Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Are the Reason

Awesome song, awesome performance. We Are The Reason by Avalon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Lightkeeper's Bride
Thomas Nelson (October 19, 2010)
Colleen Coble


Author Colleen Coble’s thirty-five novels and novellas have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA, the Holt Medallion, the ACFW Book of the Year, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, the Booksellers Best, and the 2009 Best Books of Indiana-Fiction award. She writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail and love begin with a happy ending.
A word from Colleen: God has been faithful, though the path has not been easy. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. God wouldn’t let me give up, and I like to think the struggle made me stronger. God has given me so much in my life, most importantly my great family, a loving church family at New Life Baptist Church, and my wonderful publishing family at Nelson Books.

A thrilling romantic mystery set in the lush Victorian age.

Central Operator Katie Russell's inquisitive ways have just uncovered her parents' plan for her marriage to wealthy bachelor Bartholomew Foster. Her heart is unmoved, but she knows the match will bring her family status and respectability.
Then Katie overhears a phone conversation that makes her uneasy and asks authorities to investigate. But the caller is nowhere to be found. Mysterious connections arise between the caller and a ship lost at sea.

Against propriety, Katie questions the new lighthouse keeper, Will Jesperson. Then a smallpox epidemic forces their quarantine in his lighthouse. Though of low social status, Will's bravery and kindness remove Katie's suspicion and win her love. Katie and Will together work to solve the mystery of the missing girl and the lost ship as God gives the couple the desire of their hearts.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Lightkeeper's Bride, go HERE.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic

Book description:
Life Without Limits is an inspiring book by an extraordinary man. Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic overcame his disability to live not just independently but a rich, fulfilling life, becoming a model for anyone seeking true happiness. Now an internationally successful motivational speaker, his central message is that the most important goal for anyone is to find their life’s purpose despite whatever difficulties or seemingly impossible odds stand in their way.

Nick tells the story of his physical disabilities and the emotional battle he endured trying to deal with them as a child, a teen, and a young adult. “For the longest, loneliest time, I wondered if there was anyone on earth like me, and whether there was any purpose to my life other than pain and humiliation.” He shares how his faith in God has been his central source of strength and explains that once he found his own sense of purpose—inspiring others to make their lives and the world better—he found the confidence to build a rewarding and productive life without limits.

Nick offers practical advice for realizing a life of fulfillment and happiness by building trust in others, developing supportive relationships, and gaining strength for the journey. He encourages the reader by showing how he learned to accept what he could not control and focus instead on what he could.

My review:Several times as I read this book, I thought "man, I thought I had it bad!" This is a very inspiring and encouraging book. Nick tells a lot about how he learned to live with no arms or legs, and how he learned to deal with what many would view as limitations.

I am amazed at what this guy has done - and can do. He rides a surf board, swims, goes scuba diving, and other things that most people with arms and legs don't do.

Scattered throughout the pages of the book are also stories of people he met who had either disabilities or bad circumstances, yet overcame them. He is a motivational speaker, and gives a lot of advice on how to rise avove your circumstances. He is a Christian, an ordained evangelist, so he talks a lot in the book about depending on God and how God has helped him, and does help him.

I found myself to be encouraged, inspired, and convicted by reading this book. It is so easy to get overwhelmed with life, but after reading Nick's story, I realize all too often we give into our circumstances, and lose the battle.

I usually give my "read-in-one-sitting" status to a suspense type book, but this book was so interesting that I read it in one evening, and so I will bestow that status on it. I really recommend reading it.

About the author:

NICK VUJICIC is a motivational speaker and the directorfounding President of the a non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs. A longtime resident of Australia, he now lives in southern CaliforniaIt was in recent years that Nick made the move from Australia to Southern California from where he now continues to passionately travel around the world, spreading a message of hope to all people.

Visit his website at

Life Without Limits is available from Random House Publishing.

Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for the review copy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury


Before You Take a Stand … You Got to Take a Chance.

Holden Harris is an eighteen-year-old locked in a prison of autism. Despite his quiet ways and quirky behaviors, Holden is very happy and socially normal—on the inside, in a private world all his own. In reality, he is bullied at school by kids who only see that he is very different.

Ella Reynolds is part of the “in” crowd. A cheerleader and star of the high school drama production, her life seems perfect. When she catches Holden listening to her rehearse for the school play, she is drawn to him … the way he is drawn to the music. Then, Ella makes a dramatic discovery—she and Holden were best friends as children.

Frustrated by the way Holden is bullied, and horrified at the indifference of her peers, Ella decides to take a stand against the most privileged and popular kids at school.

Including her boyfriend, Jake.

Ella believes miracles can happen in the unlikeliest places, and that just maybe an entire community might celebrate from the sidelines. But will Holden’s praying mother and the efforts of Ella and a cast of theater kids be enough to unlock the prison that contains Holden?

This time, friendship, faith, and the power of a song must be strong enough to open the doors to the miracle Holden needs.

My review
Though she does not write suspense, my favorite genre' to read, Karen Kingsbury is my favorite author. I thought this book sounded like a winner, as all of hers are, and was it ever. It is a very touching and emotional story, and she pulls out all of the stops on this one. It is obvious she did a lot of research on autism - and I learned a lot about it in the book. She also does an excellent job of portraying the emotions of the boy's parents. The feelings of loss, as if they had truly lost him out of their lives.

She also tackles the subject of bullying in the book. Kids picking on and making fun of kids who are different. I confess I have cried before while reading a Karen Kingsbury book, but this one really brought the waterworks. (I know, I'm a guy - you try reading this one without getting misty-eyed!) The story is not necessarily sad, though parts of it is, but it is an emotional story of hope. This has got to be one of her best books ever. I highly recommend it, and it definitely gets my "read-in-one-sitting" status.

About the author:

New York Times Bestselling author Karen Kingsbury is America's favorite inspirational novelist with over fifteen million books in print. Her Life-Changing Fiction has produced multiple bestsellers, including Take One, Between Sundays, Even Now, One Tuesday Morning, Beyond Tuesday Morning, and Ever After, which was named the 2007 Christian Book of the Year. An award-winning author and newly published songwriter, Karen has had several movies optioned for production, and her novel Like Dandelion Dust is in post production as a major motion picture release. Karen is also a nationally known speaker with several women's groups. She lives in Washington State with her husband Don, and their six children, three of whom were adopted from Haiti.

Unlocked is available from Zondervan Publishing.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy.

Check out the trailer for the book - very nicely done.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CSN Stores

If you are looking for counter stools, bookshelves, or other such items, look no further. Thanks to my friend, Molly, I have been given the opportunity to pick out an item to review for CSN stores. To be honest, I had never heard of CSN stores before, but I checked them out after Molly's email. They have 200+ websites with things like furniture, housewares, home improvement, baby and kids, outdoor living, office supply - you name it.

There are a ton of things to pick from. Molly did this bookcase, and maybe I will lean that way - can always use more bookcases - so watch for my review of a CSN product coming up in the next few weeks.

Christmas At Harringtons by Melody Carlson

Sometimes the best gift is a second chance

Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret?

Reading Christmas at Harrington's, a story full of redemption and true holiday spirit, will be your newest Christmas tradition.

My review:
Melody Carlson has several Christmas novels under her belt, and she is quite the pro at writing them. This one may be her best yet.

The story is about Lena Markham, a woman in her early 40's who has just been released from prison after being in prison for eight years for embezzlement, which she did not do. She has been given some cash and clothes by the prison and sent to a new place to start her new life.

I don't want to give any of the book away, so that is it for my description. I will say that I immensely enjoyed the book. I started it at the doctor's office, but wouldn't you know, they took me in right away. Sigh. I did finish it later that day, and I loved it. I really enjoyed the characters and the plot - and the setting. I love Christmas books, and Christmas makes a great setting for this type of book: a new start, forgiveness, hope.

This is the type of book that you will want to read again, next Christmas. Melody Carlson has written a winner here, and you will not be disappointed if you read this book.

