Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Eighth Day of Christmas: Midnight Clear

Title: Midnight Clear
Author: Jerry B. Jenkins and Dallas Jenkins
Christmas Cheer Rating: 4

I have a confession to make. When I decided to read 12 books for Christmas, I was expecting to read stories that would add to my Christmas cheer. I thought I would be reading book about the beauty of Christmas and the holiday spirit. Apparently, I have the wrong idea of what the Christmas spirit is because I picked some of the most depressing plotlines I’ve ever read. Good thing I have a lot of Christmas spirit.

Midnight Clear did require me to dig into my Christmas cheer. It’s the story of the intersection of five lives on Christmas Eve. Each of them had lives that illustrate the dark side of Christmas. Some of them are lonely, sad, and suicidal, feeling like their lives have no meaning but they all experience the hope of Christmas.

This book actually tapped into a part of Christmas that the other books I read didn’t. It showed how one random act of kindness can change someone’s life in a drastic way. This book portrayed the message of Christmas, how something small changed the course of history.

I actually enjoyed the book, just not the kind of Christmas cheer I expected.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas: The Christmas Sweater

Title: The Christmas Sweater
Author: Glenn Beck
Christmas Cheer Rating: 0

I think this may be the lowest rating I’ve given a book since I started reviewing books. First, let me say I didn’t realize the author was the ultra-conservative and sometimes controversial commentator from FOX news. I only picked up the book because it was available at the library and it was being advertised on CBD (funny since Beck is a baptized Mormon).

The Christmas Sweater is basically a fictionalized account of Beck’s life. Eddie, the main character wants a bike for Christmas. It is his first Christmas after a great tragedy has hit his family. Instead of getting a bike, he gets a sweater knitted by his mother. Another tragedy hits and Eddie struggles with his understanding of what’s really important.

The problem with this book is that not completely horrible. I loved the way Beck portrayed Eddie’s grandfather and his shenanigans. Unfortunately, this secondary character wasn’t enough to keep me interested. All the other characters were forgettable or annoying (especially when it came to Eddie). I don’t think it’s wise to have such an irritating main character.

Despite all this, characterization wasn’t my major problem with this novel. It was the plot. Beck does something in this book that annoys me to no end and is grounds for me to put authors on the “Do Not Buy” list.


The whole book is a dream. I felt like I’d invested several days worth of reading for nothing. I think that is the worse plot device any author can use in a book, second to something supernatural like an angel tying up all the plots loose ends (deus ex machina). I feel cheated and Beck gave no hint that all this was a dream. And the dream itself required that I suspend belief more often than not.

Occasionally, I come across a book that makes me wonder how it earned a place on best seller lists. This is one of them. If Glenn Beck can write a book like this and achieve “success”, then there is great hope for my writing career.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Sixth Day of Christmas: There's Something About Christmas

Title: There’s Something about Christmas
Author: Debbie Macomber
Christmas Cheer Rating: 2

I’d been looking forward to reading one of Debbie Macomber for a while and this challenge provided me a perfect opportunity to pick up some of her books. Unfortunately, this book was a disappointment.

There’s Something about Christmas is the story of Emma Collins, a reporter for a small newspaper in Puyallup, Washington. She longs to write something other than obituaries and doing ad sales. She gets her chance to write a personal interest story about local women who’ve are finalist in a national recipe contest. She had to face two things she hates: flying and fruitcake. Added to her distress is the fact that a local pilot had offered to fly her in return for free advertisement in the paper. She starts for fall for Olivier, fruitcake and ultimately Christmas.

As I read this book, I struggled to figure out why Macomber’s writing earned her a place on bestseller lists. I guessing that her other books are better than this one. The best word I can use to describe this book is flat. I had no emotional connection to any of the characters. I really didn’t care what happened to them. Not only that, I had not sense of the physical appearance of either characters. Normally I can form a mental picture in my head based from the description the author gives. Macomber kept saying that Oliver was handsome, but she didn’t give me any description to work with. And of course, the name Oliver didn’t help. All I kept seeing him as a middle aged, slightly overweight, bald guy. And I didn’t know Emma was blond until the middle of the book.

The other thing this book lacked was a lack of setting. Just as she didn’t describe her characters, Macomber didn’t describe location either. One piece of advice that I’ve read from writing books was to make your novel’s setting adds something to the tale. If your story could be set anywhere in the world, then the writer hasn’t put enough work into the setting. That’s the exact feeling I got from Puyallup, Washington. It could have been any small town in the world.

The third problem I had with the book is that Emma hated Oliver so much that it was hard to believe she’d done a 180 and was now in love with him. I understand that tension is a good thing when it comes to romance, but this was too much. Emma didn’t like anything about him. Once is started, the romance between them seemed artificial. They had no chemistry.

There is another one of her books on my reading list. I hope it does better than this one and I won’t find myself rushing through it simply to say I finished it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Official Kissing Day Blogfest

I've decided to participate in the Official Kissing Day Blogfest. No, this isn't the UK holiday of Kissing Day (July 6) but a day when writers are posting a kissing scene from their current WIP (work in progress, for all you who don't speak writer). Hope you enjoy.

The Official Kissing Day Blogfest is hosted by Sherrinda at A Writer Wannabe. If you would like to get in on the smooching fun, here's a link to the rules.

Kissing Scene, Love Simplified

As soon as the elevator door opened, Lance grabbed my arm hard and led me down the hallway to his office. His grip kept me from stumbling. I felt very much like Jane being dragged off by Tarzan. I briefly made eye contact with Shannon before he roughly guided me into the room. Fear danced across her features and transferred to me. But before I could escape, I stood in the lion’s den.

Lance released me, turned and slammed the door shut. Every picture on the walls rattled with the force. I half expected to see the glass panes fall from the window.

Lance whipped around and faced me, his anger so hot I felt like sunbathing. “Have you lost your mind?”

“I had a plan. Everything was under control.” I said.

He ran his hand through his hair and paced in a small circle before returning to face me. “Your plan included getting crushed?”


He stepped closer, further highlighting the fact that he towered over me. “Then what was your plan? To create mob scene on a public street?” he growled, his brow furrowed.

“No. I took advantage of a good publicity opportunity. It would have gone better if you hadn’t overreacted.” I spat back.

“I overreacted? You stir up a crowd of people with no security and I’m overacting. Why would you do something so…” he waved his hands in the air.

“Stupid?” I stepped closer, giving him my best I-dare-you-to-call-me-stupid look.

“Stupid!” he yelled. His secretary probably heard that. And everyone else on the floor.

“No you didn’t just call me stupid.” I stepped closer.

“You willfully put yourself in a dangerous situation. What would you call that? And for what?” he inched even closer and now we stood nose to nose. “We have less than a month left in production-“

I let out a sharp laugh. “That’s what this is all about. Your precious show.”

“This isn’t about the show.” He paused. His brow unfurled slightly and his eyes softened. “You could have been hurt.” His voice lowered with each word and the last one came out almost as a whisper. His expression held such a mix of emotions that I couldn’t peg. Anger, yes, but something else. Something just as strong as his rage.

And something that sent my stomach dropping to my toes. The crowd had grown rowdy and I didn’t think they would hurt me. They were my fans, excited about seeing me. But the truth remained that if Lance hadn’t pulled me out… I swallowed hard. He stood less than an inch away, his breathing still uneven from yelling.

