Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"the narnia code" by michael ward

I grew up loving C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. As I got older, I also read some of his other works, including The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity, and Till We Have Faces. I even took a class on Lewis in college. I’ve long listed Lewis as one of my favorite authors, so I jumped at the chance to review Michael Ward’s The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens. I’m so glad I did.

An adaptation of Ward’s own Planet Narnia, The Narnia Code shows how Lewis based each of the Narnia chronicles on one of the seven planets (as they were known in medieval times). In defending his theories, Ward draws not only from the Chronicles themselves but also from Lewis’s other writings (making me very glad I’d previously read The Space Trilogy!), other scholars’ writings about Lewis, and Roman mythology. Though I never would have made these connections on my own, they are quite apparent when the evidence is laid out by Ward.

The Narnia Code is easy to read and understand, and it gives great insight into the beloved Chronicles. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s ever read the Narnia books; it will deepen your appreciation for Lewis and give you a longing to read the books again in light of this new information!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

looking for a chick flick?

I am the queen of chick flicks. I absolutely love them, and I'll watch just about any chick flick set in front of me--even those incredibly cheesy Hallmark movies! It's gotten harder to recommend chick flicks in recent years, though ... gone are the days of the first kiss coming at the end of the movie (a la While You Were Sleeping). Instead, it usually goes something like this: Boy meets girl, boy sleeps with girl, massive misunderstanding splits up boy and girl, boy and girl reunite. So I was pleasantly surprised by the movie I watched tonight, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. Not only is there no hint of a sexual relationship between the main characters, but there's also no swearing! It's rated PG and stars Alyssa Milano (Who's the Boss and Charmed), Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs), and Michael Landes (I'll always remember him as the original Jimmy Olsen on Lois & Clark). Unfortunately, it's not yet available on dvd, but you can get it on demand from Amazon or iTunes. If it was on dvd, it would totally be on my Christmas wish list!

Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:
"My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" is just what a romantic comedy should be: cute, romantic, and funny. It's also incredibly clean. The writer/director didn't rely on any gross-out or sex humor; instead, the story was filled with genuinely funny moments. Especially watch for the gum commercial--I laughed out loud repeatedly (and am chuckling again as I think about it)! This isn't your predictable chick flick; sure, you can probably guess who will end up together, but the route the movie took from point A to point B wasn't at all what I expected. I'm always on the lookout for movies I can recommend without reservation, and this is definitely one. Highly recommended!


***Update 11-6-11: You can watch this for free on Hulu. It's also streaming on Netflix and on Amazon(Prime members can watch it free). And there's a DVD, which I bought for $10 at Walmart. Amazon has it for $12.60.***

Monday, December 13, 2010

"the topkapi secret" by terry kelhawk

Following the disintegration of her marriage and the deaths of her in-laws, Professor Angela Hall travels to Turkey to research women's issues. While in the region, she reconnects with relatives she hasn't seen in years, including Mohammed Atareek. Mohammed is one of several researchers seeking to prove the Koran has changed through the years. Together, he and Angela embark on a quest to study the famous Topkapi Codex, which Mohammed believes will is the key to proving his theories about the Koran. However, other Islamic scholars are equally desperate to keep Mohammed's theories quiet, and Angela and Mohammed soon find themselves fighting not only for the truth, but also for their lives.

The Topkapi Secret is Terry Kelhawk's debut novel, and it shows. That's not to say the book is uninteresting, but I found myself far more interested in Kelhawk's research than I was in her characters. In fact, I would rather have read her research by itself. I don't know much about the Koran, but the conspiracies surrounding its codification are fascinating. I'd be interested in reading about real-life researchers who are trying to bring the truth to light. I thought the story line actually detracted from the information, rather than enhancing it.

That said, this is a fiction book, and as such, it didn't work for me. Angela and Mohammed supposedly have this magnetic attraction to each other, but I didn't pick up on any of that. Normally when I read a romance, even a mediocre one, I'm dying for the two who are "destined" to be together to move in that direction. In this book, I couldn't have cared less if Mohammed and Angela were together (or even alive. I can't remember the last time I cared so little for a book's main characters) ... and when they got together, I didn't feel any sort of satisfaction--I just wanted to get back to the research. Also, the story line featuring Selim, Angela's colleague from Turkey, was set up to be a major plot point--one scene alluded to Selim being a member of the Mus-haf Brotherhood, the group opposing Mohammed--and then it seemed to be forgotten.

Basically, as information regarding the Koran and changes to it, this book is fascinating. As a work of fiction, not so much. If you'd like more information on the book or the research behind it, visit the book's website or facebook page.

(Please note: Most of the books I review are clearly Christian in nature. This one is not. So if you choose to read it, be aware that it contains more language and sex than books I normally review.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Public Relations. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, December 6, 2010

k max is the only one left

It's official: I've now seen 2/3 of dc Talk.

On Wednesday I got a text from one of my friends asking if I wanted to go to the Newsboys concert. Sounds great, right? Well, the catch is that the concert was Thursday in a town nearly two hours away. Here was the deciding factor for me: Michael Tait, formerly of dc Talk, is now the Newsboys' lead singer. Sold.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I would pay big money to see dc Talk live. And while I've heard a few rumors, I don't think there are any real plans for a reunion tour. So until then, I'll have to content myself with whichever band member comes this way.

So, immediately after work on Thursday, Justin, Adair, and I piled into Adair's car and headed for Norfolk. It was totally worth it.

The show was actually Newsong's Christmas tour, which featured the Newsboys and Kerrie Roberts, a singer I'd never heard of before. It also featured a surprise performer, but I'll get to that later.

They started off with several Christmas songs. Honestly, I was more fascinated (or appalled) by the giant blow-up Santa and penguin on stage than I was by the songs. 

