Monday, February 22, 2010

TOUR: "Double Trouble" by Susan May Warren

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Double Trouble

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)

***Three cheers for Mavis Sanders of Tyndale House Publishers for getting the FIRST group the chapter needed for the tour!***


Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she's also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. Her larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women's events and retreats speaker, she's a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer's workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you! She is also the founder of, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice. Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!)

A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at her website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414313136
ISBN-13: 978-1414313139


PJ Sugar had been born to sneak up on people. She clearly possessed the instincts of a panther, with the ability to find her prey and slink up to them in the shadows, pouncing only when they least suspected.

Suspected adulterer Rudy Bagwell didn’t have a prayer of escaping.

“I’m telling you, Jeremy, we’re going to nail him this time.” She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to keep her voice to a hoarse whisper into the cell phone—or even to slink down in the bucket seat of her VW Bug. It wasn’t like Rudy or his cohort in crime, Geri Fitz, would hear her.

PJ glanced at the digital clock on the dash. It glared 2:14 a.m., a resounding gavel bang to Rudy’s guilt. After all, who would be sneaking around after midnight?

Without, er, a good reason. Like a stakeout.

“I followed him to the Windy Oaks Motel off Highway 12,” PJ continued. She glanced at the soot-dark picture window next to the peeling door of the ancient one-story motel. A brass number 8, slanted at a corrupt angle, glared against the parking lot lights as if spotlighting the sin behind the closed doors.

If she were picking a location to have a tryst with her old high school sweetheart, she might have aimed higher than a graying yellow motel edged with weeds, a broken swing set, a muddy sandbox, and a Dumpster stuffed with a ripped prison-striped mattress. Oh, the romance.

Just sitting in the greasy parking lot made her itch, as if she might be the one engaging in the skulduggery.

Now that she was a PI in training, she got to use words like that. She had even highlighted this one in the Basics of Private Investigation manual Jeremy had assigned her to read as part of her apprenticeship. She had read the “Stakeout” chapter three times. And, if she did say so herself, had the “Tailing Your Suspect” techniques down to a science.

Nope, Rudy wasn’t getting away with cheating on his wife. Not with PJ Sugar on the job.

“Are you sure it’s him?” Jeremy spoke through the gravel in his voice, obviously dredged from a deep sleep.

She heard a faint siren on the other end of the line and did the math. “Are you sleeping at the office again?”

“I worked late. Are you sure it’s Rudy?”

“Of course it’s Rudy. He’s exactly the same dirtbag he was in high school—pockmarked face, a permanent scowl. He was even wearing his leather jacket, which seems suspicious given that it’s August and about seventy degrees out . . .”

“PJ . . .”

She heard him sigh, could imagine Jeremy running his wide hand over his face, through the dark grizzle of his late-night shadow and over his curly, thinning hair. “I’m not sure that I’m up to your PI prowess tonight. Have I ever told you that you’re hard to handle?”

“Every day. Now, get out of bed and bring your camera equipment. Oh, Cynthie is going to be thrilled! I promised her we were going to take down her cheatin’ husband.”

And Cynthie wasn’t the only one to whom she’d promised results. She’d also made a plethora of private promises to herself. A brand-new job, a brand-new life . . . this time she wasn’t going to quit or take the fastest route out of town. She was getting this done, no matter what the cost.

“See, this is your problem, PJ. You make promises you can’t keep. Two weeks, and Rudy hasn’t been seen doing anything more notorious than ordering extra whip on his macchiato. I’m thinking Cynthie is dreaming his affair. And speaking of dreaming, that’s what I should be doing. And you too. Get home. Go to bed.”

“I’m on the case, Jeremy. A great PI follows her instincts, and I know Rudy’s hooked back up with Geri. You should have seen those two in high school—in the halls, wrapped in each other’s arms, making out by the lockers—”

“I don’t want to hear this.”

“I’m just saying, they were an item, and sparks like that never die.”

Silence throbbed on the other end of the phone.

PJ closed her eyes.

“Really.” The word from Jeremy came out small, without much emotion, but PJ felt it like a jab to her heart, even put a hand to her chest.

In some cases, she wanted to add. But not always. Or maybe, yes, always. She wasn’t sure, not with her return to her hometown of Kellogg, Minnesota, right into the bull’s-eye of her high school heartthrob, Daniel “Boone” Buckam, bad boy–turned–detective, who had decided their old flames might be worth stirring up.

PJ had spent too many years roaming the country with his name still simmering in her heart to ignore the fire there.

But Jeremy Kane, PI, had given her a job, even though so far, two months into her gig, Jeremy still hadn’t let her run with her instincts, hadn’t let her handle her own cases. She knew she could be his right-hand gal if he’d just give her a chance.

So she couldn’t find the right reply for him now, as she sat in the darkness of her Bug, alone, knowing she’d been driven out of her bed and from a sound night’s sleep by the stirring desire to prove herself. And maybe something else . . . something she didn’t especially want to talk about. At least not with Jeremy, her boss.

Boss. She needed to write that word on her hand or something. Jeremy was her boss.

“We got ’em, Jeremy. And if we can get pictures, then we’ll have done our job. So get over here.”

“PJ, sometimes . . .” But she heard silence on the other end before she had a chance to tell him that she would surely appreciate some Cheetos and a Diet Coke. Investigative work made a person hungry.

Thirty minutes later Jeremy tapped on her window, looking bedraggled and annoyed.

But because he could read her mind, he held in his hand two cold sodas.

“Scoot over,” he snarled as he climbed in beside her, handing her a soda. His scowl only enhanced his hard-edged former Navy SEAL persona, all dark eyes; wide, ropy-muscled shoulders; trim waist; and long legs. He wore a black T-shirt, a pair of dark jeans, and black Converse shoes that made him melt into the night.

In fact, he sort of matched her, something he made note of as his gaze slid over her. “Is this Sneaky PJ? Black from head to toe? Where are your Superman pants?”

“Hey, a girl has to dress the part. You taught me that.”

Only, in her black leggings and oversize black sweatshirt, she looked more sloppy than dangerous. Apparently only Jeremy could pull that off. She’d first discovered the black ops side of Jeremy Kane the night he’d cajoled her into sneaking into the Kellogg Country Club. She’d nearly been caught when she froze in the bright lights of near discovery.

On the spot, Jeremy, the person she’d believed to be a pizza delivery guy, had morphed into GI Joe, scooping her into his arms and hiding her behind boxes of golf shirts, gripping his flashlight like a lethal weapon.

The memory still sent a forbidden thrill through her, one she didn’t know how to interpret.

And she still, on occasion, called him Pizza Man.

Jeremy didn’t smile, just opened his own soda with a hush, took a swig, and wiped his mouth with his hand. “So, any changes?”

“Rudy hasn’t ordered out for pizza, if that’s what you mean. Did you bring the camera?”

He shrugged a strap off his shoulder and dumped a bag onto her lap, then levered his seat back and closed his eyes. “I’ve created a monster.”

PJ opened the bag and began fitting the long-range digital camera together.

Three hours later, she nudged Jeremy awake. She’d quietly sung through the score of The Phantom of the Opera as well as her complete knowledge of the Beatles and ABBA repertoires, then played “I’m going to the beach and I’m bringing . . .” from A to Z twice and tried to read the chapter titled “How to Find Missing Persons” with the neon blue light attached to her key chain.

She’d even rummaged through her canvas purse that Jeremy referred to as “the abyss,” found a bottle of pink polish, and refreshed her pedicure.

Still, a gal could sit in silence for only so long.

“Smile, this is for posterity.” PJ held the digital camera out as far as her arm would reach, leaned her head in toward his, and depressed the button.

Light flashed like a bullet, shooting her vision with dots against the gray pallor of morning.

“What are you doing?” Jeremy whipped out his arm and snatched the camera from her hand. “Are you trying to get us made?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure they’re glued to the window as we speak.”

He scrolled through the previous shots. “What is this—pictures of your toes?”

“I have cute toes. And I was bored. Delete them if you want.”

Outside, dew glistened on the car hood. She’d rolled up her window, wishing she’d brought along a jacket when she tiptoed out of her sister’s house in the wee hours of the morning, and now shivered. She clamped her hand over a yawn. “I hope they’re not late sleepers.”