“I-I didn’t think they would hurt me,” I said, averting my eyes. I found myself staring at his chest. A muscled chest barely contained in his gray tee. Did someone raise the temperature in the room? I returned my gaze to his eyes. Maybe he didn’t see me checking him out. His expression told me he had. His perfect hazel eyes held mine, long enough for me to notice the tiny green flecks in them.

Before I could catalog all the emotions coursing through my brain, he brought his hand up to my face and ran his thumb along my cheekbone. I sucked in a breath. The side of his thumb brushed my earlobe, making my earring sway and his fingertips slid into my hair. The coarseness of his touch sent every nerve on the back of my neck into a frenzy. A flicker of fear clouded his eyes as he studied my face. My own stomach did a flop. He leaned down and I found myself stepping up to the tips of my toes.

When his lips connected with mine, it felt as loud as the door slamming, sending shudders through my body. But his tenderness surprised me, like getting kissed by a breeze. He brought his other hand up to cup my face and changed the angle of the kiss, still gentle. Our mouths moved in perfect sync. Not like when Darryl and I kissed and our teeth collided. Darryl tried to impress me, forcing his kiss on me but Lance shared the kiss with me. A soft give and take.

My brain tried grasp the fact that I was kissing Lance within throwing distance of his secretary and enjoying it. Me. A girl who’d never been in love. A girl currently dating three men on national television. A girl who’d never had anyone make me feel like I did at this moment, especially by someone I mostly hated. I couldn’t ignore this kissed erased years of loneliness and sent my heart soaring but I couldn’t be falling for Lance.

As if he could hear my thoughts, Lance slowly pulled away but still cupping my face. All the anger had left his eyes and had been replaced with confusion. He studied me like I had grown horns since he’d brought me into the office. I took a tentative step backwards. Reality rushed into between us, chilling the moment. He’d just totally violated all my personal space…again. He couldn’t just kiss me without permission. Who does he think he is?

So I did what any self-respecting girl would do. I slapped him. Hard. “You had no right.” I tried to sound angry but my voice betrayed the fact that I felt like I’d just lived through an earthquake. He touched his hand to his face where my slap had landed, which had already started to turn red. He stared at the floor, his jaw worked for a moment, but he didn’t say anything. I wanted him to yell at me. Threaten me like he always did. But instead he stood stock still.

I rushed out the door before he could move from where he stood. I purposely turned my head so his secretary couldn’t see my face, since the only way to make what’d happened more obvious was to write I KISSED LANCE on my forehead with a Sharpie. I tromped down the hall to the elevators, feeling my resolve go the farther I got away from him. This cannot be happening, but my stomach confirmed that it was. Love wasn’t supposed to make you feel like you were going vomit, was it?

I jabbed my finger on the down button three times before the elevator pinged and opened. I stepped inside, thankfully alone. I punched the close door button and the doors lazily rolled closed. But not fast enough for me to miss Lance calling my name before the doors shut.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the Fifth Day of Christmas: Engaging Father Christmas

Title: Engaging Father Christmas
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

I reviewed the first book in this set for the fourth day of Christmas. Finding Father Christmas left an impact on me that the day I completed reading it, and realized that there was another book in the series, I rushed out and picked up a copy of Engaging Father Christmas. This novella continues the story of Miranda Carson who is returning to London. Waiting in for her return is her boyfriend and her new found family. Her ideas of a merry Christmas are squashed when Ian's father is hospitalized. She also faces the challenging of blending with her new family and finding her place.

Gunn paint Miranda's story lyrical beauty that gives the book a poetic feel. Her imagery is so crisp that you can almost feel the chill in the air and taste the Christmas dinner. This, along with Finding Father Christmas, are two books perfect for any Christmas reading list and can be enjoyed all year round.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas: Finding Father Christmas

Title: Finding Father Christmas
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

As a child, one of the things that made me fall in love with books was their ability to transport me to another place. I loved when a book carried me off to some far-away land or just transported my thinking to a different perspective. Books made me forget where I was, physically and emotionally.

In my adulthood, I've not come across many books that made me feel like I was carried off by pixie dust to a magical land. I've read books that seeped me in the reality of now, and shown me the beauty in the ordinary world. But few whisked me off into a place I'd never been.

I am pleased to say that Finding Father Christmas has done that for me. Gunn deftly whisked me off to London and immersed me in the story of Miranda Carson. Miranda has set out to find the father she never knew and is surprised where the trail leads her. She has to decide what to do with what she finds.

As far as characters, each one is memorable in their own right. Each one finds their place into your heart and they don't compete with each other. The setting also draws you in. I've never been to London but spent three Christmases in Belgium. Gunn captures the feel of Christmas in European countries and their love for Father Christmas. There is a childlike wonder about Christmas among Europeans that American hasn't managed to capture and Gunn gives us a snapshot of that. Gunn weaves the character, the setting and plot together into a story that insulates you in the warmth of the season.

This was an incredible book and it completely validated my quest to read Christmas books this holiday.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas: The Judge Who Stole Christmas

Title: The Judge Who Stole Christmas
Author: Randy Singer
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

If you've ever wondered about the legal implications of Christmas in a growing secular world, The Judge Who Stole Christmas is the book for you. It is centered around one man's battle concerning a manager on public property. This novella has a healthy dose of truth in it and gives you a good idea of how a legal battle would play out in our increasingly secular society.

Singer is the master of plots centered on legal issues which earned his other books I've read, The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney and By Reason of Insanity to my favorites list. I think most of all this book challenged your thinking about who the "good" and "bad" guys are. I've often believed that all that is done in the name of religious freedom is not beneficial to the Christian cause. This book contains several characters that prove my point and a few who help the clause along in surprising ways.

This book also breaks my expectations of a warm cozy Christmas story. This book makes you think and pray. It makes you cherish the freedoms we have as Americans to celebrate Christmas and understand the great need for the light of Christ to shine in this world. This book points out the deeper meaning behind the manger scene and challenges you to look at the separation of church and state from a different perspective. It’s a great holiday read.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Second Day of Christmas: The Angel of Bastogne

Author: Gilbert Morris
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

I have wanted to read a book by Gilbert Morris for a long time. Morris is a very prolific writer and I have been eyeing his What the Cat Dragged In series for a while The Angel of Bastogne proved to be a good first exposure to his writing.

Ben Raines is a newspaper journalist who holds a cynical view of Christmas. He's not happy when he receives an assignment to write feel-good piece on Christmas. Begrudgingly, he cancels his vacation and goes to work on a story about his father's service in World War II. As he investigates his father's mysterious recount of an event on Christmas Day, Ben discovers the real miracle of Christmas.

I loved this book. It perfectly embodies the idea of Christmas and the impact that one simple act of sacrifice can have on those around us. The book was also well-written with memorable characters. I particularly enjoyed Ben’s transformation in the book. It didn’t seem forced and artificial. I think this book would make a great stocking stuffer for the reader in your life.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the First Day of Christmas: All I Have to Give

Author: Melody Carlson
Christmas Cheer Rating: 1

I was surprisingly disappointed with this book since I've read These Boots Were Made for Walking and loved it. I was really looking forward to diving into this book.

Anna Jacobs is trying to have the best Christmas ever since she's started having some concerning health problems. She also is struggling with the fact that she can't have children. Added to other challenging situations, she finds having the perfect Christmas is harder than she thinks.

I finished this book in 24 hours, which normally means the book was great. Unfortunately, I quickly finished this one just so I could be done. Anna began to annoy me by the middle of the book. I wanted to shake some sense into her because her thought process was a little on the ridiculous side. The most annoying part of this book was the unresolved ending. There were so many loose ends that I found myself wondering happened to some of the characters in the book.

