Wednesday, April 27, 2011

‘The Damascus Way’ by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke – Book Review and Giveaway

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One of my favorite books of 2010 was ‘The Hidden Flame’ by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke, the second book in the ‘Acts of Faith’ series, which focused on the Early Years of the Church when followers of the Way were interacting with the Disciples, etc... So when the third book in the series, ‘The Damascus Way,’ was released, I knew I wanted to continue following the story line as seen through the creative minds of Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. 

Here is the synopsis of this book:

The fledgling church is being scattered by persecution spearheaded by a fanatical young Pharisee who does not realize he is helping to spread the truth “unto the ends of the earth.”
Young Julia has everything money can buy, yet she and her Hebrew mother are less than second-class citizens. When Julia discovers the secret her Greek father has kept all these years, she is devastated. Her future is clouded with uncertainty.
Jacob, Abigail’s brother, is attempting to find his own place among the believers. Does it mean trading away the exhilaration and adventure of his current profession as a caravan guard? Hired to protect a wealthy merchant’s caravans on the secretive “Frankincense Trail,” Jacob also reluctantly takes on the perilous responsibility of passing messages between communities of believers dispersed across the land. He is alarmed to discover that Julia is also a courier. Can they put their initial mistrust aside to accomplish their mission?
An Earthshaking Encounter on the Way to Damascus Has Repercussion Far Beyond the Lives of Julia and Jacob.

This book was written by a dynamic duo who have had a great deal of success both individually and together. 

Here is the biography for Davis Bunn:

Davis Bunn has been a professional novelist for twenty years.  His books have sold in excess of six million copies in sixteen languages, appearing on numerous national bestseller lists.
Davis is known for the diversity of his writing talent, from gentle gift books like The Quilt to high-powered thrillers like The Great DivideHe has also enjoyed great success in his collaborations with Janette Oke, with whom he has co-authored a series of groundbreaking historical novels.
In developing his work, Davis draws on a rich background of international experience. Raised in North Carolina, he completed his undergraduate studies at Wake Forest University. He then traveled to London to earn a master’s degree in international economics and finance before embarking ona distinguished career that took him to more than thirty countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Davis has received numerous literary accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.  He currently serves as Writer-in-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, and is a sought-after lecturer on the craft of writing.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Kidler, Florida Today)

Here is the biography for Janette Oke:

Janette Oke was born in Champion, Alberta, to a Canadian prairie farmer and his wife, and she grew up in a large family full of laughter and love.  She is a graduate of Mountain View Bible College in Alberta, where she met her husband, Edward, and they were married in May of 1957.  After pasturing churches in Indiana and Canada, the Okes spent some years in Calgary, where Edward served in several positions on college faculties. She has written forty-eight novels for adults and another sixteen for children, and her book sales total nearly thirty million copies.
The Okes have three sons and one daughter, all married, and are enjoying their fifteen grandchildren.  Edward and Janette are active in their local church and make their home near Didsbury, Alberta.

As in ‘The Hidden Flame,' the main character in ‘The Damascus Way’ is Abigail; also prominently featured are other early followers of the Way, including Peter, Ananias,  Martha, and the Samaritan woman at the well, whose name in this novel is Helzebah. 

I loved both of the parallel storylines following Julia and Jacob, and Jacob’s sister, Abigail. I was particularly struck by the faithfulness and love for their Lord and others of the followers of Christ. They all were changed by their relationship with Him and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There were major character improvements in all of the new followers; it was inspirational! Here is an example of one character, Linux, a Roman soldier, explaining his transformation:

The drover cackled once more. “And you are as strange a Roman as ever I have had occasion to meet.”
“I am a man remade by Jesus, the risen Christ.”
The elder studied him. “If this Jesus of your can turn two Romans into guardians of poor Judeans, then he is powerful indeed.”
“I stand as testimony to the truth of your words,” Linux said. “And I shall pray to Him tonight for the salvation of your soul, you and all your clan.” (p. 105)

This book is packed with valuable information pertaining to life in that era and area. For instance, I was interested in learning more about frankincense:

