Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

Leah and her parents are newcomers to Mattingly.  Little Leah's severe stutter and shyness, along with her father's career as a psychologist set them even farther apart from the "regulars" of this small Southern town.  A birthday party that starts out as a way to make their daughter feel part of the community instead sets the background for a drama that will test the beliefs of everyone within miles.
An imaginary friend whom Leah calls "Rainbow Man" instructs her to paint a picture and give it to Barney, an older neighbor with a disabled wife.  When he reveals that he saw secret numbers in the painting, numbers which he used to buy a lotto ticket, some people see what happened afterward as a miracle.  Others see darkness and evil.  Leah's father refuses to believe either and his disbelief threatens his marriage and further erodes Leah's fragile emotions.  Allie, Leah's only friend must decide if she is going to believe what Leah has told her or hold to what she's always believed.

Big questions are asked in this story -- about what we accept as truth, about faith, and about miracles.  Barney sees himself as a modern day Job, but when his life begins to change, does he understand what is happening and why?  Pastor Reggie is sure that Leah's miracles as a threat to him and his flock, yet he cannot ignore her presence. On the other hand, if God was going to make himself known, wouldn't he pick someone loyal and deserving, like Reggie?  Dr. Norcross, Leah's father, passionately denies all talk of religion and God, but he's called to a great action of faith.  Coffey's writing style is as complex as the story itself.  At first, I could barely read a page without wondering why I had begun, by mid-book I was finding passages to mark, and by the end, I was enthralled -- rushing to the finish, all the while juggling symbolism and meaning in my mind.  What kept coming to mind were those throughout history who professed to witness miracles, apparitions, and such.  Certainly, they faced the kind of doubt and disbelief that Leah does.  It's hard to put a label on this book -- maybe part allegory?  mystical?  Not the type of book I normally select, but I am glad I read it.

Understanding Coffey's writing style and his take on the "mysteries of faith" would have been easier if I had read THE DEVIL WALKS IN MATTINGLY, the book which precedes this one.  WHEN MOCKINGBIRDS SING was our book club's book for this month and I was anxiously anticipating the discussion.  We are quite diverse in our views and beliefs so I was not sure at all about other people's reactions. Our group met tonight, but being November and our yearly wrap up with a dinner, our normal discussion didn't take place.  Did talk about the book with a few people who ate at the same table as I did -- maybe a couple of us will read the next book which follows Allie into the Dark Woods the next year.  If anyone has read WHEN MOCKINGBIRDS SING, let me know your take on the book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Look Inside THE TIME OF JESUS: A Lift the Flap Discovery Book

 Kregel Publications, Lois Rock, and Lorenzo Orlandi have combined efforts to create a delightful children's book about Jesus and his teachings.  Each two page spread colorfully shows the everyday life of the time while also telling about Jesus's life.  At least one lift the flap is found on each spread; many pages have two.  One the first page the shepherds have arrived at the door of the stable; when opened, Mary and Joseph look admiringly at the Christ child, as do the animals. I love that children are present on so many pages, going through their daily routines -- walking to get water with Mom, playing a game on the stone pavement, going to school to learn the Scripture and even playing hide and seek with the pup.  On the pages showing Jesus going to Zacchaeus's luxurious home for dinner, a trio of young children are hidden behind the window, sneaking a peek at the feast.  The inclusion of all these children will help modern children make connections to those times and to what Jesus's presence meant.

The text is simple but never silly and doesn't skip over the trial and the crucifixion, and the last flap shows the women finding the empty tomb.  I think there should have been one more two page spread, showing the Risen Christ and the early church which follows, but I still feel this is an excellent book for young families to read together.  Its large format (about 9 x 11 inches per page) makes it an easy book to share for story time.  Pages are sturdy as are the flaps.  Creative adults will be able to have youngsters hunt for something special on each page, varying those hunts on each reading.

