Saturday, February 28, 2009

Only Uni: My Review



First of all, I'd like to thank author Camy Tang for sending me an autographed copy of this book. If you like winning books, check out her website; she always has some sort of contest.

Only Uni is book two in a three book series. The first was Sushi for One, which I reviewed last year. The books are about four Asian Christian cousins who live in California. They are the only Christians in their extended family and good friends too. Their grandmother wants them all married with children and applies not-so-subtle pressure to make that happen.

Trish is the main character of this book. She is a biologist (Camy's previous career)and has just broken up with a man her grandmother hoped she'd marry. He wasn't Christian and was moody and possessive (sounds like a poster child for an abusive husband, who just hasn't hit yet). After "sleeping" with him after breaking up with him, she decides its time to get serious about her faith. She reads Corinthians and makes up three rules for herself. She is going to only date Christians and quit looking for a man, tell others about Christ and will persevere in hardship by relying on God (who she figures then will bless her with a good man). Unfortunately, her ex doesn't go away and, with Grandma's help, comes close to stalking her. Also, she has a hunky co-worker who shows interest in her.

This book is very much Christian. It is by reading the Bible that Trish comes up with these rules. She gets very involved at church. Her friends are there and she gets involved in many ministries. She is basically trying to earn her way back into God's grace; she feels like a fallen woman. There are a couple of somewhat surprising twists but the book has a pretty happy ending.

Something I found interesting is how Trish's fornication is dealt with. Despite what I've found to be a common Evangelical belief that one sin is no worse than the other, Trish realizes that fornication is NOT the same as telling a while lie or thinking impure thoughts about her boyfriend. Even before the consequences of her fornication are clear, she realizes the wall it placed between her and God. Catholics call that mortal sin and require that it be confessed, in private, to a priest--yes God can forgive without confession if there is a reason, but the normal way to deal with mortal sin--sin that is serious, that we know is serious when we commit it and which we freely choose to do anyway--is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation a/k/a confession. That is for our sake, not His. We know we are forgiven, we hear the words "I absolve you...", and we are given a penance to do AFTER we are forgiven, again for our sake, not His.

Is this a book you would enjoy? Maybe. I liked Trish and the hunky guy with whom she worked. I didn't like her ex (and I'm pretty sure that's what Tang intended). I liked the story of the two guys in her life--one she knew was bad for her but to whom she remained attracted and one she didn't want to let in because she wasn't looking for a relationship (but still wanted one). However one of the main threads in the story is how her sin effects her spiritual life and so the spiritual aspects of the book are front and center. If that bothers you; this isn't your book. If that is a plus, I think you'll think this one is a winner.

Click here to read the first chapter.

Faith n Fiction Saturday



Amy's Question this Week:
Today's Question: Christian fiction is growing as a market, but there are still many unexplored storylines and under-represented genres. What issues or ideas would you like to see tackled from a Christian worldview? Or, what setting would you like to see? Which genres would you like to see more books?

My Answer:
I don't read Christian fiction because it is Christian; I read it because the story line interests me or because I liked other books written by the author. I like historical fiction, chic lit, and romances and the nice thing about the Christain version is that they don't spend pages describing in infinite detail who does what to whom in the bedroom.

Also, I am Catholic; not Evangelical Protestant. What I'd like to see is more books like those marketed as Christian fiction written from the Catholic POV. Unfortunately when I search Amazon for Catholic fiction I get a lot of books dedicated to showing how wrong the Church is, rather than how right. The few I've found that support the Church are either old, written for an audience of English majors, or badly done.

Check out Amy's answer and follow the links to other's posts.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: The Measure of a Lady



SORT OF A SPOILER ALERT!!

If you have been reading this blog for very long, you will have noticed that I don't like preachy novels. As I was reading this one, I was composing a less than flattering review in my head. The Measure of a Lady is basically a romance novel set in Gold Rush San Francisco. The heroine, along with her brother and her sister, are there because their father, who died on the ship, took them from their home to seek his fortune. She is a Godly, Christian woman who is determined to remain respectable, and to keep her siblings respectable too. The hero is the owner of the saloon/gambling hall who hires her as a cook and housekeeper. Being a good Christian, she has issues with the way he earns a living. Unfortunately, while she works hard to open and run an honest business, her siblings prefer the easy life. Her sister moves in with man without benefit of marriage and her brother becomes a dealer in a gambling hall.

During most of the book the heroine is an insufferable intolerant judgmental proper Christian. I just knew that she'd remain that way and get the guy to change, in the end. Well, he does change, but so does she. She goes from not being willing to serve prostitutes in her restaurant to running a home for those who want to escape prostitution.

I enjoyed the book. The heroine did a lot of growing up. She didn't change her morals and values but learned that being insufferable only means that people aren't going to want to be with you. She learned that even notorious sinners can have good sides.

Obviously the book is Christian fiction. It is not one of those books that I could say with reasonable confidence "It is a good book and while there are faith elements, even non-Christians could enjoy the book". Rather, it is a nice wrapping for an obviously Christian lesson.

Catholic Carnival is Now Up

Check out all the posts at this week's Catholic carnival.

Cute Video


Thanks to the Thomas Nelson review program, my youngest has a new video to enjoy. Skeeter and the Mystery of the Lost Mosquito Treasure is a Max Lucado feature based on Psalm 139:13-14 which says "13 You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!" (NAB).

The video starts with Lucado talking to Hermie, a caterpillar, about his (Lucado's) big nose and how he wishes it was smaller. He feels sure everyone notices his huge nose. Hermie tells him that maybe they are looking at Lucado's wonderful earlobes instead. Then the show starts. The cartoon part of the show is about two brothers, Skeeter and Sinclair, who are both mosquitoes. Sinclair is world famous and is costumed a la "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He is a world traveler and adventurer. He is returning to his hometown to give a talk and all the ladies are crazy about him. In his hometown lives his brother, Skeeter, who has a crooked stinger--but an excellent sense of smell. Skeeter is klutzy and has an awful sense of direction. He is envious of his brother.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! (In case any pre-schoolers are reading this)

When Sinclair returns the two brothers head off on a hunt for a treasure their father left them. During the course of the quest we discover Sinclair's secret--he can't fly. Working together the two brothers find the treasure--and they need both Sinclair's straight singer and Skeeter's crooked one to open it. The treasure is a letter from their dad telling them he loved them both just the way they were--and a box of their favorite treats.

My four year old liked the movie, but didn't understand the point it was trying to make. My thirteen year old said it was one of the dumber movies she's seen (she was in the room playing on the computer while her sister and I were screening the movie). I thought it was cute and the pre-show with Max Lucado reminded me of Mr. Rogers talking to the puppets in his house before going to the Land of Make-Believe. Given the opinions of the females in my house, I'd say the movie would be great for kids from about 4-8; and definitely not right for a 13 year old.

Here is Thomas Nelson's page on the video.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lenten Reading--Please join in

If you check out my sidebar and this you'll see that I read three major types of blogs: "Mom" blogs, generally those belonging to folks I know from elsewhere, book blogs and Catholic blogs. This meme is an attempt to join together two of those groups--Catholics (though not necessarily only Catholics, as I know some other folks observe Lent as well) and book bloggers. Here are the rules:

1. Copy these questions to your blog, and answer them:

What books have you read and/or reviewed in the last year that you would recommend to people looking for Lenten reading? What book/s is/are you reading this Lent?

(If you don't have a blog, leave your answer here in a comment)

2. Include a link back here.

3. Leave a comment here with a link to your post.

4. Encourage your blog friends to participate. Let's see if we can help each other find books for Lent and beyond.

My answers: Books I've reviewed this year that I would recommend for Lenten reading include The Lamb's Supper which is Scott Hahn' s book that discusses how the book of Revelation is really a handbook on the mass. If you want to work on your marriage, try The Husband Project. It is a novel, but Anne Rice's Christ the Lord, The Road to Cana could give you some things to think about. She also wrote Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt. Both of these go beyond Scripture but, from what I can tell, are faithful to both it and Tradition. Pope Benedict's The Apostles is a beautiful book. Great works of art are used to illustrate his writings about each of the apostles. He tells us that scripture and tradition tell us about each of them. God's Prayer Book is about praying the psalms. If you want a simle rosary book try The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved. If Eucharistic Adoration is in your plans (or ought to be) try Jesus Present Before Me.

