Food For Thought

At this time on Friday, if I’m going to write a Foodie post, it’s already done. Today, I couldn’t decide what to write about. Then I saw a link on a Facebook friend’s feed.

We in the U.S. are grieving another tragedy. Seventeen people killed in a mass shooting at a school in Florida. We shake our heads and wonder how to get a handle on this problem. No one seems to have a comprehensive solution. The ideas flying around out there can cause good friends to argue until things get nasty and petty.

I don’t have answers. What I do know is that if someone is so troubled to go into a school or any other public place (or private one for that matter) and kill someone, using a semi-automatic weapon or a pistol isn’t exactly the point.

One person murdered is one too many.

Here’s what I decided to post today. A different kind of food; it’s food for thought. Here’s the link to that article on my friend’s feed. It’s about a teacher and her Friday in-class assignment. I wonder how much this would have helped some of the kids I watched being bullies and loners as I was growing up?

 

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The Rogue: A Review

The Rogue: Planets Shaken by Lee W. Brainard; 2017 by Soothkeep Press

The Rogue is the first volume of the Planets Shaken series about a dystopian future. It combines biblical prophecy, ancient history and government conspiracy in a story about scientists who have discovered a planet-sized comet on a collision course for Mars.

Astronomer Irina Kirlenko finds the comet but is stymied in her work in pursuing its path and imminent arrival. She believes those higher up who could investigate further and do something are hiding the discover to avoid panic when what the public needs is the truth. So, she sends her findings in coded language to her fellow astronomer, Ariele Serrafe. More people than this pair of women are in danger of being discovered with information the government will kill for.

Brainard writes the book with chapter openings as day/date/location entries. It’s an effective tool, creating that countdown feel which would probably happen if Earth was facing destruction and we knew how and when.

Brainard’s first installment is Christian fiction, but none of the characters is overtly religious. He’s only included a few references to their respective lives of faith. I found this refreshing since, although I’m a Christian, don’t read much inspirational fiction and don’t appreciate trite and obvious ploys to take me down an author’s path. The Author Himself, God, will draw me where He wants me to go; I prefer human authors be subtle in their approach, not leading me by the nose.

The characters in the book are either the kind you sympathize with or want to shake, and it’s easy to know which is which. Professor Goldblum is an opportunist, for instance, and out for glory. Other characters will seem selfless, but only the next volumes may tell if they truly are.

The story is peppered with acronyms I had to keep referring to and finally decided to pencil them in the back cover so that I wouldn’t have to search for the term again. I know what a planetarium is, and I understand constellations, but I had no idea what NEO meant. I do now. A glossary might have helped. I realize those are unusual for fiction, but I’ve seen it done and appreciated it when one was included. The book is enjoyable, and I might even be on the lookout for the next installation of the series. This was a fast read because the story itself moves fast. I wanted to know what was happening next to the characters (except for those meanies).

The cover is attractive as well and I’m one of those who pays attention to such things. This one is nice and clean; not all cluttered up. Be sure to read the qualifier written by the author on the copyright page regarding the novel being a work of fiction. I thought it was cleverly written.

The book is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

This review appears as a courtesy to Bookcrash and the author in exchange for an honest review and a copy of the book.

Christmas Songs We Know: A Review

“Mary Did You Know?:17 Inspirational Christmas Songs From Today’s Top Country Artists;” 2007; Word Entertainment (Warner/Curb)

This CD, with just over one hour of traditional sacred music, wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, because it boasts such a variety of artists, I couldn’t resist. While not a fan of country music, I still found this offering enjoyable.

Most of us have favorite singers or musicians. Most of us are on the lookout for a CD by that person. In this instance, I was in the mood for variety so when I saw it in the library display, I gathered it up.

Overall, the songs provide as much variety as the selection of artists. And, for the most part, they’re songs we know. Or at least have heard over the years playing in elevators or while shopping at the mall. It’s called inspirational music because the songs included are about the Christ child, Jesus. Only a couple of them hint at something other than Jesus’s birth and the event of Christmas and the night he was born.

My Favorites are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Diamond Rio; “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Vince Gill; “What Child is This?” by Jo Dee Messina; and “The Christ (A Song For Joseph)” by Billy Dean. And while no one sings “Mary, Did You Know?” like the song’s author, Mark Lowry, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna did a more than respectable job.

The only track I didn’t care for was Leann Rimes’ rendition of “O Holy Night.” That’s a difficult song to sing, for sure. But her arrangement sounded to me more like someone wringing every note of the (USA’s) National Anthem up and down the scale. Perhaps Leann is an acquired taste, but I like to be able to sing along. Especially with Christmas music.

