Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christy by Catherine Marshall - REVIEWED

About the Book:
The train taking nineteen-year-old teacher Christy Huddleston from her home in Asheville, North Carolina, might as well be transporting her to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap feels suspended in time, trapped by poverty, superstitions, and century-old traditions. But as Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home, some see her---and her one-room school---as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two equally strong, but different men. Yearning to make a difference, will Christy's determination and devotion be enough?

My Thoughts:

I'm going to date myself terribly when I say this, but I remember my sister's copy of this book - decades ago.  I realize that this is the 50th anniversary edition, and my sister is only a decade older, but I remember her reading this book as a young teen.  I even remember the cover of the book!  Sadly, I didn't read it then, and my first real encounter with the story was the television seasons that ran for a few years.  When I had the chance to read and review the story, I could barely wait to get started!

I have to say that this book is one that literally sweeps me away to a different time and place.  I lost all sense of time when I began reading, and as I followed the people of Cutter Gap and Christy's transformation as she came to care about them, my heart was totally involved.  I laughed and cried, cringed and startled....my emotions ran the gamut with this story, and I fell as deeply in love with the folks of Cutter Gap as Christy herself.

This story is meticulously developed, and the characters walk from the pages of this story straight into your heart.  Life was rough in Cutter Gap, but Christy never lost her enthusiasm and desire to have these folks improve their lives and reach beyond their cove and begin to learn about the world beyond their boarders.  All the while, she also learns the value of the traditions and sense of family that has fueled the survival of these hearty folks.

What Christy brings above all else is the love of Christ.  She literally becomes the hands and feet of Jesus in this community.  Oh, Miss Alice and David have the mission well in hand before she arrives, but her big heart and her desire to bring help and healing to these people begin to challenge and inspire those who'd already begun to pave the way.

This book has endured for 5 decades, and will endure for 5 more if the Lord tarries.  This is a timeless novel that I am VERY grateful to have taken the time to read - finally!!  This should be in every reader's library!!

About the Author:

Catherine Marshall is a New York Times best-selling author of 30 books. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine's enduring career spanned four decades and reached more than 30 million readers.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pass It On by Champ Thornton - REVIEWED

About the Book:
Pass It On is the perfect gift for an older member of your family who would like to leave a lasting legacy for someone younger. It includes questions for each chapter in Proverbs and also gives space for prayers, memories, and stories to pass on to the next generation. This beautiful journal will be valued by the person who receives it and also treasured as a lasting keepsake by whoever they choose to “pass it on” to! In Proverbs, God has left an amazing legacy of wisdom. It’s our privilege to pass that legacy on to the next generation. There are many different kinds of legacies to leave, but sharing yourself and your faith with the next generation will always stand the test of time.

As readers are guided through the book of Proverbs, they are asked to create their own personalized, wisdom journal with the aim of giving it to someone they love. Through answering questions on each chapter, writing prayers, and sharing personal stories, readers create a lasting keepsake for themselves and their families and friends. Created by Champ Thornton, best-selling author of The Radical Book for Kids, Pass It On is an innovative resource to strengthen families and help them grow in their love for God and each other. This is a perfect gift for an older and wiser friend or relative that will encourage them to share their life and faith with the next generation.

An easy-to-accomplish devotional and journal allows users to go at their own pace through Proverbs.
Users create a personalized journal filled with God’s wisdom and their own faith story.
Encourages older and wiser friends and relatives to share their faith with the next generation.
The perfect gift that will be cherished and passed on from one generation to the next.

The fresh and careful translation provided comes from Dr. Bruce Waltke, who has devoted his life to the study of God’s Word, and especially the book of Proverbs. His two-volume work on Proverbs is considered by many as the premier commentary in the English language.

Purchase your copy HERE.

My Thoughts:

This is a beautiful book, and is challenging me to consider Proverbs and the truths of the book in an entirely new way.  The author give correlating scripture to consider as you journal through the proverb, and many times asks that you re-write it in your own words.  This is a powerful tool for me personally, because I'm literally writing out what I "hear" God speaking to me through the Scripture.

Now, part of this journal provides space for remembrances of your own faith journey.  While this is healing and beneficial to do for myself, I'm not sure I'd share the nitty-gritty details with someone coming along behind me on this journey of faith.  It is entirely possible that I'm a little TOO literal in my answers, but once I see it on paper, I become a bit hesitant to share it with someone else.  This may change as I make my way through, but I'm a bit on the fence with this right now....at least if I'm the one passing it on!

