Posted 12/16/14 at 12:00 PM | Justin Buzzard
Here is my Best Books of 2014 list, in no particular order. This isn’t a list of books published in 2014. This list is of the books I read in 2014 that I enjoyed/benefited from the most. Click here for last year’s list: Best Books of 2013 (and links to past year’s lists).
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that has impacted me the most. I’ve grown in gratitude and living more fully in the moment as a result of stewing my way through this book.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Originally I decided not to read this biography because I’d read a few reviews of it and concluded I already knew the gist of the book: Steve Jobs was an uncommon genius and jerk. But then a pastor friend told me he couldn’t put this book down and learned a lot from it. I picked up the book and experienced the same: I couldn’t put it down. This book is packed with leadership lessons (what to do and what not to do) and it provides a fascinating mini-history of Silicon Valley. FULL POST
Posted 12/15/14 at 9:17 AM | Christian Post Guest Voices
By Joe McKeever
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses….” “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16,21).
I’ve been reading books again.
That explains a lot of things. It explains where my mind is these days, what’s been bugging me, and where I’ve been searching the Word.
I’ve been reading “The Story of Ain’t.” This is mostly the story of struggles to decide what goes into dictionaries, culminating in Webster’s Third Edition. Author David Skinner brings us into the inner offices of G. and C. Merriam Company and tells how decisions are made concerning the English language. If you like that, you’d love watching sausage being made. (It’s a difficult book to read and only the wordsmiths among us should “rush out and buy this book.”) FULL POST
Posted 12/9/14 at 4:16 PM | Audra Jennings
It could be argued there is no stronger instinct on earth than that of a mother to protect her family. The lengths she will go to do so are explored in The Brothers’ Keepers (RidgeRoute Press/November 17, 2014/ISBN: 9780991401734/ $14.99), written by award-winning journalist and world traveler NLB Horton.
In The Brothers’ Keepers, we meet archaeologist Grace Madison who is in Brussels cataloging looted antiquities when her son’s bride is attacked in Switzerland. Her day careens from bad to catastrophic when daughter Maggie disappears in France.
Coincidence is a luxury Grace cannot afford as history — saturated in espionage — is repeating itself.
Q: The title of the book, The Brothers’ Keepers, refers to heroine Grace Madison’s determination to protect someone important to her. To what lengths would you go to protect someone you cared about?
I would do whatever it took — and I remember the exact moment I decided that! I stood at the edge of the tel Dan (northern Israel) archaeological dig pit in 2007 with my husband and two then-teenage children. They had accompanied me on an archaeological survey as part of my master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Heavy artillery fire began booming from Syria as staccato machine-gun reports peppered near the Lebanese border. An Israeli Defense Force camouflage-painted plane broke through an unseasonal cloud cover, circling the site. I hoped they could see we were unarmed! Grace Madison was born from this harrowing experience.
Q: The Brothers’ Keepers largely focuses on doing the right thing. Tell us about a situation in which you chose to do the right thing despite personal cost. Was it worth it?
My business was thriving, my children were young, and I had to choose between a smaller role in their lives or limiting my company’s growth. My husband was trying to transition from one career to another, and I was the family’s wage-earner.
This was a particularly difficult time because money was tight, and the decision tore at who I was as a businesswoman and mother. I chose to limit my accounts, and eventually put small school desks into my office to home school for a time. (The kids are now an attorney and an engineer, so they survived my teaching!) I’ve never regretted the choice to put family first, but it was not an easy one.
Q: Grace is in the midst of rebuilding her marriage and struggles with the commitment she made vs. still being in love. How hard do you think it is to try to fall in love again when things become difficult?
Love is a choice, not an accident. A covenant, not a commitment. Choosing to love again can be extremely difficult in a society of immediate gratification, and requires a willingness to risk transparency by trusting someone who has failed you. And the process requires an equal commitment from both partners; it can’t be one-sided.
