Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book Review: "The Choosing"

 Carrington Hale lives in a world where girls are trained from childhood to become wives. They live for the day of their “choosing,” when eligible bachelors will select their mates for life. If a young woman is not chosen on this one day, she is banished from her family, her home, her community. She will spend the rest of her life serving silently behind the scenes, living out "a cruel fate of [her] own making." In Carrington’s world, significance and value only come from being chosen.

When questionable circumstances give Carrington an unprecedented second chance to be chosen, though, she begins to realize that there may be worse things than not being chosen. And when a friend introduces her to a mysterious man who is secretly teaching people about a better way to live, she begins to question her society’s estimate of her worth. The safety of the status quo may be more dangerous and damaging than she knows.

I loved reading this book. The theme of remembering and forgetting and remembering and forgetting and remembering again and again until you get it has stuck with me. I find it encouraging to realize that forgetting a lesson learned is part of learning and that God will bring the lesson back to me as often as necessary until it finally sticks. Ideas about personal worth, responsibility, free will, mercy, and justice were solid. The story itself was fun to read. I’ll be watching for the sequel in Spring of 2016.

Fans of dystopian novels will love this book. I received my copy from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for this honest review.

Q&A with Rachelle Dekker Author of The Choosing

About the Author . . . The oldest daughter of New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker was inspired early on to discover truth through storytelling. She graduated with a degree in communications and spent several years in marketing and corporate recruiting before making the transition to write full-time. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Daniel, and their diva cat, Blair. Visit her online at rachelledekker.com.

  • How did you come up with the story for The Choosing? This is a hard question because it has many answers. I wanted to write a theme-based novel about identity. I wanted to write a dystopian novel. I wanted to write in a world that was familiar, but in a setting where I could change the way the world worked. It actually is several ideas I’d been toying with pulled into one story. Once I landed on Carrington’s core revelation and story arc, I simply fell in love with her as a character and drew the rest of the story around her. That’s usually how it works for me. I come up with a character, good or bad, and create the story from there.
  • You based your main character, Carrington, off of your younger sister. In what ways is Carrington like her? It’s more the beliefs that Carrington struggles with that remind me of my sister. The idea of worth, of not feeling like you’re enough, or questioning whether anyone would choose you. Carrington came about as I spent time with my sister and her college-age friends and saw that a large majority of them were searching for significance, searching for worth—none more than my sister at the time.
  • Throughout the book, Carrington struggles with understanding her identity and worth and what is true. Why did you decide to write about the theme of identity? Someone once asked me, If you could leave one message for your younger sisters, what would it be? The answer was always the same: I would pray they knew what they were worth. Identity is everything. There isn’t a theme that doesn’t start with identity, or circle back to identity. Knowing who you truly are is the greatest journey we face. Am I enough; am I worth it? I believe everyone faces these questions, and I sought out to explore them through this story.
  •  What is it like being Ted Dekker’s daughter? Did your father help you with the writing process? Being Ted’s daughter is wonderful! He’s the best, but then I hope many daughters feel that way about their fathers. He is a bit of a mystery, though. Sometimes, even sitting at the dinner table, I can tell he’s lost in thought, and I wonder what it might be like to have his mind. It’s been a blessing to watch him write and struggle with writing, so that now when I struggle I have an understanding ear to talk off. He is always willing to talk me through the emotional and mental side of writing (which is where the biggest battles lie in wait) but as far as story, for the most part he lets me fend for myself. It’s always been important to me to write through my challenges on my own. To figure out scenes alone. In fact, he didn’t even read The Choosing until I was already in conversations with Tyndale about publication. I think that’s because he wanted me to believe I could do it on my own. But when I doubt my ability as a writer, and when I forget who I am, he is the one I call. And he reminds me that life is a journey of remembering and forgetting, and helps me in remembering once again.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quiet Time 101

I never really gave it much thought.

I don’t really know how my dishwasher cleans my dishes. I just know it does. So I put the dishes and soap inside, push a button or two, and let it do its job. It works.

In the same way, I’ve never given much thought to why quiet time works, but I know it does. So I meet with God on a regular basis.

