Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book Review: Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

From Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem “Christmas Bells,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.

Jennifer Chiaverini’s resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song.



The holiday season is in full swing, and for many it’s a time of joy, celebration and memory-making.  For others, it’s a time of stress, heartache and painful reminders of what is missing or what could have been. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew this keenly as he struggled with the death of his wife, faced the uncertainty and troubles of the Civil War and worked to maintain his career and family.  In 1863 he penned the now-beloved poem “Christmas Bells”, which ultimately would be set to music and sung around the world:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


The poem goes on to recount images and sentiments of Longfellow’s life as he felt despair, fear, but ultimately faith in light of all the calamity taking place around him and throughout the divided Union in the 1860’s. The novel Christmas Bells recounts a handful of these years as historical fiction, taking facts from Longfellow’s life and shaping them into an extended narrative. We see Henry as a doting husband, tragically made a widower by the loss of his beloved Fanny. He also plays the emotionally fragile father, desperate to keep his son from joining the army to fight alongside his peers. As a professional writer, he exhibits the struggles many have in putting pen to paper, eking out quality work in an effort to not only express himself, but also provide for his family. 


Christmas Bells also presents a later time period, our present day as seen in alternating chapters. Here we meet a wide cast of characters living in Longfellow’s hometown, all connected at least in part to St. Margaret’s, a historic Catholic church in Massachusetts.  We meet a music teacher, her accompanist, a faithful nun, a priest, a wife of a soldier in Afghanistan and others. Their stories all intersect differently, affecting each other in minor and major ways. In a metaphorical way, their lines form the verses as paired with the refrain of Longfellow’s story in the opposite chapters.
 

I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas Bells. It has the feel of a classic tale with the 19th century setting, but the modern aspect of it is also warm and inviting.  I found Henry’s story to be a melancholy one, seemingly beset with constant anxiety over his family’s situation. That said, it was not mood-lowering at all. Henry’s struggle to keep his son safe from the war, and then later to overcome battle-related problems was compelling for this mother to read. Although I enjoy most things related to that era, my interest in the Civil War has never extended much beyond Gone with the Wind, and even my love for that has waned over the years. While raised in the American South, I don’t side with many of the agendas that were advanced on this side of the Mason-Dixon line. The racism and ignorance that remain generations later is repellent to me, so I do not prefer to read novels that are sympathetic to the Rebel cause or any descendant of it. Thankfully, Christmas Bells is told from the Union side of the story, with allegiances for the North being more prominent. War propaganda is not the main power behind these chapters, however. The focus is on the Longfellow family, and in particular Henry Longfellow.

The metaphorical verses contained within the modern chapters took me by surprise. When beginning Christmas Bells, I thought my preference would be to remain solely within Henry’s time, as that is what drew my interest to the book initially. However, Jennifer Chiaverini constructs such an interesting piece with the many voices of her modern narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her characters, both old and young. Their individual stories were compelling, and their corporate interactions were much the same. I was keenly impressed with how she managed to bring their voices in and out, much like a musical concert. My only complaint is that I desired more time with each one. As their individual stories concluded, I found myself wanting more. This was particularly felt in the tale of the musical director and her pianist. When their chapters ended, I was keenly disappointed that we didn’t have more details in their conclusion.
 

For those who adore the Christmas season and for those who anticipate it with at least a small sense of anxiety, Christmas Bells is an excellent choice for the holiday and weeks surrounding it. Moreover, it can certainly transcend the Christmas season. This is a tale of family, faith, and history. It is not so much an Advent story, but one of love in times of trial and uncertainty. I now have a greater appreciation for Longfellow’s classic poem, and will keep the verses presented in this novel in mind as I sing his lyric for years to come.  In a modern world of calamity and uncertainty, we can all have the hope and confidence that God is not dead. He does not sleep. Right will prevail over wrong in the end, “with peace on earth, good-will to men.”
 


About the Author

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years."












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Coming 2016

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book Review: The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie and Christine Kornacki

For the past couple of years we’ve made an effort to teach our boys about community service and giving to others.  This began with “Blessing Bags”, giving out gallon Zip-loc bags full of supplies that would be useful or enjoyable for those in need.  When we moved to Greensboro, NC about a year ago, we got involved with Families in Action, a local service group. Through FIA, we have prepared meals for the needy, baked cookies for local servicemen and women, worked on a landscape crew for an immigrant school and much more. There have been so many blessings as we have done these projects together as a family. Honestly, I think I enjoy them more than a group trip to Disneyworld, because in serving, the focus is off ourselves and onto those who could use some help and/or encouragement.
 