The thought has occurred to me that perhaps I need to gift this to some mature Christians that I'd like to receive insight from! :)  My first thoughts were to share this with my children, but then I hit this wall of privacy in my own mind and I wonder how much of my story to share.  Proverbs deals with some very personal issues.  That is good for me to consider, but sharing it?  I don't know.

So, this a GREAT journal!! But for now, this is between me and God.  And that may be all it needs to be.  I'd encourage you to check it out!  It would be quite a treasure to receive it back filled with wisdom from a mature Christian you admire.  This is really a brilliant, thought-provoking journal whether you keep it as a reminder of your own faith journey, or if you choose to share it.

About the Author:
Champ Thornton, MDiv, is associate pastor at Ogletown Baptist Church in Delaware. He has pastored in South Carolina and served as director of SOMA, a ministry training school in Columbus, OH. He is also the author of The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of FaithGod’s Love: A Bible Storybook, and Bible curriculum for early and upper elementary-aged children. Champ and his wife, Robben, have been married since 1996 and have three children.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ordinary graces by Lucinda Secrest McDowell - REVIEWED

About the Book:
Everyone loves to receive a gift. And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?

God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.

Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.

Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.

Purchase your copy HERE!

My Thoughts:
There is a particular gentleness about Lucinda McDowell’s writing that strengthens and centers me.  I don’t review devotionals very often, but even the title of this book, ordinary graces, seemed to speak to me.  I’m very glad I have crossed paths with this author, because this book was a timely God appointment in my life.  As I navigate an empty nest, elder care for my parent’s and learning to parent adult children, this devotional has helped me immeasurably!

McDowell had divided the book into the categories of Grace, Strength, Gratitude and Life.  Honestly, the entire devotional encompasses all of this and more!  Each thought occupies two pages and each contains Scripture and a brief and personal insight from the author.  She closes each entry with a prayer that is powerful and very personal.  Each time I sat down with this book, I came away with a quiet sense of God’s presence.  I am grateful that Lucinda McDowell was faithful to share her love of Christ with readers in this very precious book!

I HIGHLY recommend this devotional!!

About the Author:
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is the author of 13 books including Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season and Dwelling Places: Words to Live in Every Season, has contributed to an additional 30 books, and has been published in more than 50 magazines. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she speaks internationally through her ministry “Encouraging Words.” An award-winning writer who has earned accolades from prominent writers’ conferences and retreats, McDowell directs reNEW—retreat for New England Writing and has also worked in radio broadcasting and on church pastoral staffs. She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in Connecticut. Find her online at EncouragingWords.net.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reta Watkins - That Christmas Feeling - REVIEWED

Worship leader, recording artist and vocal stylist Reta Watkins is thrilled to announce the release date of her debut solo album, That Christmas Feeling. The project is slated to impact retail on Friday, November 17, 2017, from Suite 28 Records through Naxos of America, Inc., the nation's leading independent classical music distributor.

"I've waited my whole life to do this record," says Reta. "My father passed away 10 years ago. I loved my dad so much, and one of my fondest memories was of us singing Christmas carols together. Dad was an outstanding tenor who grew up in the heyday of the big band/jazz era. We would sit together, listening to and singing along with the greats--Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby. In particular, he loved all things Christmas, and I loved what he loved, so I fell in love with the Christmas carols. I would listen to Christmas music all year long if I could."

The gifted vocalist, who cut her musical teeth singing with her 'musicianary' family band, and later with the contemporary Christian band, Pilgrim's Progress, breaks new ground with her debut solo project, That Christmas Feeling. On the new project, Reta revisits the rich repertoire of timeless holiday standards that have become the Christmas soundtrack for generations of Americans. The 10 lushly orchestrated tracks on the album were produced by Scott Williamson (Point of Grace, Lincoln Brewster) and showcase Reta's compelling vocal stylings. Tracks include the best of the big band era, along with a few more recent additions to the Christmas music lexicon.

The road to making That Christmas Feeling ran from Reta's suburban Philadelphia home, straight to Nashville, where she enlisted the considerable talents of long-time friend and producer, Scott Williamson, who had been itching to produce a big band jazz record. Williamson enlisted the aid of his father, celebrated Dove Award winning composer/arranger Dave Williamson. When Dave unfortunately fell ill and passed away before the album could be completed, Williamson called on the talents of Jason Webb (Lauren Daigle, Amy Grant, Lee Brice, Richard Marx) to step in and complete the arrangements.