My reading list for Lent includes Knowing Right from Wrong. It is a great book; I read it once, it deserves re-reading. I am also planning on reading Paul's epistles.

Lenten Activities for Kids--Revised for 2012

Of all the posts on this blog, this is far and away the most popular.  Since it is usually reached via search engine, rather than ruin all those good links, I'm going to update it here.  I began this list back in 2008 by digging into the Catechist Yahoogroup archives and other places to compile a list of activities to bring kids into the spirit of the season.

LENTEN CROSS:

You use popsicle sticks - the big ones - ones that are already colored are great. Also need string or yarn; glue, and markers -dark markers are best. Take two Popsicle sticks and glue them into a cross. While the glue dries, talk about why we make Lenten sacrifices. Compare the sacrifices to lifting weights at a gym, that they make you spiritually stronger and closer to Jesus. Talk about the ways we
draw closer to Jesus during Lent: by fasting (what that is, food and
other sacrifices, too); by praying (Jesus prayed in the desert, before many of his healings, in Luke he is shown constantly praying); and by giving alms - helping those in need (Rice Bowls, Matthew 25:31-46). Tell your students these three things are very important things to do during Lent. The glue should be dry: Have them write on the cross - (with give away centered)

F
A
S
T

GIVE AWAY
P
R
A
Y

Wrap the string around the center of the cross crossways, and glue it. Encourage Your students to put the crosses near their beds or somewhere special where they will be seen, so they remember their Lenten promises. When Easter comes, they can celebrate with great joy!


Silhouettes of the Stations of the Cross.
Each child gets one station and two pieces of paper of different somber colors. One sheet is the background. The foreground sheet is the one they use to draw and then cut out an image that conveys the station. No details of facial expression or anything like that. Paste the top sheet to the bottom.

Project Hopebags
Project Hopebags is a homeless outreach program to provide for thephysical, spiritual, and emotional needs of people living on the streets. Students can get involved by writing a short note of encouragement and loveto those on the street.

The web has many activities for kids.

Many of the publishers of religion texts have websites with further activities

Sadlier, publisher of the We Believe religion series has Lenten activities for all ages.

CatholicMom.com has art projects, coloring sheets, games and even some recipes. They have more under lesson plans.

Most kids love to help in the kitchen and the Catholic Cuisine blog has recipes that carry you through the liturgical year. See what they are cooking up for Lent.

Part of a large site by a Passionist, here are Lenten prayers for children. They also include a Stations of the Cross for Children.

Sign up for Holy Heroes and your kids can get daily emails of Lenten activities.

The Catholic Faith Education Blog has posts with Lenten links.
Women for Faith and Family give readings and background information for parents, and family activities.

Resources for Catholic Educators has a treasure trove of activities.
Of course the most necessary part of celebrating Lent is celebrating Sunday mass with the community. The web gives us lots of resources to help children understand the weekly readings. The publishers of the Faith First religion texts have weekly summaries, discussion topics and activities based on the readings. Catholic Mom.com has coloring pages, worksheets, lesson plans, and more for each week. .

Karen Edmonson has some great crafts on her blog.

Domestic Church has activities and prayers.

Catholic Culture offers several choices including a sticker chart.

Shower of Roses offers Lenten calendars, recipes, crafts and more.

Catholic Icing has a printable Lenten countdown calendar.
Bringing Lent to Life is a new book that contains a lot of terrific ideas to use with your family.  See my review.
If you have a favorite Lenten resource for kids that isn't listed here, please leave it in a comment!

First Wildcard: Daniel's Den


Click here to read my review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



Daniel’s Den

Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated from Ben Davis High School and, later, Indiana Central University (now known as The University of Indianapolis). It was during a creative writing course in college that a professor said, "You're a good writer. With a little effort and work, you could be a very good writer." That comment, and the support offered by a good teacher, set Brandt on a course that would eventually lead to the Colton Parker Mystery Series.

A committed Christian, Brandt combined his love for the work of Writers like Chandler and Hammet, with his love for God's word. The result was Colton Parker.

"I wanted Colton to be an 'every man'. A decent guy who tries his best. He is flawed, and makes mistakes. But he learns from them and moves on. And, of course, he gets away with saying and doing things that the rest of us never could."

Brandt comes from a long line of police officers, spanning several generations, and was employed by the FBI before leaving to pursue his education. A former United States Naval Reserve officer, Brandt is a board Certified Podiatrist and past President of the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association. He is a recipient of the association's highest honor, "The Theodore H. Clark Award".

He currently resides in southwestern Indiana with his wife and two sons and is at work on his next novel.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924779
ISBN-13: 978-0736924771

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



The dance of the blind.


Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:5

Daniel Borden was a happy man. He was in control of his life and he had all that he needed. He was secure.

That was about to change.

On Tuesday, April 5, Daniel rose an hour before sunup and drank a chocolate-flavored protein drink before dressing in red running shorts, light gray T-shirt, and New Balance running shoes. The shoes were less than a month old, but had already carried him more than a hundred miles. They were comfortable.

After dressing, he stretched by putting one foot against the stairway banister and bending at the waist, bouncing slightly, until the tightness in his leg receded. He then alternated legs and performed the maneuver again.

When his stretching was done, he did a hundred sit-ups followed by a hundred push-ups. Although the intensity of the calisthenics was unusual compared to the number for an average man, Daniel was not particularly muscled. Instead, he had the lean sinewy build of an Olympic gymnast. At thirty-five, he looked ten years younger. And in fact, he felt ten years younger too. He attributed his good health to a disciplined lifestyle.

When his warm up was complete he called for Elvis, the two year old black Lab he had adopted from a local animal shelter. The dog had been lying patiently on the comfortable over-stuffed sofa watching with detached interest as Daniel worked through his morning routine. But now it was time to run and Elvis liked to run.

On hearing his name, the dog leaped off the sofa and trod to his master, waiting patiently as his collar and leash were snapped into place. The leash was a requirement of Bayou Bay's restrictive covenants, one of the many features that attracted Daniel to the highly regulated New Orleans subdivision.

He opened the door. “Let's go, boy.”

They left the house and crossed the short expanse of lawn, beginning their run by heading north, a route they often took and that would return them to the house three miles later. They ran at nearly the same time everyday and were familiar with the predawn rhythms of the neighborhood.

Newspapers were delivered between four and five each morning, the garbage collection occurred on Monday, and the Brightmans, who lived several doors down from Daniel and who tended to rise nearly as early, were usually drinking coffee in front of their open dinning room window by the time Borden and the Lab passed their house. The neighborhood ran with the precision and dependability of a Swiss time piece.

Except this morning.

As they began their run, Daniel noticed a black panel van setting curbside less than two doors away. There was nothing particularly suspicious about the van, but it hadn't been there yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. In fact, in all the months that Daniel had been running through the neighborhood he had never seen the van.

It didn't belong.

He paused to take a second look, when Elvis distracted him by pulling on the leash.

“Okay, okay. Sorry. Geeshsh.”

The morning air was still cool and dew had settled over the lawns giving them an almost aluminum sheen in the waning moonlight.

To the east, over the crest beyond which the city lay, a warm hue was beginning to illuminate the horizon as the sun woke for its ascent. It wouldn't be long before it would break the horizon, painting the sky over The Big Easy in a dazzling array of colors that would impress even the most skilled artist. Then the city would come alive as school children boarded buses, DJs took to the air waves, and rush hour traffic began to form.

But the neighborhood was quiet at this hour, which made for a quiet, peaceful run. Only the pounding of Daniel's feet, his own breathing, and the jingle of Elvis' tags broke the silence. It was a tune with which they had become familiar since Daniel acquired the lab, and it provided him a sense of stability that only the familiar can provide. And Daniel reveled in stability.

