Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm a New Thirty-One Gifts Consultant!!

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When Fred and I were in Tennessee at Fred's brother and sister-in-law's home at the end of April/first of May for the Nashville Marathon, our sister-in-law Dee showed me a catalog from a company called Thirty-One. I had never heard of it before, nor had I ever seen any of their products. But I was intrigued! I was also interested in learning about the opportunity to be a consultant with the company. 

After we got back to Michigan, I made contact with Thirty-One, asking them to put me in contact with a local consultant. They gave me the name of a lady in Farmington Hills, the next city over here in Metro Detroit. I also learned there was a freeze on new consultants. The company had had such explosive growth that they decided to build up their infrastructure, hire more people for the home office, etc.... and start a waiting list. I added my name to that list on May 9. 

I received an email on Tuesday, June 21, telling me that I was off the waiting list, and would be able to sign up on Monday, June 27. I did just that - yippee!

Here is some background information on Thirty-One Gifts:

Have you heard of Thirty-One? Thirty-One is one of America’s fastest-growing Direct Selling companies. We are successful because our products are designed to complement your life, and are a perfect marriage of style and function. From uniquely styled handbags and purses to handy storage totes, baskets, stationery and more, there is truly something for everyone. With our extensive selection of embroidery colors and stylized lettering, clients can add their own personal flair to their Thirty-One purchases. I invite you to turn the pages of our catalogs and create your own style statement! Thirty-One believes in Celebrating, Encouraging, and Rewarding Women.

The company is named after the biblical passage Proverbs 31, which is interpreted by the company this way: to “celebrate hard-working women who are compassionate, giving and inspiring to their families and the people around them.”

The Home Office is really on the ball! Within hours of my sign-up, my personal web page was live. Here is the link:

On this site, you can place orders and learn more about the company and the opportunities available if you sign up as a consultant (I would love for you to be part of my team!). I encourage you to check it out, and take advantage of the terrific monthly customer and hostess specials.

One of the neat things about being a partner in Thirty-One Gifts is that one can get the word out on these fantastic products to a large audience. Although I may not live near you, we can set up an online catalog party, for instance. You would receive the same benefits as an online hostess that you would if you were to host a house party. Please email me if you’re interested!

I am brainstorming on other ways to share these awesome products and this terrific company with many people, such as fundraising for schools, non-profits. The opportunities are endless! If you have any ideas, I welcome hearing them! 

I also set up a page on Facebook. If those of you who are on Facebook would 'like' it, I'd be grateful!: 

I am excited about this new venture, and think it will be a great success! I have lots of ideas, and my ‘upline’ consultant is SO helpful! In addition, I have shared this new adventure with friends, and they have been very encouraging; at least three have committed to host a party! The first party (scheduled for June 30) is already on the calendar!

I think this is a perfect opportunity for me – “for such a time as this” - and right up my alley (can't seem to get sales out of my system!). I have gotten into bright colors, like pink, orange and purple, in the last few years; those colors are in abundance in Thirty-One products! Cute, colorful and quality products + a faith-based company = a big win for all! 

The company encourages us to get a quick - and successful - start by offering bonus kits if you reach certain thresholds within the first 15 and 45 days. So I would appreciate if you can help me make this venture a success right out of the gate! 

I will still be posting book reviews and giveaways, so have no fear! :  ) I may even have a Thirty-One Gifts giveaway now and again! I look forward to balancing my time between the two. It will be a good balance between solitary reading/writing and boisterous Thirty-One house parties with lots of fun ladies!

Monday, June 27, 2011

‘Forever After: A Hanover Falls Novel’ by Deborah Raney – Book Review

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I had the good fortune to just finish reading ‘Forever After,’ the second novel in Deborah Raney’s ‘Hanover Falls’ series. Having enjoyed the first book in the series, ‘Almost Forever,’ I was anxious to read this one. And I was not disappointed!

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

A fire killed his best friend and his lifelong dream of being a firefighter. The same fire killed her husband and hopes for a family. Can new dreams be replaced?
Lucas Vermontez was a proud firefighter like his father. Now, not only has he lost his father and his best friend, Zach, in the fire at Grove Street homeless shelter, but the devoted rookie can no longer do the work he loves after being crippled in the tragic event. When friendship with his buddy’s beautiful widow turns into more, he wonders, what could he possibly offer Jenna?
Jenna Morgan is trying to grieve her husband’s death like a proper widow, but the truth is, she never really loved Zach. His death feels more like a relief to her. But that relief is short-lived when she loses her home and the financial support of her past threatens to destroy her future.
Can the two forget the painful past and discover new reasons to live and love?

