Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review of A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano

Jen Turano is a new author in the Historical Romance genre. This novel is the first of four in the Ladies of Distinction series.

Lady Eliza Sumner is on a mission. Her fortune was the last thing she had left after losing her father, her fiance, and her faith. Now, masquerading as Miss Eliza Sumner, governess-at-large, she`s determined to find the man who ran off with her fortune, reclaim the money, and head straight back to London.
Cover ArtMr. Hamilton Beckett, much to his chagrin, is the catch of the season, and all the eyes of New York society–all the female ones, at least–are on him. He has no plans to marry again, especially since his hands are full keeping his business afloat while raising his two children alone.
Eliza`s hapless attempts to regain her fortune unexpectedly put her right in Hamilton`s path. The discovery of a common nemesis causes them to join forces and, before she knows it, Eliza has a whole retinue of people helping her. Eliza`s determination not to trust anyone weakens when everyone`s antics and bumbling efforts to assist her make her wonder if there might be more important things than her fortune and independence.
When all of Hamilton`s and Eliza`s best-laid plans fall by the wayside, it will take a riot of complications for them to realize that God just might have had a better plan in mind all along.

This story transports the reader to New York in 1880.  Turano provides a story from another time without any distracting history lessons.  The finer details of the past are mingled in with a light touch. Perhaps, to a history buff, it might not be sufficient - but for a fun, Sunday afternoon read, it was quite fine.

The main character, Eliza is fun and quirky right from the moment the story begins.  I thoroughly enjoyed the circumstances that propel Eliza to tackle the crazy things she does throughout the plot.  She is independent, spirited and determined to regain her father's fortune and reputation. When you bring the trouble-prone Agatha into the mix, you have very many laugh out loud moments.  This is the primary gift of the story - its humour.  Jen Turano does a great job.  Some parts may feel a little 'slap-stick', but it fits the story. The humour and action reminded me a lot of the movie A Knight's Tale - mixing a little modern in with the historical.

Overall the entire story is fun to read.  A great vacation style novel.  The downside for me was wishing for more depth to the characters.  Especially the two male counterparts, Hamilton and Zayne.  They have good qualities and some slight-flaws as every character should.  I had only hoped for a deeper analysis of their motivations and their wounds.  A personal preference for sure.

If you are looking for an enjoyable read that is light and thoroughly entertaining you will love this story.  You can find it at almost any online or retail book store.  Be sure to watch out for the upcoming books in this new series, Ladies of Distinction, by Jen Turano.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Live Second Devotional Review #3

Do you want your life to be better?  Do you want to succeed? Then you need to become second.

I watched an amazing film at I Am Second for the devotional on Week 22, Day 1. It is titled Love Story.  I think Darrell Waltrip, shown in this clip, sums up what I Am Second is all about.  He talks about being at the pinnacle of success and having to let Jesus become first in his life.  (He was a race car driver.)

As I began to look at my own life and the hopes I have to accomplish, I thought there was only one area that I might be prideful and looking for success in: my writing.  Yet at a closer look, I found nearly every area in my life has a tinge of the need for success if I am truly honest.

  • I want my kids to behave right and make good choices - success in Motherhood!
  • I want to have a good marriage that is an example to others - successful marriage!
  • I want to do my best in my job so others will notice my work - success!
  • I want to have lots of good, deep friendships - success!
When I actually sat down to evaluate my life I realized it was riddled with the need for success.  That brought me to my knees again as I had to confess that need and replace it with a need for more of God. 

What about you?  Where are you harboring dreams of success in your life?

Live Second: 365 ways to make Jesus First is a great tool to help you to live second.  When Jesus is first you will experience all the success you were designed to achieve.  The right way.  Buy it for yourself and for someone on your Christmas list.  It is great for people you are trying to share the gospel with too. The readings are short, simple and dive into the basics of living for Jesus.

Live Second today!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Live Second Devotional Review #2

Words carry such incredible power.

They can lift up or tear down.  They can save or they can kill.  It is amazing that God would allow us to yield so much power.  Yet He is truly the One who holds the power.  He asks us to use our words to bring hope and healing to those around us who are still lost in their sin.

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power."              —1 Corinthians 2:4–5
Does God have  power over your words and your speech?  Does He control your tongue?  I would have to admit this is an area I struggle with.  Not only do my words hurt others too many times but I also don't use my words to bring others closer to God.

Live Second: 365 ways to put Jesus First talks about "words" in week 13, day 2.  The devotional questions your words and puts them to the test.  Are you using them to share God's Good News? There are no acceptable excuses if we aren't.  God tells us He is made perfect in our weaknesses; so we can't say we are not good at it.  God tells us He will give us the words through His Holy Spirit; so we can't say we don't know what to say.  God tells us He uses weak and broken vessels, just everyday people; so we can't say that it is not our gifting.

There are no excuses.

Doug Bender says in his devotional, our part in God's plan of spreading the Gospel "is more about obedience, humbleness, and diligence than wisdom and persuasion."  So no more excuses for me!  Or you.  God says "go and make disciples...", so let's go and do that today.  Tell one person about Jesus today.  Tell them God loves them and He is waiting for them.  Speak the WORDS and let God do the rest.

Join the conversation at #IASwords and share your thoughts.

Get your devotional book this week (Dec 9-15) to help the efforts of I Am Second to make the NYT Bestsellers list and change your life while you do it.

In the meantime, check out this new song from Hawk Nelson and Bart Millard (from Mercy Me).  It is called Words.

Hawk Nelson - Words (Feat. Bart Millard of MercyMe) Official Lyric Video from hawk-nelson on GodTube.

Tell me:  who will you use your words on today?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Live Second Devotional Review #1

Have you ever considered that you can offend the Living God?