Funny—I even call it a meeting with God; I never gave that much thought either. But this week I have been thinking about it, and it’s been an enlightening analysis for me. (Learning how my dishwasher works would not have had the same effect.)

Quiet time is a prayer and Bible reading meeting with God. It’s not about prayer. It’s not about Bible reading. Those are the tools that facilitate the meeting—kind of like the dishwasher is the tool that washes the dishes. Meeting with God, however, is the purpose of the event. That’s what quiet time is all about.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Well, of course!” Good for you. You’re ahead of me. But I needed to think this through; it's been helpful. Bear with me.

Andrew Murray says that someone has said, “I pray, I speak to God; I read the Bible, God speaks to me” (Teach Me to Pray, Oct. 17). It’s so simple, and it works. Together, prayer and Bible reading equal a conversation with God.

Sometimes I truly wish God would just speak out loud and give me specific instructions on what He wants me to do next or how He’d like me to handle a certain situation. The Andrew Murray quote helped me to see God sometimes comes close to doing just that.

When I sit down to read my Bible, I usually pray something like,
“Good morning, God! Here I am. I’m hoping to hear from You. Please point out something in Your Word that will help me today. I’m listening.”
Then, as I read, if I’m truly paying attention and not allowing brain cells to wander off toward the day’s distractions, God often does direct my attention to verses that speak to my current circumstances, encourage me, teach me, sometimes even convict me. Sometimes the words prompt me to praise Him; other times they make me think of people I know, so I can pray for them. The words are always the same, but God’s message is often tailor-made for the specific day.

Quiet time isn’t just for learning about God, talking to Him, or studying His Word. Quiet time truly is meeting with God, getting to know Him personally and learning His Will for our lives. It's a two-way conversation. God does speak to us! Listen up!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: "To Win Her Favor"

Stories of strangers getting married for convenience are among my favorites. They always have so many obstacles to overcome as they learn to trust, learn to love. To Win Her Favor is one of these and author Tamera Alexander excels at showing readers the depths of her characters’ emotions as they work to accept and embrace their situation.

Set in Nashville just after the civil war, this is the story of Margaret Linden, aka Maggie. She and her father are about to lose the family farm and everything on it, including Maggie’s beloved thoroughbred racehorse, Bourbon Belle. Enter Cullen McGrath, an Irish immigrant who lost his family to typhoid. Grieving, he longs to make a fresh start. But no one will sell land to the Irish. Maggie’s father sees beyond Cullen’s country of birth, however, and comes up with a plan to solve both problems. Desperate to save her home and her horse and to comfort her aging father, Maggie agrees to this “business arrangement.”

As a story, as an historical novel delving into the painful issues of the day, this novel was brilliant. I just kept reading. I was uncomfortable with the acceptance of horse racing, though. Alexander made it clear that gambling is an addiction that causes much pain, but validated the sport itself –to an extent. But the money “earned” through winning the race comes from the gamblers, so I was uncomfortable seeing the sport glorified. I do realize, however, that it was a part of Nashville’s history. Alexander gives readers an honest glimpse into the reality of that developing society. She gave me a lot to think about.

Fans of historical fiction will love this book. I received my copy from Zondervan in exchange for this honest review. I’m looking forward to baking Aunt Issy’s Lemon Cookies!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: "Heart Sisters"

In her book, Heart Sisters, Natalie Chambers Snapp tells of a survey which found that 88% of 3,000 women polled believe there is an undercurrent of negativity and meanness with in the female culture. A high percentage of these women claimed to have been wounded by another. Snapp’s mission is to help her readers learn how to turn this around. She teaches them how to find and be heart sisters who care for and encourage one another. She teaches how to handle conflict with grace, how to forgive, how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, and how to know when it’s time to end an unhealthy friendship. She also teaches how to mentor the next generation of women, her reader’s daughters, so they won’t grow up to cause or know the hurts of the 88%.

Snapp closes the book with one chapter listing all the things heart sisters don’t do (and why) and another listing things heart sisters do. Both of these chapters summarize concisely what she’s taught throughout the rest of the book, so they’ll make a great quick reference for readers who want to practice integrating the concepts from this book into their lives.