I received a copy of THE TIMES OF JESUS from Kregel Publications for review purposes.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where She Went by Gayle Forman - the audio book

Image result for where she went book imageIF I STAY, a contemporary young adult novel recently made into a movie, tells the story of Mia, a teenage cellist, whose parents and only brother die in a winter car crash which leaves her in a coma.
The entire book is told by Mia as the family prepares to enjoy an unexpected day off from school and then as she witnesses herself in the coma.The story ends as her longtime boyfriend, teen rock musican Adam tells her that "if she stays" he will do whatever she wants - accompany her to Julliard or walk away from her.  Listening to the audio version of that book was both painful and riveting.  I haven't seen the movie and I am not sure I will, simply because the audio version of the book was so well done.  I don't think the visualization can add anything.  WHERE SHE WENT is the novel's sequel; it is three years later, and Adam is now the one telling the story.  Mia recovered from the accident and with her grandparents' support decided to go to Julliard, leaving Adam behind in Oregon.  For the first weeks they maintain a long distance relationship, but then Mia stops answering Adam's calls and texts.  Adam quits performing with his rock band and sinks into a deep depression.  Holed up in his old childhood room, he begins to pour his broken heart into a series of songs.  When he finally goes back to the band, those songs become their breakout album Collateral Damage.  Throughout the book, selected lyrics from the songs open each chapter, setting the tone of abandonment and hurt. But pain sells and Adam's group rockets into stardom.  As the book opens, Adam is preparing to leave for a world tour.  The band has left before him; clearly, there are issues among them.  Adam is relying on pills to ease an ever increasing anxiety and his Hollywood girlfriend says he needs to confront his unresolved issues with Mia.  On a sleepless night in New York City, Adam discovers that Mia is performing at Carnegie Hall and sneaks in to watch her perform, sure that he will not be noticed.

At about 5 hours, this audio version was perfect to listen to while working on some sewing projects.  Definitely written for young people, Forman has packed the story with references to punk rock and other West Coast rock movements.  Despite not being a youngster or a rocker, I felt it gave this lost love story its own freshness.  Adam's narration and flashbacks to the young couple's short time together gave depth and perspective to their unique relationship (a rocker and a classical celloist).  
I can see why Gayle Forman continues to be a popular author for today's teens. 

Note: Before recommending this book to young teens, know that Mia and Adam are sexually involved while in high school, not a choice I would recommend for teens.  That said, there is much about their relationship and these two stories that is thoughtful and beautiful.  I obtained the audio version of both books from WPLC --Wisconsin Public Library Consortium and downloaded them to my MP3 player.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Classic Christmas Carols: CD featuring Point of Grace, Big Daddy Weave, Sandi Patty, Mark Schultz and more

Classic Christmas Carols CD 34-09097 080688903527

I've been listening to Christmas carols for two weeks already -- a little early for even me, but
FAMILY CHRISTIAN gave me the opportunity to review the cd CLASSIC CHRISTMAS CAROLS featuring such artists as Point of Grace, Big Daddy Weave, Sandi Patty, Mark Schultz, and For King and Country (and more). While the simple red cover with white lettering may be unassuming, this is a wonderful album of 12 classic carols by top Christian artists.  So many times artists, especially mainstream artists, try unsuccessfully to give classic Christmas songs their own branding.
The artists on this CD have remained true to the classic sound, but at the same time offer a freshness and uniqueness to each song. The percussion in Point of Grace's rendition of LITTLE DRUMMER BOY is crisp while the addition of guitar to Francesca Battistelli's  JOY TO THE WORLD adds another layer to the song.

A personal holiday tradition I've had for years was picking out a new Christmas album while shopping.  I stopped doing it two or three years ago because I was so dissatisfied with the albums out there. Often I just listen to the satellite radio stations, but too often they play the same few songs over and over.  Not this year! I will be playing CLASSIC CHRISTMAS CAROLS.  Get it and add the songs to your playlist. or pick one up for a last minute gift.  It will be enjoyed for years.  Now I just need to decide if I want the CD in my car, the family van, or downstairs in my sewing studio!   Go over to FAMILY CHRISTIAN.COM to learn more about the album and to purchase.  If you've never shopped at Family Christian online or at one of their stores, take the time to learn more about them.  All profits go to sponsor Christian charities.

Thank you Family Christian for the opportunity to review this CD.  Note: I am not required to write a favorable review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

If You Follow Me by Pam Rhodes

If You Follow Me by Pam RhodesBritish author Pam Rhodes has written The Dunbridge Chronicles, a series American readers will find similar in tone and characters to Jan Karon's Mitford series.  I recently received IF YOU FOLLOW ME, the third book in the Dunbridge Chronicles, from Kregel Publication for review purposes.  I hope I approached this gentle read in a manner, author Pam Rhodes would approve --I brewed a cup of favorite tea and curled up in a cozy afghan by the fire.  Within minutes I was transported to Dunbridge where I found that young curate Neil Fischer (assistant pastor) at St. Stephens has had to take over all responsibilities since Rev. Margaret has resigned (I guess that would be the story in book two)

The added obligations have left Neil little time for his new fiancee Claire or her young son.  With urging from his mom, Neil and Claire finally decide on an engagement ring and set a date for a small party formally announcing their betrothal.  When Wendy Lambert, the leader of the worship group, asks if she can bring a guest to the festivities, Neil never imagines she has contacted Claire's beau from six years ago. Readers will quickly understand Wendy is a schemer who wants the young reverend for herself. When Ben makes the trip from Australia for the party, he has much more on his mind than congratulating Claire on a future marriage.  He now wants a relationship with five year old Sam, the son he has never seen or showed interest in.  And of course, he wants to renew his interest in Claire.

