Friday, March 27, 2015

Through the Bible - Questions

I am reading through the Bible in a year, using the NLT One Year Chronological Bible. I started early, but I'm already behind. Nevertheless, the goal is to read through the whole Bible, regardless of the time it takes.

I like this version because it is reader friendly and divided in chunks that are easy to read in a day. I also enjoy getting all perspectives on a situation in one day instead of as they were written. I don't use this Bible for all my studies -- I also like the ESV for regular research/reading, and I love LOGOS as a tool to help me understand.

I've been highlighting things as I go and writing questions to things I either don't understand or am curious about in the margins. I want a way to process this better and to document my questions for times when I can do further research. I figured a blog was a great place to do this (especially since this blog was originally designed to be the place I used for thoughts and insights). Because of my lack of dedication and/or busy-ness, it has become only a place for reviewing the great books I get to read. I endeavor to add more Biblical content!

So today I'm reading the text originally designated for March 22 and 23 (two a day until I catch up). This is the timeframe of Moses' last days and Joshua's first days as a leader. Lots of things have come up that I wonder about. The text is from Deut 33-34 and Joshua 1-3.

Moses' final words were blessings for the tribes of Israel. He starts with the tribes descending from Leah -- Reuben, Judah, and Levi. Simeon is strangely missing, but the Baker Commentary supposes that they have been lumped in with Judah based on text in Joshua 19:1-9, where their territory is really a subset of Judah's. Next come Rachel's boys, Benjamin and Joseph. It is interesting that Joseph is named individually, because frequently his sons are both given 'tribe' status. Honestly, it's a bit confusing to me to define what the 'appropriate' tribes are because they differ from place to place. Simeon and Levi are occasionally left out because (according to Harper's Bible Dictionary) of their actions in relation to their sister Dinah. Other texts leave out Reuben because of his indiscretion with his fathers. I imagine someone has defined THE official 12 tribes, but I guess it doesn't really matter to me that much.

I did find it interesting that Moses asked that the tribe of Asher be blessed above the other sons. I can't find any good reason why that would be so.

The end of the book of Deuteronomy, in 34:10, it says, "There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." That got me thinking -- as Moses passed the baton to Joshua and he took on the leadership role, I wonder if he was surprised, or even disappointed, that his relationship with God was not as personal?

That said, when the angel of God met with Joshua to give him instructions for conquering Jericho, we see that Joshua was told to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. That only happened one other time in the Bible -- to Moses at the burning bush. No one else who had interactions with God or his angels -- Abram, Jacob, other prophets, or even Mary, the disciples, or Saul, were told to take their shoes off. Curious!

Enough questions for one day. Guess I'll add these to the list of things to investigate when I get to Heaven!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After A Fashion -- With Character Interview

AFTER A FASHION
by
Jen Turano

MY THOUGHTS:
Might I say that Jen Turano is one of the most brilliant historical novelists? After a Fashion is her fifth book about the Gilded Age, and after reading the first, A Most Peculiar Circumstance, she vaulted into the ranks of my top 5 favorite authors of all time!

Jen has a way of creating characters who have the best of intentions, yet they always seem to fall into the craziest of circumstances. Yet it's not like she PUTS them there -- their personalities and desires to get to the bottom of problems and/or do the right thing seems to naturally cause them to find themselves in chaos. Miss Harriet Peabody of After a Fashion is no exception. We learn of a fascinating (and disastrous) childhood that has resulted in a tough life of scraping every penny together. When she loses her job for being in the right place at a difficult time, she is forced to find other means of employment. In a story that is somewhat reminiscent of the movie Pretty Woman (without the unseemly prostitution), Harriet agrees to pretend to be the woman on the arm of a saavy businessman, Mr. Oliver Addleshaw.

Then there is Buford, Mr. Addleshaw's large, slobbery, and definitely unmannerly beast of a dog, who knows just when to roll on his back and sweetly demand that his belly be rubbed! Buford adds a boatload of fun and humor to this story!

This story is full of intrigue, hilarious situations, and wonderful romance. It is the beginning of a new series, and if the foreshadowing is any indication, this series (A Class of Their Own) will be just as good, if not even better, than her Ladies of Distinction series! If you want a fun read with meaty lessons to be learned, check out Jen Turano's books.

You can find out more about her books at http://jenturano.com/ , and you can find out more about Miss Harriet Peabody in the interview, below! NOTE: When you go to Jen Turano's website, be sure to check out this amazing story!