Jacob knew that perhaps the most valuable item in the world was frankincense. It formed the core component of virtually every perfume and was used as incense in Greek, Roman, and Judean religious rites. Frankincense was a key ingredient in embalming and burials. And, perhaps most important, for those who could afford it, frankincense was considered to have powerful healing qualities. It was used for the treatment of breathing difficulties, joint ailments, and chest inflammations.
The Hebrew word for frankincense was levonah, also the unofficial name of the ancient Phoenician kingdom to the north of Judea. Phoenician traders had held a virtual monopoly on its trade for over a thousand years. (p. 120)

I also loved the fact that this book was written by two excellent authors. I am not sure how Mr. Bunn and Mrs. Oke split up the writing, but it is seamless and incredible! I am naturally interested in this era of Church history, but I am particularly interested when the writing is so incredibly well done!

Another interesting aspect of this book is the fact that it looked at Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus. I am so inspired by the fact that God took this Pharisee that was so damaging to the Church, and converted him to such an extent that he became one of the most important Christ followers who ever lived! That turnaround gives hope to all of us who have made mistakes in life (and none of us are exempt in that category). I was hoping to see more of Saul of Tarsus in ‘The Hidden Flame,’ but am grateful that he was included in this last book in the series.

I really loved this book! As noted, I did read the second book in this ‘Acts of Faith’ series, ‘The Hidden Flame’ (you can read my review here). I have not read the first book, ‘The Centurion’s Wife;’ it is definitely on my Wish List!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Bethany House and provided by the Blogging Bistro for review purposes.

I have one copy of this book to give along; many thanks to Laura at Blogging Bistro for generously providing the copy!  You will WANT to read this excellent book!

There are several ways to gain entry:           

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me what is most intriguing to you about this novel. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com. 

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4) Send a tweet on Twitter. Please feel free to use this one:

Win a copy of ‘The Damascus Way’ by @davisbunn and @bethany_house from @andrealschultz. Please RT!

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So there are many, many chances to enter and therefore win! Please limit one entry per option (except for the Twitter option), and don’t forget to include your email address, or, sad to say, the Random Number Generator will have to choose a different winner.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. One winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Thursday, May 12, 2011 and will be contacted via email. The best to all of you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Interview with Davis Bunn, author of 'The Damascus Way'

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Tomorrow, I will be posting my book review (plus a giveaway!) of 'The Damascus Way,' the latest release from the Dynamic Duo of Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Today, we have some biographical information on Mr. Bunn, as well as a Question and Answer session.
The Damascus Way is the finale to the best-selling Acts of Faith trilogy co-authored by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke.
Book 1 is The Centurion's Wife
Book 2 is The Hidden Flame

About Davis Bunn

“Wise teacher.”
“Gentleman Adventurer.”
“Consummate writer.”
Renaissance Man.”
Reviewers, readers and friends use those phrases to describe Davis Bunn. An internationally-acclaimed author who has sold more than six million books in sixteen languages, Davis is equal parts writer, scholar, teacher, and sportsman.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Davis left for Europe at age twenty. There he first completed graduate studies in economics and finance, then began a business career that took him to over forty countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Davis came to faith at age 28, while living in Germany and running an international business advisory group. He started writing two weeks later. Since that moment, writing has remained both a passion and a calling.

Davis wrote for nine years and completed seven books before his first was accepted for publication. During that time, he continued to work full-time in his business career, travelling to two and sometimes three countries every week. His first published book, The Presence, was released in 1990 and became a national bestseller.

Honored with three Christy Awards for excellence in historical and suspense fiction, his bestsellers include The Great Divide, Winner Take All, The Meeting Place, The Warning, The Book of Hours, and The Quilt.

A sought-after speaker in the art of writing, Davis serves as Writer In Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.

Q & A with Davis Bunn

How did you and Janette Oke originally establish your writing relationship?
Janette had read several of my early works and liked my sense of drama. I had read a number of hers, and was just amazed at her ability to weave in the fragile and beautiful emotions of a woman’s heart. We were at the annual gathering of Christian publishers when we first talked about writing together. Six months later, we met in Canada and began work on our first book. That was fourteen years ago.