As we enjoy the Christmas season, sometimes it’s easy to get ensnared in all the material parts of this time of year—the gift giving, the food, the spectacle.  And while all of those things are fine and good, the most important thing for us to remember is that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It’s very common for Him to get lost in the shuffle of all of this. A new picture book has ventured to remind us of this fact in a very tangible way: What are some gifts that we would not buy for ourselves, but that we would instead give to Jesus?  Obviously He has no need of material things.  He mainly wants our hearts and our love. In The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie and Christine Kornacki, a family uses a pretty box on the mantel to illustrate how our acts of kindness and charity can also be seen as gifts to Jesus, much like when he said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
 

Sparkle Box has lavish full-page illustrations at every turn, and while they are not the best artwork I’ve ever seen, Christine Kornacki's work still of high quality and heartfelt. The text by Jill Hardie is well-written and an appropriate length for the given audience. It’s long enough to craft the meaning of The Sparkle Box, but it’s short enough to keep the attention of little ones’ minds. And to top it off, at the back of the book is an envelope holding pieces which when assembled, make up a Sparkle Box that you can have for your very own.  What a great way to directly apply the lessons taught in this lovely book. 
 

As the main idea of The Sparkle Box is to fill an actual box (or another container) with scraps of paper, upon which are written “gifts” you have given Jesus, now would be a great time to introduce the box to your family. It could be kept out all year long, and at Christmas 2016 you would have the opportunity to relive your year and share all you have given to Jesus for His birthday.  These acts of charity should not be done in order to pat ourselves on the back; they are to be gifts for our Savior, as we act as His hands and feet in a world in need.



If you'd like more information on The Sparkle Box, 

plus free motivational materials, activities and more, stop by TheSparkleBox.com. 











Monday, December 14, 2015

New Venture: The Odyssey Adventure Club

OAC-Gift-That-Lasts-All-Year-Facebook-Cover


Adventures in Odyssey is a program that my family has been enjoying for years.  Primarily a radio show, it is an entertaining, educational and spiritually nourishing collection of dramatic stories, set in the fictional town of Odyssey.  There are hundreds of episodes, as they have been produced for decades now.  My ten year-old son in particular has been riveted for the last couple of years, listening to these 25-minute programs whenever he has the opportunity.  While the episodes are still broadcast on the radio around the world, there are many other ways to enjoy them, and he has primarily obtained them through borrowing CDs from our local library and in the collection found at our church.

Although he has listened to literally hundreds of episodes, he still wants to take in more of them.  Fortunately, Focus on the Family (Adventures in Odyssey’s parent company) has come up with the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC), a portal to all things Odyssey.  There he can peruse any of the episodes that have been produced, even obscure ones he hasn’t been able to listen to yet.  He was especially excited this weekend when we first accessed the Club, as he was able to listen to an all-new episode that is a part of their latest collection of stories, Head Over Heels. This CD set will be released in March 2016, but as members of the OAC, we have the ability to listen to exclusive episodes like “Words from the Wise” from Head Over Heels.

The Odyssey Adventure Club offers much more than just Adventures in Odyssey episodes, some of which can be seen in the offerings below. If you’re a parent or loved one of a school-age child, a membership in the Odyssey Adventure Club would make an excellent Christmas gift. Not only will they have a great time in a safe online environment, but they’ll be educated and nourished spiritually along the way. Check out more details below for more information.




Christmas_2015_Cards_Banner

Tired of the Christmas shopping, the baking and sugar overload, the Christmas festivities that keep you away from your family during the season? Take time special time to spend with your loved ones and invest in your community—with Focus on the Family's help!

You can download a fun gift to give to your friends, family, and community! Each Christmas stocking stuffer card directs you to a special place to hear an Adventures in Odyssey Christmas episode. Plus, you’ll be able to read a special excerpt from Imagination Station #12, “Danger on a Silent Night.” Sign up here to download the free cards.

Plus stop by this page for a slew of crafts, recipes, and stories to share with your family during this special time of year!

If you're still looking for one last gift to give your kids this year, give the gift of the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family, including an Advent calendar, a broadcast download with tips to create a memorable Christmas, AIO cutouts, and Christmas stocking stuffer cards. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

November/December 2015 Highlights

  • The Android app is now available! (Click for the iOS version.)
  • Exclusive content and early access to books and audio dramas every month
  • You can now choose to pay $9.99 each month, or you can pay for six months or a full year in advance with automatic renewal.

Things of Note

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Then Comes Winter Blog Tour Stop: Excerpt and Giveaway

Edited by Christina Boyd

Authors Beau North & Brooke West, Melanie Stanford, Natalie Richards, Erin Lopez, Sophia Rose, Anngela Schroeder, Suzan Lauder, Maureen Lenker, Denise Stout, Linda Gonschior, and Lory Lilian 

“Then comes Winter with bluster and snow, that brings to our cheeks the ruddy glow…” Gertrude Tooley Buckingham

If you long for a toasty snuggle on a cold winter’s night, this compilation of original short stories inspired by the magic of the holiday season—and more than a nod to Jane Austen—is fancied as a sublime wintertime treat. On the heels of the summer anthology, Sun-kissed: Effusions of Summer, and in concert with some of Meryton Press’s most popular authors, this romantic anthology introduces more promising writers. With a robust mix of contemporary and Regency musings, Then Comes Winter rekindles passionate fires with equal wonder, wit, and romance.