In this book, Snapp shares her personal experiences as she shares the lessons she has learned. If you are looking for ways to strengthen the friendships you have or to develop some new ones, if you want to learn how to "be the friend you want to have," if “you are more interested in encouraging and supporting other women than you are comparing and competing with other women,” you will find solid suggestions throughout this book.

I received a complimentary eCopy of Heart Sisters from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: "No Place to Hide"

No Place to Hide jumps into the action so quickly it took me a few chapters to catch up with the characters and figure out what was going on—or at least to figure out what they knew of what was going on. Through most of this book, the bad guys had everyone completely confused.

When ex-cop Jackie Sellers sees her childhood friend on television, wanted in connection with a terrorist plot, she decides to find him to learn why he’s wanted and to help him clear his name. But the bad guys and the FBI want to find him, too, and Jackie soon finds herself wanted as Ian's accomplice. She and Ian must run to stay ahead of everyone else, to prove their innocence, and to stop the bad guys from carrying out their plans.

Set in South Carolina, New York, and places in-between, this book keeps the reader biting nails and seeking clues. I recommend it to fans of Christian suspense.

Though this is the third book in a series, I haven’t yet read the first two. I didn’t feel out of the loop at all, but I do want to read the others eventually. If all of Lynette Eason’s books are as fun as this one was, she’s another author whose books I will be watching for eagerly. I thank Revell for sending me a complimentary copy of No Place to Hide in exchange for this honest review.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: "Flash"

Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances by Rachel Anne Ridge is one of those books that my husband got to read by proxy. There was just so much packed into this book that demanded to be shared. Evidently Mike agreed. He’s given me a list of people to give the book to. We both know they’ll love it, too.

Inside this book, readers will find eleven principles of a life well lived in thirteen chapters with stories of Flash, Rachel, and their family, friends, and community. I’m still giggling about the singing parrots, touched by Flash’s change of heart toward Beau, and crying with Rachel over her tragic loss. I appreciate her willingness to give readers this glimpse into her life and the lessons she's learned with Flash.

Readers will also learn about Bible characters who interacted with donkeys and the lessons those animals, like Flash, had to teach. I loved all the connections Rachel made as she told all the stories--biblical, personal, professional--slowly drawing out their truths.

If you like reading inspirational memoirs with a touch of humor, you will love this book. And if you want to keep up with Flash, you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or through his blog. He’s quite the social creature, always ready to inspire and entertain.


I thank Rachel Anne Ridge and Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review. I loved reading it and am sure I will read it again. I recommend it to you!

For more information from Rachel (and to see Flash in action), watch this sweet book trailer:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: "The No More Excuses Diet"

The No More Excuses Diet by Maria Kang isn’t a diet. It’s a healthy lifestyle. If you are ready to get serious about exercising and eating right, this book is for you. The book is divided into four sections: an introduction, S.P.E.E.D., S.T.R.I.V.E., and S.C.O.R.E.

S.P.E.E.D. is the bulk of the book—this is where Maria teaches readers how to discover their motivation, set goals, and make a plan for reaching them. She provides a lot of good information here about how our bodies work, the relationship between healthy food choices and exercise, macronutrients, different kinds of exercise and the importance of each, and more. I’m already doing most of the things she recommends, but the information she provided told me how I can improve. I didn’t know it’s important to change up your fitness routine every three weeks or so because your body adapts and needs new challenges. I also didn’t understand the benefits of stretching. I greatly appreciated the variety of strength training exercises she illustrates; this is where I tend to be inconsistent because I get tired of doing the same thing. Now I can mix it up. No more excuse!

S.T.R.I.V.E. is about analyzing how you’re doing, making adjustments that work for you, and conquering the excuses that keep you from achieving your goals. S.C.O.R.E. is a celebration, rest, and evaluation as you consider what you’ve accomplished and look toward what you want to do next. This is where Maria emphasizes again that this is a new lifestyle, not a short-term fix.

I found a lot of encouragement and helpful information in this book. I’ll be using it often as a reference. I’ll even be applying some of the principles toward reaching other kinds of goals. Maria's system is just so practical, logical, and adaptable. Whatever your fitness level, if you want to improve, you’ll benefit from reading this book. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.