My least favorite number was "Little Drummer Boy," which too loud and cacophonous. All the groups were involved in the song, and it was just too much happening at once. (Perhaps the reason I hated it so much has to do with the fact that the Jars of Clay version, which is much more understated, is one of my favorite Christmas songs!) But then I saw him ... playing the violin (I couldn't hear him playing the violin because everything else was too loud) ... and I thought, Could it be? Is it he?

Sure enough--David Klinkenberg! When the guy from Newsong came out and introduced him, I think I may have stopped breathing. I grinned like a ninny through his whole song ("Toss the Feathers"). When he finished, a bunch of women stood up and cheered. Adair said, "Look at all his girl fans." And I thought, If I didn't have you on one side and Justin on the other, I'd totally be up cheering with them!

(And here's the point where I need to explain about Klinkenberg. I was just going to link to my other blogs about him, but they're on MySpace. In an attempt to get at them for you, I had to reset my MySpace password--it's been so long since I've been on that I couldn't even remember what it was! I guess that speaks to MySpace's irrelevancy in the age of Facebook. Anyway, I finally found the posts, but I can't figure out how to change my settings to make the blog public. If you happen to be MySpace friends with me, the posts are here and here. Basically, David Klinkenberg is my music crush. An excerpt from the blog:
In the evening we (Melissa and I) went to Norfolk for the Mark Schultz/Big Daddy Weave/David Klinkenberg concert. Two more Bible study people, Kevin and Melissa, joined us for the concert. It was amazing! I was a tad disappointed with how little David played (after all, he was the one I really wanted to see!), but overall, I can't complain. Mark Schultz is much less annoying in person than he is on the radio (sometimes, his slower songs just make me want to hurl), and parts of the concert were really like a worship service. It was wonderful.
We waited in the auditorium for about 10 minutes while people cleared out, then we headed to the vending area. Molly bought two of David's cd's, and she had just rejoined us right by the auditorium doors when she tapped me, looked off to her right, and said, "Should I ask for his autograph?" I followed her gaze . . . to David Kinkenberg, who was standing about 5 feet away! At this point, my brain pretty much turned to mush. I whirled back around to find Melissa. "Look behind you!" I hissed. She turned around and saw nothing special. "No, I mean look behind me!" Then he started walking toward us! It became obvious he was going to keep going, so Molly stopped him and asked if he would sign her cd. He said he would be back in a minute and walked away. I still couldn't even think. A little later, he came back to sign the cd. Then he thanked us for coming and walked away. Melissa said the whole time she was thinking, "Becky, SAY SOMETHING!" But I couldn't. It wasn't until we were back in the parking lot that it hit me--CAMERA! I'd had at least 3 minutes to get my camera out and then get a picture with him . . . and it never once crossed my mind! What's wrong with me???
I have to admit, he looks very young up close. Kevin said he looked 12, but it's not quite that bad . . . maybe 18 or 20. I'm not sure how old he really is, but I think he must be older than that. Anyway, it appears that my celeb crush is still intact . . .)
I briefly thought about trying to get a picture this time. Then I realized I didn't have my camera. Then I realized I had my phone, which has a camera. Then I realized I didn't want to act like a crazed fangirl when my only companions were boys. Had Melissa been there, though, she totally would have given me the courage!

As for the rest of the concert, I really enjoyed the Newsboys ... especially when they weren't doing Christmas music! They played "Something Beautiful" and "He Reigns" from previous albums and "Way Beyond Myself" and "Born Again" from the new album (which you know I love!). "He Reigns" wasn't that great. I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me, since I completely prefer Tait to Peter Furler, but "He Reigns" wasn't as good without Furler's distinctive voice. "Born Again," though, was awesome!

Overall, it was a fun concert, and I'm glad I got to go! (Now, if we could just work on that dc Talk reunion tour ...)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

a picture's worth ...

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Since I haven't been writing much lately, I thought I'd throw up a few pictures to catch you up with my life!

I got Mom tickets to Straight No Chaser's Omaha concert for her birthday. As you can see, we were quite happy to be there! My favorite part was, surprisingly, this Lady Gaga medley.

In early October, my sisters and I ran/walked a 5K. The experience made me want to do another!
Thanks to a facebook friend, I've become obsessed with this bread. It's so easy and absolutely delicious!
In early November, I accompanied a group of students on a trip to DC. This is one of my favorite shots.
My cousin Shawna was on the trip, and I enjoyed spending time with her. Here we are outside Lee's Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery.
On the way home from DC, we stopped at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, where I "got" to hold this snake. Pretty brave, if I do say so myself!
This picture serves two purposes: 1) To show off my new hair color. 2) To thank cousin Bethie for the Sleepy Monk coffee and Cannon Beach mug she brought me when she visited for Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, Blendy and her friend Janelle came over to help me decorate. Then we watched You've Got Mail while I wrapped all the presents I've bought so far.

"then sings my soul" by robert j. morgan

Then Sings My Soul (Special Edition) by Robert J. Morgan is a delightful collection of 150 hymns and the stories behind them. This book is a joy to read. Morgan's writing style is welcoming, at times humorous, and certain entries reminded me of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story. Each hymn gets two pages--one for the sheet music and the other for the hymn's background. In addition to the table of contents at the front, the hymns are indexed alphabetically, by author, and by first line, making it very easy to find whatever hymn you're looking for.