About the author:

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books, several of them Christmas novellas from Revell, including her much-loved and bestselling book, The Christmas Bus. She also writes many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the TrueColors series, and the Carter House Girls series. Melody was nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her books, including the Notes from a Spinning Planet series and Finding Alice, which is in production as a Lifetime Television movie. She and her husband serve on the Young Life adult committee in central Oregon. Visit Melody's website at
Christmas At Harrington's is available from Revell Publishers, an imprint of Baker Book House.

Thanks to Revell for the review copy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Silent Order by Melanie Dobson

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Silent Order
Summerside Press (November 1, 2010)
Melanie Dobson

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good.

Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.

Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.

Rural America - 1928. After the murder of his partner, Detective Rollin Wells hides away in an Amish home near Sugarcreek, Ohio, to find out who in the police force is collaborating with Cleveland’s notorious mob. While Rollin searches for answers to his partner’s death, he befriends an elusive young Amish woman named Katie and her young son. As Rollin learns about Katie’s past, he’s shocked at the secret Katie is hiding - a secret that has haunted Rollin for eight years.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Silent Order, go HERE.

My review:
I gotta admit it. I wondered to myself "What on earth was this author thinking?! Amish and mafia?!" It does seem a strange mix, but it worked. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

It is set in Cleveland and Sugarcreek, Ohio. Sugarcreek is in Holmes County, and the whole area is a big Amish area. It is also not far from me - about an hour and fifteen minutes - great place to visit - so that made the book even more interesting to me, being set in a place I am familiar with.

So what does the mafia and Amish have to do with each other? Nothing, but in this book, the Amish end up hiding and protecting a police detective that the mafia is after. There is a lot in the book about Amish, and there is a lot in the book about the mafia. Makes for an interesting mix, and the average Amish book lover might not enjoy this one, unless you are also into suspense.

I really did enjoy the book, even more than the previous book that I read by this author. I have been disappointed in a couple of books I have read from this publisher, but not in this one. It is a great suspense novel, and is definitely Christian. I definitely recommend it.

Thanks to Summerside Press for the review copy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hatteras Girl by Alice Wisler

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Hatteras Girl
Bethany House; Original edition (October 1, 2010)
Alice Wisler


Alice J. Wisler is an author, public speaker, advocate, and fundraiser. She has been a guest on several radio and TV programs to promote her self-published cookbooks, Slices of Sunlight and Down the Cereal Aisle. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and has traveled the country in jobs that minister to people. Alice was raised in Japan and currently resides in Durham, North Carolina.

Facts about Alice

* Born in Osaka, Japan and lived in Japan for 18 years

* Went to Kyoto International School and Canadian Academy

* Majored in Social Work and graduated in 1983 from Eastern Mennonite University

* Worked at a group home for disadvantaged kids outside of Philadelphia

* Taught English and Culture Orientation at a refugee camp in the Philippines

* Taught English as a Second Language in Japan

* Speaks and teaches on Writing the Heartache

* Has three kids on earth, and one in Heaven

* Recently got married to Carl on 2/7/09


There are two things twenty-nine-year-old Jackie Donovan asks God for: an honest, wonderful man to marry, and to own a bed-and-breakfast in the Outer Banks region. In the meantime, Jackie works for Lighthouse Views magazine, writing articles about other local business owners, and intrepidly goes on the blind dates set up by her well-meaning but oh-so-clueless relatives.

There's one specific property Jackie dreams of purchasing: the Bailey Place, a fabulous old home where Jackie spent many happy childhood afternoons, a place that has now fallen into disrepair because of its outrageous price tag.

When Jackie meets handsome Davis Erickson, who holds the key to the Bailey Place, Jackie is sure God has answered both her prayers. But as Jackie learns some disturbing details about Davis's past, she begins to question her own motivation. Will she risk her long-held dreams to find out the truth?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Hatteras Girl, go HERE.


Still a couple of more days to enter to win a cool Christms book here.

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef

Book description:

Since he was a small boy, Mosab Hassan Yousef has had an inside view of the deadly terrorist group Hamas. The oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and its most popular leader, young Mosab assisted his father for years in his political activities while being groomed to assume his legacy, politics, status . . . and power. But everything changed when Mosab turned away from terror and violence, and embraced instead the teachings of another famous Middle East leader. In Son of Hamas, Mosab Yousef—now called “Joseph”—reveals new information about the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization and unveils the truth about his own role, his agonizing separation from family and homeland, the dangerous decision to make his newfound faith public, and his belief that the Christian mandate to “love your enemies” is the only way to peace in the Middle East.
My review:
I honestly cannot remember reading a more interesting and gripping non-fiction book. This one gets my "read-in-one-sitting" status, for that is exactly what I did. The story is well written, and is a fascinating tale. I learned a lot about Islam, the Hamas, the conflict between Isreal and the Palestinians, and a lot more.
The most amazing part of the story is not that Mosab became an agent working with the Isrealis against Hamas, an organization his own father helped to start, but that in spite of his strict Islamic upbringing, that God reached down and changed him from a son of Hamas to a follower of Jesus Christ.
Though my normal genre' is Christian fiction, and my favorite is suspense/mystery, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it. It will be worth your time.
About the author:

Mosab Hassan Yousef was born in Ramallah, in the Palestinian West Bank, in 1978. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is a founding leader of Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization and responsible for countless suicide bombings and other deadly attacks against Israel. Yousef was an integral part of the movement, for which he was imprisoned several times by the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service. He withstood torture in prison only to discover Hamas was torturing its own people in a relentless search for collaborators. He began to question who his enemies really were—Israel? Hamas? America?

While in an Israeli prison, Yousef was approached about becoming a spy for the Shin Bet. Initially, Yousef accepted the offer with the idea that he would betray them, and in hopes he could use the role to protect his father and family. Later, as Yousef saw the hypocrisy within Hamas and became a Christian, he used the position to save lives on both sides of the conflict. Yousef worked as a double agent within Hamas for nearly 10 years. He became a vital intelligence asset for the Israeli government while serving side-by-side with his father within the upper ranks of Hamas. After a chance encounter with a British tourist, Yousef started a six-year quest that jeopardized Hamas, endangered his family, and threatened his life. He has since embraced the Christian faith and sought political asylum in America. His story was revealed in the 2008 Fox News documentary "Escape from Hamas."

Yousef 's first book, Son of Hamas, written with Ron Brackin (SaltRiver), released March 2, 2010. In Son of Hamas, Yousef reveals new information about this dangerous terrorist organization and unveils the truth behind his own secret role. He describes his surreal journey to a new faith that instructed him to love his enemies. And he tells the story of the agonizing decisions that led him to walk away from his family, friends, and homeland. For blog updates from Yousef, visit

Son of Hamas is available from Saltriver Publishing, an imprint of Tyndale Publishing.

Thanks to Tyndale for the review copy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaBloPoMo Day #9... Christmas CDs, the bad and ugly

I covered my favorite Christmas CDs, now time for my least favorites. Ever hear an awesome song, run out and by the CD, only to find the rest of the CD is not so awesome? That has happened to me with some Christmas CDs. Unlike my favorite CDs, these do not warrant the bother of pictures. And again, in no particular order...

Hey Santa by Wendy and Carnie Wilson - I love the title song. Not sure why, as I am not a big fan of Santa...... Anyway, I bought the CD - cheap, fortunately, for the rest of the CD was.... boring. I didn't think they sang the songs well, and it was a letdown from the title song. I sold it on ebay.

Merry Christmas by Mariah Carey - I absolutely love the song from this CD, All I Want for Christmas Is You. And again, I bought the CD and yuk! Double yuk... I gave the CD away, hated it too much to sell it. :-)

Rockin Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee - No one - and I mean no one - can sing this song like Brenda Lee. Yes, there are other great versions of the song, but she tops them all. A true classic. And the rest of her Christmas CD is classic.... classic horrid - awful CD. Not sure what I did with it after I bought it, but I listened to it once. The title song remains on my Ipod though.

