Friday, April 30, 2010

Allon book 1 by Shawn Lamb REVIEWED

Pain is an emotion that passes with time. Trust and obedience are actions that surpass all emotion.”

(p. 239)

Allon is a world suffering under the weighty reign of an evil King named Marcellus and his other-worldly Shadow Warriors. The power beneath the King’s reign is the dark lord Dagar. When a prophecy reveals that a Son of Tristan would restore the throne of his ancestor and that a Daughter of Allon would usher in the return of the Guardians it becomes clear that a way has been made for the return of the Almighty Jor’el.

Prince Ellis is but a mere lad of sixteen when he begins to flee to safety from the attack of the Shadow Warriors. Rescued by a woman of unusual strength and valor, accompanied by a wolf and eagle with equally unusual power, Ellis begins a long and arduous journey toward the fulfillment of the prophecy that so frightens Dagar and his underlings. Shannon and her mystical animal helpers prove to be far more than a mortal girl, and she works hand in hand with Ellis to secure the future restoration of the land of Allon.

Shawn Lamb’s novel Allon has elements that will remind readers of other allegorical stories from Tolkien or Lewis. Some allegories are so strong (Tristan’s battle with Magelan) that it seems Biblical stories have been only mildly altered to fit into the narrative. However, the overall effect is one of epic good versus evil, and young readers will find much to enjoy among the pages. I had my 16-year-old son to read ahead of me so I could get his perspective, and although he enjoyed the writing, he said the story was a bit too similar to other stories that have preceded this one.

Allon is a well-written adventure tale better suited perhaps to younger teens. Personally, I think it would make a great read-aloud exercise for parents to share with their children and would offer opportunities to discuss the allegory behind the story. If you enjoy sweeping sagas and grand adventure tales, you will find much to enjoy amid the pages of Allon.

Just Like You by Martha Stewart Konrad - REVIEWED

On the day you were born, I looked in your eyes, cuddled you close, and knew the world would never be the same. I counted your fingers and toes, whispered in your ear, and sang you a lullaby.

Thus begins a very precious journey around the world in Marla Stewart Konrad’s picture book Just Like You. Newborn after newborn is greeted by their mother and relatives with customs unique to the child’s country of origin, and each country of origin is richly illustrated with colorful drawings of native locations, dress, animals and cultural activities. Although each child is born in very different circumstances, each one is greeted with great love and special moments that will forever mark the day of their birth.

The author uses the repetition of some phrases to indicate, to me anyway, that no matter the country of birth, there is a distinct sameness between the birth of each child, and that whoever God elects to be their family, they should be cherished and loved as a special gift from God. As the story comes full circle, the reader ends in the home of the same family that opened the story with the new mother pondering the fact that the miracle of birth is occurring simultaneously around the world. Lin Wang’s illustrations offer a feast for the eyes throughout the book, and as the child grows in language ability and understanding, parents will be able to teach a wide variety of information to their older toddler. Just Like You is a precious book, and it would make a beautiful shower gift that will be appreciated by both parents and child for years to come.

Marla Stewart Konrad is keenly interested in global issues and has a special concern for the well-being of children. Her career as a speechwriter and communications professional has taken her to numerous countries in Asia and Africa. She lives near Toronto, Canada, with her family, and is the author of several books for children.

This book was provided by Zonderkidz for review, and this post is part of the FIRST blog alliance blog tour.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Does God Exist? by The Truth Project, Focus on the Family and Stephen Meyer - REVIEWED

ABOUT THE DVD'S: (from the publisher)
In this first DVD set of the TrueU series, Dr. Stephen Meyer plays a “philosophical survival game,” pitting four worldviews against one another in the quest to decide which one gives the best answers. Dr. Meyer examines the evidence and provides the tools needed for students to defend their faith and make it their own. This is the perfect resource for students preparing to enter college and a culture that may be hostile to their faith. Additional discussion guides can be purchased separately, either in singles (978-1-58997-115-8) or in a 10-pack (978-1-58997-116-5).


Why can’t someone give you reasons for your faith?”

This question was the spark that began what eventually became the Focus on the Family project, Does God Exist? Dr. Stephen Meyer was teaching at a Fine Arts Christian college, when one of his students approached him rather boldly with the aforementioned question. Dr. Meyer realized that the importance of this question probably existed within the hearts and minds of many young people, and he set out to teach a series of classes that address the world’s most daunting question: Does God Exist? Set forth in a visually stimulating, intelligent, witty and articulate DVD format, everyone now has access to Dr. Meyer’s classes and can become equipped to deal with subjects such as The Big Bang Cosmology, DNA, The God Hypothesis and The Moral Necessity of Theism. This DVD set is accompanied by a small book that includes questions to spark further dialogue regarding the topics discussed in the classroom.

The “stage” for this DVD series is a college classroom, and each class lasts approximately an hour if the introductory statements of the “host” are included. Dr. Meyer is a fantastic speaker and has the rare ability to break down complex scientific concepts into interesting and easily understood ideas that anyone can use. This DVD set is meant to be a teaching tool to equip young people to stand ready to give an answer when the world approaches them with scientific evidence meant to destroy the concept of God’s existence. Dr. Meyer carefully and convincingly demonstrates that there is actually more scientific evidence for God’s existence than evidence that would disprove His presence, and leaves everyone well equipped to engage in intelligent conversation with those who are devoted to disbelief.