“I can’t believe he hasn’t snuck out back to Cynthie yet.” Jeremy popped his seat up and reached for his now-warm soda. PJ said nothing when he noted it was nearly gone.

“Is that what the cheaters usually do—sneak out for their trysts and then back to their wives before dawn?”

“Sometimes. Depends. The ones who work downtown usually disappear at lunchtime.”

“Is PI work always so . . . slimy? I feel a little dirty, like I need a shower or something.”

“I have news for you, PJ. You do need a shower.”

“Seriously, don’t we get to solve a real crime? like a murder or something?”

In the receding shadows, Jeremy looked less menacing, although she’d once seen him shoot a man. “Be thankful for the boring ones. They don’t hurt.”

She didn’t respond. But she had thought that being a PI—or rather a PI’s assistant—might be more, well, fun. Instead, she’d spent two tedious months parked behind a desk, filing reports, answering Jeremy’s calls. Only recently had he invited her to keep him company on his stakeouts.

She longed for high action. Undercover ops and maybe even some karate. In fact . . . “Maybe I should sign up for one of Sergei’s tae kwon do classes. I think it would help.”

“What—in understanding Korean? or maybe Russian so you can help Connie with the in-laws?”

“Very funny. No, in taking down criminals.”

Jeremy ran a finger and thumb against his eyes. Sighed. “Why don’t I send you on a mission?”

“A mission? I’d love to—”

“Get us some donuts.” He glanced in the rearview mirror. “Good Mornin’ Donuts’ light just went on.”

“Is that all I am to you—a delivery girl?”

The minute the words left her mouth, PJ knew she was asking for trouble. Jeremy wore the inklings of a very devilish smile. “Oh, don’t get me started.”

Perhaps Boone wasn’t the only one trying to kindle a flame.

Jeremy held her gaze and shook his head. “Maybe stakeouts aren’t such a great idea.”

“I’ll get the donuts.”

Since she’d parked next to a wall deep in the shadows of the Chinese takeout place, she had to wait for Jeremy to climb out of the Bug before she piled over the driver’s seat. He held open the door for her and she scrambled out without looking at him.

“I’ll take a bismark.”

“What is that—the battleship of all donuts?” She laughed at her own joke.

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “A donut covered in chocolate and filled with custard.” He shook his head as he climbed back into the Bug and closed the door.

Sounded like a long john to her. If they were going to work together, they’d need to nail down their donut terminology.

The cool air raised gooseflesh on her skin as she jogged across the parking lot toward the donut shop. The sun, just a sparkle of hope on the horizon, edged into the metal gray sky, and she smelled summer in the tang of grass freshened by the morning dew. Her Converse slapped against the concrete as she hustled to the doors.

The reception area inside remained dark in the early morning shadows. Lifeless. Void of donuts. She cupped her hand over her eyes and peered through the glass, her stomach clenching in dismay. “Hello in there!”

No one. She knocked on the glass door and then spied someone inside wearing a white apron, moving around in the baking area.

“Hello! We need donuts!”

From the back, a body appeared—a teenager with dyed black hair, a lip ring, and darty black eyes, his apron strings wrapped twice around his noodle-thin body (the boy needed to consume his own product). PJ banged on the window, and he jumped as if she might be wielding a rocket launcher.

Good grief, she just wanted a donut. “Are you open?”

The boy drifted toward the front of the store almost surreptitiously, as if he might be letting in the Mongol horde through the gates of the castle.

He unlocked the door, cracking it just wide enough for his lips to fit through. “We’re not open yet.”

PJ wrapped her arms around herself and tried to appear as waiflike as possible. “Oh, please, please, I’m starved.”

He eyed her warily.

“I spent the night in my car.” She added a little shiver. Looked pitiful. Smiled.

He might have believed her—and now her less-than-dangerous attire might have actually worked in her favor—because he opened the door. “Quick. In the back.”

PJ slunk in, the ever-present danger of a raid hovering over the moment. But never let it be said that when Jeremy sent her on a mission, she returned empty-handed.

She scampered into the back room, where she discovered trays of glistening amber donut holes, freshly glazed. The entire room smelled of baking bread, sugar glaze, and the heady indulgence of chocolate. “I’ll take a dozen holes and a bismark—” she glanced at his name tag—“Phillip.” She held out a ten-dollar bill, intimating that he keep the change.

After all, that’s what PIs did . . . paid for information. Or donuts.

Whatever it took to complete the mission.

Phillip boxed up the holes and the bismark, took the ten, and honest Abe that he was, headed to the front to make change. He stopped short at the threshold to the front parlor. “It’s my boss,” he whispered. He turned and, for a guy already sorta pasty, went even whiter. “Hurry, please . . . go out the back.”

She’d never been kicked out of a bakery before. But to save her new hero . . . she turned and pushed on the metal door, letting it swish shut behind her.

PJ was standing in the back alley next to a Dumpster, a beat-up red Honda, and a pile of old, broken pallets, holding the donut box and giving serious contemplation to digging in right there, when she spied him—Rudy Bagwell, sneaking out a back window of the Windy Oaks Motel.

Oh, she was good at this job.

From this angle she watched Rudy hit the ground and skirt along the back of the motel unit, on the way to freedom.

Sneaky. But not too sneaky for her, the Panther.

PJ hiked the box under her arm and crossed the road, hoping Jeremy saw her angle toward her quarry. Even if he couldn’t spot Rudy from his angle, a guy with a eye out for his donuts should know to wake up and grab his camera.

Rudy had stopped at the edge of the motel, leaning away from the wind to light a cigarette.

She slowed her pace and strolled up to him as if she’d just been out early for a donut run. “Hey there.”

He glanced at her, and for a second she wondered if he would recognize her—after all, she did have one vivid recollection of a wild high school beach party when he’d passed out and she and Boone had buried him to his waist in sand.

He grunted at her and blew out a long stream of smoke.

“Beautiful morning.”

He grunted again, rolling the cigarette between two fingers. He didn’t look like a man who’d spent the night in the arms of his beloved high school sweetheart. In fact, he had a rather ugly welt on his chin, and also, if she looked closely—although she didn’t make it obvious—a splatter of blood down his white shirt, maybe from a bloody nose. Or his lip—it looked a little puffy.

She took a step back, glancing toward Jeremy. Movement in the VW parked in the shadows across the lot was too difficult to discern from here. But Rudy would have to cross in front of the motel to retrieve his Camaro. Jeremy could get the shot then.

So why had Rudy come this way—around the back, away from his wheels?

“Is there something you want, babe?” Rudy cocked his head at her. “Don’t I know you?”

She shook her head. “No, I—”

His eyes widened. “PJ Sugar.” He said it slowly, with a hint of a snarl—maybe he did remember the beach party—and pushed himself away from the building. “I’d heard you were back in town. Cynthie said she saw your picture in the paper. You solved Hoffman’s murder . . .” His gaze went from her to the parking lot.

“Want a donut?” She shoved the box toward him.

Rudy turned back to her, his smile now gone. “What are you doing here?”

“Getting donuts.” Only it came out more like a question. Oops, she’d have to work on her lying.

He took a step toward her . . . and that’s when she saw it. Right above the waist of his jeans, small and black, hidden by the leather jacket that, despite the chill in the air, still didn’t belong in an August wardrobe.

A gun. As if it had claws, it tore at her gaze and PJ couldn’t wrench it away.

A gun.

Blood on his shirt. A bloodied lip. A crime of passion? She added up the facts as quickly as it took Rudy to move another step toward her and snake out his hand to grab her.

But he wasn’t the only one with a weapon. She shoved her hand into the box just as Rudy’s grip closed around her elbow.

With everything inside her, PJ slammed the bismark into his face. Pudding squished between her fingers as she crammed it into his eyes. Then, clutching the box to her chest, she yanked her arm from his grasp and ran.


Footsteps slapping the pavement behind her made her dig into the box again. Her hand closed around a donut hole, and she pitched it behind her as she raced across the parking lot. “Jeremy!”

Another hole, followed by an expletive from behind her. Thankfully, Jeremy had finally come alive, because he emerged from the Bug, staring at her as if she’d lost her mind.

“He’s got a gun! He killed her! He killed Geri!”

Another naughty word from Rudy and the footsteps changed direction. She turned to see Rudy flinging himself toward his Camaro. He Bo Duke’d across the hood and climbed in the window, turning the engine over even as PJ threw another hole at him.