Home for Christmas by Dolly Parton - I love Dolly's singing, and love the Christmas CD she did with Kenny Rogers. I was however, disappointed with this CD. It isn't bad, it just bored me. She needs to do a new one with newer, more lively arrangments. She released a single new song last Christmas - Coming Home for Christmas that I really love. But I didn't keep the Home for Christmas CD.

A Greater Vision Christmas by Greater Vision - These guys do a great job on "Cherish That Name", but overall, the CD was a disappointment to me. With a marvelous song writer in their group, Rodney Griffin, I was hoping for some new Christmas songs, but they were all classics, and it bored me. They have a new CD out this year that looks more promising.

Christmas by Jason Crabb - I did not buy this CD - thank God for the modern technology we have of being able to preview CDs before you buy them. I almost bought it until I listened to it. I like Jason's voice, but am not impressed with the CD, so I will not be buying it.

The Promise by Michael Card - I am not a fan of Michael Card. I like his voice, but not his style. His Christmas CD looked good, so I bought it. I liked 2 songs on it - Immanuel - an awesome song - and We Will Find Him. The rest of the CD.... no thanks.

Yuletide Joy by Sandi Patty - I like Sandi Patty's voice, and loved her Christmas CD, The Gift Goes On. This CD looked promising.... but I hated it. Especially her Jingle Bells rendition. I about shudder at the thoughts. This one went on ebay so fast it would have made heads spin.

Breath of Heaven by Vince Gill - His first Christmas CD was tops, but this one - not so much. It isn't a terrible CD, but was just disappointing. And why, oh why did he record "Breath of Heaven"... aka "Mary's Song"? That makes as much sense as Dolly Parton singing "He's Alive". "Breath of Heaven" is supposed to be Mary talking - I seriously doubt Vince Gill has ever been pregnant.... though he does have a very high voice....

I am sure there have been others, but these stick in my mind. Any you would add to the list?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Grace by Shelley Shephard Gray

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Avon Inspire; Original edition (October 26, 2010)
Shelley Shepard Gray


Shelley Shepard Gray is the beloved author of the Sisters of the Heart series, including Hidden, Wanted, and Forgiven. Before writing, she was a teacher in both Texas and Colorado. She now writes full time and lives in southern Ohio with her husband and two children. When not writing, Shelley volunteers at church, reads, and enjoys walking her miniature dachshund on her town's scenic bike trail.


It's Christmastime at the Brenneman Bed & Breakfast, and everyone is excited about closing down for the holiday.

Anna and Henry will be celebrating their first Christmas as a married couple, and for Katie and Jonathan Lundy, it's their first Christmas with baby Stefan. Winnie and Samuel Miller plan to stop by as well for a wonderful two weeks of family and rest.

But when two unexpected visitors show up, hoping to stay for Christmas, the family must test their commitment to hospitality. Levi is a widower who lost his wife four years ago and can't bear the thought of another Christmas alone. And Melody is a young pregnant woman who won't open up about how she ended up on her own at Christmas at almost nine months pregnant.

Anna, who knows a thing or two about keeping secrets, doesn't trust her, and strives to find out the truth about these two strangers who have disrupted their holiday. But as the Christmas spirit descends on them all, as well as snow that traps them in the inn, a healing and hopefulness takes over, allowing new relationships to be built, and the boundaries of family to be extended.

If you'd like to read the first chapter of Grace, go HERE.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaBloPoMo Day #7.... The best Christmas CDs

I am not in the mood to blog, but I did commit to this National Blog Posting Month thing, so here goes..... my favorite Christmas CDs of all time...... not in any particular order

Once Upon A Christmas by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. These two sound great together, and this CD is tops... I love listening to it.

A Family Christmas by the Talleys, 1988. This one would have to be my all time favorite - totally awesome CD from the Talleys, back when it was Debra, Roger, and Kirk. I had had the cassette for years, and when I went to all CDs was fortunate to find the CD on ebay - and there is one on ebay right now if anyone is interested...... They did a few very nice medleys on this CD and a few original songs I love.

Every Light That Shines At Christmas by Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. These guys are my favorite quartet and one of my favorite groups. Their first Christmas CD was really good, but this one tops it. It has 15 songs, new and old, and is an awesome CD.

I have always loved Garth Brooks voice, though I haven't cared for many of his songs. He has, however done two great Christmas CDs. This one, The Magic of Christmas, is the newer of the two, and is my favorite of the two. It is mostly new songs, but I like how he does it, and it is a favorite Christmas CD of mine.

Jeff and Sheri Easter have always been one of my favorite groups, so I was excited when they finally did a Christmas CD... and I was not disappointed. Filled with a mix of old and new Christmas songs, this one has been in my favorites list since it came out.

The first of two Christmas CDs by country group, Lonestar - This Christmas Time. I loved it at first listen, and still do. The best cuts... Reason for the Season and Please Come Home For Christmas.

David Phelps has done two Christmas CDs, and this is the newer and more lively of the two. It also features his new anorexic Shirley Temple look.....

This CD, One Wintry Night,  has 15 songs, and is an awesome Christmas CD, leaning more contemporary than Southern Gospel. David wrote some of the songs on it, and it also has some classic Christmas songs - a great mix.

One of the best ever Christmas CDs ever, Still The Greatest Story by the Gaither Vocal Band. It has one song I don't like, but the others are so great that it makes my list. Favorite song - It's Still The Greatest Story - awesome song.

No picture, but there was an obscure Southern Gospel family back in the 80's who did a couple of CDs, including a Christmas CD. The group, The Manuel Family Band, penned mostly original songs on the CD, and I love the CD - has some really cool songs, such as Even Santa Ought to Know, Take The "X" Out of Your Christmas, The Reason, and more. Makes my list for sure.

Let There Be Peace On Earth by Vince Gill - a great country Christmas CD, and his newer Christmas CD pales in comparison. This is another I had on cassette and replaced with the CD - a CD worth having.

I don't think I had ever listened to anything by SCC until I bought this, The Music of Christmas - and I loved it right off the bat. It has some original songs that I love, my favorite cut being God With Us - a totally awesome song. I enjoy the whole CD, though different from my normal listening styles.

Though not as good as their first Christmas CD, this CD by the Talley Trio, as opposed to the Talleys - Kirk being replaced by his niece, Lauren, this is another musical delight for the ears. It has some newer songs and classics - a must have for Southern Gospel lovers.

The new Gaither Vocal Band Christmas CD, Christmas Gaither Vocal Band Style, is not as good as the first, and has more classics than new, but is still a favorite already of mine -  a great CD.

I have many more Christmas CDs, but these are my favoites and most played. Any input - some you would add?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Joy to the World: Advent Activities for your Family

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:

Liguori Publications (July 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Rebecca Molen of Liguori Publications for sending me a review copy.***


Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display on her website (see below).

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.99
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Liguori Publications (July 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0764819372
ISBN-13: 978-0764819377




Call it December madness: On the day after Thanksgiving 2008, a seasonal worker was trampled to death by shoppers swarming a department store at opening time. In mid-America, two women got into a fist fight over a toy, and the store personnel had to pull them off each other.

At this time of year, it’s hardly possible to escape feeling rushed, harried, and overwhelmed. It seems like every year the Christmas decorations at the mall go up a little earlier, and all the news reports dwell on how much money retailers are (or aren’t) going to make. The ad inserts get fatter and the TV shouts: “No need to wait! Zero down! No interest for thirteen months! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Just about everyone gripes about it, but no one seems to know what to do about it. Some families throw out the whole secular celebration in an attempt to prevent materialism from overwhelming both Advent and Christmas. But most families feel—rightly so—that they shouldn’t have to choose one over the other. It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but often families feel stressed as the calendar fills up with recitals, shopping, parties, and housecleaning. In this atmosphere filled with distractions, the idea of Advent as a season in its own right has been overwhelmed. How can we wait for Christmas when we never have to wait for anything else?