While God alone can change the heart of men and women from unbelief to that of personal faith, Dr. Meyer, Focus on the Family and the U True team have created a phenomenal DVD series that will deepen the understanding of God’s presence in every aspect of the universe - from the DNA that constructs us to the ever expanding universe. I watched these DVD’s with my 16-year-old son, and he was drawn in to the discussion just as I was. (albeit, he did keep pointing out the cute girls in the class!) I think this is a solid addition to anyone’s teaching library, and will offer endless opportunities for discussion and exploration with young adults of all ages!

Focus on the Family came on the scene in 1977 through the vision of Dr. James Dobson, a licensed psychologist and author of numerous best-selling books on marriage, parenting, and family. Now an international organization, Focus on the Family is dedicated to helping families thrive through the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Its radio broadcasts, books, videos, magazines, Web sites, audio dramas, and other resources reach millions of people daily.

Stephen Meyer is director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and a founder both of the intelligent design movement and of the CSC, intelligent design's primary intellectual and scientific headquarters. Dr. Meyer is a Cambridge University–trained philosopher of science and the author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, and philosophical books and journals. He has been widely featured in media appearances on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, PBS, and the BBC. In 2008, he appeared with Ben Stein in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. He's also featured prominently in two other science documentaries, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finding Contentment in a Facebook World - Guest post by Debbie Lykins

By: Debbie Lykins

I have to admit, I'm hooked on Facebook.

Since joining the Facebook family more than two years ago, I've been roped into training for a half-marathon (whose idea exactly was this anyway?), had the secret pleasure of chuckling at a picture of a high school crush (he once had a nice head of, not so much), and received virtual "support" when my preschooler won the drawing to bring home the classroom hamster over Christmas break (she was thrilled; I silently panicked). And, of course, I've reconnected with many people from the past who I haven't heard from or seen in years.

But, as much as I enjoy using Facebook, I don't always like what it does to me. Or, more to the point, what it brings out in me.

You see, on Facebook, you peer behind the doors of a lot of people's lives. This can be fun. Who knew, for example, that your best friend in the fourth grade who you haven't seen in 25 years loves the same quirky author as you? Or that your second cousin's daughter had a new boyfriend? Of course, others share more serious things like moving stories of saying goodbye to a husband and daddy deploying to Afghanistan or losing a loved one to a devastating illness.

But, sometimes, having a front row seat into people's lives and hearts leads to some not so good things-or more like, some not so good attitudes-at least in my own life.

The trouble with Facebook is that people's lives often can come across as "perfect." There's the business contact that jets off to New York to meet with powerful media, the stay-at-home mom who spends hours in creative play with her children, the family that heads to Disney every spring break, the couple packing for a cruise. Everything is so...perfect. And sometimes, somewhere inside of me, attitudes like envy, discontentment, and ungratefulness, begin to creep out.

Why don't I have her life? If we just had more money...or more time. When do we get our turn to watch our daughters' eyes light up at Disney? It's so not fair. Discontentment.

I find discontentment rearing its ugly head when it comes to my off-line relationships, too. Take my friend, Lisa: she lives in a 14,000 square foot mansion, complete with an indoor racquetball court, multiple flat-screen TVs, and the requisite fountain out front. Everything is top-of-the-line. Then there's my friend, Amy, who got married, moved south, and recently moved into a new home on five acres-complete with an indoor pool and its own chapel.

We live in a townhouse. It's conveniently located, meets our family of five's needs just fine, and really, most of the time, I love living here. But sometimes I feel a twinge of envy and wonder why I can't have Lisa's or Amy's life. I mean, I'd be able to go to the gym in my own house...think of the time saved! We could take the kids swimming every day.And, I'm certain Lisa is not scrubbing the toilet on Saturday afternoon, God. Discontentment.

I have another friend who spends hours teaching her children. One week they explored music by attending a band practice at the local high school and coloring pictures of composers. I don't even think about those kinds of things. See what I could do, God, if I just didn't have to work? I could just focus on being a mom and wife. I could play Candyland every day. I could bake brownies for the neighbor. I could, I could...Discontentment.

I don't think I'm alone in the "grass is greener" syndrome. While I read a lot of "I love my life" status updates, other moms lament on Facebook that their agenda for the day "only" includes changing diapers or watching Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. And the way that the information is shared quietly says, "I lead a boring life. I don't like my life. Can't I do something more important?" So much discontentment. And we wonder why our culture is so discontent. And why our kids are discontent, always wanting something more-bigger, better, cooler.

I started thinking about my own attitude toward contentment recently as I read the book, Growing Grateful Kids in an Ungrateful World by Susie Larson. On first blush, you might think you'll be reading a book filled with practical tips on how to teach your kids to be thankful in our "me-first" world of entitlement. Not so much. If you're like me, you'll walk away realizing that the issue of discontentment in the life of your child isn't so much the culture around you-the issue is you. And the even bigger issue is your relationship with Christ, and your understanding of His love for you-the secret to gratefulness.

Susie writes books and speaks around the country, and she's also a mom herself-having raised three boys with her husband. In the book Susie explores four critical areas we as moms need to focus on to help grow an attitude of gratefulness in our kids. Areas like modeling thankfulness, teaching perspective, encouraging faith, and living abundantly. Within each area she delves into things like practicing restraint, developing compassion, teaching forgiveness, and giving blessings. She shows how we, as moms, need to develop these areas in our own life, so that in turn, these traits can be developed in the lives of our children.