His need for the familiar, for the stable, as well as a passion to escape the near poverty conditions he had known as a child, had driven his career choice. As an investment analyst with one of the largest investment houses in the country, he learned that despite the ups and downs of an often volatile market, Wall Street could be relied on to do the one thing it does best--make money. Even in the most difficult of times the market could be depended on to correct itself. And it was the market's natural return to stability that convinced him most investors can control their financial futures if they were willing to make the hard decisions. The market may be unstable at any given moment, but the share holders needn't be. If they were willing to ride out the current travails, history showed they would have an excellent chance of recovery. If they had neither the stomach nor the time to wait for the inevitable market correction, they could sell and reinvest in another, more stable vehicle. True, they may suffer a loss, may even absorb a significant loss, but such were the realities of investing. But the truth underlying the matter is that the investor has the upper hand, even if exercising that option cost them in the short run. Far different than most, who viewed the market as a speculative ride, driven by greed and underwritten by risk, Daniel saw the market as the one place where savvy investors could control their destiny.

And Daniel needed to have control.

The runners approached the first turn in the road. This one would take then to the west, along Worth Street.

Daniel breathed deeply. The air was cool, invigorating, and renewed him in ways that made him feel lighter, as unbound by earthly constraints as the freedom that comes with unchecked flight. It was as though he could leave the earth and return at will.

As dog and master rounded the corner, Elvis began to tug at the leash, a clear sign that it was time to separate the men from the dogs.

“Want to run, huh?” Daniel said.

The dog woofed and pulled harder.

Daniel stepped up the pace, slow at first, but then faster as Elvis maintained his cadence effortlessly.

“Show off.”

Daniel had adopted the dog shortly after moving to New Orleans. Growing up as an only child whose parents moved frequently, more often than not to stay a step ahead of the bill collector, Daniel had often been lonely. Over time, his loneliness led to isolation. He had few friends (none who were particularly close) and was always the last one selected when choosing up sides.

And the abyss of loneliness was further deepened when, more often than not, his father was passed out on the sofa when Daniel came home from school and his mother was at work trying to earn enough money to keep the family in the same house for a single school year.

On those days, Daniel would go to his room and imagine himself a successful man who others admired and respected. He imagined himself traveling to places he'd never been, and would likely never see.

But on other days, when his father was not unconscious and his mother was home, he would try to earn their attention by initiating conversation or taking the lead in washing the after-dinner dishes. And when their favor didn't come Daniel would go outside to mope, or back to his room, feeling as discarded as the beer cans his father carelessly tossed about.

Daniel wanted a dog. Someone who would be glad to see him when he came home from school and who would lay on his bed at night, eager to hear about the day's events. But the realities of his parents' financial straits denied their son this one extravagance. “Dogs cost money,” his father said. “And if you take a look around you'll see that money ain't something that we have just laying about.”

So Daniel spent most of his time alone, dreaming of the day when he could make enough money to have a dog of his own--and take control of his life. And maybe, even make his parents proud.

Growing up alone, gave Daniel ample time for study.

After high school, he attended Ole' Miss on an academic scholarship and excelled in academic achievement. But his father often chided the boy for not wanting to work with his hands and his mother told him he might be reaching for heights that were beyond his ability. The desire to gain their approval began to wane, though, as he grew into manhood and became increasingly independent. But when his mother suddenly died, all desire to gain his parents approval died with her.

He left for Chicago shortly afterward, leaving his father to bury his grief-- real or genuine--in the same way he had buried everything else.

Later, when Daniel earned his MBA, his father did not attend the graduation ceremony, did not call, did not even send a card. The father son relationship officially ended, long before his father died in an alcoholic stupor three years later.

After graduation, it wasn't long before Daniel secured a position with the Chicago office of Capshaw-Crane and began to focus his efforts on climbing the ladder of success. At times it seemed inevitable that he would miss a step, slip up, and fall back to the disaster of his childhood, landing solidly on a pile of empty beer cans in a house of despair. But like the market, he would make the corrections necessary to maintain balance--even if not perspective.

Elvis woofed.

“Not fast enough, huh?” Daniel ran faster; the Lab kept pace.

Borden's concentration on the things in life that were important, on his career, his health, and his financial stability had clearly paid off.

Growing up, he had been lonely. Now he had Elvis. Growing up, he had been hungry. Now, although he chose not to indulge, he could dine in the finest restaurants in a city known for its unique culinary style. Growing up, he had lived in squalid surroundings, awakened as often by the sound of mice playing in his room as he was by his parents' seemingly never-ending arguments. Now he lived in Bayou Bay one of city's premiere residential areas.

Daniel had taken control. He was secure.

Until he noticed the van, again, parked alongside the street with its engine idling and exhaust spewing from the tail pipe. There was no doubt that this was the same van that had been parked on his street, just a few doors down from his house.

“We've seen that before, haven't we boy?”

Elvis continued to pull on the leash. The van was parked along the same side of the street as which they ran, with its nose pointed westward. It was a black panel van with a single red pinstripe encircling it.

It didn't fit. Didn't belong. And yet, here it was, a mile from where it had been parked just a few minutes before.

“This way, boy,” Daniel said, heading for the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and away from the idling vehicle.

Elvis followed his master's lead, giving him a confused look, but maintaining the pace that would soon bring them parallel with the van. From his vantage point, Daniel could see that the side windows were covered in an opaque film that eliminated any chance of observing who was inside. But as they came alongside the van, Daniel began to slow, finally coming to a complete stop. Elvis gave his master another confused look.

“What have we got here, boy?” Daniel said, leaning forward, straining to get a better view of the van.

A low growl began to form in the dog's throat. As though he had just discovered the out of place vehicle and the possible threat it posed.

“You too?” Daniel said. “I don't like the-“

“Black Lab,” a voice said.

Daniel spun around to find that Elvis was facing to the right, opposite of where the van was parked.

“They're nice dogs,” the voice said. “I used to have one myself.”

Daniel focused on the shadows to his right. Barely visible, but silhouetted against the yard light behind him, a tall man emerged, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. He was carrying a garbage can.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you.”

Daniel exhaled. “That's okay. It's just that my dog and I never see anyone out at this hour.”

The man set the garbage can down at the curb. “And you wouldn't have this time either, if I could've remembered to do this the night before.” He reached to pat Elvis on the head. “The wife and I are leaving for vacation today and I needed to get this stuff out so it wouldn't pile up. We're going to be gone for a couple of weeks.”

The van pulled away from the curb with only its parking lights on. Daniel made a note of the license plate.

“Do you know them?” Daniel asked.

The man turned to watch as the van disappeared around the corner.

“No, can't say I do. But I wouldn't worry.”

“Why's that?”

He stooped to pat Elvis' head again, before extending a hand. “Hubert Johns.”

“Daniel Borden. And this is Elvis.”

“Elvis, huh? Well, he's sure a beauty. Aren't you boy?” He scratched behind Elvis' ear.

“Why shouldn't I worry?” Daniel asked.

“I'm head of the neighborhood crime watch. If there's anything going on around here, I'm usually the first to know.”

“Are there things going on around here?”

“You mean like burglaries and that sort of thing? No, pretty quiet. And we try to keep it that way.” He nodded to the house across the street. “There are some kids that live there. Teenagers. But they're good kids. A little loud sometimes with their music and all, and their mother lets them keep some pretty late hours, but they've always been polite.” He patted Elvis again. “Most likely the van was some of their friends.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, feeling a little foolish. “Probably some friends of theirs.”

The man put both hands in the pocket of his robe. “You okay? You sound kind of rattled.”

Daniel laughed. “I'm fine. The van was just sitting there with its engine running. It unnerved me a bit, that's all.”

“I don't remember seeing you at the meetings. Are you a member of the watch?”

Daniel shook his head. “No, I'm afraid not. I tend to keep pretty busy and I don't have-“

“Don't have what? Time?” Hubert chuckled. “I was a cop for thirty years. If they were up to something, I would've noticed it. After thirty years of dealing with every piece of garbage there is, you get to a point where you can smell trouble,” he tapped his nose. “Know what I mean?”

“I guess so.”

“You ought to consider joining the neighborhood crime watch. You never know when you might be a victim.”

“I'll sure think about it.”

“You do that.”

Elvis began to tug at the leash. There wasn't a lot of time left to run and Daniel was wasting it.

