Monday, November 30, 2009

"Treasured" / "God Gave Us Love" / "God Gave Us Christmas" Blog Tour

"Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps" by Leigh McLeroy is a great little book that all should add to their bookshelves. It it unusual that a book which is so open-ended can be so engaging. The author fills the pages with Bible quotations and her own person anecdotes. Each chapter hones in on a Bible story--mostly from the Old Testament--and expounds on it further. Some of the stories the author shares are so candid that readers will actually recoil in shock that she would divulge that information. From the nice hard cover (the type without the jacket) to the fancy font to the actual prose itself, readers will enjoy this book and cherish it. While reading this book, readers will feel like they are with their legs crossed and their chin rested upon their palms with their elbows on a coffee table, listening in rapt attention as Leigh shares her walk of faith with them.

"God Gave Us Love" by Lisa Tawn Bergren [and illustrated by Laura J. Bryant] is a copacetic children's book. The main character is a female cub that sparks a conversation with her grandfather about malice, more or less. While they are fishing, the otters are scaring away all the fish, and the cub does not like this. The grandfather then discusses how the cub should love everybody and look at them through God's eyes. Subsequently, several types of love are depicted (among friends, family, God, etc) for children to understand with cute pictures. In the end, children will learn a valuable lesson about not judging others. Plus, they will sleep soundly knowing God loves them immensely.

"God Gave Us Christmas" by Lisa Tawn Bergren [and illustrated by David Hohn] is a fantastic book for children. It starts off with a cub asking "Mama Bear" what the true meaning of Christmas is. The youngster thinks Christmas is about Santa and presents, but the mother assures her otherwise. The mother takes the cub outside to awe at God's creation--including Aurora Borealis, the Northern Star, glaciers, and more. The cub learns that God is everywhere (not just around once a year). At one point, the bears even visit a church and see a nativity scene. This book explains the true meaning of Christmas in simple enough terms for kids, and the illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Learn more about or purchase these books at


Christmas Blog Tour

"The Christmas Dog" by Melody Carlson is a sentimental book. A widow named Betty is in her small town by herself. She has children, but they have their own lives. They will occasionally visit, and grandchildren frequent her house, but, for the most part, Betty is on her own. To make matters worse, she has a new neighbor. Like the stereotypical crazy neighbor, the man makes plenty of noise and hubbub. This is because he is doing construction and remodeling--or demolition, as Betty likes to say. Anyway, Betty has much internal conflict as she reflects on her years--added to that the nosy questions from her close friends about her situation. However, one day, a dirty little dog comes by. Betty tries to shoo it away, but it keeps coming back. At first, Betty thinks the dog belongs to her neighbor since it runs between yards. Eventually, her opinion of the dog changes when a climactic even happens. In the end, there is happiness and a bit of sap. This book moves fairly slowly, but it is satisfactory for those that like quaint books about older women and dogs.

"The Unfinished Gift" by Dan Walsh is an emotional novel. The main character is a little boy named Patrick. His mother has died in a car crash, so he has to live with his grandfather. The reader is taken aback at how the grandfather treats his grandson. There is tension, and much dramatic suspense arises. Also, the reader learns of the unusual relationship between the grandfather and son (Patrick's father). While living with his grandfather, Patrick finds a unique object that catches his attention. The grandfather yanks it away from the boy, and mystery ensues until later when the reader learns the history behind the object. The setting of this book is around Christmastime during World War Two. It is interesting when the author inserts letters from Patrick's father to Patrick's mother that were stored away. This novel will move readers because the boy is only seven. Also, the boy's precocious level of piety will make readers smile. The ending is a bit predictable, but the journey there is definitely worth the read.

