Saturday

To set the record straight

Here on this book review blog there is an exchange with Andi. (By the way, she has an excellent blog on divorce and healing). She has a very worthy point and I wanted to bring it out in the open.

Andi said...


Gina,
I find it interesting when you review a book that you have such negative things to say about the writing yet I don't see your book(s) being published and being toured. Maybe you need to tender your reviews with a little more grace. Just a thought.

~Andi

I take this criticism to heart. Andi is correct to chide me on the negative things I have to say about some Christian writings. However I am just one voice.


Gina Burgess said...

Just to set the record straight, Andi, I haven't really tried to get anything published. I have not had that 100th rejection, only 2.

However, I owned just less than 1,500 books and read twice as many more. I don't know any author as prolific a writer as I am a reader. I do know what works and what doesn't work. I do know what is good writing and what is poor editing. I have earned my Master's in Communication (Professional Writing and Education).

I realize I am very opinionated when it comes to Christian fiction and that is because a Christian author should strive harder, longer and deeper than any secular writer to get the message out in such a way that unbelievers would want to read said author's work because of the literary value of the work. If not, the readers are searching for something they do not have... and is rarely being offered these days.

Publishers crank out 10,000 titles a year, and each book is counted a success if it sells 15,000 copies! That barely pays for the printing costs with hardly anything for the author. My standards are not too high, they are too low, and that means the editors and publishers are pouring out crappy products.

I want something not only CLEAN to read but something that is really GOOD to read. I know there is a great deal of talent out there that hasn't had the chance to be published, and it is truly irksome that someone who is published several times over gets lazy in their work because they "have so much on their plate" they need to have someone help them write the book as in the case of Ms Walker. It is especially irksome when Ms Walker has written some excellent stories. I feel cheated, frankly.

Actually, to set the record even staighter, I have had more than 300 articles published on the internet (LiveAsIf.org and LivingBetter50.com), more than 100 features published in newspapers, and two articles picked up by Associated Press for national distribution. One article picked up by the National Social Workers Association and published on their website, and my blog was cited in a doctorate paper on Women's Issues. So, while I have not had a book published, my writings have had considerable local, national, and global recognition. Just setting the record straight.

(I need to comment that as of March 2014 I have two books published. I welcome any and all to review either one or both of them. I do require that the reviewer has a blog or Goodreads account to post the review, and will commit to posting the review on Amazon.com or other online retailer. Thanks for reading this blog!)

Jaspar's War by Cym Lowell

The premise of this novel is so very good. It reminds me a little bit of the movie Enough. However, there is no follow through.

The plot is quite involved and the character I like the most is Alice, the Dingo dog. She is quite the most super dog ever conjured by an author's mind. The other characters in the story are a bit jumbled, and not really developed well. That act off the charts rather than believable. Jaspar's husband is murdered in an airplane crash, and she is grieving. She realizes that for her to find out why, she has to disappear so she turns to her dear friend, a priest, for help. He introduces her to a man who trains her in the best special ops training.

Jaspar loves her husband, but she has special feelings for her trainer, the owner of Alice. This is why I really do not like to read books written by men who have a woman as the main character AND writing in first person. So many male authors imprint male characteristics on to their women characters. Here, Lowell has Jaspar have the feelings, but she is still grieving for her husband. It is such an oxymoron. Most women do not/would not act this way. Men might, but not women. I had to quit reading it because the motivations of each character became so fuzzy, and the storyline/plot bogged down to the point of stalling.

I give it one star of five stars.

Sunday

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

MY REVIEW

Siri Mitchell  consistently and constantly provides a wonderful reading experience. There were times in this novel when I could not stop laughing, and other times when I wanted to just shake Ellis Eton.

The story is first person through the eyes of an ADHD young woman during Prohibition. An in depth look at how the Roarin' Twenties really was. Very, very true to life as well as very, very true to Mitchell form. Mitchell takes a time in history and eschews it in historical truth.

Extremely well developed characters who lived during a time when the all time question of whether or not morality can be legislated was answered... except it was originally answered during the Children of Israel's walk through the wilderness... and during the time of the Judges... and the whole of the Old and New Testaments.


ABOUT THE BOOK

A girl with the best of intentions.
A heart set on Hollywood.
An empty pocketbook.
That's all it takes for Ellis Eton to find herself working as a telephone operator for a look-alike friend. For Ellis, this job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get her a start in the movies. She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.

With an endearing heroine as her lead, Siri Mitchell takes readers on a madcap tale of love and discovering one's true desires!

