Friday, April 30, 2010

Blog Tour: Apparent Danger (Interview & Review)

Fiery and famous are two words used describe the Rev. J. Frank Norris – the pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.

In fact, because of Norris’ skills as an orator and organizer eventually led him to build what was considered America’s first mega church during the roaring twenties.

But that fame and fortune – Norris’ wanted to follow in the footsteps of famed orator Williams Jennings Bryant – came crashing down in July 1926 when the controversial pastor shot and killed a local businessman during an altercation in his church study.

The crime, massive media coverage and national trial fill the pages in Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America's First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s by author David Stokes.

“[Norris’] abilities as an orator and organizer drew thousands into his orbit, but his intemperate and often violent tendencies ensured that he would never be accepted as a mainstream religious leader in America - a role he craved,” Stokes said. “The story of Rev. J. Frank Norris killing Fort Worth, Texas, businessman Dexter Elliot Chipps has interested me for a long time.”

At the time of the murder, Norris’ congregation numbered in the 10,000s. In addition to espousing his views from the pulpit, Norris also controlled several publishing outlets, as well as some of the first broadcasting sources.

Stokes first learned about Norris’s ministry and murder case in the early 1970s. Stokes eventually discovered that Norris served as his mother’s pastor for a time during her childhood.

After his initial exposure to the Norris story, Stokes began gathering information about the pastor, related to both is ministry and the crime.

“One day I noticed that I had gathered a substantial amount of poorly organized stuff,” Stokes said. “Eventually indexing more than 6,000 pages of newspaper articles, court records and notes from other published works, this story began to take shape in my mind - then on paper.”

In addition to newspaper and periodical reports, Stokes’ research relied on trial transcripts and court records. He also made several trips to Fort Worth – stopping at the Central Branch public library, located on West Third Street, approximately one block from where the central events of the story took place.

Stokes said he was amazed at how much he had to “leave on the cutting room floor” as he wove Norris’ story into a book.

“The late, great Jazz trumpet player, Miles Davis, used to say about his music: ‘I am always looking for notes to leave out.’” Stokes said. “Writing a book is, I think, a lot like that. I have written columns and articles for years—usually 1,500-3,000 words, so a 135,000 word project was quite different.”

Ultimately, Stokes said, he has several goals for his book.

First, he hopes readers find a “page-turner” in a book filled with a “preponderance” of detail.

Second, he said, he hopes people read Apparent Danger as a cautionary tale about the “cult of personality,” which follows people deemed “celebrities” throughout the United States.

“I do think Norris crossed a line into politics, one that I, as a pastor who is very engaged as a private citizen in speaking out on issues, must be vigilant to avoid,” Stokes said, adding that his wife, three daughters and soon to be seven grandchildren help keep him centered.

What’s Ahead for Stokes
Stokes said he is always delving into historical niches for possible stories to tell. He is currently working on a book based upon the early political career of Richard Nixon, “another flawed, but fascinating character.”

What I Thought Of The Book
I love history and am always intrigued by true crime stories. When the chance to review this book came about, I jumped at it, because it combines history, crime and is set in the local church.

The thought that a pastor shot someone - in his own office - totally blew me away. My friends in Texas joke that they do things "big" in Texas, so why wouldn't the first "mega" church be set in Texas.

At 365 pages, Stokes' book is filled with a variety of details, facts and other things related to Norris' career and trial. At times things got a bit "bogged" down in the depth of the details, but in general this was great book and it kept my interest.

My only complaint - I'm not thrilled with how Stokes documented his sources in the back of his book. Rather than providing footnotes - documenting which quote or fact came from which source, specifically, he chose to simply summarize the sources used in each chapter.

He said he chose to document his facts this way, for the sake of narrative flow. So, in that case, I understand his method. However, several times I found myself wanting to "double check" a quote or two by tracking down the original source. With Stokes' method of documentation, it will be difficult, if not impossible to confirm the sources.

But with that aside, the story is interesting, it keeps your attention and you'll be surprised at times at how faith and social action play out, not in present-day America, but in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1920s.


More about Stokes

A minister for more than 32 years, David Stokes has served as Senior Pastor of Fair Oaks Church www.fairoakschurch.org in Fairfax, Va., since August 1998.  Prior to this, he led congregations in New York, Illinois, Ohio and Texas.

His interest in the story told in Apparent Danger: A Minister, A Mega-Church, and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s goes back many years.  Since the early 1990s, he has been collecting material for a book about the J. Frank Norris murder trial of 1927.

His personal files now contain more than 6,000 pages of documents, newspaper and magazine articles, and trial transcripts related to the story.  David’s personal library of more than 6,000 volumes contains hundreds of books about the 1920s, as well.

Stokes is a talented communicator.  His weekly talks are broadcast around the world via the Internet at www.loudonpurpose.com

Along with his early ministry education in theology and divinity, Stokes holds degrees in history and political science.

He has been married to his wife Karen for more than 33 years. The Stokes have three married daughters and six grandchildren, and divide their time between homes in Northern Virginia and Florida’s Treasure Coast.

You can read more about Stokes at:http://www.apparentdanger.com/about-author.htm

Online Resources
http://www.apparentdanger.com/
Purchase at Amazon

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Kathy Carlton Willis Communications. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blog Tour: How Do You Tuck In A Superhero (Review)

Editor's Note: My interview with Rachel Balducci was postponed indefinitely when her newest wee one, Isabel Annemarie (yes a girl after five boys), arrived a bit earlier than planned. So for now, the following is simply a review of Balducci's book.

