Tuesday, May 31, 2011

‘Wonders Never Cease’ by Tim Downs – Book Review

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One of the most fascinating subjects to me is the subject of angels. So when I learned about a book called ‘Wonders Never Cease’ by Tim Downs, I knew it was a book I wanted to read.

Here is the synopsis of this novel novel:

“It’s true what they say, you know: If you talk to God, you’re religious; if you hear from God, you’re schizophrenic.”
When a car accident leaves a famous movie star in a coma, nurse Kemp McAvoy thinks he has found his ticket to the life he’s always wanted. As a med school dropout who was on his way to becoming an anesthesiologist, Kemp has the knowledge to carry off the crazy plan he concocts: adjust the star’s medication each night and pretend to be a heavenly visitor giving her messages. He recruits her agent and a down-and-out publisher to make sure the messages will become the next spiritual bestseller and make them all rich.
But his girlfriend’s daughter, Leah, keeps telling people that she is seeing angels, and her mother and her teachers are all afraid that something is wrong.
Before it’s too late, they’ll all learn a few things about angels, love, and hope.

Here is the biography of this author:

Tim Downs is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Indiana University. After graduation in 1976 he created a comic strip, Downstown, which was syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate until 1986. His cartooning has appeared in more than a hundred major newspapers worldwide.  His first book, Finding Common Ground: How to Communicate with Those Outside the Christian Community...While We Still Can, was awarded the Gold Medallion Award in 2000, and his third novel, PlagueMaker, was awarded the Christy Award for best CBA suspense novel of 2007. He is also the author of End of the Earth, Head GameLess Than Dead, Shoofly Pie, Chop Shop and First the Dead. His most recent novel is Nick of TimeTim lives in Cary, North Carolina, with his wife Joy.

There are several primary characters in this novel – Kemp McAvoy, Natalie Pelton, and actress Liv Hayden. In my opinion, Kemp has absolutely no redeeming value, other than being a child of God. He got my blood boiling numerous times through the course of reading this novel. He comes across as self-centered, dishonest, and arrogant. In contrast, his girlfriend, Natalie, had her moments of bad behavior, but, overall, I wondered what she saw in Kemp and why she was with him.

Another interesting aspect of this novel is the Hollywood/show business element. The emphasis is more clearly on the business than on the show. In his writing, Mr. Downs captures the environment perfectly. Here is an exchange between Liv Hayden and the director of her latest film project:

The director grinned at her. “I’m really looking forward to working with you on this film, Ms. Hayden. I welcome your input – your opinion means a lot to me. I mean, an actor of your – stature.”
Stature. The word stung, but Liv kept a smile plastered on her face. Stature – durability – longevity – they were all just euphemisms for the same brutal reality – age. It was no picnic being a forty-plus box office icon in Hollywood, especially for a woman. Oh sure, male actors complained about the ravages of time too, but it was different for men. Less than a week ago, she was lunching with Nic Cage at The Ivy when he started whining about hairlines and face-lifts and she shoved his corn chowder into his lap. She reminded him that Brando was the size of a Macy’s balloon when they paid him $3.7 million to do Superman – but let an actress pack on an extra twenty and the only role she’ll get is doing commercials for Jenny Craig. It’s not the same, she told him. Women in Hollywood have to do everything men do, but we’re supposed to do it crammed into a size four. (pp. 3-4)

After Ms. Hayden’s auto accident, several people, including Nurse McAvoy and Ms. Hayden’s agent, Mort Biederman, concocted a scheme to get her to write a best-selling book which would make all of them rich. The meeting to nail down the details was interesting:

“We need a story with conflict – tension – something to hook the audience and draw them in.”
“I like it,” Biederman said. “Keep going.”
“How about this? The angel tells Hayden there’s a cosmic conflict brewing somewhere in the universe, a conflict to determine which path people will follow – the old way or the new way. You know, sort of a Star Wars thing: ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’” (p. 99)