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Miss Harriet Peabody dreams of the day she can open up a shop selling refashioned gowns to independent working women like herself. Unfortunately, when an errand for her millinery shop job goes sadly awry due to a difficult customer, she finds herself out of an income.
Mr. Oliver Addleshaw is on the verge of his biggest business deal yet when the lady he brought to town to assist him with entertaining his potential business partner reneges on their agreement. When this unreliable, and slightly deranged, lady causes the hapless Harriet to lose her job, Oliver tries to make it up to her by enlisting her help in making a good impression on his business partner.
Harriet quickly finds her love of fashion can’t make her fashionable. She’ll never truly fit into Oliver’s world, but just as she’s ready to call off the fake relationship, fancy dinners, and elegant balls, a threat from her past forces both Oliver and Harriet to discover that love can come in the most surprising packages.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jen Turano is the critically acclaimed author of The Ladies of Distinction Series, published through Bethany House.  Her novel, A Most Peculiar Circumstance, was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Romance for 2013. She makes her home in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and her son.JenTurano

When Jen’s not writing, she spends her time hiking around Colorado, socializing with friends and family, and taking great pride in watching Dominic, who will soon be off to college, turn into a remarkable young man.  (For readers of A Change of Fortune – Dominic was the inspiration behind little Ben – which is why you won’t be surprised to learn Jen’s been slightly taken aback over the fact Dominic’s turned out so well.)





AN INTERVIEW WITH MISS HARRIET PEABODY:


1.     At the beginning of the book you work for Mrs. Feinman, who owns a hat store. Where do you get ideas for your hat designs?


I get most of my ideas by simply walking down the street.  Ladies have begun to add far more embellishments to all aspects of their wardrobes, including what used to be simple walking dresses.  That allowed me to know that they’re looking for bigger and more extravagant creations to wear on their heads.  Feathers are a must, as are bows, although…I do feel so sorry for all the poor birds that have been de-feathered over the past few years.  One has to wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, our love of greater and more unusual creations to wear upon our persons will end up killing off some of our most beautiful birds and then, well…we’ll be sorry we used them so carelessly, won’t we?

2.     You are particularly adept at reconstructing old gowns to create new styles. How did you learn this skill?

It all came out of necessity, Mrs. Stitch.  Many of the garments that are donated to the area churches come to those churches torn and stained.  In order to create something beautiful from something tired and used, I have to use my scissors quite industriously. That means I sometimes end up creating styles I never planned to create because I’m forced to snip away more material than I’d intended. 

3.     You have a fascinating history of moving from place to place. How has that influenced your approach to life?

I greatly appreciate having a room to call my own these days.  Even though it isn’t much, I know I won’t have to pack up and leave on a whim, (or what was usually a dire circumstance,) in the middle of the night like I did so often when I lived with my aunt.  And, because I was moved around so much in my younger years, I was never able to make good friends, something that changed when I met Miss Lucetta Plum and Miss Millie Longfellow.  They are two of the nicest ladies in New York and are also two ladies I’m incredibly fortunate to have as friends.

4.     Where do you see yourself five years into the future?

I would hope that I would no longer be working for Mrs. Fienman.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything she has done for me, but…she is a bit stingy with a wage, yet expects her employees to work long hours.  I would like to open up a shop of my own – nothing fancy, mind you, but even though I would still be working long hours, and I am sure the funds I’d earn would still be meager, I would not be dependent on anyone but myself, and that is something I have dreamed about forever. 

5.     If you were to take me on a tour of your town, what would you most like to show me?


The department stores, of course, many of which may be found on the “Ladies Mile.”  There’s Arnold Constable & Company, B. Altman, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, and we mustn’t forget A.T. Stewart’s Iron Palace.  Did you know that poor Mr. Stewart, after he died a few years back, had his body stolen and held for ransom?  I do believe that’s why Mr. Vanderbilt, the Commodore as so many people called him, hired on so many guards to watch over his gravesite in the hopes that no one will make off with his body and hold it for ransom.  It’s all rather gruesome if you think about it…but…enough about that morbid subject.

6.     In what ways are you like your 'friend', Jen Turano?

Jen is a rather no-nonsense type of lady, which is why we get along so famously.  I’ve always been told I’m incredibly practical, and that’s something Jen and I share.  She’s been known to have a creative side, although she can’t sew a straight line to save her soul.  But, she values the company of her very good friends, and that’s something we both have in common. 