It landed with a splotch of sugary goo on his windshield.

He gunned the hot rod across the parking lot.

PJ dropped the box, her breath wheezing out of her even as she watched him escape.

Or maybe not. As Rudy mowed over a parked Harley and smacked against a Ford Fiesta, she heard another car gunning to roadblock him.

She turned too quickly, wishing she had more time to brace herself.



She nearly flung her body in front of Jeremy as he screeched past her in the VW, a laser streak of lime green on course to intersect with its target.

“Jeremy, stop!”

But Jeremy didn’t know that, one, she hadn’t paid her insurance for over a month, and two, the brakes on the Bug were a little on the spongy side, because he didn’t even slow as he T-boned Rudy’s Camaro and pinned it against the metal pole hosting the Windy Oaks sign.

The sound of metal ripping and the dying whine of her beloved Bug buckled PJ’s knees. She went down hard in the gravel, gulping a breath, watching Jeremy leap from the car, dive over her hood, and rip the gun out of Rudy’s grip before he could even clear his head.

Pinned, he screamed at the top of his lungs.

PJ slumped in the gravel of the lot. Not the Bug. Her Bug. The one remaining possession big enough to hide inside. She reached into the box and pulled out her remaining donut hole, considering it for a long moment as her mind faintly registered the wailing police sirens in the distance. Or maybe the noise came from her, from the keening inside.

Jeremy sauntered toward her, a smug smile in his evil eyes, shaking his head. “I don’t suppose there’s a bismark in that mess, is there?”

PJ leaned back, cupped her hand over her eyes, and hurled the donut hole at his arrogant smile.

***NOTE: I wasn't on the list to receive this book, so I don't have a review. But, I still hope to get myself a copy, eventually, and will add a review once I've had a chance to do so, and have read the book!. ***

Thursday, February 18, 2010

TOUR: "Abigail (Wives of King David, #2)" by Jill Eileen Smith

What a great story! From the very first page, I was unable to put the book down — finished it in 2 days!

There were several themes in this book, some of them being obedience to God, trust, contentment, and love. The romance between David and Abigail was very sweet and tender, and made you long for a love like that for yourself.

Throughout the book was the overwhelming –yet, subtle– reminder that God comes to the rescue of all those who trust in Him, as well as the reminder that God will guide us if we will just stop to ask Him for direction and then trust that He will answer.

I highly recommend this book! I can’t wait for the third installment in the series — I’ve now got it on my TBR list!

Rated: A+

This book is courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TOUR: So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (February 2, 2010)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Over the past decade, Beth Moore has become an internationally known and respected Bible teacher, teaching over 250,000 women annually in Living Proof Live Conferences and regularly sharing God’s Word with an interdenominational community at her church in Houston; teaching the Bible on the nationally syndicated Life Today with James Robison; and through her best-selling books and Living Proof radio program.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (February 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414334729
ISBN-13: 978-1414334721


Mad Enough to Change

I’m seriously ticked. And I need to do something about it. Some people eat when they’re about to rupture with emotion. Others throw up. Or jog. Or go to bed. Some have a holy fit. Others stuff it and try to forget it. I can do all those things in sequential order, but I still don’t find relief.

When my soul is inflating until my skin feels like a balloon about to pop, I write. Never longhand, if I can help it. The more emotion I feel, the more I appreciate banging on the keys of a computer. I type by faith and not by sight. My keyboard can attest to the fact that I am a passionate person with an obsession for words: most of the vowels are worn off. The word ticked really should have more vowels. Maybe what I am is peeved. That’s a good one. How about irrationally irritated to oblivion? Let that one wear the vowels off a keyboard.

The thing is, I’m not even sure exactly who I’m ticked at. I’m hoping to find that out as I hack away at these chapters. One thing is for certain. Once I figure it out, I probably won’t keep it to myself. After all, you know how the saying goes: hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And I’m feeling scorned.

But not just for myself. I’m feeling ticked for the whole mess of us born with a pair of X chromosomes. My whole ministry life is lived out in the blessed chaos of a female cornucopia. I’ve been looking at our gender through the lens of Scripture for twenty-five solid years, and I have pondered over us, taken up for us, laid into us, deliberated over us, prayed about us, lost sleep because of us, cried for us, laughed my head off at us, and gotten offended for us—and by us—more times than I can count. And after a quarter of a century surrounded by girls ranging all the way from kindergarteners to those resting on pale pink liners inside caskets, I’ve come to this loving conclusion: we need help. I need help. Something more than what we’re getting.

The woman I passed a few days ago on the freeway who was bawling her eyes out at the steering wheel of her Nissan needs help. The girl lying about her age in order to get a job in a topless bar needs help. The divorcée who has loathed herself into fifty extra pounds needs help. For crying out loud, that female rock star I’ve disdained for years needs help. When I read something demeaning her ex said about her recently—something I know would cut any female to the quick—I jumped to her defense like a jackal on a field mouse and seriously wondered how I could contact her agent and offer to mentor her in Bible study.

Several days ago I sat in a tearoom across the table from a gorgeous woman I love dearly. She has been married for three months, and they did all the right things leading up to that sacred ceremony, heightening the anticipation considerably. After an hour or so of musing over marriage, she said to me, “Last weekend he seemed disinterested in me. I’ll be honest with you. It kind of shook me up. I wanted to ask him, ‘So, are you over me now? That quick? That’s it?’”

I’m pretty certain her husband will perk back up, but what a tragedy that she feels like she possesses the shelf life of a video game.

I flashed back to another recent communication with a magazine-cover-beautiful thirty-year-old woman who mentioned—almost in passing—that she has to dress up in costumes in order for her husband to want to make love to her. I’m not knocking her pink-feathered heels, but I wonder if she is paying too much for them. I’m just sad that she can’t feel desirable as herself.

Then yesterday I learned that a darling fifteen-year-old I keep in touch with slept with her boyfriend in a last-ditch effort to hold on to him. He broke up with her anyway. Then he told. It’s all over her high school now.

I’ve got a loved one going through her third divorce. She wants to find a good man in the worst way, and goodness knows they’re out there. The problem is, she keeps marrying the same kind of man.

I’m so ticked.

If these examples were exceptions to the rule, I wouldn’t bother writing, but you and I both know better than that. I hear echoes of fear and desperation from women day in and day out—even if they’re doing their best to muffle the sound with their Coach bags. Oh, who am I kidding? I hear reverberations from my own heart more times than I want to admit. I keep trying to stifle it, but it won’t shut up. Something’s wrong with us for us to value ourselves so little. Our culture has thrown us under the bus. We have a fissure down the spine of our souls and, boy, does it need fixing.

This morning while I was getting ready for church, my cell phone nearly vibrated off the bathroom counter with six incoming texts from a single friend who was having a crisis of heart. I answered her with what little I had to give, even as I grappled with my own issues. I decided that what I needed was a good sermon to keep me from crying off my eyeliner, so I flipped on the television to a terrific local preacher. Lo and behold, the sermon was about what a woman needs from a man.

Deep sigh.

Actually, it was a great message if anyone had a mind to do what he was recommending, but knowing human nature and feeling uncharacteristically cynical, I could feel my frustration mounting. The preacher had done his homework. He offered half a dozen Scripture-based PowerPoint slides with state-of-the-art graphics describing what men should do for women. “Women want to be told that they are captivating. That they’re beautiful. Desirable.”

I won’t deny that. What woman wouldn’t thrive under that kind of steady affirmation?

But here’s my question: What if no one tells us that? Can we still find a way to be okay? Or what if he says it because he’s supposed to, but to be honest, he’s not feeling it? Are we hopeless? What if a man is not captivated by us? What if he doesn’t think we’re particularly beautiful? Or, understandably, maybe just not every day? Are we only secure on his “on” days? What if he loves us but is not quite as captivated by us as he used to be? What if his computer is full of images of what he finds attractive, and we’re light-years from it? What if we’re seventy-five, and every ounce of desirability is long behind us? Can we still feel adequate in our media-driven society?

Adapted from So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore. Copyright © 2010 by Beth Moore. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beth has written a great book that shows how we women are not alone in our insecurities.

The first part of the book gives examples of what kinds of things can cause us to be insecure, or where our insecurites could have stemmed from. The middle of the book shares ways that those insecuries play out in our lives. And the end gives some practical ways that we can deal with our insecurities, including those that we have regarding men, and those that center around our interactions with other women.