Welcome to the next stop in the Then Comes Winter blog tour!  Meryton Press has put together another anthology of fun short stories, and I believe several of them will please those of us who enjoy Austenesque fiction.  Today's post features an excerpt from the story Winter's Awakening by Anngela Schroeder.  It seems that Elizabeth is beginning to struggle with her thoughts in regard to Mr. Darcy.  After the excerpt, scroll down to our Rafflecopter widget and enter to win one of four paperback copies of Then Comes Winter to enjoy this season.  Thanks for stopping by, and best wishes to all the contest entrants!






The ladies of Longbourn exchanged looks as Darcy removed his greatcoat, jacket, vest, and cravat—remaining in his shirtsleeves.

“It is the long-standing tradition for Darcy men to chop down the tree themselves,” Georgiana explained.

“Of course,” Elizabeth said breathlessly, seeming not to know where to look.

“Not at all.” Miss Bennet shook her head and bit her lip to control the unabashed grin seeming to spread across her face.

“Only once a year does Darcy have to do such strenuous activity.” Bingley rubbed his hands together and laughed. “Believe it or not, I think he revels in it.”

Darcy bowed to the ladies, quickly brought the ax up, and began chopping at the tree.

Elizabeth was unable to remove her gaze from Mr. Darcy’s form. Other than her father’s tenants tending their fields, she had never watched the work of a man—and certainly never a gentleman! She admired Mr. Darcy’s arms as solid as the steel on the end of the ax blade. His sweat had dampened the fine lawn of his shirt and caused it to stick to his skin, defining his shoulders. He is magnificent. She tried valiantly not to stare but could not stop herself. After his next swing, you must look away, she would tell herself again and again, but to no avail. Finally, his swing powerfully knocked the tree over, and he turned to smile, his dimples winking at her. He caught me! She felt the heat rise to her cheeks at his penetrating gaze. The black pools of his eyes, which she once believed were examples of disgust, bore through her, and she realized they were far from it. Her heart raced, and she looked down quickly. However, her eyes settled on his chest, which was more splendid than his back, and she let out a gasp. Attempting to control the unladylike thoughts, she chirped, “It is a shame Miss Bingley could not come today.”

“Yes. Pity.” Mr. Darcy expelled a deep breath, handed the ax to a young woodsman, and picked up his coat from a nearby stump.

“Her business in the village must have been of some import.” Miss Darcy picked up her book and reticule while the two women followed her example and stood to begin walking back to the manse. “She has never missed the opportunity to come with us and hunt for our Christmas tree. She always seems to enjoy the activity.”

I can understand why! Elizabeth flushed and closed her eyes, shaking her head quickly to remove the vision of Mr. Darcy in his shirtsleeves. It is something I would not miss either if I could help it. She was surprised at her bold thoughts and attempted to dismiss them before they were conveyed across her face.

“Are you well, Miss Elizabeth?” he asked softly, his voice caressing her name as it rolled from his lips. He had silently fallen in step beside her, causing her to start.

“Yes, sir. I am quite well, thank you.” Her voice broke before regaining control. She could not look at him, for all she could see in her mind was Mr. Darcy, informally dressed, participating in the savagely masculine act of moments before. Her pace increased as she quickly caught up to Miss Darcy and linked arms with her. Indeed! Caroline Bingley must have had something of import to take her away from Pemberley this morning.



As I have not read Then Comes Winter, I inquired about the content of the book as a whole. The promoter informed me that the book would probably be rated PG. Love scenes happen off the page, only a few kisses and no F-bombs. I mention this for my fellow conservative readers, in case there was any concern about this issue.


GIVEAWAY!!

Meryton Press has generously offered up several paperback copies of Then Comes Winter. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win!


a Rafflecopter giveaway







About the Author

Anngela Schroeder lives in California with her husband of 15 years and her three rambunctious sons.  She has a degree in English with a concentration on British Literature and a Masters of Education. She has a slight obsession with Jane Austen and all things British.  She enjoys traveling, baking and making her family's world a magical place.  She has published two other novels, “The Quest for Camelot”- Book one in the Daughter of the Roundtable Series, and “Affections and Wishes,” a Jane Austen inspired modern day romance.  Follow her on Anngela Schroeder-Author on Facebook, and on Twitter.










Then Comes Winter Blog Tour Schedule

11/30: Guest Post & Giveaway at FLY HIGH
12/1: Excerpt & Giveaway at So Little Time…
12/2: Character Interview & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
12/3: Excerpt & Giveaway at Jennifer Vido
12/4: Guest Post & Giveaway at Liz’s Reading Life
12/5: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
12/6: Guest Post & Giveaway at Delighted Reader
12/7: Review at Just Jane 1813
12/8: Review at Babblings of a Bookworm
12/9: Review at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
12/10: Review at From Pemberley to Milton
12/11: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
12/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
12/13: Review at Margie’s Must Reads
12/14: Author/Character Interview & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
12/15: Author Feature at Songs and Stories
12/16: Author Feature & Giveaway at Tome Tender
12/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Chick Lit Plus
12/17: Author Feature at Skipping Midnight






Paperback

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Paperback

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Accidentally Yours by Robin M. Helm

Two worlds . . .
Two centuries . . .
Two men who love the same woman . . .
Two prayers fervent enough to shift time . . .
Endless questions and possibilities . . .
What would a man give for a second chance at love?
What would he sacrifice to keep it?
What if the proud, arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice never changed after his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford?
What if the humbled man who successfully courted her was not the same Mr. Darcy?

