Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

"Frontier dangers cannot hold a candle to the risks one woman takes by falling in love."
Review for: The pursuit of Tamsen Little John by Lori Benton

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In the wake of her mother's death and a suitor forced upon her by her gold digging stepfather, Tamsen risks all by fleeing with a stranger who seems to be her one hope of freedom. As the two are pursued by Tamsen's enraged stepfather and the would-be suitor who believes her to have been kidnapped by her mother's murderer, they face one danger after another, seeking safety amidst a region on the brink of war with itself and the native tribes.

Author Lori Benton has woven a masterful tale in a rarely visited era of history. Her story, plot, and characters are fresh, her style and workmanship beautiful and her setting well-rounded and well researched. This woman did her homework and possesses real talent-- and it shows. The story maintains great forward motion, packed with action and suspense, and gives you just enough time to catch a breather between turmoil. There was only one point, at about the middle of the book, when I feared the story would fall flat, but my fears were quickly abated. The reader will not have time to get bored. But it's not just the suspense and the action, it's the fact that the author can actually write and tell a good story.

I would compare the atmosphere of this book to Gilbert Morris's works, but with a woman's touch, and with less sensuality.

Discretionary notes:

I have decided to start including a "parent friendly" guide along with my reviews, as I know a lot of Christian romance readers are young ladies. Let me first say to you, as a parent or as a reader, NEVER trust a book to be clean just because it claims to be inspirational. That said, here are some things you may want to know about this book before placing it into the hands of your young adult readers (minor spoilers possible).

There is at least one murder, domestic abuse, an almost rape and a rape that happens off the pages is mentioned, but never detailed. There are gunfights (in which people get shot), fistfights, bloody wounds and other injuries.

As mentioned above, there are two instances of rape (one off page that is only mentioned, and one that almost happens, mostly also off page). Characters occasionally admire each other's physical build or beauty (in one scene a man swims in front of a woman dressed in very little clothing), but it does not go into great detail. There are just a couple scenes I recall with kissing. Although it's not on the pages, it is very obvious that characters sleep together after marriage and the topic is discreetly talked about; one scene takes place just after.

I hope you find this review helpful.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing but my honest review.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie Review: God's Not Dead

A college freshman must defend his faith against a passionate atheist professor, by putting God on trial in front of the entire classroom. Josh must convince his classmates that God exists in order to earn a passing grade in his philosophy class, but more than that, he must take a stand for what he knows is right.

This story, while focusing mostly on Josh and Professor Raddison and the conflict between and within them, also follows the lives of several individuals who share a commonality: each of them struggles with the position in which their beliefs --or lack thereof-- have placed them. Each must choose whether to hold their ground, or to surrender.

God's Not Dead is a passionate story about standing for your faith, holding onto your faith, and finding your faith. Often my concern with inspirational movies such as this, is that they will become overly sappy, unrealistic, or cheesy, but I felt this film held itself together well with relevant and thought-provoking content. Impressive were the performances by the leading cast, as well as those supporting. One concern about this movie, specifically, was the incorporation of the Newsboys and the Robertsons (Duck Dynasty), as cameos can sometimes feel out of place and forced, and often musicians make poor actors; yet, I felt that the appearances were appropriately placed and the scenes handled with finesse.  I could pick at fine details, but as for the good and bad, the good certainly outweighed the bad. Above all, the message was powerful, and the quality top-notch (considering its limited budget).

It's too bad this film had such a limited release. Only one of the three theaters in our area was playing it, and the showing we intended to go to sold out; the one we attended looked to be very nearly sold out as well. The audience's response to the film was wholly positive. I'm not sure when was the last time I witnessed that much cheering in a movie theater. I hope this means there will be more films of like moral quality in the future.


I wanted to address the question, also, of whether or not this film was based on a true story, as some have wondered. It is not literally a true story-- the characters and plotline are fictional; however, in the end credits a lengthy list of actual court cases is given, upon which the case for God in the movie is based.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ABNA 2014!

It's that time again, time for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards!

I had decided not to enter this year, since last year, while having relative success, I felt that my book just wasn't what they were looking for. But, my dear husband convinced me to enter anyway. "What do you have to lose?" he asked. And it was true, if I didn't try because I was afraid of failing, then how was I ever going to get anywhere as a writer? So, once again, with a day or two to spare until the deadline, I threw my novel, A Wife for Miles Bradley, into the contest.