“Well, it was nice to meet you,” Daniel said. “Sorry that we haven't met before.”

Johns nodded as he looked about the neighborhood. “Too many people keep to themselves. That's never a good thing. Two people working together are always better than one working alone.”

“Right.” Elvis began to pull hard on the leash.

“But I wouldn't worry about that van. Probably just some kids smoking dope or something.” He nodded toward the eastern horizon. “Besides, the sun is coming up now. If it was somebody that was going to do something, they waited too late.”

Daniel watched as the glow that had just started when he left the house, began blossoming into a new day. “Yeah. Probably nothing to worry about.”

Tuesday Thinger



Wendi's Question this week is:

Do you have a specialized blog where you only review a certain genre or type of book? If so, what is your favorite thing about that type of book? If not, what is/are your favorite genre(s)? What makes that genre(s) a favorite?

Hmm...the title of my blog is "This That and the Other Thing". Does that sound specialized? Actually book blogging is something I sort of fell into. I've had the blog for a long time, but post were few and far between, since I couldn't think of anything about which to write. Then I started reviewing a few of the books I read, kind of as a take-off for expressing my opinon about someting, or just to have something to say. Next, I became part of First Wildcard and started reading more and more book blogs. I started reviewing more and more books, and taking part in more and more things like this. Oh, I'm supposed to be writing about genres, right? I guess I like what is generally referred to as "women's fiction", stories about women, usually written for and by women. I like them to have happy endings and strong women characters. I read a lot of Christian fiction because it is sent to me--but I read some even before I started reviewing to get books. I don't like blood and guts and I don't like books that are hard to read. I want to be smiling at the end of the book, not crying.

Stop by Wendi's blog and see what other folks have to say.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Review: A Child's Promise


I loved this book! I don't know where I heard about this book,(or maybe it was author since eons ago I mooched several of her books via Bookmooch) but like Family Matters, A Child's Promise has been sitting in my store room for some time waiting to be read. Since I decided not to go to parades tonite, I pulled it out. Though it is 308 pages long, it is a quick easy read but more than your basic romance novel. Lisa Jo is a daycare teacher who has her kids make valentines for the troops. John is one of the troops who gets the valentines--and he gets the one from the teacher. They start writing, and write for years while he is overseas. She lives in Texas; he is from Wyoming. When he comes home, he writes to her and proposes marriage. She is set to turn him down--something has happened and she is sure he isn't going to want her--but her stepfather, from whose home she has just moved to escape sexual assault, breaks into her apartment and assaults her once again. She accepts John's proposal and he sends her money for a bus ticket. After he spends days telling the whole town that he is not crazy to marry her, she shows up, with her 18 month old daughter. He doesn't want to back out in front of the whole town so they cut a deal--she'll marry him, stay for a month and then leave.

On their honeymoon, they purchase the dairy cattle to stock the farm. A few days later, John breaks his leg. He needs her to stay and do the chores. She does. She's a very wounded person as you might imagine, after being a victim of sexual assault. He is a preacher's kid who has been wounded in his own way while serving in Somolia. Can they move beyond hurt to happiness?

While Family Matters was definitely Christian Fiction; this book is not. John's father is a preacher, but we don't hear him preach. He counsels the couple before the wedding, but the only mention of religion in the counseling session is that they are both Christian. The Church family is part of the story, but if you had never heard the word "church" and just used context clues, you'd figure it was some sort of social club, not a religious instituion. While the sex scenes aren't terribly graphic, let's just say that if they were in a movie, you'd see some skin and have no doubt about what they were doing, as opposed to having the bedroom door close while they were fully clothed.

I'm going to look for more of Bradford's books.

Mailbox Monday


Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page. Drop by and see what folks have gotten this week. It was a slow week for me. The only thing I got was Last Mango in Texas, which is a First Wildcard book. My review is here. Basically it is a romance told from a man's point of view. It was a light, funny enjoyable read.

First Wildcard: Age before Beauty

Click here for my review and answer my discussion question.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



Age before Beauty, book 2 in the Sister-to-Sister Series

Revell (February 1, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Virginia Smith is the author of eight novels, including Age before Beauty, Stuck in the Middle, and A Taste of Murder. In 2008 she was named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A popular retreat speaker, Ginny keeps audiences enthralled with her high-energy presentations. She and her husband, Ted, divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for diving trips to the Caribbean.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Revell (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732332
ISBN-13: 978-0800732332

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



The mirror had to be warped. That was the only explanation for the image staring back at Allie from its treacherous surface. Her thighs couldn’t be that wide, her belly that flabby. Could glass warp? Of course not. But the weather so far this fall had been wetter than normal, following a horribly humid Kentucky summer. All that dampness wreaked havoc on the wooden front door at Gram’s house. And this mirror had a wood frame. That had to be it.

But the warping seemed only to be in the middle, like one of those fun-house mirrors. She squinted down at her pink toenails. Her feet looked normal. Her face looked okay. Pretty good, even. This was the first time she’d put on makeup in weeks, and a little color worked wonders. She could use a haircut, though the dark blonde layers falling in waves to rest on her shoulders managed to hold the extra length well.

She blew her bangs out of her eyes. Actually, the long hair made her face look fuller, and that offset some of the width of her hips. Which needed the help, especially now that she got a good look at them wearing only a nursing bra and panties. If she cut some of the volume out of her hair, she’d look like one of those toys she and Joan and Tori played with as kids. What were they called? Weebles. She’d look like Mother Weeble.

She swayed from side to side, eyeing her oversized bottom half as she sang the toy’s jingle. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

“Did you say something?”

Allie whirled to find Eric standing in the bedroom doorway, a grin twitching at his mouth. She felt a blush creep up her neck. Though he was the world’s most awesome husband and devoted new daddy, she still felt awkward parading her postmaternity body around in front of him. A flabby belly covered in stretch marks was soooo sexy.

“How long have you been standing there?”

His voice dropped an octave as his smile deepened. “Long enough to admire my beautiful wife.”

No mistaking that husky tone. She snatched her jeans off the bed. “Don’t get frisky, lover boy. My sister will be here any minute.”

Eric’s lips twisted. “Story of my life lately.”

Allie crossed the room and placed a tender kiss on his cheek. “I’m sorry my family is here so often. They just don’t want to miss a day with the baby. She’s growing so fast.”

“I know, I know.” He grinned. “But tonight I get Joanie all to myself. Our first father-daughter date.”

Allie sat on the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into the jeans, avoiding Eric’s eyes. He had been looking forward to this evening for a full week, ever since Joan invited her to go to a stupid party where some fanatical woman would try to force her to buy something she didn’t want and for which she had no use. If only Joan hadn’t asked in front of Eric, she would have turned the invitation down without a second thought. But he had insisted it was time she took her first outing without the baby.

Pulling the waistband up around her knees, she gave Eric a worried look. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? She’s only taken a bottle a few times, you know. She might cry.”

“I’ll deal with it.”

“But—”

He held up a finger. “No buts. She’s five weeks old. In three weeks she’ll be taking a bottle at the daycare center when you go back to work. She needs to get used to it.”

Tears stung Allie’s eyes, and she looked away so Eric wouldn’t see. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am. Now finish getting dressed while I go wind the baby swing again.”

He left, and Allie sat staring at the handwoven rug in front of their bed. Three weeks. Then she’d have to leave her precious little Joanie in the hands of a total stranger.

If only . . .

She jerked the shirt over her head. No. One of the things she and Eric had talked about before they got married was how they’d handle life after they started having children. She’d insisted on laying it all out, because Eric’s mother had been a stay-at-home mom, and Allie wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t have the same expectations. Her toenail caught the edge of her sock as she tugged it up, and she hissed with pain. No way would she become one of those women relegated to a dull life of child rearing. She was a career woman—the second sock followed the first—with a college degree and plans for her professional future. She liked her job, liked the independence it gave her. Besides, they agreed on having two incomes so they could afford things like nice clothes and good cars and vacations at the beach.

But that was before she’d had a baby.

If only there was some way she could pursue her career and keep her daughter at home. She had quietly investigated every work-from-home scheme she could find lately, but all of them sounded more like scams than jobs.

