate each story individually and then the collection as a whole.

"Complication" by An Na is the story of a teenage girl who is meeting up with an older man for several evenings. She's hoping to seduce him but they each have a secret, a reason they are meeting. She wants to use him for something, he's trying to understand something from his past. I found this story somewhat confusing, and I didn't love the ending. I did appreciate the style of the writing, though, and look forward to reading more by An Na. 3.75/5

"The Projection: A Two Part Invention" by M.T. Anderson is about two kids doing an improv for drama. Things quickly turn for the bizarre, though. This one I liked a lot. It reminded me of the Invention of Morel (which is a huge spoiler) and packs the quick kind of punch that makes short stories so memorable. 4.5/5

"Survival" by K.L. Going is the sort of story you might more typically expect to find in a collection about coming of age and while it was entertaining enough, it didn't wow me. I also had a hard time believing one of the things that happened, but that's just me. 3.5/5

"The Longest Distance" by Beth Kephart is nothing short of exquisitely beautiful. It's a short story about grief, about an unexpected grief and how you deal with it in the aftermath, how you wonder when time will kick in and ease the pain and looking back and trying to deal with it all. Beth's writing is just so beautiful, it just embodies life--fragile hope, tentative beginnings, living with yourself. It left me teary, as it seems her work always does. The price of this collection is worth it for this story alone.
"Where do ghosts go? How do you deal with all the impossible possibilities? How do you find your way through, to the other side of change?" 5/5

"Arrangements" by Chris Lynch is such a strange little story. So many of these stories felt surreal to me, and I guess maybe that was a bit of the point, since there's no such thing as the real world. This one's about a boy whose father has passed away and he's taken over the family business, which in this case is a pawn shop. And it's about how he learns more of who his father was and what life is through the customers that come in that day. 3.5/5

"The Company" by Jacqueline Woodson was my other favorite in this collection. Woodson has that rare gift of seeing down into the heart of her characters and then sharing it in a story. I love feeling punched in the gut with the honesty of emotions in fiction. Here's an example of why I love Woodson's writing so much:

"Sometimes you wish you could just chasse your ass way back in time and snatch all the nasty stuff you did and said and thought back out of the world. It's like it hangs there, in the air, forever. And every time you look back into the past, it's there, screaming back at you--your own dumb-ass words, all loud inside your head again"

Anyway this story is about a gay dancer who is temporarily sidelined due to a spraned ankle and he reflects on his life and family. Really, it's a brilliant and touching little story. 5/5

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There's a fair bit of profanity
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: HarperTeen




Amy

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger

eternalonwater
My first thought on seeing the wolves....--was that I had never imagined a wolf properly. It was an odd thought, but it made sense to me. A wolf is not the wolf of your dreams, I realized. They looked much more canine, for one thing, and more wild in the same breath.

Eternal on the Water is in some ways a simple story. It's a simple story about two people who are lucky enough to find each other (a little later in life than normal), to know that they are absolutely meant to be together, who build a life together, who share the beauty of nature, and living life to the fullest together. It is not terribly unique in that regard, and yet I loved this book. When I first started reading it, I wondered if I would like it, but I found myself constantly wanting to pick it back up. It's not that a whole lot happens in the book at a rapid pace, it's that the characters are so unique and loveable, that I came to genuinely care about their journey and enjoy that their simple exchanges brought me joy, in this way the book felt like it was about the very best of humanity.

Jonathan Cobb meets Mary Fury almost by chance when he is on a writing trip. They spend some together in the woods of Maine when they feel love at first sight, they get to know each other. But Cobb soon learns that Mary is carrying a burden that allows her to embrace life to its fullest, she believes she may have Huntington's Disease. She has never been tested, because she doesn't want to give the disease that room in her life. But she allows herself to be tested when Cobb wants to get seriously and permanently involved.

I think you can guess the result.

But the book isn't about that, not really. Eternal on the Water is a love story. It's an optimistic, hopeful, love story. It's a love story between a man and a woman and people and life, and people and nature, and I was surprised by just how taken I was with it. It's a touching story, but it's also the kind of book that made me feel like I should be embracing life more. And I really can't say anything bad about that.

I'm can't say that everyone would like this, but for me it was the perfect read at the perfect time. I'm a sucker for books that are about people coming together and building something new and beautiful and healing together (without being ridiculously sentimental). If you like that, you might like this, too.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: some sex maybe some language I can't remember
Source of Book: Review copy provided by publisher
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster)




Amy

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Poetry and Tragic Love: Recommend Some (The Sunday Salon)

I used to love reading poetry. I even tried to write it. (still do sometimes--don't tell anyone)

But somehow I got distracted and away from it. Then I was reading The Heart is not a Size by Beth Kephart and she uses poetry by Jack Gilbert in the book and I thought-- this sounds like good stuff. So I bought a book of his poetry and guess what? It's good stuff. And I thought...I would read more poetry if I knew it was going to be good like this. (I don't actually like all poetry so this is tricky)

So...I'd love to hear your recommendations. And where I might be able to find some online samples. For some reason, poetry seems like a much harder field to navigate. (well I sort of feel that way about graphic novels too) I think I'm a little bit picky about poetry but I don't know my poetic identity well enough yet to explain how. So this could be fun! Send all your friends! Or recommend a poetry blog....I know they're out there because I got a lot of complaints that it wasn't a BBAW Awards category. :)

In other news, I'm currently reading Eternal on the Water which is a bit of a sad tragic love story. Last week, I read The Disappeared which is also one of the saddest love stories I've ever read. I'm totally in the mood for these for some reason. Maybe because my own love life is such a tragedy. In any case, I'd love to hear your recommendations for the best tragic love stories. One rule is that you cannot recommend Nicholas Sparks. I am not in the mood to be emotionally manipulated, I'm in the mood for well written tragic love stories. ;)

I hope you are all having a wonderful, wonderful weekend!