Today the round two entrants were announced, and YES I'm on the list! Last year I made it this far plus into the next round (the quarter finals), and I'm excited to see how far I make it this year. If nothing else, it's a fun experience, and forces me to put myself out there and let others read my work, which is an important step for all of us who are a little shy about sharing our work. After last year's success I found myself a let less timid about letting others look at my work, so if nothing else, these kinds of contests are great for boosting our boldness. So, I encourage all you aspiring writers: don't be afraid to put your work out there if you really want to be successful. Someday you hope that the world will be reading your works, so why not start with your sister or cousin, a reading group or a contest (but, as always, take advice with a grain of salt, and don't let criticism discourage you, let it inspire you to do better!).

Those of us who made it into round two now have to try to forget about the contest for a month, until the top 500 are announced. Best hopes for all who made the first cut!

Oh, and a quick shout-out to my husband who is relentlessly supportive of my writing, and never, ever lets me get down on myself. Also, thanks to all of my wonderful family and friends who have always given me nothing but support. So much love to you all.

For anyone who may be interested, here is the link to the contest page. My book is in the Romance category.

Happy dreaming!


Friday, March 14, 2014

The Spirit of a Kissing Sailor

Today I read that Glenn Mcduffie, the man who claimed to be the kissing sailor in Alfred Eisenstaedt's iconic V-J Day photo, died of natural causes at 86. And, as I stared at this photo (which I often do), I realized I felt as though the spirit of it has died, too.

When I think of the ideal old America, I think of this photo; it has always fascinated me. It is hard these days, in this world of critics, to believe something like this could happen. When WWII victory was confirmed, spontaneous celebrating burst forth in the streets of New York and other cities across the world. In some ways, I'm jealous of the people in this photo-- not the fact that they endured such an atrocious war, necessarily, but the fact that they did not allow that war to kill their spirit. I'm not simply speaking of patriotism, but of good old fashioned conviction for what you stood for. Victory was sweet because what they fought for was, for them, a worthy cause. Victory was sweet because they had sacrificed much, given much, worked hard and fought hard, whether on the battlefields or the homefront.

I see this photo, and others like it, and I yearn for a time of goodwill and of good people. Maybe that is an ideal that never really existed, or maybe it did and has been lost over time; maybe it's not as lost as we think it is, but so much bad news has muddied our blue skies. The fact is, it doesn't have to be lost, not on me, and not on you. We can bring back a time of high moral ideals and good will, starting in our own hearts, then in our own homes, with our own families, then with all those we encounter. We can hope the best for others, we can help, we can have compassion, we can believe. 

It's so easy to join the negative bandwagon, it's so easy to lose your hope in humanity, but will talking about how bad matters are make matters better? Perhaps the key is not waiting for good news to come along to celebrate, but to live this life with our eyes open wide enough to see what is actually worth celebrating. I'm sure you and I could recall a hundred bad things that happened to us the past month, if we wanted to, but what would that do for me? How would that help you? What if, instead, we focused on the good, what if we talked more about the good than the bad? Over the years I have read various articles and heard multiple stories about the power of a positive outlook, living a life free of grudges and bitterness, and it has been said that such a positive perspective can even extend your life. Yet, how many of us meet people who seem infatuated with the negative? How many of us trade and deal in the negative ourselves?

Some things we have the power to change, to make better, and some things we do not. So change what you can change, and endure what you cannot change, but don't let anything kill your spirit. Find the reasons to celebrate every day, and live as if the war waged against them was just won.

I hope that Mr. Mcduffie and others of his time died feeling as though they did something positive to help their fellow man, and I hope that today, those of us who are alive, will work to keep their torches burning.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Son of God": Pretense or Truth?