It takes a lot to raise a superhero - you have to teach them about hygiene - yes superheros change their underwear, how to eat healthy meals - that move beyond corn chips and cheese, and, well, you have to learn when the squeals mean pain or laughter.

Just ask Rachel Balducci, the time tested mother of five boys. She's learned to tell the difference between squeal caused by a painful encounter to one induced by a fit of giggles.

She's also learned the difference between Star Wars characters - yes, there is apparently more to collecting them then simply knowing the character's names, as well as the importance of taking care of a Lego castle.

She's even found an appreciation - limited at times - for Chuck Norris and his crime-fighting activities on Walker Texas Ranger.

In all, Balducci has filled her first book with the many different things she's learned from parenting a group of rowdy, fun-loving and somewhat mysterious boys.

I decided to review this book, simply because little boys confuse me. Sometimes I feel as if the boys who inhabit my children's ministry program speak a different language.

This fact that is especially evident right now, as I try to design a mission trip t-shirt that will appeal to the four boys going on the trip, but not "gross out" the 11 girls who will also want to wear the shirt. - Apparently, most of my designs are "too girlie" for most boys - go figure!

Honestly, I have to say, Balducci's stories have truly captured the spirit of living in a house full of testosterone. I laughed out loud at times, as I read about her exploits with dinosaurs, Legos, weapons of mass destruction and a Yahtzee game that almost sent her over the "edge."

While I'm still struggling to understand the best way to minister to little boys, Balducci's book has helped capture the idea of what it means to raise young men in this century - and the courage and strength it takes for the moms who set out to accomplish this task.

I highly recommend this book! It could definitely be subtitled: the care and feeding of an exotic species - the human boy.

You will probably walk away from reading this book with a new understanding of how little boys think and feel about a variety of issues and ideas (especially when it comes to dressing them alike).

If you have a mom friend who is struggling to understand her sons, this book might just provide the answers she's looking for - or at least it might give her some hope for the future! (Or the knowledge that she is not on her own!)

This book will definitely be on my list of books to pass along to parents - in fact, I've already been telling people about it (it's that good)

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

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

Online Resources
Purchase it online at: Amazon, Christianbook.com, BarnesandNoble.com and your local bookstore.
Read an excerpt online: Click here.
Read more from Rachel's Blog: http://www.testosterhome.net (It's even got pics of the newest addition- baby Isabel.)

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blog Tour: Deadly Disclosures (Review & Interview)

Murder, intrigue and social issues weave together to create Deadly Disclosures, the freshman release by Julie Cave.

Set in present-day Washington D.C., the novel centers around FBI agent, Dianah Harris, and the disappearance of Thomas Whitefield, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute.

The suspense-filled mystery focuses on Harris, as she struggles with the demons of her past, all while solving Whitefield’s disappearance. Along the way, Cave throws in themes of grief and loss, death and suffering and the debate between creationism and evolutionary theory.

Why Creationism?
Cave said she wanted to create a novel that mixed current social issues with a main character who is flawed within a Christian context.

“I particularly wanted to discuss the current opposition from atheists and evolutionists to Christianity and how Christians can respond to this hostility,” Cave said. “I wanted to illustrate that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, everyone is worthy of redemption.”

Cave was led to include struggle between creationism and evolution after being inspired by Answers in Genesis, a ministry which defends Biblical authority – particularly the Biblical account of creation.

“Ken Ham is a friend of ours and I was aware of the persecution and derision he and his colleagues face for standing up for the truth,” Cave said. “I then imagined what would happen if someone in a high-profile position decided to espouse this position. 

“Half-way through writing Deadly Disclosures, I watched the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed by Ben Stein and was further inspired to continue.  It seemed that my storyline wasn’t so fictional and that scientists and academics all over the world who dare to admit they believe in Biblical creation or even just question evolution face all kinds of harassment and discrimination.”

While this topic is normally discussed in non-fiction books and documentaries, Cave said, she wanted to present factual information about the creation/evolution debate as the basis of a novel.

“I think there are probably many people like me, who find it very difficult to get through a non-fiction book or who love to read purely for entertainment,” she said. “There is no reason such people shouldn’t receive the same message as the non-fiction readers.  They need opportunity to defend their faith also and so I thought of packaging the message in a format that appeals to fiction lovers.”

Because the book deals with adult themes such as alcoholism and suicide, Cave recommends it for readers 16 years or older. She hopes it appeals to Christians and non-Christians alike.

“For Christians, I hope to provide an entertaining read that deals with issues that occur in Christian homes but are not always acknowledged or spoken about (such as alcoholism or suicide),” she explained. “I also hope to provide them with some ideas to defend their faith and to point them towards other resources to help them be ready with answers when asked about such issues.”

For non-Christians, Cave hopes she has created a novel that discusses the faith in a logical and non-threatening way.

“I hope to show that there doesn’t need to be blind faith in Christianity, and that there are answers for such questions such as ‘why does God allow suffering?’ ‘what about millions of years?’ and ‘isn’t evolution a fact?’”

While the organization IAFSI, the “group” behind much of the evolutionary thought in her novel is fiction, Cave said the creation/evolution debate continues throughout the world through various groups including the American Atheists – who is vocal in its opposition of creationism and Christianity.