Melody Carlson, author of Limelight, Love Finds You in Sisters, The Christmas Dog, 86 Bloomberg Place, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Carter House Girls, and much more... This is an interview with her:

1. What made you choose to write a book about an older widowed woman? Did you ever think back to the story in the Bible about the widow and Elisha?
I’m not really sure what made me choose an older widow. It was more like Betty Kowalski “chose me” when she popped into my head. And despite being widowed relatively young, she’d had a fairly happy and content life…but with Christmas around the corner, economic challenges, no family to speak of, a “declining” neighborhood, and an “obnoxious” neighbor across the fence, Betty was just plain fed up and Christmas good cheer was not abundant. I didn’t specifically think about Elisha and the widow, but that story is a good parallel. In the same way Elisha filled the widow’s oil jar, God used a little dog (and a few other characters) to fill Betty’s depleted spirits.

2. Do you have an idea for next year’s Christmas book yet?
I always write my Christmas novellas in July, and they release about fifteen months later. So I’ve already written next year’s Christmas novella and it might be my favorite ones so far. It’s called Christmas at Harrington’s and it has some very fun twists and turns. As usual, I start the character out with some major challenges—much more so than usual this time—and yet by the time the story ends…well, I guess I can’t tell you what happens. I’ll just say that I had a good time with that book.

3. Was there or is there a special dog in your life that spurred the idea for The Christmas Dog?

Long ago, when our boys were preschool age, we were asked to doggy-sit by an international college student we’d befriended. She said it would only be for a week, but we ended up with that dog for sixteen years. She’d rescued the scruffy little mutt from the streets and named him Prince. And although he looked nothing like a “prince” he turned out to be A Prince Among Dogs (and actually has a book named after him). He was probably the inspiration for the dog in the book.

4. Do you have a special Christmas memory that stands out as extra-special?
When I was a little girl, Oregon experienced a major flood one December, right before Christmas. The flood was so devastating and widespread that it closed businesses and roads and made the holidays miserable for a lot of people. Because my mother was single, the need of an extended family (particularly during the holidays) was extreme. But my sister and I talked our mom into making the three hour trek to our grandparents, where we actually drove through a flooded river (watching a VW bug floating away) to get there. Then, once we were there, my grandfather told us that due to the flood we couldn’t go to the woods to get the usual tree. Naturally, this was a huge disappointment. But with a twinkle in his eyes, Grandpa took us out to the front yard where he proceeded to chop down one of his own beautiful holly trees. Decorating the tree was a prickly affair that year, but the end results were stunning. Worried that he’d be sorry about chopping down his tree, I later asked him about the sacrificed holly tree and he informed me that the city had told him to remove the holly trees from the parking strip because they obstructed the view for traffic.

5. Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition that you can share?
My favorite tradition is simply being with family and friends. Does it get any better than that? But because my husband’s birthday is also on Christmas Day, and because he got tired of having turkey for his birthday every year, I asked him what he’d prefer. “Lasagna,” he proclaimed. So for the last fifteen years, we’ve had lasagna on Christmas Day and everyone seems to enjoy it more than turkey.

Dan Walsh is author of "The Unfinished Gift," received 4.5 Stars/Top Pick from RT Book Reviews, and has "The Homecoming" (Revell) coming out in June of 2010. His websites are: and Below is an interview with him:

1. When writing this book, why didn't you choose to make the war the one in Iraq? Was there something special about WWII?
I guess the simple answer is, the book came to me in a WW2 setting. It was just after Christmas several years ago. I actually saw the ending of the book first, like a movie playing my head. Over the next several days, different pieces of the story would just pop into my head. I'd stop whatever I was doing and write them down. But as I researched and wrote the book, I realized another benefit for this setting. America was such a different place, so unified. Life itself was much simpler and faith was a normal part of life. It allowed me to move in and out of important issues, including faith issues, without seeming the least bit forced or preachy. That has allowed the book to crossover to unchurched audiences quite easily. I've gotten many emails from readers saying they felt they could easily buy the book as a gift to someone they're trying to reach.

2. Do you have an idea for next year’s Christmas book yet?
Yes and no. My editors at Revell aren't really looking for me to write an annual Christmas story. They'd like me to write in the same genre (inspirational historic fiction), but not necessarily to stay in the Christmas season. The sequel to The Unfinished Gift, for example, carries the same storyline and characters but doesn't take place at Christmas (it releases this June). My third book begins a brand new storyline with new characters set in 1857. Having said that, back in August I got a wonderful idea for another Christmas novel. Both my agent and editor loved it, and want me to finish it, so that's what I'm writing now. Not sure it will be coming out next Christmas or the one after that.