I was moved by a devotional in the Live Second: 365 ways to make Jesus First.  It's titled Divine Despair from Week 1, Day 5. The scripture verse was Genesis 6:5-22.  That is the account of God's plan to flood the earth.  A story I knew well, but still a few words tripped me up as I read it - which could be different depending on your bible version.  The words I read were:
"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled." Verse 5,6

Have you ever considered God to have regretted something he'd done.  Regretted you?  This verse really rocked my perspective and forced me to pray and ask God for wisdom to understand it. My personal bible version says "grieved that he made man". Somehow that feels softer on my heart than "regretted".  I desperately needed to hear from God.

I am not a bible scholar nor do I know Greek so I had to rely on God's spirit to teach me what to think of this verse.

God did reveal something to my heart but it wasn't what I expected at all.  He brought to mind a woman I have started to work with on a project.  A woman I have known for five years but never gotten too close to.  Now that we are working together I am realizing we are very different.  So different in fact that I find myself wishing I never have to work with her again.

Each time I am with her I envision violent things while I bite my tongue and walk away.  I never thought I was that kind of person before - I thought even though I might not like everyone that I could at least be friendly and considerate.  I guess not.

A speaker at a conference I attended recently said if you are truly serious about living as Christ lived you need to become 'un-offendable'.  What he meant was that you could love ALL people - fully, like Christ.  He said if you pray that prayer God will bring into your life people that will offend you in more ways than you knew existed all until you've learned to love and not become offended.

I never prayed that prayer in my words, but something touched my heart with those words.  Being a pastor's wife, isn't that something I should be?  'Un-offendable'?

When I read that God regretted his creation I didn't think of all the things this woman does to turn me inside out or drive me crazy - I thought of all my unloving and unchristlike thoughts I had entertained about her. I realized that I grieved his heart so deeply when I disregarded the beauty and the awesomeness with which he made her.

Doug Bender's devotional says:
We create disunity and strife rather than love and goodness. We use our mouths to gossip rather than defend or encourage. We spend our thoughts on vengeance and greed instead of forgiveness and contentment. But how would our lives and even our world change if God were First, if we thought of his love before we swung our fists, waged our wars, or sought our glory, wealth, and comfort? How would our lives change if the concerns of others and the will of God came before our own?
God's Spirit convicted my heart to put Jesus first in my life by loving those He loves.  All of them - even this woman.  She is no exception of his love and affection - just as I am not an exception to the great and merciful love of Jesus Christ.

Is there someone in your life today that offends you?  Someone whom God created with the perfect intimacy with which He created you?  Put Jesus first today and CHOOSE to love.

If you would like to hear what others have to say about this very same devotional message (and you are a Tweeter) visit #IASdivinedespair

"...choose for yourselves today whom you will serve, ..."  Joshua 24:15

Monday, December 10, 2012

Live Second - start today!

I am a huge fan of the organization  I Am Second.  They have inspired me in more ways than I can count.  The website is filled with videos of famous and not-so-famous people who have come to a crossroads sometime in their life and chosen to become second.

That means Jesus is first!!

If you haven't checked their site out yet you need to!  Go now ... I will wait for you.  Well, actually I can't wait because once you open up the site you will be hooked and may not be back here for days. But go anyway!

They have a new look to the website allowing you to choose topics and not just names of people.  It makes it more time effective I think.  Click on films if you want to see who has videos on there. Click on struggles if you want to look up individual topics. (Topics of struggles are listed under each video as well if you choose to go to the film page.)  Enjoy :)

Today marks a new adventure in the I Am Second movement.  Doug Bender, co-author of the book I Am Second brings us a new challenge bringing us one step closer to truly living second - one day at a time. He has written a daily devotional - that's 365 ways - to put Jesus first in our lives.  I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity to review his new book.

Every day this week I am sharing with you something I have gleamed from this devotional.  But it doesn't stop there.  You need to visit the facebook page or the twitter feeds as they are rampant with people just like you - seeking to put God first.

Doug Bender is trying to draw enough of a stir over this new devotional that it will land on the NYT bestsellers list.  We need 10,000 sales to do that.  Join in.  Get one for yourself and one for someone you love on your christmas list.  What a better way to start the New Year, than with a committment to put Jesus first and live second.  Books available at most online retailers and local Christian bookstores or directly from the I Am Second site here.

December 9 - 15, which is the kick off week of the book (filled with specials and deals) opened up already with a complete sell out - Day 1!  That is so encouraging.  What a blessing.  But don't worry, if you want to get in on the action - any order placed this week (Dec 9-15) will still count for the special prices even though the publishers are frantically trying to produce some more. (And still count for the best sellers too!)

My challenge to you today:

  • Visit the site
  • Come back tomorrow where I will sheare my thoughts on God's divine despair
  • Check out the 22 day challenge - one video a day, one challenge a day to make Jesus first - follow this link
  • Do something tangible today to live in second place and then tell me (or someone else about it)

If you want to check out Doug Bender's video on I Am Second, follow this link.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Changing perspective

Sorry to all my faithful followers for my hiatus from this blog. Unfortunately I had a huge interruption in my life and it required a little stepping back and refocusing time.

Have you ever had to do that?

My husband and I recently returned from a brief visit to Toronto Ontario.  I had never been that far East before so we flew there to check it out.  Of course, we visited the famous CN Tower.  It was incredible.  The view was spectacular looking out over Lake Ontario one way and over the downtown core the other.

We had spent the day walking through the downtown area seeing so many unique places and amazing architechure.  So naturally we wanted to see if we could find the same places from the CN Tower lookout.  It wasn't too hard to locate our hotel and a couple large buildings we had seen.  However, many of the sights we saw while walking the streets were very hard to find at 346 meters (1,136 ft) high.

Perspective is everything.

A person's perspective can change how they act, talk or react to a given situation.  Take the example of a car accident.  Perhaps there were two people involved in the accident and three witnesses.  You will still have five different and separate perspectives of what happened.  And sometimes the stories don't even sound like the same event.