Rather astonishing to see how many of these songs are in the public domain.

The mix on each track is great. No one’s voice – no matter how much I may have disliked it – was overpowered by the background music. Nice blending of voice to music. My ear detected violins (or does ‘country’ music make that fiddles?) a couple of times and that added to my enjoyment. I’m partial to violins/fiddles.

If you’re a country music fan and enjoy sacred Christmas music, I recommend you listen to this one. You’ll hear the traditional favorites and maybe even learn a new one.

Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review

  • Twas the Evening of Christmas
  • By Glenys Nellist
  • Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
  • Published by Zonderkidz
  • Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8

With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.

One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.

Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.

No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.

A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.

Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.

They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,

As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?

In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.

I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.

You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.

Beloved, Hear My Heart: Book Review

  • Beloved, Hear My Heart: A Deep Sense of Righteous Urgency!
  • By Lawrence Sankar
  • Published by Vision Tomorrow Today
  • 2015, 166 pages

In this book by Lawrence Sankar, thirty-one essays present the author’s “deep sense of righteous urgency,” hence, the subtitle. However, on one of the inside covers, is a different subtitle describing the book’s content, which is “a collection of inspirational messages.” This is only one of several writing issues that confused me in Mr. Sankar’s work.

To his credit, Sankar is most certainly fluent in scripture, and uses it in the essays themselves to explain them. He’s able to make good application of the scripture he uses and the reader can relate to life much of what he says.
While reading the essays and notes following them, I noticed Sankar referred to many of these writings as parables. Some were written as parables; others could not be called parables because the form wasn’t there. This made it difficult for me to trust the theme. I became confused by this as well.

When I tried to find Sankar’s theme for the book–after all, any book should have a one–I finally found something close on page 69. “Believers must become the messenger of change in their family and the catalyst of change in their communities and the wider society.” At any rate, this is what I’m guessing is his central theme. Since each titled entry has a different form (parable, essay, ‘poetic discourse,’ ‘revelation,’ etc.), it took some re-reading of some of them to discover the message he was trying to convey. Often, it was found in his “notes.”

Sankar is passionate about revival and in the essay, “A Timeless Reflection,” he states, “But rather, I have decided to balance my discouragement with a sense of hopeful optimism.” This is evident throughout the book. I’m sad to say this is one of the few consistencies.

“Beloved” would have benefited from professional editing. Perhaps he could have divided the book into sections containing the parables, the essays, the so-called ‘revelations,’ and the rest. Some of his notes seemed to be essays in themselves as if he had more to say.

I don’t disagree with most of what the author says, but his method and having to explain everything to me was somewhat frustrating. The author seems to have a prophetic voice, speaking truth into our lives. However, one with such a voice must exercise grace. Truth and grace is how Jesus came into our lives (John 1:14).

For someone who wants to hear what the Bible says about revival and becoming an agent for change in the world, this book could help. I would suggest the reader dive in with his or her Bible on hand. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Be wise and study for yourself along with this author.

Reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Living a “Good Deeds Life”

My life isn’t rife with so many examples of doing good deeds that I can tell you I’m always on the spot helping. To my dismay, I’m not always paying attention.

Author Henry James said, “Be the kind of person on whom nothing is lost.” This practice probably helped when he wrote fiction. But it has an amazing translation for each of us as well.

Paying attention means we see situations where we can help. We might also recognize when a person needs prayer or encouragement. If we pay attention, it might stir us to be be a cheerleader for people who are making the attempt to do better in their own lives.

I like the idea of living good deeds. It reminds me of the “One anothers” in the Bible. It reminds me of Jesus saying that the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. Good deeds done from love reflect the love of Jesus.

While browsing the table near the entrance of my local independent bookstore, I found a little gem to introduce to you. Erin McHugh’s One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better leads you through a year of simple but effective good deeds. She didn’t start the book on January 1; she started on her birthday. What a cool idea; it was “her” day, but she hoped to put light into someone else’s.

Erin’s ideas are things she did herself every day for a year. I started reading and hoping I could put into practice the same thing she suggested for that day. I’ve also read ahead a bit to see some of the other ideas she wrote about. Her practices are the reason for the book, but her writing is extremely casual; often funny and embarrassingly relateable.