Christmas is not about children, gifts, cookies, or trees. It’s about a love so powerful that God came to earth to dwell among us: human and divine intertwining—a holy union of wills that reaches its apex not in birth, but in crucifixion and resurrection. In salvation.

And we spend December fighting over Blu-ray discs and toys?

It’s time to reclaim Advent—that season of holy hush, of waiting, of light and anticipation—that season that helps make Christmas so special. We can’t withdraw from the world, but we can take the trappings of the season and infuse them with a deeper meaning. Joy to the World: Advent Activities for Your Family outlines a way to reconcile the secular with the sacred—to celebrate them side-by-side, to mold them into a single, month-long “liturgy,” and in so doing, to enrich both celebrations.

Chapter 1 presents a brief overview of Advent and why it is important. Chapter 2 introduces the three parts of the Advent Reclamation Project, which are explained more fully in Chapters 3 through 5. Chapter 6 offers suggestions for other traditions that families or parish communities might choose to adopt as their own, and in the appendices, you will find resources to flesh out the earlier chapters.

Early childhood is the ideal time to start developing family traditions, so this book is aimed at young families. Each chapter contains a short italicized section to be read directly to children, explaining some part of the celebration. As your family grows, you can adapt the traditions to fit your own circumstances. Many of the ideas will also translate to the classroom. Remember that Advent, like Sabbath, was not created for God’s sake, but for ours (see Mark 2:27). God doesn’t need it. We do.



The Case
For Advent

Advent holds a unique place in the Christian calendar. For Catholics, it is the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a season in which the church is decked out in purple—a sign of penitence—yet the Scriptures also speak of joy, hope, and light.

The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning arrival or coming. In the earliest days of the Church, all of life focused on the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. After all, the Apostles expected the Second Coming during their lifetimes.

At this time, the ancient pagan cultures structured their seasonal celebrations on nature. The celebration of the winter solstice was the biggest festival of the year in ancient times. It centered upon the shortest day of the year—the day when the “unconquered” sun began slowly to take back the days. Gift-giving, feasting, lights, and greenery all originated in these pagan celebrations. As Christianity expanded into these lands, the Church adopted many of these traditions, infusing them with Christian meaning in order to ease the transition for its new members. Thus, sometime in the fourth century ad, Christmas—and Advent—made their appearances.

Originally, Advent was a forty-day period of fasting and penitence—a parallel to Lent. In the early centuries, the Church focused on preparing for the Second Coming. Not until the middle ages did Advent begin to point toward the birth of Christ. Over the centuries, many traditions cropped up surrounding the season. The Advent wreath grew out of a Pagan tradition of lighting candles to signify the hope of spring. The Jesse tree probably originated in Northern Europe, where lineage and genealogy determined one’s place in society. The Jesse tree taught the faithful about Jesus’ royal lineage. Over time, these customs (and the meanings associated with them) have evolved. Some grew more important, others less so.

Nowadays, the secular culture and many Protestant denominations make no distinction between Advent and Christmas. The Sundays of December are filled with the story of the Christ Child, and the Christmas celebration is over and done around New Year’s. But in Catholic tradition, the season of Advent focuses on the two “comings” of Christ—the Incarnation, when God came to Earth as human child, and the glorious Second Coming at the end of time. In fact, the readings for the first two weeks of Advent speak of John the Baptist “preparing the way” for Jesus, the grown man who turned the world upside down. Only in the later part of Advent does our focus zero in on Bethlehem.

This duality is something we experience even with our senses. Catholic churches are hung with violet for these four weeks—the color traditionally associated with penitence. But the purple we use at this time of year is different from the purple of Lent; it is meant to be a richer, royal purple, reminding us also that Christ is King.

Advent gives us a chance to meditate on:

Hope—for deliverance;

Expectation—for the coming of one who will bring justice to an unjust world;

Preparation—so that we may prepare our hearts to receive Christ, who is

Light—the light of the world.

These are beautiful themes. Why should Advent be shoved into a corner, nothing more than four weeks of filler before Christmas? Advent can be a magical time, if we approach it the right way.

Advent does not need to become a “second Lent,” but the violet hangings and vestments remind us that penitence remains an important part of the season. Advent gives us the chance to examine our hearts and “defrag” our scattered souls. To reorder our thinking and our priorities. To point our lives, for four weeks, toward Christmas, so that when we reach the holiday, it has meaning and beauty that is distinct from the four preceding weeks.

Nor is Christmas the end of the journey. Without Holy Week and the resurrection, the manger in Bethlehem would be unremarkable: just one more baby born in poverty. For Christians, the destination is Easter. Glorious as it is, Christmas is a stop along the way.

For the children:

Even though all the advertisements on TV are about Christmas, right now we are actually in the season of Advent. During Advent, our job is to get ready for Jesus to come and live in our hearts. At Christmas, we will celebrate Jesus being born as a baby—but he has promised us that he will come back again someday, and we need to be ready. One way we do this is by remembering our sins and trying to do better. This is called penitence, and it is why the church is decorated in purple. But Advent is also about looking forward to Jesus coming. We are excited because Jesus is the light of the world, and when he comes, he will make the world fair for everyone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Everything Christmas by David Bordon and Thomas J. Winters/ Giveaway

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:

and the book:

WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)
***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, Doubleday Religion / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


David Bordon and Tom Winters are partners in Bordon-Winters, LLC, a book concept and packaging company that produces successful books and gift products. Their previous titles include the 101 Things You Should Do series, especially the popular 101 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 030772929X
ISBN-13: 978-0307729293


December 1

Let Us Keep Christmas

Grace Noll Crowell

Whatever else be lost among the years,

Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing;

Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,

Let us hold close one day, remembering

It’s poignant meaning for the hearts of men.

Let us get back our childlike faith again.

The History of Christmas

Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The twelve days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, gift giving, carnivals, carolers going from house to house, holiday feasts, even church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians. These traditions were passed down throughout the known world and were popular in Rome long before the birth of Christ.

Most historians say that some three centuries after the birth of Christ, Christianity was spreading rapidly. Church leaders were alarmed that their converts continued to honor the ancient celebrations honoring pagan gods. Early Christians had chosen to keep the birth of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, without merriment. For centuries they had forbidden their members to take part in those ancient celebrations. But now it seemed it was a losing battle. As a compromise, they agreed to allow their members to partake in a demure and respectful celebration of the birth of Christ. Thus, the Christian celebration we know as Christmas was born in Rome, near the date 336 AD.

The actual date of Christ’s birth is unknown, so the early Christians chose December 25, probably to compete with the wildly popular Roman festival of Saturnalia. Eventually, most of the customs from the festival of Saturnalia were adopted into the celebration of Christmas and given new and sacred meanings.

Today, Christmas is both a holiday and a holy day. In America, it is the biggest event of the year, celebrated by people of all ages.

Christmas Every Day

William Dean Howells

The little girl came into her papa’s study, as she always did Saturday morning before breakfast, and asked for a story. He tried to beg off that morning, for he was very busy, but she would not let him. So he began:

“Well, once there was a little pig—”

She stopped him at the word. She said she had heard little pig stories till she was perfectly sick of them.

“Well, what kind of story shall I tell, then?”

“About Christmas. It’s getting to be the season.”

“Well!” Her papa roused himself. “Then I’ll tell you about the little girl that wanted it Christmas every day in the year. How would you like that?”

“First-rate!” said the little girl; and she nestled into comfortable shape in his lap, ready for listening.

“Very well, then, this little pig—Oh, what are you pounding me for?”

“Because you said little pig instead of little girl.”

“I should like to know what’s the difference between a little pig and a little girl that wanted Christmas every day!”

“Papa!” said the little girl warningly. At this her papa began to tell the story.

Once there was a little girl who liked Christmas so much that she wanted it to be Christmas every day in the year, and as soon as Thanksgiving was over she began to send postcards to the old Christmas Fairy to ask if she mightn’t have it. But the old Fairy never answered, and after a while the little girl found out that the Fairy wouldn’t notice anything but real letters sealed outside with a monogram—or your initial, anyway. So, then, she began to send letters, and just the day before Christmas, she got a letter from the Fairy, saying she might have it Christmas every day for a year, and then they would see about having it longer.