Also, within the life of a believer we often encounter the difference of a worldly perspective and a heavenly one.  They are very different and can sometimes be opposites.  This is where I found myself this last few months.  An event happened in my life that affected everything.  I had to figure out which perspective I would view it - with my eyes or His?

My eyes told me I had rights.  What happened to me was the fault of someone else and I could retaliate.  No one would question my actions in doing so.  It was the "right" thing to do.  All the people we asked for advice from said the same thing.

Yet something didn't feel right to me.  Sure, I could use the courts to turn things in my favour, because the other person had clearly done wrong.  But something within me hestitated.  It wasn't until I was reading and studying a portion of scripture for a novel I'm writing that I found the words of God's perspective.

Committ your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.  Psalm 37:5-9.
In the story I'm writing, my character has to learn that when God says "venegence is mine" - He means it.  God's persepctive is ALWAYS different from mine.  ALWAYS.  I guess I have to learn the same lesson.  Instead of finding a way to retaliate I need to find a way to forgive.

If you have found yourself in a situation where you are certain you are right but God is pressing pause on your heart listen to one of my favorite songs.  Lyrics here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review - Over The Edge by Mary Connealy

Over The Edge, book 3 in Mary Connealy's trilogy, The Kincaid Brides was exactly what I anticipated.

After reading book 1, Out Of Control and book 2, In Too Deep, I have been eagerly awaiting the finale to Seth Kincaid's life story. His plot line was so intriguing through the first two books and Mary did a good job of finishing up with Seth, Callie and the surprise extras - Connor and Heath.

Over the EdgeSeth Kincaid survived a fire in a cave, but he's never been the same. He was always a reckless youth, but now he's gone over the edge. He ran off to the Civil War and came back crazier than ever.

After the war, nearly dead from his injuries, it appears Seth got married. Oh, he's got a lot of excuses, but his wife isn't happy to find out Seth doesn't remember her. Callie has searched, prayed, and worried. Now she's come to the Kincaid family's ranch in Colorado to find her lost husband.

Callie isn't a long-suffering woman. Once she knows her husband is alive, she wants to kill him. She's not even close to forgiving him for abandoning her.

Then more trouble shows up in the form of a secret Seth's pa kept for years. The Kincaid brothers might lose their ranch if they can't sort things out. It's enough to drive a man insane--but somehow it's all making Seth see things more clearly. And now that he knows what he wants, no one better stand in his way.

As with her previous books, Mary's brand of humour and romance made for a light and fun read.  I enjoyed the introduction of Callie, Seth's forgotten wife.  She was entertaining and unpredictable. The beginning of the story was incredibly thought up - a great way to jump into the story.

The new character in the story, Heath was also a fun addition.  I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it by explaining his role. Yet he provided a fresh set of eyes on the entire plot of the Kincaid brothers.  I would have liked more description of Heath to round out his character.  It will be interesting to see if he gets a book of his own some day.

One element that I did not enjoy as much was the ending.  It was predictable and felt repetitive.  I think that the elements Connealy needed to get out from the ending were there and it brought the story to a nice, complete closure.  However I would have liked to see something a tad more unique.  This should not deter you from choosing her book.

I would recommend this story to any fan of Christian historical fiction with a light, humorous side.

Book was given free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review - Live To Give by Austin Gutwein

An amazing message to live by!

Live to Give : Let God Turn Your Talents into Miracles, Austin GutweinOur pastor just spoke this last Sunday about how one man can change a nation.  He was referring to Elijah.  Yet, his challenge was to everyone listening - including me.

Austin Gutwein is a young man who has chosen to live the life as one who can change his world. In his second book, Live to Give, he inspires an entire generation to do the same.  Through his books and his own dream, Hoops For Hope, Austin is making a difference.

"Jesus proved that no gift is too small when He used five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of thousands. And if no gift is too small, too ordinary, or too random, there is no limit to what the youth of today can accomplish!  A teenage philanthropist who has built a high school, two medical clinics, and a dormitory in Africa—all before the age of 16—Austin Gutwein shares how to take what may seem like the simplest of talents, gifts, and interests and use them for something Jesus can use to move mountains."

Live to Give is a powerful book for people of all ages to read and be challenged to give more of themselves to the world around them.  Like the boy in scripture who gave his small lunch, we too can give a small amount and let God make it profound.  The writing of this book is definitely intended for young people but its message is timeless.

There are countless scripture references to back Austin's life philosophy as well as the proof that he walks what he talks.  He actually got up off his butt, left his ninetendo behind and started to change the world ... by giving of himself.  He learned that God is waiting for our willingness; He will supply the rest.  No more excuses.

My favourite part was Gutwein's challenge to push through the hard parts, the "smoky" parts because ...

"God is always right beside us, ready to help us out and hand us the oxygen.  The oxygen for us is His word."
Read it.  Be inspired.  Then go change the world.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson". 

Friday, August 31, 2012

"You've Got Mail" with a Christian twist

October is Breast Cancer awareness month.  And I can't believe it but ... October is not that far away.

Why not check out this video release coming out on September 25th titled 1 Message - "an entertaining, inspiring film about faith’s power to help us look beyond the externals"

It is the story of a young woman whose life is turned upside down from Breast Cancer and how a kind stranger encourages her on. A whole new take on the The Good Samaritan via email!  Filmmaker Jefferson Moore says "1 MESSAGE reminds us all that what’s on the outside doesn't determine our value. As the movie depicts, our bodies are just ‘packaging’ for what’s divine in us all. Created in God’s image, we’re all of infinite worth." The movie was written by Moore based on a novel of the same name by Mary T. Lennox, an oncology nurse with 22 years experience dealing with cancer patients.

Available on DVD beginning September 25th.

