Friday, September 19, 2014

Magnolia Market by Judy Christie

I like reading fiction centered on southern society. It can be so structured it's like reading about a different country. And this novel is no exception. Christie gives us a frank look at the darker side of it.

Avery had married Ches Broussard six years ago, taken in by his charming and outgoing personality. It wasn't long before Avery realized her husband was charming other women. A year ago he had been killed in New Orleans, on business, he'd said, but she wondered.

On the one year anniversary of her husband's death, Avery is rudely awakened to her in-laws' true feelings about her. All the utilities cut off at her home. Her bank account closed. She hadn't realized her father-in-law was co-singer. Her in-laws wanted her out of town and would do everything they could to make it happen.

In the midst of an ice storm Avery slams her car into the front on a small market on the corner of Trumpet and Vine. The grouchy owner demands payment. So does the women who owns the car she hit too. Is this another nearly unbearable event in her troubled life, or is it an opportunity from God? Is it really true that everything happens for a purpose?

I liked this novel of southern society. Avery's in-laws are powerful people in the town of Samford and they are determined to have their way. But Avery is a tough woman. She is determined to stay in Samford and make a new life for herself. She manages to find some unlikely friends who help. She even discovers a little romance along the way.

This is a good novel of small town southern life. It graphically shows how an influential family can intimidate others and hide damaging secrets. It is also a good lesson on how God takes events that may seem so devastating to us and use them for His purpose and our eventual good.

There is another issue in the novel, that of urban development. The little market is in danger of being gobbled up and razed, making way for “modern” development. But Avery and those from the gallery across the street want to see the corner of Trumpet and Vine retain its charm.

Of course, a novel like this one includes references to southern food. It was fun to be introduced to fried pies, beignets, and chowchow. A couple of recipes are included at the end of the book, as is a Discussion Guide.

Judy Christie writes fiction with a Louisiana flavor. She and her husband live in northern Louisiana. You can find out more at www.judychristie.com.

Zondervan, 345 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Free Viewing of "Sing Over Me" Video of Dennis Jernigan's Life Story

Free online viewing of the new DVD, Sing Over Me, through September 30. Go to www.singovermemovie.com to watch the video online through September 30.

Dennis Jernigan is a well known Christian song writer and worship leader. He has written more than 2,000 songs, has released over 30 CDs and written several books. But there is a story behind it all.

Jernigan first felt “different” at five years old, when a man in a public bathroom asked to be touched. Jernigan eventually began sexually experimenting with other boys. He shares his struggle in this movie. He was haunted with shame. He thought God hated him, hearing of God's hatred of homosexuality from the pulpit. He learned to play the piano at his grandmother's and it became a refuge for him.

He struggled in high school and then at Oklahoma Baptist University. He shares how the music of Keith Green kept him from committing suicide. He thought he had a Christian mentor, a man who would help him mature. He was devastated when this man propositioned him.

The turning point in his life came in 1981 when he attended a Second Chapter of Acts concert. He became a new creation. Yet, like Lazarus, he was still wrapped in grave clothes. It has been a process of God working in his life, fulfilling Jernigan's declaration, “I am going to let the Father in heaven tell me who I am.”

Sing Over Me tells this story. It includes footage of Jernigan visiting his childhood home, church, and college. It even includes Jernigan's own recording of the moment he was set free. (Yes, he did sneak a recorder into the concert.)

You can watch Sing Over Me free during the month of September at www.singovermethemovie.com.

This is a very moving video. It is touching to see how Jernigan struggled with shame and despair. What a joy to hear of his being set free and his commitment to be the man God had created him to be. He shares about his fear of entering into marriage and God's faithfulness, how he came to write praise and worship songs and now knows that God wants him to share his story.

Dennis Jernigan has been married to his wife Melinda for 31 years and they have 9 children together. Dennis and Melinda live on a farm in rural Oklahoma where they serve as pastors in a home church in Muskogee. Jernigan is the author of well-known songs like We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory, You are My All in All, Who Can Satisfy, and hundreds more. You can find out more about him and his ministry at http://www.dennisjernigan.com.

The DVD of Sing Over Me is available for purchase or download at VisionVideo.
Sing Over Me is also available as a book and can be purchased here.

I am reviewing this video in response to an invitation to do so from Glass Road Media.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll

This is not your typical cozy quilt novel. This one begins with a vicious attack leaving one woman dead and another badly beaten.

Sophia is a young gymnast who has just been accepted on the Olympic team. She decides to visit her mom before going to the training camp. Two men burst into her mother's home, threatening, demanding. They beat Sophia, stomp her hands, nearly choke her – all trying to get her mother to hand over what they've come to claim. When she still refuses, they kill her and ransack the dwelling, sure Sophia is dead.

But Sophia survives. The novel centers around her recovery and the police trying to find out who the men are and what they want. Sophia's mother had been a young Russian ballet star who had come to America with her mother, Sophia's grandmother. Her rising ballet career had ended when a serviceman caught her eye and she became pregnant. Mother and daughter became estranged and Sophia never knew she had a living grandmother – until she walks into her hospital room.

I liked this novel. I do like murder mysteries and this was an interesting one since it included a quilt as a major part of the plot, holding the key to identifying the killer. There were interesting characters in the novel too. A woman who becomes Sophia's friend is a lip reader contracting with the police department. Sophia's throat was damaged and she cannot speak so the lip reader was brought in to help Sophia communicate with the police and doctors. Julian is the young detective investigating the case and before long romance begins to bloom between him and Sophia.

Sophia's heritage is Russian so we get introduced to a few Russian words and a little of the culture. Since Sophia's mother was in ballet, there were many references to ballets and individual roles. I am not a ballet fan so I did not find that very interesting.

I generally enjoyed the novel. I wish it had been a little longer as the romance aspect went rather quickly. Also, Sophia's future is unresolved at the end and I wondered how she would really handle not being able to be a gymnast any longer. An epilogue would have helped to clean up that loose end.

Learn more about this book and the series at the Quilts of Love website.
I'm taking part in a blog tour of this book. You can read other reviews here.

Robin Caroll is the author of 22 novels, many having been finalists for awards. She is a conference director for ACFW. She and her husband have three daughters, two grandsons, and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Find out more at www.robincaroll.com.

Abingdon Press, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Cry From the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks

This is an amazingly well written book for a debut effort. Being mentored by Frank Peretti has left its mark.

Parks is a forensic artist and she shows her expertise, deftly weaving fact and fiction in this novel. The main character is Gwen Marcey, recent divorcée, mother of an acting out teen daughter, and world-renowned forensic artist. She is working at the Mountain Meadows Interpretive Center, overlooking the 1857 massacre site. She was reconstructing faces from the skulls of the only known survivors.

When a young woman faints at the sight of one of the heads Gwen has crafted, the mystery of what really happened to Joseph Smith begins. Before it is all over, people will be murdered, Gwen will be held captive by a fundamentalist offshoot of the LDS, and the lives of hundreds of people will be in danger.

This is a well crafted novel. Gwen is a gutsy woman. Her life has just been turned upside down and yet she perseveres. Life is tough for her but she keeps going. Just when she thinks she has FBI protection, she is forced to find her own way out of trouble. "They'd soon find out they shouldn't mess with a divorced, menopausal, bald woman." The suspense is nearly continuous and is well plotted.

Parks shares how she came to write this novel in an Author Note. She herself is a breast-cancer survivor, forensic artist, and Great Pyrenees owner, as is Gwen. Seeing an article on the Internet about a Le Fort fracture found on Joseph Smith's skull set her creative juices flowing. Further research piqued her interest and a vague idea took shape. The result is a compelling novel.

I really liked this novel. I hope it is merely the first in a long line of great novels from this author.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning fine artist and internationally known forensic artist. She teaches forensic art courses to law enforcement professionals and is the author and illustrator of numerous books on drawing. She began to write fiction while battling breast cancer. She is now in remission. You can find out more at www.carriestuartparks.com.

Thomas Nelson, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this novel from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer

Fear has always held us back one time or another. Meyer has good news for us. There is a solution to fear.

If you want to never feel fear again, this book will not help you. Yes, the Bible says we are not to fear, but that does not mean we'll never feel it. It means God expects us to face it head on, resist it in the power of God, and live courageously.

Meyer helps us understand what fear is, where it comes from, what our attitude toward it should be, and how we can overcome it. She is adamant about a firm decision to not fear, having a definitive mindset. Our thoughts are important. Believing that God is with us is essential. She does remind us that there is one fear we are supposed to have, a reverential fear of God.

Courage comes from believing God loves us unconditionally, and trusting He is with us at all times, and letting Him give us the confidence to be courageous.

In the latter part of the book she deals with insecurity and obstacles, then specific fears. She has great teaching on fear of lack, fear of not being wanted, or being inadequate, or not doing enough to be accepted by God, fear of the unknown or of making mistakes, and many more. She gives encouraging biblical teaching on each one. She also helps us to not pass on our fears to our children. Many Scriptures have been added at the end of the book for memorizing or meditating when retraining our mind to resist fear.

I really like this book. It is full of encouraging teaching, sprinkled with stories and affirming Scriptures and prayers. Meyer's writing is so encouraging in general and she does a great job addressing particular fears. This book will help you conquer fear one day at a time. It is a process and won't happen just because you've read this book. This book will inspire you to do what needs to be done, even if you have to do it afraid.

Food for thought: “All fear is rooted in wrong belief systems or thought habits, and I believe we can change them with God's help.”

Joyce Meyer is a popular Bible teacher with her television and radio programs airing on hundreds of stations worldwide. She had written more than 100 inspirational books. She travels extensively, teaching around the world. She and her husband live in Missouri. Find out more about her and her ministry at http://www.joycemeyer.org.

FaithWords, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yes or No by Jeff Shinabarger

Yes and no are definitive words. They can change the trajectory of life.

A key question is, what do you do when you don't know what to do? How do you decide when the decision is not clear? That's where Shinabarger wants to help us, navigating that path to a difficult decision.

In the first half of the book Shinabarger shares his own story and the stories of others. He writes about the philosophical aspects of decisions, such as love, good works, wisdom, and gaining knowledge. He explores how to become a problem solver and how to determine our own decision making style.

He reveals his six-step process in the second half of the book, again with lots of stories. While reminding us prayer is a priority, he advocates considering the options, determining who is affected, consulting trusted advisers, identifying our fears, having a time of solitude, and taking a step. When he takes us through this process he gives plenty of examples (stories) and expands on the philosophy behind each step.

The style of Shinabarger's writing is that of a fellow across the coffee shop table, discussing decision making with you. He'll tell you stories illustrating aspects of decision making, offer some philosophy about making decisions, and then tell a few more stories. The strength of this book is his thoughts on the different aspects of the philosophy of making decisions. Also good is the section on decision making styles, something couples or governing bodies would find helpful.

This book is full of stories, lots of stories, personal stories, stories about others. There are few practical considerations of decision making. I would have rather had fewer stories and more practical instruction. For example, in his section on fear he writes, “Decision makers do not fear rejection; we look past the no in search of the yes.” Unfortunately, there are no practical suggestions as to how to do that.

In the “Take Action” section of the chapter on fear, Shinabarger does suggest finding a person whom you trust, “so he or she can help you move through that fear the next time it holds you back.” That would be the way to use this book, by reading it with a trusted friend or in a trusted group setting. At the end of every chapter he provides an action step and group discussions.

If you want to read a book about the various philosophical aspects of decision making in the context of lots of stories, you'll like this book. I would have preferred fewer stories and more on decision making techniques.

Food for thought: “If you want to contribute something significant in a broken world, choose to be a decision maker.”

Find out more about the book at http://www.yesornobook.com/ where you can also take a decision-making style assessment.

Jeff Shinabarger is the author of one previous book. He leads a community in Atlanta called Plywood People and has participated in over one hundred start-ups solving problems through that community. He is the co-founder of Q and creatively led Catalyst for eight years. He and his wife live in East Atlanta Village and have two children.



David C. Cook, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Icon Media for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Loving Jesus More by Phil Ryken

We want to love Jesus more and better. So does Ryken. He wants that for the campus he leads so he preached on it during the 2012-2012 academic year. This book is the edited result.

[T]here is hardly anything we need more in the Christian life than more love for Jesus.” But how does it happen? Where does it come from? Ryken reminds us that the love we have for Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We need to do everything we can to keep that channel open.

We are to love God with our whole being. Ryken starts with the mind. Realizing the full extent of our sin is essential as he who is forgiven much loves much. There is an emotional element to our love for Jesus. He also addresses how hard it is loving whom we have not seen.

Ryken explores practical ways to love Jesus, such as keeping his commandments and loving the church. We love Jesus by loving His people. “There are thousands of ways to love Jesus more,” he writes.

His thoughts on why we don't love Jesus more are insightful and thought provoking. He writes of life-dominating affections and “darling” sins. He reminds us of the story about the uninvited woman at the Pharisee's house. She no longer cared what other people thought. “She was so in love with Jesus she forgot herself completely."

This is a very convicting book. We are the reason we do not love Jesus more. If you are ready to be honest about your affections, this is the book for you. But be ready to have your heart exposed.

Phil Ryken is the eighth president of Wheaton College. Prior to that he was senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He has written or edited over 30 books. He and his wife live in Wheaton and have five children.

Crossway, 176 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Under a Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter

This is the second in Carter's series taking place on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico but reads well on its own. Aaron is a federal agent who is assigned to protect Kailyn, a beautiful woman who witnessed a drug lord kill his wife. When their location is repeatedly compromised, Aaron decides to take Kailyn to the reservation, a place he left years ago without looking back.

The first part of this book has plenty of action, as does the end. Much of the book deals with the troubled relationship between Aaron and Kailyn. She is a southern bell and he is a no nonsense guy. Frustrations on both sides abound. I liked Kailyn. Even though she preferred her heeled shoes and southern society, she is a gutsy gal. Aaron is a troubled fellow. He had a rough childhood that still pervades his personality.

The fireworks are continual between Kailyn and Aaron. One minute it is flaming anger while the next it is explosive passion. Both are quick witted so the dialog is between them is great.

The strength of this novel is life on the reservation. Aaron returns to people he alienated and has ignored for years. His grandmother is precious and wants him to find his faith in Christ. His father is now sober and wants to renew a relationship with his sin. Aaron has much he must work through before that can happen. Other characters living on the reservation help flesh out what life is like there.

The books starts out with lots of action but slowed in the middle with the repetitive troubled relationship between Kailyn and Aaron. The end, however, has a twist and a resolution that is worth waiting for. A good novel.

Lisa Carter is the author of several novels and is a frequent speaker and vocalist at women's ministry events. She and her husband, with their two daughters, live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find out more at www.LisaCarterAuthor.com.

Abingdon Press, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.