Prior to reading this book, I knew the story behind only two of the hymns: "It Is Well with My Soul" (thanks, Adventures in Odyssey!) and "Silent Night." Now, I know lots of fun facts. For example:
  • Handel wrote Messiah in twenty-three days.
  • The tune to "Jesus Loves the Little Children" was written as a Civil War battle song. 
  • Martin Luther, a monk, married his wife, a nun, because he couldn't find anyone else to marry her!
I thoroughly enjoyed paging through this book. It would make a great Christmas gift for the hymn lover on your list!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from BookSneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, November 19, 2010

a fairy tale

Once upon a time, I married Shane West. I suddenly remembered this while watching a recent episode of Nikita, my new "guilty pleasure" show. He was on screen, and I literally shouted, "I MARRIED HIM!" Fortunately, I was alone at the time.

Of course, I didn't actually marry West. Rather, I married him in my obituary. In my college news writing class, one of the assignments was to write our own obituaries. I had fun with mine, and it became even better when my sister Val got her hands on it and embellished it a bit more. So I present, for your reading pleasure, my obituary. (Val's additions are in italics. I also just realized that I probably shouldn't put all this personally identifying information out there, so I'm changing and/or leaving out a few things.)
Rebecca West, known as the "Christian Entertainment Voice," died Sunday of natural causes at her home in Central City. She was 85. Because her entire estate was left to one relative, her daughter, Cassandra Kilers, it was at first believed that she had been "done in" in another tragic case of greed by a cold-hearted relative who just couldn't wait. However, because Cassandra was already well-off thanks to the untimely death of her husband, Michael Kilers of Chicago, on whom she had a $1,000,000 life insurance policy, it was decided that she did not need the money and, therefore, did not "buy the farm" for her mother.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Swiss Church in Whitewater, Kansas. Pastor Jason McCullogh will officiate. Burial will be in the Whitewater Cemetery. 
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Lion Funeral Home. Family will be present from 6 to 8 p.m. Memorials are suggested to Nebraska Christian Schools and CAM International.
Mrs. West was born in Kansas to Robert and Susan R. She graduated from Nebraska Christian High School in Central City, attended Central Community College in Grand Island, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She received a Masters of Education degree from Northwestern University in Chicago in 2008.
On July 19, 2006, she married Dean Cain in Central City. They had three children. Mr. Cain was killed in a skiing accident in 2012. Cassandra was again a suspect early on in the investigation, but it was later determined that it was the malicious ski lodge owner who was jealous of Cain's fabulous abs who spiked the hot cocoa on that fateful day. Because of the influence of the alcohol, Mr. Cain "Just call me Dean" skiied into a tree. On November 25, 2015, she married Shane West of Los Angeles in Whitewater, Kansas. They had one child. 
Mrs. West's great loves were family, education, and entertainment. She combined these loves in her work as the "Christian Entertainment Voice." While doing her graduate work at Northwestern, she wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times which reviewed television programs in light of traditional moral values. This column spawned a weekly syndicated television show, "Family Entertainment," which also included movie reviews and interviews with members of the entertainment industry. Critics dubbed her the "Christian Entertainment Voice" due to her family-friendly reviews and her push for morality in Hollywood. 
Mrs. West also had a great love for romance novels, which she read daily. Upon the suggestion of her rustic husband Shane, she decided to try her hand at this "art." Her first book, "Love in Kansas," was based entirely on the exploits of her mother's teens and early twenties. Her second book, "You Skiied into a Tree, and Now I'm All Alone, Unless I Find Someone Else," was based upon the tragedy and triumph of her first husband's death. This was a bestselling book on the "Literature of Kansas" reading list.
 Mrs. West also taught high school English at Puebla Christian School in Mexico and Berean Academy in Elbing, Kansas; served as Chair of the Journalism Department at Multnomah Bible College in Portland; worked on the staff of "Plugged-In Magazine;" and founded and served as editor-in-chief of "Christian Entertainment Quarterly," which she continued to be involved with until her untimely death.
Survivors include her husband of Central City; two daughters, Jennifer Jensen of Whitewater, Kansas, and Cassandra Kilers of Chicago; two sons, Christopher Cain of Winona Lake, Indiana, and Jeremy West of Puebla, Mexico; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by an infant son, Jesse West; two grandchildren, Sydney Jensen and Jessica Cain; and one great-grandchild, Alec Hernandez. Her favorite saying was, "For all the saiiints who from their labors reeest to Thee by faith before the world confeeeeeeeeeessed." While she lived a seemingly full life, she never fulfilled two dreams; to become Michelle Kwan, and to personally meet the entire cast of the show "Full House."
After reading that, who here thinks Val should blog? Also, according to my timetable, I still have time to marry Shane West. Just sayin'.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"uncertain heart" by andrea boeshaar

Sarah McCabe yearns for independence. As the youngest in her family, she feels smothered, so she accepts a position at a music school in Chicago. Upon arriving, she learns the position was given to someone else. Desperate to maintain her independence, she agrees to become a governess in Milwaukee. Sarah immediately falls for the children under her care, and she finds herself attracted to their father, widower Brian Sinclair. However, she is also drawn to Richard Navis, another of Sinclair's employees. Richard shares her faith, but his desire to become a farmer stands in stark contrast to Sarah's dreams of a life of grandeur.