Here and Now by Ann Brashares

MY REVIEW
First, this is not a Christian fiction book. However, it is a YA read, and quite possibly the best I've read in a very long time. Wr
itten perfectly in first person, you get inside the head of a seventeen year old girl who is not only struggling to find herself, but is struggling with rules and regulations from the future that, if violated, will kill her.

Fascinating story premise and execution. Original in depiction of 88 years into the future. The storyline is very well woven suspense and mystery. Believable characters, and Preanna is such a teenagery person, but wise beyond her years. But, it still works.

This is well worth the money and earns 5 of 5 stars.


ABOUT THE BOOK
An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.

Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig

MY REVIEW

I have always enjoyed novels by Ludwig. She is a fine author.
I am sorry I missed the first two in this series. While reading this novel, I feel like I had missed so much without reading them. Although this is a finely written novel in and of itself, I would have benefited greatly by some sore of synopsis of the first two.

I immediately fell for Captain Morgan. He is the kind of rugged character that finds a soft spot in my heart. I felt for Tillie McGrath and her misguided guilt. So many people think they have to do something or act better in order to live up to God.

Here is another author that is able to take real life Christian issues and illustration these struggles in a lifelike way in fiction. Just excellent.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Dreaming of a better life, Tillie McGrath leaves Ireland behind and, with her beloved fiance by her side, sets sail for America. But when illness robs her of the man she holds dear, she's left alone with only a handful of tattered memories. While forging on proves difficult, Tillie soon finds some new friends at her New York boardinghouse, and begins pursuing a new dream--to open a home for orphaned children.

Despite two years passing, Captain Keondric Morgan has never forgotten the lass who left his ship so heartbroken. When a crewman's deathbed confession reveals her fiance's demise was the result of murder, the captain knows he must try to contact her. But his attention draws the notice of others as well--dangerous men who believe Tillie has in her possession something that could expose their crimes. And to their way of thinking, the best way to prevent such an outcome is to seize the evidence and then hand Tillie the same fate as her naïve fiance.

Thursday

Rapture and Revelation by Lynn Baber

I've known Lynn for several years now through my LinkedIn group called Christian Authors, Editors, Publishers, & Bloggers. She has added a great deal of wisdom to the
group through her comments, therefore I was not surprised at the wisdom I found in this book by her.

I like this so much we are going to use it in our Bible study group when we finish studying Domestic Diva: The Proverbs 31 Woman. 

Baber asks some truly tough questions of Christians today. Do you choose God or not choose God? Where does your fear come from? Is it because you doubt God can handle your problems, or do you doubt God will solve your problems the way you want then solved? She also asks where are your priorities?


Perhaps, the wisest part of this book is how she points out the greatest danger to Christians today is the false teachings based on false prophesy. False interpretation of actual scripture where the interpretation disregards the whole of scripture, and focuses upon one or two proof texts. Christians must draw closer to God, and filter everything through scripture just as the Bereans did.

Congratulations to Lynn as she highlights some truths that are crucial for Christians of today.

Five of five stars

ABOUT THE BOOK

Welcome to the End Time. Most scholars believe the next event prophesied in Scripture is the Rapture of the Church. Natural disasters, armed conflicts, economic and social upheavals, and civil disobedience have become the norm rather than the exception. 

Christian author Lynn Baber presents a practical and easy-to-read message challenging readers to examine the source of their beliefs at this critical moment in human history. The greatest danger to Christians today is false teaching based upon false prophecy. Familiar words like God, Jesus, Bible, and Christian don't mean what they used to. "Rapture and Revelation" provides a scriptural path permitting you to separate what is true from what is not. There is an absolute need for messages that offer simple truths about the times we live in. 

You will discover the link between science and God in these pages as well as meeting the "jesus" introduced in such popular books as "The Shack" and "The DaVinci Code." What does the Bible say about relationship with God? How is it possible to live in the world but not be of the world? Will all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord be raptured? These questions, and many more, are answered by the author based on the Word of God. Are you absolutely sure you're ready for the call of Jesus Christ? You may be surprised to discover that what you hoped was true is really a lie.

Tuesday

Sex and Violence in the Bible by Joseph W. Smith III

MY REVIEW

Part of the name of this book is A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book.
Hats off to Smith for providing an excellent encyclopedia of where the sexy and violent verses are in the Bible. Smith writes with the similar regard for body parts and gore as do medical journals. The text is very matter of fact, but not dry. Smith displays his humor quite well.

