Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Favorites

These are a few of my favorites read in March.

Here Burns My Candle. Liz Curtis Higgs.
Hearts Awakening. Delia Parr.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, March 29, 2010

Be Still, My Soul

Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose & Provision in Suffering. Edited by Nancy Guthrie. 2010. February 2010. Crossway Books. 176 pages.

We live in a unique culture. Every other society before ours has been more reconciled to the reality that life is full of sorrow. If you read the journals of people who lived before us, it is obvious they understood this, and that they were never surprised by suffering. We are the first culture to be surprised by suffering.

This is such a great book! I absolutely love it and I definitely recommend it! It is a book of 25 readings (classic and contemporary) about suffering and "the problem of pain."

Who is included in this collection? Tim Keller, Philip Yancey, Joni Eareckson Tada, Os Guinness, R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, Wilson Benton Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, Abraham Kuyper, Helen Roseveare, A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, St. Augustine, Charles H. Spurgeon, Jerry Bridges, D.A. Carson, Corrie ten Boom, Sinclair Ferguson, J.I. Packer, Thomas Manton, John Piper, Martin Luther, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Jonathan Edwards. Wow. So many great, great men (and women) included in this one!

What do I love about this one? The readings are short (more often than not) and straightforward. These readings are accessible. They're meant to be read and understood. They're meant to enlighten, yes, but they're meant to be relevant as well. This book can easily be read as a devotional, one or two chapters at a time.

This one had some amazing truths in it.

This one comes from Philip Yancey's "The Gift of Pain."
In seventy years we can develop a host of ideas about how indifferent God appears to be about suffering. But is it reasonable to judge God and his plans for the universe by the swatch of time we spend on earth? Have we missed the perspective of the timelessness of the universe?
Who would complain if God allowed one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort? Yet we bitterly complain about a lifetime that includes suffering when that lifetime is a mere hour of eternity.
In the Christian scheme of things, this world and the time spent here are not all there is. (28, 29)
And this one from Joni Eareckson Tada's "God's Plan A."

God is heaven-bent on inviting me to share in his joy, peace, and power. But there's a catch. God only shares his joy on his terms, and those terms call for us, in some measure, to suffer as his beloved Son did while on earth. (33)

And this from Tozer's "Prepared for Usefulness."

Without doubt we of this generation have become too soft to scale great spiritual heights. Salvation has come to mean deliverance from unpleasant things. Our hymns and sermons create for us a religion of consolations and pleasantness. We overlook the place of the thorns, the cross, and the blood. We ignore the function of the hammer and the file. (89)

I really learned something from each of the essays. I thought they were well chosen. This book could prove to be such a blessing to so many people.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Song of the Day: Dancing With The Dinosaur

Stephen Curtis Chapman's "Dancing With The Dinosaur"
From Heaven in the Real World

Once upon a time not so long ago in a land not so far away
Right and wrong were not quite so hard to know
And black and white were not so gray
Times have changed and now it seems
Conscience has gone the way of the dinosaur
But I believe it's still alive and well today
In the hearts of those who will stand up and say

I'm dancing with the dinosaur
Living my life with conscience and conviction
I don't want to see the truth ignored
So I've gotta keep on dancing
I've gotta keep on dancing with the dinosaur

There's a banner waving saying tolerance will set you free, it's the latest thing
While the consequences it leaves behind are like a ball and chain
But there's a voice in everyone called conscience
That's been around since God created man
And as we learn to listen to its whispering
We'll find the greater freedom when we stand up and sing


Right is right and wrong is wrong just like it has been along
We cannot sit by and see conscience become history
So come on, get up and dance
Dance this dance with me

(Gonna keep on dancing, gonna keep on dancing with the dinosaur
Gonna keep on dancing, gonna keep on dancing with the dinosaur)



(Gonna keep on dancing, gonna keep on dancing with the dinosaur
Gonna keep on dancing, gonna keep on dancing with the dinosaur)

Book Review: Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa

Love Finds You In Homestead, Iowa. Melanie Dobson. 2010. March 2010. Summerside Press. 320 pages.

The morning fog lingered in the alleyways and draped over the iron palings that fortified the row of saloons along Harrison Street.

Another book set in the Amana Colonies. (The other being Somewhere To Belong by Judith Miller.)

Jacob Hirsch, one of our narrators, is a desperate father when we first meet him. His daughter, Cassie, is very sick. It's a miracle that the two were able to make their way out of Chicago in the back of a freight train. The two make an unexpected stop in Iowa. Liesel, our other narrator, appears as an angel (of sorts) to the delirious Cassie. She's a young woman living in one of the Amana villages. Her willingness to help a stranger sets in motion a chain of events that have long-lasting implications. Jacob's daughter is seriously ill--diphtheria--and she shares close quarters with father and daughter during their quarantine. Tending to Cassie like she was her own. But is she becoming too close to this Outsider? What will the future hold for them all?

I liked this one. But I didn't love it. Personally, I found it a bit too dramatic.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday Salon: Week in Review March 21-27

This week I...

read April 1-8 in the Daily Chronological Bible
read Luke 1-8 in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Hosea in the NASB Wide Margin
read Joel in the NASB Wide Margin

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Redesign

So, you might have noticed the blog has gone through a few changes the past week.

Some bloggers never change the design of their blog. And then there are others. Like me. Who can't help wanting a little change now and then. This blog has been pink and brown, yellow and blue, and tan and teal.