Banishing the tears, she stood. No sense crying about it. She had no option. In three weeks she’d return to her job as a team leader at the social services office. She might even be able to recapture some of the excitement and ambition she’d felt before she got pregnant. At the moment, though, it sounded like a life sentence with no chance of parole.

She pulled her jeans up over her knees. This was the first pair of zippered pants she’d tried to wear since Joanie’s birth, having lived in sweats and oversized T-shirts once she put away the maternity clothes. Wiggling her hips back and forth, she inched them upward. Come on, come on, they had to fit. They were her biggest jeans, stretchy and so loose that she’d worn them all the way up to her fifth month of pregnancy. Just a little farther . . .

Ugh. She panted from the effort. But at least she’d managed to get them pulled all the way up.

Now the zipper. Suck that gut in. Pull hard. Harder. She hopped up and down, tugging at the waistband. Okay, if the zipper wouldn’t go all the way to the top, it didn’t matter. She’d just wear her shirttail out. Everybody did these days. As long as she could get the button fastened.

There! They fit! She was wearing pre-baby Levis! Well, sort of.

She stepped up to the mirror and bit back a gasp.

The stupid thing had to be warped.


***


“Hey, look at you all dressed up.” Joan stood on the doorstep, car keys clutched in one hand. “You look great.”

Allie scowled and tried not to think of the jeans she could almost wear shoved in the back of her bottom drawer. “These are maternity pants. Nothing else fits.”

“Oh.” Joan’s smile drooped a fraction, then brightened again. “But that’s not a maternity shirt. And turquoise is totally your color.”

Her eyes shifted to a point inside the room, then she practically bowled Allie over as she rushed toward the swing to snatch up the baby. Sighing, Allie closed the door. So much for Joanie’s nap.

Allie tried to ignore a wave of insecurity as she admired her sister’s slim frame, the way her jeans fit without a single bulge. Straight dark hair fell forward to tickle the baby’s face as Joan cooed at her slumbering namesake while she unfastened the safety strap. Soft baby noises answered as little Joanie’s eyelids fluttered open. Allie clasped her hands together to keep from taking the infant from her middle sister’s arms. She was so sweet when she first woke. Tiny fists rose above her head and she kicked her legs out to their full length and arched her back to stretch.

“Look at her! I swear she’s grown an inch since the last time I saw her.”

Allie answered dryly. “I doubt that, since you came over yesterday.” She held her hands out. “Here, let me change her.”

Joan clutched the baby closer. “I’ll do it.”

With a sigh, Allie followed her sister into the nursery. Bright pink daisies on fields of green bordered the white walls and also decorated lacy curtains and crib bedding. Joan laid Joanie on a daisy-covered pad atop the changing table. While she unsnapped the pink onesie, Allie took a diaper from the stacker and popped open the plastic cap on the wipes. The sweet smell of baby powder was quickly replaced with a less pleasant odor when Joan peeled the tape off the dirty diaper.

Eric stuck his head through the doorway as Allie pulled out a wipe and handed it to Joan. “Whew, I’m glad you girls got that out of the way before you left. Of course, the way this little piggie eats, I probably have at least one unpleasant surprise in store tonight.”

“Don’t worry.” Allie dropped the soiled bundle into the Diaper Genie and twisted the knob. “We won’t be gone very long. I’m sure we’ll be back for the next dirty diaper.”

“I’m kidding, Allie. You know I don’t mind taking care of my girl.” He leaned over and buried a kiss in Joanie’s chubby neck, eliciting a gurgle and an excited waving of arms and legs.

Joan snapped the onesie back in place over the fresh diaper and picked up the squirming infant. Allie stepped forward to take her, but instead Joan thrust her into Eric’s arms.

“It’s time to go. I don’t want to be late.” With a meaningful glance in Allie’s direction, she marched out of the room, Eric right behind her with Joanie hugged tightly to his chest.

Left alone in the nursery, Allie fought a wave of panic that caused her throat to tighten with unshed tears. Cheerful daisies mocked her. She knew this feeling, had sensed the edges of it creeping toward her all day. The moment had come. After five weeks of constantly being in Joanie’s presence, she was about to leave her in someone else’s care.

Don’t be ridiculous. She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Joanie wasn’t staying with a stranger. She was staying with her daddy! He’d watched her many times while Allie enjoyed a long bath or a nap.

But what if she cries? What if she misses me?

She started toward the living room, and then stopped short as an even more distressing thought struck her. What if she doesn’t even notice I’m gone?

“Allie, are you coming?”

Joan’s voice propelled her feet into motion. She would not think about that.

“I’m ready.”

One step took her from the hallway into their tiny living room, where Eric had deposited Joanie on the mat beneath her baby gym. Allie fought to suppress a wave of regret when chubby infant hands waved with erratic enthusiasm at the dangling toys, and happy coos filled the room. It had only been in the past few days that she’d started noticing the toys. She was growing so fast, changing every day. What if she did something really cool for the first time tonight, while Allie wasn’t here to see it? She dropped to her knees and showered Joanie’s face with goodbye kisses.

“There are a couple of bottles all ready to go in the fridge,” she told Eric. “Run hot water over them to warm them. Don’t use the microwave.”

Eric stood and pulled her up with him. “I won’t.” He planted a kiss on her cheek.

“She ate two hours ago, so she’ll probably be hungry around eight. If she gets fussy before—”

Joan grabbed her arm and steered her forcefully toward the front door. “Come along, Mother. It’s time to go.”

Thoughts of all the terrible things that could happen pummeled her mind like giant hailstones. She pulled away and whirled toward Eric. “Don’t give her a bath until I get home. You know how slippery she is when she’s soapy.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face the door. “Stop worrying. We’ll be fine. Now go have a good time.” A gentle shove pushed her forward.

From the porch, Joan seized her and jerked her through the doorway. Allie shook her off and spun around to remind Eric to put the baby’s sweater on because the house would cool when the sun went down, but the front door slammed shut in her face. Tears welled in her eyes.

“You’re pathetic.” Joan folded her arms across her chest and leveled an unsympathetic look on her.

Allie sniffled. “It’s the first time we’ve been apart in five weeks.”

“Then it’s about time you gave the poor kid some breathing room.” She shook her head. “You’re becoming one of those hovering mothers. I can totally see you stalking her on the kindergarten playground during recess.”

Actually, Allie didn’t see a problem with dropping by to check on your kids during the day, but in the face of Joan’s sardonic expression, she didn’t dare mention it. Instead she lifted a chin. “I will not be a hovering mother.”

A snort blasted from her sister’s nose. “I know my big sister. You’ll hover like a helicopter.”

Her head held high, Allie marched past Joan toward the driveway. “I thought you didn’t want to be late.”

She rubbed her hands on her arms. It was a chilly fifty degrees, and the orange October sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon. They’d shoved her out the door without a jacket, but she didn’t dare go back inside now or she’d never hear the end of it. Serve them both right if she caught pneumonia and died.






For more information about Age before Beauty, visit www.VirginiaSmith.org




Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright ©2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. www.BakerPublishingGroup.com

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Family Matters: My Review


Family Matters is a book I've owned for a long time, but due to the abundance of review books received, I've never gotten around to reading. I'm pretty caught up on review books so today I headed for that stack in my store room and decided on this one. I really enjoyed this this heartwarming story of a divorced couple whose son contracts meningitis, and, while he survives, is left handicapped. They divorced basically because neither was there for the other; now they have to learn to work together for the good of their son. Guess what happens in the end? There is also a subplot about the boy's physical therapist and a local professional soccer player.

The book is Christian fiction. Since the divorce, the father has become a Christian and we hear his prayers--short one or two liners, not page-long mini-sermons. He calls Bible verses to mind periodically, but they fit in the story. The mother attends a Bible study with the therapist and I guess church too. She tells the father that it was the first time she had attended church since they were married, and he could see that there was something different about her--but there was no tearful conversion story and her problems didn't all go away after that point. About the most overt preaching in the book was after the father suffered a loss he was praying and the book said "Michael thought about the times God had called him to let go. He'd probably have to be reminded of that lesson many more times. But he saw now, how if you let something go to God, sometimes it got returned to you a thousandfold".