This is not something that your little brother would sneak a look at like the pictures in National Geographic. It is very well thought out, and I do believe it is a crucial look at some of the ways the Bible talks about human sexuality, the sex organs, and all the euphemisms and idioms that the Bible employs to get the point across. Some of the verses Smith calls "vague", I find explicit enough for me. I seriously doubt that I will ever read Song of Songs the same way again.

Smith treats violence the same way. Matter of fact explanations without delving too deeply into the gore, but examining the different words, and the different connotations for the situations.

One of the main reasons he has written this book is because he knows the Bible is inerrant, and others books that delve into these subjects are by authors who believe the Bible is full of errors.

I think there is a much more valuable lesson to be learned by Christian authors who have this insatiable desire to be so edgy their prose seems to slice tender Christians. There are only a moderately few places where the Bible is explicit (Ezekiel comes to mind). Christian authors should take their cue from how God breathed His word. Idioms and euphemisms aside, God had no desire for shock or graphic violence and sex. Being creative in how we describe things is part and parcel of a truly excellent writer.

God really does know best.

Monday

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

MY REVIEW

First this is not Christian fiction, or even touted as Christian Fiction. It is from Random House the Children's/Teen/YA division.

This is a truly sophisticated story, written in the similar vein of To Kill A Mockingbird. Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying it has the same sophistication of, or the same literary quality of To Kill A Mockingbird, but, by golly, it is close. Think TKAM about 80 years later.

Written from the view point of a 15 year old girl raised in the closed society of the Middle East, suddenly transported to America. You can see the loose values and morals of American teens quite clearly when viewed from the pinnacle of the Muslim faith... for girls at least. You can also see quite clearly how America breaks down Middle East societal walls.

You don't have a clear direction for plot, but Laila's (main character) growth is distinctive. The character development of Laila's mother is very subtle, done with a light hand. Quite effective. The brother remain a two dimensional character without much development, but perhaps that is the way older sisters are about their brothers who are about 10 years younger.

Quite a good read, although it drags somewhat in the middle. It has some bad language, and I stopped reading when I ran across God's name taken in vein. If that sound prudish to you, well, that,s the way I am. I'm allergic to that. There was absolutely no need to use that verbiage at all. For me it was a story flow dam that I couldn't get past.

Without the bad language, I would have given it 5 of 5 stars. But, I have to take that into consideration so it gets 2 of 5 stars.



Tuesday

Lost Love of World War II by Bruce Judisch, Sharon Bernash Smith

MY REVIEW
First, I highly recommend you read this in the paper book form and not on Kindle. There are some things that you might want to go back and reread or to check, but it is difficult to do with an eReader.

Other than that, I found this a most enjoyable read, quite interesting, and intriguing.  This is probably more appropriate for younger readers than readers who grew up during the Depression or even whose parents grew up in the Depression. The beginning story is written from the view point of Madeline McAllister, a rather passionate journalism college student. Then we see her story expand as she marries and lands a job writing a column. (Personal experience: writing columns are a privilege for seasoned journalists and not for green just out of college kids -- but aside from that, the story works.)

ABOUT THE BOOK 

A spirited American journalist and a reminiscing professor are on journeys to see the past rectified. Follow the two-part story of Madeline McAllister as she records the life of an elderly German woman that leads her to her own grandmother’s tragic story of concentration camps and lost children. Then meet Professor Fritz Miller, who can’t forget the day when he was twelve and he discovered a Jewish baby along the railroad tracks. Will destinies change as the past is finally revealed?

Heroes, Rogues, and the Rest by J. Ellsworth Kalas

MY REVIEW

I love this book! Kalas takes a hard look at some people in the Bible that have made a huge impact on my life because I love studying the Bible. I found it intriguing, and page turning. His style of writing is quite engaging and ingenious (who would have thought to write a character analysis of God Himself?

Great  book for any biblical scholar, or Bible study teacher, Sunday school teacher, or someone who would like to learn more about the biblical people's motives and behaviors.


ABOUT THE BOOK

The Bible is filled with heroes and rogues, from the first followers of Christ to the dissenters and critics set on uprooting the Christian faith. Some are well known. Others are not. But all have a place in the eternal story of the Bible. What can we learn about these characters? And what can we learn from them?
In 12 chapters, popular author J. Ellsworth Kalas offers a close examination of biblical characters from both the Old and New Testaments. From Adam and Eve to Elijah, from Martha and several Marys to Jesus Christ himself, each of these people have defining characteristics that together create the Biblical narrative. Their stories display strength, courage, and perseverance—characteristics that shaped the lives of the early believers and continue to influence Christians today. As readers reacquaint themselves with each character, they will rediscover the excitement and relevance of the Bible and find new ways to apply biblical teaching to specific circumstances in their lives.