I know that God loves me despite my failings and throughout my spiritual deserts and rebellion. He exhibits grace to me, and I’m called to act in His image. (Note that I am, at times, an “epic failure,” to use a favorite phrase from one of my characters.) Being mindful of this model of love and forgiveness is the only path I know to reconciliation.
Q: What is the difference between a commitment and a covenant?
A covenant is a binding agreement, sealed with an act of some kind. A commitment is dedication, without the binding element, and unsealed. A covenant is much stronger than a commitment. To develop a healthy respect for the strength of a covenant, mosey through the Old Testament!
Q: Independence is important, even within a marriage. Does independence ever cause problems between spouses? How can you maintain a sense of self without living completely separate lives?
Independence AND dependence can cause trouble between spouses. There’s a balance . . . somewhere. The answer lies in both partners working to identify with the Imago Dei, or Image of God. Being Christ-like can create a healthy sense of self and appropriate selflessness as a daily act of worship. (I confess that “epic failure” comes to mind again.)
Around the world, there is a shortage of water for drinking, irrigating crops, and supporting livestock. That is true even within US borders, especially in the West where I live. Historical issues aside, a huge factor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is unequal distribution of water.
The world needs new sources of potable and economical drinking water, and we need to manage this most precious resource wisely. As a Christian and environmentalist, I believe humans are stewards of God’s creation. Parched addresses stewardship of the highest order, and I hope the series raises awareness of this literally life-threatening issue. We can live without oil, but we can’t survive without water.
Q: Many books feature youthful heroes and heroines, but The Brothers’ Keepers highlights the life of a more mature protagonist. What are some of the factors that led to your decision to write characters a little older than the norm? What kind of feedback have you had?
Readers ADORE Grace Madison. The response has been overwhelming.
Regarding the decision to write about a more mature protagonist, what’s not to love? Our decades should make us more nuanced, more self-confident, and less afraid to broaden our horizons. Middle age can be a season of richness and vitality that I hope to depict with joy and vigor - exactly the way I try to LIVE!
By developing the character of Grace’s daughter, Maggie, I have the chance to contrast their generations while ignoring neither. From the octogenarians, to Grace and her husband, to Maggie and the “twenty-somethings” (her brother and sister-in-law), each group in The Brothers’ Keepers responds to challenges in its own uniquely age-appropriate way.
Q: In The Brothers’ Keepers, we see two different women – one who raised a family and chose career later in life. The other sacrificed family life for career. Can a woman “have it all?”
Of course we can. But “having it all” can come at an almost sacrificial price and creates repercussions that can last for decades. If you’re going to “have it all,” you’ll have little of yourself left at the end of a difficult road that will probably be littered with shrapnel.
Q: Is there a right or wrong answer to choosing a family or a career as your primary life goal?
I think there are absolutes in life, but don't believe the family-versus-career talking point is one of them. Each woman has to make her choice by responding to her own situation and environment. And she has to be flexible because situations change, and marriages evolve over time. Spouses can grow in different directions, make untenable choices and act outside the boundaries established by the marriage vows.
I’d like to see less emphasis on this divisive dialogue, and more focus on women’s education and empowerment — which lead to freedom of choice and self-determination.
Q: Which of the characters in The Brothers’ Keepers can you relate to the most, and why?
That’s a tough question. I can understand all of them — their motivations and desires — and enjoy them all, except when their conversations keep me awake at night by forcing me to take dictation at my computer! But like readers my age, I especially relate to Grace: her faith, skepticism, flaws, and humor. I agree with the reader who wrote, “I want to be Grace!”
I also identify with Grace because I am a Christian who is “in the world, but not of it.” My career, my education, my travel: each of these elements formed me, but they occurred in the midst of people whose beliefs did not always ally with mine. I am invigorated by God’s creation, as is Grace. I want to experience it! And I hope her character portrays a demographic of Christianity that is intelligent, fair, and fearless because of its belief in God’s empowerment, one attractive to non-believers because these Christians live their faith with realism and love.
Q: Every good story has an antagonist, and your Parched series is no exception. We learn some things about your villain in The Brothers’ Keepers, however, that might make readers look at her in a new light. What does Laura McAlex’s story teach us about having compassion for difficult people?