3. Do you have a special Christmas memory that stands out as extra-special?
I do. I was in 5th grade in a little suburb south of Philadelphia, not unlike the setting of The Unfinished Gift. It was my last Christmas up north. The next year my Dad moved us to Florida. It was Christmas Eve, we were setting up our tree (that was our tradition). One of my little sisters shouted, "It's snowing." We all ran to see. Sure enough, it was coming down hard, harder than I've ever seen. Philadelphia will get snow in the winter, but there's no guarantee it will snow on Christmas Eve. I'm pretty sure that was my first white Christmas; I know for a fact it was my last. It snowed all night.
We woke up Christmas morning to the always-amazing sight of toys sparkling under the tree. But equally amazing was the sight outside. A full two feet of snow covered the ground, with drifts up to five feet or more. It was the most beautiful scene. But in 5th grade, scenery matters just so much. The real marvel came the next day when the snow plows went through, carving out a single lane for cars. The best part was where they dumped the two huge mounds directly across from each other. Two perfectly-formed snow forts. All the kids from one side of the street challenged the kids on the other to a snowball fight. An epic battle, that lasted all the way to New Year's Day.

4. Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition that you can share?
Yes, it's the night we set up the tree (not on Christmas Eve, usually in the first week of December). We play our favorite Christmas music CD's and drink egg nog (I have no self-control with egg nog). After the tree is completely decorated, we take out the videos of our kids when they were little at Christmastime and have the best time, sitting on the couch, with just the lights of the tree lighting the room, drinking egg nog, remembering.

For excerpts to these books plus a bonus excerpt from "Finding Christmas" by James Calvin Schaap, please visit:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Strictly Sundays" by Joe Fitzpatrick

"Strictly Sundays: Making Every Cook a Hero on Sundays" by Joe Fitzpatrick is an exquisite cookbook. As the title implies, the meals in the book are more on the extravagant side for a Sunday meal (perhaps after church?). Fitzpatrick has recipes for appetizers, main dishes, salads, soups, side dishes, and salsas. The meals themselves look very tasty, given the high-definition photos. Many meals have meat and grains in them, so it is good that this book encourages readers to only do these meals once a week. The steps to make the food are quite simple and written in a manner that anyone can understand. Also, readers will get a kick of the miscellaneous writing that Fitzpatrick inserts between recipes at his whim. Additionally, there is an index in the back of the book for quick reference. The cover sports "The Blue Collar Gourmet" under the author's name. However, these recipes are anything but blue collar.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Marilyn E. Randall's Children's Books

"For Faithful Friends" by Marilyn E. Randall is a pleasant children's book. It is about a turtle that holes himself up in his shell under a fence. He is so terribly afraid of life and the world beyond his comfort zone that he does not even go out to eat. A friend of his--the mouse--is kind enough to gather food for the turtle and talk with him. The turtle and mouse have many talks together, and the mouse encourages the turtle to go and see the world. A dilemma arises as winter approaches and the turtle will no longer have the mouse to gather food for him. Also, there is a climactic event when the turtle must either save his friend or stay in his safe area of fear. The morals of this story are clear as day, and the added religious dialog is sweet for little eyes.

"Inside Out" by Marilyn E. Randall offers a reassuring message for youngsters. The protagonist is a frog who thinks he is quite ugly. He does not like the green color of his skin, the croaking noises he makes, and his big, bulging eyes. He compares himself to other animal and plants in nature that he considers beautiful. At one point, he pines to God for making him grotesque. While crying, his mother consoles him and sends him to a wise owl. The owl knocks some sense into the frog and tells him that he is perfect how he is. He lets the frog know that God does not make mistakes and that friends who love him are all around. The frog then begins to croak without inhibition. He then makes other friends and has a higher level of self-confidence. This book is great for children that are stuck in the rut of comparison.