Blame Blogger's new Template Designer. And my good old-fashioned indecisiveness. My need to have things just so. (Though my mom assures me that no one cares what colors the links are as long as they are readable.)

I think this will be it. For a while.

While I'm blaming thanking people, I should definitely mention this little site.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: All Things Bright and Beautiful

All Things Bright and Beautiful. Based on Work by Cecil F. Alexander. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. 2010. January 2010. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
You may be familiar with the words of this new picture book. But Ashley Bryan has provided new illustrations to this familiar song. His illustrations are bright, bold, colorful. Very expressive.

I can't promise you that you'll love all the spreads equally, but I think you'll find it an interesting read all the same!

Perhaps this would pair well with This Little Light of Mine illustrated by E.B. Lewis, He's Got The Whole World In His Hands illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and Let It Shine also by Ashley Bryan.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jesus Storybook Bible: He's Here

I reviewed The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones last week. But. I didn't know there were several YouTube clips available highlighting this wonderful, wonderful book!

He's Here (The Christmas Story)

God's Wonderful Surprise (The Easter Story)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone. Jill Marie Landis. 2010. [February 2010] Zondervan. 320 pages.

Eleven-year-old Lovie Lane would never be certain what actually woke her the night she learned her life was to become a living hell.

After losing both parents, Lovie and her younger sister, Megan, meet the harshest of fates. A fate far worse than being sent to an orphanage. Their aunt and uncle, seeing a money-making opportunity, decide to sell the girls into prostitution, sell the girls into a brothel house. Lovie being just eleven, and Megan, even younger than that. After that first night, when Megan was actually sold to the highest bidder, the two sisters have not seen one another.

No doubt about it, Lovie's life was a living hell. But it was a hell she was determined to escape from.

Years later, Lovie, now living as Laura Foster, hopes that her past stays just that her past. She's moved to a small town in Texas. She's hoping that the folks in Glory, Texas, will never hear about her past. Because how can any woman overcome the prejudice, the hate, the shame if the truth were to become known?

No, living as Mrs. Laura Foster, a wealthy widow, is her only way to cling to respectability. She has rules for how to live her life. Rules that keep her safe. Her boardinghouse only accepts families, women, and children. No single men, ever. NO exceptions to the rule. She doesn't want any person to get the wrong idea about her.

Laura doesn't have room for love in her life. So she won't let any gentlemen come calling. Even if they're respectable. Because she knows that no man would ever want her if the truth was known.

Brand McCormick is the preacher in town. And he finds himself falling fast for this beautiful widow woman. Can he find a way to woo Laura? Find a way to win her heart?

Both Brand and Laura have things in their past that they're keeping hidden. Not only from each other, but from everyone in their lives. When these secrets come to light, will anything ever be the same again?

Historical fiction set in Texas in the 1870s.

I found this to be a quick and compelling read. A book about grace and forgiveness and unconditional love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Here Burns My Candle

Here Burns My Candle. Liz Curtis Higgs. 2010. March 2010. WaterBrook Multnomah. 480 pages.

Lady Marjory Kerr heard a frantic tapping at the bedchamber door, then her name, spoken with marked urgency.

Maybe this book isn't for everyone. Maybe you have to have a weakness for all things Scottish. Maybe you have to have a genuine love for historical fiction. But oh, if you're the right kind of reader, this book is oh-so-satisfying!

Set in Scotland in 1745, it follows the Kerr family as it struggles with matters of the heart and mind. Should the Kerr family side with Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart), or remain loyal to King George II (a Hanover).

This one is told mainly through two characters: Elisabeth and Marjory. (Though we get other perspectives occasionally).

Lady Marjory Kerr has two sons and two daughters-in-law that live with her in Edinburgh. Donald, her oldest, and his wife, Elisabeth. And Andrew, her youngest, and his wife, Janet. Both of her sons have joined the army of the side they believe is on the right. Both are willing to die for the cause. But is any cause worth dying for? Lady Marjory would do anything--give anything--to keep her two sons safe, out of harm's way. But what can a mother do when her sons have felt called to go to war, to take up arms? Is there anything anyone could have said to keep them at home?

Elisabeth loves her husband dearly. Her Donald is her everything. But she can't help being disquieted by the rumors she hears about her husband. He claims to love her, but how can she be sure of that love? Especially as his secrets start coming to light?!

Can these three women live peaceably together under one roof when the whole world seems to be turning topsy turvy?

I have read and loved three other Liz Curtis Higgs books: Thorn In My Heart, Fair is the Rose, and Whence Came A Prince. There is a fourth as well called Grace In Thine Eyes. But I haven't read that one yet. So I can't honestly say that I loved it. At least not yet! All are historical fiction set in Scotland. All are amazingly rich and satisfying. All are ones I'd recommend!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: March 14-20

What I read this week:

1 Corinthians NASB Wide Margin
Jonah NASB Wide Margin
Obadiah NASB Wide Margin

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday: YA Recommendations

Today I'd like to talk about YA fiction for Christian teens. The Christian fiction market for YA is still quite small and not varied. It seems heavy on fantasy or girly books. Let's be honest.