Monday

Ya Know What I'm Say'n by Kris & Keith Bridgman

This book is a must read for anyone interested in ministry of any kind. It is the story of how two people were used by God to comfort so many in Bowling Green, KY.

I don't say that because I wrote the foreword. It is such a high honor to be asked to write a foreword to a book, and frankly, there are no words to express how great an honor it was for me to be asked to write the foreword to this book by Kris and Keith Bridgman. I just love promoting God's work, and this is a true account of God at work.

The Foreword

Within these pages you will find a startling world of raw compassion. Raw because the compassion is unadorned with worries of what other people may think; the actions illustrated here are ingenuous, very much as Jesus would do. I have heard compassion defined as empathy and love at work, and that describes Kriss and Keith Bridgman’s hearts as well as their two ministries. But, the book is larger than just two hearts working hard to reflect the brilliant light of agape in a dark world.

These are life stories that are certainly heart breaking, there are tormented souls, and there are those who choose a different god than the Lord God Almighty to worship. Some of these people know Jesus, and want to let the mind of Christ take charge, but cannot break free of Satan’s sticky web. They wear shackles and chains, imprisoned by their past. What unfolds is the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the homeless lifestyle.

What Kris has lovingly penned is a result of a real life fast in the vein of Isaiah 58:
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (ESV)

While Kris and Keith do not bring the homeless to live in their home for reasons that will become obvious as you read this book, they have inspired numerous people to bring help and hope to the homeless of Bowling Green. They pray, they bring food, they lift the yoke of bleakness and despair, they pry open cold hearts by extending the warm fires of God’s love to these homeless people. There is a mighty fast pleasing to God ongoing in this fair city.

A harsh lesson is illustrated in this book as well. Often times we try so hard to live the Christian life in our own strength. We work so hard at eliminating bad habits relying upon our own resources. This is so far from God provided for us, and how He designed for us to live doing the work He planned long before the foundation of the world. Charles Stanley once said God had to teach him he could not live Christ-like twenty-four seven under his own steam. Only when he could trust God enough to do it for him would he ever come close to pleasing God in the way he lived.

Just like an amputee seems to feel the missing arm, or has an itch on a missing leg, so Satan makes a person feel chains and shackles that have been removed by God Himself. They are phantom shackles, but they feel so heavy and so real. When people live oppressed, weary and heavy laden, they must be taught how to live free. This book is a strong testimony for the critical need for discipling God’s children.

You will find no better illustration of this truth than right here in this study. No doubt you will tsk at the old Greg, cheer for the new Greg, weep for Dallas, clap for Theresa, root for Tony, gasp, laugh, and pray for them all.
This is a beautiful portrait of compassionate outreach to hurting people. Read and see the physical illustration of the spiritual promises God lays out in Isaiah 58.

Isaiah 58:8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

What could be better than living like that?

Interview with Kris


What have you learned from this experience?

Homelessness is one of those aspects of life that most people simply ignore. More often than not, our attitudes toward those caught within its grasp is one of indifference or complacency believing that they are homeless because they want to be, and there is not much any one person can do to make a difference. When I began to explore the world of the homeless I discovered people with broken hearts, lost hopes, and destroyed dreams. I saw firsthand how addiction to alcohol and/or drugs can diminish a person’s self-worth to the point they simply give up and no longer try to change. I’ve also witnessed incredible strength and perseverance.

Almost all of them are searching for value in their lives, all too often finding it inside a bottle. When I began talking with the people and listening to their stories, an entirely new perspective materialized. These are people with a history who desperately cling to one important good element from their past lives. That is what gives them a semblance of purpose to show to those around them that they do value, so they can find within themselves a small spark of importance.

Many of them claim to know God. Most of them only know him superficially as some kind Helper to get through hard times. Rarely is there any kind of meaningful,  spiritual connection. Almost all of them are searching for the very thing that only God in their lives can provide, they just fail to understand how to reconcile who they are now with what they can become with Christ in their lives. The Blanket Ministry opens doors to share with them the value that only Christ can offer to them.

It is amazing at how many tears are shed during some of the conversations. Emotions locked inside search for release, and when a simple prayer is offered for them, many times even the most hardened will let go of pent up emotional needs and begin to cry. I’ve seen long term alcoholic homeless men encapsulated with a thick crust of distrust have tears pool across their cheeks, and walk away after we have shared with them. The homeless are not devoid of good emotions, they just need some kind of trigger to allow it to surface, and listening with a caring heart combined with a gentle hug or touch will often allow those good emotions to be released. It is during those times that hearts can be changed.