"Elmer the Christmas Elf" by Marilyn E. Randall is a quaint book for children. It is about an elf in Santa's workshop. Working diligently, Elmer is content. However, come Christmas day, a toy is left behind--which means one child will not have a present on Christmas. Distraught and a bit befuddled, Elmer bows down and prays to God for help. Subsequently, an angel comes and helps Elmer by having the child ride in Santa's sleigh back to the workshop so Elmer can give him the toy. There is a remarkable point in the book when it is stated that the love of God is the greatest gift of all. This short Christmas book will entertain little ones and put a smile on their faces. The graphics are very rudimentary and may inspire kids to pick up markers and draw the characters with ease.

Faith and Fangs

"Touched by a Vampire: Discovering the Hidden Messages in the Twilight saga" by Beth Felker Jones is an enticing read. It chronicles the messages of Twilight from a Christian perspective. The issues of a nuclear family, love, self-esteem, gender roles, and more are discussed. Jones first gives the reader an overview of the plot (spoilers included) of the Twilight saga. Then, she dives into particular topics. Each time she does this, she recaps the part of the Twilight story that pertains to her point so those that haven't read the saga will not get lost in her arguments without perspective. Readers are interested as they learn that the protagonist in Twilight puts herself down, obsesses over a perfect boy, and leaves behind everything for her "soul mate." Jones talks about girls needing more positive role models and that idolizing perfect men will leave nothing but disappointment. While love is droned over, the pages fly by almost as if readers were reading Twilight. At the end, Jones recaps how Jesus is all one needs in life, and that, while finding a significant other is copacetic, it must not trump God. Jones mentions how the author of Twilight is Mormon and brings up many interesting points. There are discussion questions included, too. It would have been interesting to read about race or the economy in Twilight, but, as it stands, Jones' book is a page turner.

"Thirsty" by Tracey Bateman is a gripping novel. It is about an alcoholic woman of Indian descent who is supposed to be quite beautiful. When she is young, a vampire finds her after a party when she is intoxicated and has just been raped (there is no explicit detail of this). Seventeen years later, the vampire sees her again and is compelled to go to her. He has waited for her all those years. To him, she reminds him of his long lost love that he killed in a fit of rage when she would not marry him. The alcoholic woman has found her sobriety and goes to her hometown to live next door to her sister while her daughter visits for a week. She ends up talking with the vampire and interacting with him, but she does not know who he is to that extent--she does not remember. The vampire's admirer is a black magic woman that threatens to kill the alcoholic woman if he does not go to her. There is intense internal conflict. There is also tension between the woman and her ex-husband as he still loves her. Additionally, the woman reconnects with the man that raped her, and her daughter finds out who her real biological father is. There is much drama in the book, and the excitement heightens towards the end. As for the vampirism itself, that comes into play more towards the second half. This book is a great read for those that want to have the appeal of "Twilight" without any of the religious guilt attached to it. The characters and moral dilemmas in this book are more Christian. God could have been written about more often, but, in general, the themes and lessons are more Christian-friendly.

This book was provided by the Multnomah Publishing Company. Check out their books at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Fit For My King" by Sheri Rose Shepherd

"Fit For My King: His Princess 30-Day Diet Plan and Devotional" by Sheri Rose Shepherd is a nice book. From the tiara on the cover to the tough binding to the designs on the interior, this book is sure to make women smile. In it, Shepherd discusses the most candid parts of her life, from the heights to the depths. She talks of eating disorders, love lost, failure, depression, and so much more. However, she brings the focus back onto God. There are several Bible quotations in the book that relate to her topic for each day of the month. There are prayers the author wrote, as well as letters that are supposed to be from God. These are not presented in a form of blasphemy, but rather for the reader to read how much God loves her. There are even actions where Shepherd tells the reader what to do to be more successful. At the end of the book, there are recipes included that seem tasty. Many women may find Shepherd's idea of giving up certain foods / ingredients hard, especially with a book that only goes up to thirty days, but, overall, the book is a pleasant read for Christian women looking for a book geared to them as an audience.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"What Your Mother Never Told You" by Richard M. Dudum