One day she gave fifteen cents to a woman who’d miscounted her change to ride the bus. Erin said she was happy to lean in and say,

“’Here, I’ve got it.’ Because anyone can miscount; she didn’t do it on purpose. And besides, what’s better than when you see a stupid hassle coming and someone steps in and just makes it go away?”

This example is typical of Erin’s book full of living a good deed life. One blurb on the back of the book says, “Erin McHugh is one wise, funny, smart woman, and her book is a blast to read.”

The title of the book suggests that when we do good deeds as a regular practice, we’ll be “a little bit better.” I like to think the motive is less about us and more about watching out for others’ needs. Even when that need is as small as needing fifteen cents more to ride the bus.

Could you be on the lookout for a way to help someone today? Pay attention and you’ll see opportunities around every corner.

Girls Rising up Like a Bad ‘B’ Movie

What’s up with all the “Girls” in literature these days? Everywhere I look–magazines dedicated to publishing, social media, library stacks, you name it–books with the word Girl stand out from the rest as if that particular gender demands it finally be recognized.

If only in the title of a book.

As a writer, I realize publishing goes through trends. We’ve seen books about pets who saved their person’s life, stories about LGBQT relationships or gender confusion, and everyone who was anyone was writing a memoir. We still see the occasional story about someone who went to Heaven and returned to inspire us. Within genres they even create trendy plots and titles.

I suppose one trend that won’t get much attention or come back with a bang is the Western (pun intended). You’d have to be a Stephen King to do it. (For proof, see The Dark Tower series)

You’ve probably read a few of the Girl titles I found during my browsing. Some have been bestsellers; others loved so well they were made into major motion pictures.

Banned books. Which have you read you “Naughty Girl”?

Here’s a list, not by any means complete, of some books I discovered with that word somewhere in the title.

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the sequels)
  • The Girls of Atomic City
  • The Girl You Left Behind
  • The Girl Before
  • The Girl Next Door
  • The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
  • The Girl Who Was on Fire
  • Luckiest Girl Alive
  • The Girl Who Knew Too Much
  • The Girl on the Train
  • Gone Girl
  • The Girls
  • Girls Acting Catty
  • Girl, Stolen
  • Girls in White Dresses
  • Girl, Gone (sound familiar?)
  • Girl in Progress
  • A Girl’s Guide to Vampires
  • Girls Just Want to Have Fun
  • Girls From Da Hood
  • Girls Dinner Club
  • Girls Rule
  • The Sandcastle Girls
  • Kiss the Girls
  • The Pained Girls
  • The Forgotten Girls
  • The Summer Girls
  • The Silent Girls
  • The Good Girls
  • The Drummond Girls
  • The Radium Girls
  • The Wicked Girls
  • Last Girls of Pompeii
  • Lab Girl
  • The Land of Forgotten Girls
  • When All the Girls Have Gone
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
  • The Dead Girls’ Dance
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls
  • The Girls She Left Behind
  • A Few of the Girls

That list is a humble offering from the over 300 entries on my library’s search list which included CD books, downloadable, large print and DVDs. I don’t know which are fiction, non-fiction, or media, but you get the idea.

There’s a bunch of “Girls” out there just waiting for your attention.

Not to mention the daughters, wives, and mistresses in titles. “Women, can’t live without ‘em, can’t kill ‘em” a friend of mine used to say. He could be wrong and it’s a crude thing to say. But I’d be willing to bet some of these titles include a woman dying, whether by natural means or murder.

Speaking of men, did you ever notice most books about men have vaguer titles? The title suggests action and adventure rather than mention “Him.” Men appreciate when we recognize how mysterious they want to remain. At least in fiction. Consider these: “Rogue Lawyer,” “Road Dogs,” “Mr. Majestyk,” and “Come and Get Us.”

Sometimes in literary fiction we get to know a guy inside and out. I’ve discovered those are books that both men and women rate four to five stars on a five-star scale. And yes, I could say that some of my real-life male friends are also open books, so to speak.

I don’t believe I’m going to be adding any of these titles to my “Must Read” list soon. However, I do have a copy of “Little Women” and I never read it as a youngster. It’s probably for good reasons the book is a classic.

Don’t be one of The Silent Girls (or boys). Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles. What did you think of it? How long before we see this trend go the way of the dinosaur (as in “Jurassic World”)

Enjoy your book nook!

Sweet Tea and a Distasteful Flavor

“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony;                By Crystal L. Ratcliff;  CrossLink Publishing 2016

A Book Review

Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.

Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.

Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.

The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.

Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.

Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.

No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”

To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.

The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.

 

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.