Uncertain Heart is book two in Boeshaar's "Seasons of Redemption" series. It functions well as a stand-alone title, though, and I had no trouble following the plot even though I hadn't read the first book. I was afraid the story would be a bit too predictable and The Sound of Music-ish, but Boeshaar crafted a unique plot. A twist near the end took me completely off guard and seemed a little too convenient; however, after reading the preview to book three, this twist makes sense, and I'd like to read the next book to learn how everything turns out. My major critique is that the story is a bit too slow-moving for my taste. I wasn't hooked until at least halfway through the book, and if I hadn't been reading this in order to review it, I probably would have stopped. But if you enjoy straight-up historical romance (without a hint of suspense), you'll probably enjoy this book.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Public Relations. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

leavin' on a coach bus

Early tomorrow morning, I and 45 or so others will climb onto a bus, where we'll remain until we arrive in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, early Tuesday morning. From there, we'll continue on to Washington, D.C. I'm going along as a sponsor for my school's annual sophomore trip. If you think of me in the next week, pray for me: bus rides and I are not friends, as I have an extremely difficult time sleeping while traveling. Bus ride aside, I'm very excited about this trip, as I've never been to DC before. To make it even better, my cousin Shawna will be on the trip, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with her! I'm not taking my laptop, so I won't be blogging along the way like I did on my last several road trips, but I promise to update you when I get home!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

sometimes, the answer comes sooner

I've come to expect answers to prayer (at least answers in the affirmative) to come slowly. I've been praying for a husband for the last 11 years. Still waiting on that one. I've been praying for a friend's salvation (though not as consistently as I should) for six years. About a year ago, she told me she had been reading the Bible I gave her, but as far as I know, she hasn't become a Christian. I've been praying about a health insurance issue for several months. I may know the result by the end of the month.

It's not that I think God can't answer "big" prayers soon, but I often think He won't. In the last week, God has answered two of my recent prayers, and I must admit that I was surprised by both of them.

The first answer to prayer came the day after I asked my Bible study group to pray about it. One of my classes, an advanced reading class, is made up of 10 international students, all juniors and seniors. I absolutely love teaching the class, and I've sensed that my relationship with some of the students might be poised to go outside the classroom. So I asked the girls to pray that I'd have wisdom and opportunities to get to know some of the students on a deeper level. The next day, one girl walked into class talking about how much she wanted a Pooh Bear Latte. And I thought, "Here's the opportunity you've been praying for!" I snagged her after class and asked if she'd like to get coffee after school. Coffee turned into over an hour of really good conversation.

The other answer to prayer took a little longer ... three whole weeks! I asked my Bible study group to pray about my relationship with a girl I've known pretty well for a few years. I had a really good talk with her sometime last month, and I asked her if she'd like to get together on a fairly regular basis. Other than mentioning it in Bible study, I did nothing--I just wasn't sure what we should do; I've never seen myself as a mentor before. Last week, she cornered me in the hallway (she goes to NC) and said we needed to talk ASAP. She came over on Sunday night, and we spent four hours together--drinking coffee (do you see a theme???), watching country YouTube videos, and talking about some really serious stuff.

In both cases, I found myself stunned that God would answer my prayers so immediately ... and humbled by my lack of faith. This experience has taught me that I need to pray believing that God will answer, whether it's with a "yes," "no," or "wait"!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"the way home" dvd review

My love for Dean Cain is well documented. So when BookSneeze offered me the chance to review his latest movie, I jumped at the chance!

Cain plays Randy Simpkins, a man whose two-year-old son Joe disappeared while he was supposed to be watching him. When those in the community learn Randy’s son is missing, they turn out in droves to help search for Joe.

I wanted to like this movie. Instead, I just feel ambivalent about it. It was fine; the acting was good, the plot featured plenty of action, and the display of community is one we don’t often see in this age of technology and privacy. But it was lacking … something. At first, I thought perhaps the problem was that I already knew the ending—it’s a true story, and it's not hard to guess what happens. But that’s not it; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many true-story movies where I already knew the ending. In the end, all I can say is this: The Way Home is a nice, well-produced film that’s safe for the whole family. But it’s probably not a movie you’ll watch over and over again.

I received this dvd free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, October 11, 2010

free karen kingsbury book. for real!

Please note: This book is no longer free for Kindle. 

Right now, Karen Kingsbury's Redemption is a Kindle freebie. Redemption is the book that first introduced the Baxter family, and it's one of the first Kingsbury books I read. You don't need to own a Kindle to get this book; there's a Kindle for PC/Mac or Kindle for Mobile Devices app you can download for free. I currently have 42 books that I've downloaded to my laptop, including the first book in Candace Calvert's Mercy Hospital series! All the books I've downloaded have been Kindle freebies. If you love reading, you should definitely check it out!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"code triage" by candace calvert

One week: that's all it will take for Dr. Leigh Stathos to finally be free of her cheating husband. One week: after that, Sam Gordon can make a play for the man of her dreams. One week: that's all the time San Fransisco police officer Nick Stathos has to convince his wife to give their marriage another chance. In one crazy week, Leigh, Nick, and Sam find their lives intersecting in ways they hadn't expected. In the end, each of them will make decisions that will change the course of their lives.

Fast-paced and enthralling, Code Triage captured my attention from the first page. I expected a run-of-the-mill romance, but Calvert delivered an intriguing plot ... with a liberal dose of romance sprinkled in! The only thing I didn't like about the book was the cover--I felt like I was reading one of those racy Harlequin novels. There's no way I would have gone out in public with this book! Rest assured, there's nothing remotely smutty about it. In fact, I think it fairly realistically deals with the consequences of extramarital affairs. This is book three in Calvert's Mercy Hospital series, and I'd like to get my hands on the other two.

Who should read it? Anyone who enjoys good, clean romance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

really, really cheap music

Consider this a public service announcement: iTunes now has lots of songs for $.69! I'm sure Amazon will jump on the bandwagon soon enough, but for now, they only have about 12 songs that cheap. I just bought Breakfast at Tiffany's (a high school favorite of mine) and Crusin' ... and I'd certainly consider lots more if I wasn't trying to restrict my spending!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"scars" by patience prence

In Scars: An Amazing End-Times Prophecy Novel by Patience Prence, sixteen-year-old Becky (great name, huh?) turns to the Bible for answers after massive natural disasters kill millions and a mysterious man begins predicting the future. As time goes on, Becky's new-found faith becomes illegal, pitting her against the government, her neighbors, and even her mother. Ultimately, she must decide what is worth more--her beliefs or her life.