Amy

Insecurity

Beth Moore, in writing about Saul and David from the Bible:

"I'd like to suggest the possibility that he liked David and despised him at the same time. That's not an uncommon response toward people we admire but who also make us feel threatened and insecure. We're not jealous of people in whom we see nothing admirable. In fact, it is the fear that they have something we don't that makes us most insecure."

--From So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore




Amy

Friday, February 19, 2010

Faith'n' Fiction Saturday: What Keeps You from Recommending a Book?

Faith'n'Fiction Saturday is a weekly event where we discuss faith and fiction. The Christian faith mostly. You are welcome to join in by adding to the discussion in comments or by writing a post on your own blog.

Today's question is simple:

What keeps you from recommending a book? Poor writing? Poor theology? Explicit sex? Profanity? Violence? Inappropriate subject matter? Are there any books you love so much you would recommend them to anyone or does each recommendation you make take the person you are recommending the book to into consideration?

Review: The Pastor's Wife by Jennifer AlLee

As I've stated numerous times before, I am a pastor's daughter so whenever a book examines the role of the family of the pastor or even the life of a pastor, I am both interested and cautious. So I was interested in this portrayal of a pastor's wife.

Maura left Nick 6 years ago when she realized he was giving the church and not her his wholehearted devotion. But when a member of the congregations passes away and leaves a will stating that Maura will inherit the town's old theater if she lives with Nick for six months and allows one church production to take place in the theater. She quickly agrees despite the awkward arrangement.

Can Nick and Maura find healing and learn how to live around one another's schedules and differences? Will Maura rediscover her faith in God?

I enjoyed The Pastor's Wife, I thought it was a fun and easy read. It does tackle some serious issues and touches on some serious insecurities that a pastor's wife faces, but for the most part it's a fairly predictable and enjoyable read. This is definitely Christian fiction and so much of it takes place in church culture. Personally, Nick did get on my nerves a little bit, but I was glad that both Maura and Nick had the chance to talk out their expectations for their jobs and their relationship.

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction
Source of Book: Received from publisher for revew
Publisher: Abingdon Press




Amy

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

spider bite
I enjoy an urban fantasy of this nature from time to time, but I sometimes have a hard time picking out the ones I'll really like. I like the tough female characters but can live without all the sex, no matter how hot. ;) I like the world to be clearly drawn, not too confusing, original but not ridiculous sounding. That's all I ask.

Spider's Bite was an enjoyable read. I really liked the idea of elementals, people who have magic to manipulate certain elements. Gin for example, is a stone elemental so she can manipulate stone and also read emotions through them. She also happens to be an assassin. Of course, we need the tough girl!

Gin gets hired for a big deal, but it goes wrong. When someone she loves ends up dead, and the whole world is looking for her, she finds herself partnering with an unlikely person (naturally a hot guy) to avenge his death and clear her name.

Like I said, this is an enjoyable fast read. The world is pretty easy to understand and unique in it's own way. I enjoyed reading about Gin who is not only a super amazing assassin but apparently also the world's best cook! I liked the chemistry between her and Donovan as well.

Admittedly, I think the story went on just a bit too long and could have been a little shorter, but overall this was a nice quick read in an interesting magical world.

Rating: 3.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: profanity, sex, and violence
Source of Book: Provided by publisher for review
Publisher: Pocket Books




Amy

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Henry Oades
Every once in awhile I'll read a story where a man goes off to war, leaves his wife behind and goes missing in action for a long enough time she thinks he's dead and she starts to go on with her life. Meanwhile, he's actually alive and dreaming of his reunion with her to keep him alive. He comes back and she's gotten remarried or something horrible. These are the worst kinds of stories, they are just so heart shattering.

The Wives of Henry Oades is a little bit like this but the reverse. Henry and Margaret leave England for a great posting and job opportunity for Henry in New Zealand. They already have children, and while there Margaret also has twin girls. But one day, Maori invade their home and kidnap Margaret and her children and take them for slaves. Henry grieves, believes them to be dead, moves to California, and eventually remarries.

Margaret and her children manage to escape, however, and eventually show up in California. What will happen? She is after still legally Henry's wife and has his children. But Henry is in love with his new wife and grieved the loss of Margaret long ago.

This book is very easy to read and really keeps you with it. I think that Moran does an excellent job of creating sympathetic characters. It's hard not to like and admire all of the characters and feel for them in each of their unique situations. I almost think she goes out of her way to make Henry's grief over Margaret and his children huge and almost insurmountable. But having said that..