This is a story about reaching beyond your comfort level, setting priorities and the conquering power of love, including but not limited to God's love. I highly recommend it.

My Review: The Last Mango in Texas


This is a fun lighthearted read that manages to touch on some serious subjects without ever turning into a serious book. Last Mango in Texas is written by a man and the main character, from whose point of view the story is told, is also a man. The story follows Kyle Mango from the day his father had "the talk" with him, a talk that happened not long before his father left home for good; off to his college days at Texas Tech, where Gretchen helped rescue him from life as a fraternity pledge; to the day he inherits some property, with oil wells and starts his own business. The only problem is that he still wants Gretchen, and she is an environmental activist who despises oil companies.

The book is Christian fiction, but not in a heavy-handed way. One character "gets saved" and gives up his life as a bookie to drill wells in Africa. Kyle prays a little about his vocation and tries to discern what God wants of him. Gretchen realizes that a friend has made environmentalism into its own religion.

Everything ties up nicely with a happy ending. Maybe it isn't the most realistic read ever, but it was fun and I recommend it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Animals in Translation: My Review



A Co-worker lent this book to me. She is an animal lover; I have an autistic son. The author of the book is autistic and an expert in animal behavior. She believes her autism gives her an edge in her profession as she believes she thinks a lot more like animals do. She speaks of herself as thinking in pictures, not words. She also writes of noticing a lot of details that normal people don't--but that animals do.

I found the book interesting not only for what it had to say about animal behavior but also for what Grandin had to say about her own autism. However, I found the book repetitive and grew tired of it 3/4 of the way through, so I just skimmed the rest. This is a book that has been in my TBR stack for some time and which I've attempted to read in the past, and just never finished, though I sort of wanted to. This time I'm giving up.

Mighty Queens of Freeville

Enter a contest to win the book Mighty Queens of Freeville.

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday

Amy's question this week:

One of area of Christian fiction that is thriving is Biblical Fiction. Biblical fiction, in case you don't know, is when an author takes a story from the Bible and imagines more of the details. Tosca Lee's Havah would be a recent example of Biblical fiction.What I want to know today is how you feel about Biblical fiction. Have you ever read any Biblical fiction? Did you enjoy it? Do you think Biblical fiction helps us to understand people who lived during Biblical times better or do you think that it's unnecessary? Have you ever read any Biblical fiction that offended you?

I have read some biblical fiction. Some books I've reviewed on my blog include Christ the Lord the Road to Cana and Christ the Lord Out of Egypt. both by Anne Rice and Francine River's Unashamed. Stones (about King David) is in my TBR stack. Like many of the rest of you, I have read The Red Tent. I do think it helps flesh out the people in the Bible. One form of prayer about which I've read on my occasions is to imagine a scene from the Bible (usually the Gospel) and to make yourself either one of the characters or a bystander, and then live the scene in your mind, talking to Jesus about it. I have trouble with that--I'm a word person, not a picture person, I don't think in pictures and I don't imagine much. These books do it for me, and they do help me to better understand Biblical times and people.

As far as Biblical fiction offending me, well, let's just say I have a thick skin and consider the source when I read. I have chosen not to read Francine Rivers' book about Mary because it is my understanding that she doesn't maintain the perpetual virginity of Mary. I know Rivers is a Protestant who doesn't believe in Mary's perpetual virginity, but as a Catholic I do, so I just don't read it. It does annoy/amuse me a little when writer of Christian fiction (and I can't think of a particular instance at this moment, but I have read it) portray the Early Church in a manner closer to today's independent fundamentalist Protestant churches than the united, liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental churches that Early Church writings show them to have been.

Stop by Amy's blog and see what other folks have to say!

Friday, February 20, 2009

You Know You are in New Orleans When...

You spend the Friday before Mardi Gras pulling or watching your Pre-K or Kindergarten child in the school parade. Yes, it is the norm at just about all schools for the Pre-K and/or Kindergarten kids to put on a parade for the rest of the school. Here is my youngest getting ready for her parade.

You can see that she has an abundent supply of beads, cups, trinkets and candy to throw. I bought a big bag of candy; the rest of the stuff is stuff we caught last year.
Some parents tape a garland to the wagon and let it go at that; others go all out. The kids don't really care, and most schools to not have contests.
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First Wildcard: Surviving Financial Meltdown

Click here to read my review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card authors are:





Jeremy White

and the book:





Surviving Financial Meltdown

Tyndale House Publishers (January 20, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


Ron Blue has been a financial planner and consultant for over 30 years. He currently leads an international effort to equip and motivate Christian financial professionals to serve the body of Christ by implementing biblical wisdom in their lives and practices, resulting in financial freedom. Ron has appeared on national radio and television programs and has authored 13 books on personal finance, including the best-seller Master Your Money.

Visit the author's website.

Jeremy Whitehas been a Certified Public Accountant since 1988 with financial experience in public accounting and industry. He’s currently practicing as a partner with Blythe, White & Associates, a certified public accounting and consulting firm in Paducah, KY. Jeremy is a qualified member of Kingdom Advisors. He has coauthored or assisted with four other best-selling financial books including The New Master Your Money, Splitting Heirs, and Your Kids Can Master Their Money.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (January 20, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414329954
ISBN-13: 978-1414329956

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Riding Out Financial Storms

How to Prepare for Economic Uncertainty

Plunging home values. Declining stock market. Vanishing credit. Rising gas prices. Ongoing war against terrorism. Failing banks. Soaring food costs. Falling value of the dollar. Swelling budget deficits. (Suggested cover story for the next Money magazine—Best Investment Now: Antacids!)

If you’re worried, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one feeling the uncertainty. Consumer confidence measurements have reached their lowest level in decades.

Most of the world would still leap at the chance to trade economic situations with you. You realize that. But you’re still nervous and searching for answers.

It’s easy enough to present our case that economic times are challenging. The daily headlines back us up on that. Our challenge in this book is to prepare you so you have less fear and more financial peace.

We want to help you develop a common-sense financial strategy to weather the economic storms of today as well as those in the far-off financial future. In times of economic uncertainty, the strength of your strategy will determine whether you thrive or survive.

Let’s get started with a reminder of how you prepare for tough times: Prepare in advance.

Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Washed Away
The aerial photo is startling: An attractively designed yellow two-story home stands alone on highly sought-after real estate along the Texas Gulf Coast. Just a few days before, that house was part of a thriving community. Now, it is surrounded on every side by the wreckage of about 200 other homes and buildings. A private helicopter pilot, flying over the area after it had been slammed by Hurricane Ike, had taken the photo.

Not long after he posted the image on CNN’s iReport site, the buzz started. Viewers began debating whether the photo was a fake. After all, how could one home withstand 110 mph winds and a storm surge while every other building around it had been pulverized? The speculation ended when the sister of the home’s owners identified it and provided another photo of the house taken just a few months earlier.

Reporters quickly located the home’s owners, Warren and Pam Adams. Just three years before, the Adams’ home had been destroyed by Hurricane Rita. Because they loved the beach, the couple wanted to rebuild rather than leave the coast. So they did—but with the knowledge that their new home might also be in the path of a hurricane some day.

The couple hired an engineering firm to oversee the contractor as their new residence was built. The builder put the house’s bottom floor on wooden columns that raised it above the surrounding houses. The foundation was made with reinforced concrete, and builders followed the latest hurricane building codes to the letter.

Despite its solid construction, the home did sustain some damage in Hurricane Ike. The first-floor garage and a wooden staircase on the home’s exterior were destroyed. The interior suffered some water and mud damage. Yet unlike their neighbors, who returned to their former home sites hoping to find a few personal belongings among the rubble, the Adams can repair their home.

The precautions the couple took when rebuilding their home after Hurricane Rita may have seemed extreme to some. Yet their foresight appears brilliant now after the town sustained a direct hit by a hurricane. In fact, after Aaron Reed, a spokesman with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, confirmed that the Adams’ home was the only surviving home on that side of the beach, he added, “I thought, if I were ever to build a house on the coast, I’m going to contact the guy who built this.”1

In fact, the couple simply displayed common sense. They knew that their home had been destroyed once by a hurricane and that it could happen again. Of course, others along the Gulf Coast knew they faced that threat as well. The difference was in how they responded to that risk.

Like some Gulf Coast residents, many of today’s investors build their financial houses without much of a strategy. When you build something you want to keep, common sense dictates that you build it according to a plan and with materials that will last. This strategy works for all types of construction, from putting together a financial portfolio to building a house.

Warren and Kay Adams can’t prevent a hurricane from smashing into their home on the coastline. They can’t control which way the wind blows. They can, however, build their house to withstand the wind and water.

Mr. Blue Goes to Washington
Palms sweating and heart racing, I (Ron) remember climbing the granite steps of the Capitol building to testify as an expert witness before a Senate subcommittee. I entered the chamber room where the hearings took place. I had often seen it on television. It was impressive yet intimidating. The senators were seated higher than the witness table and the visitors’ gallery.

I recognized many of the senators’ names on the plaques at their table and took a deep breath. I reminded myself that I wasn’t in trouble—even though the room had the feel of a courtroom. The Senate subcommittee was holding hearings on “Solutions for the New Era: Jobs and Families.” I was one of several “experts” from various economic and social fields. Other participants on the panel pressed for more social programs.

When my turn to speak came, I was hoping my voice wouldn’t crack. Could I live up to my introduction as a financial expert? Leaning in toward the microphone on the table, I began to answer a senator’s question about what the average American family should do in the current economy to survive and thrive. I said I believed the American family could benefit from following a four-part financial plan:

1. Think long-term with goals and investing

2. Spend less than they earn

3. Maintain liquidity (or emergency savings)

4. Minimize the use of debt

The Senate chamber room fell silent for a moment. I was expecting laughter to reverberate among the marble columns and high ceiling at the simplicity of what I said. The committee chairman, Christopher Dodd, looked down at his notes. He furrowed his brow and pursed his lips. He recited the points back to me. Instead of chuckling at me, he then said, “It seems like this plan is not just for the family. It seems it would work at any income level.”

“Yes,” I replied with some relief. Now I was the one doing a bit of chuckling as I added, “including the U.S. government.” We went on to have an engaging conversation about how the senators could exercise strong leadership through wise financial practices.

Four Principles of Financial Success
I had prepared my four-part answer to the senator’s question over many years. In fact, I heard that same question over and over. After a presentation to a large audience or in response to a call-in radio program, people often ask how to get out of a financial mess—or avoid one. Often the questioners hope that I’ll provide a dramatic, one-time solution for their financial difficulties. Though they may be disappointed to hear my commonsense strategy, I know this time-tested, biblically supported answer works.

Let me briefly expand my explanation of these principles here:

Think long term. The longer term your perspective, the better financial decisions you’ll make. Set goals in writing for the future. Invest for the long term and worry less about short-term ups and downs in your 401(K) or investment portfolio.

Spend less than you earn. To accomplish this, you need to know what you’re earning and what you’re spending. Make a spending plan (or, if we dare use that loathed term: a budget). Monitor how you’re doing. Develop the self-control to avoid overspending. If you spend less than you earn consistently over a long period of time, you will do well financially.

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Maintain emergency savings. A reserve set aside will help you ride out the surprises life throws at you. You must spend less than you earn to build savings. Savings will then help you avoid debt. These principles work together.

Minimize the use of debt. Debt increases risk. It may allow you to do more or have more now, but debt will reduce your ability to have more in the future. I know of few cases of financial disaster occurring without debt. Financial problems are magnified with debt.

These four financial principles are so simple that they may easily be overlooked. Yet they have stood the test of time. They work when the economy is in a recession, depression, or boom times. They work despite inflation or deflation. They apply when gas prices or real estate values are rising or falling. They were outlined thousands of years ago in the Bible. Many rich people—and many poor ones—can attest to their truths.

Some technical professionals, such as doctors and engineers, initially think these principles are too simplistic. They want to make succeeding financially as technically challenging and sophisticated as their fields. But you can’t go wrong if you follow these steps. What kind of financial trouble would you ever get in if you spent less than you earned, minimized debt, kept savings available, and thought about the long term?

When Do I Apply These Principles?
Warren and Kay Adams prepared for possible disaster before it happened. The best time to apply these four steps is before the financial storms come.

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You may be thinking, Well, it’s too late for that. I’m in the midst of a financial crisis. The hurricane has already hit. Now what do I do? Here’s hope. You start with these four principles of financial success. If you haven’t done them before, then start now. You can’t lay a solid financial foundation without these four steps. They will lead you out of a crisis—and prevent many future ones.

Perhaps your financial crisis has already happened. You may have lost your job. You may be getting calls from creditors. Perhaps you fear a possible foreclosure. You’re picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild. What do you do? Same answer. You start with these principles.

Perhaps you don’t currently face a financial crisis but are anxious because of all the economic bad news. The Adams’s house is a great illustration that may motivate you to prepare for storms in advance. You can take great comfort in these transcendent principles that apply before, during, and after the crisis.

In fact, some positive results can come from our country’s current economic downturn. We’ve learned that a crisis can sharpen our focus. It helps us think more rationally. When gas prices rose significantly, consumers started moving from large sports-utility vehicles and oversized trucks to more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is rational. But even when gas was less expensive, was a Hummer ever a sensible purchase for an urban dweller?

People ask us, “Now that _____________ (you fill in the blank) is happening, what should I do?” we always give the same advice: follow these four principles. If you set long-term goals and invest accordingly, if you spend less than your income, if you have available savings, and if you eliminate debt, then you’ll be as prepared as possible.

No Surprise Ending with This Book—But Keep Reading
We suppose this would make a poor novel. No mystery or suspense here. We’ve already revealed the four principles of financial success and told you the ending of the story. The punch line came before the setup of the joke.

However, we hope you haven’t missed the paradox: these principles are easy to understand but they’re often hard to do. We’ve stated the principles but not yet helped you understand how you can begin doing them. In the coming chapters, we’ll explore these principles in greater detail. You’ll discover how to approach the future—any future—with financial peace of mind.

We realize that it’s not just a matter of doing four simple steps in a vacuum. You’re part of an overall economy. You can’t avoid feeling some of the effects of our nation’s economic downturn—but it doesn’t have to be as great as you fear. You hear things that make you anxious. Money issues carry with them emotions, baggage from the past, and uncertainty about the future. You probably don’t have a degree in financial management. When it comes to handling your own money, you’re probably in unfamiliar territory. So we’re going to begin by exploring what causes financial fears in our economy. Then you’ll identify your particular fears.

You can do this. You can learn to manage your finances wisely. It’s not too late. Reading financial how-to’s is like exercising or eating healthy food. You know you’re supposed to, but will you do it? You can. People with less education, less talent, less income than you have done it. Financial peace of mind can be more than just a future hope. It can be your expectation. In the pages ahead, you will learn how to take this expectation and make it a reality in your life.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

Confessions of a Former Child: My Review

When you walk into a bookstore or library, you are presented with thousands of books, and you have to decide which of them you want to the most; since there are too many to take them all. With book reviewing, I've found the question becomes different. Instead of "Is this the best book I can find tonite?", when a publicist or blogger group offers a book my questions are "Do I have time to read it?" and "Do I think I'm likely to like it?". If the answer to both questions is "Yes", then I accept the book. That's led to me accepting some books I would never have taken home from the library or bookstore. Some would have been better left alone; others, like this one, turn out to be winners.

Confessions of a Former Child is written by Daniel Tomasulo, a Ph.D. psychologist. It is basically the story of his life, as illuminated by his professional activities. He tells some stories about his patients and some stories about his family. Some are funny; others more serious. He tells us how he believed he controlled the streetlights when he was a child; and how that memory helped him treat a child who thought he kept the airplanes aloft. We follow him through a therapists' training/group therapy session where he comes to terms with the dynamics in his family. We learn how he tries to help a mentally handicapped man whose auto erotic activity is causing bleeding and pain.

Since I review a lot of Christian fiction and other religiously-oriented books, I do want to let my readers know that not only does the book describe how he attempts to teach the mentally challenged to masturbate without pain (not graphic but "just say no" isn't his advice) it also spends a chapter describing his experiences (positive) with Reiki.

Confessions of a Former Child is funny yet serious. The author can laugh at himself--he describes how he almost missed his daughter's birth because he was locked in the rubber room in the psych ward of the hospital. It was an easy read but my guess is that some people may not find it so if they see too much of themselves/their families in either the patients or Tomasulo's family.

Thanks to Amy Currie at Phenix & Phenix for sending me this book. I enjoyed it and recommend it. For more information about Tomasulo, see his website.

First Wildcard: Spring of the Candy Apples


Click here to read my review:

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



Spring of Candy Apples (A Sweet Seasons Novel)

Zondervan (February 1, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Debbie ViguiƩ has been writing for most of her life. She has experimented with poetry and nonfiction, but her true passion lies in writing novels.

She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from UC Davis. While at Davis she met her husband, Scott, at auditions for a play. It was love at first sight.

Debbie and Scott now live on the island of Kauai. When Debbie is not writing and Scott has time off they love to indulge their passion for theme parks.


The Sweet Seasons Novels:

The Summer of Cotton Candy
The Fall of Candy Corn
The Winter of Candy Canes
The Spring of Candy Apples


Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310717531
ISBN-13: 978-0310717539
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Once again Candace found herself seated across from a Zone executive. Only this time it wasn’t Lloyd Peterson, the hiring manager; it was John Hanson, owner of the theme park. She tried hard not to squirm in her seat. He was smiling and friendly, but there was so much more at stake this time than a part-time job.

“So, Candace, as one of the five finalists for The Zone Game Master Scholarship, you must be pretty excited,” he said.

Excited. Bewildered. Nervous. So many to choose from. Excited because the winner got a full scholarship to a college in Florida. Bewildered because she still couldn’t believe her Balloon Races doodle could be taken seriously by anyone. Nervous because she didn’t want to blow it.

She’d finally forgiven her friend Josh for secretly entering her in the competition.

“Yes, I’m very excited and pretty nervous,” she admitted.

“Just try to relax,” he urged.

“I’ll try.”

“Now, as you know, there are many stages in the competition and you’ve passed them all to get this far. During the first stage contestants who don’t meet the qualifications are weeded out. Every year I’m surprised to hear how many of those there are. Next the Game Masters take a look at the attraction concepts for viability. Then they announce the top twenty candidates.”

Candace vaguely remembered that and how shocked she had been. She had just doodled her Balloon Races idea for a new them park ride on a napkin. She had been about to throw it away but gave it to Josh instead and he had secretly entered it in the scholarship competition.

“At that point we announce the candidates and give everyone who works for The Zone a chance to submit a recommendation for a candidate. Now, this isn’t just some sort of popularity vote. Recommendations are serious things. The person filling it out has to take the time to submit a ten-page form evaluating your strengths and telling the search committee exactly why they believe you should have the position. Based on the strength and numbers of those recommendations, the group of twenty is narrowed to five.”

“Wow! I can’t believe enough people recommended me,” Candace said, humbled at the amount of work it sounded like that would take.

“Several people here think quite highly of you. You had enough recommendations to just beat out a another young man for the fifth spot.”

“So, I’m here because I had one more recommendation?”

“Basically, yes. It’s policy that we don’t allow contestants to see their recommendations. However, since you are in the top five, I can tell you the people who recommended you.”

Suddenly, Candace realized her heart was in her throat. This somehow made her more nervous than the interview itself. It was a reflection of what people thought of her and how they had chosen to support her. She found herself holding her breath as she waited for the names.

“You had eight recommendations. The first seven came from your supervisor, Martha, Kowabunga referee Josh, Muffin Mansion’s Becca and Gib, Sue from janitorial, Roger from The Dug Out, and Pete the train operator.

None of those came as a great surprise, but Candace was touched and flattered that they would all spend the time and effort on her. She made a mental note to thank them later. That had to mean that the final recommendation that had put her over the top had to come from her boyfriend Kurt. She felt a warm glow as she thought about him.

“And the last one to come in was from Lisa in food carts.”

Candace was stunned. It wasn’t Kurt, who had written a recommendation for her, but rather Lisa, the girl who hated her? “Are you sure about that?” she burst out.

John looked surprised. “Yes. Why?”

“Nothing,” Candace mumbled, dropping her eyes.

The owner of the park chuckled. “Sometimes it’s a surprise when we discover who has actually noticed and thought we’ve done a good job.”

She nodded.

“And so, here you are—one of the final five contestants.”

“What happens now,” Candace asked, still a little unsure about the entire process.

“This is it. I stay out of the selection process until the very end. Now I interview the five candidates and choose the winner.”

Candace had suspected that might be the case but actually knowing it made her even more nervous

“You’ve been doing seasonal work for us, is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know, I think it’s time to upgrade you. How would you like to work part-time at The Candy Counter?”

“In the Home Stretch?” she asked.

“That would be the one.”

“That would be great,” she said, not sure what else to say at the moment. She hadn’t really had a chance to think about working during the spring. There was a part of her that was instantly excited, though. Working at The Candy Counter meant she wouldn’t be working at a cart.

“So, shall we begin the interview?” he asked, the smile leaving his face.

She nodded mutely.



After the interview, Candace headed straight for the Muffin Mansion. There were no customers inside and Candace made a beeline for Becca, who was manning the cash register. Candace walked around the counter and gave Becca a big hug.

“What was that for?” Becca asked.

“For recommending me! I’ve got a hug for Gib too. Is he here?”

“He should be back from break in a minute.”

“I’ll wait.”

“So, how did the interview go?” Becca asked.

“I’m not sure. I feel like I totally blew it,” Candace confessed.

“Everyone probably felt that way.”

“I don’t know. I’m still not even sure how I’ve gotten this far in the competition.”

“Are you kidding? Balloon Races looks awesome.”

“How do you know?”

Becca smiled. “Josh has been showing a copy of your drawing to everyone.”

Candace rolled her eyes. “Great, one more thing I’ve gotta kill him for.”

“Hey, go easy on the guy. If you get that scholarship you’ll owe him big time for entering you.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Candace admitted.

“What’s with the frown face,” Becca said.

“Kurt didn’t recommend me for the competition,” Candace admitted.

“Ouch,” Becca said, wincing.

“And Lisa did. Isn’t that weird?”

“Definitely freaky.”

“How did your interview go?” a deep voice asked.

Candace jumped off the counter and hugged a surprised Gib. He patted her back awkwardly.

“Thank you for nominating me,” she said.

“No problem. Glad to do it.”

“Kurt didn’t nominate her,” Becca said.

“Knave!” Gib said, his face darkening.

Before Candace could respond, customers streamed through the door. She gave Becca and Gib a little wave and headed out. Once in the clear she headed for the Splash Zone, hoping to catch Josh who had started again a couple of days earlier in anticipation of summer. She saw him in his tank top and shorts in front of the Kowabunga ride.

“You’ve gotta be cold,” she said as she walked up.

“It’s worth it for not sweating through the summer,” he said with his customary grin. “So, how’d it go?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed as she gave him a hug. “But thank you for nominating me. Thank you for entering me,” she said, laughing a little.

“Told you the Balloon Races was cool,” he said.

She stepped back with a laugh. “Remind me to listen to you more.”

“That’s an easy one.”

“So, do you think I have a shot?” she asked.

He grew serious for a moment. “I hope so, but I don’t know. I entered you and I nominated you. That was really all I could do. It’s out of my hands.”

“I know. I’m just nervous.”

She was about to tell him who had nominated her when she remembered she had other news. “I did get a part-time job out of it,” she said.

His eyes widened. “Seriously? Part-time, not seasonal?”

She nodded. “I’m going to be working at The Candy Counter.”

“That’s great! Congratulations. I’m going to miss seeing you on the carts, though.”

She shrugged. “We can still hang on breaks.”

“Absolutely! Well, that is, after the Talent Show. My team and I are practicing a lot.”

Candace blinked at him. “Talent Show? What Talent Show?”

Josh laughed. “Same old Candace.”

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