But that doesn't mean there's not a wealth of great books published in the general market for Christian teens. Today's challenge is to compile a list of recommended books, Christian or general market for Christians teens.
I think there were several reasons I didn't read YA until I was an adult. One is that I went to a Christian school with a smallish library. Granted, it was growing year by year. The size it was when I was in fifth grade was nothing compared to what it had grown to be when I was a senior. But. It was a school library serving K-12. And I think it relied heavily on donations. There just wasn't a "YA" section. You had books like A Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Jane Eyre, Little Women, alongside (albeit arranged alphabetically by author) Ramona the Pest, Charlotte's Web, Winnie the Pooh, Little House in the Big Woods.

So when I began reading YA, I had a lot to think about! Is this a book I would have wanted to read as a teen? Is this a book I would feel comfortable recommending to a "Christian" teen? Is it a book appropriate for inclusion in a Christian library--be it Christian school library, church library, or home library. Now you should know I'm not for censorship. At all. I think books should be available to the general public. But just because I don't believe in taking books away, doesn't mean that I think every book is appropriate for every setting! Every child, every teen, every reader--even every adult reader--is different! And what is 'right' for one reader, may not be 'right' for all readers.

I'll share what I have so far. But. It's incomplete at best. Because I read hundreds of YA per year. And this is my fourth year blogging, so I have *way too many* books to sort through to get a recommended list.

I think there is a good amount of YA historical fiction that would be considered safe. And since I love, love, love historical fiction. I'm drawn to recommending only historical fiction at times. So Ann Rinaldi and Carolyn Meyer are two that come to mind right away. And Richard Peck.

Other historical fiction to consider:

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller
At The Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant (and its sequel A True and Faithful Narrative)
The Fiddler's Gun by A.S. Peterson
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
The Humming of Numbers by Joni Sensel
The Maggie Valley series by Kerry Madden
The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

For fantasy:

Shannon Hale (all)
Jessica Day George (all)
James A. Owen (all)
Margaret Peterson Haddix (all) (she does fantasy & science fiction & realistic fiction)

Realization: It isn't so much that I have just a few to recommend. I realize that it's more the other way around. There are a few titles I wouldn't recommend it. But almost everything else if given the right context and given an opportunity for discussion would be recommendable.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Ruth: Under the Wings of God

Ruth: Under the Wings of God. John Piper. 2010. February 2010. Crossway Publishers. 96 pages.

Where to begin? I really love John Piper. He's a great preacher and a great writer. Of nonfiction books. But. A great poet--a good poet--he is not. It saddens me to say that. It does. Because I do love, love, love Piper. I've listened to his sermons for years. I've read a handful of his books. And loved them. For the most part. But I didn't love this book. Not even close.

I do like the premise of this one. David, a young boy, is asking his grandfather (Obed) and great-grandfather (Boaz) to tell him stories. Stories about his great-grandmother, Ruth. And it's sweet to think about a young David wanting to hear family stories, making connections--loving connections--with his family.

But because Piper works under the philosophy that poetry has to rhyme no matter what, well, rhythm and the story itself are sacrificed a bit. Poetry doesn't have to rhyme. Free verse can be a good thing, a very good thing. And prose. There is nothing wrong with prose! Sometimes poetry isn't the best way to communicate a story.

Awkward is the best way I can describe this book. Or maybe stilted.

"My daddy lets me watch three sheep
Beside the mill; and if I keep
Them safe, and make them fat, he said
That next year I'd get five instead.
'If you can keep your three in line,
Then you can handle five at nine.'
My daddy's always making rhymes.
But they're not very good -- sometimes."

His grampa laughed. "You're pretty sharp
For being eight. And how's your harp
These days? I'd like to hear you play
Sometime. I heard your daddy say
You've gotten really good. Let's go
Sit beside the sheep, and show
Me what you've learned." So David took

His grampa down beside the brook
And mill, beneath the carob tree,
And cradled, like a lamb, the C-
Shaped kinnor in his lap and played
A ballad Jews had sung and prayed
For centuries. The old man laid
His head back on the tree and swayed,
As if the music made the tree
A ship mast on the rolling sea. (10-11)

It continues on a few pages later,

"Grampa, I'd love it, if you can,
To have you tell me all about
Great-grandma Ruth. Can you stay out
With me and tell me how she came
To live in Bethlehem? Her name
Still makes the people smile and sing
Down by the barley fields. They ring
A bell at harvest time, and all
The grown-ups go down every fall
To watch some actors do a play
About Great-grandma Ruth. But they
Won't let the kids go down. It's got
Some parts that Daddy says are not
For kids. Grampa, I am a youth,
But tell me 'bout Great-grandma Ruth." (14)
It is a fictionalized story, of course. With biblical characters playing their roles. But it does take a few liberties with the story. Like the invention of this annual play-acting of the story of Ruth. Boaz also receives a first wife who died tragically because of the famine--the same famine that took Naomi's family out of the country.

"O barley field! O barley field!
When you were bent with heads,
I feasted on your ample yield
And ate your simple breads.

O barley field! O barley field!
All scorched with desert breath,
You starved the one I would have healed
And stole my love in death.

O barley field! O barley field!
A paradise in truth,
You kept for me a better yield
And brought to me my Ruth." (59)

That 'song' is from Boaz's narrative section. And I thought it actually worked better than the rest of the piece.

This one is meant to be a companion to A Sweet and Bitter Providence. That book was one I just loved!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Reading Thing 2010!

Here are my pool of books! I hope to read ten books this year!

Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa by Melanie Dobson
Heart Of Stone by Jill Marie Landis
As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson
Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson
She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
Be Still My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose & Provision in Suffering. Edited by Nancy Guthrie
Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
Scandolous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson
The Kingdom of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Raised With Christ: How The Resurrection Changes Everything by Adrian Warnock

The ten that I read:

1. Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis
3. Be Still My Soul edited by Nancy Guthrie
4. As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson
5. She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
6. Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson
7. Raised With Christ by Adrian Warnock
9. Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word. By Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach.

11. The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin
12. A Hopeful Heart. Kim Vogel Sawyer.
13. Purity: A Godly Woman's Adornment. Lydia Brownback.

Host: Callapidder Days
Sign Up Post
Review Post (link coming soon)
When: March 20th to June 20th

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: The Jesus Storybook Bible

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Deluxe Edition. Sally Lloyd-Jones. 2009. Zonderkidz. 352 pages.

God wrote, "I love you" -- he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror -- to show us what he is like, to help us to know him, to make our hearts sing.

The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.
And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called "the Bible."

Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

It had me at hello from the very first story or chapter--appropriately titled The Story and The Song--in which readers get introduced to God, to the Bible, to the Gospel.

The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne -- everything -- to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is -- it's true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle -- the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day -- but wait. Our story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning...
I honestly didn't know what to expect from this one. I've seen other Bible story books. I've read other Bible story books. Some I remember from my childhood. Others I've come across as an adult. So what makes this one special? I think what makes this one work--really work--is how Sally Lloyd-Jones has every story whisper His name. Her ability to connect each story with the Big Story, keeps everything in perspective, keeps everything connected and relevant. It also helps that she's a good storyteller! She has a definite way with words! She keeps the stories on a child's level, but yet, the stories are beautifully and compellingly told.

From "God to the Rescue!"

So Moses went to Pharaoh.
"Pharaoh," Moses began, "God says -- "
"God?" said Pharaoh. "Never heard of him."
Moses kept going. "God says, let his people go free."
"Why should I?" Pharaoh said. "Don't want to. WON'T!" So he didn't.
But God gave Pharaoh ten warnings called plagues. (86)

God's people would always remember this great rescue and call it "Passover." But an even Greater Rescue was coming.
Many years later, God was going to do it again. He was going to come down once more to rescue his people. But this time God was going to set them free forever and ever. (91)

From "God's Messenger"

God had a job for Jonah. But Jonah didn't want it.
"Go to Nineveh," God said, "And tell your worst enemies that I love them."
"No!" said Jonah. "Those are bad people doing bad things!"
"Exactly," said God. "They have run far away from me. But I can't stop loving them. I will give them a new start. I will forgive them."
"NO!" said Jonah. "They don't deserve it!" (160)
Many years later, God was going to send another Messenger with the same wonderful message. Like Jonah, he would spend three days in utter darkness.
But this messenger would be God's Own Son. He would be called "The Word" because he himself would be God's Message. God's Message translated into our own language. Everything God wanted to say to the whole world -- in a Person. (169)

I could almost pick out a passage to highlight from each and every story because the book is really just that good.

One of my favorite, favorite stories is "Operation 'No More Tears!'" which draws from Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 50, 53, 55, and 60.

Isaiah has always, always been a favorite book of mine. And to see it so wonderfully, so artistically translated into a story that little ones can understand, well, it does my heart good! The story may be concise, but it's faithful to the spirit of the message.

There are twenty-one stories from the Old Testament. And twenty-three stories from the New Testament.

The illustrations are by Jago. I really liked the illustrations. I wasn't sure about them at first. But as I read the book, I began to like them more and more.

This one is available in two editions. One is the deluxe edition. And the other is the regular (no-bells-or-whistles) edition. What does the deluxe edition offer that makes it worth the price difference? It offers the book as an audio book. Three CDs narrated by David Suchet. You'll have to decide for yourself if the audio book would be a great asset to your family's library. (Personally, I like the audio book. And I would recommend it.) But either book would be a good choice.

(Both the illustrator and the narrator are from England.)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: March 7-13

This week I read...

Esther in the ESV Thinline
Daniel in the ESV Thinline
Habakkuk in the ESV Thinline
Zephaniah in the ESV Thinline
Titus in the ESV Thinline
Philemon in the ESV Thinline

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: A Distant Melody

A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin. 2010. [March 2010] Revell. 432 pages.

One whole delicious week together.

Allie Miller meets Lt. Walter Novak on a train little knowing that her life was about to change forever. Sure, she'd daydreamed about her life changing forever. But did she ever once take those dreams seriously?! No! She didn't. And why not? Because she is Allie Miller. A character with a lot of heart but not much will. (Or perhaps not much sense.) When we first meet Allie she is on her way to a wedding. She'll be hanging out with her best friend from college, and helping her friend prepare for the big day. Of course, she'll be slightly distracted falling in love with the new guy. (Not that she'll be aware of it for three hundred or so more pages. But. Still.)

Walter is in love. He knows it. And he thinks that she's on her way to knowing it as well. The way they are together. Well, it just makes sense that they'd be perfect together. And he is right, by the way, these two are perfect for each other.