I just couldn't help but feel really sorry for Margaret! Everything about her life ended up being about Henry, she wouldn't have been in New Zealand if not for him and once in California she felt she had to stay for her children's sake. It just seemed so unfair! And so despite the fact that the characters were sketched sympathetically, I don't think the book delves very deep into what they are feeling...I never felt like I understood very deeply the struggle of finding the man you'd been living for happily living without you, and not to be too frank, but being able to hear everything and know what's going on. And from the Nancy, the second wives' point of view, I think I would have felt much more insecure. So while I appreciated the story and the unusual arrangement the Oades had, it was hard for me to really believe it would all work out so smoothly. The most opposition they faced was from outside of them,, the town that wanted to say they were polygamists. Furthermore, I imagine after living with the Maori and being in slavery for so long, that Margaret and the children would have been suffering from more post-traumatic stress, but it seems they just fit into the life quite well.

I think Moran wanted to focus more on the power of female relationships. In fact, I think her central point is summed up well by this quote early in the book,

"Margaret tried, but she couldn't make him understand an affection forged in a single morning. The small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man. Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life."

I suppose this book is a good example of the love of mothers and the ability of women to act selflessly in the best interest of their children. I don't know if I would have been able to do the same.

Rating: 4/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Brief strong language
Source of Book: Received from publisher for TLC Blog Tour
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)





Amy

Review: Desperate Hope: When Faith in God Overcame My Despair by Candi Pearson-Shelton

Back when I was but a young thing in college, I was all about the Passion movement, which I'm sure many of you have heard of. Basically, Passion is a conference (I think they like to be called a movement now) for college aged students where you go and sing cool worship songs and hear fantastic speakers. I went to college near Atlanta where it just so happened Louie Giglio, Passion's founder, preached at a Bible study called 7:22. My friends and I went to that often. I also went to the first OneDay which was basically a one day (ha! it was really like 3 days) meeting on a big field. We camped out and everything. I have nothing but the very best memories of that, my friend and I were absolutely pitiful at camping!

Anyway, Candi Pearson, now Candi Pearson-Shelton was involved in worship at all of these things and I always watched her with interest. (like Christy Nockels another woman who made it in a role of leadership in this environment, but that's another story about another issue for another time) So when this book popped up for review, I was very interested in it. I have long since lost track of what Passion is doing now, but they were a huge force when I was in college and had a big hand in reshaping the worship music scene. (for better or worse--does your church only sing Chris Tomlin songs? Know what I mean?)

Desperate Hope is the story of how Candi came to terms with the death of her brother when he was only 23 years of age. It's a very raw accounting and very beautifully written. Candi doesn't tell the story in a dry way at all, she tells it through her emotional experiences. Meaning, it was hard to tell what the exact details were because the book is more about the steps of acceptance and the processes God brought her through.

While I really appreciated Candi's heart through the book, I felt the book could have used a little extra guidance. It assumes you have a certain knowledge, this is really just a nit picky thing but for example when she mentions Beth Moore, she gives her no introduction. She doesn't say, Bible teacher Beth Moore, or something like that, and for some reason this bothers me. I think because it unnecessarily limits the audience. There's just a bit too much assumption that the reader knows who Candi is and her background with Passion.

Having said that, anyone going through a really painful time in their life who wishes to turn to God for help to get through should find comfort and hope in these pages.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: For Christians
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Cook

Substance of Hope


Oh blessed hope, sole boon of man, whereby on his straight prison walls are painted beautiful, far-reaching landscapes, and stretched into the night of very doom is spread holiest dawn. —Thomas Carlyle


If you could hope for just one thing, what would it be? What is that one hope that causes you to wake every morning and trudge through these days? Something, something in the fiber of an existence fuels each breath. If not, then what good is living? Lost hope is lost meaning, and lost meaning is void—dull, still, black. This is no life. This is more like what I imagine hell would be.


We need a marvelous hope because we need purpose. We pray for what we hope for because our entire being screams out a deep longing for it, and to lose this would be to lose ourselves. So what can be the object of this kind of hope? What is the single greatest imaginable hope?


The substance of such a worthy hope, the kind that gives purpose and meaning to this life, is recorded in the gospel of John, tucked inside one of Jesus’ prayers. Chapter 17 records what Jesus thought important enough to pray for. This was His deep longing, and in His perfect marriage of deity and humanity, He offered us a glimpse of His object of great hope. In this chapter we find Jesus praying a remarkably simple prayer that can be broken into three distinct parts.


First, He prays for Himself. In the few beginning sentences, He establishes with His father the importance of their reciprocated glory, praying that God would glorify Him so that He could in turn glorify God. He confidently confesses the beautiful fulfillment of His mission, acknowledging the work He had been sent to do was done. His primary concern for Himself, His worthy and God-centered hope, was that in the time approaching—His betrayal, arrest, and death—He would continue in the reciprocal glory between Father and Son, and God would bring Him back into the glory they shared before the beginning of the world (verses 1-5). His desire for Himself? To reveal the glory of His Father and get back to Him as soon as possible.