Echolight Studios distributes the film, and it can be pre-ordered now with deliveries and immediate sales starting Sept. 25. 1 MESSAGE is available through such leading online and retail providers as,, LifeWay Christian Stores and your local Christian Stores, among many others.

You can also connect with the film on Facebook:

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20  "Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body."
Please check out these other faith building DVD's available now:

  • I am ... Gabriel  (FYI: In the small, North Texas town of Justin, a group of local citizens wanted to produce a film about reaching out to God when you find yourself in need. These people reached out to Mike Norris, veteran actor and director, who had left Hollywood behind, set up shop in nearby Flower Mound and was committed to creating faith-focused film. Veteran actor and director Mike Norris grew up well acquainted with the Hollywood scene—his father is legendary star and martial arts champion Chuck Norris—and immersed himself in it as a young man. But after marrying in 1992, he wanted more from life than Hollywood glitz and parties. He moved to Flower Mound, Texas, near Dallas, established 2nd Fiddle Entertainment and began creating faith-focused films.)
  • 25 Hill   (FYI: Emmy-nominated actor Corbin Bernsen takes his career behind the camera, writing, producing, directing—and often starring in—films for targeted fan bases. The innovative film development strategy often brings entire communities on board to support his productions. The All-American Soap Box Derby recently faced its own finish line—over half a million dollars in debt and sued by lenders. Working with the Akron community, supporters such as Corbin Bernsen and new primary sponsor, First Energy, participation is up and the Derby is on the road to stability.)

Have a happy  Family Movie Night!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review - The End by Mark Hitchcock

When the book, The End arrived in the mail, it lovingly became called the Encyclopaedia book, based on its size.  My eyes widened at the thought of reviewing this giant book. What had I gotten myself into? However, from the first page I knew it was amazing.  The author, Mark Hitchcock has a tremendous way with words.  Don't be intimidated by this 400+ page hard cover book!  It is well worth your time and effort.

In his own words, Mark tells us a little about why he wrote this book and what he hopes it will accomplish.

"My goal is for The End, in some small way, to provide for my generation and the ones following what Dr. Pentecost did for his. While no book can or should replace his work, I would like for this book to serve as a comprehensive resource for a new generation interested in biblical eschatology. There has never been a time when it is more important for God’s people to understand the prophetic word and look for His appearing. People everywhere today have sobering questions, searching questions, about what the future holds. God’s Word is the only place we can find sure answers. Yet, at the very time when serious study and preaching and teaching about prophecy is most needed, its importance has diminished in many churches and in the lives of many Christians. I pray that this work can play some small role in sparking a renewed interest and passion for the blessed hope.”

I have never read the book by Dr. Pentecost wrote, titled Things To Come so I have no reference to compare it to.  However I feel that Hitchcock's attempt to provide this generation with a comprehensive resource on the end times have been accomplished.

Before I break down the benefits of this book, please let me state that I am in no way a scholar or theologian - even as a hobby.  I am the type of Christian who has read my bible and spent my time focusing on how it applies to my life today instead of what might be in the future.  I have read books like Revelation but choose not to delve into it too much for the complexities it brings.  I have stood in the camp of 'it will happen the way God wants it to happen anyway'.  I review this book based on that stepping stool.

I found Mark's book well written and very easy to read.  It did not feel like a textbook.  He has the ability to bring the deep doctrine of bible eschatology down to an easy to follow level for anyone. The terminology and descriptions are written for the average layman.

Hitchcock starts at the beginning, (why should I study the end times?) and takes us through scripture to the end - (what is eternity like?).  He explains all relevant opinions and slants until he has walked you through to The End.  Hitchcock also has done an excellent job of explaining his side and his beliefs alongside the opposing views.  I really appreciate that.  It allows you to intelligently make up your own mind as opposed to just accepting his.

The book is filled with scriptural references and charts to help you along in the understanding of the complexities of the end times.  It was a joy to read - even if it is the size of an encyclopaedia!

Thank you Mark for tackling this huge issue and teaching me about The End.

Mark Hitchcock is a leading Bible prophecy expert, prolific author who has penned over 20 books on the end times, senior pastor, and adjunct faculty member of the Dallas Theological Seminary. Check out his website here.  The book is available at on-line retailers and your local Christian book stores.

Book Trailer video available on site at this link.

This book was provided to me by Tyndale House Publishers at no charge in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to rate it positively.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview with Mike Lynch, author

Most of the reviews I take part in are sent from the publisher or a marketing representative.  This last time, I was approached for the first time by the actual author.  It was thrilling for me to interact directly with a published author and gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions.

I often wish I could talk to an author after I read a book and ask for details or background around a certain scene that intrigued me. So I jumped at the chance to talk with Mike Lynch, co-author of After The Cross.

Mike visits with us from San Francisco.  He has an impressive line up of books previously written (Dublin, When the Sky Fell, American Midnight,  and The Crystal Portal) and if you visit his website you can find links to many short stories as well.  His next novel, Love’s Second Chance, is scheduled to be released by Ellechor Publishing in 2013.

Mike, thank you for joining me and taking the time to allow us to get to know yo and your book one step deeper.

JJ:  I found the story line of Helena, the mother of Constantine, very interesting in the book.  I did not know the historical basis for this plot line and I actually googled it.  It was fascinating to read about her life.  I have read in other interviews that this is actually where the journey of this book began for you.  Can you elaborate for us what intrigued you about this historical fact and how it led you down the path of a fiction plot.

ML:  I have a passion for history, and regularly watch the History Channel. Several years ago there was a documentary about Helena, the mother of Constantine. He was the Roman emperor who declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. When Helena converted to Christianity, she had a desire to visit those places she read about in the Bible, and decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 327 A.D., which is no small task considering she was in her late 70's at the time. While she was there she allegedly found what she considered to be the cross of Jesus. It was kept in Jerusalem until it was captured in battle in 1187 A.D. by the Muslim general, Saladin. Nothing is said about the cross after that time. Watching that documentary got me thinking about the cross. I wondered about the different kinds of reactions people might have if they were told it had somehow survived to our time, and the impact it had on their lives. And thus the story was born.