Like many Christians, I read the Left Behind books, watched the A Thief in the Night movies from the '70s, and debated where I stood on the rapture question (pre-, mid-, or post-trib), but I can safely say I've never read anything like Scars. I'm not particularly up on my eschatology, so I couldn't really tell if the author's ideas truly line up with Scripture. She did often include footnotes with Bible verses; sometimes the verses didn't seem to go with what she was talking about, but I'm sure they were included for a reason. I also wondered about the lack of the rapture or even a mention of it. And the timeline of the tribulation also seemed a little "off" to me ... but then again, I've already admitted I'm not up on my eschatology! (One other concern: a Christian in the book--one who seemed to be strong in the faith--chooses to worship the Antichrist rather than lose his life. While I suppose it's possible he wasn't a Christian to begin with, the implication in the book is that he loses his salvation.)

The plotline of Scars is interesting, and I wasn't ever able to predict what would happen next. If you'd like to read more about the author or purchase this book, visit her website at thespringharvest.com/patienceprencethespringharvest.com/patienceprence.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a quick update

Life has been so busy lately! I keep thinking of things to write about, but then I don't get around to it. So, here's another of my famous "bullet" updates:
  • Mom and I are seeing Straight No Chaser in Omaha tomorrow night! I bought the tickets for her birthday--in May--and it's crazy to think the day is almost here. I'm sure I'll have more to say after the fact. Too bad our tickets aren't as amazing as they were last December!
  • I've started a blog for my advanced reading class. As of now, it's private, meaning only the class members and I can read or post to it. We may go public later. For now, though, here's a look at the class (at the top of the page). I absolutely love teaching them!
  • My dreadfully neglected other blog lives again! (Well, there's one new post ... it's a start!)
  • Blendy and I just signed up for the Singing Christmas Tree. Practices start in just over a week. I love Christmas!
  • Speaking of Christmas, how's this for a gimmick? One of our radio stations, Star 97.3, has been playing Christmas music non-stop since Sunday afternoon. Apparently the station is switching formats--listeners are about to receive the "gift" of a new radio station ... hence the Christmas music in the meantime. I listened off and on for about a day--now I wish they'd just get on with it and play whatever it is they're going to play. At least I haven't heard the Christmas song that makes me want to drive over a cliff ... (Another station switched formats almost exactly a year ago. They had their own annoying gimmick to go with the switch.)
  • I've signed up for my first 5K! Val's going to run it, and Blendy and I will walk it together. Wish us luck!
  • I just found a new "favorite" movie. It's called Perfect Romance, and you can watch it on Hulu for a few more days. Starring LOST's Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), it's a cute little romance ... and it's incredibly clean, especially considering it's a Lifetime movie. If you're a sucker for romance, you'll like it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

my new place

This post is long overdue ...

In late July, I learned of an opportunity to move out of the apartment I'd lived in for the last four years and into a (rather large) house. The house belongs to an elderly woman who, when she lived in Central City, attended the church I grew up in. This woman and her children had decided it was time to sell the house, and they wanted to know if I would be interested in living in it while it's on the market. I would pay utilities and a minuscule amount of rent. After crunching the numbers and realizing I would save money by moving, I agreed.

I've now been living in the house for just over a month. I love it! I've already written about some of the things I enjoy--my two favorite aspects are the kitchen (it's amazing to cook in!) and the washer/dryer. After four years of using my apartment building's creepy laundry facilities or taking advantage of my parents' generosity and using theirs, I'm thrilled to be able to do laundry whenever I want. I'm sure once winter rolls around, the garage will become a lot more important, too!

There are a couple drawbacks to the house, of course. I absolutely hate mowing the lawn, and this lawn is massive. I have to keep the house clean because it could be shown at any time. Once the house sells, I'll have to find a new place to live. I really hope it doesn't sell during the winter--it would be horrible to move in sub-zero temperatures!

Now, on to the pictures! (The house also has two more bedrooms and a bathroom that I didn't take pictures of because they're empty. This house is enormous!)
The spare bedroom.

The half bath.

My bathroom.

A view of the whole kitchen workspace.

The oven area. (It's a gas stove--I'm so excited to not have electric!)

Built-in desk.

The living room.

The dining room.
The entryway (part of the dining room).

My front door.

My bedroom.

My bedroom. (Someday I'll buy an adult-looking bedroom set and my room will no longer be confused with a 13-year-old girl's!)

The sunroom/exercise room.

My massive lawn. The property extends to the fence in the back!

The garage.

Monday, September 20, 2010

a great deal!

Several weeks ago, I told you about Born Again, the new album from the Newsboys. It still is one of my favorite albums, and I recently learned you can get it from Amazon for $5! What a deal! You can preview 30-second snippets of each song and buy the album here!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

t-shirt winner!

Congrats to Jen, winner of the Immanuel's Veins t-shirt contest! Enjoy the shirt, and I hope you get the chance to read the book soon, too!

Monday, September 13, 2010

"immanuel's veins" by ted dekker

Ted Dekker has done it again. In Immanuel's Veins, Dekker has turned the whole "vampire craze" on its side and woven a wonderful tale of love, lust, duty, and redemption. Once I started reading, I could barely put the book down.

Toma Nicolescu and his friend Alek have been charged with protecting the beautiful Cantemir sisters Natasha and Lucine. Though Empress Catherine the Great has commanded Toma not to fall in love with either sister, he falls for Lucine. A Russian nobleman, Vlad van Valerik, and several others who live with him soon become involved with the Cantemirs; while Toma can't put his finger on what exactly is different about them, he is wary of their sensuality and the strange pull they have on everyone they meet. As Vlad's influence on Lucine intensifies, Toma finds himself in a heartbreaking battle of good vs. evil.