The little girl was excited already, preparing for the old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas that was coming the next day. So she resolved to keep the Fairy’s promise to herself and surprise everybody with it as it kept coming true, but then it slipped out of her mind altogether.

She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus fill the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and rubber balls, and all kinds of small presents. Then she waited until the rest of the family was up, and she burst into the library to look at the large presents laid out on the library table—books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and inkstands, and skates, and photograph frames, and boxes of watercolors, and dolls’ houses—and the big Christmas tree, lighted and standing in the middle.

She had a splendid Christmas all day. She ate so much candy that she did not want any breakfast, and the whole forenoon the presents kept pouring in that had not been delivered the night before, and she went round giving the presents she had got for other people, and came home and ate turkey and cranberry for dinner, and plum pudding and nuts and raisins and oranges, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache crying, and her papa said he would see if his house was turned into that sort of fool’s paradise another year, and they had a light supper, and pretty early everybody went to bed cross.

The little girl slept very heavily and very late, but she was wakened at last by the other children dancing around her bed with their stockings full of presents in their hands. “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” they all shouted.

“Nonsense! It was Christmas yesterday,” said the little girl, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

Her brothers and sisters just laughed. “We don’t know about that. It’s Christmas today, anyway. You come into the library and see.”

Then all at once it flashed on the little girl that the Fairy was keeping her promise, and her year of Christmases was beginning. She was dreadfully sleepy, but she sprang up and darted into the library. There it was again! Books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and so on.

There was the Christmas tree blazing away, and the family picking out their presents, and her father looking perfectly puzzled, and her mother ready to cry. “I’m sure I don’t see how I’m to dispose of all these things,” said her mother, and her father said it seemed to him they had had something just like it the day before, but he supposed he must have dreamed it. This struck the little girl as the best kind of a joke, and so she ate so much candy she didn’t want any breakfast, and went round carrying presents, and had turkey and cranberry for dinner, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache, crying.

Now, the next day, it was the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser, and at the end of a week’s time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere, they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else’s, and it made the most dreadful mix.

The little girl began to get frightened, keeping the secret all to herself, she wanted to tell her mother, but she didn’t dare to, and she was ashamed to ask the Fairy to take back her gift, it seemed ungrateful and ill-bred. So it went on and on, and it was Christmas on St. Valentine’s Day and Washington’s Birthday, just the same as any day, and it didn’t skip even the First of April, though everything was counterfeit that day, and that was some little relief.

After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries—well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn’t get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse, except the confectioners, and the storekeepers, and the book sellers, and they all got so rich and proud that they would hardly wait upon a person when he came to buy. It was perfectly shameful!

After it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fireplace, and the disgusting presents around everywhere, used to sit down and burst out crying. In six months she was perfectly exhausted, she couldn’t even cry anymore.

And now it was on the Fourth of July! On the Fourth of July, the first boy in the United States woke up and found out that his firecrackers and toy pistol and two-dollar collection of fireworks were nothing but sugar and candy painted up to look like fireworks. Before ten o’clock every boy in the United States discovered that his July Fourth things had turned into Christmas things and was so mad. The Fourth of July orations all turned into Christmas carols, and when anybody tried to read the Declaration of Independence, instead of saying, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary,” he was sure to sing, “God rest you merry gentlemen.” It was perfectly awful.

About the beginning of October the little girl took to sitting down on dolls wherever she found them—she hated the sight of them so, and by Thanksgiving she just slammed her presents across the room. By that time people didn’t carry presents around nicely anymore. They flung them over the fence or through the window, and, instead of taking great pains to write “For dear Papa,” or “Mama “ or “Brother,” or “Sister,” they used to write, “Take it, you horrid old thing!” and then go and bang it against the front door.

Nearly everybody had built barns to hold their presents, but pretty soon the barns overflowed, and then they used to let them lie out in the rain, or anywhere. Sometimes the police used to come and tell them to shovel their presents off the sidewalk or they would arrest them.

Before Thanksgiving came it had leaked out who had caused all these Christmases. The little girl had suffered so much that she had talked about it in her sleep, and after that hardly anybody would play with her, because if it had not been for her greediness it wouldn’t have happened. And now, when it came Thanksgiving, and she wanted them to go to church, and have turkey, and show their gratitude, they said that all the turkeys had been eaten for her old Christmas dinners and if she would stop the Christmases, they would see about the gratitude. And the very next day the little girl began sending letters to the Christmas Fairy, and then telegrams, to stop it. But it didn’t do any good, and then she got to calling at the Fairy’s house, but the girl that came to the door always said, “Not at home,” or “Engaged,” or something like that, and so it went on till it came to the old once-a-year Christmas Eve. The little girl fell asleep, and when she woke up in the morning—

“She found it was all nothing but a dream,” suggested the little girl.

“No indeed!” said her papa. “It was all every bit true!”

“What did she find out, then?”

“Why, that it wasn’t Christmas at last, and wasn’t ever going to be, anymore. Now it’s time for breakfast.”

The little girl held her papa fast around the neck.

“You shan’t go if you’re going to leave it so!”

“How do you want it left?”

“Christmas once a year.”

“All right,” said her papa, and he went on again.

Well, with no Christmas ever again, there was the greatest rejoicing all over the country. People met together everywhere and kissed and cried for joy. Carts went around and gathered up all the candy and raisins and nuts, and dumped them into the river, and it made the fish perfectly sick. And the whole United States, as far out as Alaska, was one blaze of bonfires, where the children were burning up their presents of all kinds. They had the greatest time!

The little girl went to thank the old Fairy because she had stopped its being Christmas, and she said she hoped the Fairy would keep her promise and see that Christmas never, never came again. Then the Fairy frowned, and said that now the little girl was behaving just as greedily as ever, and she’d better look out. This made the little girl think it all over carefully again, and she said she would be willing to have it Christmas about once in a thousand years, and then she said a hundred, and then she said ten, and at last she got down to one. Then the Fairy said that was the good old way that had pleased people ever since Christmas began, and she was agreed. Then the little girl said, “What’re your shoes made of?” And the Fairy said, “Leather.” And the little girl said, “Bargain’s done forever,” and skipped off, and hippity-hopped the whole way home, she was so glad.

“How will that do?” asked the papa.

“First-rate!” said the little girl, but she hated to have the story stop, and was rather sober. However, her mama put her head in at the door and asked her papa:

“Are you never coming to breakfast? What have you been telling that child?”

“Oh, just a tale with a moral.”

The little girl caught him around the neck again.

“We know! Don’t you tell what, papa! Don’t you tell what!”

William Dean Howells (1837—1920) Best known as an editor and critic, this American fiction writer produced more than forty novels and story collections. He challenged American authors to choose American subjects, portray them honestly, and create characters who use native-American speech. As a critic, he helped to introduce writers like Mark Twain, Hamlin Garland, and Stephen Crane to American readers.

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past,

courage for the present, hope for the future.

It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow

with blessings rich and eternal, and that

every path may lead to peace.

Agnes M. Pharo

Scented Applesauce-Cinnamon


3 cups applesauce

3 cups ground cinnamon

Mix applesauce and cinnamon together until it is thick enough to hold a form. Flatten the mixture on a flat surface and cut into cookie-cutter shapes.

Place cookie shapes on a cookie sheet to dry for 3 to 4 days depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. If using as a hanging ornament, make a hole with a toothpick before drying.

Makes 15 ornaments.

Chestnut Dressing

8 Tbsp. butter

3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped

16 ounces chestnuts

1 large chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 pound sourdough bread, cubed

3 cups turkey stock

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut a deep X into the flattest side of each chestnut and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until outer skin of chestnut splits. Wrap roasted chestnuts in a towel to keep warm. Peel off the tough outer skin of the chestnut and thinner inner skin with a sharp knife. Chop the chestnuts coarsely and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Empty skillet contents into a large bowl. Add cubed bread, parsley, and enough stock to moisten the mix, about 2 1/2 cups. Stir in chestnuts and add salt and pepper to taste.