What inspired you to write Acts of Faith, a series of three books set in the earliest days of the church?
Janette Oke and I have wanted to do a Bible-based series for years. Then health issues forced her to retire, and it looked like we would never have that opportunity. Three years ago, she came out of retirement, specifically so that we might do this final trio of books together. It has been an answer to a prayer for us both. We have so enjoyed this project.

How did you and Janette Oke flesh out people from the Bible and weave them into the Acts of Faith books?
The writing of The Hidden Flame carried a number of challenges, and building a character from the little we know about Stephen was one of them. There were several excellent commentaries that taught me a great deal, and it led to some truly beautiful discussions with Janette. That has been one of the unexpected gifts derived from this trilogy, how much I have learned from her own deep insights into the Scriptures.
As for Stephen’s fate, we started from the passage in Acts where the first martyr was named Stephen and worked back. There are very few such names given to those who sacrifice everything. We felt it happened here both because he was the first, and because he played such a vital role in this transforming moment in our church’s history. Stephen served as mediator between the congregation and the most vulnerable – outsiders who were also either widowed or orphaned. He was entrusted with their care and their provisions. And he sought to share his newfound faith with a group of outcasts – those who worshipped at the Freedman’s Synagogue.
Our biggest concern here was to have Stephen become married. First Corinthians names several of the apostles and church leaders who are wed. So we figured it would be okay, even if Stephen wasn’t – the Scriptures do not say. Thankfully, up to now we have not received any negative reaction to this.

How do you choose your characters’ names?
This is a huge question, and one we go through a lot with. In this series, we started with THREE lists of names – Judean, Roman, and Greek. In The Damascus Way, we added a fourth list, for early Christian names. We go back and forth and back and forth. It is like naming baby. Everybody gets involved. My wife, the editors, sometimes even the marketing people.

How much of yourself do you write into your characters?
The emotions are certainly mine. But the characters are themselves. Some of the things they experience, in the sense of growing through something, are very essential to me and Janette. But the characters are who they are, and the further along we go in the story, the further and further they grow away from us.

Were any of the stories in this series especially poignant for you?
Without question, it would have to be the third and final book in this series. The Damascus Way centers upon one of the most crucial components of the Book of Acts – the persecution of the early church and the miraculous confrontation between Jesus and Saul of Tarsus.
There is the beginning of signs and wonders within the growing church. The church expands at a rate that is astonishing and miraculous to everyone involved. The Judean Temple hierarchy and the Roman government grow hostile to the church. Stephen has become the first martyr.
It was a true growing experience to spend these days and weeks and months so deeply involved with the Followers of the Way.
For me, The Damascus Way is by far the richest book in the series. Other readers, especially women, have come in strong for book one or two, but Damascus for me holds the most powerful elements. Not just for this series, but for everything Janette and I have done together.
I heard a really nice thing yesterday. I happened to bump into a friend at the supermarket, and he told me how someone had stood up in the middle of the formal church service on Sunday – at a church on the other side of the county – and lifted Damascus over his head and said everyone in the church had to go out and read this book, that it was life-changing. What a huge gift.

What is the biggest personal lesson you have learned from writing the Acts of Faith series?
The greatest lesson I personally have gained from this series is how our world is reshaped through the vision of Jesus. This is a truth revealed time and again through the Book of Acts. We hope this same truth will shine within our pages. Our hope is that each of these stories will ignite in the reader a new hunger to enrich themselves through the treasures found in the Book of Acts.
Our first book, The Centurion’s Wife, dealt with the forty days between the resurrection of Jesus and the arrival of Pentecost.
The key component of our second book in the series, The Hidden Flame, was what I called the passing of the torch. Jesus left, and his disciples took over. They moved from the position of followers to leaders. What an enormous challenge that must have been, and yet how similar it is to the challenge any leader faces today.
In The Damascus Way, the third book of our trilogy, we create a story based upon outreach. We look at what it means to engage in evangelism, and seek a clearer understanding of the challenges and mysteries faced by those earliest believers. And we seek to enrich the glorious moment when Saul, the early church’s greatest enemy, was called to faith by our Lord.  

How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website, blog, and interactive discussion group are at
Twitter: @davisbunn -

The photo of Mr. Bunn is courtesy of Chris Kidler, Florida Today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

‘Tomorrow’s Garden’ by Amanda Cabot – Book Review

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Tomorrow’s Garden’ is the third and final book in Amanda Cabot’s ‘Texas Dreams’ Trilogy.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

As a seed awaits the spring sunshine, so one young woman hopes for a brighter tomorrow.
Harriet Kirk is certain that becoming the new schoolteacher in Ladreville, Texas, is just what she needs – a chance to put the past behind her and give her younger siblings a brighter tomorrow. What she didn’t count on was the presence of handsome former Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood – or the way he affects her fragile heart. But can Harriett and Lawrence ever truly conquer the past in order to find happiness?
Book 3 in the Texas Dreams series, Tomorrow’s Garden is a powerful story of overcoming the odds and grabbing hold of happiness.

Here is the biography of this author:

Dreams have always been an important part of Amanda Cabot’s life. For almost as long as she can remember, she dreamt of being an author. Fortunately for the world, her grade-school attempts as a playwright were not successful, and she turned her attention to writing novels. Her dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s been spinning tales ever since. She now has more than twenty-five novels to her credit under a number of pseudonyms.
The author of Paper Roses and Scattered Petals, Amanda is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a charter member of Romance Writers of America, and an avid traveler. She married her high school sweetheart, who shares her love of travel and who’s driven thousands of miles to help her research her books. A few years ago they fulfilled a longtime dream and are now living in the American West in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

This book was really captivating and well-written. The main character, Harriet Kirk, had been through a lot of trials in her life, and, as is the case with many people, those difficulties had hardened her heart; she built up a lot of walls and barriers to protect herself from further sadness and loss. Fortunately, she also had a relationship with Jesus, so there was hope that she would be restored and released from her bondage.

Several of the characters in this story were featured in the previous novel in this series, ‘Scattered Petals,’ including Priscilla, Clay, Lawrence and Sarah. It was nice to revisit these characters and see how they’d evolved over the last couple years (that book was set in 1856; this book was set in 1858/1859).
I am always interested in seeing how main characters meet each other. Here are Harriett’s impressions of Lawrence Wood, Ladreville’s mayor and sheriff:

“Good afternoon, Mr. Wood,” Harriet said, continuing her appraisal as she approached him. Her first impressions had not been wrong. He was tall – at least a foot taller than she – and the muscles of his arms and shoulders were scarcely hidden by his chambray shirt and loose-fitting jacket. From his freshly polished boots to the top of his hat, this was a man who demanded attention. It wasn’t anything he said or even his expression; it was simply the way he stood, the almost imperious angle of his head combined with the seemingly casual way his hand remained close to his hip, ready to draw the six-shooter at the slightest provocation. Every inch of this man announced that he was a formidable force. (pp. 30-31)

It sounds like she was impressed!

Mrs. Cabot’s writing is compelling in its plot and character development. She makes me interested enough in her characters and their lives that I want to keep reading – even when life’s busyness doesn’t lend itself to that task!

This book offered lots of life lessons, including hard work, love for your neighbor, and hearty worship to the Lord. It also shows the negative repercussions of going down the crooked roads of drunkenness and gambling.

As in the second book in the series (I hope to read the first, ‘Paper Roses’ soon), Christianity and a personal relationship with the Lord are prominently figured in the plot. Here is a conversation between Lawrence and Harriet wherein Lawrence becomes aware of a better way to live:

His eyes a deeper blue than she had ever seen, Lawrence met her gaze. “Can you forgive me for being so proud? I thought I knew better than everyone, even God. I was the big, strong Ranger. Even though you told me otherwise, I was sure I knew what Isabelle needed today.”….”Look what that got me. I was also sure about my life. Even when God pointed me in a different direction, I kept going my way.” Lawrence shook his head slowly. “I considered myself a good Christian, but – like you – I forgot who was in charge. I hope I never make that mistake again. God gave me a second chance today, and I don’t want to waste it.” (p. 382)

Revell, for a limited time, is offering the first book in this series, ‘Paper Roses,’ free as a Kindle download; here is the link. I haven’t read that one yet; I am grateful for the opportunity. I did read ‘Scattered Petals;’ it was one of my first reviews (you can read it here). I really enjoyed that one! Being that I enjoyed that one so well, it was a good bet that this one was also going to be a favorite – and it was!

You can order this book here.

Available April 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This book was provided to me by Revell for review purposes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

‘The Deepest Waters’ by Dan Walsh – Book Review

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It is a rare book that makes you feel warm and fuzzy in the midst of pain. Dan Walsh’s latest book, ‘The Deepest Waters’ did that for me.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

For John and Laura Foster, what began as a fairytale honeymoon in 1857 aboard the steamship SS Vandervere soon becomes a nightmare. A terrible hurricane strikes and the grand ship is lost in the murky depths of the Atlantic. Laura finds herself rescued with the other women and children, but how can she feel anything but despondent without her groom? Suspecting her John is gone but still daring to hope for a miracle, Laura must face the possibility of life alone.
Talented author Dan Walsh skillfully tells an epic story of hope, faith, and love through an intimate lens. Inspired by real events, this emotional and honest story will capture your heart as you sail through its pages.

Here is the biography of this author:

Dan Walsh is the award-winning author of The Unfinished Gift and The Homecoming. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years. He lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area, where he’s busy researching and writing his next novel.

I really loved this book! I was captivated by all of the characters. The main characters, John and Laura Foster, were wonderful people; I truly sympathized and empathized with them.

I love how the book gave us a glimpse of how John and Laura’s love developed. As a woman, it made me sigh:

          “I am working at the store all day tomorrow. May I call on you after work?”
          Laura was confused.
          “May I hear you call me by name?”
          “Yes…John,” she said.
From that day on, they were Laura and John. And Laura had known a love more splendid than her best books dared promise, a happiness beyond even girlhood dreams. (p. 14)

I would have to say that my favorite character is Micah, the slave of Captain Meade of the SS Vandervere. He reminded me of the apostle Paul, who was joyful and rejoicing in the worst circumstances. Here is a conversation between Laura and Micah on the ship:
          He smiled. “So you want to know my secret?”
          Laura smiled back. “Yes, very much.”
         “Nobody ever asked me that before.”
         “Well, I’m asking.”
“I guess it be this…live in the day, ‘cause that’s all we been given, trust God fo’ the rest.”
“Live in the day,” she repeated.
“And trust God for the rest. Yes’m.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it.” He looked out over the water. “See…we got no control over things that happen in life. Not just slaves, white folks got no control neither. Even rich and powerful got no control. Nobody got control. Only God. Rich folks got they money and power, make them think they do. But all they do is worry and fret over what might happen next….tomorrow, next week, next year. Got no joy in what God do for them today. Don’t even see it. Don’t thank him for it. Just run right by it, trying to stop all these things they afraid might happen, things that can’t be stopped. And it gets them no place. No place but angry and sad.” (p. 173)

This book has so many twists and turns; I did not see most of the plots twists coming! I was satisfied with the ending. You will want to read this book; I will NOT be giving away the ending!

This is the first of Dan Walsh’s books that I have had the pleasure to read. Mr. Walsh’s next release is coming in Fall 2011, ‘Unwrapping Christmas.’ As much as I enjoyed this book, I will definitely want to read this one. And I hope I have time soon to read his first two, ‘The Unfinished Gift’ and ‘The Homecoming.’ He’s an incredible writer! His characters are fully developed and he gives just enough details to keep my interest without being bogged down. His Carol Awards (ACFW Book of the Year) for ‘The Unfinished Gift’ is well-deserved.  

You can order this book here.

Available April 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  This book was provided by Revell for review purposes. 

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