"What Your Mother Never Told You: A Survival Guide for Teenage Girls" by Richard M. Dudum is a novel reference book for young girls. It dives deep into many controversial issues centered around today's young women. Drugs, sex, friendships, relationships, self-esteem and more are discussed. The book is divided into several parts with sub-chapters that are quite short. This makes the book very un-intimidating. Also, there is a table of contents and logistics in the back for quick reference. The pages themselves are quite pretty with flowers and fancy title fonts. Conversely, in his candor, Dudum does use explicit language and leaves nothing unsaid. In terms of content, Dudum does give young girls important messages such as never to assume anything, always have a plan b, be aware of surroundings, and know what their words / actions / clothes say to the world, especially boys. In a few parts of the book, Dudum refers to the Bible in terms of being individualistic and savoring uniqueness (not conforming to society's pressures). However, there are some contradictions to the Bible. For one, Dudum does tell girls not to rush into sexual intercourse, but he is not so blunt as to reinforce abstinence before marriage. Also, he discusses talking with parents and thinking things over when it comes to emergency contraception--something that many conservative Christians consider abortion. In general, this book is candid and has some satisfactory lessons for girls. For the more conservative readers and parents, they should give this book a good once-over before placing it into a little girl's hands to fill her tabula rasa.

"Stop It!" by Sally O. Lee

"Stop It!" by Sally O. Lee is a charming children's book. It has only three characters, two of which are human. There is a boy and a girl; they are siblings. The girl is quite feminine and enjoys dressing up with her cat. However, the brother is malevolent and both steals the girl's accessories and harms her cat. One day, the girl explodes at the boy, and the boy feels badly. Full of remorse, he gives his sister back her accessory. Then, the sister appoints him as king. This book is simple and fun for little children, especially those just learning how to read. It has the messages that children need to know--speaking up for oneself, forgiving, and obliterating sibling rivalries. The pictures are cute and may inspire kids to pick up crayons and emulate the rudimentary shapes that make up the characters. This book is suitable for both young boys and girls, especially if they are partial towards cute kitties with bowties.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"The Swiss Courier" by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey

"The Swiss Courier: In a time of Traitors and Uncertainty, Whom Can She Trust?" by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey is an exciting book. It incorporates many characters' stories and winds them together. There is the linguistic named Gabi--the infamous Swiss Courier plastered across the cover. Then, there is her beau who is presented to the reader as a simple farmer. There is also an American pilot that is being retained in Switzerland. Then, there are several German and Swiss operatives, some of which are loyal to Hitler and some of which a saboteurs. Gabi is intoxicated by the good looks of her boss, who is intrigued by her translational skills and ability to break open safes. They partake in many dangerous missions together. Gabi comes to a crossroads when she must determine what her true feelings are and who has her best interests in mind. A physicist named Joseph Engel makes most of the adventure in the book. Working for Germany, he is studying how to develop an atomic bomb. However, when German operatives find he is really German, he is hunted down. Engel is raised Christian, but there is some mystery as to his true lineage, which is heavily discussed in the novel. There are many colloqualisms that refer to World War Two, as well as anti-Semitic sentiments to reflect the time era. However, there are characters that support the Jews and trust in God to end the horrific war. The romance in the book is subtle and not truly graphic (the worst part involves one implication, and one implication only). The book may seem overly dramatic at times, but it does manage to hold the reader's attention for quite some time.