But a few things stand in their way. Okay, more than a few things. What is keeping these two apart? The biggest obstacle is Allie herself. And that's no lie. You might think it would be Allie's parents or Allie's boyfriend. (Allie's parents are DETERMINED their daughter will marry Baxter.) Or the fact that there is a war going on. And Walter is stationed in England. And he's flying planes over enemy territory and risking his life with every mission. And yes, those other factors do enter into it. But Allie is Allie's biggest problem.

So what's her problem? That's a good question. I tried to sympathize with her. I tried to understand just where she is coming from. I tried to put myself in her shoes. I tried to put myself in another time and place. But still I'm a bit stumped when it comes to Allie.

But to be honest, Allie is not the only one I had a trouble understanding. Her parents weren't exactly fleshed out characters. But. From what we do see, they're awful, just awful. Because I felt them to be a little flat, a little one dimensional, I had a hard time really believing their actions. Though to be honest, I suppose there are parents that awful in the world. Parents that have so little respect for their children that they try to control and manipulate them even when they are grown. Parents who think nothing of threatening or bullying their children. Though I couldn't understand their devotion to Allie's supposed boyfriend. I couldn't understand why they love, love, love him. And why they can barely like their daughter. I couldn't understand why they'd want to hurt and humiliate their own flesh and blood. It just made little sense to me as a reader. What went on in that home all those years that led to this nonsense?!

Her boyfriend. I think it only takes readers two or three minutes of their time (and that's being generous) to realize that he's not for Allie, not for any woman really. I wouldn't say he's even one dimensional. He's even less present in the novel than that. Yet, just from the tiny bit we see. The bits of dialogue here and there. We know that he is so not right for her. He's unattractive--not physically perhaps, though I honestly can't remember how he's described--but his personality, his soul. He's just repulsive.

And yet. Allie. Poor, poor Allie. She's so very, very lost in her own clueless world that she clings to these Ideas. Ideas of being noble, sacrificial, obedient. Will corresponding with Walt make her shed these foolish ideas, these foolish notions before she's tied down for life to a man that no one (excepting Allie's parents, of course) can respect or love or even like?

A Distant Melody is narrated by Allie and by Walt. As these two acquaintances begin writing letters during World War II, Allie begins to contemplate change, consider making a few decisions here and there for herself.

Walt isn't a perfect hero. That's why I said Allie and Walt were perfect for each other. He's a bit clueless about some things himself. But he's a good deal more aware of his own weaknesses than Allie is of hers. He will at least admit he has a few problems. (Allie, well, she clings to her weaknesses like they're her greatest strengths.) Still, I liked Walt for the most part. At least his being clueless was because of the mixed signals that Allie was sending him. His confusion seemed a bit legitimate. This didn't stop me from becoming extremely angry at him. As a reader, there was one point when I just about lost it.

Did I like A Distant Melody? I liked it well enough to keep reading. Though it took over 250 pages for Allie to have the smallest glimmer of recognition of the obvious, and even a hundred (or so) more pages after that to realize the VERY OBVIOUS. I didn't really care at the time. I was enjoying the journey, for the most part.

The setting. World War II. American Homefront. England. The setting really couldn't be any better. For me. As a reader. And the fact that he was a pilot. Well, I think I was the right reader for this one. The details, the small details, helped distract me. I loved, for example, that Allie talks about seeing the film Holiday Inn. That she talks about how hard it would be to choose between Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. And the music. Oh, the music. It was just right. Maybe not every reader will recognize the songs mentioned, know the songs. But for those that do, well, it helps create the right mood, the right tone.

So I did like this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Michael W. Smith

Michael W. Smith. Another Christian artist I grew up listening to! His music really was the soundtrack of my life there for a while. Do YOU have a favorite Michael W. Smith song? I don't know that I could ever choose just one!

This Is Your Time

A Secret Ambition

Above All

Friends (Live)

Place in the World

Friends (with lyrics)

Old Enough to Know



Go West Young Man

Cross of Gold

Live the Life

Cry for Love

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Praise of the Day: Untitled Hymn

I love, love, love Chris Rice's "Untitled Hymn." It's found on his Run the Earth, Watch the Sky album. I find it to be a beautiful song, an incredible song.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Review: Hearts Awakening

Hearts Awakening. Delia Parr. 2010. [March 2010] Bethany House. 352 pages.

While other women her age were busy preparing a hearty breakfast for their families in snug, warm homes that crowded the city or dotted the outlying farms, Elvira Kilmer was hurrying down an unfamiliar roadway, hugging the woods along the eastern shoreline of Dillon's Island to meet a total stranger.

Ellie is a 'spinster' who is dependent on her cousins. It is Cousin Mark who has arranged for Ellie to keep house for widower, Jackson Smith. He has two children, two young boys Daniel and Ethan. And he sure could use some help around the house, in the kitchen especially. His house has been one big mess since his wife, Rebecca, died. (He's too busy in the orchards to keep up with it all.)

Ellie was expecting to work for Mr. Smith for two weeks. Long enough to get a good reference letter, but that's all. She wasn't looking for anything long term. And marriage was about the last thing on her mind. But when Jackson proposes...despite how he gives her something to think about.

This would be a marriage of convenience, a marriage in name only. He needs help raising his two young boys. And he needs help around the house. And whether he'd admit it or not, he does needs a companion, a friend. But he's not looking for more, he's not looking for love. He's been hurt a few too many times. And besides this spinster is so very plain, so very unattractive, he reckons that he'd never fall in love with her.