I liked that the author included a "Who's Who in Dunbridge" page at the beginning of the book  This helped me jump right into the action which obviously picked up where book two ended.  Other reviewers have mentioned that this book is a mixture of laughter and tears, and I totally agree. The calm tone of the narrative almost hides the powerful lessons found in the struggles of this believable congregation.  Young Neil, who many see as inexperienced and naive, has just the right amount of humility and common sense.   If you are looking for another gentle read, I recommend this title.
Since Rev. Neil is such a likeable guy, why not start with books one and two?  Thank you to Kregel Publications for a chance to review this title.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Every Waking Moment by Chris Fabry

Every Waking MomentChris Fabry is known for his unique fiction focusing on broken people with complex life stories.
EVERY WAKING MOMENT which recently received the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award of Merit for fiction and was a Christy finalist is a perfect example of the complexity of Fabry's writing.  Miriam Howard has poured her life into the retirement home/nursing facility where she has been chief administrator for over twenty years; now, as she faces a forced retirement she wonders how the elderly she has cared for will manage without her.  Clearly the new administrator does not plan to oversee with the same gentleness that Miriam did.  When Treha Langsam, a janitorial assistant is let go for talking with a resident, Miriam knows she must help the young woman.  Miriam sees beyond young Treha's disheveled dress, wandering eyes, and apparent emotional disabilities to see an almost magical ability to connect with those who no longer speak.  It is almost as if Treha is a kind of elder whisperer.  Treha reveals that she is in possession of a letter written by a resident, a former doctor. who has suffered a stroke, and Treha believes the letter has some connection to her past, a past which she cannot remember.  Miriam, Treha, and a pair of wanna be documentary producers follow a faint but mysterious trail to learn more about Treha's past and more importantly to discover why she is the way she is.

Partly a medical mystery, partly a story of guilt and remorse, partly a stand against big business and partly a story of new beginnings, EVERY WAKING MOMENT is not easy to describe.  Fabry needs a large cast to tell this story and each person adds another dimension to the big question of the book, "What if this is as good as life gets?"  I especially liked how Fabry makes the relationship between Miriam and her husband an integral part of the big question even though her husband is a minor character.   I obtained my copy of EVERY WAKING MOMENT through our Winnefox Library System.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

While hosting an open house one afternoon, young realtor Chevy Stevens had an idea for
a thriller.  As the idea became her first book STILL MISSING, Chevy Stevens left behind the
real estate world and entered the literary world full time.  I listened to the audio performance of STILL MISSING done by Angela Dawe.  Told in first person by an emotionally scarred and terrified Annie O'Sullivan relates in one session after another with her psychiatrist how she was kidnapped by a stranger while locking up after a real estate open house, then held captive in a remote cabin for over a year until she is able to finally overcome the madman she has dubbed "The Creep."  But her escape does not bring closure and she still fights demons of fear and panic.  The nights seems to be the worst, but even day is too frightening.  She cannot return to her real estate career or resume her relationship with her soft spoken boyfriend.  Even the slightest touch brings back memories of The Creep and his actions.  

I need to insert a word of caution to any of my followers who come to this blog for reviews of Christian or gentle reads.  Chevy Stevens attacks this topic with the realism of a  contemporary woman whose world has been devastated.  Anne's language is frank, harsh, and even crude as if she digging into the deepest part of her to find venom to fight back against everything and everyone who has harmed her.  

When it seems that Annie's visits with the grief counselor might be helping her begin to function, the unimaginable happens and the police begin to think she may again be a target of harm.  While the first half of the book may seem reminiscent of other psycho-captive tales, the second half will have readers as anxious for the truth and safety as Annie herself.  STILL MISSING garnered Chevy Stevens the 2011 International Thriller Award for Best First Novel and other awards.   
I will be checking for Stevens' other books, probably in audio form.  Her narration style and audio are a strong match.  WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium) has her other three books for audio download and that's where I got my copy of STILL MISSING.