While much of what she covered spoke to me, one area stood out-embracing contentment. She wrote of her own struggles in this area over the years, particularly when she battled Lymes disease and her family had acquired a pile of medical debt. Like me, she too saw the "perfection" in the lives of friends. Susie writes that the sin of comparison (yes, it is a sin) triggers two kinds of responses-pride and/or despair. Pride when we appear to have the one-up; despair when we see ourselves as the loser. This, she says, leads to seeing things through a skewed lens. The key is to quit looking right or left-and to look up. She writes, "He is writing a beautiful story with our lives. His will for us is our best-case scenario. He doesn't want us to want someone else's story...because ours fits us perfectly." Susie also says that when we compare, we take a little something away from the relationships we have with our precious friends. God, forgive us, forgive me.

When it comes to our children, Susie writes that we must go after discontentment in our children because it is rooted in a sinful, selfish mind-set, just like ours. I can help build contentment in my three children's lives by doing things such as praying with them and thanking the Lord for specific blessings, helping them learn that every good and perfect thing comes from above, and pointing out the countless ways that we are truly rich. But by far, the most important thing I can do is be content in my own life, be content with the life God has given me, be content with the blessings He's given me, and stop thinking that somehow God is shortchanging me. Gratefulness.

Forgive me, Lord. Thank you, Lord, for the life you've given me. Thank you for a warm house on a cold night. Thank you for gently used clothes given freely by friends. Thank you for a godly school for our kids. Thank you for a career that allows me to work at home and be with my kids. Thank you for a husband who seeks after you. Thank you for worship songs sung from young lips, for the tender heart of my oldest whose biggest concern is if someone knows Jesus, for the laughter that comes from my middle child, and for the heartwarming smiles from my baby. Thank you, Lord.

I took Susie up on one of her ideas and bought a journal to daily list things I'm thankful for. I did this once before but it's been several years. I know God will meet me here, will use this to teach me, to remind me of the story He's writing for my life-for our family's life.

Contentment. Gratefulness. Praise be to Him, alone.

Meet Susie

With enthusiasm, humor, and conviction, author/speaker SUSIE LARSON speaks to thousands of women through her blog and conferences. Susie also serves a regular guest host for Along the Way - a two-hour talk radio show (AM Faith 900). In addition to authoring several books and many articles, Susie works as a freelance writer for Focus on the Family, and has been featured as a guest on radio and TV programs across the country, including Moody Midday Connection, Family Life Today, Chris Fabry Live!, The Harvest Show, and the LIFE Today Show with James and Betty Robison

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Do You Tuck In A Superhero? by Rachel Balducci - REVIEWED

ABOUT THE BOOK: (from the publisher)
When Rachel Balducci looks for material for her writing, she doesn't have to look far. Her subject matter can be found climbing through the window, hanging on to the edge of the roof, and rummaging through the refrigerator. Here she chronicles the exuberant, awesome life of boys through bizarre conversations overheard, unbelievable rules she's been forced to make, and the many episodes of boy behavior that continue to mystify mothers worldwide. From the care and feeding of her team, to travels out in public, to their wide-eyed adoration of Chuck Norris, this laugh-out-loud celebration joyfully explores the sweetly wild side of boyhood.

“Gear I Recommend For Life With Boys:
One Old Couch
Access to a large tree
Twine and/or fishing line
Duct Tape
White Hanes T-shirts, and many of them
Blue Jeans
Wooden Blocks
A Tattletale” (p. 179 )

The above list does not include all of the hilarious antidotes and explanations as to WHY you need these things for life with boys, but suffice it to say, it is priceless!! And very accurate actually! I am the mother of two boys, and counting my husband and the dog, I am one outnumbered female. Rachel Balducci is raising FIVE boys (not including her husband) and her book, How Do You Tuck In a Superhero? contains chapter after chapter of insightful, hilarious and poignant observations that she has made during her years of mothering these five precious gifts from God. I have laughed, and laughed, and cried reading her book, because I so totally relate to what it’s like to be the only female in a household of men.

I think Rachel has one thing totally right, and that’s the fact that she enjoys the “boyness” of her children. Yes, she’d like it if they were a little more intuitively neater, and if they didn’t mind dressing for public appearances without an argument, but she says it more than once; “…so much of what drives me crazy with boys is what I love most about them as well.” ( p 79) I loved her discoveries of what she finds in pockets during laundry, of the protective nature of the boys toward one another, the hilarious and creative ways the boys express themselves….I could go on and on! This book is priceless, funny, precious…just absolutely perfect for any woman who is tasked with raising boys!

A-men, Rachel Balducci! A-men! And A-men! How Do You Tuck in a Superhero? would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift, or just a gift of encouragement for any mom with multiple boys in her home. This has been the purest and best entertainment for me, and I highly recommend it to you!

Rachel Balducci is a writer and the mother of five lively boys. Her website,, has been nominated for several awards. Rachel is a former staff writer for the Augusta Chronicle and has been published in numerous magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Faith and Family, and The Word Among Us.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Anonymous Bride by Vickie McDonough - REVIEWED

Yeah, well, it takes time to communicate with a woman. You can’t hurry them, and you have to answer all their nitpicky questions ‘cause they’re suspicious.” (p. 142)

It’s no wonder women are so suspicious in Lookout, Texas or anywhere else with yahoos making statements like this one! Luke Davis has returned to Lookout after eleven years to become the new marshal, and he is as suspicious of women – one woman in particular – as anyone ever thought about being! Luke left Lookout broken-hearted and wounded to the core when his sweetheart married another man. Now that he has finally come home, his cousins determine that his birthday is reason enough to help him find the woman of his dreams. When two – no make that three – mail-order brides show up announcing their upcoming wedding to the new marshal, things get interesting in a hurry!! What no one realizes, including Luke himself, is that his heart already belongs to another.

