Monday, December 11, 2017

Candlelight Processional

One of my absolute favorite things at Walt Disney World is the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT which runs throughout the Christmas season. A celebrity narrator reads the Christmas story from the Bible and the Walt Disney World orchestra plays Christmas carols as an enormous visiting choir sings. It's totally amazing. Since we went to Disney in September this year, we didn't get to see it, but we have videos from past trips, and there's an album on Spotify. I highly recommend going to the Candlelight Processional. It's well worth all the time waiting in line. Today, I'm going to give you a little taste of what this amazing show is like.*

2014 Narrator: Jonathan Groff

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus."

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For a unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to n worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Merry Christmas!

I'll be taking the rest of the year off from blogging. See you in January!

*Scripture taken from Luke 1 and 2, Matthew 2, and Isaiah 9 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Top Ten Books of 2017

This list was so hard to put together! Last year, I read a bunch of mediocre books and it was difficult to come up with enough books worthy of a top ten list. This year, I paid much closer attention to the quality of the books I read and ended up with the opposite problem. There are so many great books that I can't fit onto my top ten list! Only very few mediocre ones that were easy to rule out. You can see my full list on Goodreads. But I think I got it down to my ten favorites. Maybe. Here goes.

10. The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee

I hadn't heard of Watchman Nee until my pastor bought copies of this book for all the families at church earlier this year. It took me awhile to get through it because there's so much to learn from it (and lack of reading time 😜), but it really isn't a book that you can speed read anyway. You won't get enough out of it if you do. And there's so much to learn about our old man being crucified, about Christ living in us. It was definitely worth the read.

9. The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

My sisters had been after me to read this one for a long time. It was on my list of books I intended to read, but just hadn't gotten around to yet, until I planned myself some school. I decided to read it for literature, and boy am I glad I did! It's amazing! The Robe tells the story of the Roman soldier (Marcellus) who crucified Jesus and won His Robe. Marcellus's life is changed forever when he puts on Jesus' Robe, and he cannot rest until he learns more of Jesus. It's a very well written book, and it was neat to see the events of the Gospel and Acts through new eyes. Click on the cover photo to see my full review.
8. The Jefferson Lies by David Barton

This is another one of those books that I'd intended to read for a long time. It fit a category in a summer reading challenge I did, so I finally got around to reading it. It was pretty amazing. It was sad to me when my family visited Monticello years ago how many lies about him the tour guides spread at his own house. Well, now I have the arguments to rebut them. Most of what people believe these days about Jefferson is based on lies and misinformation. Barton uses well footnoted original sources to debunk seven popular Jefferson lies and does a fabulous job at it. I love history—particularly this era of American history—so naturally it was right up my alley, but I think every American needs to read it regardless of how much they like or dislike history. Click on the cover photo to see my full review.

7. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket 

And another "I'd been interested in this for awhile, but hadn't gotten to it yet." I remember as a kid seeing excerpts and such things from these stories on Lunchables (probably around the time the movie came out), and I was intrigued by it, but I never did actually ask my mom if I could read them. Fast forward to adulthood, library work, audio books, and sewing projects, and I am now a fan. What's not to love in a story about three orphans in miserable circumstances with an evil relative trying to steal their inheritance? I would have loved these stories as a kid—they're seriously the perfect story for orphan-obsessed me (blame the musical Annie)—but I'm glad I can enjoy them now when there are at least some episodes of the Netflix series available. I'm on book seven, and still loving it. And the Netflix series is pretty good so far too. Never going to be able to watch the Soarin' pre-flight safety video the same way again.
6. October by J. Grace Pennington

I can't fangirl about this one. I can't get all excited and bounce around telling you how good it is. It's not that kind of book. But I will tell you that you need to read it. October is a story about a girl named October who moves to a small town and becomes a good friend of the protagonist, Emily. October seems vibrant and full of life, but yet some things just don't add up. October is hiding struggles that few people know about, struggles that may have tragic results. It's a very deep, raw, emotional book. Hard to read because of the subject matter, but very necessary. And naturally well-written because Grace wrote it. Click on the cover photo to see my full review. 5. The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall

I'd seen the Penderwicks books around Goodreads, and had it in the back of my mind to try them someday, but didn't actually request them from the library. Then one day, my sister and I went on a little outing to Chick-fil-A, the main library, and Goodwill for books (because that's just how we operate), and as we were walking around the children's section (yes, I'm an adult and she's a teen, and we still love the children's section), I picked up The Penderwicks and decided to go ahead and check it out. And consequently fell in love. These stories are everything I ever loved about Eleanor Estes and Elizabeth Enright and so many other books of the early to mid 19th century. Only problem is, they're new, so the last book isn't out yet. It's a very good, sweet, innocent family story, and I can't wait to see how it ends. Click on the cover photo to see my full review.
4. Out of Time series by Nadine Brandes

This is another series I saw all over Goodreads, and just had to read. I got A Time to Die last Christmas, and the rest is history. Everyone in the world is matched with a Clock that tells them how long—down to the second—they have left to live, and Parvin Blackwater's Clock is down to the last year. Only she's been illegally sharing a Clock with her twin brother, and no one actually knows whose it is. As a Last Year wish, Parvin crosses the Wall out of the USE, the Wall through which they send the unregistered Radicals, who are never seen again. Parvin has to go through a lot and she has a lot that she finds she is called to do. The plot thickens book after book, the cast of amazing characters grows, and you'll find that you won't think of life the same way again. Such an amazing series, and Nadine is pretty awesome too. Click on the cover photo to see my full review. Firmament: Gestern by J. Grace Pennington

Firmament! A new book from my favorite sci-fi series came out this year. Of course it's going to be on my top ten list. The radialloy in Andi's knee was damaged in the last book, so now technically she's dying. The Surveyor is back on Earth, the Doctor is trying to find a way to save Andi, and Andi and August learn they have an absolutely adorable little sister who has been kidnapped by a scientist who is reportedly experimenting on her. It's an amazing new installment with a lot of focus on Andi and August's sibling relationship, which is something that I very much love. It was SO GOOD. And now Grace is working on the book where they get to see Elasson again! Eep! I can hardly wait! Click on the cover photo to see my full review.

2. Replication by Jill Williamson

This book is simply fabulous, beyond amazing, you HAVE to read it. When I came up with an idea for a world-hopping/dystopian story with a society populated by clones, Kendra told me I needed to read Replication. I tried to get it as an ILL, but no library would send it, so I kinda gave up. But then I saw a super fabulous deal on Amazon and I had enough gift card left that I actually got it for free. Then I read it at Disney World (when I say at Disney World, I literally mean in the park—it makes the lines bearable, and yes, I'm aware I'm a dork) and on the way home, and got a MASSIVE book hangover. Martyr, a clone, has been told the air outside is toxic, and his purpose is to save humanity by expiring. Abby Goyer has moved to Alaska and knows there's something fishy about her dad's new job, especially considering his past questionable work as a scientist. There's all sorts of interesting scientific experimentation with highly questionable ethics, something that is well explored from the proper perspective, and just exactly what I love. The characters are fabulous, the writing is amazing, the plot is terrific, and I'm so glad no one sent that ILL.

1. Exiles by Jaye L. Knight

Plenty of Jayrin, three amazing storylines, shocking plot twists, death, weddings, a crete city, near death experiences, new revelations, best Ilyon book yet. If you haven't read the Ilyon Chronicles, I seriously don't know what you're doing with your life. And you certainly haven't been listening to me. 😉 Exiles is SO GOOD. It's not what you'd expect. There were definitely plot twists that shocked me. Davira shows her inner Morgana, Daniel has his own storyline which I can't share because of spoilers, Jace and Kyrin go through so much, Trask and Anne have a...well, I can't call it awesome because many bad things happen, but it's a very, very interesting storyline. It's such an emotional roller coaster. You must read Ilyon Chronicles. Then you'll understand why it keeps making #1. Click on the cover photo to see my full review.