Available October 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Embrace the Struggle" by Zig Ziglar and Julie Ziglar Norman

"Embrace the Struggle: Living Life on Life's Terms" by Zig Ziglar and Julie Ziglar Norman is an inspiring book. What one may pigeonhole as an ordinary self-help book is so much more. The authors take the ordinary theme of perseverance and put a Christian spin on it. They insert Bible quotations into the pages and talk about the love of Christ. Oftentimes, books such as these are insincere and have ulterior motives. However, the authors seem genuinely concerned about God. One can't say if that is their only focus, but it is better than the books that discuss the power of prayer without talking about being "born again." The authors touch several topics that range from finances to relationships to mental struggles to addictions and more. Many stories of people--both famous and ordinary--fill the pages. There is no bibliography in the back of the book, but there is an acknowledgement page. Readers who are skeptical about the credulity of the stories find a tad bit of reassurance. In general, this book is candid, crisp, and something of a beautiful enigma in its genre.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fun Fall Fiction

"Diary of a Teenage Girl: What Matters Most" by Melody Carlson is a shockingly good book. It is number three in the diary series of Maya and the last volume of the "Diary of a Teenage Girl" series. (It is number 16, but the series has other books from other girls' perspectives, not just Maya's.) Readers don't need to read the other books to understand this one, but, after completing this one, they will want to. Maya is a teenage girl that is half white and half black. Her father is a famous musical artist, and her mother is an incarcerated train wreck. Writing an ecological newspaper column, working on TV, and studying, Maya has her hands full. In her past, she has done modeling work (possibly expounded upon in the earlier books). Beautiful, the ex-boyfriend of a top cheerleader has his eyes on Maya. This causes animosity between the cheerleader and Maya, with drama ensuing. Also, Maya's ex-boyfriend but still friend Dominic has feelings for her (also possibly detailed in book 1 and 2 of Maya's diary). Later on in the book, Maya's mother comes back from jail, and a local band asks Maya to join. While only a couple of months are detailed in this book, readers will feel as if they are looking down on Maya as she lives and goes about her day to day life. The choices Maya makes about her mother, her band, and her enemies truly reflect Christian values. This is a great gift for teenage girls that will compel them to read the diaries of the other girls, as well as the first two of Maya to squeeze the juicy details out of all sixteen diary books. Fantastic to say the very least.

"Limelight" by Melody Carlson is a book geared towards older readers. The main character is an ex-actress in her eighties. In her heyday, she was the one of most beautiful and gorgeous women around. However, in the current age, she is alone and bitter. Her looks have faded with the years, and her husband is deceased. To make matters worse, she has little to no money. This is due to the fact that, when her husband was alive, he eluded the IRS. This leaded to the government repossessing the actress' possessions and tapping most of her money. As the story begins, the woman is in a nursing home of sorts. Tired of such a mundane setting, this ex-actress flees to an old friend who has a real house. This friend happens to be homosexual. The book gets controversial and may not sit well with certain Christian readers. When the woman and the homosexual friend discuss religion, the woman does not tell him that his lifestyle is wrong. The friend goes to church because Jesus loves him (which is true of all people), but no one in the book points out what a grave sin the man is committing against God. Anyway, as the book progresses, the woman moves to an old house from her hometown that is in her name. It is run down, but it is shelter nonetheless. Once there, the woman reconnects with her estranged sister and makes some new friends. In the end, she feels better and is no longer suicidal / depressed in her old age. There is more description than dialog, and the book moves a bit slowly, but older readers may enjoy it.

"Leaving Carolina" by Tamara Leight is an unusual book. It centers around a woman named Piper. She is from down south and has an odd family history. One of her uncles comes clean to a less-than-perfect life and wants to make up for it by altering his last will and testament. Urged by others, Piper visits her uncle to try and bring him to his senses. While there, Piper encounters her uncle's robust and rugged gardener. The reader will think of this man as the Brawny paper towel man with more facial hair and a ponytail. At the same time, Piper is in a relationship with a congressman. She is not engaged to him yet, but she wishes she were. Things go downhill when the congressman ignores her for work and is rumored to run off with other women. Throughout the book, Piper's family secrets come out of the closet with much southern colloquialism. Depending on the reader's perspective, this book will either be seen as remarkably charming or remarkably annoying. The romance in the book is not raunchy, but it is a bit superficial. The storyline as a whole is reminiscent of a mix between a Lifetime series and Desperate Housewives. In any case, readers will definitely be surprised by this book.

These books were provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.