You've probably guessed by now that Vlad is a vampire. As someone who is completely fed up with the Twilight craze, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying a vampire novel. The difference here is that Dekker is very clear as to which side of the good vs. evil battle the vampires fall on ... and it's not the side the "Twihards" would hope! This is a fantastic book that I highly recommend. And if you're a fan of the "Books of History Chronicles" (Black, Red, White, Green, Showdown, etc.), you'll be happy to see the connections between Immanuel's Veins and those books. (I squealed like a child when I read the words "Blood Book" and "Shataiki"!)

One note: I've read some reviews that criticize this book for being too sensual (in fact, the book has apparently been "banned" in Holland for that very reason). It's violent; it's dark; it's sensual ... but I feel it's all appropriate for the story. Should an 11-year-old read it? Probably not. But for adults, this is a wonderful story that will grip you from the beginning and take you on an amazing journey.

Thomas Nelson, the book's publisher, is giving away t-shirts connected to Immanuel's Veins. I got one (and love it!), and now I get to give one away! If you want the chance to win a shirt, simply leave a comment on this post by Friday, Sept. 17.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

in other long-forgotten band news ...

Continuing on my theme of "bands that made me happy back in the day," I have some sad news: the lead singer of LFO passed away recently. Who's LFO, you ask? The Lyght Funkie Ones are best known for their summer hit "Summer Girls" (If you listened to radio in the late 90's, you probably know it: "New Kids On The block had a bunch of hits, Chinese food makes me sick. And I think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer, for the summer ... "), but I remember them for a song that came out a few years later: "Every Other Time."

The one and only time I got pulled over, that song was on the radio. It was my "happy song" of the semester--the song I got ridiculously excited about and sang at the top of my lungs each time it came on the radio. I had just left my night class--American History I, a dreadfully boring class that met on both Tuesday and Thursday evenings. On the outskirts of Grand Island, "Every Other Time" came on. A burst of energy poured through me, and I "danced" and sang along. Then I saw the flashing red lights. Suddenly, "Every Other Time" wasn't so fun. I looked at my speedometer. 63. "Is he really pulling me over for going three over?" I asked the air. Trembling, I pulled over and began digging for my license. "License and registration, please," the officer said after I rolled down my window. Frantically, I pawed through the glove box. I couldn't find the registration anywhere. "I'm sorry; this is my dad's car," I murmured as I continued emptying the contents of the glove box onto the passenger seat. "I think it's right there," he said, using his flashlight to point at one of those nifty registration & insurance holders, which was on top of the pile. I sheepishly handed him the registration. "Do you know why I pulled you over?" he asked. I shook my head, remembering that someone once said you should never admit to speeding. "Your left taillight is broken. I'm giving you a fix-it ticket." Still shaking, I thanked him, took the ticket, and drove away. I'm grateful to have that be my only run-in with the law!

Despite the reminder of being pulled over, "Every Other Time" continued to be "my" song ... well, mine and my best friend Dorinda's. When I was away at college, she even sent me a mix cd which included this song, along with a dolphin greeting card--because of the lyric, "Sometimes we swim around like two dolphins in the ocean of our hearts." Ahhh, the memories! To this day, I listen to it every time it comes up on my ipod.

thanks, brittany!

Well over a year ago, I wrote about a concert I attended in Hastings. (Read about it here.) In my post, I reminisced about other concerts I attended at that same venue. The long-forgotten Christian group Church of Rhythm was at one of those concerts. While hanging out with my cousin Brittany on our Labor Day camping trip (post about that to follow later), I looked through her insanely large stack of cd's, many of which used to belong to her older siblings ... and found a Church of Rhythm cd in the pile! Of course, I became incredibly excited when I saw the cd, and I had to tell her the whole story of our families going to the concert together (which I also detailed in the aforementioned post). She let me borrow the cd, so I am, at this very moment, listening to music that I thought was oh-so-cool fifteen years ago. Thanks, dear cousin!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"the butterfly effect" by andy andrews

The Butterfly Effect. Besides being a ridiculous Ashton Kutcher movie, the butterfly effect is the concept that one small event (such as a butterfly flapping its wings) can change the course of the future. In his book The Butterfly Effect, Andy Andrews demonstrates how one man's actions during the Civil War changed the course of American (and world) history. Through this story and others, Andrews encourages his readers to make their lives count--to positively influence the world.

As I reflect on this book, I'm torn. On the one hand, it's a fantastic motivational book. In just over 100 partially-full pages, Andrews convinced me to reflect on the effect my actions have on others and on my--and their--future. The book is compact, attractive, and perfect for a coffee table. On the other hand, Andrews doesn't point the reader in any specific direction. I walked away from the book with the following message: "I'm important. My life matters. I should do positive things so my effect on the world is positive." And in a sense, that is true ... but it goes much deeper than that. Everything I do should be done for the glory of God; that knowledge should be a far greater influence on my life than Andrews' book. When I put the book down, I thought of the following quote, which I've since learned is credited to English missionary C.T. Studd: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." So I do recommend this book--it is, as I've said, quite interesting and inspiring--but remember that if you are a Christian, your main responsibility is to glorify God ... and by glorifying God, you just might change the world!

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

things i love about my new place

  • the dishwasher
  • two huge windows in the living room
  • the washer/dryer set. They're old, but they do the trick!
  • the gas stove
  • the ceiling fans
  • the storage space in the kitchen
  • the garage
  • the yard
  • the proximity to my workplace
Pictures to come soon!

Monday, August 30, 2010

how "lost" should have ended

Maybe someday I'll actually stop talking about Lost. I came across this video today, and I had to share. If you didn't watch the show, though, it probably won't make much sense!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

concert time!