Here is the biography of the author:

Deborah Raney dreamed of writing a book since the summer she read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and discovered that a little Kansas farm girl could, indeed, grow up to be a writer. After a happy twenty-year detour, as a stay-at-home wife and mom, Deb began her writing career. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, was awarded a Silver Angel from Excellence in Media and inspired the acclaimed World Wide Pictures film of the same name. Since then, her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, and the National Readers’ Choice Award; she is also a two-time Christy Award finalist. Raney enjoys speaking and teaching at writers’ conferences across the country. She and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in their native Kansas. The Raneys enjoy gardening, antiquing, art museums, movies, and traveling to visit four grown children and small grandchildren who live much too far away.
Deborah loves hearing from her readers. To e-mail her or to learn more about her books, please visit her website or write to Deborah in care of Howard Books, 216 Centerview Dr., Suite 303, Brentwood, TN 37027.

Here is the trailer for this book:

I saw a lot of myself in the main character of Jenna Morgan, in terms of the poverty and difficult home life that she endured as a little girl. Going along with that, I also was exasperated by her at times! She was a little bratty toward poor Lucas more than once, and he extended a lot more grace toward her than I was! Fortunately, she made some decisions in her life later on in the book that changed her character and made her more likeable. It was a relief, quite frankly!

It was interesting to see how Jenna related to people based on her view of herself and her past (it is hard to get past the issues in our formative years). Here is the explanation of the relationship between her and her mother-in-law:

Clarissa had quickly become the mother Jenna’s own mother could never be to her. She’d never treated Jenna like trailer trash, but taught her how to dress, how to do her makeup, and later – after she and Zach were married – taught her how to hold her head high and act as if she deserved to carry the Morgan name.
It had taken a dozen years of Clarissa’s mentoring, but most days Jenna could almost believe she was worthy of associating with Bill and Clarissa’s crowd. Could almost believe she deserved to live in a beautiful home in the Brookside development and that she wouldn’t be turned away trying to gain entrance to her in-laws’ home in Clairemont Hills, the new gated community on the outskirts of Hanover Hills. (p. 11)

I loved how the faith of Lucas positively affected Jenna:

        “I’ll pray you get the job.”
“Thanks.”  She didn’t put a lot of stock in prayer, but it touched her to think of him praying for her. (p. 161)

Despite his faith, there was still some doubt at times:

….Why did this have to happen? The last thing he needed was a setback like this. “Can You cut me a break, God? Come on!” His own voice startled him.
He didn’t usually pray out loud. Or did he dare call that a prayer? The words had come out more like a curse.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. It wasn’t right to take it out on God. He knew better than that. His faith had been tested almost beyond what he could bear in this past year. And still, God had proven faithful every step of the way. Lucas knew beyond doubt that he would never have made it through without God’s presence with him every second. He’d pushed away the memory of the darkest moments of those awful days – times he’d actually prayed to die. God had been there, even then. He was thankful now that God had refused to answer those prayers. Eventually hope had quickened his passion for life again. (p. 187)

Later on in the story, Jenna shared with Lucas that she was comforted and encouraged by the love and faith in God that was in evident in his family. Here he explains what faith and belief feels like to him:

“I’ve gotten past the need to know. There’s just this…feeling inside. Peaceful, I guess is the best way to explain it. I know God has everything under control and whatever happens, as long as I know it, I’m okay.” (p. 329)

Jenna shares her wishes, and Lucas shares his heart for her:

        “I wish I could believe like you,” she said.
“I want that for you, too, Jen. To believe how much God loves you. To have a faith that understands what true love is. It’s all I want for you, because it’s all that really matters.” (pp. 329-330)

There are Reading Group Questions at the back of the book that are quite insightful. I took the time to answer them, and was challenged in my thinking on some of the main themes in this book.

I really like the cover of this book, as well as the cover of ‘Almost Forever,’ the first book in the 'Hanover Falls' series. It is really appealing, and no doubt grabs one’s attention in a bookstore. I would definitely pick it up and check it out if I saw it on a bookstore shelf!