Folks, if you enjoy a great story with fleshed-out characters, a great sense of humor, lots of adventure and excitement, then please pick up Vicki McDonough’s Anonymous Bride immediately!! This was so much fun to read! The character of Jack, oh, excuse me, I mean Jacqueline, makes the story worth reading all by herself! She was so much fun! Fun happens a lot in this story. As if the multiple brides weren’t hilarious enough, the mayor and the town make an outright festival out of the competition in which the marshal must choose his bride. Add in a couple of gangster bank-robbers, and you have a real treat on your hands!

I truly enjoyed The Anonymous Bride! This well-written, highly entertaining novel is the first in the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and I am very anxious to see which of the brides is featured in the next story, Secondchance Brides, coming later this Fall!


Award-winning author Vickie McDonough believes God is the ultimate designer of romance. She loves writing stories where the characters find their true love and grow in their faith. Vickie has had 18 books published. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and is currently serving as ACFW treasurer. Vickie has also been a book reviewer for nine years. She is a wife of thirty-five years, mother of four sons, and grandmother to a feisty four-year-old girl. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching movies, and traveling.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Real World Parents by Mark Matlock

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:

Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Families Living in the Real World

Zondervan/Youth Specialties (February 23, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Mark Matlock has been working with youth pastors, students, and parents for two decades. He speaks to hundreds of thousands of students around the world each year, and presents biblical truths in ways that motivate people to change. Mark is the vice president of event content at Youth Specialties and the founder of WisdomWorks Ministries and PlanetWisdom. He’s the author of several books including The Wisdom On - series, Living a Life That Matters, Don’t Buy The Lie, Freshman, and Smart Faith. Mark lives in Texas with his wife Jade and their two children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Zondervan/Youth Specialties (February 23, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310669367
ISBN-13: 978-0310669364


What Are Real World Parents?

I have a vivid memory of being a teenager and sitting at the dinner table with my family, rolling my eyes and pretending to gag behind my dad's back.


He was trying to do family devotions with us. But my three younger brothers and I just weren't buying it.

Every four or five months my dad would hear some program on Christian radio about family devotions, and he'd come home with another new idea for making it work with our family. After all, that's what Christian families are supposed to do, right? But it just never worked in our house. It felt completely forced and unnatural.

Still, somehow all four of us Matlock boys ended up in ministry. My youngest brother, Jonathan, helped me start WisdomWorks Ministries, and now we both do pretty much the same kind of youth ministry and youth minister support through Youth Specialties. Our brother Josh is a senior pastor in Southern California, and our brother Jeremy is a missionary in Russia. And still to this day, whenever Dad tries to bring us together for Òfamily devotionsÓ during the holidays, we mock him a little. It's become a kind of tradition because it isn't genuine for who we are as a family.

Now, I'm not saying that having kids who serve in some area of ministry means you're a successful parent. The point I'm making is that all four of my dad's sons grew into men with a real passion and appreciation for God's Word--even though he couldn't get us to sit still and take the reading of the Word seriously during repeated failed attempts at family devotions.

Why? Because we knew he had a real passion and appreciation for God's Word. We saw Dad reading the Bible. We saw him struggle to apply it to his life. We saw both of our parents base their decisions on their understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Ultimately we were convinced of the worldview contained in the pages of Scripture because we saw our parents openly endorsing it, talking about it, learning from it, and living it out day after day, year after year. That was enough for us--despite the failed attempts at family devotions.

That's what this book is about. We're not interested in presenting more artificial techniques and methodology to ÒfixÓ our kids or do what Christian families are Òsupposed to do.Ó Rather we want to help you discover how to live for God in a real way, right in front of your kids, so they can't help but catch the big picture that God and his Word mean the world to us and that living for Jesus really works in the Real World.

Don't get me wrong. Not all families are built to the same specifications. We each have our own family DNA. So if family devotions fit who you are, more power to you! Organized, structured, traditional family devotions are a great tool for some families. Now that my wife, Jade, and I have two kids of our own--our son Dax is in middle school, and our daughter Skye is 10--we've tried to have a family Bible hour around the table. It kind of worked off and on when the kids were younger, but we eventually realized it wasn't a good fit for the natural rhythm of our lives. It's not who we are right now. So instead we've found ways to talk about God's Word that are a better fit for us.

As we work together through the concepts in this book, one thing we'll discover is that Real World Parents are real in the sense that they do what best fits their families, and they genuinely adjust their own lives to fit into God's story.

Is God Happy with My Family?

In the church today, there's some really good teaching on parenting. My wife and I have benefited from writers, conference speakers, and pastors who've opened God's Word and helped us connect with what it means to raise up our children in the way they should go, how to provide godly discipline, and ideas for reinforcing good behavior. But again, that's not what this book is about.

And, honestly, over the years I've been frustrated with some teaching on parenting that's built around making parents feel guilty. These teachers, authors, books, and programs build parenting models based on our common fear that we're going to mess up our kids--or that we've already messed up our kids. That's an easy road that plays on our fears and our guilt over the areas in which we struggle as parents. Then they suggest that their programs or perspectives are our final hope to Òget it rightÓ or, worse, to do it the only way God wants it done.