Recommended. Rated: B

[This book was received through FIRST Wild Card Tours]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TOUR: "Cupidity" by Michael and Hayley DiMarco

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things People Do for Love and How to Avoid Them

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)

***Special thanks to Christy Wong at Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Hayley DiMarco is the bestselling author of more than 30 books, including Dateable, Marriable, Mean Girls, and The Woman of Mystery. She spent the early part of her career working for Nike in Portland, Oregon, and Thomas Nelson publishing in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2002 Hayley founded Hungry Planet, a company intensely focused on feeding the world’s appetite for truth by producing books and new media, taking on issues of faith and life with a distinctly modern voice.

Michael DiMarco is the CEO of Hungry Planet. In addition to the nine books he has authored or co-authored, Michael also created The Hungry Planet Bible Project, a 10,000–mile road trip designed to give a voice to the hungry and homeless. Hayley and Michael are the proud parents of dozens of Hungry Planet books, including 11 best sellers, four ECPA Christian Book Award finalists, one ECPA winner, and one amazing human, their daughter, Addison.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324677
ISBN-13: 978-1414324678


Believing Love Is a Feeling

One of the biggest acts of Cupidity is to believe that love is a feeling and nothing more. While certainly it is true that love elicits some strong emotions, love itself isn't a feeling.

Let's say someone makes you feel amazing. You can't quit thinking about the person, and you are sure that it is love. So you confess your undying love to the object of your affection. Then a few days, a few months, or a few years down the road, that amazing feeling goes away. Does that mean you never loved the person or you stopped loving them? Or does it mean that feelings of love can't be an indicator of the existence of love? It has to be one or the other. Which one you choose says a lot about your core beliefs about love.

Early on in a relationship, it is easy for things other than love to mimic love and cause people to believe they have found their dream come true. There are so many other things that feel just like love. Take jumping out of an airplane, for example. The rush, the adrenaline, the fear, and even the pleasure of that specific moment can have the same emotional reaction and payoff as love's first expression. But obviously, jumping from extreme heights is more about fear and adrenaline than eternal commitment. A guy can feel the same kinds of emotions for his car as he does for his girl. And a woman can feel the same kind of euphoric rush when she buys a pair of shoes as when her man brings her flowers. But that doesn't mean it's accurate to call those passions love.


In two different relationships before I got married, I committed to making it work based on the feeling that this was the only "good guy" who would love me. Fear was my compelling emotion—I was afraid I couldn't do any better. I saw the warning signs in each relationship, but out of fear I chose to overlook them instead of doing a faithful inspection of the problems. v

A lot of single people commit Cupidity when they get so wrapped up in the emotion of love that they neglect the truth about love. They ignore red flags, concerns of friends and family, and even warnings from the very object of their love. A well-known Christian counselor once said, "Don't marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can't live without." And while he is no doubt a smart man and that sounds like romantic and sound advice, have you ever considered how many people marry someone they "can't live without," and then four years later they divorce the same person they no longer can live with? Did things fall apart because their way of choosing, based on a feeling, was wrong? Or was it because their definition of love as needing to feel a certain way was faulty? We could answer that for you, but we're not going to. Let's just say that no matter what the answer is, judging the presence of love based on how you feel is a dangerous, er, proposal.

If you are honest with yourself, would you say that you feel your way through love? Did you (or would you) choose your mate based on how they make you feel? Have you rejected someone because your feelings changed? Do you consider feelings the best indicator of success or failure in a relationship? Though feelings should be noted, they can't be followed blindly, because when they are, they overshadow God's commands.

Many women can be heard to say things like, "He just doesn't love me anymore." And what they often mean is, "He doesn't make me feel the same way anymore." We've considered that idea a lot. Because we were head over heels in love when we were dating and got married, and since then there have been fewer and fewer of those emotional highs. In fact, we've gone weeks, even months, without them. And the questions that keep lurking are, Does he love me anymore? Did she ever love me? But then, being the practical souls we are, we thought about how hard life would be if we permanently felt the same emotional high that we felt in the beginning of the relationship. How would we get any sleep, living in the same house together? When would we remove our lips from each other long enough to eat? How would we concentrate at work when all we could do was imagine being with the other person? That initial feeling of love that is so fantastical is also distracting—nay, all consuming. It's your soul's occupation, and while a busy soul is a happy soul, it's also a pleasure-driven soul, finding little strength or focus for things other than true love. We aren't dissing the amazing sensation of "love's first kiss," as our three-year-old fairy tale–loving daughter puts it, but we are saying that it can be a bit of an obsession.

In relationships—especially at the beginning—it is easy to take the incredible emotions another person brings you to as a sure sign that love is in the air . . . when all it might be is the thrill of the chase or the excitement of a mystery waiting to be unraveled. So that brings us back to the original premise that love isn't a feeling but an action. How do we know? Because God commands it. All over Scripture God commands us to love. Love God, love our neighbors as ourselves, even love our enemies. But if love were a feeling, then God couldn't command it. No one can order you to feel something. Emotions don't work like that—you don't turn them on and off, on command. But actions can be commanded: "Share your toys." "Don't hit back!" "Don't touch that" (not to be confused with, "You can't touch this").

But maybe there's more to it than even that. Have you considered why God gave us the command to love in the first place? If love came naturally to all of us, if it were always our first response to all people, in all situations, then God wouldn't have had to make it the focus of his instructions to us (1 Corinthians 16:14). God sees the need to command us to love, because love isn't usually our first response, except when we are deep in it. In those situations, love is easy, natural—like second nature. Love is your "soul" focus: that person gets all the best of you. You are patient, kind, caring, and selfless, and you overlook faults. You are the perfect picture of love in human form. Wow! But God knows us better than that. He knows that love, in order to prove itself true, must be tested. It must stand in the face of opposition (Matthew 5:44); it must give of itself even when it gets nothing in return (Luke 6:35); it must be a conscious choice and not an emotional response (Matthew 5:46).

According to a poll taken in March 2008 by the Barna Research Group, the divorce rate for Christian couples is statistically identical to all other faith groups, as well as atheists and agnostics. Whether or not the Christians polled truly lived biblical lives is questionable—we have no way of knowing their hearts or their basis for calling themselves Christians. But as a random poll of people who consider themselves "saved," this seems to be confirmation that feelings, not faith, most profoundly affect the actions of those who consider themselves faithful.

When you feel your way through love, you are apt to ignore the warning signs that signal a future of difficulty, if not pain. They might even be signs from God that this person is not the person. So emotions can't be allowed to have the final say on who you choose.

For the married person, trials and emotionally difficult experiences are part of the pattern of love. These trials—these tests of faith and love—are what lead to sanctification, the purification of your faith. Every time a trial rears its evil head, your first question should be What does God want me to learn about my sin from this? not What is my spouse's sin in this? According to pastor and teacher James MacDonald, "God's goal is not to make you happy; it's to make you holy."

When love is based on a feeling, you have Cupidity: stupid, stupid actions taken to try to get more love. But when love is based on actions, you actually get amazing feelings after you give in fully to the kind of self-sacrificing love that Jesus taught us through his life. See, when love is patient, kind, humble, meek, and all the other things Jesus taught, it is at its best. And the most amazing thing is that it isn't based on what others do or fail to do. It isn't dependent on situations but on an immovable and perfect God. In short, it's heavenly. Harp music, please!

So we've established that love is an action, not a feeling. But what does that look like? Love is an action not in the sense of "start the film rolling" but in the sense of "it's not what you feel; it's what you do." When you look at it like that, suddenly love becomes less about how people make you feel or what they do to you, but what you do in response to them.

Wait a minute . . . you mean love isn't about how a person makes me feel but about how I treat them? Yep, that's it in a nutshell—good job. So if love is lacking in your life, it isn't because of the other person; it's because of you. Ouch, that hurts even as it's coming out. Let's walk through this together—it's too scary alone. According to Scripture, you aren't going to be judged based on the love you feel but the love you give: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Can't speak for you, but we speak for ourselves when we say that most of these things—like patience, humility, not insisting on getting our own way, never giving up, and enduring all things—ain't what we originally had in mind when we thought about what love should feel like.