I guess I'm going to have to read more of Carlson's book because this one really surprised me. I have The Christmas Dog on my list to read. I hope this book isn't any indication of the rest of this reading challenge because if it is, I'm not going to have a merry Christmas.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tea & Read: I'm So Sure

Title: I'm So Sure
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

OMG! Jenny B. Jones as produced another fabulous book featuring Bella Kirkwood (There's something about the name Bella this season. See previous post Fools Rush In.) Bella's life is still an adventure. Just as she starts to adjust to her new life, she discovers that her step-father Jake has been selected for a reality TV show. She also has to figure out who is sabotaging the prom and deal with her editor, Luke Sullivan.

I love this series, which is a big surprise considering I'm well past the YA age group (I have children who fall into that age range). Jones knows how to tell a story to captivate readers at any age. I especially enjoy Jones' humor and whit when it comes to Bella.

I also appreciate the fact that Jones deals with several serious issues (blended families, bullying) in a way that isn't overwhelming. Jones weaves a story with these issues, but gives positive ways to deal with them. She presents the reality of life without being gritty, which, in this world of where shock value has been overused, is a good thing.

And if an old woman like me can enjoy this book, they would make a great gift for the teenage girls in your life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tea & Read: Fools Rush In

Title: Fools Rush In
Author: Janice Thompson
Rating: Two Cups of Tea
Bella must be a popular name for heroines this year. Of course, Bella Swan from the Twilight series has gotten a lot of attention but there are other Bellas out there worth mentioning. Bella Rossi is definitely one of them.
Fools Rush In features Bella Rossi, who has just taken over her parent's wedding planning business. She wants to start fresh and her first wedding as the new owners has a Texan/Cowboy theme. The problem is that she is first generational Italian-American and doesn't know a thing about "Boot-Scootin'". She seeks help in a handsome DJ who knows a thing or two about Texas flair.
I think the greatest attribute of this book is the its multi-cultural characters. I love the interaction of the different culture groups in the book. Thompson presented that interaction in a very realistic and hilarious way. Being a member of a minority ethnic group, this gives me hope. I think that most of Christian fiction is dominated by Caucasian characters. I think that's sad because that's not a true representation of the Body of Christ. More writers need to have the courage to combine more ethnic groups in their novels and I applaud Thompson for taking that leap.
If I had to take marks away from this book, it would because I didn't feel the intensity of Bella's inner conflict. She wants to make the business work but she didn't seem to have enough motivation to be as stressed as she was. Other than that, this was a great book. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the Bella series. Bella Rossi, that is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twelve Books of Christmas

This past summer, I challenged myself to read 20 books in 14 weeks. I fell a few books short of my goal but I did manage to knock out 17 books from my bookshelf. I discovered some excellent books and some new authors.

Well, I'm at it again. This time I'm reading 12 books for the holiday season. My 12 Books of Christmas Challenge will start on November 27 and go through December 31. I will review each book on here so check back often.

This is a perfect challenge for me because I LOVE Christmas. It's my favorite holiday and certainly my favorite time of year. Christmas is a big deal for my family and I normally spend the day at home each Christmas (I don't even go to church. Yes, I'm a heathen). It will be the icing on the cake to read 12 books about such a magical time of year. Plus, it just doesn't feel right to read Christmas stories in June.

Here is my tentative list for my 12 Books of Christmas (in no particular order):

1. The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson
2. The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
3. Engaging Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn
4. The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
5. The Judge who Stole Christmas by Randy Singer
6. An Irish Christmas by Melody Carlson
7. The Angel of Bastonge by Gilbert Morris
8. A Midnight Clear by Jerry B. Jenkins
9. All I Have to Give by Melody Carlson
10. The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado
11. Where Angels Go by Debbie Macomber

12. The Winter of Candy Canes by Debbie Viguiye

There are a few books that is not on this list but I would like to read it but I can't get a copy of.
I'm going to keep trying to get my hands on copies.

They are:

The Christmas Lamp by Lori Copeland.
A Texas Legacy Christmas by DiAnn Mills
Cowboy Christmas by Mary Connealy

I want to hear from you. What is your favorite Christmas book? I'm sure I'll have a favorite by the end of the year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Being Humble and Squealing

I recently had my first article posted on Crosswalk.com. I must admit it was a surreal experience seeing my name on a site I've visited often when doing Bible research. I've always loved the articles on Crosswalk. But one day when I logged on to do some biblical research, I found my article was on the home page of the site. And I squealed like this was the article hadn't been there for a week already.

I know this may be an extreme reaction but I still squeal each time I have something published. I'm so awed by God that He chooses to use me this way. I'm also amazed at His faithfulness. He told me that I would be a writer and I would reach many. I would like to believe that this article on Crosswalk is another step in fulfilling of His promise.

My family thinks I'm crazy for still squealing about being on Crosswalk, or anywhere else for that matter. I can't help it. My squeal comes from a humble heart. Humility is important to me, not just in my writing, but in everything I do. I have a great awareness of my dependence of God for everything. He is great and it is His greatness that flows through me, not my own abilities.

I'm still excited about what God does through me. And I pray that I will always be this way. I never want to get to a point where I'm not moved by the grace that God has poured out on my life. I never want to get puffed up so that I don’t recognize that it is God working in me. So I'm squealing...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Summer Book Challenge

Hard to believe that summer is gone. Not that I'm sad. I love fall.

This summer proved interesting for me since this was my first summer as a homeschool mom. Normally, I simply try to keep my children entertained and making sure I scheduled some "Me Time." As I made my plans for the summer, the only thing I kept hearing in my head was how children lose much of what they learned during the summer months. And when you're the teacher, that statistic matters. I didn't want to have to re-teach everything, so my summer plans included something educational. And since most of my family likes to read, (still trying to win my daughter over), I decided to do a summer book challenge. I challenged them to read ten books and challenged myself to read 20.

Now I would like people to think that I'm such a great homeschool mom that I encouraged my children to read, but I had an ulterior motive: I have too many books! Just in case you thought I was kidding, the picture to the right is one of the bookshelves in my bedroom (notice I said one. I'm ashamed to show you how many books are on the other). The two top shelves of books in the photo are all the books I bought that I haven't read (the top shelf is fiction and most of the second one is non-fiction except the row to the left. I couldn’t fit all my unfinished fiction books on the top shelf.). And that's not including the five e-books I have saved on my computer's hard drive, books I've checked out from the library and a bag o' books my sister gave me.

I love books, I'm sure that's clear. I buy new ones all the time. Unfortunately, my life doesn't always allow me to read as much as I want but I'm doing better. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read a book a week. I've gone through some books by keeping my one-book-a-week resolution. Maybe I need to make another resolution to stop buying books (Ain't gonna happen, Captain).