I also enjoyed the first book, ‘Almost Forever;’ you can read my review here. The final novel in the series, ‘After All,’ is completed and a bonus excerpt is included at the end of this book. 

I would recommend this as a light summertime read. Mrs. Raney is quite a talented writer, and you will want to keep reading to see what happens next in the lives of Lucas and Jenna.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, and provided by Glass Road Public Relations for review purposes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

‘Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God’ by Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D – Book Review

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In this world, there will be troubles; the Lord assured us in John 16:33. We often need hope when we are hurting. In her book, ‘Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God,’ Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills helps us to get through troubled times.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Life is neither easy nor simple. A quick survey of today’s headlines reveal that ours is a world full of hardship, grief, and pain, and it does not look to be getting any easier anytime soon. Yet we do not have to despair. Instead we should be empowered by the truth that there is a God who loves us and wants the best for us. This book encourages us to rest in this love, to seek it out, to press close to its source, to worship its giver, and to hold fast to its promises during times of sorrow.
Through historical anecdotes, personal memoir, observation, prayer, and a mixture of prose and poetry, Dr. Margaret Wills allows the reader to join her on her own search for peace, hope, and meaning in the midst of loss and pain. She also encourages praise and appreciation at all times, for God’s heart toward his children is unchanging.
With honest and intimate relevation, she explores the “thin places” where God’s presence is deeply felt when the veil is momentarily lifted: the storms of life, including damaged relationships, the death of a loved one, personal confusion, and gripping sorrow. Dr. Wills considers the character of God, our Father and King but also the greatest servant and the wisest teacher, relating to the quiet victories and the unending challenges of everyday life. She invites you to celebrate in the struggle and ultimate triumph of faith founded in Jesus Christ, the beauty and diversity of creation, and the hope to be had in this life and the next through saving grace.

Here is the biography of the author:

Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement, helping people experience hope, wisdom, and faith in their spiritual journey. Dr. Wills grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her undergraduate degree from John Brown University, a master’s degree from Arizona State University, and received her doctoral degree in higher education with a teaching field of history from the University of Arkansas. She taught American History at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
A writer and a poet, Dr. Wills is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement and helping people experience hope, wisdom, and faith in their spiritual journey. She has written for a number of publications, including The Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society and Issues and Inquiry in College Learning and Teaching. She previously served on the board of the Arkansas Community Foundation as an appointee of Governor Mike Huckabee. She has been a guest lecturer in the Leadership and Ethics Program at John Brown University and has spoken on the topic of “Leaving a Character Legacy.” She is a graduate of Chuck Colson’s Centurion Program for Worldview Leadership, an intensive and demanding education program that prepares Christians to articulate and live out their faith with authenticity and to lead effectively in the marketplace of ideas. Her home is in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she lives with her husband, Paul.

In the Introduction, Tim Boswell makes an important point:

There are two common myths that have taken unfortunate root in the hearts and minds of many Christians, and they are two of the most dangerous lies to believe. The first is that once you give your heart to Jesus Christ, your every problem will be solved and your life will be easy and pain-free. The second is its close kin – the belief that if trouble, hardship, or sorrow enters your life, then you must have fallen out of God’s favor and wandered away from His plan for you.
While God does at times use discipline or tribulation to correct or guide, to believe these lies – that your life as a Christian should be a carefree romp through the daisies, and if it isn’t, that God is no longer smiling down on you – is to risk overwhelming fear, discouragement, and a loss of peace and joy that we are meant to have at all times, even times of trial.
The truth of the matter is that we live in a fallen world, a world of pain and heartache; even Christ and His disciples had to pass through storms. It is this world and these storms that Margaret Wills writes, and it is to you and to me, making our way through the storm while the deck of the boat pitches beneath us and the cold waves threaten to take us under. Margaret reminds us that if we are safely in the boat with the Captain at the wheel, we can let go of our fear and trust the One who can still the waves with a word. (pp. xix-xx)

It is vital that we understand the troubles we go through are not caused by God. I have a memory of me at a young age asking a catechism teacher if God brought sickness on us. I don’t remember where I came up with that idea, but I do remember that the teacher explained that God did not cause sickness. I really needed to hear that at that point in my young life.