My sister and I just got home from seeing Lifehouse at the Nebraska State Fair. It was awesome! Lifehouse has been my favorite band ever since my brother gave me a copy of No Name Face in 2001, so I was absolutely ecstatic when I learned they'd be playing at the fair. To top it off, the concert was free with a paid gate admission. We got early bird tickets, so it only cost us $6 each to go!

The concert was a blast. I was a little worried Lifehouse would be one of those bands that sounds totally different (read: terrible) live. Not the case! They were excellent. We arrived an hour before the show ... well, actually, let me back up. The concert was free with open seating, but you had to have a wristband that you picked up at the box office in order to get in. There were four types of wrist bands--blue, yellow, red, and green. You could enter the concert at the time allotted to your wristband--anywhere from 2 hours to 30 minutes before the concert. Because I had no idea how quickly the wristbands would go, I wanted to get to the fair early. We left Val's apartment just after 3; we got to the box office at 3:45 (thanks to the ridiculous parking and clueless parking attendants) and got red wristbands, which meant we could enter one hour prior to the show. That left us with over three hours to kill, and after wandering the fair for a while, we decided to leave and come back in time for the concert.

We got pizza, ice cream, and coffee at Hy-Vee and chilled at Val's for a while. When we got back to the fair, we were able to go right into the auditorium. I got a kick out of the people sitting around us ... the guy behind us who obviously wasn't a Lifehouse fan (when an All-American Rejects song came on before the show, he asked, "Is this Lifehouse?"); the teen girl who liked lead singer Jason Wade a little too much ("Seriously, you have no idea how awesome he is!"); the middle-aged woman who was totally into every song, and her husband who was just ... there; the guys next to me who took pictures through the entire show (I know I ended up in some of them ... including one time when I was belting out a song. Bet that one's attractive!)  In the "random" category, I saw one of the pastors from my church walk in with his wife--and it wasn't one of the youth pastors! I told Val that his knowledge of Lifehouse probably started and ended with viewing a YouTube video where a youth group performed a skit set to "Everything." (Like this one, for example.)

The concert lasted about 90 minutes--no opening act, which I was totally fine with--and they played all their hits--"Hanging by a Moment" (which is, quite amusingly, called "Hanging by a Thread" on their Twitter page), "You and Me," "First Time"--and the two currently on the charts: "All In" and "Halfway Gone." Val was especially happy to hear her favorites, "Broken" and "Wrecking Ball." Unfortunately, while they were tracking with Val, they didn't play any of my favorites. But considering I own practically everything they've released, it wasn't like I didn't enjoy and sing along with the songs they did play! Skipping "Had Enough" was understandable, since it's a duet with Chris Daughtry. I'm still hoping they release that as a single--in light of Daughtry's popularity, I think it could be a hit (plus, it's a really good song!). Two of my other favorites, "Breathing" and "Everything" are old, and "Storm" isn't exactly a rocking anthem, so I can understand why they weren't played ... but I hope if I ever get the chance to see them again, they at least do "Everything." For me, that would make the concert complete. And I'd happily pay more than $6 to see them next time!
Our "ridiculously excited to be at a Lifehouse concert" faces.
The band--I think they're playing "All In."
Our "is Lifehouse really playing 40 yards away from us?" faces.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"whisper on the wind" by maureen lang

When the Germans invaded Belgium during World War I, Isa Lassone and her family fled the country. Two years later, Isa returns to Belgium with the intent of helping her friends Genny, Edward, and Jonah Kirkland escape. Soon, however, Isa is drawn into the Belgian resistance effort and begins working with an underground newspaper. As she becomes more and more involved--with both the newspaper and Edward--Isa realizes she may be asked to give up everything as she fights against German injustice.

This is one of the best historical novels I've read in a long time. Though it's more than 400 pages, I read it in just a few hours--it was that engaging! This is an interesting, enjoyable read that provides a glimpse into a war largely forgotten. I highly recommend it.

I received this book free for review from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

once things settle down ...

I'll start blogging again. I promise. I never finished blogging about our big pricelining trip, I have a book review to write, and I need to tell you all about my birthday weekend. But all that will have to come later, as I'm in the middle of moving! I'll tell you all about the house once I'm moved in, of course. And school started today, so I'll have things to say about that. For now, though, know that I'm still out there, and I'll be back to the blog soon!

Friday, August 6, 2010

i can't stop listening

So the Newsboys released their new album last month. I liked them back in the day, but I was never a super fan. Take Me To Your Leader came out my freshman year of high school, and while I enjoyed the album (especially "Breakfast" and the title track), I can't even remember what most of the songs sound like. I did buy--and liked--Adoration, but I never listened to it that much. Then, when Amazon was having one of their $5 mp3 album sales, I got In the Hands of God; it's been on my iPod since then ... and I think I've skipped it every time it's come up! (Side note: This month, over 1,000 albums are $5. Insane!) 

Contrast that with my beloved dc Talk. I could sing every line of every song on Free At Last--in fact, I still listen to it on a semi-regular basis. The only two dc Talk albums I don't own are their first two. If they were still releasing new material, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

I was, needless to say, intrigued when I learned Michael Tait would be joining the Newsboys. I didn't really think about how Tait would affect the Newsboys' sound ... I just hoped that TobyMac and the Newsboys might go on tour together and pull out a little old school dc Talk! (Which sort of happened--see it here on YouTube.) My friend Kensy got the album soon after it came out, and she loved it. I still wasn't sure, though--I just haven't been excited about the Newsboys lately. Then I heard "Born Again" on the radio ... and it sounded so dc Talk-ish that I couldn't resist! I downloaded the whole album; now I can't stop listening to it! A lot of Amazon reviewers have been complaining that the album doesn't sound like the Newsboys. That's true--and I like it for precisely that reason!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"vanishing act" by liz johnson

Before beginning this review, I should issue a disclaimer: It's been years since I've picked up a "Love Inspired" romance. It's been so long that I didn't even know they had a suspense line. So I was pleasantly surprised when I received this book and realized it would consist of more than "boy meets girl; boy does something idiotic and loses girl (or girl does something idiotic and loses boy); boy and girl reunite and ride off into the sunset." It maybe wasn't too much more than that, but it did at least have a more involved plot!