My summer book challenged helped. I read 17 books. Yay, for me! I have reviewed most of the books that I read this summer, but not all of them. Here is the complete list:

  1. Beyond Corista by Robert Elmer*
  2. So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones*
  3. Before the Season Ends by Linore Rose Burkard*
  4. The House in Grosvenor Square by Linore Rose Burkard*
  5. Love Thine Enemies by Louise M. Gouge*
  6. Return to Love by Betsy St. Amant*
  7. Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus*
  8. Last Light by Terri Blackstock
  9. Crown of Thorns by Sigmund Brouwer
  10. the Incumbent by Alton Gansky*
  11. Chop Shop by Tim Downs*
  12. The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen*
  13. Welcome Home by Kimberley Woodhouse*
  14. Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones*
  15. The Knight by Steven James
  16. The Prince Charming List by Kathryn Springer*
  17. The Transformation: Blue Church by Terri Kraus*

* Reviewed

Tea & Read: The Transformation

Title: The Transformation: Blue Church
Author: Terri Kraus
Rating: Two Cups of Tea
The Transformation is the third book in the Project Restoration Series. It is the story of Oliver Barnett, a contractor hired to renovate an historic church into a nightclub/restaurant. The building is owned by Samantha Cohen. An uncomfortable situation for Oliver since Samantha is a Jew, not the ideal woman that his mother had in mind and Oliver's attraction to her is something that could make working for her difficult.

There is something about the Kraus writes her books that amaze me. My normal book preference is quick moving plots and snappy dialog. But Kraus' books take a more leisurely pace. Yes, it takes me a little longer to finish them, but I am thoroughly satisfied when I am done.

And the topics and themes of the book are pretty strong. I think Kraus handled the subject of interfaith relationships beautifully. Also, she tackles some other difficult situations and shows how the grace of God works in these situations.

My only problem is I was left guessing about some of the subplots at the end. A few situations were left unresolved. It's not that big of a deal, but especially if there is going to be a part two to this novel. (Insert subtle hint to the author).

All in all, it was a great book and I so appreciate when a good book stretches my reading style and preference.

Clearance Charms: The Prince Charming List

Title: The Prince Charming List
Author: Kathryn Springer

This clearance charm came from CBD. I'd seen this book in Borders but only read the cover. It was a great little buy and proves that buying from the clearance rack can net you some great books.

Heather Lowell is looking for love and has a list to prove it. She has compiled a list of qualities she would like to find in a husband. Within days of moving to Prichett, Wisconsin, she is faced with two eligible candidates that seem to meet her requirements

This book amused me because I know people who have compiled a list of qualities they want in a man, particularly when they were a teenager. I find those lists funny because, if I had a list, I don't think my husband would have made the list. He is so totally different than what I thought I would want, but he was exactly what God knew I needed.

I like the way this book handles this practice and how it challenges the reader to look at potential candidates through God's eyes. You might find that the most unlikely candidate is God’s perfect choice.

Tea & Read: Just Between You and Me

Title: Just Between You and Me
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

I was introduced to Jenny B. Jones' books earlier this year when I read So Not Happening, which is considered YA but I thoroughly enjoyed it (see previous post). Just Between You and Me is written for adult women, a Women of Faith book from Thomas Nelson and I was very eager to dive into reading it.

It is the story of Maggie Montgomery, a cinematographer who seems unflappable, except when it comes to her family. She has to return to her hometown of Ivy, Texas to face some bad memories and challenging family situations. She finds herself having to care for her ten year old niece and having to deal with an annoying town vet named Conner.

I love Jones' style of weaving humor into her books. Her characters are always so interesting and engaging. Also, I love the way Jones handled something that most people have experienced: crazy family members! Jones explores the family dynamic in a very real way. She also shows that no matter how dysfunctional a family, love covers a multitude of sins.

Jones has eared herself a slot on my repeat-buy author list. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.

Tea & Read: Welcome Home

Title: Welcome Home!
Author: Kimberley Woodhouse
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy
I am primarily a pleasure/escapist reader. I love a story that takes me out of my life and transport me to another. Most of my book selections are based on how far it will take my from my own world, but occasionally, I read a book that causes me to look at my life in a different light. Welcome Home is one of those books. I haven't been gut-checked this hard since I read The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Sterns (see previous post).
The tagline to this book is "Our Family's Journey to Extreme Joy." Extreme is a perfect word to describe this journey. The Woodhouse family's story in this book drives home the point that bad things happen to godly people, but God is able to sustain them through them all.
I think that is greatest message I gained from this book. As I read this book, I thought to myself, I don't know if I could have handled all that. And Woodhouse makes it clear that she didn't think she could either. But the book is full of examples of God's ability to take care of His children.
The second greatest message of the book, for me, was that I need to stop whining about the challenges in my life. No, I don't have as many challenges as the Woodhouse family did, but I serve the same God. If God brought them through (and continues to do so), then He is able to handle my problems.
If you find yourself whining about the problems you have in your life, then this book is for you. It is a wonderful perspective change and it will show you how the possibility of having real, practical joy in your life.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tea & Read: The Watchers

Title: The Watchers
Author: Mark Andrew Olsen
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

Sometimes a book calls to me. It seems like I see it in every time I go in a bookstore or someone is talking about it. This was one of those examples. I had seen this book several times and had even told my husband that I wanted the book. I am so glad I finally got it.

This novel is the story of Abby Sherman, a girl having some very strange visions. When she posts the visions on her social network site, it throws into danger from forces she never dreamed. Dylan Hatfield is the man hired to stop her from sharing her message. But as he tries to accomplish his mission, he realizes that things are not what they seem.

This is an excellent spiritual warfare book. I've read many through the years; some hit the mark and some didn't. If I had to rank this book in my top five spiritual warfare books, it would come second behind This Present Darkness, This Piercing Darkness by Frank Peretti. The Vertis Conflict by Shaunti Feldhahn, and Isolation by Travis Thrasher (see previous post) would round out the top five, respectively.

Mark Andrew Olsen does a wonderful job of making the spirit world believable and tangible. He has proven himself to be a repeat-buy author with Hadassah and The Hadassah Covenant, books he co-authored with Tommy Tenney. I can't wait to start the second book in this series, The Warriors. If you love spiritual warfare books, I highly recommend these.

Clearance Charms: Chop Shop

Title: Chop Shop
Author: Tim Downs

This is another book I purchased at the Going-Out-of-Business Sale.

Chop Shop is the second book of the Bug Man series. Dr. Nick Polchak is contacted by Riley McKay a fellow at the Allengaeny County Coroner's Office. She suspects her supervising pathologist of hiding something. She asks Nick to get involved, which always ends in adventure.

I have read several of Downs' books outside the Bug Man series. The Plague Maker earned Downs a permenant place on my bookshelf. I also like the fact that the Bug Man series still has steam. And I appreacate the research Downs put into the novel.

Clearance Charms: The Incumbent

Title: The Incumbent
Author: Alton Gansky

I bought this book during a Going-Out-Of-Business sale at a Christian outlet bookstore (I bought several during this trip). This is also the first of hopefully many books I'll read by Alton Gansky.

It's the story of Madison "Maddy" Glenn, the mayor of Santa Rita. When a series of disappearances happen in her town lead back to her, she finds herself trying to connect the pieces before the abductor strikes again.

I think the most amazing part of this book is how well Gansky write from a female’s point of view. So many writers find it a challenging to write from the prospective of the opposite sex. But Gansky did an amazing job.

Another thing about this book about is that I didn't figure out who the villain was until the end of the book. I love it when that happens! I did have my suspicions, but I was pleasantly surprised in the end.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tea & Read: Menu For Romance

Title: Menu For Romance
Author: Kaye Dacus
Rating: Two cups of tea

If I had to name an author who is quickly earning the right to be listed as one of my favorites, it has to be Kaye Dacus. I read her first book, The Stand-in Groom and was quite impressed. I love the fact that she brings freshness to the Christian fiction.

Menu for Romance is the continuation of the Guidry sagas and the story of Meredith Guidry, a successful event planner. She desperately wants to find love and make a New Years resolution to find someone. It's also the story of Major O'Hara (cute man with extreme name), an Executive Chef who feels his life is to crazy for love.