Finding Fabio Unshaven in a White T-Shirt

Let me just jump in here. One day I was bemoaning the fact that the romance was gone from our marriage. Because romance is how a woman knows for sure that a man loves her—crazy, I know, but blame it on Disney. Anyway, that day I took to heart God's command to love regardless of what I was getting. I took the time to notice that God is love (1 John 4:16), and my thoughts and actions of love given to my "undeserving" husband transported God's very presence into my life. It was as if my act of obedience produced love and romance, right then and there (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 John 4:11-12). And suddenly I thought that Michael was the dreamiest man on the planet. His unshaven face, white T-shirts, and holey socks were all just as they should be. Poor guy—he had no idea what I was going through or why I was so difficult to live with. It was my own misguided ideas of how things should be that made me crazy and caused me to consider him "undeserving" of my love. But when I saw things from God's perspective, all the smoke cleared and I could see true love. It wasn't what I was feeling about Michael but what I believed about God and who he commands me to be that counted. (BTW, Michael is currently editing this unshaven in a white T-shirt.) v

If you base your love on how you feel about the other person, then stop the Cupidity now and absorb this truth into your pores. Steam over it. And let the truth set you free. Love, when given God's way, is better and more lasting than any visceral reaction to your dream girl or guy.

Of course, it would be a potential act of Cupidity for a single person to determine that there need be no sensation of love that comes out of interacting with the future Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. There needs to be some kind of chemistry in order to seal the deal and proceed around the proverbial bases, but once you've slid into home (and by that we mean walked down the aisle), how you feel can't determine how much love you give your spouse. But until you marry, you are free to say, "I'm not in love with you, so I'm walking away." You just can't do that once you say, "I do."

So let's just say, enjoy the feeling of love when it comes, but know that love doesn't have to feel good in order to exist. Consider Christ on the cross. Certainly this perfect act of love didn't give him the amazing feeling that we associate with true love. In Christ's life, love hurt, to put it mildly. But thank God he knew the hurt that had to be endured in order for love to become available to all of us.

Love demands a lot of us. It demands an end to asking, "What about me?" and requires a search for the answer to "What about the other person? What do they need that I can give?" Anything that doesn't agree with the way God's Word defines love needs to be deleted from your memory. Then you'll be able to start over with a fresh motherboard of love. When you learn to love God's way, you learn to love without Cupidity, and that's a pretty amazing thing.

***PLEASE NOTE: I do not have a review of this book, as I only received my copy on February 9th (2 days ago), and have had to work all week -- no time to get it read. I will post my review later, once I've had a chance to read the book. Sorry for the inconvenience.***

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TOUR: "Crave: Wanting So Much More of God" by Chris Tomlinson

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Dave Bartlett of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Chris Tomlinson, a graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy and the UCLA Anderson School of Business, is a businessman and writer who desires to see people realize the beauty and joy of knowing Jesus. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Anna.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736926933
ISBN-13: 978-0736926935



Habits Are Good
Unless They Become Our Habit

I hate to floss.

I don’t think I’ve ever liked it. My parents must have taught me how to floss when I was a child—they are great parents. But I don’t remember them doing so.

I do remember learning how to ride a bicycle on our front lawn. I also remember learning how to water-ski behind our pontoon boat. I have some recollection of learning to snow ski down the tee boxes on the golf course near our house, and I can recall learning how to jump off a diving board wearing a super-cool green and purple Speedo. My memories of learning how to read, spell, and count are clear. And I think I remember learning how to brush my teeth and comb my hair. But I don’t remember learning how to floss.

Come to think of it, I had an abnormal relationship with my dentist, Dr. Avery. I knew him to be a man of the church, and he had an expansive grin, so I felt good around him, even though he wanted to stick drills and needles in my mouth. But his best attribute was his laughing gas machine. I really loved the man for it. Nobody in his right mind likes going to the dentist, but I did.

After most checkups, he strolled into the office lobby with me in tow, waded through the towering piles of Reader’s Digest and Southern Living toward my waiting mother, flashed his enormous smile, and said these beautiful words: “Chris has a cavity.”

I loved those four words. Joy welled up inside me when I heard them because I knew I would soon be back in that office, high as a kite on laughing gas, floating in the blissful euphoria of altered hues and offbeat sounds. That was my reward for failing to brush properly, and what a reward it was. I would return to my dentist with great anticipation, and after he finished filling my latest cavity, Dr. Avery would always give me a new toothbrush and tell me to be sure to floss. I would nod my head in superficial assent. I knew it was the right thing to do because he told me time after time and my mom told me time after time, but it just seemed so rewarding not to do it.

Maybe that is why I have never liked to floss.

As I got older, I noticed a lot of things in my life mirrored my reticence toward flossing. I don’t particularly like doing sit-ups or eating vegetables. I rarely clean my shower, and I’m almost certain I have never once dusted the leaves on my fake ficus tree. I know I should spend time each day in prayer and reading my Bible, but I don’t do that with any regularity. I can’t remember a sustained period of time in which I consistently thought of someone else first, and I don’t often look for opportunities to provide for those in need.

Finally, I believe I have the world’s greatest information—the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of great news to everyone on earth, something so important that I should not rest or eat or drink anything until I have shared it with every one of those people. But I have only told a few people about it. I haven’t even covered my apartment building, much less my neighborhood, city, state, or country. And if my apartment building, neighborhood, city, state, and country are still unreached for Christ, maybe you haven’t told them about this gospel either. We would both acknowledge the primacy of sharing the gospel with the world, but it seems to occupy very little of our conversation.

All of this makes me wonder if we spend nearly all of our time bypassing opportunities to do the things we know we should be doing. I see evidence of this both in my spiritual walk and in the mundane duties of being a presentable human. And as I look at the lives around me, both inside and outside the church, I think I can fairly say I’m not alone. When faced with the opportunity to do something for God, we'd rather eat chips.

Why are we like this? My own attitude toward God saddens me; I am actually pretty annoyed by it. But apparently I am not saddened or annoyed enough to really do something about it.

When I begin to feel badly about myself, I often try to take solace in the Scriptures and seek comfort in the stories of the heroes of the Bible. These were ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things for God. The apostle Paul is easily one of the Bible’s greatest heroes. He wrote about half of the books in the New Testament, and he is revered as one of the foundation stones of the faith, a man given over to God’s Spirit in heart, mind, and soul.

I did not write half of the books in the New Testament. In fact, I didn’t write any of them. I am not revered as anything in particular that I know of. But I find Paul wasn’t so unlike me in some ways. In a letter he wrote to the Christians in Rome, Paul cried out in the frustration of his flesh, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

This is the story of my life as well. This inclination to do wrong, or at a minimum, to do what is easy, is as natural to me as sneezing.

Often, I know the right thing to do, whether it is going to lunch with someone who needs a friend, or sharing my faith with someone who needs hope, or simply loving someone who is hard to love. But more times than not, I ignore these opportunities or come up with excuses or reasons why I shouldn’t have to act on them. Sometimes I know that what I’m about to do is wrong; I even know that when I am finished doing or saying the thing I know I shouldn’t do or say, I will be sorry I did it or wish I had not said it. And I do it anyway. Thinking I can get away with this kind of thing is like walking up a sheet of ice in bowling shoes; I don’t have a chance of making it up to the top, but I try anyway and fall every time.

God, however, was ready to give me cleats. I found them in David Crowder’s book Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi. One particular section caught my eye.

Years ago a friend told me that an action repeated for a minimum of 21 days is likely to become a permanent habit. So I thought I’d give it a shot…After much thought I decided that my trained response to “Hello” or “How’s it going?” or “Hi” would be to salute and wink. In the beginning it was quite fun. Some pal would walk in the room and say, “What’s up?” and I would raise hand over eye in quick, sharp movements and wink while responding, “Not much.” It was beauty. The internal joy it brought was overwhelming. It was the perfect habit to form. It was quirky but legitimate. Impossible to tell if I was serious or not. The “Sunshine Sailor” is what I called it…Soon enough, before long I didn’t even think about it…until one day when I saluted the convenience store clerk and realized it did nothing inside. There was no suppressed smile…nothing joyous bursting in my chest…It was habit. I had done it.

It seems for most bad habits we [form], there was never any intentional formation…usually, destructive habits are formed more subtly with very little thought and planning. Good habits seem more difficult to manage…Why does it seem like the formation must be much more intentional in our adoption of good habits?