In
Accidentally Yours, Book 1 of the Yours by Design Christian fantasy romance series, the lives of two men are turned upside down when they both fall in love with the same woman.





Austenesque fiction is known for utilizing the “What If?” concept. What if Jane Austen’s characters took a different turn? What if their reality was somehow skewed in a slightly different way? Robin M. Helm makes use of this motif in her three-part series, Yours by Design, which begins with the volume Accidentally Yours. In this initial title, we find a Fitzwilliam Darcy who is an actual historical character, not a fictional creation at all. Jane Austen knows of him through a relative, and will ultimately base her Darcy of Pride and Prejudice on this living, breathing individual.  Centuries later, another Darcy is alive and well in modern-day Atlanta, Georgia. His family roots can be traced back to England, and in one particularly remarkable moment, he utters a prayer which leads to the transportation of his consciousness into the body of the 19th century Fitzwilliam Darcy. Likewise, the form of the modern “Will” is now inhabited by the Regency-era mind of his ancestor.

Initially both men are bewildered and confused, but in due course they come to some acceptance of their new states of existence. Life in their new centuries begins to take on some sense of normalcy as they work to adapt and fit into the new time periods that God has seemingly sent them to. Modern Will seems to adapt with little hesitation, as he recognizes his world as that of the one found in Pride and Prejudice. He assumes he must be dreaming, but resolves to assimilate himself into the life of Fitzwilliam Darcy in order to meet the woman of his dreams, Elizabeth Bennet. Regency Fitzwilliam is not quite so nimble in his new role, finding the modern world to be strange and utterly foreign in both geography and culture. A friend of Will’s introduces Fitzwilliam to the world of Jane Austen, primarily through the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and he begins to see his 19th century life in a new way.

Accidentally Yours
is an interesting premise, one that I haven’t explored in my six years as a fan of Austenesque fiction.  The concept does require quite a suspension of disbelief, but Robin Helm writes in a light, entertaining manner that charms me into believing in this scenario. It is not an impossibility that Fitzwilliam Darcy truly was a real person. Perhaps we haven’t discovered the proof of this as of yet.  The swapping of consciousnesses is another matter altogether. Helm is a strong Christian and makes her beliefs very clear in her writing, and she attributes the altered states of the Darcy men as acts of God. While I’ve never heard of this type of supernatural happening, it doesn’t seem completely implausible when we consider the abilities of the Creator of the universe!


I’d heard rumors that the elder Darcy’s character was a distasteful one, and thus far, I would have to concur. He’s a pretentious, spoiled, prat of a man. In truth, I don’t like him very much. No sensible Elizabeth Bennet would ever be charmed by this man-child, no matter how wealthy he might be. In contrast, I highly enjoyed the chapters that were devoted to the modern Will, now seemingly residing in 19th century England. He is a man of honor, faith, integrity and more than deserves to be with Elizabeth.

I will withhold my opinion on the series as a whole until I’ve had the opportunity to read the entire trilogy, but thus far Robin Helm is off to a good start with Accidentally Yours. My hope is that she improves upon the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy, and also finds a way to fulfill the aspirations of the upstanding Will Darcy at the same time. Otherwise I would say that the story will be very lopsided, with a highly enjoyable Regency tale on one face, with a weak, frustrating narrative on the other. However, given the strengths that I’ve seen in Helm’s writing for Will, I have faith that she has some interesting episodes in store for us. We just might witness the metamorphosis of a pretentious man, struggling in our modern day world, to a man no longer lonely, abiding not only in our world, but also in the body of Christ.






Giveaway!

Author Robin M. Helm has graciously offered two copies of Accidentally Yours.  One copy will be a Kindle edition for our international readers, and a U.S. winner may choose between an autographed paperback or the Kindle edition.  Contest period ends on November 28th at 12am EST. Please use the Rafflecopter widget below for your contest entry.


a Rafflecopter giveaway






About the Author


Robin M. Helm is the author of a modern Christian fantasy fiction series, The Guardian Trilogy, which includes Guardian, SoulFire, and Legacy. She has also published the Yours by Design series, a Christian Regency/Modern Romance with a paranormal element. Accidentally Yours, Sincerely Yours, and Forever Yours are all available for purchase in both e-book and print formats.

Mrs. Helm shares a blog, Jane Started It, with the other writers of the Crown Hill Writers' Guild, and is one of the founders and administrators of BeyondAusten.com, a website for readers with common interests. She also has published three Regency short stories, "First Kiss," "The Prize," and "Treasure Chest," which can be read on Jane Started It on her author's page or at BeyondAusten.com. She has one husband, one granddaughter, two daughters, two sons-in-law, four family dogs, five part-time jobs, and six published books.

Mrs. Helm is the Associate in Music and Music Academy Director at her church, the interim choir director, a piano teacher, and an elementary music teacher. She formerly taught high school English.