There is not much of a Christian element in this book, which is published by Thomas Nelson. It falls under the Christian Suspense category. The only character who exhibits any Christian virtues is Emmet, a custodian at the hospital. Here is an exchange between Emmet and Kemp, as Emmet confronts Kemp on his nefarious scheme. This is a perfect example of the mindset/character of these two men:

        “The whole thing was just a harmless prank.”
“Does that seem harmless to you? You put words in an angel’s mouth – that’s a mighty bold thing to do. You’re foolin’ with things you don’t understand, Mr. Kemp. An angel’s just a messenger; that means you put words in the mouth of the Almighty, and that’s a fearful thing to do.”
“I don’t believe in angels – or the bogeyman.”
“Your daughter does.”
“My girlfriend’s daughter is a loon. Bad genes, I suppose.”
“Then let me put it another way: You’re foolin’ with words. Folks are gonna read those words, and some folks are gonna believe ‘em. Words are some of the most powerful things in the world, Mr. Kemp. Not a terrible thing’s been done in this world that didn’t start off with words. Words matter – a smart man like you should know that.” (P. 195)

The wisdom is coming from the humble man, clearly!

I enjoyed the ending of this book. It was the perfect twist! If you’re looking for a beach or summertime read, this would be a good one. Just know that there is just one character in the book who exhibits Christian virtues (if that is a component of a book that is important to you). Most of the other characters desperately need Jesus!

You can order this book here.

This review was written using the Advanced Reader’s Copy; the page numbers may not correspond with the final publication. The finished product, published by Thomas Nelson, is currently available for purchase. This ARC was generously provided by the author for review purposes.

The Winner of 'Project Dad' is....

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We have a winner of 'Project Dad: The Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide to Becoming a Great Father' by Todd Cartmell. That winner is:

Penny Zeller.

Congratulations, Penny! I will be emailing you shortly to get your snail mail address.

For those of you who would like to order this great Father's Day gift, you can do so here.

Special thanks to Revell for providing this giveaway copy.

More giveaways are coming; please come back soon!

Friday, May 27, 2011

We Have a Winner of 'Kaydie' by Penny Zeller. That Winner is.....

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The Random Number Generator has chosen a winner of Penny Zeller's 'Kaydie.' That blessed person is....


Congratulations, Misskallie! I will be in touch shortly!

Thanks again to Penny for stopping by my blog, and for generously providing the giveaway copy! 

For those of you who'd like to read this book, you can order it here.

Please come back soon, as there will be more giveaways and reviews to come!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

‘A Killer Among Us’ by Lynette Eason – Book Review

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I really enjoy an interesting amalgam of genres called Romantic Suspense. The latest book I have read that fits that category is ‘A Killer Among Us’ by Lynette Eason.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

What happens when the hunter…becomes the hunted? Kit Kenyon is a first-rate hostage negotiator. Noah Lambert is a good detective with excellent instincts. These two partners have hardly had time to get used to each other when they are thrown into a grisly murder case. As evidence mounts up and more victims are found, Kit and Noah realize they are on the hunt for a serial killer. The problem is, he may be hunting one of them.
With nail-biting suspense, clever plot twists, and a hint of romance, A Killer Among Us is the latest thriller from Lynette Eason.

Here is the biography of this author:

Lynette Eason grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. She graduated from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and then obtained her master’s in education at Converse College. Author of ten inspiration romantic suspense novels, including Too Close to Home and Don’t Look Back, she is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). In 1996, Lynette married “the boy next door,” and now she and her husband and two sons, whom she homeschools, make their home in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Here’s the book trailer for this thrilling novel:

Don’t Look Back’ was the second book in Lynette’s ‘Women of Justice’ series (you can read my review here). The first book is ‘Too Close to Home,’ which I have not read as yet. Sadly, this is the last book in the series.

Just as with ‘Don’t Look Back,’ I really enjoyed reading ‘A Killer Among Us.’ Mrs. Eason writes with an expert touch. The plotline is intriguing and makes me want to keep reading to determine the identity of the protagonist and to follow all of the twists and turns.

The protagonist in this book was not sympathetic at all! I did not guess who the serial killer was, but I was definitely creeped out by this person! It is sad how the world produces such people. In that way, I am empathetic toward him in that he did not know Jesus, and did not know that there is a better way of living.

One of my favorite parts of Christian-themed books is how they share the Gospel through a character. The main character in this book that has strong faith is Kit Kenyon’s partner, Noah Lambert. Generally, these characters influence other characters to look to the Lord, and that was the case in this novel. He would offer to meet with his pastor and the people he met during his job as a police detective, for instance. He also was not afraid to confront Kit with tough questions. Here is an exchange between the two of them, beginning with Kit:

“I went through several years of therapy and belonged to an amazing….” She paused and cocked her head. “Huh.”
“I was going to say an amazing church. But I just remembered that church part.” Memories flooded her. “We had a great children’s minister. He and his wife practically adopted me after that. He was a trained counselor. Not the one I saw on a regular basis, but he helped…a lot.” She shifted, agitated. “I can’t believe I didn’t remember that until now. How weird.”
“Not so weird. You’ve already said you’re mad at God.”
“Yeah, I am. Sort of.”
“Anger is a powerful emotion. You’ve probably suppressed some good things about God in order to hold on to that anger. The question is, why are you so mad at him?” (p. 129)

If you are looking for a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and has a Christian theme interspersed, I would highly recommend that you read ‘A Killer Among Us.’

You can order this book here.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

39 Lines T-Shirt – Product Review and Information

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One of the neatest ministries I have come across since I have been blogging is the one started by Hunter Harrison called Mend Mark. Here is how the product is described on the website:

Our merchandise is based around the idea of being marked by love of Christ. Products are distinctively crafted to symbolize His sacrifice and the wounds that were instrumental in killing our King. Every scar tells a story, these scars happen to tell the greatest story of all time.

The first item he came up with was the Mend Mark bracelet, which is a reminder of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. The bracelet has two circles which represent the scars Jesus endured on the cross; on one of the circle is printed the word ‘LOVE’ and on the other is printed “REMEMBER.’ I wear mine every day, and people notice it and ask what it’s about. I’m happy to share the story! I had the opportunity to share about the movement and the bracelet on my blog last year (you can read the post here).

Recently, Hunter designed a neat t-shirt that he calls 39Lines. The 39 lines on the back of the shirt represent the 39 lashes that Christ endured before His crucifixion.

Here is a very well-done video explaining the concept of the 39Lines t-shirt:

Harrison has put together a great Facebook page. I highly recommend you ‘like’ this page. There are always thought-provoking questions with lots of thoughtful answers. And Hunter periodically runs contests. He has given away a hoodie jacket with the Mend Mark. I really think he needs to produce that one (I’m a hoodie addict!)!

Hunter Harrison generously provided a 39 Lines t-shirt to me. I have only worn it a couple times, but, just like the Mend Mark bracelet, people want to know the story behind it. It is a comfortable shirt and generates a lot of interest and attention. The shirt comes with brown stripes; Harrison’s plan is to produce it in different colors. Younger people tend to be the market that embraces his products the most strongly. I’m am young at heart at this point, and I think all of the items, which always point you to Jesus, are terrific. I am not sure how old Harrison is, but I am guessing he’s a twenty/thirty-something. I really appreciate his passion for the love and for spreading the Good News, and I highly recommend these quality products to get the Word out!

The latest product in the Mend Mark line is the ‘Marked by Love’ t-shirt. Love the color! If you are looking for a unique gift for people of any age, please consider the Mend Mark product line!

You can order products here.

The 39Lines t-shirt was generously provided by Harrison Hunter for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

‘Blown Away: A Curl Up and Dye Mystery’ by Nancy Mehl – Book Review

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One of my favorite discoveries since I have doing book review is author Nancy Mehl. I read her novel ‘Missing Mabel’ last year (you can read my review here). The latest book in the ‘Hometown Mysteries’ series is ‘Blown Away.’

Here is the synopsis of this fun novel:
Death Is No Clowning Matter. Hilde Higgins has an unexplainable dislike of clowns. Now she’s fallen for a handsome stockbroker moonlighting as a clown at the children’s hospital, and when “Binky” Tuttwiler ends up dead, Hilde’s boyfriend suddenly becomes a murder suspect. Can Hilde solve the mystery before a Kansas twister blows all the evidence away?        
Here is the biography of this author:

Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband, Norman, and her son, Danny. She’s authored nine books and is currently at work on two new series for Barbour Publishing. Her titles include 'Simple Deceit,' 'Simple Secrets,' 'Simple Choices,' 'Bye Bye Bertie, and 'Cozy in Kansas.'
All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch—something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “It’s a part of me and of everything I think or do. God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan especially for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”
She and her husband attend Believer’s Tabernacle in Wichita, Kansas.

I love the main character of Hilde Higgins! She is a funny young lady, and always gets to the root of the stories in which she ends up involved! Here’s an example of her humorous worldview, and Mrs. Mehl’s great writing:

I have pens from almost every state in the union, and I have no earthly idea how some of them found their way into my possession. I figure it’s some kind of cosmic joke—God’s way of messing with me a little. The only positive thing to come from my humiliating kleptomania came last winter, when a pen I’d accidentally absconded led to the solution of a murder. So it’s not all bad.
(p. 17)

And here’s a comical description of Hilde’s goldfish, Sherlock:
Although actually, nothing about Sherlock is plain. He’s big and beautiful—and he listens to me when I talk. At first Adam didn’t believe me when I told him about my goldfish’s listening skills. But he’s seen Sherlock swim up to the side of his tank and stare at me when I speak to him. Now he’s a reluctant believer. And Adam has also seen Sherlock wave his fin at me. In fact, he’s waved at Adam a few times, causing my down-to-earth boyfriend a little consternation.
“If this fish belonged to anyone else,” he said to me, “I’d think it was my imagination. But if there is anyone on earth who could train a goldfish to wave, it would be you, Hilde Higgins.” (pp. 36-37)

Another quirky part of Hilde’s character is her obsession with the meat product named SPAM. Although I haven’t eaten it in decades (!), I think the recipe at the back of the book for Hilde’s SPAM Salad Sandwiches sounds really tasty!

As was the case in ‘Missing Mabel,’ Hilde has a strong faith in God and His sovereignty:
Adam squeezed my hand and started to pray. Getting my focus off the storm and remembering that God is my true shelter helped to drive away the fear that tried to grip me. God had always protected me against the storms of life. He would protect me against this one, too. (pp. 54-55)

Hilde has a lot of great Christian friends. For instance, her neighbor, Gabe, has some great wisdom on our thought life:
“… Once you start to change your thinking and stop dwelling on things that have already happened, God gives you the grace to walk forward, free from the hurt and the anger. But you’ve got to take that first step.” (p. 120)

Great advice!

I love this passage that shows that our actions affect our friends and our witness for Christ. This is Hilde’s friend Paula’s explanation after she asks to go to church with her on Sunday:
“I want you to know that I’m willing to find out just what you see in this God thing. And it’s because I see so much love in you, Hilde. No matter how weird I get or what stupid thing I do, you never quit being my friend. If you learned that from God, then I’ve got to check Him out.” (p. 183)

In addition to all of the comedy and spiritual element, this book is also a murder mystery. Hilde is a bit of a sleuth, and she has a detective/investigator thought process. She has a great intuition about people’s motives and character. The suspense element is handled very expertly by Mrs. Mehl. There were a lot of clues that came together in Hilde’s mind at the end. She kept me guessing until the very end! And I was happy to see the final scene in the novel happen. It definitely makes me look forward to more books in this wonderfully entertaining series!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Barbour Books and provided by The Suspense Zone  for review purposes.

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