She says yes. Not without giving it good thought. And not without being offended first in how he proposes. And even why he proposes. But at the end of the day, she has come to care for those little boys. And they do need a mother. And why couldn't that mother be her? After all, she's always wanted children of her own.

Will this marriage turn into a love match? Or will secrets keep love from blossoming?

I liked this one. At times I even loved it.

Ellie is a woman that I appreciated. She was a lot more patient than I would have been! And she was a bit more forgiving too! Was she too perfect, too good to be true? Well, that's something each reader will have to decide.

Jackson, well, I had mixed thoughts on him. There were places where I could see how Ellie would feel the way she does. He was easy to like in some ways. But in other places, I got really angry. Super angry even. He's definitely a flawed man. A man with some baggage, some issues that need working out. But he had his good qualities too.

I did love the story. I never tire of this premise. Yes, I know it's been done dozens of times. But. It still works for me.

Historical Fiction/Romance. Set in the 1840s in Pennsylvania.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review (February 28 - March 6)

This week I....

finished Psalms in the NASB Bible (130-150)
read Mark in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Colossians in the NASB Bible
read March 28 - 31 in the NIV Daily Chronological Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: The Centurion's Wife

The Centurion's Wife. Davis Bunn. Janette Oke. 2009. Bethany House. 384 pages.

Usually Leah followed the path briskly from the main kitchen to the baths.

Leah is a servant in Pilate's household. She serves his wife, Procula, especially since her mistress has been suffering horribly from headaches and nightmares. But Procula has also given her another task, a greater mission. She is curious--very curious--about the rumors she is hearing. She has heard that Jesus, this man so newly crucified, is not dead but risen. What is she to make of that?! What is Leah to make of that?! Her husband Pilate is also curious, though for much different reasons. He is just one of many who would like to know if more trouble is on the way. What are the Jews plotting? What does Rome need to know about this threat? Who is starting these rumors? Do they need to be stopped?

Pilate has his own man for the job. There is a centurion who has been wanting Leah's hand in marriage. Pilate knows he can use this man to find his answers. He'll allow a betrothal, but in order to take his wife, he'll need to complete his mission for Pilate.

Alban, this centurion, like Leah, doesn't know what to make of these stories about Jesus. Both are in a mission to learn more, to see for themselves what is behind the mystery. What they both discover may just change their lives and their futures.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday: Covers

Amy's question this week is about covers. She wrote a post earlier in the week about covers--how she's not liking Christian covers--and how she feels that bad covers are limiting the appeal, the market. This week's directions are open.
You can take any direction you want with this. You can share what you feel about covers in general and then point out some good examples and bad examples or you can design your own cover...whatever you want to do. The truth is that whether we like it or not, people do judge books by their covers!
I touched on covers myself this week. (Though that was just the very tip of the iceberg.) But I thought I'd write about the subject more here. There is something about the phrase, "The truth is that whether we like it or not, people do judge books by their covers" that bothers me. I don't think Amy meant anything at all by the comment. I think it is an observation, plain and simple. And I think every single reader has probably said that at one time or another. But it still bothers me that it is true and that it's just accepted to be true to the extent that no one is trying to change their ways. It bothers me because the cover has very little to do with the author. The author very often has nothing to do with the cover design or the cover redesign. It is something that they have no control over. It just seems wrong that they would lose readers or potential readers because of a cover. It's sad for them. And it's sad for the people who are missing out on good books.

I'm curious if judging books based on their covers is something you learn, something you pick up as you grow, or if it just comes naturally. Because looking back at all the books I loved growing up--as a child, as a teen--none of them had remarkable covers. In fact, a good percentage didn't have cover art at all. I remember several of the Little House books being library discards. They had a plain red cover or plain green cover. But no art. And Gone With The Wind. The hardcover one I read to pieces where it lost both front and back covers and a few pages here and there? Well it was just turquoise. There were so many books that I read and loved that were either used, tattered, or just not that attractive to begin with. Some were a bit dated looking perhaps. Like the Chronicles of Narnia that I first read as a child. There is nothing in the cover of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, that would say read me, read me. Yet, it became one of my favorite, favorite books. I didn't care at all what the cover looked like. I'd already read the series dozens of times by the time my favorite cover was made.

My philosophy was simple: If it was a book, it had potential. End of story. I still feel that way. I don't know if I'm just odd that way or not. But I still see almost every single book (except perhaps those by Hemingway or Hardy) as having potential. Perhaps I just love books too much to really care about the cover.

As for Christian covers. The first series of "Christian" books that I read were Janette Oke books. Love Comes Softly had a yellow cover. With illustrations. I don't remember particularly loving the cover. But then again I don't particularly remember thinking about the cover at all. I just knew that it was a good book, an 'adult' book, a book with romance, love. A book that made me feel all warm and cozy and happy inside. The book was memorable to me. The characters were ones that stuck with me. I know this book has had its cover redesigned a lot. But I don't have one that I like more.

There are some covers I'm drawn to more than others. Books that I think have appealing covers. I've picked six to share with you below.

I won't lie. There are some covers that I personally don't like. That I don't find all that appealing. (A few I think are just silly looking, a bit on the ridiculous side.) But it wouldn't stop me from digging a little deeper. It wouldn't stop me from reading the back cover. From reading the synopsis. It wouldn't keep me from opening it up to read the first paragraph. Especially if I'd read a good review of it before.