Nora James flees Portland after her father is shot by a crime boss. She moves to a small town and changes her name and appearance. When the crime boss sends the Shadow, one of his henchmen, after Nora, FBI agent Nate Andersen finds himself in a race with the Shadow to find Nora.

Overall, I enjoyed Vanishing Act. As I said before, I appreciated the element of suspense. I did figure out the Shadow's identity early on--perhaps a by-product of having read so many suspense/mystery books in my life. I think I would have enjoyed the story a bit more had I not been so sure of the assassin's identity. Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and recommend it for a rainy day!

You can visit the author's website at lizjohnsonbooks.com.

I received this book free for review from Liz Johnson and Steeple Hill Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

pricelining: days 3 & 4

We were without internet access at our last hotel, so I wrote this on Friday but didn't have the opportunity to post until tonight.

For what we did on day three, see Blendy’s blog!

This morning, we got up at 9 and readied ourselves to leave. I booked our hotel—$48 for a room at the Extended Stay America in Copley, Ohio. This was our worst deal yet, as regular price is $70. Also, this is our worst hotel yet, but I’ll get to that later.

After filling the car and driving through Krsipy Kreme, we headed off for Butler, Pennsylvania, the location of the nearest Ross store. Val and I visited Ross in Oregon last summer, and I was looking forward to more great clothing deals. Unfortunately … we never found the store! Google Maps let us down :-(. So we continued on our way to Copley (which is near Akron).

As we pulled up to the hotel, I thought, “Uh, oh.” It just looked, well, not very nice. My hesitation continued as we stepped into the lobby and were greeted by the scent of cigarette smoke. We checked in, headed to the car, and lugged our stuff up to the second floor. We entered our room—and realized it hadn’t been cleaned yet! I called the front desk, and the girl asked us to return for a new room. So we lugged all our stuff downstairs and then back up again. In retrospect, I should have checked out the room before bringing everything in. To top it all off, internet access costs $5—so we decided to pass on that for the night. The room itself isn’t so bad—we have lots more space than we had at the Microtel in Erie—but I’m just pretty unimpressed with the whole experience so far.

We had a double bed ... but I enjoyed sitting in the recliner.
The room had a kitchenette ... it would have been perfect for a longer stay.
Tonight, we got together with my college friend, Holly. Our hotel just happened to be literally two minutes from her apartment! We went our for supper at Swensons, a drive-in restaurant. This was—by far—the highlight of my day! You know how at Sonic the car-hops sometimes wear skates? Well, at Swensons, the car-hops RUN. As in, when they see your lights on (which is how you signal you need help), they run towards your car, full steam ahead. It was absolutely hilarious watching them!

Holly drove us by LeBron James' house.
Holly and me. We hadn't seen each other in six years!
Now we’re back at the hotel. I’m trying to steal the wi-fi signal from the Raddison across the street so we can watch some Veronica Mars, but it’s not working very well. We’ll need to leave for the wedding around 10:30—I’m looking forward to sleeping in!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

pricelining: day 2

"Life doesn't always turn out the way you plan." While You Were Sleeping

Today certainly didn't turn out the way I planned. First of all, I didn't get up on time ... a fact that Blendy so kindly recorded on her blog. Then I had a few issues reserving our hotel room. Namely, I didn't want to pay what it was going to cost to stay in Canada ... so we changed our plans and booked a room in Erie, Pennsylvania. (A little different than Canada; I know!) Turns out that while we both wanted to see Niagara Falls and say we'd been through Canada, we were okay with staying in the good old USA. We have our room for two nights, and tomorrow we'll just explore the area. We'll definitely go to New York, as I've never been there before, and it's not so far from Erie. Don't know what we'll do there, but I've never been in New York before, so we can't be this close and not go!

Our trip was quite uneventful--which is good! Five hours and one crazy-expensive Ohio toll road later we arrived in Erie. Tonight's price: $50. Regular price: $89. So this deal isn't quite as good as last night's. Also, our room reminds us of a hospital. It's the Pepto-Bismol pink decor.

Unfortunately, we only have one bed.
My favorite part of the room--a window seat!
We decided to order pizza from Papa John's, and on our way there, we saw a discount movie theater that we might hit tomorrow night. Now we're watching Psych, and then we'll plan our day. I'm really glad we won't have to move tomorrow!
Steph enjoys the Papa John's pizza--we can't get it at home.

"sarah's garden" by kelly long

Sarah King is a reserved Amish girl who loves nothing more than spending time tending her garden. When she begins running her family's produce stand, she is apprehensive about dealing with the Englisch. Then she meets the new veterinarian, Grant Williams. As their friendship grows, Sarah emerges from her shell ... and a forbidden love begins to blossom.

Honestly, I'm torn when I reflect on this book. It is incredibly well written. Long has a way with words, and she drew me into the story. So my complaint comes from the plotline itself. I've read a lot of Amish fiction over the years--both the Beverly Lewis variety, where characters struggle with their faith, are shunned on occasion, and sometimes choose to leave the Amish church, and the more recent variety, which seems to idealize the Amish lifestyle. Out of all those books, this is the first that made me think, "Oh, please don't let that happen!" I won't spoil anything; I'll just say I didn't like how the conflict resolved.

Who should read it? Anyone who enjoys Amish romance should give it a shot ... just because I didn't like it doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.