MaAlex’s past doesn’t excuse her actions and choices, but reveals motivating aspects of her psyche. Discovering her life journey makes her behavior easier to understand, but no less evil. I hope her character is a warning to guard vigilantly against becoming hardened against the greater good. God’s standards never change, regardless of our trials.
I love working with her character. It’s not that she’s sexually corrupt, as is so often the case with “the bad girls of literature.” She’s just bad to the bone in the ways most male antagonists are. How refreshing! When she and Grace lock up in book three, it’s a humorous pitting of two very different Alpha Females.
I was so surprised to be nominated! Two letters of recommendation and months later, my membership was approved. The research in Israel and Jordan, an Amazon cruise (with a tarantula in the skiff), the graduate degree, and my unusual interests were important considerations for the vetting committee.
The Explorers Club was founded in 1904 and admitted its first female members in 1981. The goal was to create a place where the adventurous could gather, and the organization funds expeditions, research, seminars, and other scholarly endeavors. Explorer Club members were first to the North and South Poles, to the deepest point of the oceans, to the summit of Mt. Everest, and to the moon! I am honored.
Q: You have traversed the globe – seeing five continents and surveying archaeological digs in the Middle East and beyond – which provided research and background for your books. Tell us about your most recent trip.
I’m answering this question on a train between Vienna and Budapest, having crossed the North Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 a month ago. I studied the Rosetta Stone and Cyrus Cylinder in London, then survived nicotine-infused St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague. I tried not to yodel in Lucerne, and loudly hummed “The Lonely Goatherd” in Salzburg.
I’ll be on the road for another six weeks, confirming research for book three in the series by revisiting digs and sites in Italy, Greece, and Turkey (unless ISIS invades, or the border with Turkey and Syria collapses). Grace Madison is on the move, although she’s left her beloved camels in Jerusalem.
I could not write these manuscripts without knowing their settings well, and in some instances, intimately. I can picture the Temple Mount of Jerusalem at sunrise. I know what the Istanbul spice market smells like on a drizzly day. I catch my breath at the memory of height vertigo atop Machu Picchu. I remember the taste of wild blueberries after surprising a 1200-pound grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula. As useful as the Internet is for the copious research behind each book in the Parched series, nothing replaces living in Grace’s tattered hiking boots.
Q: You had incredibly successful careers in journalism and marketing. What brought you to writing fiction?
Journalism, marketing, and advertising were enjoyable means to an end, but after the afternoon at tel Dan, I could not ignore the storyline that grew around Grace. No one was writing anything like the Parched series, so I decided to try to fill the void.
I have written all my life. My undergraduate degree is in journalism and my previous career prepared me to share Grace (and her friends and family) professionally, and provided daily practice with the written word.
Q: How has your degree at Dallas Theological Seminary influenced your writing?
I am VERY careful with the theology in my manuscripts! DTS is a premier institution with a longstanding reputation for excellence. My professors were peerless examples of aging joyfully and vigorously.
I returned to seminary seeking answers to questions created when what I was taught as a young woman didn’t support the life I had lived. Along with a greater understanding, I left seminary with a vast library in fascinating subjects like Israeli Religion in the Ancient Near Eastern context, Ugaritic poetry, and the Intertestamental period. My office bookshelves are a geeky wonderland!
Q: What plans do you have next for your Parched series?
I’m writing book three now, which I hope to release in the fall of 2015. Then there are two, possibly three, more adventures for Grace.
Q: What do you hope readers walk away with after they’ve finished reading The Brothers’ Keepers?
I hope they are invigorated! I pray they are encouraged. I trust they’ll want to “camel up” with Grace as she continues to love God and praise Him in her own quirky, intelligent way.
Posted 12/9/14 at 9:59 AM | Tim Challies
I get a little nervous when I see an artist jump mediums. Not all artists make that transition from one medium to another—good authors have written awful songs and great songwriters have written really bad books. But Matt Papa has made it work. He has recorded some excellent songs (e.g. Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery) and has now also written a fantastic book. In Look and Live he wants you to behold the soul-thrilling, sin-destroying glory of Christ. Even better, he will help you do it.