Lacing up these cleats, I reflected on this passage, and I thought a lot about the concept of habit forming. I often think of something that would be good to do on a regular basis, and sometimes I try my hardest to do it. Or I may find something about myself that I don’t like, or something that someone else doesn’t like about me, and if I agree with them, I try my hardest not to do it. I usually have some measure of success with my attempts toward personal change, but they never seem to work out on a long-term basis.

Searching for answers, I turned to the source of all knowledge: Google. I searched on the following phrase: “I do the things I don’t want to do,” looking for commentary on the apostle Paul’s frustration with his flesh, hoping to find some other poor soul who had felt my pain or had lived what I was living or had experienced what I was going through and had come out on the other side.

The first website Google listed opened with this:

Bored? Listless? Help is at hand!

Pass away the pointless hours with our list of things to do when you’re bored.

Push your eyes for an interesting light show.

Try to not think about penguins.

Repeat the same word over and over until it loses its meaning.

Try to swallow your tongue.

Step off a curb with eyes shut. Imagine it’s a cliff.

Have a water drinking contest.

Stare at the back of someone’s head until they turn around.

Pick up a dog so it can see things from your point of view.

Let me be clear: I appreciate the creativity this represents, and if I were to be completely honest, I have to admit I am thinking of penguins right now. I also wish I had a little dog.

What bothers me, though, is this: Why did this useless information appear when I went looking for Bible verses describing the frustration I feel with the inadequacies and emptiness of my life? Why isn’t the Internet full of wisdom for souls desperately seeking a greater understanding of our human condition instead of inane information that addresses none of the real problems we face in life?

Clearly, this list doesn’t answer my question at all. But as I thought more and more about this list of things to do when I am bored, I realized the words I read on that page were emblematic of the things I waste my time on every day. Maybe the things I do aren’t quite as useless, but they are no more valuable when weighed on the scales of eternity.

So I decided the time had come, and I would live like this no more. My habits had to change. I decided that for the next 21 days, through rain and snow, hell and high water, under no circumstances backing down, I would floss.

And floss I did.

On the first day of my experiment, I wrote out the numbers up to 21 on a green sticky note, which I stuck to the wall beside my bathroom mirror. Every night, when I was getting ready for bed, that day’s number called to me softly. So I would floss, and then I would cross off a number. And it felt great—a neat and tidy little system of accountability.

Days flew by quickly, and nighttime would find me in my bathroom, laboring with my new, minty friend in the fight against unwanted plaque. Night after night, me and my floss. Days turned into weeks, and we were still together.

The morning of the fourteenth day, I awoke and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I noticed I had forgotten to cross off the previous night’s number, and an anxious pause came over me. Had I failed myself yet again? My confidence returned quickly, though, as I remembered that indeed, I had flossed the night before but had forgotten to mark it down. The habit was slowly taking shape.

The days continued on, and I was excited to finally be a person of good habits. All the poor habits in my life, my little grinding sins that cling to me like gum on a shoe, my idiosyncrasies that don’t bother me but drive others crazy—all of these things would soon be footnotes in the chapters of my life. My horizon was clear and blue; nothing could stand in my way from being exactly the person I thought I should be. I grew more and more content with who I was, and more importantly, with the man I was becoming.

The final day of flossing arrived as quickly as the end of an all too pleasant vacation. I had emerged as the conquering hero in this trial. I didn’t need to see Dr. Avery anymore, and his laughing gas machine was now a thing of the past. I had achieved resounding success in this area, putting together a DiMaggioan streak I had never before accomplished in all my life.

As I reflected on my triumph, the simplicity of it all struck me; it merely required a little determination, a little persistence, a little accountability, and a little green sticky note.

The implications were staggering. If I could master a habit of the flesh, why could I not also master a habit of the soul? I knew life to be far more than good dental hygiene. I knew God wanted me to address my lack of discipline in my Christian walk. And I felt the deeper cravings for more of God in my life. I had tried so many different things to experience God more fully, and perhaps this notion of habit forming could be a way to satisfy these longings.

I sensed a time was coming in my life when God would need me. I knew He could use my success and my good habits for His purposes in order to advance His kingdom on earth. I had practiced on something small, but I had succeeded, and God saw what I had accomplished. He knew He could count on me, and He knew I wouldn’t let Him down. Every boy who plays basketball on his driveway or practices his swing in his backyard dreams that one day, during the right game and at the right time, his moment will arrive, and he will be ready for it.

However, I also knew my time of testing had only just begun. I knew of many areas in my life that needed more practice, and I was finally ready to lay them before the Lord and say, Teach me how to do this better.

So I sat down to write a list of good habits I would like to have in God’s kingdom, behaviors and practices I knew would take me closer to the heart of Jesus and awaken my cravings for more of Him, and I came up with a really good list.







I thought of others, but I figured I should start slowly. The journey of my entire life would be spent shaping and forming these habits, but I could get started on them right away.

There were my goals, simple and on paper. Just as my little green sticky note and I had scaled the rocky heights of proper dental hygiene, so too would we conquer the sins of my soul. I began my quest in earnest, brimming with the confidence and optimism that only past success can bring, energized by my ability to make things right in my life, destined to be a person of good habits.

And clean teeth.

Full of Chris' personal stories of chasing after God, this book is funny,
thought-provoking, and honest. I could relate to so much of what Chris
shared throughout, and I'm glad he was open to being honest -- books like
this show you that you're not alone in what you feel.

The short one-liners at the beginning of each chapter were catchy -- they
made me wonder what on earth the chapter was going to be about! I even
showed the book to my Mom, and the one-liner at the beginning of the chapter
titled "Silence" (which says something to the effect of "God called me on my
cell-phone at 4:30 a.m."
) caught her right away. :P

Definitely a book I'll recommend to a lot of people.

Rated: A-

[This book was received through FIRST Wild Card Tours]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TOUR: "Hero's Tribute" by Graham Garrison

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Hero’s Tribute

Kregel Publications (September 21, 2009)

***Special thanks to Danielle Douglas of Douglas Public Relations for sending me a review copy.***


Graham Garrison is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Atlanta. He has covered high school and college football games as a newspaper reporter, completed an internship with the U.S. Army at its National Training Center in the Mojave Desert and tested WaveRunners and Runabouts as the managing editor of a national boating magazine. He’s written about battlefields for America’s Civil War, interviewed medical innovators for Georgia Physician and even penned an editorial for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When he’s not writing, he’s chasing his two-year old son Nicholas and their Beagle, Baxter around the backyard with his wife, Katie.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (September 21, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825426855
ISBN-13: 978-0825426858



There were no famous last words from Michael Gavin. Nothing like George Washington’s “I die hard, but am not afraid to go,” or General Lee’s “Strike the tent.” When Michael stopped talking late in the night, he simply held Lynn’s hand. When he was too weak for even that, she took the weight of his pale left arm in hers and gently rubbed his palm. She watched his chest as it registered, however faintly, the struggle for each final breath, until she could barely tell if the battle was still joined. Finally, his eyes, once steely and strong, faded to a dull, dark black. Thirty-nine short years after his arrival, Michael Gavin, American hero, was gone.

It was a Monday.

Lynn Gavin sat by the bedside for fifteen minutes, with Michael’s lifeless hand still in hers, before reaching for the phone to call his parents. She felt selfish for taking that time to mourn alone while the rest of the family was unaware of his passing, but she had lost this fight with cancer as much as he had.

That horrible day when Michael was diagnosed.

The trips to chemo.

The sleepless nights as Michael shivered against the disease.

The day-by-day erosion of the strongest man she’d ever known.

Lynn dampened her sobs to a persistent, ragged groan that seemed to settle deep in her chest, and she started thinking as a parent instead of simply a wife. Addy, their six-year old, had slept over at Michael’s parents’ house last night, at Lynn’s request. She hadn’t wanted to expose Addy to the final throes of death, or to anything more than she had already experienced in the last few months. Even before Michael’s cancer, Addy had seen more from this world than any child should have to. A six-year-old should be singing along to Veggie Tales and laughing at Sesame Street, not tiptoeing around IV lines and smelling of disinfectant after hugging her daddy.

Guilt crept in. Shouldn’t everyone be here? Why did I want this time with him to myself? What kind of person am I?