"Jason had to pick up the ball and run with it when my dad fell ill," Scott explains. "Not only did Jason do five of his own incredible arrangements, but he also took the five that my father had started, and finished them in a way that blew everybody's mind."

A highlight of the project is the album's first radio single, a stunning, big band version of the beloved contemporary classic, "Mary Did You Know." While retaining the song's reverential awe, Reta injects a smoldering vitality that carries the tune from the familiar into uncharted territory. Reta wraps her mellifluous vocals around traditional big band holiday favorites like "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and the delightfully jazzy "Sleigh Ride." Her emotion-laden take on the slightly melancholy, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" will have you raising a cup of wassail to absent friends and loved ones...and maybe wiping away a tear. Reta jazzes up the Paul McCartney fave, "Wonderful Christmastime," pulls back for a swaying, flirty version of the Irving Berlin classic, "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," then evokes the smooth, silky delivery of Nat King Cole on "The Christmas Song."

Producer Williamson pulled a pair of contemporary favorites from the songwriting team of Paul Marino and Jeremy Johnson to complement the album's classic carols--the worshipful and peace-evoking piano ballad, "Behold Emmanuel," and the heartbreaking jazz number, "Christmas in Heaven." Of course, no Christmas album is truly complete without the worldwide best-selling single of all time, "White Christmas." 

"Growing up in the northeast, I experienced many white Christmases. That's what I think of when I think of Christmas music--big band orchestration, classic holiday songs, fresh arrangements. With the joys and family traditions of the season, That Christmas Feeling is the soundtrack for that Christmas feeling that has always remained deep in my heart. I know Dad would be proud."

My Thoughts:

I’m no musical expert, but I’ve listened to a LOT of Christmas music over the past 5 decades, and Reta Watkins Christmas album is a beautiful blend of classic and individual style. This has a definitive jazz sound that I adore!!  There is a big band sound that will take you back through time and transport you to Christmas past!  You’ll be able to create Christmas memories galore if you have this CD playing throughout the holiday season!  

I think my favorite is “Wonderful Christmastime”, because it is so upbeat and fun! You can’t help doing a little Christmas jig as you listen!! “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas” are also most excellent!!  This is going to be a classic folks!  I highly recommend you add it to your collection!

About Reta Watkins:
Worship leader, vocalist and recording artist Reta Watkins was just six years old when she recorded her first single. Growing up the youngest of five children in a family of musical missionaries, Reta remembers life was an adventure.

"We lived by faith," she muses. "We slept in a camper or in people's homes. We received love offerings and sold records and tapes to support the ministry. Everyone in the family played an instrument. I gravitated toward percussion, but mostly, I was a singer. I wouldn't take any of it back."

Reta shared tag-team vocals with her brother, singer/songwriter Steve Garrett, in the Christian pop/rock band Pilgrim's Progress, and has honed her skills as a vocal stylist for more than 30 years. It doesn't take more than a cursory listen to realize that her debut solo album, the holiday themed project, That Christmas Feeling, was well worth the wait. To learn more about Watson and That Christmas Feeling, visit retawatkins.com.
About Suite 28 Records: 
Suite 28 Records is an independent label that was established to serve talented artists whose music deserves to be heard outside of their local scene. 
Recognizing a need to give musicians a voice that transcends genre or cultural constraints, Suite 28 Records produces and releases recordings that often combine genres, drawing influences from classical, jazz, and world music.  
Suite 28 Records is proud member of the Naxos Music Group. For more information, visit Suite28records.com