That's not what this book is about, either. I promise not to use your parenting fears and anxieties against you. And we all have those feelings. I know I have them. If you could spend a little time with my family, you'd quickly see that we have issues, too. Those prone to critiquing parents would have no trouble criticizing my wife and me. So, no, I'm not interested in beating up other parents in order to somehow make them feel better or more motivated in their parenting.

In fact, I'd like to communicate exactly the opposite.

In our Real World Parent seminars, held around the United States, our teachers use a self-diagnostic tool to help attendees identify what they believe God thinks of their families.

It goes something like this:

What do you think God sees when he looks at your family? Do you think God grins or grimaces? (Place an X on the line.)

God Grins God Grimaces

This can be a challenging question if you take it seriously. On one hand, those of us who've grown up in Christian churches understand the idea of God's grace. We understand that our relationship with God isn't based on our performance. God sacrificed his only Son--the Son whom God loves so deeply--to pay for our sins on a cross. And God did this long before we even knew we wanted that gift from God. Thus, we'd always check the box that says God's love is unconditional for those of us in Christ.

Still, we have trouble carrying the idea of God's grace into our parenting. We can talk ourselves into believing that failing our kids is an unforgivable sin, that God could never be pleased with us if we've been guilty of sloppy or harsh or inconsistent or selfish or fearful or overprotective or neglectful parenting.

We may wonder how God could ever look at our families and grin. And the problem is that, as parents, we sometimes forget that we're also children--that our God is our Father, and that God is more lovingly inclined to smile at us than we are to smile at our own kids. Our Father loves us, and he forgives our parenting shortcomings and our family failings.

I will say this more than once: Nothing you read in this book will make God the Father love you and your family any more than he does right now, no matter what's going on with your family today.

I made this statement at one of our Real World Parent seminars, and I noticed that one of the women began to cry. She came up to me later and explained how inferior she's felt as a mother in her local church. Her husband isn't a believer, her kids get into trouble, and she just felt like such a failure--like a second-class parent in a church where most of the other parents were both Christians, still married, and raising such ÒniceÓ children.

I tried to assure her that God's grace applies to us as parents, and that in Christ she is forgiven and fully accepted as a beloved daughter (and mom!). The idea that God loved her family right now--in its present condition--was a reality she wasn't living in. She felt she was ÒunderperformingÓ as a parent and couldn't keep up. So she said the idea that she's forgiven, accepted, and loved as a parent gave her immense comfort.

Ernest Hemingway's short story called ÒThe Capital of the WorldÓ begins with an anecdote about a man in Madrid who put an ad in the newspaper to contact his estranged son. The ad read, PACO, MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA. The story then describes how at noon on Tuesday, 800 young men arrived at the hotel to make peace with their fathers.

The joke was that there are lots of guys in Spain named Paco. But the other message is that wanting our dads' approval, specifically, is a universal human experience. Taking nothing away from the indispensable role of our mothers, we all long to have our fathers sign off on who we are and what we're doing.

It's what psychologists call Òfather hunger.Ó

As Christians, followers of Jesus, we have that hunger even in our roles as parents, even if we've made mistakes along the way. Our Father has forgiven us. We live in God's grace. God approves of us in Christ. And, yes, God loves us.

I want to make it perfectly clear--again--that you'll find no directives in this book that will make God love you or your family even a little bit more than he already does. God's unconditional love for your family was established long ago. It is full. It cannot grow. Romans 8:1 declares, ÒTherefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Ó And that includes Christian parents.

I hope you've heard that. But I also hope you aren't satisfied to leave your family where it is today. Because while I'm convinced that God will never love or accept you any more than he does right now, I'm also convinced that God loves you so much that he won't leave you where you are right now, either.

No matter how good or bad you believe your family is, God has plans for you that will unfold in the Real World. God will continue to move your family along in the journey he has in store for you. Which is why this book is designed to help Real World Parents understand that journey--or story--and communicate it to our kids.

ÒHow Will This Book Fix My Kids?Ó 

As long as we're talking about things this book isn't, I should mention again that in the following pages you won't find any tips or tricks or techniques to fix your children's bad behavior. (We'd probably sell more copies if that's what we were promising, but we're not.)

In my experience, books full of tips, techniques, and tricks succeed at making readers feel good for a while. They make us feel hopeful. They make us feel as though we're doing something about the problem. But they often fail in the long run because we just can't keep it up. We can't change the personalities of our families to fit the models of the new programs on an ongoing basis.

When my kids came along, though, and I started making my way through all the different kinds of Christian parenting books, I noticed that a lot of them focused on helping me raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids. And while that's an important element, there wasn't much focus on raising kids to have hearts that seek after Christ. Of course we can't force that kind of spiritual openness and connectedness with God onto our kids--but in our Real World homes, we can create environments that promote such growth.

In a sense we become gardeners tending the spiritual development of our kids. God places the spark of life in the seed. We can't control that or how the plant eventually matures. But we can make sure the soil is rich, the ground is generously watered, the weeds are kept at bay, and the opportunity for sunlight is freely available. We can raise our children in environments where having a heart for God is the norm and not the exception.

What we don't want to generate are well-behaved kids who mindlessly follow our directions without ever willfully owning the faith in Jesus that they see in us. In the long run, the goal of parenting isn't for our kids to be known for how well-behaved they are, but for how well they know and respond to God.