Dacus creates a realistic look into the "behind the scenes" world of food service. She puts the reader right in the world with all it's tastes and smells. The novel also depicts the thrills of secrets: both secret love and secret issues.

Another very strong theme in the novel is family. The Guidry family is a loving bunch, but their inter-family dynamics always makes for exciting reading. I love the way Dacus makes me feel like I could be reading about my family of four sisters.

I suspect that Dacus will be making waves in the Christian fiction world for a long time to come.

Tea & Read: Before the Season Ends & The House In Grosvenor Square

Title: Before the Season Ends & The House in Grosvenor Square
Author: Linore Rose Burkard
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

Two years ago two of my friends dared me to read Pride & Prejudice. Actually, they told me I was uncultured. And of course, being the type of person that I am, I accepted their challenge. It took me two years to do it, but I finally finished Pride & Prejudice and I'm glad I did. I felt a sense of accomplishment, but didn't feel excited about reading anymore of Austin's book. So when I got Linore Rose Burkard's book, whose tag line is "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul", I straightened my shoulders and said "If you can read Austin, you can read this."

Much to my surprise, I plowed through both Burkard's books in two days! These books shocked me at how great they are, not because Burkard is a sub par writer (she isn't), but because I didn't think I would enjoy another Regency story. Burkard is a phenomenal writer. She has captured Austen's style enough to amaze me, but made it her own enough to keep me turning the pages.

The characters are well fleshed out and memorable. Thanks to Phillip Mornay, I realized I'm secretly in love with Mr. Darcy (shh, don't tell him). I also love Ariana's aunt. She definitely adds drama to the story. These books would make a great gift for all the Austen lovers in your life. Burkard lives up to her tag line a thousand times over!

Tea & Read: Return To Love

Title: Return to Love
Author: Betsy St. Amant
Rating: Two cups of tea

Return to Love is Betsy St. Amant's first novel and she's off to a good start. It's the story of Gracie Broussard, a girl who has her past come back and visit her big time, in the form of Carter Alexander. He broke her heart and years later, shows up at the aquarium where Gracie works as a penguin keeper.
I think one of the greatest part of this book is its themes. It speaks to grace and second chances. Haven't we all looked at our past with regret and wondered what our life would have been like if we'd made different choices? Gracie's story is a great example on how to handle our pasts (since we all have them) and how to have a clear perspective on the events of our lives. This novel shows that even though we have things in our pasts that we are not proud of, they shape us into the person we are.
Of course, St. Amant gets cool points for Carter being a cute musician (second in my heart only to a cute cowboy). Another twenty-four hour read. Looking forward to reading more of her writing.

Tea & Read: Love Thine Enemy

Title: Love Thine Enemy
Author: Louise M. Gouge
Rating: Two cups of tea

Good things come in good packages and I love it when I get a good little book. Love Thine Enemy is the story of Rachel Folger, a patriot sympathizer living in colonial Florida. She falls for Frederick Moberly, a man whose loyalties lay firmly with the crown.

One of the most impressive things about this book is its unique location. Most historical book about the American revolution are set in places closer to the north, like Virginia or Boston. But this story was set in Florida and gave a very enlightening picture of how states far removed from the fighting might have handled the Revolution. The book also had some great plot twists and great historical perspective on the war, prisoners and sympathizers.

Another thing I liked about this book was that the faith aspect wasn't overdone. Frederick's struggle with faith is realistic for that time. He is what most people would consider a "good" man, but finds that doesn't always equate to faith in God.

I read this little book in a few hours. Good clean romance and definitely a summer read.

Tea & Read: According to Their Deeds

Title: According to Their Deeds
Author: Paul Robertson
Rating: Two cups of tea
There are certain books that reward you for your diligence. According to Their Deeds is one of those books (Pride and Prejudice is another). I originally bought this book for my husband. When I'm in the bookstore I'm often looking for what I call Man Books. Little to no romance and lots of action. But when I got the book home, it called to me and I decided to read it before my husband did.

I'd only seen books by Paul Robertson before. I began the book with no expectations. The first thing that struck me was the book is almost all dialog! Sharp, powerful dialog that carries the story along. If you'd asked me before I picked up this book if it was possible to have a book full of dialog, I would have told you no.
The novel is the story of Charles Beale, an antique bookstore owner, who reclaims some books an estate auction. It is the estate of someone working for the justice department and a friend of Charles killed in a break-in gone bad. Charles finds that the books contain more than he expected.

Many Man Books I've read often are fast pace, the flow taking on the characteristics of the hero. This book does the same, expect it takes its pace of Charles, an aging man. The pace isn't stifling but refreshing. We walk through the book with Charles, following him down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.

Of course, there are several memorable characters in the novel. I think my favorite is Angelo. I love the way Robertson succinctly uses Angelo's dialog (and the rest of the cast for that matter) to show his personality. Angelo is a steathy character that says very little. Robertson reveals this in a brilliant way.

Also, the themes in this book come through loud and clear. Judgment and redemption are woven in every character and every situation. Robertson also gets props for quoting Immanuel Kant. I never thought that I would be glad that I studied Kant in Seminary.

This book was an enjoyed change from other Man Books. No young strapping heroes, trying to solve the mystery and win the girl. No, there is just Charles the reluctant adventurer, his wife, and his books. Great book.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tea & Read: Love's Rescue

Title: Love’s Rescue
Author: Tammy Barley
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

Boy am I a sucker for a cowboy book! And Love’s Rescue doesn’t disappoint. This book stirred up every John Wayne emotion I have.

It is the story of Jessica Hale, living in Navada Territory. When her brother leaves to join the Confederates, she is attacked for supporting him. Enter Jake the cowboy. He risks his life to save her twice and when she suffers a great loss, he is there to help Jess sort out the mess of her life.

This book was well written. I especially like the way Barley put you in the setting of the Sierra region. I loved the descriptions of the houses on Jake’s ranch and the unity between the cattlemen and the Paiute people living nearby. And there were plenty of characters to love beyond Jess and Jake. I especially loved Jake’s posse, loyal to the end, just like good cowboys should be. I think my favorite part is when Jess “alters” the men in the camp's britches. Hilarious.

Good book. Looking forward to reading more from Barley.

Tea & Read: So Not Happening

Title: So Not Happening
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

As I writer, one of the challenges I face is coming up with original plot ideas. The Bible is clear that there is nothing new under the sun and that certainly goes for plot lines. But sometimes, you come across a predictable premise told in an incredibly fresh and entertaining way. That was So Not Happening.

The novel follows the classic “city mouse in the country” format. Isabella Kirkwood is a spoiled daughter of a plastic surgeon forced to go to live in Truman, Oklahoma with her mother and her new husband and her two step brothers. She has to leave everything she knows and loves (including her access to fashionable clothing) to learn a new way of life, one she doesn’t like. But she soon discovers that God may have sent her there for another reason.

Bella is the most lovable brat I’ve read about in a long time. She is funny, sassy but not so much that you can’t connect to her plight. You almost feel sorry for her because she really believes that her New York life is better. And the best thing is that there is a serious plot to the book. It’s not completely about Bella’s whining (which would have been annoying because she whines a lot). It had a solid mystery going that kept me guessing till the end. The supporting characters were great (Robbie her little step-brother is hilarious) and have some surprises up their sleeves.

I think the biggest surprise is that this book is YA, but it doesn’t dumb it down. I totally enjoyed it for someone my age (and I’m well beyond YA age, trust me.) I got halfway through it and told my 14 year old daughter that she had to read it. It’s a great read. Finished it in twenty four hours!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tea & Read: Beyond Corista

Title: Beyond Corista
Author: Robert Elmer
Rating: One Cup of Tea

This book surprised me. I was a little afraid when I first started this book, I stopped and handed it off my thirteen year old son, thinking it would be better for him than for me. Boy am I glad I got it back from him.

This novel broke all my rules. First, it’s the third book in a series and I didn’t read the first two, which I thought would be a set back. But I had no problems jumping right into the story and connecting with the characters (see review for Enduring Love).

The second rule it broke for me is that I normally don’t read YA. I’ve read a Margaret Haddix Peterson book once but thought it was a fluke that I liked it. This book is not written as basic as Peterson’s books so it didn’t feel like YA.

The third rule it broke is the face that it’s Sci-Fi. Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching sci-fi and everything from Mork and Mindy to Star Trek to Star Wars. I just don’t read sci-fi too often. Ok, none that I remember.

I think the best thing is that Elmer laid the Christian symbolism on thick, but it wasn’t annoying. I know it was done so that younger readers could catch the symbolism but it was tastefully done. I loved the Pilot Stone and Jesmet. And I particularly love the way Elmer showed that biblical truths can transcend time and space. Oriannon’s encounter Alymas was quite beautiful.

I would recommend this book to any tweener, especially boys. Now I can give the book back to my son.

Tea & Read: Enduring Love

Title: Enduring Love
Author: Bonnie Leon
Rating: Wall Target Practice

Sometimes you have to write a bad review. I don’t like to do it, but honesty wins out.

I was very excited to get a copy of this book. I had moved to a place of reading historicals again and thought this book would provide a good opportunity.

I don’t know what went wrong for me and this book. First, I must say that I know part of the problem is that it was book three in a series. I hadn't read the first two. As soon as I read the first page, I realized it was going to be a struggle. There was no introduction of the main characters except that they were happily in love. I didn’t have any emotional connection with the characters and really didn’t form one.

Second, and I think the deal breaker for me, was the emotional angst. The main character’s internal dialog didn’t succeed in connecting with me. After a while, it started to be annoying. And what she was concerned about was a legitimate issue. It’s just there would be several pages of nothing but her emotional upheavals and no forward progression of plot.

Another issue was that the character didn’t develop in the book. Hannah, the main character, ended the book the same way she began. I don’t know if the goal was to show her struggle with her faith in God, but it didn’t see like that faith was strengthened.

I even tried reading the first two books in the series and I didn’t even make it through the first one.

So to Bonnie Leon, I’m sorry. Someone out there enjoys your books (I read your Amazon.com and CBD.com reviews). Unfortunately, I don’t fit your books. Blessing be on you.

Tea & Read: Tour de Force

Title: Tour de Force
Author: Elizabeth White
Rating: Two Cups of Tea

Sometimes, you read a book and think you've discovered a new author, until a character you recognize shows up in the book. This is what happened with this book.

Last year, I read Off the Record and enjoyed it. It was funny because I started it the year (2007) before and then it just sat on my shelf. I picked up Off the Record again to keep myself from buying another book.

The main character of Tour de Force, Gillian Kincade, made a brief appearance in Off the Record and I immediately connected with her quirky style. I was very pleased to find that she was now the star.

In this novel, she is taking the New York ballet community by store when she is given an opportunity of a lifetime that quickly moves her up in the ranks of the ballet scene. She meets Jacob Ferrar and is cast in his small company. But when she injures herself and her world starts to fall apart, the story gets interesting.

This was a compelling novel and well written. Even though I don't know all the ballet terms, I didn't feel lost and overwhelmed by them. And I must admit, I did get a little choked up with the moving description of her dance as Mary. I found myself wishing I could actually see the dance and not just imagine it in my head. The supporting characters were also great and I especially like the way White weaved her sister Laurel into the plot.

I think this book would make an excellent book for the dancer in your life, and I'm not a dancer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tea & Read: The River Runs Dry

Title: The Rivers Run Dry
Author: Sibella Giorello
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

The Christian fiction scene is changing so rapidly that it's easy to discover a new writer you love. This is the case with Sibella Giorgello. Even though The Rivers Run Dry is the second book in the series, it didn't feel like it (which completely impressed me). I normally can't jump into a series without reading the first book first.

I think the thing that impressed me the most about this novel is how well it was written. Giorello doesn't add an ounce of fluff to her narratives and descriptions, but they are powerful and moving. I enjoy her writing for the same reason I like Earnest Hemingway: they both employ a minimalistic style. It's also reminds me of the style of Paul Robertson (I'm reading According to Their Deeds right now, but you'll get a review later).

This novel has all the making of a great suspense novel. The ticking clock, the troubled detective and setbacks. Sibello also gets cool points for the main character, Raleigh Harmon, being a forensic geologist and the relationship she has with her boss is quite entertaining. Also, the all the characters, not just the main characters, are memorable and draw you deeper into the story, especially the stranger ones. And best of all, I didn't guess who the bad guy but once it was revealed, it made sense. I love it when an author cleverly hides the clues in plain sight throughout the book. Suspense should be unpredictable but logical and this book meets that requirement.

Normally I end my reviews with saying that I can't wait to read the next book, but in this case, I'm looking forward to reading her first book, The Stones Cry Out and her next book.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Equipped to Change the World

One of the young ladies, Sherilyn, in the young adult ministry my husband and I lead had an interesting prayer request one night after Bible study. We had a guest speaker come and talk about a documentary she was producing to bring light to the AID epidemic in Africa. As the guest spoke, the class was completely quiet, everyone engrossed with this ordinary person doing this extraordinary thing. And at the end of class, Sherilyn asked if we could pray for everyone in the class to know what resources we already have to change the world.

That class was two weeks ago and her simple prayer request still rings in my head. Of course that night, while we were praying, I asked God what resources did I have to make a difference in the world. And the first thing that popped into my mind was words.

I've been writing since I learned how to read and write. Words have always been a close friend to me and a journal was never too far away from me. And I have lots of words. But sad to say, until Sherilyn presented that prayer request, I didn't consider words a resource. They are just words.

I think that's one of the challenges of people with a natural gifting. We take the gift for granted. We can work to improve our gifts but human nature makes us discard the gift God gave us. And most of the time, that's the very thing wants to use to bless the Kingdom!

I can't say I've always known that God wanted to use my words to change the world. This revelation came about three years ago at my first writers conference. As I learned more about the impact that well written pieces make on human hearts, I felt like I had a light bulb moment.

The problem is that I'm not the best writer in the world (my Genesis scores prove that). I'm not a great speller and sometimes certain grammar rules escape me. I find myself wondering how God could use my words to bless someone? Don't I have to be a good writer in order to do that?

The truth is my resource is words. Not a book or a manuscript. Words spoken to lonely hearts, words written in cards, words of comfort spoken over the phone. God has given me the gift of words to be used wherever words are needed.

I have to remember that publishing is not the sole way God wants to use my words. A book would be great, but a card to a friend would be better. A publishing contract would make me feel better, but words of encouragement would make someone else feel better. I have the gift of words to be a blessing to others, no matter what format they come in.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Contest: Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida

Few things are more romantic than a bicycle built for two. Or more lonely. For this month's contest, what do you think are the most romantic or loneliest things?

For me, I think a milkshake with two straws is very romantic. It's something about being nose to nose over a drink, sharing sips and life, that touches my heart. And nothing can be more lonely than a lost shoe, forlorn and useless.

Email your most romantic/loneliest comment by June 30 and be entered to win a copy of Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida. Winners will be notified by email so be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Tea & Read: Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida

Title: Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida
Author: Debby Mayne
Rating: Two Cups of Tea

What is more romantic than a bicycle built for two? Debby Mayne certainly capitalizes on this romantic symbol in Love Finds You in Treasure Island, Florida.

Amanda Burns is the owner of a bicycle shop in Treasure Island, Florida. Each year, the handsome Jerry Simpson rents a tandem, a bicycle built for two for his aging parents. Soon feelings grow between Jerry and Amanda, but as Jerry's vacation comes to an end, they both fear of losing love.

Sometimes in a book, a character captures your heart. And sometimes it's not necessarily the main character. In this book, it's Jerry's dad, Harold. He sounded like he belonged in the movie Grumpy Old Men. As a matter of fact, the whole plotline of aging parents was a refreshing dose of reality for a romance book. Having Jerry deal with the problem of aging parents was a nice twist from the normal CBA topics of conflict.

This book is about loyalty and duty as much it is about love. Both of the main characters feel a sense of obligation to take care of their family. Jerry's struggle with his parents added great balance to the love story. Mayne does a good job of balancing seriousness with hope. Not something you find often.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tea & Read: Ruby's Slippers

Title: Ruby's Slippers
Author: Leanna Ellis
Rating: Twenty-Four Hours of Bliss (top rating)

This book was so adorable. As you could probably surmise from the title, Ruby's Slippers follows the theme from the Wizard of Oz. I loved this book. But of course, I'm biased because I loved the movie Wizard of Oz.

Dottie Meyers runs a farm in Kansas with her dog Otto after her mother dies. When a tornado hits the farm, Dottie wakes up in California with a surprising gift at her bedside: a pair of ruby slippers from her father. She sets off on a journey to find him, a man that she hasn't seen since she was four but visited her while she was in a coma. Along the way she picks up three more characters, all with Otto in tow.

One of the wonderful things about this book is that although it follows the themes of the original Wizard of Oz, the subplots go places that the original story doesn't go. Grief, self-esteem and family relationships are woven in with familiar "nothing is as it seems" theme of the Judy Garland classic. I also love the way she swapped out elements of the original story with more modern things (Munchkinland is a senior citizen community, hilarius).

Great book to have for your bookshelf.

Tea & Read: A Claim of Her Own

Title: A Claim of Her Own
Author: Stephanie Grace Whitson
Rating: Glad I got it from the library (average)

This is the third in a series of Country/Cowboy books I read. Unfortunately, this book gets the lowest rating of the three.

The story starts with a great premise: Mattie Flynn is joining her brother in Deadwood, South Dakota. She is on the run from someone in her past and believes she is going to start a new life with her brother. Unfortunately, things get worse before they get better.

The story takes some typical themes from the times, miners fascination with ladies, saloons, and gunfights, all things that make western historical great. Aron's characters was well written and likable. There was even an appearance of Will Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane (very cool).

I had several problems with this book. First, there is a Swedish character in the book and her dialogue is written phonetically (for instant the word what becomes vat). This became very annoying quickly as I had to keep stopping and re-reading the dialogue.

Second, the ending left something to be desired. I was disappointed how the main conflict was resolved since it was very deus ex machina. The buildup didn't match the resolution.

Third, this was a romance book, but there is very little romance between the two main characters. The subplot of two other characters has more romance in it. I thought it would have been better if there was a little more passion between Mattie and Aron.

I hope her other books are more enjoyable for me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tea & Read: Talk of the Town

Title: Talk of the Town
Author: Lisa Wingate
Rating: Two Cups of Tea

For some reason, I hit a serious cowboy/Texas run of books (see The Inheritance and A Claim of Her Own), so Talk of the Town fit right in.
Talk of the Town is Hollywood meets Smalltown story. American Megastar associate producer, Mandalay Florentio, has been tasked by her boss to plan the hometown episode of Amber Amberson, a finalist on the show. The problem is that Mandalay has no idea how fast news spreads in small town. When she shows up, the town is already buzzing with the news.
I really enjoyed this book. I love the creativity of Wingate in using multiple first person points of view. I particularly loved the Imagene Doll character and her dealings with loss and grief. Wingate gives a refreshing perspective on the classic story of Country Mouse and City Mouse, and the interactions between the two makes for great laughs and moving moments.
Wingate created believable characters, which I appreciate. Annoying characters is something that I think plagues Christian fiction too much. When characters are being ridiculous about their flaws, it makes it harder to connect with them. Mandalay and Imagene are real characters with depth and flaws without being annoying.
This is a great book and I am looking forward to reading more Lisa Wingate books.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tea & Read: New rating system

At the beginning of this year, I began a practice that I picked from Cec Murphy: read one book a week. I haven't met that goal every week (some books took longer than a week) but I've been really close to keeping up with my goal. I've been posting my reviews for the books I've read this blog pretty regularly, enough for me to see a pattern forming.

There are some books that I've read in the past three months that I've finished in 24 hours. They have been exceptional reads and needing a rating of their own. So I will be going back and updating my previously rated books to add the Twenty-four Hours of Bliss rating. All of them will be fiction since it takes me a while to finish non-fiction (been reading Flannery by Brad Gooch for three weeks now. Not past the third chapter). I'll have to create a rating for non-fiction later.

Tea & Read: The Inheritance

Title: The Inheritance

Author: Tamara Alexander

Rating: Twenty-four hours of Bliss (NEW!)

Every woman needs a good cowboy story. My friend Linda and I have a reoccurring conversation about cowboys. I love cowboy stories (and movies, especially Wyatt Earp, War Wagon, Big Jake, El Dorado, Tombstone, The Sons of Katie Elder, McLintock, The Outlaw of Josie Wales, Dances with Wolves, The Magnificent Seven and of course, Blazing Saddles.) I love the way cowboys honored women and there were just some things you didn't say and do around a lady. Boy I wish those days were back...

Anyways, Linda is a history buff, so she loved all things remotely historical. I, on the other hand, have to take my historical stories in small doses. But I can tell you I was long overdue for a cowboy story and Tamara Alexander delivered.

The story is about McKenna Ashford, a young woman who's had a very hard life. She is the sole caretaker of her little brother, Robert, who I'd like to take out into the barn and give him a good dose of tough love. The Ashford siblings are on the run from their past, only to run right back into trouble in their future. Enter Wyatt Caradon, a US Marshall. I must admit, I screamed when I saw his name was Wyatt. A cowboy named Wyatt. How hot is that!