How have you been changed by this experience?
No longer can I look at a homeless person without first understanding that a back story, a history exists for that person. I’ve discovered that regardless of their current situation, there was always something from their past that contributed to them being there. Those histories reveal a great deal about who they are, and why they have allowed themselves to be negatively influenced by their current circumstances. It has helped me understand how to answer the question, Who is my Neighbor? When we begin to understand that our neighbor is everyone, especially those who are hurting, we can then identify how to direct our own lives.

No one person can solve the problem of homelessness and all of its causes. But, it is not so much a matter of solving the problem as it is understanding that the problem exists then being willing to doing something to help. Churches are very good at teaching their congregations all the Ought To scenarios, but they are less effective at teaching and encouraging them How to. I may not be able to travel to other countries to share the love of Christ, but I can sit on a park bench and share Him with those I meet. As worn down and forgotten as the homeless are, they are still precious souls to God. When we stop looking at those we encounter through the tinted glasses of preconceived notions, and begin to see them through the filter of Christ, how can we not be changed?

Where to now?
I’ve learned that when God is in control, He will lead you where He needs you. At this point I’m not sure where He is leading me other than to stay where I am.  The Blanket Ministry has grown from handing out blankets to those we encounter, into a homeless outreach ministry at the bridge that offers not only basic necessities such as blankets, socks, coats, personal hygiene supplies, but also hot meals once a week and food bags. It offers an opportunity to befriend those who may not otherwise have that opportunity. We spend time speaking to and praying for those we meet, and offer encouragement and direction about finding other resources for assistance.

For now I will continue with the Blanket Ministry and Homeless Outreach Ministry until God decides otherwise. We are experiencing amazing stories from the bridge, and I am in the beginning stages of using that as a theme for a follow up book. We are developing trust and friendships with not just the homeless, but many who are simply lonely and have few resources on which to survive. We are establishing bonds, and we are sharing Christ’s love with those we meet. For now, I am convinced this is what God wants me to do.


Saturday

Traces of Mercy by Michael Landon, Jr. and Cindy Kelley

MY REVIEW

The story is gripping. I was into it by the end of the first page. However...

Sticklers for Civil War era history won't be satisfied, because there isn't much history in it. It also revolves around a young woman who has lost her memory. Great premise.

She remembers how to speak very proper English, but she has not clue what fork to use at a fancy dinner. She is comfortable in homespun clothes, but almost as comfortable in fancy clothes. You get numerous clues to how she was raised, but there are also numerous contradictions to that raising. Quite confusing, but still compelling.

Then you read about her falling in love with a man... with few real reasons why she fell in love with him. He is in love because she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. The character is written to be superficial and that part of the story works very well.

I also like how various characters are developed and they act and react to situations in tune with how they are developed. This is very good, and fairly rare these days, too. But...

This woman called Mercy by the nuns she lives with is a very stupid woman. I hate stupid women. She is developed as a person who is intelligent, full of humor, loves horses and has a way with them that surpasses any other handler, and she is person savvy. She understands what motivates people, why they act in certain ways, and seems to accurately predict reactions of other characters in the book. Then she does something so incredibly stupid that I was sorry I read to the very end (for that is where this thing happens).

This is the first in a series. At the end of this book she still has no memory of where she came from or why she had the uniform of a Confederate sergeant on when she was found quite senseless. But, she's headed off to find her roots at the end of the book. Good luck with that, little Mercy. The South is huge. It is torn up with reformation, carpet baggers, and scallywags. She had no clue where to start looking, but she's determined to do it by riding through a Union state with bounty hunters on her trail.

So beware if you purchase this book. In fact, don't even read the last chapter because it makes no sense with a Union captain deserting his post to try to find a stupid female. The authors should have stopped the book before the last chapter. I'm thinking I won't read the next one. I have no patience for lack of historical research, no patience for lack of adherence to the most simple laws and rules of the land and organizations, and no patience for orchestrated tension designed to make the reader want to buy the next book, but instead makes me want to run the other way.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars. Good writing, but bad plotting at the end.

ABOUT THE BOOK
At the war’s end, a young woman suffers an accident that leaves her unconscious and alone. Waking with amnesia, she takes the name Mercy and wants more than anything to find out the truth of her past. But then a handsome stranger arrives, who may hold the key to everything she has forgotten. What he knows could devastate her future, and even end her life. Written by two proven storytellers, Traces of Mercy is perfect for anyone who loves historical fiction, prairie-based tales, or just a good romance.
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