Perhaps it's worth saying that I read library books. And it is very easy to take chances at the library. And I'm also drawn to bargain books at my local Christian bookstore. And what you'd be willing to spend two or three dollars on is completely different from what you'd be willing to spend fifteen on.

Part of me is also curious. Are people using covers as an excuse in general when it comes to avoiding Christian fiction? It seems to me that people are very opinionated about what they think Christian fiction is (whether they've read any Christian fiction or not), about what they see as problems and turn-offs. And for some, the covers can be a turn off. But I think it's the content--or the perceived content, the potential content--that is the bigger issue at hand. I think people avoid Christian fiction because they don't want to read what is inside. I think people--even Christians--approach Christian Fiction like it is "less than". They think perhaps it has to be stereotypical, judgmental, undeveloped or unsophisticated, too predictable, too formulaic, too preachy, too moralistic, too naive, too sugary, or too something. So with those expectations, with those concerns, could a book have the best cover in the world and still be a turn off to a mainstream audience?!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Somewhere to Belong

Somewhere to Belong. Judith Miller. 2010. [March 2010] Bethany House. 368 pages.

Rigid as a barn pole, I stood planted in the parlor doorway with my gaze fixed upon the pink feather-and-plum bedecked hat. Sparkling pins held it atop wavy dark tresses that crimped and coiled. The girl's hair reminded me of the curly leaf lettuce we forced to early growth in our hotbeds each spring. An artificial rose peeked from beneath the curvy brim like a vigilant watchman.

Two young women are struggling to find somewhere to belong in Judith Miller's latest historical novel. Johanna Ilg has grown up in Main Amana, one of seven Amana villages in Iowa, and for the past few years she's dreamed of seeing the outside world. Not to live in forever. She wouldn't want to break her parents' hearts any further. Her older brother, Wilhelm, left for Chicago several years before and settled down there marrying a nice girl, a rich girl. But just to see once before she herself settles down. And her would-be-suitor, Carl, agrees that she should have this opportunity before settling down, before considering marriage.

Johanna finds an unlikely friend in the new girl, Berta Schumacher. This seemingly rich spoiled girl is in for the ultimate shock when her parents surprise her with their plans after the fact. By the way, we're not visiting Main Amana on our way to see relatives. No, we've decided to move here permanently. She'll be expected to take her place--her proper place--in this communal living village. Working in the communal kitchens, no doubt. (Though any work assignment would have come as a shock to her!) Working all day, praying each night. Forced to give up her colorful wardrobe. To dress in plain clothes like all the other women in the village. How much fight does this spirited girl have within her?! Where does she truly belong? And why did her parents decide to move here to begin with? Why the sudden need to leave Chicago?

Somewhere To Belong is narrated by both Berta and Johanna. The setting is Amana Colonies, Iowa. 1877. Life isn't perfect within Main Amana. The people aren't perfect. A few have secrets that are true burdens. It is the very fact that these are flawed individuals that made me connect with the book, the story. I enjoyed this one very much.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Artist Spotlight: Carman

Carman. The music of my childhood and teen years. One of the very first artists I ever saw in concert. (The very, very first was Michael W. Smith). His music videos were some of the first I ever saw. So there are plenty of reasons for me to love him and his music. Sometimes a good dose of Carman can cheer me up like nothing else can! Can excite me, energize me like nothing else can!

There Is A God:

Sunday School Rock:

Our Turn Now


God's Got An Army:

Radically Saved:

Lazarus Come Forth

Get Out of My Life

This Blood

Revival in the Land

God Is Exalted

Great God

My Story

Friday, March 5, 2010

Praise of the Day: How Great Is Our God

I haven't had any official takers for this month's mini challenge. But that's okay. Because I am still enjoying the challenge. Because, you know, it is a challenge for me. It doesn't come easy for me. And it's something I feel I need to work on.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who's Qualified To Judge?

Most of us--if not all of us--judge a book by a cover. But what kinds of other judging do we do? In a bookish context that is!

What does it mean--really mean--to judge a book by its cover? I suppose it means a quick judging of if we want to read the book. Whether or not we want to even consider reading a book. Based on how "appealing" we find the cover. Of course, a cover's appeal is completely subjective. Readers pay attention to their instincts that say, "I want to read that!" or "No! That one's not for me."

(I chose Fireflies in December as an example because, to me, it screams out read me, read me. It also has a great first line. "The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I'd killed a man." )

Some judge by covers. Some judge by titles. Some judge by authors--already being familiar with an author's previous books. A few might admit to judging based on publisher. (But I'd guess that would be a smaller number than the others!) Some judge based on first sentences, or first paragraphs. Some judge based on reading reviews by other readers, other bloggers.

Are you aware of the judging that you do? Do you ever think of looking past first impressions?

Of course, no one has to read anything. I know life is short. There isn't time to read every book out there. I don't think you're a better person if you go ahead and read books with unappealing covers, with ugly covers, just so you can say that you don't judge books by their covers.

But I think that readers who do take a second look, that do give second chances, they get rewarded now and then. It is so fun to be surprised by a book. To be proven wrong! To be shown that there are some really, really wow-worthy books out there. And they may be hiding under covers that underwhelm.

Why does judging by a cover offend me more than judging based on writing?

Well, I think judging by a cover is superficial, shallow. Just because there's a flashy cover doesn't mean that the writing is amazing. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the writing is better than average. It may mean that you pick the book up. Initially. But it's no guarantee that you'll like what you get. In some cases, the cover is the best part of the book.