Part of our challenge is to communicate to our kids a worldview that supports right actions. It's true that we (and they) will be held accountable for our behavior based on God's instructions to us. But whether or not we obey those instructions has a lot to do with whether or not we really believe God's story--a biblical worldview--and whether or not we walk in God's power.

In that way, our children's behavior is kind of like the tip of an iceberg. From countless illustrations we all know that the part of the iceberg that rises above the waterline is just a fraction of its total size. As such, you could conceivably make all kinds of alterations to the exposed part of the iceberg--in other words, the outward stuff (behaviors)--without significantly altering the iceberg itself.

What we've got to get at--in our own lives and in the lives of our kids--is the 80 percent of the berg that's under the waterline. In our illustration that represents one's worldview. We believe our behavior is ultimately driven by our understanding of the way the world works, of what we believe to be true and false about the universe, of our perception of reality.

And that's what we want to focus on as Real World Parents. How can we communicate God's worldview to our kids? What story are we telling them about the universe, both intentionally and--more importantly--in the way we live with and for God over time?

Before you move on to the next chapter, ask yourself these questions: 

1. When you imagine God looking at your family, what do you think God sees? What do you believe God's desire for your family is?

2. When you look at the world your children are living in, do you believe it's better or worse compared to when you were growing up? Why?

3. Which matters more to you--that your children demonstrate good behavior, or that your children understand and believe in a biblical worldview? Why?

4. In your own life, what has mattered more in the long run--your behavior on any given day or your foundational beliefs about God and the world?

Friday, April 23, 2010

In Harm's Way by Irene Hannon - REVIEWED

Folks, if romantic suspense is what you’re looking for, look no further! Irene Hannon’s Quantico series is over the top! In Harm’s Way features Special Agent Nick Bradley and his acquaintance with a lovely school teacher named Rachel Sutton. Rachel discovers a rather innocent looking Raggedy Ann doll buried in the snow and ice as she is on her way home. Thinking she will return a precious doll to a broken-hearted child, she picks it up to turn it in to lost and found, and her world is suddenly turned upside down!

Rachel turns to the FBI for help, and Nick Bradley winds up as the available agent when she comes into the office. Not quite believing that Rachel has sensed danger from this dirty, lost Raggedy Ann doll, he is quite skeptical about her concerns. When he witnesses her terror and realizes that her concern is genuine, he begins to investigate one of the most unusual cases of his career. What neither of them expected was to discover companionship along the way. This story begins and ends with heart-pounding, nerve-wracking scenarios, and it is a story that will leave a haunting sense of God’s goodness and mercy long after the final pages.

I loved Nick in the other books of this series, and I’m so glad he gets his own story! Good looking, talented in home restoration, health conscious and deeply rooted in his faith despite a broken past, Nick just holds a lot of appeal to me. And, by the end of this story, he holds a great deal of appeal to one Rachel Sutton! Get ready for a fascinating, kind of nerve-wracking ride with Irene hannon’s In Harm’s Way! What a terrific romantic suspense!

Available April 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


Irene Hannon is the bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including Against All Odds and An Eye for an Eye. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America, the HOLT Medallion, and the Reviewer's Choice Award from Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine.

For more information about Irene and her books, visit her website at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blood Ransom by Lisa Harris - REVIEW & GIVE AWAY!

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Blood Ransom
Zondervan (April 1, 2010)

Lisa Harris


Award-winning author Lisa Harris has been writing both fiction and nonfiction since 2000 and has more than fifteen novels and novellas in print. She currently lives with her family in Mozambique, Africa, where they work as missionaries.

From Lisa:

Have you ever noticed how God often uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things? In writing Blood Ransom, I wanted my heroes and heroines to be ordinary people, faced with extraordinary circumstances. Chad and Natalie’s lives were changed not only through the challenges they faced, but also through their reliance on God. And when they set off on their journey to the capital to save Joseph’s family, they never imagined that God would call them to a task that was beyond the scope of their own power.

But while this story is fictional, the issue of a modern day slave trade is very real. It is estimated that there are currently more than 27 million slaves on the world today from Africa, to Eastern Europe … to the United States of America. The fact is, we don’t have to travel around the world to see people hurting and exploited. They’re real people we pass every day, living in our neighborhoods, and attending our churches and schools. They’re empty and broken, searching for freedom and hope in an often hopeless world.


Natalie Sinclair is working to eradicate the diseases decimating whole villages in the Republic of Dhambizao when she meets Dr. Chad Talcott, a surgeon on sabbatical from a lucrative medical practice now volunteering at a small clinic.

Meanwhile, things are unraveling in Dhambizao. Joseph Komboli returns to his village to discover rebel soldiers abducting his family and friends. Those that were too old or weak to work lay motionless in the African soil. When Chad and Natalie decide to help Joseph expose this modern-day slave trade---and a high-ranking political figure involved in it---disaster nips at their heels.

Where is God in the chaos? Will Chad, Natalie, and Joseph win their race against time?

Romance and adventure drive Blood Ransom, by Lisa Harris, a powerful thriller about the modern-day slave trade and those who dare to challenge it.

If you would like to read the prologue and first chapter of Blood Ransom, go HERE.