This is a great book. I blazed through it in 24 hours. There are strong themes of redemption, tough love and justice. But it has a cowboy named Wyatt in it. Ok, a U.S. Marshall named Wyatt. Nuff said.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tea & Read: The Hole in the Gospel

Title: The Hole in the Gospel
Author: Richard Stearns
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy (or Crying)
I am a avid reader. I have been all my life. Out of all the books I've read, this book ranks second to the Bible in how it impacted me. This book changed my life.
Richard Stearns is the president of World Vision, an organization dedicated to reach out to help the hurting and broken all over the world. He tell a heart wrenching tale of those in need of the Gospel in action, not just in words.
This book was particularly challenging for me because I've never been a big fan of missions. Meaning, I would help if it didn't inconvenience me, but I wasn't willing to make a big sacrifice for those hurting. This book showed me that I was only living half of the Gospel.
Stearns presents a very balanced approach to Christian social activism. He rebukes and takes away all excuses anyone would have not to get involved. He shares the problems of poverty, injustice and sickness he's seen as president of World Vision. He shares some harsh but true realities about the American church, ones I wasn't comfortable with being identified with.
Most of all, this book has given me focus on what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It's given purpose to my life. Since I've read this book, I've committed to write for water. When I get a publishing contract, I'm pledge to do everything in my power to bring clean drinking water to someone in need. Of course I have other things I plan to do until I get a publishing contract, like reaching out to single mothers, but I feel like I've had the scales fall from my eyes.
This book is a must read for everyone who feels like, despite their religious activities, there is something missing in their quest to become like Jesus. The answer is right between the pages of this book. There is probably a hole in your gospel.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Clearance Charms: Fiesta Moon

Title: Fiesta Moon
Author: Linda Windsor

This is the first and a very fitting addition to my Clearance Charms. I bought this book on a whim at Family Christian Bookstore. I'd gone with my little brother just to keep him company. Unfortunately, I have a horrible disorder that prevents me from leaving a bookstore without buying a book. So I grabbed Fiesta Moon at the last minute and bought it.

Corinne is looking for her birth mother and her search has led her to a Mexican town. When the trail turns cold, she decides to stay and run an orphanage. The orphanage is falling apart and needs a makeover. Enters Mark Madison, a spoiled entitled engineer sentenced to the small town after another DUI. Both Mark and Corinne are strong personalities and it doesn't take long for the fireworks start.

This book is absolutely hilarious. It is a humorous look at cross-culture relations and how easy for misunderstands to abound. I love the way the author handles the bilingual interactions in the book. Muy Bueno! To top if off, it's a good ole fashion romance.

I am looking forward to reading more of Linda Windsor.

New Feature: Clearance Charms

I shop on the clearance rack at the bookstore. I know most author's think it's sad to end up there, but it's a wonderful place for me as a reader in a cash strapped economy.

I'm not saying that all books on the clearance are bad, but many of them are. But in my frequenting the clearance rack, I find a book that I thought was too good to be there. This gems have not only been wonderful reads, but they have introduced me to writers I never knew existed. I've created a new section of my blog that will review my clearance charms.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tea & Read: A Constant Heart

Title: A Constant Heart

Author: Siri Mitchell

Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

My little brother saw me reading this book one day when he came to visit. The next day he called me and said "I know you finished that book by now. You were reading it pretty hard." I hadn't finished it at that point, but it only took me 48 hours to read it. My little brother doesn't know who Siri Mitchell is, but if he did, he'd understand that her books are so good that you scarf them down. The longest it took me to read any of Siri's books was three days, Moon Over Tokyo and that's only because I didn't have the time to devote to reading it.
I found out about a Constant Heart from Siri's website (http://www.sirimitchell.com/). I normally don't like historicals, but Siri handled historicals very well Château of Echoes. A Constant Heart didn't disappoint.

A Constant Heart presented the dark side of Queen Elizabeth's reign, that seems to be overlooked when people write about this time period. I appreciated the portrait Mitchell painted of what it was like to be a courtier.

The character were gripping and most wives will identify with Marget desire to be a good wife and competing with other things for their husband's attention. As a military wife, I could relate to Marget's frustration with Lyntham's dedication to Elizabeth. No, he wasn't as obligated as my husband is, but I could relate to the priority Marget felt the Queen had.

My favorite part: The Love Salad. And Mitchell gets kudos for incorporating historically accurate info and not just making it up.

Even though I loved the book, the ending was a little anticlimactic. For all the hardships Marget suffered by the hands of others in the book, I didn't feel like the retribution fit the crime. But that was just a minor issues, especially if this is book one of a series (which I don't think it is, but a girl can wish.)

Tea & Read: Kiss

Title: Kiss
Author(s): Ted Dekker and Erin Healy
Rating: One Cup of Tea

Even though I didn't give this book the highest rating, this rating is meaningful coming from me. I've been mad at Ted Dekker since House. I own Skin, Showdown and Sinner, but I was afraid to read them. I was afraid that they would exacerbate my love-hate relationship with Ted.

I loved Blink (or Blink of an Eye as it's called now) and I liked Three, although it left me with some questions (I guess crazy people need love too, but I wouldn't have be trying to see Kevin again.) But House and the Black, Red and White trillogy left me scratching my head.

I gave Kiss a chance for two reasons. First, it was at the library. When you are mad at an author, you're a little reluctant to buy another book from them. My second reason was Erin Healy. No, I didn't know who she was, but I was hoping she could remedy some of the issues I have with Ted Dekker's writing.

Kiss turned out to be better than I expected. One complaint I have with Ted Dekker is some of his writing can be very cerebral. Meaning, sometimes I get confused about what's actually happening in a scene (or in a whole book in the case of House). But the collaboration paid off. The books is Ted Dekker with a woman's touch.

The story is gripping enough. A woman who's lost six months of her memory. The suspense is good and the characters are credible, even though I thought her relationship with her father was a bit extreme for the ending. Don't worry. I won't spoil it.

My favorite scene was when Shauna runs into someone from her past. She's attracted to him, but she doesn't remember why. The romantic tension is really high.

Since I'm not so mad at Ted Dekker anymore, maybe I'll go ahead and read Skin, Showdown and Sinner now.

Tea & Read: By Reason of Insanity

Title: By Reason of Insanity
Author: Randy Singer
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

Ok, I'm slow. I kept seeing this book in my local Family Christian and something about it kept drawing me to it. I put it on my list of books to buy and one day while I was in the library, it was sitting on the shelf. So I checked it out.

So why do I say I'm slow? I read the whole book, which I loved before I realized that Randy Singer wrote another book I own and loved: The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney. My husband and I both loved that book and have reommended it to several people we know.

Anyways, By Reason of Insanity definitely gets a spend the day sleepy. Well written as usual, but the subject matter was very gritty. I'm in the process of broadening my subject matter reading, but still I wouldn't have dreamed that I would enjoy a book about jail so much.

Also, as in Cross Examination, the inspirational elements flow in the plot. And the plot delivers all the twists and turns you'd expect from a good legal thriller. Also, the theme of the book, justice, wasn't covered with kid gloves. It showed that justice isn't automatic, even though it should be. And it showed how things can go very bad in our legal system.

This was a great book. Maybe next time I'll remember that I love Randy Singer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tea & Read: The Renewal

Title: The Renewal Midlands Building
Author: Terri Kraus
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

This is a wonderful book. The plot was moving and the character were heartwarming. I found myself rooting for them at their biggest points of struggle.

But I had an odd experience with this book. I normally gripe about books that have forced conversions. My complaint was "if I wanted to have a spiritual moment, I'd read my Bible." Most of the time, I read books for escapism or entertainment. I'm not looking to learn spiritual lessons from a fiction book.

But this book touched me in a way that only one other book has, that being Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I have suffered loss and every writer knows about starting over after failing (and if you don't, give it a few more rejections, you'll find out.) I felt spiritually refreshed after reading this book because it was full of hope.

The realism in this book was superb. Meaning, these were real people with real problems. It wasn't about unrealistic unforgiveness or a hangnail. I am so appreciative of Kraus because she tackled the tough stuff and made it enjoyable to read.

She also scores high marks for subtle biblical themes. She shows characters applying the Word to their situations and gives a picture of how God gradually works in us, not this contrived One-Scripture-Fixes-All occurrence in Christian fiction.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of her books.