I think books should be judged for what's inside. The writing style. The characters. The stories. A book may not be for every reader. A book may wow one person and do absolutely nothing for the next.

Not that I think you have to finish every book that you start. If after a chapter or two or three you're not enjoying it, you're not connecting, by all means abandon it! You don't have to stick with a book because you're stubborn! I am a big fan of The Reader's Bill of Rights.

The Reader's Bill of Rights
1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right not to defend your tastes.

—Pennac, Daniel, Better Than Life, Coach House Press, 1996.

So what about genres?!

Outside of Christian fiction--which tends to be a "genre" of its own for some reason--I try to be fairly open minded. I read science fiction. I read fantasy. I read historical fiction. I read realistic fiction. I read romance. I read classics. I read just about anything and everything except westerns. (I don't seek out mysteries or thrillers or horror novels either.)

So should Christian fiction be a genre on its own? Or is that unfair and a bit silly? After all, there are genres within Christian fiction. Historicals. Historical Romance. Mysteries. Thrillers. Contemporary literature. Chick lit. Contemporary Romances. Fantasies. (I've even seen a few Christian vampire novels.) Christian Fiction doesn't equal any one of those categories or genres. Christian Fiction isn't any one type of book. And folks who try to tell you that Christian Fiction is all the same, well, they're generalizing.

I love, love, love historical fiction, historical romance. For me, I find this genre to be satisfying. There are some readers who really, really don't understand the appeal. Who can't understand why there are readers out there who would prefer to "escape" into this genre. They find it boring; they find it predictable; they find it uninspiring; they find it tedious. Everything about the book that I loved, that I enjoyed, is just one more thing that they didn't love, didn't enjoy. All the pros become cons.

But even loving--or tending to love--a genre doesn't mean that you'll love each and every book within that genre! I love historical fiction doesn't equal I will love each and every historical that I come across.

Saying you love christian fiction doesn't equal you loving each and every book within that genre.

The elephant in the room when it comes to Christian fiction is preachiness. Whether you call it evangelizing, preaching, or being didactic. (Some might even say it's being hit over the head with a message. That becomes a MESSAGE!

BUT here's a little secret. Not every Christian fiction book is like that. Not every Christian book is didactic. Not every Christian fiction book sacrifices story and/or characters for a message or agenda. Some Christian books are good. Really, really good. Some have amazingly well-drawn characters. Characters that are fleshed out. Human. Flawed. Some stories are more original than others. I'll admit that some are predictable. But no more predictable than mainstream fiction. You take ANY genre being published, and you'll find original, unique premises standing side by side with predictable, predictably comfortable, stories. Some Christian Fiction books are compelling written. Page-turners even. Some are quite complex. Some are literary.

Here's something else you may not have considered. Christian Fiction isn't the only place you'll find messages and "agendas". It has a bad reputation, I'll admit, but that's because people assume a lot. It's because they expect to find it. If you look hard enough, you can find messages (some more subtle than others) in most books.

Is there a difference between judging and generalizing? And is either justifiable?

How many Christian Fiction books do you need to have read in order to make generalized statements about it? I'm serious. In order to say that it's horrible, it's awful, it's predictable, it's didactic, it's too evangelical, it's too escapist, it's too stereotypical, it's unsophisticated, it's boring, it's too simplistic, it's too something. How many books do you need to have read--or attempted to read--before you can be qualified to stand in judgment against a whole genre? I think picking on Christian Fiction is more acceptable or perhaps less questioned. I think that even supporters of Christian Fiction have bought into the idea that Christian Fiction is less than.

Sometimes all it takes is an awareness. A realization that your opinions are just that--opinions. In other words, realizing that "I didn't like this book" doesn't translate into "This book is a bad book."

If you don't want to read it, that's all well and good. I mean that. I don't care if you read Christian fiction or not. Read it, don't read it. It's all the same to me. I do want people to read something. But I want people to read what they want, what they take pleasure in, what they enjoy.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Secret Providence of God

The Secret Providence of God by John Calvin. Edited by Paul Helm. 2010. Crossway Publishers. 128 pages.

Your doctrine certainly has many supporters, John Calvin, a man who nearly all men renown but who likewise has many adversaries. I truly desire there to be one doctrine, just as there is one truth, and for all to agree in the same way.

The Secret Providence of God by John Calvin is a very strange, very interesting little book. The book was written in 1558. And it is Calvin's third response to Sebastian Castellio. Both men seem to have delighted in arguing with one another in print. In engaging in very heated theological arguments.

Calvin's book was in direct response to Castellio's latest accusations. So Calvin begins his book by including his enemy's accusations. Readers first read the opposition. (This is "Calumniator's Preface to Certain Articles." It's printed on gray paper which makes it easy to differentiate.) Calvin then responds. And boy, does he ever respond! Point by point by point. The argument is on the doctrine of God's providence. (Which I suppose could also fall into God's Sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination.)

The book is interesting in that while it sets forth Calvin's thought on the biblical doctrine of predestination and God's sovereignty, God's providence, it at the same time was attacking a person who disagreed with Calvin theologically. Of course, readers see this other person provoking it. The insults were well-matched. Still, it's strange, at least to modern eyes to see this lively debate be so personal.

Because this one is so lively, it was anything but boring.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible