Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Couple Quick Book Reviews

Christian fiction has become quite the market for a reader searching for something good to read without the junk that can be found in some more secular writings. With authors like Jan Karon, Terri Blackstock, Karen Kingsbury, Randy Alcorn, and, my personal favorite, Francine Rivers, there is a plethora of fantastic books just waiting to be read. Here are my thoughts on a couple books I have read recently!!

Francine Rivers came into my life about a year and a half ago. My first book of hers was the first book in the Mark of the Lion series, "Voice in the Wind". This HAD to be a God thing!! A friend of mine and I decided to read this book series at the same time...I had NEVER heard of this author!! I was shocked when I saw that this was a 3-book series and each book was THICK!!! The cover didn't look appealing...almost like a medieval romance novel.

I began reading "Voice in the Wind" and it was B-O-R-I-N-G!! It probably took me 2-3 months to get through 3 chapters. Total *zzzzzzzzzz* factor. You ask, how was this a "God thing". Well, I wanted to stay true to my commitment to read this series with my friend, so I trudged through and ...... Oh My Word ...... this book took off and it took off FAST!! I became ENTHRALLED with the characters, particularly the book's heroine Haddassah (which is the real name of Esther in the bible). Watching her story unfold in this book set just months (maybe a year or so) after the death of Christ in the Pagan world of Rome was just breathtaking! I could hardly stand to NOT be reading and became lost to my family. It is a book I must recommend to ANYONE and EVERYONE I meet. This book features the disciple, John, who has started a small church in Rome. I was so emotionally tied to the characters in this book, that when the book reached it's finale I was ANGRY...Physically ANGRY. I marched downstairs (I had locked myself in my room, glued to every word), I threw my book down on the ground and kicked it across the room as tears poured down my face. I was in pure ANGUISH and I unleashed this emotion on my husband who unwittingly was working on his computer!!

Lucky for me, I had bought the second book in the series, "An Echo in the Darkness", a couple days before, anticipating that I would finish the first book soon. So, after some huffing and puffing and ranting and raving (I do not read books casually. I have been an avid reader who INHALES books since I was 3-4 years old), I picked up this second book, got in a position of readiness, and began the second book. WHOA!!! Big stuff...lots of emotions and away I went....quickly reading this second book and in NO WAY being disappointed as sequels can tend to be. It wasn't long before I was crying, and cheering, and celebrating, and getting sickened by this second book. At it's conclusion, I was utterly book kicking this time.

I immediately began reading the third and last book in the trilogy, "As Sure as the Dawn". I will admit to you, that this third book was not as good as the previous 2. The writing was just as exceptional and the struggle within was captivating, but the characters were just not as appealing and it fell a little flat for me. The first 2 were just SO DYNAMIC that it was harder to get into this third installment.

Now, as I tend to do, I finished this series and immediately began researching the author so I could inhale her other works. Before I knew it, I was getting recommendations from SO MANY Rivers fans. WHO KNEW!!! The number 1 recommended Rivers book was "Redeeming Love". So...I got the book, of course, and began on a NEW journey.

This is the odd thing about me and Rivers. I am not a period reader. I am more of a mystery/thriller reader. Give me a good murder mystery and I will eat it up....give me a romance or a "regular" book, and I will be bored. Give me one of those types of books and put it in the PAST and I am GONE! Rivers tends to write in the past and not so much in the present.....and I LOVE IT!! Mark of the Lion....back in the days of the early church....and "Redeeming Love" set in the Old West......prospecting, shanty towns, brothels.....yes, I said brothels.

"Redeeming Love" is a book set back in the Old West and mirrors the book of Hosea in the bible. I had SIGNIFICANT doubts about how much I would like this book...though SO MANY friends is the best book yet....or....I read this book at least once a year. So, like the Lion books, I decided to make an honest go at this book and see where it took me. Where did it take me?? It took me to the heart of a man who does all things according to God's will. A man, who was told, by God, to marry a prostitute. Though this man (whose name was, Hosea) had serious doubts about this, he did as God commanded. This was also a book about a woman who became broken as a child and had "no hope". This was a woman who was rescued by a man who loved her as God loved her, but could not recognize this love she had never experienced.

While I would disagree at this book being in my top ten books of all-time...and I certainly will not read it more than this one time....I did see the value in it and found it rather fascinating. It was a very good book (it was it's unfortunate flaw that I would read it AFTER reading the dramatic and powerful "Mark of the Lion" books).