She graduated with a BA from Piedmont International University. She is a member of the Delta Epsilon Chi honor society, the American Legion Auxiliary, JASNA, and the scholarship faculty of the United States Achievement Academy.





Connect with Robin M. Helm




Book 1
Book 2

Friday, November 6, 2015

Devotional Book Review: 5 Minutes with Jesus: Making Today Matter by Sheila Walsh

As the holidays are around the corner, many of us may find our schedules becoming more full, with less time for things in our usual routine. We may find ourselves falling into bed each night, worn out from the day’s activities, with our focus on the things we value somehow skewed a bit.  Or perhaps we awake to a busy day, already bleary-eyed, thinking of all that has to be accomplished in the next 16 hours.  It’s in times like this that I find devotional books to be an excellent way to refocus and remember the important things in life. My all time favorite devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is an excellent example of how short passages of Christian thought can truly influence one’s day or end one on a good note.  You may already have a lengthy, in-depth Bible study in which you’re involved, or you may be doing absolutely nothing for a quiet time with God.  In either case, a short devotional book can be very beneficial to you.


Meeting Sheila at Women of Faith

I recently took up the title 5 Minutes with Jesus: Making Today Matter by author/singer/speaker Sheila Walsh.  Her book Let Go was one of my very first book reviews back in 2009, and it had a great effect on me. I’ve enjoyed her talks at Women of Faith conferences, and had the opportunity to meet her for the first time last month.  This little book of devotions may not look like much, but it packs a punch for the few minutes the reader spends on each mini-chapter.  Each begins with a short anecdote, usually an episode from Sheila’s past which held a lesson of its own for her heart and mind.  It’s followed by a summarizing sentence, and concludes with several short passages of scripture.  It truly does take mere minutes to read.

5 Minutes with Jesus has been a blessing to me as I’ve been going through it for this review.  I’ve read it in the morning before starting a hectic day. I’ve grabbed it during times of overwhelming stress, as a way to re-focus and catch my breath. And it’s been there at the end of a long day, helping me to get perspective on it all, to remember that the Lord is in control of all the craziness around me.  When I met Sheila to have her sign my review copy of the book, I thanked her for all she did to put this little volume together.  It has been a gift to me, and I most certainly recommend it to anyone.

Here is a sample devotional entry, one that had a great impact on me:


No Stone Throwing Here! (p.70)

The first cool breeze of fall was in the air when I boarded my flight from Dallas to San Antonio. It’s such a short flight that by the time you have your Diet Coke in hand, it’s time to give it back.

That evening I would be speaking to a group of women about moving from rage to restoration, from unforgiveness to freedom. That was a lot to cover in one forty-five-minute message, but the more I thought and prayed about what to say, the clearer it became…which explained the weight of my one checked bag.

“Are you checking any bags?” the man at the ticket counter had asked.

“Just one,” I said. “This backpack.”

He put on the appropriate luggage tag and then bent over to pick it up and move it onto the conveyer belt that would take it down to the baggage handlers.

The weight of the bag caught him off guard. “What do you have in here?” he asked. “Rocks?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” I replied.

He looked at me for a moment and then decided I was one of those women with whom one should keep conversation to a minimum.

I had six hundred and ten small river rocks tucked into my bag, a visual aid for the evening’s message on forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be one of the hardest things to do. How do you forgive a spouse who cheats on you? How do you forgive someone who slanders your name? How do you forgive the drunk driver who takes the life of your child? How do you forgive someone who’s not sorry? [emphasis mine] It’s a deeply spiritual issue that I don’t think we’ll ever understand this side of heaven. However, forgiveness is not a matter of reason; it’s a matter of obedience.

I carry a small stone with me everywhere I go. I have carried it for twenty-eight years, ever since God literally brought me to my knees over my reluctance to forgive someone who had devastated my life. When I finally surrendered to His command that I forgive that person, I realized that a stone was actually cutting into my knee. Now I carry that stone with me to cut into my heart and remind me of Jesus’ words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7 NIV).




Make a pledge to live a life of forgiveness—and
find a stone to remind you of your promise.

 
 
Five Minutes in the Word
 
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15

Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  John 8:6-7 NIV

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. Psalm 86:5

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 NIV

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  Colossians 3:13 NIV





GIVEAWAY!

Blog Post Update:  I completely forgot that Icon Media Group sent me an extra copy of the book so that I might share it with my readers!  This will be a short giveaway period (1 week), so get your entries in below via the Rafflecopter.  Thanks to all who enter!



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About the Author

Sheila Walsh is a powerful Bible teacher and best-selling author from Scotland with over 5 million books sold.  Her international ministry has reached more than 5.5 million women by combining honesty, vulnerability, and humor with the transforming power of God's Word.  Calling Texas home, Sheila lives in Frisco with her husband, Barry, her son, Christian, and three little dogs.









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A sample copy of this title was provided by Icon Media Group for review purposes only.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dancing Through Life: Steps of Courage & Conviction by Candace Cameron Bure

Candace Cameron Bure is riding quite the wave these days!  In addition to shooting the Netflix series Fuller House, she began her tenure as a co-host of ABC’s The View on September 8th. I haven’t watched the show in quite a while, but I just had to tune in for this one. As a Christian I’ve taken interest in her, as she shows grace and fortitude while staying true to her beliefs in the public eye.