Dr. Wills shares with us this wonderful promise:

We are graced with thin moments from time to time, some profound, some subtle. They sneak up on us. So let us keep our eyes open for the gift of the thinning of the veil as we walk on the mountains. And then let us remember the truths in the flatlands and in the valleys. (p. 17)

Dr. Wills gives us her perspective on forgiveness:

As I mulled the verse [Matthew 18:21-22] over in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me, maybe we are supposed to forgive the same sin seventy times seven. It’s not a onetime deal. That makes it even more of a challenge. Forgive over and over again? Let go of it? Yes, God is able to deal with another person. I concluded that Jesus was telling us, “Yes, it’s hard for you to forgive but I’ve had mercy on you and forgiven you over and over again and you must do the same. And you will need two things: My grace and your choice.” You will be set free, but beyond that, God will give you wisdom on how to best deal with difficult situations or relationships. We can weep but we cannot get bitter. (p. 33)

She provides us with this encouragement about our future:

Our future is one of hope and infinite possibilities. A couple of years ago, my husband gave me a card. On the front it said, “A Love Story.” When I opened it, it read, “Together. Forever. The End.” In a way, that card sums up our relationship with God. Life is short. Written between the lines there is joy, sorrow, and a lot we don’t understand. But life is a love story between us and God, together forever with no end. (p. 47)

She shares this observation on faith:

We must have faith. The Bible says that he who comes to God must believe that He is. I visualize Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine Chapel where there is the picture of man in all his glory and God in all His Glory, both reaching out. Their arms are extended toward each other, their fingers almost, almost, but not quite, touching. To me, the gap represents faith. The bridge between us and God is our faith, faith for our salvation and faith for our daily walk. Our faith in Jesus bridges the gap between us and Him. What challenge are you facing that is an opportunity to experience the reality of God in your life? When you are tired and confused and don’t know where to go or what to do, go to Jesus. He will either step in your circumstances or give you grace and peace to walk your appointed path. Jesus came that we might know our God. God is good and God love us. (p. 131)

This book includes some tender and heartfelt poems from Dr. Wills. I liken some of them to David’s psalms in the Bible. Here’s a sample:
        Lead me into your sanctuary
        Where I take courage and my dust-born
        thoughts are silenced
        Where Your Word centers the
        meditations of my mind
        And Your Spirit examines the motivations
        Of my most inward part.
        Incline my spirit to holiness and
        “heaven’s will on earth.”
        Counsel me on my glorious destiny and
        Remind me that I do not walk on a slippery path
        Or stand on a water-soaked sandy cliff.
        I am anchored in the Rock of my Sovereign Lord
        In the shelter of a most high mountain
        In the sanctuary of unseen evidence
        Where thoughts are clarified and courage renewed.
        (pp. 34-35)

This makes a lovely gift book. It is small in size – perfect for a nightstand or a purse – and a lovely hardback with a dust cover. It would probably be more appropriate for women than for men, but I think some more gentle men would appreciate it as well! I plan on referring back to it often for inspiration and encouragement, and I thank Dr. Wills for sharing this beautiful book with us.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Brown Christian Press and provided by The B & B Media Group for review purposes.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Q and A with Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D, Author of ‘Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God’

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Is there sustaining comfort to be found for the suffering, perhaps flailing, faithful? Dr. Margaret Wills, Ed.D, asserts that there is, and in her book, Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God, she invites questioning, thinking, and hurting readers to recognize glimpses of wonder and to draw strength and find rest in the presence of a loving God.

Dr. Wills knows from her own experiences that life is not simple and that we all need encouraging words and reasons to hang on to hope. With transparency and refreshing gentleness, Wills tackles universal fears, disappointments, wounded relationships, and even death and beckons readers to pull aside the veil and to see into that “thin space,” as the Celtics called it, where all that separates heaven and earth becomes almost transparent.

Wills answers questions like, “How do we keep from falling into despair when pain and suffering weigh heavily upon us?” and answers honestly questions about doubt, mystery, and the experience of not knowing. Wills offers wisdom to cultivate a listening heart, encouragement for the downhearted, reassuring words for the faltering, and comfort and rest for those in any stage of their faith journey.   

I will be posting the review of this book tomorrow. In the meantime, please enjoy this Q and A session with Dr. Wills.

Q: Your book is entitled Pressing into Thin Places. What is a “thin place”?

In the Celtic tradition, a “thin place” is the place where the veil that separates heaven and earth is nearly transparent. It is a place where we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday world. A thin place is where, for a moment, the spiritual world and natural world intersect. It can be a sudden momentary awareness or profound unexplainable experience.