“In terms of discrimination against academics and scientists who profess belief in Biblical creationism, you only need watch Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed by Ben Stein which shows widespread persecution of scientists and academics who aren’t even necessarily Christians but dare to suggest that there is compelling evidence for a designer in nature,” Cave explained..

Ultimately, Cave hopes she has created a fictional novel that provides Christians with basic tools to defend their faith, as well as to show that there are logical arguments for their beliefs.

“I hope to address current social issues that might not be discussed among Christians for fear of shame; when in reality we are all flawed and fallen humans,” she continued. “I’m hoping that Christians will feel comfortable in giving this book to their non-Christian friends, who then I hope will be challenged to think differently about Christianity.”

She also hopes readers gain a new understanding that evolution, at times, is as much a religion of faith as Christianity.

“I hope readers realize that within Western culture there has been a big shift away from Christian values to evolutionary values and that this has serious ramifications for our society,” she said. “I hope to challenge readers into not necessarily believing everything they are taught in school about evolution and to do their own critical, objective analysis.

“I hope they identify with Dinah Harris and treat each other with compassion.  We often do not realize the pain and suffering that many people are burdened with on a daily basis.”

More about the novel’s characters
Cave said she identifies with Harris, her protagonist, because Harris contains bits and pieces of her own personality.

“I also identify with Thomas Whitfield because his journey to becoming a Christian was a little like mine,” Cave explained. “I have never been an atheist, but I did need solid evidence that the Bible could be trusted, and that all of the scientific discoveries in the world confirm the Biblical account.” 

Through Harris, Cave said she tried to create a character who is “real,” and who suffers from many of the same trials that a reader might also face.

“I also wanted to illustrate the meaninglessness of life when one doesn’t have the hope of Christ,” Cave said. “We are all real people living in a real, fallen world, and I wanted to create a character who would mirror this reality.”

Cave said she was deliberate in the way she portrayed Harris' struggles.

“Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we will have an easy, pain-free life.  Likewise, sometimes our reactions to suffering aren’t entirely Godly,” Cave said. “More than that, one of our most important tasks as Christians is to reach out to the lost, and this includes a woman like Dinah who is an alcoholic and could be seen as irredeemable. 

“I think it’s important to discuss topics like alcoholism openly, as it’s a problem that afflicts Christians and non-Christians alike.  God doesn’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done – and we, as His children, shouldn’t either.  Salvation is available to everyone, including alcoholics!”

Cave said she learned several lessons while writing this novel.

“I don’t think I realized the depth of the hostility that Christianity draws, and the determination of those who are hostile to attack Christianity,” she said. “God really opened my eyes to the war that is being waged all around us by atheists and humanists who would like to see Christianity exterminated.”

What’s Ahead for Harris
In the next two books in the series, Harris will still be involved with investigating crimes, but in a consulting capacity away from the restrictions of the FBI.

Several of her original characters appear in the new books, alongside some new additions, as Cave builds on the storylines found in Deadly Disclosures, while tackling some new issues.

The next book, The Shadowed Minds, focuses specifically on the issues of eugenics and euthanasia, while the third novel addresses secular humanism.

Harris’ new-found Christian faith is tested by her old temptations, as she struggles to find strength in her faith and to lean on God during the tough times.

So What Does Cave Believe About Creationism
“I am staunchly a young-earth creationist,” Cave said. “This is a quick and rudimentary discussion of why I’m a creationist, but in the book you’ll see that I’ve done a lot of research and so my belief in this area is not uninformed or blind.”

---First, the Bible describes creation in a clear, eyewitness account that uses Hebrew language simply to refer to six literal days of creation. 

---Secondly, what we can observe about plants and animals today confirms the Biblical account – that is, that species produce their own kind with great variety but is still limited: dogs only produce dogs and horses only produce horses. 

---“Thirdly, the existence of death and suffering a world prior to Adam and Eve (which there must be according to evolutionary theory) negates the need for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 

What I Thought
In Deadly Disclosures, Julie Cave has crafted a novel that will definitely make you stop and  think about how things related to the creation vs. evolution debate are portrayed in the media and at the national level .

Prior to reading this novel, I was a bit familiar with the discussion that swirls around scientists who find themselves on the “outside” if they step outside of what the mainstream considers the “normal” thought when it comes to evolution, thanks to watching Ben Stine’s documentary on the subject.

So the idea that Cave created, with a scientist being threatened with the loss of his career and standing in the scientific community is actually, not that far off base.

I think in Deadly Disclosures, Cave has captured the angst and drama of the issue. I’ll admit, the rhetoric she uses was a bit thick at times, but I think it was needed, simply to show how deeply both sides respond.

Weaving a story that centers on the director of the Smithsonian was unique. Creating a group of individuals – the IAFSI – who “infiltrate” the various aspects of life, all in an effort to promote evolutionary thought, also gave the story a different view.

I thought Cave’s main character, Dinah Harris was a good anti-hero. Through her thoughts and actions, Cave has developed a woman who is in desperate need of the redemptive love of Jesus.

In all, I give this novel at least a 3.5 to 4. For a freshman work, it was quite good. It will be interesting to see where Cave takes Harris’ story in the next book – The Shadowed Mind (set for a fall 2010 release).