Here's to another year of awesome books!

What are your favorite books of 2017? What books are you planning to read in 2018?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson


Rating: PG (smoking)

Recommended for: All Ages 

"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"

Meet the Herdmans--they lie, cheat, and love to give clonks on the head. They are, without a doubt, the worst kids in the history of the world. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus--it's all news to them. So they're convinced that the Wise Men should bring pizza and that the Angel of the Lord is straight out of a comic book. Everyone worries that this year's pageant will be horrible (just like the Herdmans!), but they are sure to make it the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

This is kind of a classic, one of those books we read for school when we were little. I remember reading it, reading about how horrible the Herdmans are...and being bothered that it doesn't actually mention the main character's name (it's told in first person).

The Herdmans are simply horrible. They're basically the worst kids that ever lived, at least, from the perspective of proper churchgoing folk with functional families. They are brats, they're always causing problems, and despite the fact that they don't really learn much in school, they're never held back because no teacher wants to have two Herdmans in her class. They never went to church until they were told there were refreshments (which there weren't). But when they heard about the annual Christmas pageant, they wanted to take part.

Instead of the typical, everyday, ordinary Christmas pageant, they had Herdmans in all the main roles. The other kids were afraid of the Herdmans, everyone thought it would be terrible, and it looked like they would be right.

But the Herdmans were actually interested in the Christmas story. They had never heard it before. It was entirely new. And because of them, people started to see the Christmas story in a different light. They started to get it.

When something is incredibly familiar to you, it sort of loses its meaning. It becomes routine. You don't really think about it much anymore. And then sometimes something happens to make it fresh and new. And you get it in a way you never have before. It finally means something.

That's what The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about. 

Originally posted on Shire Reviews 


The Indie Christian Books Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale is still going on! Get my books in paperback for 25% off regular prices through Thursday!

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Holiday Season is Here!

It's time for Thanksgiving, The Last Jedi release day, Christmas, New Year's...I'm just so excited for the holidays! I've been feeling ready for Christmas (minus the fact I haven't bought any Christmas presents yet) for months. I'm totally with Thanksgiving on the Black Friday restraining order thing (watch this if you're not sure what I'm talking about), but I'm going to go ahead and tell you about Black Friday sales because it's the perfect time to get great discounts on Christmas presents for the book lovers in your life.

The annual Indie Christian Books Black Friday sale is enormous this year. (Site will go live on Nov. 24.) It will be running from Friday, Nov. 24 through Thursday, Nov. 30. We've got nearly 50 authors signed up, and some really fabulous deals going on. For my paperback prices, Twisted Dreams will be $5.99 and all the rest will be $7.50. For ebooks, Twisted Dreams will be free for the first 5 days of the sale and all the rest will be $0.99 the whole time. You'll also be able to get great deals from Jaye L. Knight, J. Grace Pennington, Kendra E. Ardnek, Leah E. Good, and many, many more. Plus, we have a really awesome giveaway going on. You won't want to miss it!

Now, because this season isn't about shopping, and I really hate the worst of the bad isms, I want to share with you an article about the history of Thanksgiving I found on Wallbuilders when looking for Thanksgiving information to share with my little girls' Bible study. Enjoy!

Celebrating Thanksgiving in America
The tradition introduced by European Americans of Thanksgiving as a time to focus on God and His blessings dates back well over four centuries in America. For example, such thanksgivings occurred in 1541 at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas with Coronado and 1,500 of his men; in 1564 at St. Augustine, Florida with French Huguenot (Protestant) colonists; in 1598 at El Paso, Texas with Juan de Oñate and his expedition; in 1607 at Cape Henry, Virginia with the landing of the Jamestown settlers; in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia; (and many other such celebrations). But it is primarily from the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 that we derive the current tradition of Thanksgiving Day.