The book begins with the assumption—the biblically safe assumption—that we are worshippers. The question is not if, but what we will worship. If it is really true that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert on anything, well, we all become expert worshippers at fourteen months of age. We were created to worship and we will worship. “As human beings we are plagued with inordinate affections. We love green pieces of paper more than God. We love balls made out of pigskin more than God. We’ve shown we even love apples more than God. We, like Esau, have traded our birthright—the dignity of our shameless, joy-filled, glory-beholding, glory-reflecting existence—for a bowl of beans.” FULL POST
Posted 12/1/14 at 2:39 PM | Audra Jennings
Nothing beats a Christmas party you don’t have to get dressed up for! Readers are invited to grab their quilts and a mug of their favorite warm holiday beverage and settle down for a night in with the authors of the latest releases in Abingdon Press’ Quilts of Love series. The Quilts of Love Merry Quilted Christmas Facebook party on December 9 at 8:00 PM EST will be hosted by the authors of the two latest releases, Jodie Bailey (Quilted by Christmas/October 21, 2014) and Laura V. Hilton and Cindy Loven (Swept Away/November 18, 2014). They will be joined by Gina Welborn (Masterpiece Marriage/December 16, 2014) and Cathy Elliott (A Stitch in Crime/January 20, 2015), who will be giving readers a preview of their upcoming books.
The live Quilts of Love quarterly event will center on an interactive chat between the authors and readers, allowing participants from around the country (and the world) to participate in one large book club. The authors will share the inspiration behind their stories and ask discussion questions surrounding the themes of each book. Chat participants will be eligible for prizes to be given away at the end of the hour, including books, Christmas ornaments, sweet treats and other special selections chosen by the authors. The winner of a Kindle Fire giveaway, held in conjunction with the latest Quilts of Love blog tour, will also be announced. The chat has been promoted online with the help of bloggers participating in the blog tours coordinated by Litfuse Publicity Group.
It isn’t just the readers who are excited to take part in these chats. “I’m looking forward to teaming up with Laura, Cindy, Cathy and Gina to chat with everyone and to give away some fun prizes. Who doesn’t love a party, especially when there are presents?” asks Bailey.
The authors are also fans of the series and its authors. “I’m in stitches over being a Quilts of Love author!” Welborn notes. Loven feels the same way. “The word ‘excitement’ doesn’t begin to cover the range of emotions I am experiencing being included in this great group of authors. I wouldn’t be here without my great co-author Laura, talent of this story, and Jodie’s book was so sweet. I look forward with great anticipation to reading Gina and Cathy’s books.”
“I’m excited to be a part of the Quilts of Love series with so many talented authors. I wanted to be a part of this line and was honored to write for them,” explains Hilton. She adds, “Any opportunity to chat with readers and hear their stories is a blessing, and I hope to see many there!”
The Quilts of Love series centers on the idea that quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. Each release focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family history. Featuring contemporary and historical romances, as well as Amish fiction, women’s fiction and the occasional light mystery, readers are drawn into the endearing characters and touched by their stories. January 2015 will mark the last monthly release for the current series of 25 stand-alone titles.
"The best reward for a Quilts of Love author has to be meeting the loyal readers,” says Elliott. “As the author of the final book in the series, I look forward to meeting many long-time readers and some new ones! It’s a great way to hear about their creative interests and get a glimpse into their own stories."
Keep up with the Quilts of Love series online at:
About the authors and their books:
A grandmother’s last wish is to communicate God’s love through an Irish chain quilt.
Taryn McKenna believes she’s easy to forget. Abandoned by her parents and left behind when her high school sweetheart joined the army, she vows to never love again and throws herself into her love for the outdoors and the pursuit of a college degree—something no one else in her family has ever accomplished. Her goal, as a young teacher in the hills of North Carolina, is to leave a legacy in the lives of the middle‑schoolers she teaches.