JJ:  How much research did you need to do to approach the life of a linguist or archeologist?  Was this an interest of yours before this book?

ML:  I was actually a history major in college, so I've studied a lot about the past over the years. I already had a general understanding about what linguists and archaeologists do, but knew more was needed. I went to some websites that gave me some really good information that worked its way into the book. It's hard to say how much time this took me overall. As Brandon and I were writing the story, if we needed a some details that were required for a particular scene, we looked on a site or two, found what we needed, and included it in a piece of dialogue or described what a character saw. For example, at the beginning of the story there is a scene between Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas. As the two of them talk, Caiaphas looks about the room and sees some Roman swords. Rather than just say "sword," we used the word "gladius," which is what they were called 2,000 years ago. Details like that give any story a little more credibility.

JJ:  I absolutely loved the plot line of the big mistake that Colton endured in his professional life and how he has spent years trying to come back from it. His friendship with William brought him through a lot of the stigma, thankfully.  Many times, believers are struggling in their lives to find forgiveness and/or renewal from their past.  Can you address this issue from the stand point of your fictional character Colton, and the impact his error had on his walk as a Christian?

ML:  Yeah, Colton really messed up in the story. Unfortunately, it's those kinds of mistakes we make we have to live with years later. I think fictional characters should reflect the way real people are. It's what makes them real, versus two-dimensional characters. All of us, despite our best intentions, take short cuts and do not act honorably at times. That is what happened to Colton. He made a deal he knew was wrong, but the allure of money and fame were too tempting, and he hurt a lot of people as a result, himself included. He has spent the last 10 years trying to make up for it, but with not much success. When the opportunity comes along for him to be a part of the "Cross" team, he sees it as his last chance at redemption amongst his peers. That's one of the things I appreciate about Christianity. We all mess up, but God is there to help pick up the pieces and give us another chance. That's why I think Colton's mentor, William, has such a powerful impact on his life. He didn't abandon Colton when everyone else did, which works itself out in powerful ways in the story. For example, one of the people that did him wrong was Mallory, who he is forced to work with on the Cross team. It would have been easy for him to be bitter and angry toward her, but chooses to forgive her for the things she did to him. Much of that is based upon the forgiveness he experienced with God and William.

JJ:  That was my favorite story line - what's yours?

ML:  One of the more interesting moments in the story for me comes in one of the flashbacks. It focuses on Father Jerome, a kindly priest who lives in the 1400's, whose job it is to oversee the Royal Library in Constantinople. He is a lover of books, and relishes reading the works of Socrates, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and other great writers from antiquity. Unfortunately for him, the city is about to be invaded by Ottoman Turks, and his beloved library will almost certainly be destroyed. With the end upon him, he cannot bring himself to abandon all those books, what he thinks of affectionately as his children. This is someone I would enjoy sitting down with and learning from all the wisdom he had picked up after years of studying those wonderful works of history.

JJ:  This isn't your first novel.  Where did your writing career begin?

ML:  Though I do novels exclusively today, my first book was actually a work of non-fiction, entitled, "Dublin." It was born out of a desire to write about my family's history when they left Ireland in the 1840's and eventually arrived in San Francisco in 1852. After a few years in the city, my great-great-grandfather, his wife and children moved about 15 miles east of Oakland to a small town called Dublin. There, they farmed and slowly adapted to life in America. Much of what they did over the years was lost, and I wanted to learn as much about them as I could. And so I wrote a book about them and the town.

JJ: Is writing your full time pursuit now or have you another career?

ML:  Sadly, I do have a day job. I wish I could write full time and sell enough books to make a living. Until that happens, I work at a local high school as an administrator.

JJ:  You co-wrote this book with a man named Brandon Barr and this isn't the first one you've done together.  Writing is such a creative process and an author puts a lot of him/herself into the process.  How do you do this with another person and make it such a successful outcome?  Can you talk about that experience?

ML:  The process Brandon and I have set up for ourselves is quite easy. We first come up with an idea for a story, the characters, their backgrounds, etc. Once the major details have been agreed upon, one of us writes the first chapter, let’s say it’s me. I then send it to Brandon so he can critique it. He then sends the chapter back to me filled with all kinds of comments and revisions, to which I critique his critiques. Once we’re both happy with the chapter he then works on chapter 2. The whole process repeats itself until we've finished the entire novel.

Though Brandon and I have developed a good working relationship, we also know co-authoring a novel is not for everyone. The creative process is very personal, and some people have a hard time receiving negative feedback from someone else. But that is what’s needed if they are to have any chance of finishing their novel, and finishing it well.

For us, there have been the inevitable disagreements along the away, such as deciding on the structure of a particular scene, the way a sentence should be written, or the kinds of personality traits we want for a particular character.  In the end, the overall vision for the story is what matters, and to make it as engaging as possible.  That always trumps the other’s feelings about the way a scene should be written or what to leave in or cut out of the story.  Usually, when one of us shared our reasons for why a certain part needed to be a certain way, especially when he felt pretty strongly about it, the other would usually defer to him, and then we would move on. In the end, the story always ends up being that much stronger because we both embrace the collaborative effort.

JJ:  As I read the book I was looking for a change in writing voice but I couldn't quite place it. Did you break up the writing by chapter or by character?  Or other ways?

ML:  A lot of people have said the same thing. They assume our voices will be so distinct they could pretty much pick out which chapters I wrote and which ones Brandon wrote. The fact is, since each chapter has been so heavily edited and revised by each other our voices are really blended into a third voice, one that is consistent throughout the book. We didn't intend for this to happen, but are glad it worked out that way.