“Don’t let anyone stop you from telling the truth.” (p. 306)

When Natalie Sinclair decides to share the truth of what happened in Joseph Komboli’s small African village, she sets herself upon a terrifying and life-threatening course to uncover an evil that still preys upon human life today – slavery. The country of Africa has been home to slavery for hundreds of years, and Lisa Harris uses the modern slave trade as the launching pad for her latest novel, Blood Ransom. What price must be paid to uncover the secrets concealed behind government greed for money and power? What value is placed upon human lives when commerce depends on illegal manpower to function? How do you operate a non-profit organization in a third-world setting when the reality you uncover make your efforts seem of little consequence?

Natalie chooses to share truth in this story, and it comes with great price. This dramatic, all-too-real tale is the second or third book I’ve read recently dealing with modern-day slavery in various forms. I cannot comprehend such cruelty just to feed the unending appetite of human greed! All of us must realize the need to stand up and tell the truth, no matter the cost. This is a story that will make you consider that need as well as the precious, precious value of human life.

I applaud Lisa Harris for taking on such a difficult tale, and telling in such a page-turning, suspenseful way! I pray that slavery will one day be put to a final and complete end, and that we will be able to reach out to all around us and make an eternal difference. Where is God amid all of this suffering? Right where He has always been, providing help, guidance, strength and wisdom for those willing to sacrifice for the cause of truth!

I have an extra copy of this book to give away to anyone who leaves a comment and contact information on this post!

Love Will Keep Us Together by Ann Dayton and May Vanderbuilt

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 authors are:

and the book:

Miracle Girls #4: Love Will Keep Us Together: A Miracle Girls Novel

FaithWords (April 30, 2010)

***Special thanks to Miriam Parker of Hachette Book Group for sending me a review copy.***


Anne Dayton graduated from Princeton and has her MA in Literature from New York University. She lives in New York City. May Vanderbilt graduated from Baylor University and has an MA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins. She lives in San Francisco. Together, they are the authors of the Miracle Girls books, Emily Ever After, Consider Lily, and The Book of Jane.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (April 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446407585
ISBN-13: 978-0446407588


The whole world has gone maroon. The bricks are maroon, the dress code is maroon, and even our peppy tour guide’s hair is dyed a deep maroon. -

“Hi, I’m Kiki, and I’m a real student here.” She grins from ear to ear as she walks backward across the giant lawn. “Welcome to the home of the Harvard Crimson.”

Pardon me. The whole world has gone crimson . The parents and prospective students around me press forward, following after our tour guide, but I slowly edge toward the back, hoping the rest of my family doesn’t notice.

The Great McGee Family College Tour is finally winding down, and not a moment too soon. We started off last week at Duke, then drove up to see Johns Hopkins, Penn, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale. This morning we got up early to do MIT, and if I can survive a little longer, we’ll check Harvard off the list and only have Cornell to go. Dad and I talked Mom out of Dartmouth. Way too much snow.

I thought it would be fun to tour colleges, but I didn’t realize everybody was going to ask me the same question again and again: “What do you want to do with your life, Riley?” Or sometimes they stick to, “What’s your passion, Riley?” And I haven’t figured out how to answer them. Somehow, “I have no earthly idea” doesn’t seem to be what they’re looking for.

“We are now entering the famous Harvard Yard.” The group falls silent, almost reverent, and Kiki stops on the other side of the crimson-bricked archway and waits while we file through. As she recaps the history of the university, which involves a bunch of dead white guys—just like every other school, Mom spies me slouching low at the back of the crowd.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. “I could really see you being happy here, Riley.” I nod because it’s easier than trying to explain. “Did you know the Latin word veritas on the seal”—she holds out a brochure for me—“means truth?” She flips the brochure open and starts paging through photos of students sitting under autumn trees.

I put my pointer finger over my lips, then point at Kiki. Mom nods and jogs back to my brother, Michael, who has Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism. Mom and Dad have done a ton of work to help him with his social skills, but he’s still prone to legendary meltdowns. After the scene he caused at MIT this morning, she’s been watching him like a hawk.

“This really seems like a good one.” Dad comes up behind me in a sneak attack. I glance across the group and see Michael pulling on Mom’s hand, trying to get over to a statue of a seated man. “These kids seem like your kind of people.”

Dad and I look around the yard at the students hauling mattresses and carrying plastic crates stuffed with junk. A group lounges on the steps of one of the historic buildings, drinking from eco-friendly metal thermoses.

I shrug and pull my short hair into a pathetic ponytail. Not my best look, but it’s sweltering today.

“Do you like it better than Princeton?”

I try to avoid his stare, but he follows my eyes until I give in and focus on him. In the weak afternoon sunlight, I notice that the gray patches at his temples are spreading through his warm brown hair, like two silver streaks down his head.

“I don’t know. Princeton was fine.” Princeton is Ana’s thing, her dream. All I could think about the entire time I was there was, How did she choose this school? How did she know it was for her? Is there a feeling you get? Is it like how I knew about Tom?

Kiki climbs a few steps up to an old brick building and claps excitedly. “Massachusetts Hall is special for two reasons.” She beams at our group and holds up one finger. “First, it’s the oldest building on campus, dating back to 1720.” Everyone in our group oohs, and Mom whispers something to another mother. “And”—Kiki makes eye contact with the prospective students in her pack—“it’s a freshman dorm! Let’s go take a look, shall we?”

We walk in a tight-knit pack up the stairs and down the third-floor hallway. Loud music pours from the rooms, the beats clashing. Finally we stop at a dorm room with two neatly made beds and two tidy desks with crimson folders emblazoned with the Harvard seal. I realize there’s nothing real about this room or this choreographed moment, like almost every moment of every college tour we’ve taken. How am I supposed to get a feel for the campus with these phony experiences?