 You can buy a copy of the book HERE

Thanks to Jen Turano and Bethany House Publishers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Honestly - I LOVED this book!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Tomb

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Tomb
Howard Books (March 17, 2015)
by
Stephanie Landsem


MY THOUGHTS:
 

I love stories that bring history to life -- especially those around the time of Jesus and the early days of Christianity. This story dives into the lives of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in a way that makes it easier to relate to people we only know slightly.

Stephanie Landsem has done a fabulous job of researching the time, helping the reader feel as if she/he has walked right into Martha's seemingly perfect home. 

I did find the story line a bit disconcerting, although it may have been realistic. I was a bit distracted by the backstory/secrets and found myself fighting against the probability of them being true. Of course any story about people in this time will require a lot of embellishment, since the Bible doesn't cover many details, but I found this one to be too distracting for the story to flow freely for me. There are, of course, disclaimers about the license an author must take to write a story like this.

Regardless, I enjoyed the story as a historical novel, and I loved getting into the 'head' of Martha. I recommend this for anyone who likes historical novels of the time.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A word from the author:
I write historical fiction because I love adventure in far-off times and places. I’ve traveled since I was a teenager—backpacking through Germany and Eastern Europe, studying German in Salzburg, eating gelato in Italy, and riding camels in Morocco were some of the highlights. Travel kindles my imagination, fuels my love of history, and introduces me to one-of-a-kind characters. It’s the best kind of research.

When I can’t travel, I read. I love fiction, of course, but I’m often found behind a stack of history books or searching the web for historical tidbits. How people lived together, worked, and what they ate (I love food!) is usually what catches my imagination. No matter where or when we live, people are more alike than they are different. I love to find the similarities between our lives and those of the men and women of the ancient world.

I make my home in Minnesota with my husband of 22 years, four children, three fat cats, and a tortoise named Moe. When I’m not writing Biblical fiction, I’m feeding the ravenous horde of kids and their friends, volunteering at church and school, battling dandelions, and dreaming about my next adventure – whether it be in person or on the page.

ABOUT THE BOOK

In this captivating retelling of a classic biblical story, Jesus shocks the town of Bethany with Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead, leading Martha—a seemingly perfect woman trapped by the secrets of her past—to hope and a new life.

Everyone in Bethany admires Martha—the perfect Jewish woman. She feeds and clothes her loved ones, looks after the family farm, and meticulously follows every precept of the Pharisees’ strict laws. But Martha is hiding a secret. At her sister’s marriage feast, she gave her heart and her innocence to a young musician who promised to return and marry her, but instead betrayed her love and abandoned her.

Seven years later, only two people in Bethany know of Martha’s secret sin: her brother, Lazarus, and Simon, the righteous Pharisee to whom Martha is betrothed. When Lazarus falls ill, Martha is faced with a choice: send for Jesus to save her dying brother—risking the wrath of Simon who threatens to betray her—or deny Jesus’ healing power and remain trapped in her tomb of secrecy and lies.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Galilee, Isa roams the wilderness, tortured by demons and knowing only that someone is waiting for him. When he is healed by Jesus, he finds that seven years have passed since his descent into madness. Isa journeys home to Bethany only to find he is too late to win back Martha’s love.

When Martha risks all to heal Lazarus, will Jesus arrive in time, or will he—like Isa—come too late?

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Tomb, go HERE.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

You're Loved No Matter What

You're Loved No Matter What
by
Holley Gerth

MY THOUGHTS:
I have read several of Holley Gerth's books, and through them all is a wonderful thread of love and 'good-enough' encouragement. She is well-versed in the word of God and has vast experience putting God's perspective ahead of the world's perspective when looking at herself and when helping others look at themselves through her coaching role. Every time I read one of her books I feel grounded in God's view of his children and I'm better able to cope with my human frailties and failings.

Holley knows that women are really hard on themselves. We expect perfection in every aspects of our lives and then we consider ourselves failures when we eventually don't make it to that standard. In this book Holley focuses on our 'need' to be perfect and our sense that God is disappointed in us when we aren't. We know in our heads that God loves us no matter what, but somehow our hearts don't really believe.

My favorite part of the book is Chapter 8 - A Practical Plan for Beating Perfectionism. Because we all know it's impossible to be perfect, yet somehow we don't know how to get off that path. In this chapter, Holley give down to earth examples and instructions for moving from perfection to excellence. She defines excellence as "doing what you can, with what you have, where you are, as you are." She frees us from the need to make everything we do excellent and provides advice on how to ask for help when you need it...to recognize when you need it!

As I have with every other book of Holley's, I highly recommend this book for any woman who doesn't feel like she is enough! She writes with a light, conversational style that makes the reader feel like she's having a cup of coffee with a friend. Her books are placed with reverence on a shelf of books that I endeavor to read every year. This is such a hard lesson for us to learn, we need regular reminding!

ABOUT THE BOOK:

From the Back Cover

As women, we tend to think that if we could only get our act together, life would be perfect. But you're not supposed to be perfect. You're supposed to be human. And humans are messy, flawed, glorious, and deeply loved.

It's time to lay down those unrealistic expectations that exhaust you.
It's time to embrace who you are--even the messy parts.
It's time to start living fully instead of just trying not to fail.

Let's do this. Together.

--
How would your life be different if you truly believed you're loved just as you are? Bestselling author Holley Gerth shares how God wants to set our hearts free by revealing the lies we believe as well as the scandalous grace and acceptance offered to us instead. She helps us lay down our unrealistic expectations so we can embrace who God created us to be, pursue his purpose for our lives, and offer others the love we've been freely given.

"I often say it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. Holley Gerth shows women that's just as true for our hearts as it is for every other area of our lives."--Myquillyn Smith, The Nester, author of The Nesting Place
"Holley Gerth shares a breathtaking promise. She's not asking you to try to be better but inviting you to receive what's already yours. That's a message that will not only heal your heart but set you free."--Suzanne Eller, international speaker and author of The Unburdened Heart

"If your heart feels entangled by the critical voices of perfectionism, sit down with this book full of encouraging gems of wisdom and let Holley's words guide you to a new beginning, to set your heart free to run in one direction: toward God's love for you."--Bonnie Gray, author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Holley Gerth is a bestselling writer, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her popular blog and books like You're Already Amazing, You're Made for a God-Sized Dream, You're Going to Be Okay, and more. She's also cofounder of the popular website (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring. Learn more at www.holleygerth.com.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Then Sings My Soul

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Then Sings My Soul
David C. Cook (March 1, 2015)
by
Amy Sorrells


MY THOUGHTS:
Then Sings My Soul is a difficult book to categorize -- it has a bit of everything! History, romance, mystery, tragedy, and the spirit of overcoming. From a historical perspective it covers at time and place not often seen -- Russia during the pogroms of the early 1900's.

The book flips back and forth between those days, when Jakob Stewart was just four years old in Russia, to the 1990's when he is broken by the death of his wife and begins suffering dementia. His daughter, Nel, comes home for her mother's funeral and finds that she needs to stay to care for her father. A lost letter to her mother unveils some mystery about her father's past that she is determined to discover, regardless of his efforts to keep it buried.

I really enjoyed the story line of this book. It was, however, a bit difficult for me to read. There are a lot of extraneous words, sentences, and even paragraphs that don't do much to provide background or move the story forward. I admit I almost gave up reading it in the middle because of this, but I was really intrigued by Jakob's story. I found that his flashbacks were more enjoyable than the other sections, and I scanned the paragraphs instead of devouring every word. I would like to have seen a bit more on the developing relationship between Nel and ...well the character she develops a relationship with (no spoiler here!).

That said, I'm VERY glad I read to the end. The storyline is well crafted and I highly recommend reading it all! This is a good book for the beach or times when you aren't able to read the book in one sitting. The author blurb on the back of the book (different than the one below) indicates that Amy Sorrells "writes about the healing of broken places in the world and the heart". That is very true in Then Sings My Soul.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

An Indianapolis native and graduate of DePauw University, Amy lives with her husband, three boys and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana. After writing and editing for her college newspaper, she combined a nursing degree with journalism and creative writing, which led to publishing and editing a wide array of medical and nursing writing and multimedia projects over the past 21 years, a position as director of communications of her church’s children’s ministry, as well as a weekly column for a local newspaper which ran from 2009-2012. She has been a two-time semi-finalist for the ACFW Genesis awards, and was the winner of the 2011 Women of Faith writing contest.

When she’s not reading or writing, Amy loves spending time with her three sons; spicy lunches and art gallery walks with her husband; digging in her garden sans gloves; walking her dogs; up-cycling old furniture and junk; photography; and friends.


ABOUT THE BOOK

When Nel Stewart returns home due to the sudden death of her mother, she realizes her beloved father, Jakob, is struggling with dementia. With the reappearance of a high-school sweetheart, deliveries from Ukraine addressed to her, and the discovery of a mysterious, vintage aquamarine gemstone, Nel senses God is pulling her into the past to restore their faith and their futures. Told partially through Jakob's flashbacks of fleeing genocide-ridden eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel combines elements of mystery, history, faith and romance to reveal how God redeems the broken years ... and our future.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Then Sings My Soul, go HERE.

Thank you to David C Cook for providing a copy of this book for my honest review.


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Crimson Cord

The Crimson Cord
by
Jill Eileen Smith


MY THOUGHTS:
I am amazed at the way Jill Smith can take just a few verses from the Bible and create an amazing story that makes you feel like you are there. This is the story of Rahab -- a woman that we don't really know much about. Smith gives her a backstory, a tragic situation, and hope for a future with the leader of the tribe of Judah!

All we truly know of Rahab is that she was an innkeeper (which in those days often meant prostitute) who willingly hid some Israelite spies in exchange for safety for her family. Some how later in life she ends up marrying a prominent Israelite and gives birth to Boaz! God can take anyone and use them for the good of his plan.

This is a story of survival, forgiveness, and new beginnings. It is set in an amazing time of history, and the characters have real depth. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or who wants the Bible to come to life (in an admittedly fictional way).

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Wife to a gambler who took one too many risks, Rahab finds herself sold as a slave to cover her husband's debt. Forced into prostitution, she despairs of ever regaining her freedom and her self-respect. But when Israelite spies enter Jericho and come to lodge at her house, Rahab sees a glimmer of hope and the opportunity of a lifetime.

In one risky moment, she takes a leap of faith, puts her trust in a God she does not know, and vows to protect the spies from the authorities. When the armies of Israel arrive weeks later, Rahab hopes they will keep their promise, but she has no idea what kind of challenges await her outside Jericho's walls--or if she will ever know the meaning of love.

Under Jill Eileen Smith's talented hand, the familiar story of Rahab bursts forth in high definition. Immerse yourself in a world of dark and dusty streets, clandestine meetings, and daring escapes as a mysterious biblical figure claims her full humanity--and a permanent place in your heart.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jill Eileen Smith is the bestselling author of the Wives of King David series, the Wives of the Patriarchs series, and The Desert Princess, first in the Loves of King Solomon series. Her research into the lives of biblical women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan. Learn more at www.jilleileensmith.com.

Monday, February 02, 2015

At Home in Last Chance

At Home in Last Chance
by
Cathleen Armstrong


MY THOUGHTS:
It was wonderful to meet with 'old friends' from previous Last Chance books! This book is the third in the Places To Call Home series, and I'm presuming it's the last, however the ending makes me think there may be more to come. You definitely need to read these books in series -- it would be confusing to pick up one without the background of the others.

I really enjoy the comfortable style of Cathleen Armstrong. The books are easy to read and the characters are fun and consistent from book to book. This book addresses some personality issues that very few do -- those people who have really messed up in their lives and seem to be expected to continue that path. Kaitlyn led a true prodigal's life, leaving her daughter behind in book 2 to be raised by her brother, Chris. She returns to Last Chance in an attempt to reconnect with her daughter (who is quite the character) and hopefully to finally settle down.

Stephen, the cousin of Chris's fiance Sarah (book 2) and brother of Ray (book 1), has always been a self-proclaimed ladies man and had abandoned his brother earlier in the series. Everyone expects him to continue to leave pain in his wake.

Kaitlyn and Stephen find kindred spirits in each other and they learn together how to change the perceptions and expectations of others.  But it is a slow and painful process, so true to real life.

I won't give a spoiler, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the ending. I'm hoping that there is yet another book to be written in this series, because it doesn't seem to really close. That said, I would recommend the entire series for it's writing style, emphasis on second chances, and small town charm.

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the back cover):
What happens when the life you're running from won't let go of your heart?
Kaitlyn Reed and Steven Braden have always had a similar philosophy of life: when the going gets tough, they get going--out of town and away from the problem. Now they are both back in Last Chance, New Mexico, and trying to start over.

Kaitlyn is working to reestablish a relationship with the seven-year-old daughter she left behind six months earlier. Steven is trying to prove to his family that he is not the irresponsible charmer they have always known him to be. As Kaitlyn and Steven find themselves drawn to one another, one big question keeps getting in the way: How will they learn to trust each other when they don't even trust themselves?

With emotional depth and characters who leap off the page and into your heart, Cathleen Armstrong invites you to return once more to the dusty and delightful town of Last Chance.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.