Friday, November 10, 2017

Robert Donohue Q&A - Child of Creation

What genre do you write and why? I write to relax.  I enjoy reading Epic Fantasy novels and so, my first published book is in that genre.  I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Clive Cussler though, so I have a desire to try that genre at some point, and I have started about half a dozen times a book about my adventures in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004 when I was there serving as a police advisor helping to stand up a democratic policing presence in a country that had none.  Basically, I just like to write, and the fantasy genre is the most open, allowing me to be the most creative with character development and what I can do to create conflicts that drive character interaction.
Tell us about your latest book.  Child of Creation is an epic fantasy novel about a young man, Lark, who is suddenly, and violently, torn from the only world he has ever known when the small village he has never been more than a few miles away from is attacked and everyone in it, including his parents, killed.  As the only witness to that atrocity, Lark is sent away by his mother who strangely tells him to keep who he is a secret just before sending him away.  Lark then has to figure it all out, how to survive in a world he doesn’t even really understand and wanders into a variety of challenges along the way, forcing him to grow up faster than he ever thought he could, and face the fact that somehow, his tragedy is tied up in a much greater series of events than he ever imagined he could be a part of.
What did you edit out of this book?  I started this book when I was a young police officer, and as such, I was seeing quite a bit of the seedier side of life.  As I got older, and my children started growing up, I started to wonder if what I wrote was appropriate for them to read.  With a book about a 14 year old I wanted kids around that age to be able to enjoy it as well so much of the more descriptive depravity of the world Lark finds himself in was edited out to make the book more acceptable to me as a parent.
How do you select the names of your characters?  The most popular question I have received since people started reading my book.  I basically didn’t want to accidentally step on any toes, so whenever I ran into the need for a new character name, I would start putting vowels and consonants together until they sounded like the character I was creating.  I wanted an entirely new world that broke stereotypes from other worlds while at the same time, creating an entirely new set for this new world’s inhabitants.  There are patterns in the names that I try to follow.  I will leave the identification of those patterns to the imaginations of my readers.
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book? A part of my choosing Page Publishing was their offer of sending out a press release about the book’s release and setting up a web page.  I was also moved to work with a terrific group of publicists out of Austin, Texas, called PR by the Book who helped me make contact with you.  It is an uphill battle for any self-published author to convince people to give your work a chance, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance the book has received and hope that the more people read it, the stronger word of mouth advertising will work in my favor.  It is about the characters and the world they live in, and if they drive people’s imaginations strongly enough, I will reach a point where the book can and should sell itself.  All I have to do is keep finding people to convince to read it until I reach that point.
What formats is the book available in? The book is available in paperback, and ebook versions.  It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, I-Tunes, Google Play, and Kobo along with a host of other sites.  It is also available through Ingram wholesalers for any bookstore looking to carry it. 
Who is you favourite character in your book and why?  I tend to be like a parent who prefers not to declare one of his kids, (characters), the favorite.  They all have their positive and negative traits but in the end, it is their humanity and their way of dealing with each other that will define them.  I truly would rather each reader find their own favorite for their own reasons.  Imagination is a wonderful thing and, at least inside this world we live in, each person has his own experience and environment to rely on to help him choose who might become the one he most wants to know what is going to happen to as the series develops.

Where can a reader purchase your book?  My book is available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, I-Tunes, and Google Play as well as on request from most any book retailer upon request.  I would really love to see sales pick up in the local bookstores as I am a small-town guy and that would generate interest that would allow me to make some appearances in many of these smaller venues where the events would be more personal.           

What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.  Book two of the Then Came a King series, Coming of Age is complete…for the most part.  I am editing it for contextual disagreements with book 1and trying to make sure I haven’t taken the characters to places they really don’t need to go.  I am afraid of the sequel syndrome where everything after the first one is disappointing and so I want to use each book in the series to build a stronger connection between the readers and their favorite characters.  The hardest part of that for me is keeping each character in their lane so to speak.  The amount of time it has taken to get this published has made that effort considerably harder than it should have been.  Imagine trying to remember what your motives were for a particular idea, 25 years ago.

What are some of your all time favourite books?  The Sword of Shannara was the first Fantasy novel I ever read.  The Belgariad series by David Eddings was an important part of my teen years, as was Louis L’Amour and Clive Cussler.  I stumbled into the Song of Ice and Fire long before it was a fad to do so and really really liked it.  There are so many historical books that I have really enjoyed that I can’t even name a single author other than Winston Groom who wrote an interesting historical non-fictional account on the Battle of Vicksburg about the town I live in.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?  My wife would tell you I am a professional sleeper, but in reality, I work about 60 hours a week between all of the jobs I work and then I am a part time graduate student as well.  Soon I will be teaching at the college level also and hopefully still be writing and doing press and book signing events.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Deeds of Darkness by Mel Starr - REVEIWED

About the Book:
To bring justice, Master Hugh must foil the corrupt power of great men

Many medieval scholars discontinued their university studies before completing their degree. Some lacked funds; others became bored with a scholar's life. Occasionally these young men formed lawless bands, robbing and raping and creating chaos. They were called goliards.