When I tuned into the show, she didn’t emerge with the rest of the cast at the opening. It was after two commercial breaks before she was introduced, just after they had discussed subjects such as the Pope’s leadership decisions and Christian Kim Davis and her gay marriage controversy.  I thought it was a certainty that they would ask Candace on her take of these recent events, but such was not the case.  Instead, they introduced her, mentioned her new Netflix show Fuller House, and then began discussing how people tend to spend more time watching the streaming network than having sex.  And other dialogue was had over some of the attractive young men that can be found on certain shows. Whoopi Goldberg contributed to the conversation by mentioning (once again) her relationship with her portable vibrator, which suits her more than these young guys on televised/streaming programs. Of course the camera went to Candace more than once in these moments, and while she handled it in an upbeat manner, she showed a perceptible amount of mortification.  As Miss Whoopi said, “Welcome to The View!


You can watch Candace's nine-minute appearance on, while it's still available on Hulu.com:



In addition to being known as a sitcom and TV movie actress, recently Candace participated in a season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.  In the wake of this experience, this New York Times best-selling author has penned an inspirational and historical account of her weeks on the show.  Entitled Dancing Through Life: Steps of Courage and Conviction, the book takes her readers through her experience week by week, discussing the highs and lows of her time as a cast member, Christian and woman.  While it was an exhilarating time, she was tested in many ways during those months and came through a stronger person.

Although I was interested, I confess I didn’t watch most of Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars.  Given their excellent lineup that season, I thought I would watch more of it, honestly. But life got in the way, or rather; it was Little League baseball season in my house!  Still, having a chance to review Dancing Through Life seemed like a fun opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at much of what I’d missed.  And boy what a look I got! Candace begins with her previous love of the show, her acceptance into the cast, and the steep learning curve to get on board with her dancing partner, Mark Ballas.  One of the biggest challenges she faced not only at the outset of her time on the show, but throughout her time there was determining how she was to live out her Christian faith in this venue. Ballroom dancing can be known for its elegant performances, but it can also be racy and hyper-sexualized.  Candace wanted to give 100% in her dancing, but she didn’t want to compromise her beliefs either.  It was tough for her, learning how to balance modesty with entertaining choreography and costuming.

I enjoyed the format that Candace used, going through the season week by week, chapter by chapter, sharing Bible-based lessons that she gleaned from her time there. Some of the topics she covered were:
  • What Submission Really Looks Like
  • Female Sexuality
  • What is Modesty Exactly?
  • Letting Faith Shine
  • Attitude is Everything
  • The Power of Joy
  • Discipline is Spelled L-O-V-E
  • Shame vs. Convictions
  • Letting Go of Perfection

Week 3: The Joyful Jive
After reading her description of each broadcast, I would hop on YouTube and view her archived performance.  Reading the book gave me a whole new perspective on what’s going on in the minds of these dancers.  They might look happy and collected on the outside, but inside they might be fighting massive amounts of insecurity, fatigue, or even anger toward their partner.  It re-reminded me that you can’t always believe what you see on camera.  Frequently it’s all smoke and mirrors.  There was one dance in particular that I know I enjoyed more than I would have, had I not known what had happened moments before the lights came up.  Candace had had a major breakthrough with Mark in Week 3, moments before they went on stage to perform the Jive.  You’d never know it from watching the video (she looked about as joyful as ever), but I loved seeing that special look in her eyes, knowing what had just transpired behind the stage doors.

As Candace is a public figure, she frequently has to navigate through social media’s opinions of her, and they aren’t always positive.  On the left she has liberals who find her too conservative.  On the right she has conservatives who find her too liberal.  At times she found her head spinning, trying to make the best decisions based on her beliefs, and those decisions weren’t always clear.  Possibly the biggest lesson I took away from Dancing Through Life is that when all is said and done, you cannot please everyone all of the time.  Your moral decisions will most probably upset someone, somewhere. You cannot base your life’s direction on other people’s opinions.  Ultimately, a Christian should weigh their decisions against God’s word and their relationship with Christ.  Candace came to understand that in reality, she wasn’t just performing for an audience of millions, but for an audience of One, and it was truly only His opinion that mattered.  And I think that’s something all Christ-followers can relate to, whether we’re making choices as artists, parents, authors, or employees.  Life is a dance, and if we have the ultimate Partner leading us in front of a great crowd of witnesses, we’ll certainly end up with more than a mirror ball trophy in the end.




About the Authors

Candace Cameron Bure, actress, producer, New York Times best-selling author, inspirational speaker and Dancing with the Stars Season 18 finalist, is both outspoken and passionate about her family and faith. Known to millions worldwide from her role as "D.J. Tanner" on the iconic family sitcom Full House, Candace continues to flourish in the entertainment industry as a role model to women of all ages. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and three children.

Connect with Candace online:



Erin Davis

A popular speaker, author and blogger, Erin Davis has addressed women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the author of several books including Beyond Bath Time, Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves, True Princess: Embracing Humility in an All About Me World, The Bare Facts with Josh McDowell and Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood As a Sacred Role. Erin’s quest for the perfect scoop of ice cream is never ending and her family is her constant source of entertainment.