Q: Pressing into Thin Places is a collection of stories, experiences, and learned truths expressed through poetry and prose. How are you hoping that readers connect with the experiences shared and those “thin places”?

Through the book I wanted to share a few “thin place moments” and encourage readers to have eyes to see the gifts of thin places through their own experiences. There are moments when we do feel the divine breaking through into our world. We feel unified and connected with God. It is not an intellectual knowing; it is felt in the spirit. Every once in a while, God draws the curtain and lets us see. He gives us reminders that, though we are tethered to this earth, there is another realm of reality just as real. Every once in a while, He lifts the veil. He thins the space between heaven and earth. He lets us experience the “thin place.” Ultimately, He helps our faith. 

Q: Pressing into Thin Places gives readers permission to be authentic and to acknowledge doubt, questions, even depression. Often we experience guilt over these sometimes realities, fearing they show a weak faith. But how can facing these circumstances or emotions actually strengthen faith and reveal the presence of God in our lives? 

We all have ups and downs. We are emotional beings. This is part of life. But can we dial up different thoughts? Can we change our feelings? Many times, I believe we can. Not too long ago I came across a verse in 1 Samuel 30. The chapter talked about a time when David was defeated by his enemies, rejected by all those around him and discouraged to the core. In verse 6, it says, “And David strengthened himself in the Lord.” How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord? I believe we do what a verse in Psalms suggests: “And then one day I went into your sanctuary and thought” (Ps. 73:17). We strengthen ourselves in the Lord by going into His presence and letting Him guide our thinking. Many of the Psalms tell us that David worshipped and meditated on the scriptures. This was no exception. He received new purpose, vision, and authority. He waited patiently to become king. 

Q: Why do you think we fear admitting doubt or struggles with faith?

Fear wants to rise and speak to the bottom corners of our mind. It will remind us not to be vulnerable. We will remember what happens when we risk psychological safety or abandon feelings of superiority. We will remember our nakedness. We will feel the wash of old fears and the pull of old attitudes and the temptations of old behaviors. But our heart, where our choice and our spirit live, desires our Father and His Kingdom. And our Teacher taught us to pray. 

Q: It seems that more and more we all encounter people who profess to believe that God exists, but the crisis of faith arises in God’s goodness. What do you say to the reader who struggles to believe that God is good and loving? 

Jesus says we can trust our Heavenly Father. We are safe, we are protected, and we are guided when we cooperate with God’s purpose and God’s way of doing things. We become participants in the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God’s grace on earth. Jesus reminds us over and over again that we must have faith. We must believe in the fact that we are safe and that “good” will result as we submit our will to His Way. This submission is powerful. It defragments our life and gives us spiritual significance and wholeness of soul. This submission results in the process of spiritual transformation. Along the way, we are rewarded by “faith surprises” as resources of the Kingdom of Heaven are available to make changes in us, in others, and in the way things are. 

Q: What do you hope that readers will take away from Pressing into Thin Places?

At the crux of this message of greater connection with God is the gospel message. Jesus encourages us to see our short space of time on this earth in the light of eternity. He instructs us to remember that there are two realities: a physical reality and a spiritual reality. We are first and foremost spiritual beings called to follow Christ’s teachings.

This book was published by Brown Christian Press. You can order a copy here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

‘Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Ezra-Nehemiah-Esther’ by Gary V. Smith, with Philip W. Comfort, General Editor – Book Review

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I am enrolled at Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. I have taken a few semesters off, but plan on taking a class in the fall. During my hiatus, I have been reading plenty of books! One that is in the scholarly category is ‘Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Ezra-Nehemiah-Esther’ by Gary V. Smith, edited by Philip W. Comfort.

Here is a synopsis of this book series:

The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary provides students, pastors, and laypeople with up-to-date, evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments. It’s designed to equip pastors and Christian leaders with exegetical and theological knowledge to better understand and apply God’s word by presenting the message of each passage as well as an overview of other issues surrounding the text.