She felt an impulse to ask forgiveness, as if Michael had died in the early morning hours only because there was an empty household for the first time in three weeks. She reached for the telephone on the nightstand and dialed Michael’s parents.

Chapter 1

Betty Gavin answered on the second ring. Only one person would be calling this early.

“Mom, Michael’s gone.”

Betty had braced herself for those words, but they still struck like a hammer to the ribs. She stifled a reflexive sob. “Oh dear,” she said, dropping the spoon she had been using to stir her tea. “I’ll be right over.”

“What should I do?” Lynn asked.

“You just sit tight, honey. I’ll be right there.” There was no correct protocol for times like these. Lynn had been so good about making the tough decisions during Michael’s illness. When friends or family stopped by to offer prayers or a kind word, Lynn would be consoling and encouraging them by the time they left. Now it was time for others to lift Lynn up.

Betty had just enough presence of mind to tell Lynn not to worry; that they would figure out what to do next, together. Then she found herself at the front hall closet, fumbling with the buttons on her coat.

If things took a little longer with arrangements, then that’d be fine. Addy would be fine at their place until they sorted things out. There was always someone around the neighborhood to help in a pinch, and this was one of those pinches the entire town would come around for.

She covered her face with her hands, her body convulsing. “Oh Lord, oh Lord.”

Paul Gavin didn’t have the best hearing in the world after sixty-seven years, but he had a sixth sense about when his wife needed him. At the crack of dawn on Monday, he was where he always was, sitting on the front porch, sipping coffee and tying his shoes for a morning jog down the same street where he’d beaten the pavement for years. He was religious about his morning constitutional: five days a week, rain or shine, he’d circle the neighborhood cul-de-sacs and wave to the commuters embarking on their forty-five-minute commute from town to city. He didn’t need to be at work at the local college until nine, the reward of tenure from teaching graduate-level business courses for more than a decade, following his service in the Army. This morning, instead of going for his jog, Paul opted to enjoy the sunrise and read the city paper. He’d make it up this evening, he told himself.

Paul didn’t hear the phone ring, or see Betty collapse onto the sofa, but he had a feeling he was needed inside.

As Paul stood to his feet and folded the paper under his arm, the front door opened and Betty stepped out onto the porch, ashen faced, the key to the Volvo dangling absently from her hand. Paul instantly knew what had happened.

Tossing the paper onto the rocker, he reached for Betty, wrapped her in his arms, and hugged her for all he was worth.

“Could you—” Betty’s words dissolved into a sob, and she tried to catch her breath.

“Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll take care of Addy. You go.”

After Betty drove away, Paul returned to the front porch and sat in his rocking chair to sort through his thoughts and make sense of everything that would now be required.

Phone calls to relatives and friends. A Call to the newspaper to have an obit made so out-of-towners would know the details of the funeral. The family had made some of the arrangements in advance but still needed to finalize a few things with the funeral home.

Then there was the package he promised Michael he’d deliver.

A promise was a promise.

Analyzing decisions was Paul’s way of getting through tough times. Like Michael, he had a knack for remaining calm under duress, making snap decisions that others found too difficult or too emotional. But even now, as he sat in his rocking chair ticking off the preparations to make before saying good-bye to his son, his eyes retreated to a certain spot on the front lawn. The clearer the green became, the less he thought about the arrangements, and the more he walked through memories of Michael’s childhood.

He envisioned a ten-year-old boy with dirty knees, a Braves cap, and a big, broad grin on his face, winding up to toss the baseball back. Or sprinting for all he was worth toward the far corner, football helmet askew and arms outstretched for “just one more pass, Dad, before we head in.”

Paul stopped his mental checklist and just stared at the grass.

Word traveled fast in a town like Talking Creek, with or without cell phones. Granted, cell phone towers had popped up in this corner of northwest Georgia like in every other part of the country, and a cell phone company had put a store over on Main Street five years ago, but it’s not like the residents needed all that. You could shout from one end of Main Street to the other and someone could easily hear you, it was so small. And with a population of just under six thousand, everybody knew everybody, and probably knew everybody’s relatives, too. Only about a thousand of those folks came and went, those being out-of-town students of Tributary University, the local liberal arts college.

The west end of Main started with a hamburger joint and a pizza place, then proceeded through town, passing two banks, the grocery store, a busy café, the drug store, a combination book and coffee shop, the barber shop, hair stylist, and post office. On the east side, the town’s two big churches, United Methodist and First Baptist, sat on opposite sides of the street, close enough for parishioners to wave to one another before walking into their respective Sunday services.

Talking Creek’s claim to fame was the annual fall firemen’s parade. As home to one of the finest volunteer fire departments in the state—and possibly the entire Southeast, the town rolled out its big red engines every year and invited towns near and far to bring theirs too.

Gene Woods, one of Talking Creek’s volunteer firemen, lived three streets down from Paul and Betty in the town’s lone subdivision. Like Paul, he was a creature of habit. Up at the same time every morning, he showered, put on a dress shirt and tie, brewed a cup of black coffee, read the paper, and hit the road at 6:30 sharp for his job at the local power plant. Gene’s routine coincided with Paul’s run, and the two usually exchanged waves halfway between their two homes. Today, however, Gene noticed that Paul wasn’t running.

Gene knew Michael, and about his fight with cancer. Well, everybody in Talking Creek knew Michael. Many remembered him as the kid who’d broken all the state passing records in high school. Others still half-expected to see him hiking the Georgia mountain trails with those kids from the foster care retreat. Everyone knew what he’d done in the war; about the big, shiny medal he’d earned, and how quiet he’d been about it when he returned.

Gene’s wife, Mary, was in Betty’s prayer group at the Methodist church, and she had relayed Betty’s prayer concerns as Michael’s cancer had worsened. Each time Mary brought bad news, Gene would just shake his head. How could a strong kid like that get beat by something that starts so small? The power and frailty of the human body never ceased to amaze Gene. How in the world could a person live on pizza, beer, and cigarettes all their life and make it to eighty, while some middle-aged marathon runner has a heart attack at fifty? Or what about some stupid kid who drives drunk as a skunk and crashes head-on into a Suburban. He survives, with a few scratches and a bump on his head, but the family in the SUV doesn’t? And how can something no bigger than a speck when it starts cut down a tree trunk like Michael? It just didn’t make any sense.

Gene slowed as he neared the Gavins’ property. To most folks, spotting Paul on the front porch wouldn’t be cause for concern, but Gene’s heart sank. He knew his friend should be getting his laps in before work. Guys like Paul and Gene didn’t mess with their routine just for the heck of it. Maybe the polite thing to do would have been to keep on driving and let Paul be; but that didn’t set right with Gene, and he was in the business of doing the right thing. He pulled his Dodge Ram into the driveway and hopped out.

Paul and Gene were part of a close-knit fraternity. Both were combat veterans, Paul in the Army, Gene as a Marine sergeant. Their rival service loyalties elicited jabs and good-natured jokes between the two, but not today.

Paul stood and nodded as Gene got out of his truck. Gene took three steps down the walkway and paused. What should he say? He was always at a loss for words at times like these. He clenched his right first, frustrated at his lack of words. Then it hit him. He pivoted slightly toward Paul and in a crisp, forward motion, lifted his right hand to his temple.

Paul returned the salute.

“This town won’t ever forget your boy,” he said.

Ten minutes later, Gene was doing what he always did in a crisis: taking charge. He walked into the fire station storage room and grabbed Big Glory, the biggest American flag you’ve ever seen. Then, climbing the steps of the tallest landmark in Talking Creek, the fire tower they used for drills, he unfurled the flag and attached it to the brass hooks along the edge of the parapet. It seemed the right thing to do.

“Hey Gene, what in the world are you doing?” It was one of the paramedics on shift, looking up from the ground below. “Parade ain’t for another two weeks.”

Gene mulled over what to say. “You’re needed at the younger Gavins.”


Gene watched as his words sank in.

“Okay, we’re on our way.”

After securing the flag at half mast, Gene went down to the dispatch room and called the chief of police.

“What’s up, Gene, is there a fire?” a groggy Heath Jackson muttered into the phone. He wasn’t due at the police station until three cups of coffee from now.

“No, no fire,” Gene said. “Paul’s son passed away this morning.”

“Oh, I hate to hear that, Gene.”

“Yeah, listen, you think you should send some of your boys down to the house to make sure everything’s all right?”