The second part of the prayer is for His disciples. This piece of His prayer is especially moving because it reveals His genuine affection for these men, these friends and brothers, to whom He’d grown so close. The first part reads like a proud papa spouting off a list of the things His children have accomplished. They kept His word, they accepted it as truth, and believed Jesus to be the Son of God, and they glorified the Father because of it. Jesus’ tender love is revealed as He prays according to His great hope for these men. He asks for a bond of unity, the same brand He enjoys with God His Father. He asks for His own joy to be fulfilled—literally crammed—in them. He prays that God would keep them protected from the enemy as they carry out the tasks that were entrusted to them. His great hope for His friends, His disciples? That they would exist joyfully in unity as they spread the beauty of the gospel, which is the hope of glory and the promise of being with Jesus the Savior forever in His Father’s kingdom.


The third part of this prayer is my favorite because it puts an exclamation point on Jesus’ great hope. It happens to be where we come in, too. Jesus actually prays for us—you and me—in John 17! Isn’t that an amazing discovery? Before we were even given an earthly thought, He divinely prayed for us, and we have the proof of His thoughts toward us in this chapter. His prayer for us sounds very much like those for Himself and His disciples. He prays that we, those of us to come who would believe in Him, would also enjoy the same unity that He has with His Father. He set His glory on us so that we would fully know the unity He desires for us, and so the world would see how much we are loved by the Father. Then he adds the icing:

Father, I want these whom you’ve given me to be with me, so they can see my glory. (John 17:24)


There it is: Jesus’ great hope is for us to be with Him so we can relish His supreme grandness—to see His glory. In the three-part prayer for us all, He illuminated the hope that fueled His words, His actions, His life, and His death. He wants us all to see His glory, and He desperately wants us all with Him.


This incredible truth is far easier to read and accept with eager willingness, easier to apply to our own lives, when we haven’t found ourselves in the precarious position of praying against Jesus. Trying to reconcile our hopes with the hope that is evidenced in Jesus’ prayer means that we will no doubt find ourselves pleading against the very thing Christ has already prayed for. Rick’s sickness highlighted the opposing prayers God hears, as well as the wide contrast between our sometimes selfish hope and the pure and perfect hope of Jesus. We prayed for more time here, for healing, for miraculous things, but things that ultimately kept Rick physically intact and in close proximity.


And Ricky died.


And Jesus prayed for this!


I find it hard to say anything more eloquently and God-breathed than the words Charles Spurgeon has already penned:

Thus the disciple is at cross—purposes with his Lord. The soul cannot be in both places: the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you too. Now, which pleader shall win the day? If you had your choice; if the King should step from His throne, and say, “Here are two supplicants praying in opposition to one another, which shall be answered?” Oh! I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, “Jesus, not my will, but Thine be done.” You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction——”Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” Lord, Thou shalt have them. By faith we let them go.


Understanding the deep ramifications of an answered prayer, one way or another, is to consider all its facets. For me, it is an astonishingly brighter mourning when a child of God returns to Him because Christ’s prayers were answered rather than my own … that the death wasn’t just a blip on the radar screen of life, or a chance occurrence among the other random happenings here on earth. This was an event that has been prayed for over the course of history. Our prayers would have only recently joined in with that of Christ’s, which continues to ring out through time for each of us who believes. He loves us more than understanding can allow us to think upon, and sometimes God grants His Son’s prayer with a “yes” answer, at the expense of our mortal but temporary wounds, and to the blissful delight of all the beings in heaven. He did with Rick, and we continue to turn the diamond of an answered prayer in order to see more facets when the Light touches them.


Now I stand with the diamond in hand—His answer to our prayers. I stand in the aftermath of hope. To say that a journey of hope can have an aftermath is fiercely accurate, as only one who has been on such a journey can know. What a mere day looks like after such a grueling journey; how small moments suddenly inflict enormous emotion; how a lifetime feels in the wake of crushing sorrow and miraculous graces intertwined—all are a part of the full experience of the aftermath.


There is more to an aftermath than a simple time of felt consequences left from the disaster that brings it about. Instead, it is more akin to a second growth from the season of pain, the harvest of our grief bringing about a second crop. The aftermath of hope is about wandering around in the rubble, finding the green mingled in with the char, picking up the pieces that aren’t burned or completely shattered, and finding in the new growth a collection of new ideas, new vision, new character, and a new, more certain hope.


And whether from talent or compulsion of the soul, there is great value in recording the gentle whispers and hard-learned faith lessons that make up the aftermath, springing up like tender shoots of vivid green grass through the contrasting blackened dry soot. These are my blades of grass, the lessons in the aftermath, told with the heart of an explorer fresh from the adventure, brimming with tales of terror and scars, of beauty and redemption.


The aftermath of hope. Hope in all its glory.



©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Desperate Hope by Candi Pearson-Shelton. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

CFBA Book Spotlight: Love Finds You in Bridal Veil Oregon by Miralee Ferrell

About the Book: Against a backdrop of thievery and murder in Bridal Veil Falls, Oregon, a historic logging community, a schoolteacher is torn between the memories of a distant love and the man who could be her future.

Sixteen-year-old Margaret Garvey had given her heart to Nathaniel Cooper the night he disappeared from town. Four years later, just as she's giving love a second chance with Andrew, a handsome logger, Nathaniel suddenly returns. He steams back into Bridal Veil on a riverboat to work at the nearby sawmill to town with a devastating secret.

While grappling with the betrayal of those she trusted most, Margaret risks her reputation and position by harboring two troubled runaways who might be involved in the murder of a local man.

When disaster strikes the town and threatens the welfare of its citizens, Margaret will be faced with the most important choice of her life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

LOST Discussion: 6.04 The Substitute

Child Lost

As usual, this is a full on discussion so please don't read it if you haven't watched the episode, The Substitute yet.

To be quite honest, my first reaction is, huh?

I'm not feeling all that well, so this will be brief. But--

Locke in alternate timeline:
Helen is alive! Yay! They are in love and getting married and apparently Locke doesn't have a damaged relationship with his father? Or is this just something he's been lying to her about, like he lied to her about going to the conference. He was still unable to the walkabout but since he went on the company's dime, he got fired. Never fear, Hurley owns everything and hooks him up at a temp agency where Rose works and she still has cancer :( I love the way their lives are all connecting anyway, even to the point where Ben is a teacher at the school where Locke ends up a substitute. The arc of the Locke character in this segment seems to be Locke coming to terms with staying in the wheelchair and believing there are no miracles.

The Island

Huh?

Seriously, huh?

Who's the kid and why can't they kill Jacob? (and why does this feel like when Alex got killed all over again) What's up with Flocke taking on Locke's personality traits? ("Don't tell me what I can't do?") How come no one ever found that cave before? Is fLocke telling the truth about the candidates? Are they really candidates for taking care of the island or something much different? Did anyone else ever get the feeling that fLocke was a bit like Lucifer? I seriously couldn't help but think this when he told Richard he would have told him everything and promised to answer the most essential questions for Sawyer.

Sawyer did make me laugh tonight thank God. I also feared he might plunge to his death so I'm glad that didn't happen. I am extremely curious as to why they must leave the island together and exactly what that means.

I'm not sure I really feel like I got any answers tonight, since I don't know if I can trust Mr. Smokey!

Your Thoughts?

Amy

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner


Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost is a collection of personal stories by Matthew Paul Turner dealing with how music played a role in his life. Of course I wanted to read this the moment I heard about it (despite the fact that Churched remains in the TBR pile) because I'm always interested in how music plays a part in our lives. (similar to books. Music lovers, you know it's similar to books)

I really enjoyed this one, I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so much while reading. Turner grew up in a fundamentalist church with rather strict rules. For instance, they had to sneak off to see Sandi Patty. This story humored me greatly, we actually listened to a fair bit of Christian music in my home growing up and my mom loved Sandi Patty, but all of the controversies I remember, like if a song didn't mention Jesus (like Love in any Language) it was such a bad thing. So while my home and churches were much less conservative, there were some definite commonalities. I laughed through quite a few of the early stories, but the stories towards the end really touched me. My favorite story is "Chasing Amy" which is about Turner's experience with his musical hero Amy Grant, and the opportunity he had to interview her when he worked as an editor for CCM magazine. (it was the magazine for Christian music) Amy Grant, by far, faced the judgement of the Christian subculture more than almost anyone else I can think of for both her attempt to "crossover" into mainstream pop music and her divorce. It was such an issue of hot debate, and it was interesting to read his perspective. But what I loved most of all was the way he identified Amy as "his storyteller." It's eloquently put and I know exactly what he means since I have an artist I think of in much the same terms. I just loved it.

I really recommend Hear No Evil for people who aren't afraid to laugh at the ridiculousness of the evangelical Christian subculture (while still loving it), who maybe have a fairly conservative background, who can find the grace and hope through the humor, and of course, who love music. I'd even venture to say you don't have to believe in Jesus to enjoy this book.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: if you are particularly sensitive I recommend you stay away.
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: WaterBrook Press

Matthew Paul Turner is one of the most prolific people I follow on twitter, @JesusNeedsNewPR He also has a blog, Jesus Needs New PR

Giveaway: I have a copy to give away. Due to the fact that I'm poor, I need to limit this one to the United States only. Sorry. To enter, just leave a comment and tell me who your favorite Christian singer or songwriter is. If you don't have one, tell me if you've ever heard of any of them!




Amy

Review: So Long Insecurity (You've Been a Bad Friend to Us) by Beth Moore

I don't even know where to start talking about this book, but I guess I'll start with talking a little bit about me. Insecurity is by far my biggest enemy. I recognize that, I know that, I've known it since, probably junior high, I hate it, I wish it wasn't so, but I've never been able to take the necessary steps to fully work through it. It has wreaked havoc on my life in ways I'm not comfortable sharing in such an open forum, but rest assured that it has certainly had its way with me. So when I picked up this book, I figured I would like it, because I love Beth Moore and it's dealing with a huge issue in my life.

When I started reading it, I didn't feel I would be able to read it all in one go because it was so uncomfortably true. I read a section, set it down for awhile, and then consumed the majority of the book today as I sat out in the warm sunshine. I cried. I found myself surprised by the realization of JUST HOW MUCH of my life has been driven by my insecurity. I am happy to have read this book, and I hope and pray that I take it to heart. It can be so easy to read these truths and then forget them. But I don't want to forget. I want to win this battle.

I realize that this review which is a bit more of a personal journal might be a bit too much for some of you...feel free to skip it! But because the subject matter and the whole purpose of the book is to help you deal with your insecurity and because this is a book blog, well it's gonna get personal.

Beth Moore is a Christian speaker and writer, I feel I should say that first, so this book is about dealing with your insecurity through your relationship with God. Her whole assertion is that we can be whole and be clothed in dignity and security because of who God is. If you have never read her books or done her studies she has a real gift of communication...of communicating God's love and tenderness towards us. She doesn't deny bad things or tempting sin at all, she never minimizes how hard life is, her central message is that we are created to have loving relationships with God. She does have some conservative theological leanings that might bother some (I don't agree with everything she teaches for example), but she has successfully ministered to women across the Christian experience, she desires unity in the body of Christ and this has always impressed me.

Anyway, she makes many points in this book which I really appreciated. First, she establishes what insecurity is and that pretty much every woman has faced it in different degrees and that if often masks itself as something else. She provides Biblical examples, she shares anonymous stories that people shared on her blog, she examines the roots of insecurity, and then the gold for me is a prayer exercise she has in the middle of the book. I actually wept as I prayed through some of these things and as I tried to dig into the deepest darkest parts of myself. And when I finished I really felt a lot of peace...and hope that maybe I really will be able to fight this.

She also spends considerable time examining the ways men and women deal with insecurity differently. She's very careful to say she's speaking in generalities, but for the most part we are insecure about different things and we usually respond opposite of one another. It's helpful to be aware in relationships to know that this is true.

One point she brings up is that we all have a false positive, the thing we think if it was fixed in our lives would make us secure in all other areas. I really struggled with this, because I feel pretty insecure in a couple of different areas. I think maybe the false positive changes depending on the situation.

And like any good counseling, she brings you to a point where you have to look at what you're really afraid of, since insecurity is mostly driven by fear. If all the bad things you think might happen, happened, would you still come out okay somehow with God?

This book just really hit me where I am right now. I'm turning 30 this year, and it's time I really dealt with this. So very much of what she said rang true for me and it was like having someone peak into the ugly parts of who I am. I'm excited to really apply this and go forth and not be afraid of who God created me to be.

Also, since this is supposed to be a review, I'll say that Beth's writing style is extremely engaging, she's funny, and it's light and easy to read. She is gifted with communication there's no doubt about that.

Rating: 5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian nonfiction
Publisher: Tyndale
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review.

Mad Enough to Change

I’m seriously ticked. And I need to do something about it. Some people eat when they’re about to rupture with emotion. Others throw up. Or jog. Or go to bed. Some have a holy fit. Others stuff it and try to forget it. I can do all those things in sequential order, but I still don’t find relief.

When my soul is inflating until my skin feels like a balloon about to pop, I write. Never longhand, if I can help it. The more emotion I feel, the more I appreciate banging on the keys of a computer. I type by faith and not by sight. My keyboard can attest to the fact that I am a passionate person with an obsession for words: most of the vowels are worn off. The word ticked really should have more vowels. Maybe what I am is peeved. That’s a good one. How about irrationally irritated to oblivion? Let that one wear the vowels off a keyboard.

The thing is, I’m not even sure exactly who I’m ticked at. I’m hoping to find that out as I hack away at these chapters. One thing is for certain. Once I figure it out, I probably won’t keep it to myself. After all, you know how the saying goes: hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And I’m feeling scorned.

But not just for myself. I’m feeling ticked for the whole mess of us born with a pair of X chromosomes. My whole ministry life is lived out in the blessed chaos of a female cornucopia. I’ve been looking at our gender through the lens of Scripture for twenty-five solid years, and I have pondered over us, taken up for us, laid into us, deliberated over us, prayed about us, lost sleep because of us, cried for us, laughed my head off at us, and gotten offended for us—and by us—more times than I can count. And after a quarter of a century surrounded by girls ranging all the way from kindergarteners to those resting on pale pink liners inside caskets, I’ve come to this loving conclusion: we need help. I need help. Something more than what we’re getting.

The woman I passed a few days ago on the freeway who was bawling her eyes out at the steering wheel of her Nissan needs help. The girl lying about her age in order to get a job in a topless bar needs help. The divorcée who has loathed herself into fifty extra pounds needs help. For crying out loud, that female rock star I’ve disdained for years needs help. When I read something demeaning her ex said about her recently—something I know would cut any female to the quick—I jumped to her defense like a jackal on a field mouse and seriously wondered how I could contact her agent and offer to mentor her in Bible study.

Several days ago I sat in a tearoom across the table from a gorgeous woman I love dearly. She has been married for three months, and they did all the right things leading up to that sacred ceremony, heightening the anticipation considerably. After an hour or so of musing over marriage, she said to me, “Last weekend he seemed disinterested in me. I’ll be honest with you. It kind of shook me up. I wanted to ask him, ‘So, are you over me now? That quick? That’s it?’”

I’m pretty certain her husband will perk back up, but what a tragedy that she feels like she possesses the shelf life of a video game.

I flashed back to another recent communication with a magazine-cover-beautiful thirty-year-old woman who mentioned—almost in passing—that she has to dress up in costumes in order for her husband to want to make love to her. I’m not knocking her pink-feathered heels, but I wonder if she is paying too much for them. I’m just sad that she can’t feel desirable as herself.

Then yesterday I learned that a darling fifteen-year-old I keep in touch with slept with her boyfriend in a last-ditch effort to hold on to him. He broke up with her anyway. Then he told. It’s all over her high school now.

I’ve got a loved one going through her third divorce. She wants to find a good man in the worst way, and goodness knows they’re out there. The problem is, she keeps marrying the same kind of man.

I’m so ticked.

If these examples were exceptions to the rule, I wouldn’t bother writing, but you and I both know better than that. I hear echoes of fear and desperation from women day in and day out—even if they’re doing their best to muffle the sound with their Coach bags. Oh, who am I kidding? I hear reverberations from my own heart more times than I want to admit. I keep trying to stifle it, but it won’t shut up. Something’s wrong with us for us to value ourselves so little. Our culture has thrown us under the bus. We have a fissure down the spine of our souls and, boy, does it need fixing.

This morning while I was getting ready for church, my cell phone nearly vibrated off the bathroom counter with six incoming texts from a single friend who was having a crisis of heart. I answered her with what little I had to give, even as I grappled with my own issues. I decided that what I needed was a good sermon to keep me from crying off my eyeliner, so I flipped on the television to a terrific local preacher. Lo and behold, the sermon was about what a woman needs from a man.

Deep sigh.

Actually, it was a great message if anyone had a mind to do what he was recommending, but knowing human nature and feeling uncharacteristically cynical, I could feel my frustration mounting. The preacher had done his homework. He offered half a dozen Scripture-based PowerPoint slides with state-of-the-art graphics describing what men should do for women. “Women want to be told that they are captivating. That they’re beautiful. Desirable.”

I won’t deny that. What woman wouldn’t thrive under that kind of steady affirmation?

But here’s my question: What if no one tells us that? Can we still find a way to be okay? Or what if he says it because he’s supposed to, but to be honest, he’s not feeling it? Are we hopeless? What if a man is not captivated by us? What if he doesn’t think we’re particularly beautiful? Or, understandably, maybe just not every day? Are we only secure on his “on” days? What if he loves us but is not quite as captivated by us as he used to be? What if his computer is full of images of what he finds attractive, and we’re light-years from it? What if we’re seventy-five, and every ounce of desirability is long behind us? Can we still feel adequate in our media-driven society?



Adapted from So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore. Copyright © 2010 by Beth Moore. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Double Trouble by Susan May Warren

Double Trouble
Whenever I want to read a fun Christian fiction novel with some humor, heart, and the just the right tone of romance, I turn to Susan May Warren. She is hands down one of my favorite Christian fiction authors for this very reason, I always enjoy her books and the romance! It's always just right, without being ridiculous.

Double Trouble is the second book in the PJ Sugar series. I especially enjoyed this one because I really relate to where PJ is at in life...trying to make a fresh start without having any clue of what that looks like. Unfortunately, I do not relate to having two super hot guys in love with me, but hey that's why we read fiction. In reality, I don't think I'd deal with it all that well. (nor do I think PJ does)

PJ has been back in town for two months after ten years of wandering and she's living with her sister and her sister's Russian in-laws. But what she really wants is to prove herself as a PI. However, she does manage to get herself involved in a few mishaps and Jeremy (her boss and one of the hot guys) decides to give her what he thinks will be a safe assignment for her, impersonating a woman they need to hide. PJ quickly learns it's not all that safe, but she has many fun adventures along the way. Boone, her high school lover, has proposed to her meanwhile and PJ must decide if she loves him enough to commit her life to him.

Like I said, I love the way Susan May Warren writes romance. There's a scene where PJ is watching Roman Holiday and talking on the phone with Jeremy that's just...melt your heart perfect. Needless to say? I'm Team Jeremy.

Double Trouble is a fun book about a woman trying to come to peace with who she is and with her past.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Christian fiction
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Tyndale

Susan May Warren's publicists are hosting a really fun contest to celebrate the book's release! Here's the info:
DoubleTrouble

Be sure to enter the Double Trouble Prize Package Giveaway by clicking on the ‘Double the Sass” button (code for button is above)! Susan’s giving away an iPod prize package that is anything but troubling! Check it out!

Prize Details

Double Trouble, the brand new PJ Sugar novel by Susan May Warren, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re running a HUMDINGER of a contest!!

One Grand Prize winner will receive a $150 SUPER SLEUTH prize package that includes:

* A brand new iPod Shuffle (perfect for those all-night stakeouts)
* A $10 iTunes gift card (we recommend the ALIAS soundtrack)
* A $10 Amazon gift card (why yes, they do sell spy pens)
* A $10 Starbucks gift card (for fuel, obviously)
* A pair of designer sunglasses (be stealthy AND super chic)
* A gorgeous scarf from World Market (can also be used as a blindfold, and/or for tying up bad guys)
* AND signed copies of both Nothing But Trouble & Double Trouble. (romance! danger! intrigue! sooo much better than Surveillance for Dummies!)

We’ll announce our super sleuth winner on March 1st.




Amy

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Chat with L.J. Smith!


I am beyond thrilled to be hosting L.J. Smith today for Harper Collins 28 Days of Winter Escapes in promotion of her new book The Vampire Diaries: The Return:Shadow Souls This is pretty much a dream come true for me since L.J. Smith's books have meant so much to me and my life as a reader. Please be sure to visit the official 28 Day Giveaway site to learn how you can win a copy of the book! I now give you L.J. Smith!

    1. Elena and Stefan have an undeniable bond. What, in your mind, is the biggest clue that you’re in love with someone?

      Hmm, I think that it would differ with different people—and especially with a selfish lover versus a giving lover. For instance, Damon is also in love with Elena, but he doesn’t typically make sacrifices to please her. He’s a selfish lover—but in the new Vampire Diaries books he will learn a thing or two. Stefan is a giving lover, and he already knows that being able to make sacrifices (from what to do on a winter afternoon to putting his life on the line) is the biggest clue that he’s truly in love with Elena. He’d even let her hold the TV remote . . . if he had a TV.

    1. Stefan and Damon are always in competition for Elena’s love, among other things . . . is it possible that the brothers will ever get over their rivalry?

      Well, that happens to be the very focus of the new trilogy. In Shadow Souls and Midnight the brothers are forced to work together—or at least on the same side. But while Stefan would probably try anything for Elena, Damon is more like a half-tamed panther relentlessly stalking her every move. The question each day is: Will the good, helpful Damon come out or will the wicked, wild Damon emerge? So it really depends on Damon—who’s not very dependable.

    1. Which brother, Stefan or Damon, would you rather go on a date with?

      If I get to be Elena, or even Bonnie, I would want to go out with Damon. I’d probably be scared half out of my mind—but I’d have a wickedly spectacular time and it would be an experience to remember. Unfortunately, I don’t think Damon would date any other female as much as dine on her. In that case, of course I’d go with Stefan. His gentlemanly manners would keep him from revealing that he was thinking about Elena the whole time.

    1. What gift do you think Stefan would give to Elena on Valentine’s Day?

      Ah, there is a little story about this that I am going to post on the Internet—or perhaps gather together with other little stories that had to be cut from the books. Therefore, I know exactly what Stefan gave to Elena for Valentine’s Day—although he has never spent a day in February with her. So I’m afraid I can’t reveal everything about it yet, but clever readers will realize that in Shadow Souls Elena has a gift from Stefan that we never actually see him give her. A gift that she values more than even her diary! There has to be a story behind that.

    1. Would you rather receive flowers and chocolates or a handwritten card and photograph from a special someone on Valentine’s Day?

      I want all of them! And where is the perfume and diamonds? (That’s my inner Elena being greedy.) But although it’s hard to give up the flowers—I love flowers!—I would deeply appreciate a handmade card and photograph. Of course, of all the guys Elena has dated, only Stefan would be likely to make her a card. He might well have been a skilled artist and he would certainly have more patience than Damon.

    1. How do you beat the cold nights of winter?

      Some people might think that this is a silly question, when the “cold” nights of Southern California in winter only dip into the 50s on a bad day. But I live in Northern California, where we have actual seasons, and it gets cold enough to leave frost on the lawn at night. I beat those chilly nights with a snuggly down robe, a crackling fire, and a big cup of steaming chai tea. (You can’t live in the Bay Area and not love chai tea.)

    1. What would your suggested destination be for a romantic vacation with a vampire boyfriend?

      Ohh . . . it would have to be incredibly beautiful—and I wouldn’t want any other people around. A château in France, a castle in Italy . . . fortunately my vampire boyfriend could afford things like that (vampires tend to live a long time and get very rich). But let’s not be mercenary. What about a simple yacht and a deserted island of our own where we could toast each other with Black Magic wine and then nibble on . . . well, I’m sure we’d think of something.

    1. What book are you looking forward to reading this winter?

      Very unromantically, I am just starting The Brain That Changes Itself, about neuropsychology, and a book about the materials and methods employed by the U.S. Secret Service. But I am also “reading” my own mind’s writing, which includes new books in the Vampire Diaries and Night World series, and a few books so new I barely have titles for them, like The Moonbride and Brionwy’s Lullabie.

    1. Do you believe in soul mates?

      Of course I do! While I’m not quite sure that there is only one person in the world who is your soul mate, and while I don’t think that if your true love dies you will never find love again, I do think that people can fall in love very deeply and that that love can last a lifetime. If that doesn’t describe a soul mate, what does?

    1. Do you have a favorite quote about love to share?

      Oh, many! But I like this simple beginning to “Vivien’s Song,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

        In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
        Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers:
        Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.

      Of course, this is Vivien singing and Vivien is the one who lured Merlin into a hollow tree and trapped him there in the story of King Arthur. I can just imagine Damon using the same sort of “logic” to try to trap Elena into doing something she’d regret.

      I do have an alternate, if that isn’t quite the mood you had in mind. I have always loved the final words at the death of Jean Valjean in the play Les Misérables:

        And remember the words that once were spoken:

        To love another person is to see the face of God . . .



If you love L.J. Smith, I hope you'll consider joining my ongoing L.J. Smith reading challenge!