JJ:  Your website says you wear many hats (Christian, husband, father, writer, amateur historian...and Intergalactic Wise Guy).  As a wife, mother, church leader, writer and business owner, I struggle to get all my juggling balls to stay in the air.  What is your secret?

ML: I wish I could say cloning, but it's just a matter of making time for writing. Nights and weekends are pretty much my writing times. I also believe it's important to maintain a proper balance in one's life, especially in the area of my family. Writing has its place in my life, but it will never be as important as my wife and children. I have a responsibility to be there for them as a father, friend, and husband. I also maintain an active church life and relationship with friends. I guess it's all about managing your time to fit everything in a healthy way. Don't ask me how I do it.

JJ:  Then after you have you have worn all those hats at given times, what do you do for fun?  Or to relax?

ML:  I love movies. Old movies. New movies. It doesn't matter to me. When I get drawn into a really good story, that's the best for me.

JJ:  Any hidden talents you could show us if we were face to face? 

ML:  I can juggle a little and ride a unicycle.

JJ:  Let's see if we can get to know you a little better.  What do you prefer?
  • solo writing or co-writing?      co-writing
  • summer or winter?               Spring
  • Pepsi or Coke?                     Coke
  • ebook or traditional book?    traditional book
  • walking or driving?                driving
  • milk chocolate or dark?         chocolate in any form.                                                 It's my Kryptonite

JJ:  If you could go back to the early days when you first started writing, what piece of advice do you wish you'd had?  Would you do anything different?

ML:  When I first wanted to write with the intention of getting published, I jumped right into novels. I thought I was a good writer at the time, which was the furthest thing from the truth. I had so much to learn as a writer. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started out publishing short stories. The skills you learn telling a complete story in 10-15 pages are ones every writer needs in my opinion. You economize words, establish your characters, setting, and tone very quickly, and figure out the most effective way to wrap up the plot. Novelists in general, myself included, often overwrite description and dialogue when they are not limited by page numbers. It is quite easy to be self-indulgent, which usually diminishes the overall story. When it comes to writing, less is more.

JJ:  What do you want your readers to get out of the book?

ML:  The cross is a very powerful symbol that has represented the church for 2,000 years. People have many different views of what the cross means to them. In our story we have one person who sees it as the instrument by which the sins of mankind were forgiven so we can have a relationship with God, another sees it as the means of healing his wife who is dying of cancer, another sees it as a threat and wants it destroyed, and another who sees the cross as her ticket to fame and fortune. I think people generally view the cross in roughly the same way. In the end, Brandon and I focused on the simplicity of the cross, and the message it represents—that God came down in the form of a man, lived a sinless life, and through His death and resurrection on the cross, made salvation available to all mankind. It’s not the actual cross that did this, but what Jesus did on it.

JJ: If Jesus' cross were found today, what kind of impact do you think it would have on people?

ML:  That’s an interesting question. If Jesus’ cross somehow survived, and we could somehow verify its authenticity, it would be a momentous discovery indeed, perhaps eclipsing the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The problem for us is what happens after that. Where would the cross go? Who would be the caretaker of it? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? A Protestant church? A neutral entity? Would it go to Rome, Jerusalem, or some other place? It is an artifact that many people would claim as its own, and I'm afraid it would divide people more than it would unite them.

On a personal level, I think it would drive many people closer to God. Can you imagine what it would be like to actually see, and perhaps touch, the actual cross Jesus sacrificed himself on so that man would be reconciled back to God? It would be a powerful moment indeed. Of course, I believe many others would contest the authenticity of the cross, or the purpose it served. And so in the end, it comes down to what each person believes the purpose the cross served, and its place in their lives.

JJ:  Where can people find your books?

ML: The best place to look is my website:
All my books are listed there, and the links where anyone interested can buy them

JJ:  Anything you would like to add and share with us?

ML:  I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to share my story with your followers. It is much appreciated. Keep up the good work.

JJ:  Thanks Mike and we look forward to your new release nest year.

So, if you haven't yet, you should check out Mike's website and definitely read his book!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review – After The Cross By Mike Lynch and Brandon Barr

Fantastic story line for history lovers!  For Christian fiction lovers! For anyone!

ATCFrontCover2.jpgThe premise for this action packed story begins when an ancient letter is uncovered describing the hidden location of the actual cross Jesus Christ was crucified upon. A couple of archaeologists attempt to uncover the location while being pursued and threatened by many others - all with their own agendas for the cross.  The story is compelling and leaves you wondering right till the end if they will complete their mission.

Mike Lynch and Brandon Barr, who co-wrote the story, have created many likeable characters that move the story forward. The depth of the cast is profound and involved. I enjoyed spending time with the two main characters and wished even for a little more time - developing their lives and their motivations beyond the present day.  The many supporting characters are unique and presented well.  For my personal taste, I found the cast a little difficult to keep track of at times, mostly from the foreign names.  Overall though, this did not hinder my enjoyment of the story.

The history in the story is rich and vibrant and enhances the fascinating plot.  I am not a history major or enthusiast, so I cannot verify the accuracy of the historical data.  However, I felt as a reader, the story’s flow through history felt alive and authentic. There are time jumps in the story from present day to the time of Christ and even including visits to early-century Jerusalem.  The authors are consistent at giving date and place prompts before each change which was very helpful.  The transitions were not distracting in my opinion.

After The Cross is different from the typical genre I choose, however I am glad for trying it.  It could be compared to a 'Da Vinci Code' style mystery with action, suspense, intrigue and even a little romance thrown in.  I was very impressed with the creative plot and twists that kept me reading.

I recommend this book to action/history lovers abroad.  If that is not your taste, I suggest you give it a try anyway.

I had the opportunity to catch up with the author, Mike Lynch.  He has some great thoughts and ideas about his book and I will post our interview next.  In the mean time, here are a few links you might be interested in:

Biography:  Mike Lynch's first book, Dublin, came out in 2007, followed by When the Sky FellAmerican MidnightThe Crystal Portal, and After the Cross. His next novel, Love’s Second Chance, is scheduled to be released by Ellechor Publishing in 2013. He has also published numerous short stories in various magazines. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.
Book links:


After the Cross is also available on Nook & Kindle

This novel was provided to me by the author free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  I am not required to review it positively.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review - I Am Second by Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett

If you have followed my blog for any amount of time you will know I love the organization I Am Second.  The videos are inspiring and powerful.  Now you can get a taste of it in book form.

I Am Second: Real Stories, Changed Lives   -     
        By: Dave Sterrett
Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett have compiled stories from famous people and everyday, ordinary people who have all met God in a deep and difficult place in their life and chosen to place Him FIRST in their lives.  If God is FIRST then, by definition ... I Am Second.

Publisher's BlurbWe've all hit bottom at one time or another. The important thing is what you do afterward. For the people who share their stories in I Am Second, coming to the end of themselves brought them to the feet of Jesus. Whether famous or unfamiliar they've dealt with the dark and painful consequences of issues such as addiction, infidelity, violence, racism, and abortion, to name a few. You'll read the testimonies of Josh Hamilton, Michelle Aguilar, Bethany Hamilton, Brian Welch, Anne Rice, Tony Dungy, and many others. From pastors to beauty queens, pro baseball players to single moms, they all needed the gospel of Jesus Christ. In turn, they've discovered the life-changing power of putting God first, boldly proclaiming "I Am Second."

This book is an easy read but not a light read.  The words will dramatically change your views, your perspective and possibly your life. Each chapter is a different person and a different story all concluding to the same ending.  God is a powerful God and He longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  These folks are living proof of that.  Concluding each chapter are QR scanning codes and url links to similar stories.  It is a little like the "If you like this item, then you might like this..." links we find on many sites, like Amazon.

Reviewing this book has been a challenge because every person who reads it will get a different nugget from it.  However I think I can honestly say you will definitely get something out of it.  Even if you are familiar with the videos, the book seems to go deeper into the story, offering more insight and detail.  (Click here to see what the people in the book have to say about it.)  The book is a valuable purchase.  It would also make a great gift.  An excellent coffee table conversation starter.  And a powerful witness.

The story with the most impact for me was actually the foreword explaining the rival quarterbacks (Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford) and the impact their story had on the people of Dallas Texas. Check it out.  Another favourite one was Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs, a story of love lost and re-won through the power of a loving God who works in His timing and in His way, if we are obedient.
"Sometimes what gets lost in the whole debate is that God is a personal God and these are the stories of people who have personally interacted with Him and their lives have been radically altered because of that."  Doug Bender, co-author
If you want to get a feel for the book, check out this YouTube video promoting it.  I have posted several of the videos from the website on my blog, but you are best to go right to the source -  If I haven't convinced you yet, check out this video to tell you the story of where it all comes form.

GET THE BOOK!  Share the book with your friends, family or leave it behind at a coffee shop.

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Stand firm

The other day my teen daughter and I went to the city to do some shopping.  We finished sooner than we expected so decided on the spur of the moment to go to a movie.  We like the cheap theatre that plays the older movies - especially since it is very rare to get to see any movies in the theatre.   We checked over the list and then chose The Lucky One - a rendition of the Nicholas Sparks novel.

Usually I do not go willy-nilly to the movies without doing some homework first.  No one (especially me) wants to be caught surprised in the theatre - with their child.  So typically a visit to is always my first stop.  However, this last minute decision lefts us enough time to drive to the theatre and purchase a ticket before the movie began.  So I used my mommy sense to make the best decision I could.

  • It was rated PG-13
  • My daughter told me the synopsis from the previews
  • We'd watched The Last Song, Dear John, A Walk to Remember together
  • Lastly, my daughter is almost 17
Based on those we went in.

If you've already seen this movie you might want to disagree with me or disregard my thoughts.  However, if you haven't yet let me be your WARNING.  This is NOT appropriate  - even for an almost 17 year old.

The story line itself is a beautiful and moving plot.  I probably would have enjoyed the book if I'd read it first.  My warning comes from the sexual content included in the film.  My daughter found it uncomfortable to watch and I found it completely inappropriate for her age.  Yet the movies claims to be alright for 13 year olds.

Now, I know my standards are significantly different than Hollywood's.  I am always a little prepared for that. Yet, this one I could not prepare myself (or my daughter) for.  I can only say my opinion and I found the sexual content more of a 'how-to' than a moving love scene.  I would recommend the scenes not appropriate for anyone not married and even those married who wish to keep a pure mindset.  Way too graphic for PG-13.

You could check out pluggedin's review on The Lucky One here.

So in light of this error in judgement I would like to offer a reminder to stand firm to parents who are trying hard to allow their kids to be in this world but not of it.  Here is a lyric video from Kutless for their song Stand.  I especially love the ending.  Try to last till the end to hear it ... it is beautiful.

Have you had to stand firm for your kids lately?  I would love to hear your stories to encourage me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review - My Stubborn heart by Becky Wade

Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure.  When her grandmother asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance.
        Yet, she discovers a different type of project upon meeting the man hired to renovate the house.  He’s attractive and clearly wounded -- hiding from people, from God, and from his past.  Kate can’t help but set her stubborn heart on bringing him out of the dark and back into the light... whether he likes it or not.

In one word, what did I love most about this story ... honesty. But that is not all.  I loved so many things - the characters, the drama, the love story, the redemption of the hero, the portrayal of God, the setting ... the list is endless. 

I felt the story world that Becky Wade created felt rich and real. The open meadow filled with the fall sunshine and memories of family traditions that lured both of the main characters in, lured me in as well.  The old house, the old church and the excitement of making all things new.  I am not an antique-r or even remotely interested in becoming one but I found the storyworld of the old house being brought back to life was so beautifully woven into this story of restoration.  The setting became a secondary character in my mind - so relevant and implicit to the plot.

Becky's characters, Matt and Kate were fantastically written and deeply entertaining.  I love the moody, damaged emotions of our professional hockey heartthrob.  His ups and downs were engaging.  I also love cheering for the underdog - Kate.  She works hard and gives all of her heart to whatever she is doing. Yet she lives under an umbrella that it isn't quite enough sometimes. She is a delightful and uplifting character to read.  Her heart for God was well written and authentic.  

Above all of that I loved the way the spiritual journey was portrayed.  I do not want to give anything away with spoilers, so suffice it to say the journey is bumpy, unpredictable and just like real life sometimes.  You'll have to read the book to see what I mean.

A definite recommendation!  Just do it!  Go read the book!  Now!

Thank you to Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing group for offering this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.  I am not required to give a positive review.

Have you read a novel that felt very authentic to you?  What was it and what's your favorite part?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book review Wildflowers From Winter by Katie Ganshert

I wanted to review this book because I have come to love and appreciate the author.   I follow her blog and have watched her steps over the last year to get to this point of her debut novel sitting on bookshelves.  Unfortunately I was unable to acquire a copy of the book for reviewing so I did something better ... I bought my own!

Wildflowers from Winter tells a poignant story of a young woman's travels through a murky past and into a better, albeit unknown future.  Katie Ganshert's ability to pull you into her story is incredible.  Her voice is rich in description and littered with passion.

Wildflowers from WinterA young architect at a prestigious Chicago firm, Bethany Quinn has built a life far removed from her trailer park teen years. Until an interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. Determined to pay her respects while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan.

Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years. So when Bethany is left the land, he must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany's vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away. 

For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn't seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace she's not even sure exists?

Some of the things I loved the most about the story was the character of Evan.  He is strong and secure, yet with a thread of insecurity which seems to be tugged on by the very presence of Bethany.  I loved watching their romance bloom like a field of wildflowers - haphazard, unplanned yet breathtakingly beautiful all the same.

I also adored the authenticity to Bethany's fears.  It wasn't only a tainted reputation from her past that made her run.  There was depth to her story that made the lies she believed about herself, her family and mostly about God vibrant.  She struggles through the story to come to terms with a God she cannot understand. I particularly love that, even though at the end of the story she has chosen to surrender to God, it isn't a bed of roses for her. God is real.  God is active but like many of us (even if we aren't ready to admit it), Bethany appears she will struggle to fully relinquish control of her life to God long after the last pages of the story.  A true testament to the reality of life and love.  

There were no negatives that were noteworthy in reading this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was moved to tears more than once.  I would encourage anyone who enjoys Christian romance that tugs at your heart to pick up this book.  You won't be disappointed.  I wasn't and I paid $12 for it! :)   Can't wait for the next one, Wishing on Willows!

You also won't be disappointed by checking out Katie and her blog. She is adorable and engaging.  She was one of the four debut novelists involved in the Story Soiree May 15.  You can watch in action there or on her Youtube channel for more Katie fun.

Tune in later to hear a couple other thoughts I had on Katie's awesome book, Wildflowers from Winter.

Monday, June 18, 2012

We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time. Vince Lombardi

I had an epiphany at a soccer game recently.  I am way too serious.  I take life, its consequences and its appearances way, way, way too seriously.

My son was playing soccer in another town and his team was beating the other team.  We were ahead by at least five goals.  In fact the home team hadn't scored even once.  I listened to two different voices echoing across the field.  One was our team coach - whose voice was firm, pressing the boys onto even greater plays and smoother passes.  The other voice was "whimsical" for lack of a better word.  (I have been reading Bob Goff's book and I recognized the whimsy of it immediately.)

The opposing coach said things like, "You guys are having fun out there right?"  "Anyone want to run for the ball - I will give a prize to the first one there."  At first some of the parents by me thought he was mocking his players.  But there was a unmistakable gentleness in his voice.  His laugh was rich and contagious.  A sound of someone filled with love not fierce competition.  He began listing out prizes as the night went on that he would give away to the one on his team to ... score a goal, take a shot, receive a key pass, etc.

Towards the end of the game in an effort to not give up the fight, the coach announced he would buy the whole team a slurpee if someone would score a goal.  Then the whistle blew three times announcing the end of the game with a score of eight to zero.  The losing team jumped up and down like champions and hugged each other.  One player yelled "we won ... sort of" and then high-fived several of his teammates.

I was amazed at the attitudes all these boys had.  A coach had set the stage for these boys, nearing adulthood, with a healthy sense of perspective.  Life is bigger than a soccer game and bigger than a test or a job.  It is about loving and caring for others in a way to makes them celebrate.

After loading in our vehicle, my son and I drove to the local corner store to buy a snack for the ride home.  There was the home team, celebrating in the gas station over their loss each with a slurpee in his hand.  Love does the most amazing ... and unpredictable, unconventional, and unassuming things.

I told my son as we drove away, "life isn't a scoreboard; the winner is the one still standing at the end of it with their heart intact."  I don't think he understood what I meant, but that's okay.  I will just have to show him instead of tell him.

Be secretly incredible!

Here are a few coaching quotes I discovered.  Enjoy them.  Write them done.  Or better yet ... pass them on.  Is there someone who could use just your brand of encouragement today?

All coaching is, is taking a player where he can't take himself.

Coaching really is an individual philosophy.

I learned this about coaching: You don't have to explain victory and you can't explain defeat.

The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. 

Measure yourself as a coach not by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished given the ability of your players and the strength of your competition. 

Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts. 

A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.