When Taryn’s grandmother Jemma, the only other person who ever held her close, has a heart attack that reveals a fatal medical condition, Taryn is corralled into helping Grandma work on a final project—an Irish chain quilt that tells the story of her history and the love Jemma knows is out there for Taryn. As the pieces of the quilt come together, Taryn begins to see her value. Can she learn to believe that God will never leave her behind even though others have?
Jodie Bailey is Tarheel born and bred. After 15 years as a military spouse, she settled with her family back in North Carolina. She is the author of the military suspense novel Freefall and is a contributor to Edie Melson’s devotional for military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home. While not working on her next novel, she teaches middle‑schoolers to love writing as much as she does.
Sara doesn’t think she wants love. But her grandmother has other plans.
Sara Jane Morgan is trying to balance teaching with caring for her ailing, stubborn grandmother. When school lets out for the summer, the plans are for Grandma to teach Sara Jane to quilt as they finish up the Appalachian Ballad quilt Grandma started as a teenager. But things don’t always go as planned.
Andrew Stevenson is hiding from his past—and his future. He works as a handyman to pay the bills, but his heart is as an artisan, designing homemade brooms. When Sara Jane’s grandmother hires him to renovate her home, sparks fly between Drew and his new employer’s granddaughter.
Still, it doesn’t take Sara Jane long to see Drew isn’t what he seems. Questions arise, and she starts researching him online. What she discovers could change her life—and her heart—forever.
Laura V. Hilton is an award-winning author and a professional book reviewer. A stay-at-home mom and home school teacher, Laura lives with her family in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas.
Cindy Loven is active in the church and writes from her home in Conway, Arkansas, where she lives with her husband and their son.
He wants to save his business. She wants to be a professor. But are they asking for more than they can really have?
After a flood damages the looms at Zenus Dane’s Philadelphia textile mill and the bank demands loan payment, Zenus turns to his aunt for help repurposing his textiles. Trouble is . . . his aunt has already been hired by the lovely yet secretive Englishwoman Mary Varrs.
Eager to acquire his aunt’s quilt patterns, Zenus attends the summer Quilting Bee, a social event his aunt has uniquely designed with the secret purpose of finding Zenus a wife. However Zenus only has eyes for Mary, but Mary has no such desire for him.
Though his aunt is determined to design a masterpiece marriage, both Zenus and Mary will have to overcome their stubborn ways. Can he realize that love requires stepping out of his routine? And will she recognize that following her heart doesn’t mean sacrificing her ambition?
Gina Welborn is the author of several novels and novellas, including The Heiress’s Courtship. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers; the former president of Faith, Hope and Love; and one of the founding members of InkwellInspirations.com. She lives in Cache, Oklahoma, with her pastor husband and their five children.
Thea James has accepted an assignment as co-chairperson for Larkindale’s first quilt show extravaganza. Juggling the new assignment with running her antique business, she’s already feeling frayed when things start to unravel.
Mary-Alice Wentworth, a much-loved town matriarch, respect quilt judge, and Thea’s dear friend, is covertly conked on the head during the kick-off Quilt Show Soiree, throwing suspicion on her guests. It also appears that a valuable diamond brooch has been stolen during the attack. The family is furious. But is it because of the missing diamonds or their mugged mother?
When a renowned textile expert goes MIA and the famous Wentworth heritage quilt disappears, Larkindale’s reputation as a tourist have is at risk. Thea attempts to piece the mystery together and save the town’s investment in the Quilt Show before Mary-Alice gets another brain bump… or something worse.
Author and speaker Cathy Elliott nourishes her night-owl habit by creating cozy mysteries and more on her trusty laptop in Anderson, California. Like the protagonist in her new mystery, Cathy is an avid quilter. Besides collecting (too much) cool fabric, she also enjoys hunting for antique treasures.