Online Resources
Christianbook.com
Amazon.com
Read an excerpt from Deadly Disclosures
More about the Publisher

So Who Is Julie Cave?
Julie Cave credits her parents for introducing her to books at a young age, which fostered an enduring passion for reading and writing. As a child, her favorite authors were Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis and it wasn’t long before she began copying them, writing short stories for anyone who would read them.

At 15, two things happened which would shape her future: she heard a creation science speaker at her church which cemented her faith in God; and she finished her second novel-length story and realized she had fallen in love with writing novels.

After school, she completed a health science degree, got married, and worked in banking and finance. All the while she wondered how she could combine her love of writing and her strong passion for Christian apologetics and evangelism.

One weekend at a church camp, a friend asked, ‘What if the guy in charge of the Smithsonian Institution went missing?’ The result – and the answer to that question - is Cave’s maiden published novel, Deadly Disclosures.

Cave said she loves reading, writing and sports. She is married and has an 18-month-old daughter and a shiba inu dog named Sage.  Since receiving her health science university degree she has started a law degree.  She jokes that she has a sense of humor very similar to Dinah Harris!

Want to know more about Cave? You can follow her at www.facebook.com/julieacave and www.twitter.com/julieacave. Her website - www.juliecave.com – has her blog, sneek peaks of upcoming releases and information on how she developed her characters and storylines.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by New Leaf Publishing Group. This review or interview was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blog Tour: In Harm's Way (Review & Interview)

Irene Hannon jokes that she's loved romantic suspense novels from an early age - in fact, Nancy Drew novels were what first drew her to mysteries.

While she won't let anyone read her first romantic suspense novella - saying "it's now buried in the deepest, darkest corner of my closest, where it will remain forever," Hannon is happy to introduce readers to the law enforcement characters who inhabit her "Heroes of Quantico" series.

Hannon decided to develop the series after being introduced to Dee Henderson's work in the O'Malley series.

"One book in particular—The Guardian—inspired me to try my hand at suspense again," she said. "I wanted to focus on a law enforcement group that hadn’t received a lot of publicity, and my research led me to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. What an amazing group of guys! True hero material. And so the series was born."
 
Originally, Hannon planned to write one book, but when the hero of her second book appeared in the first book, and then Nick - the hero of book three - made his entrance, she knew each of her "guys" needed a book of their own.

"The Heroes of Quantico books are edge-of-the-seat, ticking bomb stories filled with action, adventure and romance," Hannon said. "The final book in the series, In Harm’s Way, also contains some very unusual subject matter that I think will engage and intrigue readers. It seems to have paranormal elements—seems being the operative word."

In the latest novel, In Harm's Way, the plot swirls around Nick, an FBI agent, Rachel, an unsuspecting music teacher, and a child abduction with a twist.

"I think people are intrigued by some of the phenomenon I talk about, and there is anecdotal evidence for one thing in particular—but to say more would be a spoiler!" Hannon said. "As for the child abduction angle—that crime is very traumatic for everyone involved and emotions run high. Situations like that add to the intensity of a suspense novel."

One event in the novel has the main female character, Rachel, having a possible psychic connection with a doll she finds in an icy parking lot.

"There are people who believe in psychometry—that is, the ability to read the history of an object and its owner by holding it—but I’m not one of them," Hannon said. "Neither is Rachel. I think Emily, the psychologist heroine of book two, explained it best when she theorized that the doll triggered a traumatic, subconscious memory from Rachel’s past."

More About Her Novels
Hannon hopes that any reader, male or female, who loves suspense or romance will enjoy her novels.

"Prior to this suspense series, my focus was on contemporary romance, where I drew a largely female audience," she said. "But I’ve had great response from men to this series, especially book one, Against All Odds."

Hannon said her goal for all of her novels remain the same. First and foremost, she hopes the books will entertain people who read them.

"People need wholesome ways to unwind in today’s stressful, fast-paced world, and I do my best to write books that help them put aside their cares for a few hours," she said. "[Also] I want to leave people with hope; with a belief that no matter how tough life gets, a happy ending is always possible.

"I want people to close the last page with a better appreciation for the tremendous power of love—both human and divine—to change lives."

With her latest work, Hannon admits, its hard to chose a favorite character.

"I like both the hero, Nick, and the heroine, Rachel. I can’t pick one over the other. They both have many characteristics I can identify with," she said. 

Hannon's journey into romantic suspense came full circle when Henderson provided Hannon with a "great" endorsement for her first novel.

"She said, 'I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do,'" Hannon said. "That blew me away!"

Hannon said God has taught her several lessons as she created In Harm's Way and the other books in the Heroes of Quantico series.

"Determination pays off and dreams can come true," Hannon said. "When I set out to write this series, I did it entirely on spec. I’ve been writing romance for years, but this was a departure and I had no idea if any publisher would bite on it. But I wrote the whole thing, trusting that God was leading me in the direction he wanted me to go. And I guess he was, because not only did the series find a home, but the first two books became bestsellers!"

So What's Next?
Hannon's next novel, Fatal Judgment will appear on bookshelves in January 2011. It is the first book in the Guardians of Justice series, which focuses on three siblings - two brothers and a sister - who are involved in justice-related professions.

In the first novel, one of the brothers - a U.S. Marshal - is assigned to protect a federal judge whose life is threatened. Hannon said the pair have an "interesting history" which adds emotion to the story.

Notable Notes Since it's release, "In Harm's Way" has been named to the latest CBA bestseller list.

It joines her second novel,  An Eye For An Eye, as an award winning book. An Eye for An Eye has been named a finalist for the RITA award - the “Oscar” of romantic fiction.

"Book one, Against All Odds, has won a national award that has yet to be announced, so I can’t say more than that!" Hannon said.

What I Thought
I'll admit it. I fell in love with this series with the first book. I found the first book, Against All Odds, during a "wandering" trip through the local bookstore. The book cover caught my eye, along with an endorsement by Dee Henderson - author of the O'Malley series.

Since I LOVE most books by Henderson, an endorsement by her carried a lot of weight. So I shelled out the cash and bought the book.

Let's just say, I didn't sleep much that weekend. My experience was repeated when I found book two, An Eye For An Eye, on the shelves.

So when I was given a chance to read and review book three, In Harm's Way, and interview the author, I jumped at the chance.

I think, if you like romantic suspense, and enjoy reading books that highlight federal agents, I truly think you will enjoy this book and the series.

In terms of characters, Hannon has created a trio of guys - Coop, Mark and Nick - along with their female counterparts, that you'll fall in love with.You may even find yourself unable to put the book(s) down.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I rank these books at least a 4 to a 4.5. This book (along with the other two in the series) are definitely in my "read more than once" pile...along with books by Dee Henderson! Who knows, Hannon's series might find its way into your "keep" pile as well.

Get To Know Irene Hannon
Irene Hannon said it's tough to sum up a person's life in 50 words or less.... "That’s why I like being a novelist—I have LOTS of words to work with," she jokes.

But here are the basics: Hannon has B.A. in psychology and a master’s in journalism. She worked for a Fortune 500 company for 20+ years, writing fiction on the side. Five years ago she left my executive position to become a full-time novelist.

Her books have been honored with a number of awards, including the RITA (I’m also a four-time finalist), a Reviewers’ Choice awards from RT BOOKreviews magazine and a HOLT medallion.

She said she's married to her very own romantic hero, and they celebrated 20 years this past September! Want to know more? Check out Hannon's web site: www.irenehannon.com.

In Harm's Way Online Resources
Read an excerpt
Download a set of discussion questions

Purchase In Harm's Way Online
Amazon,
Christianbook.com,
BarnesandNoble.com
or a local bookstore.

Book 1: Against All Odds
Her life is in danger--and so is his heart.

For FBI Hostage Rescue Team member Evan Cooper and his partner, dignitary protection duty should have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, beautiful but determined Monica Callahan isn't making it easy. Estranged from her diplomat father--who is involved in a sensitive hostage situation in the Middle East--she refuses to be intimidated by a related terrorist threat back in the States. That is, until a chilling warning convinces her that the danger is very real--and escalating.

As Coop and his partner do their best to keep her safe, the threat against Monica is rising. And with every second that ticks by, Coop knows that the odds of saving the only woman who has ever breached the walls around his heart are dropping. After all, terrorists aren't known for their patience--or their mercy.


Against All Odds: Online Resources
Read an excerpt
Download a set of discussion questions
For a limited time, book one is available free for Kindle. Click here for details.


Book 2: An Eye For An Eye
After an accidental shooting during a tense standoff, FBI Hostage Rescue Team member Mark Sanders is sent to St. Louis to work as a field agent and get his bearings while the bad press settles. Just weeks away from returning to Quantico, Mark has a chance encounter with his first love, Emily Lawson. But their reunion is cut short by a sniper. Now Mark must find the shooter before he strikes again. But what is his motive--and who was his intended target? Can Mark put the pieces together, keep Emily safe, and rekindle a relationship at the same time?

A fast-paced tale of romance, suspense, and intrigue, An Eye for an Eye is the exciting second book in the Heroes of Quantico series.


An Eye For An Eye: Online Resources
Read an excerpt
Download a set of discussion questions

More About The Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blog Tour: Twilight Gospel (Review & Interview)

Without fail, if you have spent much time with many teenage girls during the past few years,  you’ve probably had at least one (or more) conversations filled with Bella, Jacob, Edward and the many other characters who inhabit Forks, Wash., in the fictional Twilight series.

The novels, created by Stephanie Myers, focus on the relationship and experiences of Bella, a teenage girl filled with massive amounts of angst, and Edward, a 100-plus-year-old vampire.

Filled with themes of sexuality, consumerism, freewill and more, the Twilight series has inspired multiple discussions dissecting the books various aspects, as well as spending numerous weeks on the New York Times Bestseller’s List.

Because of the series success as well as their prevalence, writer Dave Roberts has taken a closer look at the books, to provide parents and youth leaders, alike, with a “robust Christian response that is neither reactionary or reticent.”

“As a publisher I have often commissioned this type of book but really wanted to write the books myself,” explained Roberts. “This time I decided to go for it. I’m keen that Christians be helped to think carefully about culture. I think ideas have consequences and that we can’t simply say to our fellow Christians that aspects of culture are destructive unless we open up a discussion.”

Roberts said because the books are “front and center” in today’s culture, means that they are “inescapable” for Christian young adults.

“They need practical theology clearly expressed to help them respond,” Roberts said. “Plus some of it is deeply spiritually corrosive – especially the characters of Bella and Alice.

“There are so many assumptions about wealth, consumer goods and the nature of beauty in their characters that Christians need to instinctively question.”

Because stories and metaphors “carry emotional weight” and narratives often carry “ideas deep into people’s imagination,” – think Pilgrims Progress or The Narnia Chronicles, Roberts said it is important to provide a Christian response to books, which become part of a mass culture phenomenon.

“Paul’s letters were partly responses to the dominant ideas in Colossia or Ephesus or Corinth,” Roberts explained. “He uses language that seeks to subvert the meaning of the pagan religious language of the day. The early church didn’t live in a cultural vacuum and nor do we.

“John Stott reminds us to read the newspaper with the Bible in our other hand. That captures why we should analyse life and culture.”

Roberts said he hopes readers of his book take away a sense that the life of Jesus “has wisdom for the realities of culture in 2010, and that it is very clear in his teaching if we take time to reflect.”

“This is as much a book about what we are for as it is a book asking tough questions about the Twilight saga,” Roberts said.

Parents and youth leaders, he explained, need to understand that the Twilight saga includes themes of sexuality, consumerism, free will, the nature of forgiveness, the nature of beauty, socially marginal people and the nature of personal occult powers.

“This being the case what are parents and youth workers seeking to impart and pass on about such issues,” Roberts asked. “Do they intentionally seek to respond to these issues as a matter of course anyway?”

He said people may be aware of the Christian teaching on sexuality and the occult, so he recommends readers to think about how Bella views beauty.

“It is a core issue for many and Twilight doesn’t really offer a counter-cultural perspective,” Roberts explained.

Through reading and examining the Twilight saga, as well as writing his novel, Roberts said God has reminded him that Jesus was a counter-cultural figure.

“[It] provoked me to think once again about the prophetic responsibility of the church,” he said.

Roberts describes himself as a “speaker and writer” who helps lead a church. He also established youth and children’s worker training conferences, edited 4 UK national magazines for Christians and has been the DJ at a large Christian festival. He is also available to speak or discuss his book. For more info, visit www.facebook.com/thetwilightgospel.

So What I Though
Initially, I’ll admit, I held off reading any of the Twilight books. Then, I was sucked into (pun intended) to reading at least the first book, simply to find out what my students were talking about.

I’ll be honest, while the saga isn’t my favorite, there was something in the books that made me keep reading. If anything, Stephanie Myers has created a series of books that have redefined things related to love, friendship and teenage angst.

So, when I was offered a chance to review The Twilight Gospel, I jumped at the chance. I was interested in seeing what Roberts found in the Twilight saga – beyond the obvious themes of sex and occult - and how he related it to the gospel.

I’ll admit, several of the things Roberts pulled out, made me stop and re-examine both what I think about the novels and the ideas my students may be taking away from the books, especially when he talks about themes of commercialism/consumerism, beauty and free will.

Agree with Roberts or not, his small but mighty work will cause you to examine the themes of Twilight beyond the love triangle of Bella, Edward and Jacob.

About book: - From the Publishers
The blockbuster Twilight Saga is being read by teenager and adult alike. These powerful novels are getting even more popular as the movies hit the theaters. Crisply written and with a gracious spirit, The Twilight Gospel will help teens, their parents, and their pastors discern what is good from what is unhealthy in the novels and equip them to be biblically literate readers.

From the back cover: With these powerful novels getting even more popular as the movies hit the cinemas, the call for a Christian response is strong. What values and ideas do Meyer's novels promote? What is good about them, and what deserves closer inspection?

The spirituality and worldview of the Twilight Saga are fascinating, but they do not sit easily with orthodox Christianity. This book carefully and graciously assesses what is praiseworthy and what is less so. It helps the reader to think more clearly about issues to do with occult spirits, life after death, myths and legends, sexuality, personal spiritual power, the culture of glamour and the lure of materialism. All these subjects are woven into the fabric of the Twilight Saga.

The central point of the book is to help teens (and their parents) discern what is excellent from what is unhealthy, helping to create robust, shrewd, and literate young adults.

Endorsements:
"Millions of young minds are being shaped by the Twilight Saga. Dave Roberts offers valuable cultural and biblical insights -  neither reactionary nor reticent - for anyone seeking to separate the good, the bad and the ugly in these powerful books." -Pete Greig, author of Red Moon Rising, God on Mute and Punk Monk.

About the Author:
Dave Roberts is the author of the best-selling The Toronto Blessing and Red Moon Rising with joint sales in excess of 100,000. He is a former editor of Christianity and won awards for his work on Renewal magazine. He is a local church pastor and conference director for three major annual conferences on worship, children's ministry, and women's ministry. You can read more about him on his website: www.thinkchristian.co.uk Visit the Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/thetwilightgospel

Want To See What Others Think? 
Visit here: http://www.litfusegroup.com/Blog-Tours/the-twilight-gospel-by-dave-roberts.html

Read An Excerpt From Twilight Gospel
Visit here:  http://www.lionhudson.com/detail.php?product_id=2588436
or http://store.kregel.com/client/excerpt/978-1-85424-976-0.pdf 

Download A Discussion Guide For Twilight Gospel
Visit here:  http://www.eden.co.uk/images/lionhudson/files/TG_Discussion_Guide.pdf
or http://store.kregel.com/client/guide/978-1-85424-976-0.pdf

Buy It On-Line
Amazon 
Borders
Barnes & Noble
Christianbook.com 


It's A Contest!
Want to be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to Amazon.com?

Tweet this: (and be sure to use the hashtag #thetwilightgospel)
Understand cultural and Biblical insights surrounding the Twilight Saga by reading #TheTwilightGospel. Please RT! http://ow.ly/1vjc6p

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blog Tour: Too Close To Home (Review)


Looking for a new romantic suspense to read? If so, then the Woman of Justice series may fill the need.

The series, developed by Lynette Eason, opens with Too Close To Home, featuring FBI agent Samantha Cash and her attempts to solve a string of murders in a small, Southern town.

Following the pattern set by suspense writers everywhere, Eason adds in a few twists and turns, especially when she makes the story turn personal for Cash.

More About The Book - From the Publisher
Too Close to Home is the first novel in this new series, which renowned suspense author Dee Henderson called “a hit” and said that she “enjoyed every minute.”

In this thrilling first book, readers meet Samantha Cash, who is the FBI's secret weapon. Her methods are invisible, and she never stops until the case is closed. When missing teens begin turning up dead in a small Southern town, Samantha is assigned to help the local police chief Connor Wolfe find the killer. And he has two problems with that. There's her faith--in God and herself. And then there's the fact that she looks exactly like his late wife.

As they get close to an answer, the case becomes personal. The killer seems to be taking an interest in Connor's 16-year-old daughter, who thinks her dad is getting way too protective. Can't a girl just have some fun?

Too Close to Home ratchets up the suspense with each page, and will have readers cheering for the characters they love as justice is served and love grows even in the face of danger. Read this one with the lights on!

What I Thought - The Review
Ok, when the publisher says "read this one with the lights on" um.... you better read it with the lights on - or at least don't do what I did and read it while house/dog sitting.

Let's just say, I didn't sleep much that night, because just as I got to an "intense" part, the dog I was watching proceeded to "bark" at something in the yard. (Yes, the rational part of my mind knew it was a skunk, rabbit or some other creature, but well, the subconscious mind was a bit freaked out).

I liked the characters introduced by Eason. I've read some of her other, shorter novels, and I appreciated how in this one, she was able to delve into the back story of the main characters. I think this added depth to the story.

I also liked the twists and turns found in the novel. Without giving it away, Eason managed to stump me - which was a pleasant surprise!

The only "down side" is that I figured out the "main" story theme - but not the ultimate villain - because well, I watch way too much CSI and Criminal Minds (I'm pretty sure this was in a Criminal Minds episode this season....which means it was a case of great minds thinking alike since both were probably written simultaneously,)

I'm really looking forward to the next novel, to see where Eason takes this series. Keep reading - spoiler alert - information about book two in the series can be found below.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, this book is definitely a 4. You'll probably want to keep this book around to read more than once - because if you are like me, you'll read it fast, the first time, to find out just what happens to Cash and the other characters. On the second time through, you can appreciate the different references and items Eason sprinkles throughout her manuscript.

Meet Lynette Eason
Lynette Eason is the author of Too Close to Home and three other romantic suspense novels. She is a member of American Fiction Christian Writers and Romance Writers of America. A homeschooling mother of two, she has a master's degree in education from Converse College. She lives in South Carolina.

About the Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.

Discussion Questions
http://www.revellbooks.com/Media/MediaManager/TooCloseToHomeDiscussionQuestions.pdf

Read An Excerpt
http://www.revellbooks.com/Media/MediaManager/Excerpt_9780800733698.pdf

Buy It Online
Amazon,
Christianbook.com,
BarnesandNoble.com
and your local bookstore.

What's Next - Spoiler Alert  - Book 2 in the Series
Twelve years ago, forensic anthropologist Jamie Cash survived a brutal kidnapping, torture, and rape. After years of therapy, she has made a life for herself--though one that is haunted by memories of her terrifying past. She finally lets herself get close to a man, FBI agent Dakota Richards, when signs start appearing that point to one frightening fact--her attacker is back and ready to finish the job he started all those year ago. Can she escape his grasp a second time? And will she ever be able to let down her guard enough to find true love?

Filled with heart-stopping suspense, gritty realism, and a touch of romance, Don't Look Back is the second book in the Women of Justice series. Readers will be hooked from the beginning, finding that once you are in Lynette Eason's world, you're trapped until you turn the very last page.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Deep Thougthts: A Heart to Give

Editor's Note: This devotion previously appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of Devo'Zine. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Ministries. All rights reserved.

A Heart To Give
By Kaylea M. Hutson

Every summer since she turned thirteen, Stephanie has worked with Teen Missions International, a youth mission organization.

For many teens, summer vacation is a chance to hang out with friends or to earn extra money at a job. But for 18-year-old Stephanie McCullah, the lazy days of summer are a chance to change the world.

Every summer since she turned thirteen, Stephanie has worked with Teen Missions International, a youth mission organization. In places such as Honduras, Haiti, Mexico, Russia, Kenya, Israel, and Ethiopia, Stephanie has helped to construct schools, churches, and sidewalks.

How It Began
Stephanie’s interest in missions began when her father bought her a subscription to Brio, the teen magazine for girls published by Focus on the Family.

“I wanted to read Seventeen, and they got me a subscription to Brio,” Stephanie says with a smile. “Finally, my step-mom slipped it under my bedroom door; and I flipped through it.”

Inside the magazine, she found an article about Teen Missions International that “made a huge difference” in her life. Reading the article led to her first overseas mission trip.

“Honestly, I’m not a saint,” explains Stephanie. “It’s really been God. There’s no other way to explain it.”

“I saw a lot of things that I could never imagine. Honduras was hard because I saw kids playing with broken kitchen utensils. Here I was, thirteen, and I had the newest video games at home.”

“I’ve learned to be happy with what I’ve got, even if it’s not a lot.”

Why Missions?
“I love the feeling of being out there helping people who need help,” Stephanie says. “Christianity is really an awesome thing in the here and now. God has so much power, and it is so liberating; and I find it amazing. I love to see the people and their reactions [to Christianity].”

Stephanie says that her trips overseas have helped shape her understanding of faith and life.

“I’ve learned more about what is important in life,” Stephanie says. “Money isn’t the most important thing.”

Missions at Home
Not ready to jump into an overseas trip? You can do a lot to help others in your hometown. Community organizations always need help answering the phones and stuffing envelopes. Thrift shops and food pantries use volunteers to sort donations. Just remember: The key is to serve without expecting payment in return.

“I’ve learned that the more you give, the more you get back -- without exception,” Stephanie says. “It seems like the more you give of yourself, the more God puts into your heart to give.”

DIG DEEPER
Here are some other things you can do to help people in your community and around the world:

• Give. “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9, NRSV).

• Care about justice. “The righteous know the rights of the poor” (Proverbs 29:7a, NRSV).

• Speak up. “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9, NRSV).

• Pray. “God has heard your prayers and knows about your gifts to the poor” (Acts 10:4b, CEV).

• Defend those in need. “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3, NRSV).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blog Tour: A Distant Melody (Review)

Allie doesn't feel like she can ever please her mother - in fact, the only way she might be able to gain her parents' approval, is to marry a man she doesn't love.

When she meets Lt. Walter Novak, a pilot fearless in the cockpit but hopeless with women, during a wedding, the pair are drawn together through a variety of circumstances.

Once Walt returns to England, the pair began to send letters. As the letters fly between Walt and Allie, the couple must untangle a plethora of the secrets, commitments, and expectations that may ultimately keep them apart.

A Distant Melody is the first book in the WINGS OF GLORY series, created by Sarah Sundlin. The series follows the three Novak brothers, B-17 bomber pilots with the US Eighth Air Force stationed in England during World War II.

What I Thought
I thought this was a good novel, especially for a "first time" novel. While it may seem as if everyone is writing novels about World War II right now, this book was surprisingly fresh.

I appreciated the angst Sundlin created between Walt and Allie. I also liked how she created a story that shows how small decisions and actions could have life-changing implications.

Sundlin's portrayal of a daughter forced to choose between following her heart or the unrealistic expectations of her parents also gave the book an interesting twist. I also thought this novel presented an interesting perspective of a B-17 bomber pilot and crew.

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score, this book is at least a 3 to 4. This novel will transport you back in history and make you feel as if you are living in during WWII. You might find yourself humming a big band song as you turn the pages. It will definitely have you pulling out your history books to determine what's fact or fiction.

Coming Soon
A Memory Between Us coming September 2010:
Major Jack Novak has never failed to meet a challenge--until he meets army nurse Lieutenant Ruth Doherty. When Jack lands in the army hospital after a plane crash, he makes winning Ruth's heart a top priority mission. But he has his work cut out for him. Not only is Ruth focused on her work in order to support her orphaned siblings back home, she carries a shameful secret that keeps her from giving her heart to any man. Can Jack break down her defenses? Or are they destined to go their separate ways?

Till Blue Skies Return (working title) coming Fall 2011:
Lt. Raymond Novak prefers the pulpit to the cockpit, but his stateside job training B-17 pilots allows him to court Helen Carlisle, a widowed mother who conceals her pain under a frenzy of volunteer work. The sparks of their romance set a fire that flings them both into peril. Ray leaves to fly a combat mission at the peak of the air war over Europe, while Helen takes a job at a dangerous munitions yard and faces an even graver menace in her own home. Can they both find the courage to face their challenges?

About The Author
Sarah Sundin is an on-call hospital pharmacist and holds a BS in chemistry from UCLA and a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco. Her great-uncle flew with the US Eighth Air Force in England during WWII. Sundlin lives in California with her husband and three children. This is her first novel. For more info please visit her website at www.sarahsundin.com!

It's A Contest
A Distant Melody, Book 1 in Sarah Sundin’s exciting Wings of Glory series, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re offering one Grand Prize winner the chance to get NOSTALGIC!
Enter the Netflix and Nostalgia contest from author Sarah Sundin!
The Prize: The Winner of the ‘NETFLIX® & Nostalgia’ giveaway will receive a vintage prize package, including:
*A 6 month NETFLIX® subscription
*$25 Starbucks® gift card
*A box of See’s Famous Old Time Chocolates®
*A jar of homemade strawberry jam
*A Big Band music CD
*A Mini B-17 Model airplane
*Vintage stationery and pen
*British specialty tea
*WWII style playing cards

To enter just click on the icon above! Contest will be live April 5th and run through April 25th!

Want To Read More Reviews?
Click here to visit the blog tour listing to see what others think of this book.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 
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