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Complimentary copy of book provided for review purposes only.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen

In the new novel by the three-time Christy Award-winning author of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, a woman’s startling secrets lead her into unexpected danger and romance in Regency England… 

One final cry…“God almighty, help us!” and suddenly her world shifted violently, until a blinding collision scattered her mind and shook her bones. Then, the pain. The freezing water. And as all sensation drifted away, a hand reached for hers, before all faded into darkness…

Now she has awakened as though from some strange, suffocating dream in a warm and welcoming room she has never seen before, and tended to by kind, unfamiliar faces. But not all has been swept away. She recalls fragments of the accident. She remembers a baby. And a ring on her finger reminds her of a lie.

But most of all, there is a secret. And in this house of strangers she can trust no one but herself to keep it.

 


Julie Klassen’s latest novel, Lady Maybe begins with a dramatic crash, ending the journey of a luxurious equipage. However, for the characters of this Regency tale, their journey through a maze of mystery seems to be just beginning. Lady Marianna Mayfield’s traveling companion, the somewhat doleful Hannah Rogers finds her world quite literally turned upside-down when she manages to survive the horrific crash. Her mind is fuzzy, and things do not seem to be what they once were.

And indeed, much has changed in Miss Rogers’ life. Without giving away specific details, Hannah finds herself in a new social station, and she must determine a way to maneuver within this new labyrinth of fuzzy memories, secrets, lies, love and loyalty. Although she has a good heart and her motivations are pure, her past mistakes leave her frequently confounded as to how to rectify her situation in order to cause the least harm to all. Complicating the matter are the romantic feelings that she ultimately holds for more than one man, so even in that arena she must make a difficult decision. Her life and position are more than a bit complicated, but she does her best to navigate through it all with as much charm and grace as she can muster.

I’ve read a number of Julie Klassen’s novels, and while Lady Maybe does not hold the position of Most Favorite in her repertoire (that would go to The Secret of Pembrooke Park), I found this to be an enjoyable one. Like other titles I reviewed this summer, I splurged and purchased the audio book to supplement my reading, especially during a particularly long road trip out of state that I took on my own. Lady Maybe’s twists and turns held my interest on those long drives, despite the fact that there were numerous plot choices that I found to be very predictable. Julie Klassen’s writing is comfortable and charming, so although I could see where things were headed from time to time, I enjoyed the process, enjoyed the words she chose to lead her readers down the literary path. I can say that there was a plot twist that I did not see coming at all, a relationship that I found very surprising. Looking back on the story it seems evident, but hindsight lends itself to that type of vision. Klassen’s characters are engaging and amusing, even the more despicable ones, and I particularly relished the amiableness that Hannah shared with a local doctor, who becomes somewhat of a father figure to her.

Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, but I would not term this a “Christian novel”. It’s produced by a secular publisher, Berkley Publishing, and as such is written with general audiences in mind. The romance content is fairly chaste, although there is a love scene that is a bit spicy, but it would probably be considered PG in its intensity. As a conservative reader I to not appreciate gratuitous sex scenes in my reading, and I was more than comfortable Lady Maybe’s content. There are adult themes of course, but it’s handled in a manner that is more than appropriate for general adult audiences, conservative or no.

Again, I would not term Lady Maybe to be overly Christian, but I could not avoid noticing the undeniable presence of God’s grace in Hannah’s life. This beleaguered young woman is likeable and sweet, but she has made her fare share of mistakes, ones that could have easily left her destitute or worse for the majority of her life. Yet circumstances begin to work in ways that seemingly go against all logic. Opportunities arise that are partially due to her own persistence, but are also due to forces that she could not have foreseen or controlled. In my mind, God takes her mess of a life, scrambles it up even further, and still manages to make something out of it. Consequences still must be faced and scars will be borne for life, but the level of redemption we see in Hannah’s life is quite remarkable. It speaks to those of us who sometimes find our lives turned upside-down due to our own poor choices or unforeseen events. It can give us a new vision. While our “new normal” might feel as if we are at the beginning of an intricate, impossible maze, the reality is, we were in that maze well before events opened our eyes to it, and He has been leading us through it all along.




Giveaway!

Julie Klassen has graciously offered a copy of Lady Maybe for our readers, one paperback for U.S. and one eBook for international participants.  Contest period ends at 12am EST on Monday, September 21, 2015. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter, and thanks for stopping by!



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About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.














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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace


Lady Catherine de Bourgh is prepared to be very generous when it comes to medical care for her sickly daughter, Anne – generous enough to lure noted physician Dr. Thomas Bennet to give up his London practice and move his family to Rosings Park. But his good income comes with a price: complete dependence on his demanding patroness’s every whim. 

 Now the Bennet family is trapped, reliant on Lady Catherine for their survival. Their patroness controls every aspect of the Bennet household, from the shelves in the closet to the selection of suitors for the five Bennet daughters. Now she has chosen a husband for headstrong Elizabeth Bennet– Mr. George Wickham.