Posted 11/29/14 at 1:06 PM | Lori Minutoli
BOOK REVIEW: American Anthem: What happens when Somebody unexpected takes an interest in the Presidential Election By Jim Kape
I appreciate the vulnerability Jim Kape gives his characters in this revealing story illustrating how faith in God works in politics. Creatively gleaning truths from both American history and Biblical history, he crafts a scenario so close to our current reality that we can actually see how the hand of God would work if we called upon Him. To some it may seem far fetched and ridiculous but to those who believe and trust in a living God, a God who actively hears and answers prayers, this story gives hope to the believer. A Presidential candidtate who upholds his faith while running for office and lives by example of what it means to love others as God loves us is truly a remarkable concept in politics. This candidate showed Christlike character and was unafraid to extend love to a person typically shunned by Christians. It would do our country good if people would take the time to read this book. As one who believes in this God, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am more motivated to pray for those in the political office and for the people of our nation to grab hold of faith. With less than 200 pages it is well worth your time to READ IT. See if God will give you something new to think about. FULL POST
Posted 11/22/14 at 1:28 PM | Ann Frailey
I met Mr. Pearce at an OSMM Retreat and I enjoyed his talk on Tolkien and Catholicism so much that I decided to buy his book – Race with the Devil. Now I am more impressed with the author than ever. Race with the Devil is an outstandingly honest account of his years as a racist through his conversion years into his current “rational-love” orientated life. There are times when I wonder, much like everyone else, if people can ever really change. Mr. Pearce answers this question unequivocally. The metamorphosis from his youth to his adulthood is transformative not only for the author, but for the reader as well. As a reader, I found myself totally disgusted by his early life, his family, and the culture that he lived in. But before the end of the book, I found myself admitting the humanity of the situation, the honest truth that Mr. Pearce was reflecting in all our darker selves, and the yearnings we all have to be whole, good, and just. Over all, the book was a clarion call: “Awake!” There is more that haunts us than we like to admit and in facing that, we can become transformed toward our better selves.
Posted 11/19/14 at 3:17 PM | Audra Jennings
Imagine being medically trained at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world — Harvard and Yale — and turning your back on a lucrative medical career in private practice to care for the poor. As Klaus-Dieter John writes in his book, I Have Seen God (Monarch Books/November 27, 2014/ISBN: 978-0857215741/$16.99), it was a dream he and his wife, Martina, shared since before they met. FULL POST
Posted 11/19/14 at 7:41 AM | Ann Frailey
The book, My Battle against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich Von Hildebrand, translated and edited by John Henry Crosby with John F. Crosby is one of the most interesting and inspirational works I have ever read. The book was designed with a reader like me in mind – someone who loves history but needs explanations about names and background events. I found myself caught up in the personal story as well as thoroughly mesmerized by the social implications not just for this particular epoch in history but for all of humanity throughout history ― including our world today. This is a book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in a gripping biography as well as a social commentary.
The design of the book, which included a very helpful introduction, caught my attention immediately. I was so interested in fleshing out the behind the scenes pictures that I read every note with care and I was relieved that Mr. Crosby saw fit to identify everyone Von Hildebrand mentioned and clarify what certain events referred to. I never found myself at a loss to understand what was happening. In fact, the whole thing read like a suspense novel. FULL POST
Posted 11/18/14 at 7:47 AM | Ann Frailey
A great new book out! Here’s my review:
The Grace of Yes by Lisa Hendey is an extraordinary book for one great reason – it is invaluably honest. There are many “how to” and “self-help” books dishing out advice about everything from eating well to becoming holy, but this book offers well thought out, honest reflections on very basic human experiences including love, marriage, faith, raising children, and living in a work a-day world, and how to make our lives better in a culture that has forgotten our need for our greatest good―God. The Eight Virtues for Generous Living that Mrs. Hendey outlines helps us to ponder how we live―whether we are living intentionally or just floating along from one distraction to another. I especially enjoyed the prayers offered at the end of each chapter. They were clearly sincere, yearnings from the heart, to know, to love, and to serve God better. The Grace of Yes is a book that will echo in the minds and hearts of its readers long after the last page is finished.