Here is the biography of the author:

Gary V. Smith is professor of Christian Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He has taught at Union since 2004. Prior to coming to Union, Dr Smith taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City Missouri from 1998-2004. For two years he served as the Interim Academic Dean at the Seminary. Prior to coming to Midwestern, Dr Smith taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Bethel Theological Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota from 1983-1998. Prior to coming to Bethel Dr Smith taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Winnipeg Theological Seminary from 1973-1983. For two years he was the Interim Dean of the Seminary.  
Dr. Smith did undergraduate work at Wheaton College and received his Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology in 1965, the Master of Arts from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1968, and his Doctor of Philosophy from Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Languages in Philadephia in 1973. He has completed academic research in Jerusalem, Israel and in Cambridge, England.
Dr Smith’s areas of expertise include the Old Testament Prophets, especial Amos and Isaiah, plus the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Dr. Smith has published Amos, Broadening Your Biblical Horizons, An Introduction to the Hebrew Prophets: The Prophets as Preachers, Hosea, Amos, Micah in the NIV Application Commentary.
Dr Smith and his wife Susan live in Jackson, Tennessee. They have two children and five grandchildren.

In the General Editor’s Preface, Mr. Comfort explains the structure of this commentary:

The commentary itself has been structured in such a way as to help readers get at the meaning of Scripture, passage by passage, through the entire Bible. Each Bible book is prefaced by a substantial book introduction that gives general historical background important for understanding. Then the reader is taken through the Bible text, passage by passage, starting with the New Living Translation text printed in full. This is followed by a section called “Notes,” wherein the commentator helps the reader understand the Hebrew or Greek behind the English of the NLT, interacts with other scholars on important interpretative issues, and points the reader to significant textual and contextual matters. The “Notes” are followed by the “Commentary,” wherein each scholar presents a lucid interpretation of the passage, giving special attention to context and major theological themes.

One of my favorite books in the Bible, as I think it may be for a large section of women, is the book of Esther; so I will be focusing on that book here. Here is the beginning of the Introduction:

The Life of Esther demonstrates that God can use women in powerful ways to change the course of history. This young orphan girl went from having almost nothing to becoming one of the most powerful women in the Persian world. Finding herself in the midst of a major crisis, she boldly stepped forward to confront and defeat the evil man Haman. Esther’s story illustrates how a woman’s wisdom, patience, courage, and availability can bring hope to many. She took the opportunity to stand in the gap to save her people from certain death, and she met the challenge. With the backing of a praying community of supporters, she accepted a difficult role and put her life on the line to save the Jews from genocide. (p. 217)

The Introduction provides details on the following: The Author, The Date and Occasion of Writing, Audience, Canonicity and Textual History, Literary Styles, Major Themes, Theological Concerns, and an Outline.

The Notes and Commentary are very detailed and very informative. We get a more in-depth picture of Esther based on the historical background that is provided. Each verse in each chapter is scrutinized, and we learn a great deal.

This is a wonderful series, strictly based on this book. I have not seen the others, but I assume they are equally high in quality. It is a wonderful complement to the library of the ‘professional Christian’ and to the layman.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Tyndale House and provided by them for review purposes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

‘How Huge the Night’ by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn – Book Review

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One of my topics of great interest is the treatment of the Jewish people during World War II. My interest was spurred by the assigned reading of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ in sixth grade. So when I read the synopsis of ‘How Huge the Night’ by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn, my curiosity was piqued.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

Based on Actual Events.
When Had God Ever Stopped A War Because A Teenager Asked Him To?
For fifteen-year-old Julien Losier, life will never be the same. His family has relocated to southern France to outrun Hitler’s menace. But Julien doesn’t want to run. He doesn’t want to huddle around the radio at night, waiting to hear news through buzzing static. Julien doesn’t want to wait.
Angry, frustrated, and itching to do something, Julien finds a battle everywhere he turns.
Soon after his family opens their home to a Jewish boy needing refuge, Julien meets Nina, a young Austrian who has fled her home by her father’s dying command. Nina’s situation is grave and Julien suddenly realizes the enormity of having someone’s life or death depend on…him.
Thrown together by a conflict that’s too big for them to understand, each one struggles to know what to do, even if it is not enough. Is there a greater purpose in the shadows of this terrible war? Or will their choices put them in greater danger?

Here are the biographies of this daughter/mother author duo:

Heather Munn was born in Northern Ireland of American parents and grew up in the south of France where her parents and grandparents worked as missionaries. She decided to be a writer at the age of five when her mother read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books aloud, but worried that she couldn’t write about her childhood because she couldn’t remember it. When she was young, her favorite time of day was after supper when the family would gather and her father would read a chapter from a novel. Heather went to French school until her teens, and grew up hearing the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, only an hour’s drive away. She has a BA in literature from Wheaton College and lives in a Christian international community in rural Illinois with her husband, Paul, where they offer free spiritual retreats to people coming out of homelessness and addiction. She enjoys wandering in the woods, gardening, writing, and splitting wood.

Lydia Munn was homeschooled for five years because there was no school where her parents served as missionaries in the savannahs of northern Brazil. There was no public library either, but Lydia read every book she could get her hands on. This led naturally to her choice of an English major at Wheaton College, where she earned a BA in literature. Her original plan to teach high school in English gradually transitioned into a lifelong love of teaching the Bible to both adults and young people in southern France, where she has also been church planting, since 1983. Ten of those years were spent in St. Etienne, near the small town in the central mountains of France that provides the settings of How Huge the Night. She and her husband, Jim, have two children: their son, Robin, and their daughter, Heather.

Here is the trailer for this interesting book:

Several characters have a strong faith in God. Here is Julien, one of the main characters, early on in the story:

Julien looked up. The moon was gone, and so were the stars, and he was on his knees. “God,” he whispered. His voice was dry. “God. Please don’t let them get to Paris. Please keep…everybody…safe.” He sounded like a child – and God bless Mommy. When had God ever stopped a war because a teenager asked him to? The image came back, the tanks firing, the recoil, Vincent’s face grinning. He could never be a soldier. Never drive a tank.
It was unbearable.
I want to do something, God. Let me do something. Please. The word serve rose in his mind, the word protect, but he couldn’t even think them; it sounded stupid. What did he know how to do? Do the dishes, play soccer. Split wood. (pp. 16-17)

Another strong man of faith was Pastor Alex. He advocated action against evil:

        Then Pastor Alex spoke of evil.
He spoke of the Nazis and the things they did. He spoke of Kristallnacht, and Julien clenched his teeth. He asked if we must sit passively by while evil overcomes good. Julien lifted his head.
Pastor Alex leaned forward. Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t kill your enemies.” Would Jesus simply command us not to act in the face of evil, he who won the greatest victory, who conquered sin and death? No, friends, no. What did Jesus tell us to do to our enemies?
Love them.
“Jesus,” said Pastor Alex, and his voice almost shook. “Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, offers us this chance to be his brothers and his sisters and to fight as he fought; he gives us his weapons, the Father’s weapons, the weapons of the Spirit.” He sounded reverent, almost in awe. “The weapons of love,” he said. “Fearless love.”
Julien sat straighter. Fearless love. Even if he was never a soldier. Was that what Pastor Alex was saying? He could still fight. (p. 101)

There were two different storylines alternating through the book – that of Julien and his family, and that of the brother and sister, Gustav and Nina. It was interesting how the two stories converged toward the end of the book.

In the Historical Note (by Heather) at the end of the book, she explains how much of the history is based on fact. She also explained why she (along with her mother) wrote a book set in this time period:

One of the reasons this period of history fascinates me is choices. In France under the Nazis, people made all kinds of choices. Some got rich off the black market; some through collaboration. Some used the Nazis for revenge, feeding them true or false information against their enemies. Some followed Petain unquestioningly; some just survived, as attentistes, “wait-ists,” who chose not to get involved. Some vowed to fight the Germans to the bitter end and started the Resistance, which in those early days seemed completely doomed. And a few, like the people of a village in central France called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, chose to focus on those in the deepest need and danger, and protect them from harm. (p. 302)

Heather closes out her Historical Note this way:

At the end of the book, Julien expects his country to be under Nazi domination for the rest of his life. This also is accurate. There was no good reason, then, to think otherwise. It is with no hope in sight that the people of Le Chambon trusted God and did what they could for the people they saw being persecuted. Sixty-five years later what they did is still remembered. I hope it always will be. (p. 304)

I really liked this book. It was interesting to get inside the mind of young people who lived in France in 1940. It must have been a scary time, both in terms of what was happening with Hitler and Germany, as well as the normal hormonal trials of teenagers.

Although this book is categorized as Teen Fiction, I think it appeals to all age groups. It is a terrific book to encourage a young person to read; they may not have previously been aware of the events of World War II and Hitler’s persecution of God’s Chosen People. This book would be a great introduction. And it is written in an interesting and engaging style, which would appeal to all ages.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Kregel Publications and provided by them for review purposes.

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