“Consider it done. Thanks for letting me know.”

A few miles away, Betty and Lynn tried to collect themselves. The shock was wearing off, but numbness crept in. That’s when Betty decided to call the funeral home to come and take Michael, and they received the first of many surprises from the town of Talking Creek.

“Yes, ma’am, the police department asked permission to handle your request,” the funeral home receptionist said. “And we’re really very, very sorry.”

She probably shouldn’t have been, but Betty was taken aback at how fast word had traveled. “Thank you,” she managed. “When do you think they will get here?”

“Ma’am, it should be there already.”

Skeptically, Betty looked out the window. Sure enough, parked by the fence was an ambulance, flanked by two squad cars. By the time Betty and Lynn walked out the front door, two more police cars had arrived. Police Sergeant Mark Lovejoy met them halfway, head slightly bowed. Betty didn’t bother asking him how they knew.

“We’re here to escort Michael,” Lovejoy said.

The ambulance and police procession through downtown to the funeral home proved more effective than any newspaper headline. One glance at the convoy set off a firestorm of discussion up and down Main Street. Once the people who knew—mainly Gene walking into Reese’s Café for his second morning coffee—gave the news to a few of the town’s movers and shakers, word spread quickly to shops like Smith’s Pharmacy, into the faculty offices of the university, and among parents in the carpool lane at the elementary and middle schools.

Talking Creek High School assistant principal Gus Hilliard caught wind of Michael’s passing from the front office workers. As Sue Holton was about to press the talk button on the school microphone for the daily announcements, Gus gently tapped her shoulder.

“I’ll take this one,” he said.

Gus never did the announcements. He hated public speaking. He did most of his talking behind closed doors, lecturing kids busted for chewing gum in class or running amok on school property. He was good at cracking skulls without touching them; just forcing the fear of God into misfits with his deep voice, broad shoulders, and harsh scowl.

The front office folks immediately hushed their conversations when Gus wrapped his knuckles around the microphone.

“This is Assistant Principal Hilliard,” he began. “We’ll be doing announcements differently today. Before we say the Pledge of Allegiance, I want to have a . . . a . . . moment of silence.”

The front office ladies let out a sigh, thankful he hadn’t said “moment of prayer.” Someone no doubt would have raised a fuss at the next school board meeting.

“And if you want to pray,” Gus continued, “well go ahead and do that too. And if anyone is offended by that . . . well, they can come and talk to me about it.”

Eyes rolled behind his back.

“A former Talking Creek High student died this morning. Michael Gavin. If you didn’t know him—and that’s probably just one or two of you—you missed out on knowing a good man and a true hero. He did a lot for this community, and a lot for this country, and we here at Talking Creek High are all going to miss him. Please take a moment or two now to remember him.”

Ralph Frink, owner of Southern Décor, got the news around lunchtime from one of his production managers. Southern Décor, a manufacturer of outdoor decorations, was Talking Creek’s largest employer, outside of Tributary University. Yesterday, the company had put the finishing touches on some Christmas decorations for a central Alabama town, and the production line was up and running. Frink didn’t have to think too hard about this one. He called a company-wide meeting in the plant, asked for a vote, and it was unanimous. The next day, Southern Décor would shift the line over to making large yellow ribbons and American flag decorations to wrap around every sign and streetlight from here to the county line. He’d foot the bill.

The churches geared up early. Mondays were Bible study days at both the Methodist and Baptist churches, and two group leaders who did their grocery shopping in the morning before class bumped into each other in the produce section, like they always did. Joanne Reed, a lifelong Methodist and friend of Lynn’s and Michael’s, was noticeably shaken.

Naturally, Liz Montgomery was concerned. She gave Joanne a warm hug and asked her what was wrong. When Joanne told her about Michael and Lynn, Liz’s eyes welled with tears. Then she got determined.

“Call your group leaders, and I’ll call mine, and we’ll figure out what to do.” By the afternoon, there wasn’t a cold oven in the city limits.

Smith’s Pharmacy ran out of Hallmark cards by 3 p.m. The first to go were condolences. Then encouragement. Then thank you cards; because by that point the only other cards in the racks said “Happy Birthday” or “It’s a girl.”

Mondays were also soccer days at Glenn Park. Kids walked out of the elementary school with their cleats and shin guards in hand, down the hill to Glenn Park and over to the soccer fields. The parents pulled up a few minutes before game time, helped their kids into uniforms, and then plopped lawn chairs on the sidelines to catch up on the latest news while cheering on a mass of children circling a ball for an hour.

The games couldn’t start without the national anthem. A Boy Scout or Cub Scout from one team would be in charge of raising the flag up the pole at the edge of the field while everyone saluted. Jesse Blackmon, a Tenderfoot, and by far the smallest kid on his team, got the assignment this time. His coach whispered something in his ear, and although he was a little confused by the request, Jesse dashed to the flagpole and, as everyone began singing, did exactly what his coach had told him to do. He raised it to half-staff.

Talking Creek football coach Bud Lawler didn’t let the news pass his team by. The current Eagles were a far cry from the glory days of Michael’s run at quarterback. Coach Lawler would know that better than anyone else; he’d been a tight end on those teams. He’d been back at his alma mater for seven years now, and was trying to rekindle some of the old magic. His resume included five winning seasons and two playoff berths, largely because of the Summers boys: Tripp, Taylor, and Travis. None of the three was very big, or had an arm like Michael’s, but man could those kids run. A few brave souls in town had even suggested—whispered is more like it—that they were as fast, if not faster, than Michael. During their respective senior years, Tripp, Taylor, and Travis had each led the county in rushing. Times had been good again for the Eagles with the Summers boys in school. During Taylor’s senior year, they’d even found themselves in the Georgia Dome for a semifinal game against powerhouse Buford. But that was three years ago, and now, in order to get the “Summers over” tag off his back, Coach Lawler needed to do something with this latest crop of boys.

The Eagles were 3–1 and preparing for their first regional game, against archrival Calhoun, which was ranked fifth in the state and had a three-game winning streak going against Talking Creek. A win against Calhoun and the Eagles would be in the driver’s seat of Region 5-A. A loss, and they’d be right back in the middle of the pack, where they’d been since the Summers boys graduated.

Fifty teenagers in blue and gold trotted out of the fieldhouse and onto the practice field across from Grady Stadium. It used to be that Talking Creek squads practiced on the stadium field, but seeing as how everybody else had a practice field for practice and a playing field for playing, Talking Creek boosters had chipped in to pay for some nearby brush to be cleared and a field to be readied. The team broke off into offensive and defensive squads. Coach Lawler limped out of the fieldhouse a minute later, game plan in hand and a scowl on his face.

“Boys, hats off and huddle up,” he said. The Eagles squeezed together amid sounds of chinstraps unsnapping and helmets coming off. “You know this week’s a big week with Calhoun. Well, it just got a lot bigger.”

He paused, checking to make sure he had everyone’s attention. “Michael Gavin died this morning. He put all those trophies in our gym. He brought a lot of great memories to this town, and now it’s our turn to make some more memories.”

“On Friday, that place”—he pointed behind his shoulder to Grady Stadium—“is going to be packed tighter than a can of sardines. And it ain’t just ’cuz we’re playing big, bad Calhoun. It ain’t ’cuz they’ve whipped us the last three years and their blood is up; and it ain’t ’cuz they want to shut you seniors out a fourth and final time.” He pointed to his two team captains.

“It’s ’cuz a lot of people are going to come to the game to remember what Michael Gavin did on that field years ago. And you know what? We’re gonna give them something to remember him by! So, you ain’t just playin’ for yourselves or for this team this week. It’s bigger than that. We need to do him proud.”

Knowing that this is the author's first novel makes it a little easier to be lenient in my review. I'm afraid I didn't find this book to be quite my cup of tea.

First off, the author tended to "tell" more than "show" -- there was too much narration, and not enough of the characters actually "living" out the story.

Second, I thought that the whole book could have been summed up in the eulogy at the end, basically. Sure, the interviews that Wes did with the townsfolk added somewhat to the story, but really, it was a whole book of fluff that could be summed up with the last chapter.

Regardless, the storyline was interesting, and the author writes dialogue well. I am sure that with future books, there will be improvement in the small details. ;)

Rated: D

[This book was received through FIRST Wild Card Tours]