I was surprised that there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the movie, Son of God, recently premiered in theaters. So I've been doing some thinking and researching. Here is the result.
Before I share my thoughts on this topic, I want to lay a couple things out: first, I have not seen this movie; I have only seen The Bible miniseries which, from what I understand, has many of the same scenes used in the Son of God movie.  Second, if I may be allowed to say so, I am neither defending nor promoting this movie, I just want to make a few --what I believe are reasonable-- points.
I know Christians who were deeply touched by this film, and Christians who are deeply offended by it. This makes me curious, because I like a good theological debate. Having what I believe is a decent understanding of the content of this movie (after watching the portrayal of the gospel in the miniseries) and of the argument against it (after having read some reviews opposing it), here is my two cents.
The opposing view of this movie bases it's beliefs on the altered portrayal of many of the biblical scenes, as well as the belief that the film's husband-wife creators, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, are New Age. Both of these points, to me, seem valid. I recognized many alterations from the biblical story, and I have not sufficient evidence to deny the religious status of it's creators, though I have no reason to doubt the claims I've read. Some criticism is also made against the "attractiveness" of the actor who plays Jesus.
Those who support the film were moved by it's portrayal of the gospel and draws from what truth the movie does present, either understanding enough of God's word to cast aside the inaccuracies or merely ignorant of them. Those who liked the movie were moved to desire a closer relationship with the Creator, and I see no problem with that.
What do I think? Simply put...
"What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
                                                                                             Philippians 1:18
To elaborate, God will judge the hearts of the people behind this film if they are indeed wicked and sinful, but no matter what their heart motive may be, God can still use this film to convict people and draw believers closer to Him. Surely, Satan himself thought he had the victory at the cross, but death itself was swallowed up in victory when Christ rose again (1 Cor. 15:54), and Satan cast forever from the presence of God in Heaven (Is. 14:12, Rev. 8:10). People can have all kinds of motives, but God, who is much more powerful, can use even a little bit of truth to draw people to Himself, and from there can lead you on to more sound doctrine. Those who do not believe and are moved by this film, if they are sincerely open, will be driven to seek out God through HIS WORD and they can learn the truth of Him through that. Those who have a good understanding of God's doctrine, can and should take this movie-- and ANY religious film, including The Passion (created by Mel Gibson who, according to, is a Roman Catholic)-- with a grain of salt. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thess. 5:21.
I wish not to be a stumblingblock to my brothers and sisters: if you believe it is wrong for you to view this film, then do not see it. If you believe it will help you draw closer to God, or simply have no qualms against seeing it, then see it. "To him who knows the good to do and does it not, it is sin." James 4:17.

And to briefly address Jesus' attractiveness: true, in scripture it is stated that he will not be anything spectacular to look upon, but how often do you see an ugly actor? This is Hollywood and what else do we expect? (Note that I, personally, did not find this Jesus attractive.) And, anyway, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, you can lust after someone no matter what they look like, so if silly women are lusting after this actor, or anybody, they will be judged for that.
If I wanted only 100% truth unaltered by the doctrine of man, I would very likely have to throw out literally every book and movie I own (including sincerely religious works) and read only the Bible; while that would not be a bad thing, my point is that we must always look first and foremost to God's word as standard, and take only from other materials those parts which align themselves with God's word and cast off the parts which do not. It us up to each of us to decide what holds enough truth to be worth our time and what does not.

So, in answer to my title question, "Pretense or Truth?" God knows, but, personally, I'd sooner make an argument against some of the botched up translations of the Bible, since they actually claim to be God's word, than a film that states clearly (at least in the miniseries) in the beginning that it strives only to be true to the spirit of the Bible. One thing that impressed me, which was not omitted from the miniseries, was Jesus' statement to the woman caught in the act of adultery, "Go and sin no more." (Jn. 8:11) To me, that is the spirit of God's message-- freedom from sin, through Jesus Christ.
"So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Romans 14:12
These are just my thoughts; as I said, I'm not seeking to defend nor condemn this movie, I just want to give people something to think about. Comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My 5 Steps to Overcoming Writer's Block

These are some things I am enforcing in my own life, and thought I'd share for others. Even if you're not a writer, find something you love, something that makes a difference, and do it with a passion and without distraction. Don't let it be a shelter from the cares of life; rather, let your cares bleed into it and you will find a masterpiece within yourself.

My 5 Steps to Overcoming Writer's Block

1. Stop thinking your writing is terrible. The fact is, the more you write, the better you will get; even if what you write is bad, you will recognize it, analyze why, and make corrections in the future.

2. Stop getting hung up because you don't know what to write. Give yourself a project-- come up with a book/short story and write it even if you think it's cliché or won't go anywhere. Write and inspiration will come (don't stop until it does).

3. Stop being lazy. Discipline yourself to write five or six days a week for a certain amount of time or until you reach a specific word count.

4. Stop getting distracted. Don't let Facebook, e-mail, games or whatever newsfeed has your attention get in your way. If you must, give yourself an allotted time to cater to these distractions-- perhaps an hour a day. If you find you can't limit your time, wait until after you've met your daily writing quota to commit time to less important things.

5. Just write. No excuse is good enough. You're a writer, so write.