 But Lady Catherine’s nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is not so sure about his aunt’s choice. He is fascinated by the compassionate Elizabeth who seems to effortlessly understand everyone around her, including him. Lady Catherine has other plans for Darcy, though, and she forbids Elizabeth to even speak to him.

 As Anne’s health takes a turn for the worse, Darcy and Elizabeth are thrown together as Dr. Bennet struggles to save Anne’s life. Darcy can no longer deny the truth – he is in love with Elizabeth Bennet. But Lady Catherine will do anything to stop Darcy from marrying her – even if it means Elizabeth will lose everything she loves.



Author Maria Grace returns to the world of Austenesque fiction in her latest novel, Mistaking Her Character. As in the original Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, we find Lady Catherine de Bourgh wielding strong command over the grand Rosings Park estate and all who are associated with it. Her daughter Anne is as sickly as a Janeite could imagine, but becomes more afflicted as the story progresses. Maria Grace’s departures from the original text include assigning the profession of medical doctor to Mr. Bennet, and the role of stepmother (to some of the Bennet girls) to Mrs. Bennet. However, Wickham remains a cad, Jane a delight and Mr. Collins the supreme adulator to his benefactress, so on the whole, most remain true to their original characteristics.

As Anne’s health further declines, Dr. Bennet and Elizabeth are needed in increasing measure for medical care. While at Rosings, Elizabeth becomes acquainted with Fitzwilliam Darcy and becomes attracted to this dashing, powerful heir of Pemberley. The quandary is, Lady Catherine still insists that he will ultimately marry Anne, for shrouded reasons that are revealed later in the novel. Her domineering nature is even stronger in Mistaking Her Character, and this temperament begins to manifest itself in Anne as well. Before long, it seems that the lives of Elizabeth, Darcy, Dr. Bennet and others will be completely entwined about the fingers of the De Bourgh women. They are insistent, powerful, selfish and unsympathetic to those around them.

On the whole I greatly enjoyed Mistaking Her Character. I appreciated how Maria Grace retained most of Austen’s characterizations, so I was a bit disappointed that Darcy was seen to be so agreeable, so early in Elizabeth’s eyes. It seemed that they became enamored with each other in a much quicker fashion than in Pride and Prejudice. This isn’t a problem, but I always enjoy the tension between them before they ultimately come together. However, there is enough tension to go around in this story—perhaps adding more friction between the lead characters would have been too much.

I was also surprised at the personalities of Elizabeth and her father. She allowed herself to be excessively oppressed for far too long, in my opinion. She did prove to be a strong woman of substance, evidenced by the fact that Dr. Bennet would permit no other daughter to attend him while he worked. He knew she had the constitution for blood, other bodily fluids and medical emergencies, unlike her sisters. Elizabeth does have the capacity to stand up to Lady Catherine, as seen in the confrontation that inspired the book’s title. However, I felt that she spent an inordinate number of days without asserting herself, way too much time in silent misery because of her situation. It seemed inconsistent with her true nature.

Part of this was perpetuated by her love for her self-centered, despicable father and her desire to obey him. His need to genuflect to Lady Catherine becomes paramount, and he behaves badly toward Elizabeth, justified by his loyalty to Catherine. When plans go awry, he lays blame at Elizabeth’s feet far more often than is reasonable. While I agree that the original Mr. Bennet wasn’t the best father in the world, this iteration of him in Mistaking Her Character goes far beyond that failing. Unlike my opinion about Elizabeth, this observation of Dr. Bennet isn’t a negative criticism; it just gives the character a different flavor.

I think my only other negative criticism would be in the length of time the story hovers over Elizabeth’s period as nursemaid to Anne. It seemed significantly long to me, and I felt that the plot dragged during that substantial portion of the start of the novel. The De Bourghs’ dominance over those around them was fatiguing. However, as the story progresses, the plot develops with Elizabeth’s sister Lydia (who is as ridiculous as ever), the lecherous Wickham and some wonderfully loyal, scheming house servants. The book took a dramatic turn that I enjoyed immensely. Elizabeth’s fate begins to change drastically, Darcy runs to play hero, and more than one character gets their comeuppance. It was delightfully entertaining.

As has been the case with other Maria Grace novels, the romance element of Mistaking Her Character is certainly there, but she is able to convey concepts and passion without gratuitous details. I found the content to be at a solid PG level, very tastefully done but delicious at the same time. I feel more than comfortable recommending this to any adult reader, conservative or no. Mistaking Her Character had a slightly darker in tone than other Maria Grace novels that I’ve read, and while I enjoyed the others, this was an interesting departure for her. I understand that this is the first title in her Queen of Rosings Park series, and I look forward to seeing where she plans to take us next.




GIVEAWAY
One Ebook Copy of Mistaking Her Character

Maria Grace has graciously offered an ebook copy of Mistaking Her Character to our readers.  The contest is open internationally and will conclude at 12am EST on Saturday, August 29th. See the Rafflecopter widget below for entry options and full contest rules. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all the entrants!

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About the Author

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six more novels in draft form, waiting for editing, seven published novels, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and tries to run at least ten miles a week.




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