Use to stuff poultry or place in a buttered baking dish, drizzle with 1/2 cup more stock, and bake 30 minutes to an hour.

Makes 10–11 cups.

Roasted Goose

1 goose, 10–12 pounds

1 orange, halved

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For giblet stock (used in gravy):

2 onions, quartered

1 carrot, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 pints of water

2 sprigs of sage

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tbsp. cornstarch (to thicken)

The goose should be defrosted and left at room temperature for at least 2 or 3 hours before cooking to bring it to equilibrium. This will improve the overall texture of the finished product. Remove the giblets from the goose and set aside. Wash the bird thoroughly inside and out with cool water and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Cut away any loose pieces of fat. Then rub the orange inside and outside of the bird. Mix the salt and pepper and rub into the skin and inside the cavity of the bird to season it.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Truss the bird by folding the wings back under the body. Then tie the legs together with butcher’s twine. Lightly prick the skin of the bird several times with a fork to allow the fat to adequately render during the cooking process. It is important not to pierce the flesh of the bird. Place the goose breast-side up on a rack in the roasting pan, and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes to develop some initial color. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and continue cooking for approximately 3 hours.

Make a simple giblet stock to fortify and enrich the gravy while the goose is roasting by placing the giblets in a saucepan with some goose fat and cooking over low heat until browned. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, herbs, and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for about one hour. Strain and cool until needed.

The goose is done when the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 175°F. For a visual test to see if the goose is cooked, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, then it is ready. If not, then return to the oven for additional roasting time.

Once the goose is cooked, allow it to rest for 20–30 minutes. This will allow the meat to firm up and will help retain the juiciness of the bird. Remove all of the drippings from the roasting pan, strain, and remove the fat. Add these defatted drippings to the giblet broth and season to taste. To thicken the gravy, combine 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch with 3 Tbsp. of water and add to the gravy. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1–2 minutes or until thickened.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Phillips Brooks

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,

While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,

And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,

Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;

Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Historical Note:

On Christmas Eve, 1865, Phillips Brooks was in Jerusalem, a trip intended to inspire spiritual rebirth after the horrors of the Civil War. Just a few months earlier, he had spoken at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. That clear night as he walked the streets of the Holy City, he had a sudden inspiration. Renting a horse, he set out for Bethlehem. After a solitary journey under the clear night sky, Brooks reached the tiny, remote village and was surrounded by the spirit of the first Christmas. His impoverished soul was refreshed as he considered what had happened there so many years before. Three years later on Christmas Eve, 1868, as he sat alone in his study preparing his sermon for the next day, he felt inspired to pen the words to this beautiful carol.

I, the Lord All-Powerful,

will send my messenger

to prepare the way for me.

Then suddenly the Lord

you are looking for

will appear in his temple.

The messenger you desire

is coming with my promise,

and he is on his way.

(Malachi 3:1, cev)

My review:I love Christmas books, and this one is awesome! I have not read the whole book yet - I wanted to save some of it for closer to Christmas, but what I have read, and from looking through it - I am impressed. It has stories, recipes, humor, Christmas dinner descriptions and traditions from other countries - you name it. I thorouhly enjoyed what I have read so far, and was reading humorous portions to my fellow jurors this morning in the jury room. Get this book - you will enjoy it! And though I am not reading the book in one sitting, it deserves that status.

Courtesy of Stacy at Waterbrook/Multnomah, I have a copy of this book to give away. To enter, comment with one of your favorite things about Christmas. Using, I will pick a winner 10 days from today, November 13.

Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for the review copy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Year With God by R.P. Nettelhorst

Book description:

A 365-day devotional featuring the actual spoken words of God as presented in the Bible.

Too many times the impact and grandness of the actual words God spoke, as recorded in the Bible, are lost in the telling of the story. In A Year with God, the primary focus is to allow the scriptures that contain God's dialogue and the revelations of himself to uniquely speak to the reader. The author follows each reading with insights and applications to help explain the context and nuances of the text. The unique titling of each meditation and the nontraditional themes and organization help bring God to our daily lives. Topics include:

Hope and Fear Love and Hate Perseverance and Quitting Faith and Doubt Loyalty and Betrayal Companionship and Isolation Mercy and Judgment Forgiveness and Anger Joy and Sadness Peace and Conflict.

My review:
I like a good devotional, and since we are nearing the end of this year, I thought that I'd review this in case someone is looking for a new devotional for next year.

This one is a bit different than some. It does not have months and dates in it, just day 1-365. Each day has several verses, followed by a sort of commentary on the verses. Several different Bible translations are used for this devotional, which adds variety.

The devotional is split up into a few different topics, and each devotional also has a title. This is a deeper kind of devotional, not intended for a light "dessert" type read. They are fairly short, with the Scripture and devotional taking up one page daily. Everyone needs to read a good portion of Scripture aside from what is in a devotional, but I like the fact that there is more Scripture in this one than the typical one verse found in most. I would recommend this for people wanting a somewhat deeper devotional.

About the author:
R.P. Nettelhorst’s latest book, The Bible’s Most Fascinating People was published by Reader’s Digest Books in January, 2008. It has since been translated into 13 languages. His academic articles have appeared in Biblical Research Monthly, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Quartz Hill Journal of Theology. He writes a weekly column for Ridge Rider News, a newspaper in northern California, and a monthly article for Passion Magazine, the newsletter for the High Desert Baptist Association. He is also the founder and Academic Vice President of Quartz Hill School of Theology where he serves as Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages.

He is married, with three daughters between the ages of fifteen and twelve. He resides in Lancaster, California.

A Year With God is available from Thomas Nelson Publishers. Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Black Madonna by Davis Bunn

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:

Touchstone; 1st edition (September 7, 2010)
***Special thanks to Libby Reed, Publicity Assistant, HOWARD BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster for sending me a review copy.***


Davis Bunn is an award winning author who serves as writer in residence at Regent’s Par College, Oxford University. His novels have sold more than six million copies in sixteen languages.

Photograph by I.D. Bunn

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Touchstone; 1st edition (September 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416556338
ISBN-13: 978-1416556336


FROM THE CREST OF THE Herodium dig, Harry Bennett could look out and see three wars.

The isolated, cone-shaped hill rose two thousand feet over the Judean Desert. Herodium, the palace-fortress built by Herod the Great, had been erected on the site of his victory against the Parthians in 40 BCE. Herod had then served as king of Judea under his Roman masters, but he had been utterly despised by the Judeans. When Herod's sons were finally vanquished, Herodium had been evacuated. Over the centuries, the city became a legend, its location a myth.

Modern excavations had begun in the sixties, only to be interrupted by wars and intifadas and disputes over jurisdiction. Harry Bennett was part of a group excavating the original palace fortress. The current project was supervised by a woman professor from the Sorbonne. She had fought for six years to gain the license, and nothing so minor as somebody else's war was going to stop her work.

The volunteers came from a dozen nations, to dig and learn and bury themselves in history. Most were in their twenties and tried to keep up a brave face despite the rumbles of conflict and the brutal heat. The day Harry arrived at Herodium, three Scandinavian backpackers had perished hiking above the Ein Gedi National Forest. With water in their packs. Just felled by the ferocious heat.

And here Harry was, huddled under the relentless glare of that same deadly sun, using his trowel and his brush to scrape two thousand years of crud off a stone.

Officially Harry and the other volunteers were restricted to the dig and their hilltop camp. With Hamas missiles streaking the nighttime sky, none of the other unpaid staff were much interested in testing their boundaries. But twice each week the Sorbonne professor traveled to Jerusalem and delivered her finds to the ministry. When she departed that particular afternoon, Harry signaled to the Palestinian operating the forklift. Ten minutes later, they set off in Hassan's decrepit pickup.

The angry wind blasting through his open window tasted of sand as dry as volcanic ash. Hassan followed the pitted track down an incline so steep Harry gripped the roof and propped one boot on the dashboard. He tried to ignore the swooping drop to his right by studying the horizon, which only heightened his sense of descending into danger. North and east rose the Golan hills and sixty years of struggle with Syria. Straight north was the Lebanese border, home to the Hezbollah hordes. To the southwest lay Gaza, provider of their nightly firework displays.

All West Bank digs were required to employ a certain number of locals. Hassan was one of the few who arrived on time, did an honest day's work, and showed a keen interest in every new discovery. On Harry's first day at the site, he had put the man down for a grave robber and a smuggler.

The West Bank was the richest area for artifacts in all Judea. There were thousands of sites, many dating from the Iron Age, others from the Roman era, and more still from Byzantium. Many sites remained undiscovered by archeologists but were well known to generations of Palestinians, who fiercely guarded their troves and passed the locations down from generation to generation.

Hassan's former job wouldn't have sat well with the Israeli authorities. But people like Hassan took the long view. Eventually things would settle down, and when they did, Hassan would return to his real trade. In the meantime, Hassan hid his profession from the Israeli authorities, lay low, and remained open to a little persuasion. In Harry's case, that amounted to a thousand dollars.

They arrived in Hebron three hours later. The city crawled up the slopes of two hills and sprawled across a dull desert bowl. Entering Hebron around sunset, in the company of a Palestinian smuggler, was an act of total lunacy.

Harry Bennett wouldn't have had it any other way.

Clustered on hilltops to the north of the old city rose the UN buildings, the university, and a huddle of government high-rises built with international relief funding. Other hills were dominated by Jewish settlements. These were rimmed by fences and wire and watchtowers that gleamed in the descending light. The rest of Hebron was just your basic war zone.

Sunset painted Hebron the color of old rust. The city held the tightly sullen feel of a pot that had boiled for centuries. Even the newer structures looked run-down. Most walls were pockmarked with bullet holes and decorated with generations of graffiti. Harry saw kids everywhere. They bore such tight expressions they resembled old people in miniature. Looking into their eyes made Harry's chest hurt.

The streets were calm, the traffic light. Which was good, because it allowed them to make it to the city center early. It was also bad, because the Israel Defense Forces soldiers had nothing better to do than watch Hassan's truck. Two IDF soldiers manning a reinforced guard station tracked the pickup with a fifty-caliber machine gun.

Hassan said, "This idea is not so good, maybe."

Harry nodded slowly. He smelled it too, the biting funk of cordite not yet lit. But he would trust his driver. "You say go, we go."

Hassan's gaze flitted over to Harry. "You pay?"

"The deal's the same. You get the other five hundred when we're done."

Hassan wiped his face with a corner of his checkered head-kerchief. "We stay."

Harry halfway wished the man's nerve would fail and he would turn his rattling truck around. "Better to come in twice than not go home at all."

"You know danger?"


"I think maybe more than some. I think you see much action."

"That was then and this is now," Harry replied. "You're my man on the ground here. I'm relying on your eyes and ears. I can't tell what's real and what's just your normal garden-variety funk."

Hassan skirted a pothole large enough to swallow the neighboring Israeli tank. "Say again, please."

"Let's assume for a second that you and I can do business together."

Hassan pointed at Harry's shirt pocket holding the five bills—the rest of his fee. "This is not business?"

"I'd call it a first step. Say your man shows up like you promised. Say he's got the goods and the buy goes well. What happens next?"

"If the first buy goes well, you trust me for more."

"Right. But I need someone who can sniff out traps and see through walls. There's so much danger around here, my senses are on overload."

The man actually smiled. "Welcome to Hebron."

"I didn't go to all this trouble for just one item, no matter how fine this guy's treasure might be. I need you to tell me if we're safe or if we should pull out and return another time."

Hassan did not speak again until he parked the truck and led Harry into a cafÉ on Hebron's main square. "What you like?"

"You mean, other than getting out of here with my skin intact? A mint tea would go down well."

Hassan placed the order and settled into the rickety chair across from Harry. "There are many Americans like you?"

"I'm one of a kind."

"Yes. I think you speak truth." Hassan rose to his feet. "Drink your tea. I go ask what is happening."

All Harry could do was sit there and watch the only man he knew in Hebron just walk away. From his spot by the bullet-ridden wall, isolated among the patrons at other tables who carefully did not look his way, Harry felt as though he had a bull's-eye painted on his forehead. Even the kid who brought his tea and plate of unleavened bread looked scared. Harry stirred in a spoonful of gray, unrefined sugar and lifted the tulip-shaped glass by its rim. All he could taste was the flavor of death.

AFTER SUNSET, THE HEBRON AIR cooled at a grudging pace. Harry watched as the city square filled with people and traffic and shadows. The cafÉ became crowded with people who avoided looking Harry's way. Across the plaza, the Tomb of the Patriarchs shone pearl white. Beside the cave complex stood the Mosque of Abraham, a mammoth structure dating back seven hundred years.

The caves had been bought by the patriarch Abraham for four hundred coins, such an astronomical sum that the previous owner had offered to throw in the entire valley. But Abraham had insisted upon overpaying so that his rightful ownership would never be questioned. He had wanted the caves as his family's burial site because supposedly they were also where Adam and Eve had been laid to rest. Besides Abraham himself, the caves also held the remains of his wife, Sarah, along with Rebecca, Isaac, and Jacob.

The guy who made his way toward Harry's table resembled an Arab version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. The man waddled as he walked. His legs splayed slightly from the knees down. His round face was topped by flattened greasy curls that glistened in the rancid lights of the cafÉ. He walked up, slumped into the chair across the table from Harry, and demanded, "You have money?"

Harry kept his gaze on the square and the crawling traffic. "Where's Hassan?"

"Hassan is not my business. He is your business. You must answer my question. You have money?"

Harry was about to let the guy have it when he spotted Hassan returning across the plaza. When he reached the cafÉ's perimeter, Hassan seated himself at an empty table, facing outward toward the plaza, placing himself between Harry and any incoming threat. Harry relaxed slightly. It was always a pleasure doing business with a pro.

Harry said, "Let's take this from the top. I'm—"

"I know who you are. Harry Bennett seeks treasure all over the world. You see? We meet because I check you out."

"What's your name?"

"Wadi Haddad."

"Wadi, like the word for oasis?"

"Yes, is same." He wore a rumpled linen jacket, its armpits wet and darkened with sweat. He reached in a pocket and came up with a pack of filterless Gitanes. "You want?"

"Never learned to use them, thanks."

Wadi Haddad lit the cigarette with a gold lighter. The stench of black tobacco encircled the table. "I have much interesting items. Very nice."

"I didn't come to Hebron for nice, Mr. Haddad. I came for exceptional. You understand that word?"

"Exceptional is also very expensive."

"One of a kind," Harry went on. "Unique. Extremely old. And I have always been partial to gold."

Wadi Haddad revealed a lizard's tongue, far too narrow for his globular face. It flitted in and out several times, tasting the air. "How much money you have?"

"Not a cent with me."

"Then I also have nothing. Business is finished." But Wadi Haddad did not move.

"Here's how it's going to work," said Harry. "You show me the item. I photograph it."

"No. Photographs absolutely not to happen."

"I show the photographs to my clients. If they like, they transfer the money to an escrow account at the Bank of Jordan in Amman. You understand, escrow?"

"I know."

"Good. Then you bring the item to Jerusalem and we make the exchange."

"Not Jerusalem. Too much police everyplace."

"Okay, Mr. Haddad. Where would you prefer?"


"Too small. I like bright lights, big city."

"Then Amman."

Which had been Harry's choice all along. Even so, he pretended to give that some thought. "Okay, Amman. Hotel Inter-Continental. You got an account at the Bank of Jordan?"

"I make one happen."

"Then we're ready to roll. All we need is the merchandise."

"No photographs."

"Then no business. Sorry, Charlie."

"My name is Wadi."

"Whatever. I don't shoot, I don't buy."

"Photographs cost you a thousand dollars."

Suddenly Harry was very tired of this two-step. "Fine. But I take the thousand from the final purchase price. And don't even think of arguing."

Wadi Haddad did not rise so much as bounce from the seat. "Okay, we go. Not your man." He nodded toward Hassan. "Just you."

"Be right with you." Harry walked to Hassan's table and squatted down beside the man's chair. "You find anything?"

"Hebron is one tense city. People very worried."

"Yeah, I caught that too." Harry liked how the guy never stopped searching the shadows. "Where'd you see action, Hassan?"

"Nowhere. I see nothing, I do nothing. In the West Bank there is only IDF and terrorists."

"Wadi's taking me to check out the merchandise. He says I've got to do this alone. You think maybe you could watch my back?"

"Is good." Hassan held to a catlike stillness. "I see something, I whistle. I can whistle very loud."

Harry rose to his feet, patted the guy's shoulder, and said, "You just earned yourself another five bills."

WADI HADDAD MOVED SURPRISINGLY FAST on his splayed legs. He led Harry deep into the old city. The West Bank crisis was etched into every Hebron street, every bullet-ridden wall, every building topped by an IDF bunker. The streets were either dimly lit or not at all. But walking behind the wheezing Haddad, Harry had no trouble picking his way through the rubble. Behind him, the mosque and the cave complex shone like beacons. And up ahead loomed the wall.

The barrier separating the Jewish sector from Hebron's old city was thirty feet high and topped with razor wire. Searchlights from the guard towers and nearby IDF bunkers serrated the night. The wall gleamed like a massive concrete lantern.

Somewhere in the distance a truck backfired. Wadi Haddad froze. A searchlight illuminated the man's trembling jowls. Harry said, "You're not from here."

"My mother's family only. I live sometimes Damascus, sometimes Aqaba."

Aqaba was Jordan's portal to the Red Sea, a haven for tourists and smugglers' dhows. "Must be nice."

Wadi Haddad started off once more, Harry following close. But when Haddad entered a dark, narrow alley, Harry dug in his heels. "Hold up there."

"What's the matter, treasure man?"

The buildings to either side reached across to form a crumbling arch. The windows fronting the street were both barred and dark. The alley was black. Harry had spent a lifetime avoiding alleys like this. Then he saw a cigarette tip gleam. "That your buddy down there?"

"Is guard, yes. In Hebron, many guards."

"Ask him to step out where I can see him."

Wadi didn't like it, but he did as Harry said. The man emerged and flipped on a flashlight. In the dim rays reflected from the walls, Harry could see a face like a parrot, with too-narrow features sliding back from a truly enormous nose. The man's eyes were set very close together and gleamed with the erratic light of an easy killer.

"Ask him to light up that alley for us."

The man smirked at Harry's nerves but did not wait for Wadi's translation. The flashlight showed an empty lane that ended about eighty feet back with double metal doors. "What's behind the doors, Wadi?"

"Where we go. My mother's cousin's house."

Harry motioned to the man holding the light. "Lead on, friend."

The guard spoke for the first time. "You have guns?"

Harry lifted his shirt and turned around. "Make business, not war. That's my motto."

"He can search you?"

"Sure thing." Harry gestured at the doors. "Inside."

• • •

THE DOORS RATTLED IN ALARM as the guard pushed them open. Wadi called out and, on hearing no response, stepped into a neglected courtyard with Harry close behind. The dusty compound appeared empty. A pair of plastic chairs sprawled by a rusty outdoor table, their upended legs jutting like broken teeth. From inside the house a dog barked. In the distance Harry both heard and felt the grinding tremor of an IDF tank on road patrol.

Wadi led Harry to a flat-roofed side building of unfinished concrete blocks and opened a door with flaking paint. The interior was an astonishment. The front room was a well-appointed display chamber about twelve feet square. Two walls were stuccoed a light peach. A third wall was covered by a frieze of mythical birds carved from what Harry suspected was olive wood. The fourth wall held a narrow steel door with a central combination lock.

"Looks like I found the guy I've been looking for," Harry said.

Wadi held out his hand. "Thousand dollars."

Harry was about to insist he see the item first, then decided there was no reason to get off on the wrong sandal.

Wadi counted in the Arab fashion, folding the bills over and peeling the oily edges with his thumb and forefinger. He slipped the money into his pocket and motioned with his chin to the guard.

The steel door swung open on greased hinges. The guard stepped inside and emerged with a black velvet stand shaped like a woman's neck. What was draped on the stand took Harry's breath away.

The concept of women's ornamentation was as old as civilization itself. The earliest forms were fashioned as temple offerings and were considered to have magical properties. Many ancient cultures revered such jewelry for its talismanic power either to ward off evil or bring good health and prosperity.

In the very earliest days of Christianity, new believers drawn from Hellenistic temple cults often brought with them such ideas about the powers of jewelry. The necklace dated from the second century AD. The chain was a series of gold tubes, each stamped with a Christian design. It ended in an emerald the size of Harry's thumb. The gemstone had been sanded flat and carved with the Chi-Rho symbol.

Without asking, Wadi handed Harry a pair of white gloves and a jeweler's loupe. Closer inspection only confirmed Harry's first impression. This was a museum-quality piece.

The problem was, Harry could not identify it as a fake. Which was troubling, because Harry knew for a fact the item was not genuine.

Harry Bennett had nothing against a little smuggling. He would certainly not have helped anyone track down another treasure dog.

Counterfeiters, though, were a different breed of lice.

After nearly three years of roiling conflict, the Israeli Antiquities Authority had basically lost control of smuggling in the West Bank. In the past, the IAA had nabbed about ninety thieves each year for pilfering tombs, ruined cities, palaces, and forts. Since the latest political troubles began, however, arrests had slumped to almost nothing. The IAA knew without question that the worst culprits were getting away. The international arts market was being flooded with ancient Hebrew treasure. What was more, a growing number of these items were bogus. Extremely well crafted, their workmanship often able to fool museum directors and other supposed experts, but phony just the same.

The Israeli government had needed somebody with Harry Bennett's credentials, known throughout the world as a dedicated treasure dog. Somebody capable of infiltrating the system and identifying the source of the fake artifacts.

Only when Harry looked up did he realize he had been holding his breath. He handed the loupe and gloves back to Wadi and unsnapped the case of his pocket camera. "Okay if I shoot a few?"

Wadi smirked as he pulled the cigarettes from his pocket. The man knew a buyer's lust when he saw it. "Sure, sure, many as you like. You want tea?"

DICKERING OVER PRICE TOOK UNTIL well after midnight. Even so, when Harry stepped through the compound's steel door, the city remained noisily alive. Such was the manner of every Middle Eastern city Harry had ever visited, and it was one of the reasons why he relished the Arab world. These lands were full of pirates and their love of dark hours.

Wadi Haddad wore his sourest done-in-by-the-deal frown. "You give me no profit. My daughters starve."

Harry clamped down on his first thought, which was that this guy definitely hadn't missed a lot of meals. "Phone you in four days, right?"

"Four, maybe five. These days the border is very tight."

"Then maybe you ought to bring out the other items you're holding here for sale."

"You buy more?"

"If they're as fine as what you just showed me, sure, I think I can find buyers."

"Not same price," Wadi complained. "Too much hard bargain."

Harry was about to say what he thought of Wadi's poor-boy tactic when, from the distance, he heard a shrill whistle pierce the night.

The guard stood at the alley's mouth, searching in all directions. Wadi remained intent upon business, sucking on his cigarette and grumbling through the smoke as he walked past where Harry stood tense and rooted to the dusty earth. "Next time your price plus thirty percent. You pay or I go find—"

Harry leaned forward and gripped Wadi's shoulder and pulled him back. He slammed Wadi onto the alley wall, placing himself between the trader and the road. Wadi's breath whooshed out in a fetid cloud. His eyes registered surprise and rising protest. But Harry kept him pinned where he was.

Then the world of Hebron roared in rage and flames.

© 2010 T. Davis Bunn

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