In Deeds of Darkness Master Hugh learns that the Bampton coroner, an old friend, has been slain while traveling to Oxford. As he seeks the killer (or killers) he discovers a band of goliards in the area between Oxford and Bampton. But how to apprehend these youths? They have protectors far above Hugh's station. He must deal with the claims of justice on the one hand and the power of great men to protect their henchmen on the other.

My Thoughts:
Evil men cannot be discovered and apprehended from a distance.”  (p. 113)

Hugh de Singleton has sought many an evil man throughout his adventures while serving as both surgeon and bailiff to Lord Gilbert Talbot.  I’ve followed Master Hugh through marriage, fatherhood, and, along the way, injury at the hands of the evil men he pursues.  By now, is precious wife and children provide more than enough incentive to ensure the safety of everyone in his realm. In his installment, there seems to be an abundance of loss of both life and property, and Master Hugh cannot seem to make all of his clues reveal the culprit behind the many losses.

As always, this medieval CSI detective observes the very smallest detail of every crime scene.  As he makes his discoveries, he is always stitching the wounds of those on the receiving end of the weapons, and I absolutely relish the way he follows one leader in the field of medicine and shares with the reader why one form of treatment is better than another.  But, I digress…

This mystery seems layered with complications because there seems to be a band of men perpetrating the crimes.  At some crime scenes there are three men, at others four…and not very much consistency beyond that. As Master Hugh ventures out into the surrounding communities seeking answers, he discovers his father-in-law is also in need of his aide.  It is in the daily ministrations of Master Hugh’s life that answers begin to emerge.  

I remain a HUGE fan of this series, and I look forward to each new adventure.  The details of life in the 1300’s continue to fascinate me, and I come away very thankful that God placed me further along the time line of history!  Master Hugh is the epitome of a gentleman, and if it were possible, I’d order up a medieval surgeon and bailiff of my own!! Until next time… 

About the Author:
Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating with a MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970, he taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years--thirty-five of those in Portage, MI, where he chaired the social studies department of Portage Northern High School. Mel retired in 2003. He and his wife, Susan, have two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin - REVIEWED

About the Book:
Join Two Incomparable Sisters on Adventures That Span the Decades And Cross the Globe

In the city of Chicago in 1892, the rules and expectations for Victorian women are strict, their roles in life limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies. Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents have taken them out of society ballrooms and delivered them to the Sinai Desert--and into the teeth of a sandstorm.

Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a plucky street urchin learning to be their ladies' maid, the two women are on a quest across the desert chasing rumors of an important biblical manuscript.

As the expedition becomes ever more dangerous and uncertain, all four travelers sift through memories and adventures of their past, recalling the events that shaped them and the journeys and providence that brought them to this very time and place.

My Thoughts:
Lynn Austin has been able to create fictional worlds that I readily and easily get lost in, and I never regret the journey she takes me on!  I’ve been reading her words for years, and I have to say that Where We Belong may be my favorite!  Rebecca and Flora Hawes are unforgettable heroines who stand up and create live that women only dreamed about in the 1800’s!  Mercy, women still long to live the honest, true-to-yourself kind of life that these two lived! 

And if these two characters don’t satisfy, Soren and Kate are sure to capture your hearts!  Austin has taken these four on such amazing and breathtaking adventures, that you can barely read fast enough!  When I reached the end of the book and discovered that the two Hawes sisters were based on real life people, you can bet I was eager to read more!  Austin seems to discover the most fascinating lives and then builds entire lifetimes around an idea that just never lets go of your heart!

There is danger more often than I expected, but no matter the circumstance the Hawes sister’s faith never wavered.  How I loved their fearlessness and boldness!!  Their faith was as much a part of their lives as the air they breathed.  Austin wove this element very naturally throughout the story, and I was left feeling encouraged and challenged because of their faithfulness!

I can’t begin to recommend this book highly enough!  It is truly a treasure among historical fiction!

About the Author:
Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction. One of those novels, Hidden Places, has also been made into an Original Hallmark Channel movie. Lynn and her husband have raised three children and make their home in western Michigan. Learn more at www.lynnaustin.org.