The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620, and for two months braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea. Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they held a prayer service and then hastily began building shelters; however, unprepared for such a harsh New England winter, nearly half of them died before spring. Emerging from that grueling winter, the Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset approached them and greeted them in their own language, explaining to them that he had learned English from fishermen and traders. A week later, Samoset returned with a friend named Squanto, who lived with the Pilgrims and accepted their Christian faith. Squanto taught the Pilgrims much about how to live in the New World, and he and Samoset helped forge a long-lasting peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford described Squanto as “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . and never left [us] till he died.”

That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow (later to become the Governor) affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn”; “by the goodness of God, we are…far from want.” The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends – America’s first Thanksgiving Festival. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days of feasting (which included shellfish, lobsters, turkey, corn bread, berries, deer, and other foods), of play (the young Pilgrim and Wampanoag men engaged in races, wrestling matches, and athletic events), and of prayer. This celebration and its accompanying activities were the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.

However, while the Pilgrims enjoyed times of prosperity for which they thanked God, they also suffered extreme hardships. In fact, in 1623 they experienced an extended and prolonged drought. Knowing that without a change in the weather there would be no harvest and the winter would be filled with death and starvation, Governor Bradford called the Pilgrims to a time of prayer and fasting to seek God’s direct intervention. Significantly, shortly after that time of prayer – and to the great amazement of the Indian who witnessed the scene – clouds appeared in the sky and a gentle and steady rain began to fall. As Governor Bradford explained:
It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith, which did so apparently revive and quicken ye decayed corn and other fruits as was wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing.(1,300 more words)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Writing a Novel or a Message?

Some of my all time favorite books are the ones with a strong message. The Chronicles of Narnia. A Wrinkle in Time. The Giver. Ilyon Chronicles. The message is what sets them apart from so many other books. What makes them stick with me. What makes them actually mean something.

Then there are all the cheesy Christian movies that seem to exist only to shove a message in your face. You know what I'm talking about. Those movies with the terrible acting and the bad filmography and the horrendous writing that doesn't actually tell a story, it just preaches at you for an hour and a half. The movies you feel obligated to like, but secretly can't stand.

Why are The Chronicles of Narnia so well beloved by Christians and non-Christians alike, but many Christians can't even bear to watch these movies, though their message may be just as relevant? What brings the point of The Giver home? Why does Espionage culminate in a powerful message of mercy and forgiveness but the Cassie story is cheesy and dry and boring through much of it?

The answer has to do with story.

I don't know how soon C. S. Lewis figured out the message to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I do know he didn't set out to write a sermon on redemption for children. That book started out with a mental image of a faun carrying an umbrella and packages in a snowy wood. He started writing a story based on that image. True, he didn't know where he was going with the story until, while dreaming a lot about lions, "Aslan came bounding in," but Aslan and his redemption of Edmund didn't come first. The story did. A story inseparable from its theme, absolutely, but it's only so powerful because it's such a good story. The Christian parallels are there for anyone to see if they wish, if their eyes are open to it, but if not, it's still a jolly good story. 

When I set out to write the Cassie story, my premise was this: A girl who grew up in an outer space dystopian society ends up in another galaxy where she becomes a Christian. Then she returns home and has to stand up for her faith. Guess what happened. I wrote a book of Christian apologetics that pretended to be a novel.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christian apologetics. I'm a big fan of Ken Ham's work, and I also very much enjoy C. S. Lewis's nonfiction and Josh McDowell's books. I'm currently loving The New Answers Book which Ken Ham put together and I purchased at the Creation Museum. But the truth is, if I want to read apologetics, I'll pick up a book on apologetics. If I pick up a novel, I want a story. I'm not the type of reader who just wants fluffy entertainment; I want the book to mean something. However, I still want it to be a good story first. I don't want a book of apologetics pretending to be a novel. I want a deep, meaningful story that really is a jolly good story.

I'm not sad that I first wrote the Cassie story as thinly veiled apologetics because I needed that draft to meet some central characters, but there's no way I'm publishing that draft because it's not good story. When I set out to actually write the third draft, I'm going to focus on the story I have to tell. Cassie will still probably become a Christian in the first book of the trilogy. But it will be a story. And when it's a good story, the message will actually be meaningful and impact readers instead of annoying them.

I have an idea for a dystopian novel exploring the evils of taking the current gender identity debate to its extreme conclusion. If I manage to write it, I can't focus on the message. If I do, it will end up being a thesis on the evils of gender fluidity. And while that is the point I want to make—just how messed up that would make people and society—if I focus on the message, I might as well just write that thesis and be done with it. But I plan to focus on the story. If I put the focus on the story, the message will be far more powerful than that thesis could ever be.

Don't write fluff. It might be feel-good in the moment, but it has no lasting significance. But don't go to the opposite extreme and write novels of thinly veiled apologetics. Find the balance in the middle of writing a good story that actually means something.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Robe Review

A Roman soldier, Marcellus, wins Christ's robe as a gambling prize. He then sets forth on a quest to find the truth about the Nazarene's robe-a quest that reaches to the very roots and heart of Christianity and is set against the vividly limned background of ancient Rome. Here is a timeless story of adventure, faith, and romance, a tale of spiritual longing and ultimate redemption.


Read. This. Book.

Whatever happened to the Roman soldier who won Christ's Robe? Lloyd C. Douglas imagines what impact such an event could have had on that soldier's life, how he couldn't just pass off the event as an ordinary execution, how he was determined to learn more about Jesus, how he struggled to accept the things he heard, but eventually couldn't turn back. How he gambled for Christ's Robe and won new life.

Marcellus Gallio is the son of a senator and a tribune sent to Minoa to command the fort. He and his men go to Jerusalem during the Passover and are ordered to crucify Jesus. The job is distasteful to Marcellus because he knows Jesus is innocent, but he has no choice. He wins Jesus' Robe, but touching it causes him to go crazy. And when his mind is restored, he is filled with an insatiable hunger to know more of Jesus.

The story is basically Marcellus encountering events from the end of the Gospels and Acts, which was really cool. It puts it all in a different perspective, which makes familiar events new and powerful again. You get to hear about Jesus' miracles through the ears of a Roman who disbelieves in the supernatural, but yet can't discount it. And you see what it really costs to be a Christian.

Everyone I know who had read this book said it was really good, so I had high expectations going in. I was not disappointed. I like it even better than Ben-Hur, which I love (The book, neither movie did it justice. And honestly, having a middle aged white guy play a late teens/early twenties Jewish kid just doesn't work. Sorry, Charlton Heston). While The Robe isn't a perfect book and doesn't get everything right, I have to say it is more Biblically/historically accurate than Ben-Hur. It doesn't just go with the clichés of European tradition. The Robe felt very authentic—it didn't feel like a caricature of Roman times the way the movie version did (which also didn't even come close to doing the story justice). It treats the whole story of Jesus with respect, and chronicles a very realistic journey from Roman skeptic to Christian. My only complaint about the faith aspect is that it wasn't as explicit as I would have liked about forgiveness of sins. Marcellus's focus when telling people about Jesus seemed to have more to do with kindness toward others, which is great and all, but it really should be more about repentance and forgiveness.

The characters were all very well developed. They felt like real people. Something the movie got totally wrong was Marcellus's relationship with his slave Demetrius. Demetrius is a really awesome guy, not a sullen slave, and he and Marcellus are quite devoted to one another. Time and again Demetrius turned down his freedom because Marcellus still needed him. They were close friends. And the more they learned about Jesus, the less their relationship was master/slave and the more it was just best friends. I liked Diana, and while I wish she'd come around sooner, I can't say I was displeased with her actions at the end. She was just as heroic as Marcellus.

The ending is sad, but triumphant. If you believe in Jesus, you will not die, but have everlasting life.

Read The Robe. You won't regret it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bloggers Needed...Free Books Available

Black Friday book sales are happening again! Indie Christian Books is having another epic sale this year, and if you are a blogger, we need YOUR help to spread the word. There are several different options for your post, even the opportunity to interview an author or review a book, and afterwards, you get FIVE free ebooks of your choice. It's going to be fantastic! Fill out the Google form to help spread the word. Thanks bunches!