This book was followed shortly by "Leota's Garden" (a book about a girl who is following God's plan for her life and restoring her family ties), "The Atonement Child" (about a girl who got pregnant under the worst of situations and struggles with adoption over abortion), "The Scarlet Thread" (about a marriage that is failing and a woman who finds a common thread between her life and the life of a long ago relative who journaled her way across the pioneer trail), "The Last Sin-Eater" (another period piece back in the days of mountain immigrants from Scotland living in the Appalachians and their ritualistic ways and a missionary who changes kids who change the clans way of life), and "And the Shofar Blew".

"And the Shofar Blew" is one of the best Rivers books I have read!! This book involved a small church in California who needed a new pastor. A seminary student who was married with a little boy who was in need of a church answered the call. This young family packs up and moves across the country to fill this need in this small church and the new pastor is ready to light the town on fire. But, as we see so often in today's culture, the new pastor becomes greedy with power and ambition and loses his way. It is a really fantastic book about redemption.

I could not tell you the order by which I read these INCREDIBLE works of Rivers, but I can tell you after reading all her books, I was greatly grieved. I asked friends...where are MORE Rivers books. Many of us speculated that she was either dead or retired because there was NOTHING that was recent!! I was GREATLY disturbed!!

Imagine my delight when I posted on facebook how much I needed a good book to read and a friend replied to me to check out "Her Mother's Hope" by Francine Rivers to me. "WHAT" I replied. I had not heard she had a NEW book out!!! Yes, my friend said. Well, I IMMEDIATELY went searching for it.

Oh my...there are NO WORDS to describe how INCREDIBLE this book was!! Again, this book was a period piece...a book that began in Switzerland and followed a girl who becomes a woman...a woman driven to make something more of herself. She fought stereotypes (women and their place in the early 1900s), she fought familial weaknesses, and even fought different languages and countries...eventually pioneering to this continent. This book was beautiful in it's writing and captivating in it's story. As is typical with me and a Rivers book, I became EMOTIONALLY involved in the story and characters. It was not unusual for me to be laughing while reading one page and than getting angry on the next. It was fascinating to travel where she traveled and experience what she experienced. One of the best parts of this book was.....

...there was a book 2 that would be coming out just a couple months later: "Her Daughter's Dream". I was VERY excited when I found that I could already put myself on a wait list for this book at my local library. I knew the exact date book 2 would be out and was almost jittery with anticipation. I knew, however, that it would take the library time to process the book, so I was looking at a couple weeks after the release date to get it. In the meantime, I requested a number of other books and began reading the ones that came in in anticipation.

The day after the book was released in stores, I got an email from my library letting me know one of my requests were in. Now, when it comes to books, I am like a kid in a toy store. I got ready that morning to work-out...take kids and hubs to their perspective places and allowed myself to dream that it could be book 2 though I knew it wasn't. The first place I went upon delivering everyone was the library. I approached the wall where books on hold are kept and searched for my name. The binding was hidden by a big piece of paper with my name on it, but my heart jumped anyway....the size seemed right. Slowly, I eased the book off the shelf and (no joke) tears came to my was "Her Daughter's Dream"!!! I almost shouted for joy, but contained myself in this quiet building. I practically floated to the circulation desk and handed the librarian my book and card........and floated to my car.

This book was ALL I hoped for........and MORE!! It was SO good, that I only put it down when I HAD to....driving and what not. At midnight, the book was done and I was sobbing. More so than the first book, I had a virtual roller coaster of emotions. I would hug myself with joy or raise my fist in anger....laugh and cry. That night, Matt would ask me...aren't you ready for bed....and I would say, I only have this much left. At midnight, with my shoulders heaving from sobbing and my face wet with tears, I shared the conclusion with Matt (he gets to hear all my excited thoughts on the books I read). It was after midnight and I am sure he didn't mind....he only had work the next day!!

I cannot recommend this author enough. She is an incredible author and I really, REALLY enjoy her. But, even if you do not read her other works, you MUST try this 2-part series. It is a fascinating look at 4 generations of this woman's family....Francine Rivers shared that much of this book comes from her own family history.

And, again, I do not care for this type of book. I am not into traditions...history....geneaology....etc. That tells you how great of an author she is....these books were captivating. I was hooked by the end of the first page of the first book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Diversity in Christian Music

Music is important to my family. My husband is a musician, and a gifted one at that. He has been a musician for a large chunk of his life. He is a lover of music in many forms (no country for him, please). I grew up with music being a huge part of our lives. I remember my dad popping in an 8 Track (what is an 8 track?) and he and I dancing in the living room. For us, the music of choice was old country!

It is important to both Matt and I to have music be a part of our kids lives. Sierra and Daniel have been exposed to music their entire lives. Around the time of Sierra's birth (a couple months after), I gave my life to Christ and wanted to make sure Sierra was surrounded by good, positive, Christian influences and thus KSBJ (our local Christian radio station entered our lives). Through KSBJ, I was introduced to great Christian musicians like Hillsong, Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, etc. I really loved KSBJ and their influence on me and my daughter's life. Little did I know that 11 year later, the same music would still be cycling through.

I have often talked to Matt about music. Matt still listens to a lot of those old 80s songs and bands. I would impress on him the need to listen to more Jesus music, but he always replied that he did not like Christian is all so "churchy" and "praise-like" and while he sees it's place, it is not the type of music that he prefers. I couldn't argue there, as the music on the radio was getting SO OLD and stagnant. I found myself in a constant state of frustration with KSBJ and their choices in music.

Recently, I have come to see a whole new world in Christian music, a world I stumbled upon and would never have known about. There is a whole new world of Christian music that, for whatever reason, is only featured on our radio station on Saturday nights....Christian Rock!! Oh sure, you have heard of bands like P.O.D., but really, how many can you list. KSBJ plays 1 or 2 Switchfoot songs that are SO OLD it's ridiculous...Switchfoot has had how many cds released in the last few years and you will not hear the songs...OH, but when Switchfoot comes to town, KSBJ will interview them and sell their tickets........all the while never playing their music. Same with bands like: Relient K, Skillet, Superchick, Stellar Kart, Hawk Nelson, Flyleaf, etc.

It is so frustrating and I have to wonder, why doesn't KSBJ want to reach the masses? Oh sure, they have announced the launch of a new "Youth" radio station, but is that even necessary?? Why not have Chris Tomlin sing "Amazing Grace" followed by Stellar Kart's "Innocent" (which has an INCREDIBLE message, btw)? What is wrong with playing Flyleaf's "Beautiful Bride" (a great song about the Bride of Christ) followed by David Crowder's "How He Loves"?

Were it not for my boredom one night, I would never have known what kind of music Skillet made (and they are now my favorite band). Today, I downloaded a Stellar Kart album that is so FUN and full of FANTASTIC messages for my daughter.

And speaking of my daughter...she is 11-years old. She has no interest in Hillsong or Chris Tomlin. She needs music that speaks to her. Secular music has kids listening to Lady Gaga....Katy Perry.....Lincoln Park....etc. Shouldn't we make available to the kids alternatives to these artists? Now, she has Flyleaf...a rather ROCKING band with a female singer and Sierra LOVES them!! Skillet is a great alternative to Lincoln Park...and has a female drummer that Sierra admires.

There is a whole world of Christian music out there that you will not know about by listening to the tired music heard on KSBJ. Thanks to KSBJ, I can no longer listen to Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Hillsong United, Mercy Me, or any number of artists. It is ridiculous for them to promote concerts for artists such as Family Force 5, Switchfoot, Superchick, Skillet, when they only give them airplay for a couple hours each Saturday night (a night when most people aren't listening to the radio). I say boo to the station that is locking out a whole generation of potential listeners.

Anyway, if you are looking to rock out a little while getting your Jesus on, I recommend Relient K, Skillet, Flyleaf, Stellar Kart. I am only now discovering this whole lost genre of music....I am sure I can add to the list soon!!

BTW...Daniel LOVES these bands and would rather listen to Skillet than any preschool songs.

AND, it should be said that the same thing is happening in Christian books. No more are we limited to the stylings of Janette Okes and Belva Plain, who write good books about Christian living in pioneer days. Now, there is an explosion in Christian fiction that is AWESOME!!

I HIGHLY recommend reading:

Francine River's books: The Mark of the Lion Trilogy, Redeeming Love, The Shofar Blew, Leota's Garden, The Scarlet Thread, Her Mother's Hope, etc.

Brandilyn Collins: The Kanner Lake Series, Deceit, etc.

Dee Henderson's: The O'Malley Series

Jan Karon's : The Mitford Series

Terri Blackstock's: Cape Refuge Series, Rescue 911 Series, Restoration Light Series, plus many more

I am currently reading Ted Dekker's book, Kiss. It is really good, so far. Many love Karen Kingsbury, Robin Jones Gunn. Randy Singer has some good books as does Randy Alcorn. Charles Martin is pretty good...a friend suggested one of his books as being one of the best she has read...I have that on hold at the library.

And here is the video to "Innocent" by Stellar Kart. It has such a GREAT message for our kids!!!