As Kiki begins explaining dorm security, I slip out of the room and try to collect my thoughts. This is merely a minor case of butterflies, nothing more. I’m sure everybody gets them when touring colleges. I’ll call Ana, and she’ll talk me through this.

I rummage through my purse, searching under all the brochures and school spirit junk until my fingers find my phone’s smooth edges.

Wait, I can’t call Ana. She loved every second of her college tour. When she came back from the East Coast a few weeks ago, she couldn’t stop talking about Princeton’s amazing science labs. Plus, she already knows beyond a shadow of a doubt she wants to be a neonatal surgeon. She had open-heart surgery as a baby and has always felt called to follow the path of the doctors who saved her life.

Zoe would totally get it. I scroll through my contacts, all the way down to Z .

But maybe it isn’t fair to call Zo. Her parents are doing a little better, but money is still tight. She didn’t get to go on a college tour this summer, and I’m not really sure there’s any money put aside for her education. I’d be a jerk to call and complain.

I scroll back up to Christine. She’s headed to New York next year to become a painter. All she’s ever wanted is to get out of Half Moon Bay. We’ve always understood each other in that way.

But as I’m pressing the button for her name, I remember that today is Tyler’s birthday and she was going to surprise him with a scavenger hunt through town.

That leaves one person. I find his name and quickly punch the button. “Pick up, pick up,” I chant quietly. A voice in my head reminds me I shouldn’t be calling my ex-boyfriend, the only guy I ever loved, the one who went off to college and left me behind, but I try to quiet it. All these months I’ve been strong and not e-mailed him, not called him, but I don’t have anyone else right now.

“Hey there.” Tom’s deep voice is a little scratchy, like he just woke up, and it sends a shiver down my spine. The guys at Marina Vista still sound like chipmunks. “How… What’s up?” he asks.

Technically the breakup a few months ago was mutual—technically. I want to talk to him, but it’s just as friends. He’s already gone through the whole college application process, so he’ll help me get my head on straight.

“I hate Harvard.” A woman glares at me as she passes down the hall. I lower my voice. “Well, I don’t hate Harvard—that’s not it. My parents love it, and the teachers all love it. Actually, everybody loves it except me.”

“What are you talking about?” He yawns loudly.

“I’m on my college tour, standing in the hallowed halls of Harvard right now. Well, a dorm hallway anyway.” Two girls pass me, talking loudly. “They want me to go here, but it doesn’t feel right.”

“So don’t apply. You’re not like everybody else.”

I bite my lip. It’s such a Tom thing to say and exactly what I need to hear. After months of not talking, he still knows how to make me feel better. Tom always put the Miracle Girls on edge, but they never got to see this side of him, the big heart hidden inside his chiseled chest.

The noisy tour group pours out of the dorm room, and Kiki ushers them toward the exit at the end of the hall, pointing at some posters on the wall. Mom spots me on the phone and motions for me to rejoin the group.

“It’s funny that you called,” Tom says. “I actually wanted to tell you something.”

The tour group files into the stairwell. Dad lingers for a moment, frowning, and then goes with them.

“I’m transferring to UCSF and moving back to San Francisco.”

“What?” I press my finger to my ear, trying to block out the noise in the hall. That can’t be right. I’ve just gotten used to him being in Santa Barbara, which isn’t that far, but far enough for him to feel really and truly gone from my life.

“Santa Barbara wasn’t working out, and now I can live at home and save some cash.”

My heart begins to pound.

“I miss my old friends, you know—crazy blond girls who call me out of the blue and stuff. I miss… talking.”

My pulse drums loudly in my ears.

Mom peeks her head back in the door and widens her eyes at me. “You’re missing everything!”

“I—” I wave at Mom. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll call you later.” I snap the phone shut before he can respond and chuck it back into my purse. He’s coming back? I lean my head against the wall to keep it from spinning.

“Riley!” Mom plants her hands on her hips.

“Coming.” I jog over to her lingering in the stairwell. I file in at the back of the group and wind down the few flights of stairs with Mom hot on my heels. I can’t think about Tom now. I’ll deal with that later, once I’m back home and I’ve had time to wrap my mind around the fact that he isn’t gone, that his voice almost sounded like it used to before we drifted apart.

We re-enter the Harvard Yard, the sun stinging my eyes, and Kiki yammers on and on about the different types of architecture, pointing out stuff like Doric columns and neoclassical facades.

It’s not that Harvard isn’t beautiful. The campus is historic and hallowed and dripping in ivy, and there’s no question that it’s one of the best colleges in the country. If I went here, I’d get a great education, have opportunities I’d never get anywhere else, and meet all kinds of new, fascinating friends….

My mind flashes to Half Moon Bay, the faces of the Miracle Girls.

I can’t believe that in a year this is going to be my life. This could be my freshman dorm, but looking out over this crowded lawn, I can’t picture it. I try to imagine myself lounging in the courtyard, heading to fascinating lectures, eating in the dining hall, but my brain refuses. The only life I can imagine is at Marina Vista, hanging out with the girls, being close when Michael needs me.

Mom grins at me as Kiki explains how the meal plans work.

They think I want to go to Harvard, but I don’t. They think I’m excited about this, but I’m scared out of my mind. They think they know the real Riley McGee, but even I haven’t met her. They think I have it all figured out, but I’m totally lost.

So much for veritas .

Copyright © 2010 by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt