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4.30.2010

Book Review - Allon

Due to the storm, our internet was down for quite some time today and I nearly missed posting this review. Today, blogs all over the internet will be featuring this brand new book. If you've ever wondered why I feature so many book reviews, it's because I participate in what's called a blog tour, where a book is featured on many blogs all on one day. 

Book Review- Allon by Shawn Lamb

I read and review a lot of books, and every so often I struggle with a review. I love to write and I want to support my fellow writers in any way I can, but sometimes, I come across a book that just wasn’t quite ready for publication. I don’t enjoy writing the difficult reviews, but since I strive to be fair and objective, I’m obligated to tell my readers the truth.

This month, I received a free review copy of Allon from the publicist. It’s a fantasy book for young adult readers about an imaginary kingdom under the oppressive rule of an evil king. But the remnant of citizens who believe the truth are holding to the promise of a future leader who will bring salvation. It took a great deal of imagination for the author to create this imaginary world, complete with many characters, a language of their own, and battle after battle. If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, you’re right. In the same fashion, Shawn Lamb constructs a fantasy with unusual creatures and a theme that reminds the reader of a heavenly kingdom. The country of Allon even has 12 provinces, similar to the 12 tribes of Israel. The characters study “verse” which sounds a lot like “scripture.”

Yes, it sounds like  Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but that’s as far as the similarities go. I found it difficult to get into the book because there are so many characters. Every page introduced more, and I began losing track of who was good, who was bad, and who was who. I was well into the book before I could see Ellis as a clear main character. The story was difficult to follow and too complicated for a young adult audience. Some scenes were too mature for the 9-12 audience as well, dealing with sexual attraction and violence.

As I read, I kept thinking this book would be so much better as a movie where the reader would see the action since it was so difficult to “see” it on the page. When I read the author’s bio and realized she has excelled with her screenplays, I can see why I thought this. She has a tremendous imagination and I’m sure her screenplays are terrific. However, on the writing side, she hasn’t yet figured out how to translate a screenplay into printed word. Many times, I found the story to be telling instead of showing. And most of the description was written with passive voice (lots of the word “was”) and excessive use of adverbs. Examples: “Marcellus’s eyes wrathfully narrowed…” “Wren lowly instructed.”  “He painfully fell to his knees…”

I truly wish I could rate this book higher, but it takes more than a great idea to produce a great book.

4.28.2010

Faux Finished Faith?

This past week, I tackled a big project on my to-do list and refinished several pieces of furniture with a faux finish. Using paints and glaze, I turned dated pine cabinets into something that looks, well, older. Sounds weird, huh? My "update" was rather ironic, but I love furniture that looks weathered and aged. See the makeover project here.

My cabinets had a dramatic change. I hope it looks like vintage furniture aged to perfection. But I know you aren't fooled. Underneath, it is still cheap pine furniture. It's a fake (faux) version of the real thing. And guess what? It might look great now, but if I rough it up with use, it's likely to chip or peel to reveal what's really under the faux finish.

Sometimes, we have faux finished faith. On the outside, we look like followers of Jesus, but on the inside, nothing is changed. We're still the same as we always were. But when life scuffs us up and things get rough, we're sure to see what's really underneath. I realize that sometimes I go through the motions without letting God make permanent changes in my heart and attitudes. When I'm under stress, my family sees the real me, the part that flips out when the house is a mess or someone makes a mistake. I'm a work in progress as God continues to work on my "makeover".

How is your faith? Has Jesus changed you from within the deep layers, or do you go through the motions? We're all a work in progress, so don't be discouraged if God still has work to do. He's working on me too. Real faith isn't just painted on. It's a process that takes time as God renews us from the inside out.

4.24.2010

Pursuing Your Dream- Part 2

This week, I talked about dreams. Sometimes something we didn't plan gets in the way of pursuing a dream. Perhaps it's an unexpected accident that leaves you caring for a loved one, or maybe it's an illness that saps your energy. For some, it's the loss of a spouse. For others it's caring for an aging parent. Whatever the roadblock, it isn't easy to see a dream slipping away. 

Recently, I read a novel by Sally John that reminded me how rewarding it can be to fulfill a dream and how painful it can be to lose sight of a dream. The book comes out this summer, but here is a sneak preview.

Sheridan Montgomery had been living her dream as the wife of an ambassador and the director of a program to help underprivileged women. Until a vicious attack changed everything. As she cared for her disabled husband, she watched her dreams slip away.

In “Ransomed Dreams,” Sally John creates a story that touches readers. With the right balance of mystery, action, and emotion, she knows how to draw a reader in. At the heart of the story is the dream that Sheridan Montgomery gave up to care for her husband and and to hide in Mexico for protection. She’s restless and disappointed and struggling with how she feels about this loss. She’s desperate for happiness but unsure how to find it.

In a society where “for better or worse, in sickness or in health” doesn’t mean much, this book provides a refreshing example of a couple who goes through some tough issues. From the exhaustion of a caregiver, to the depression of a disabled spouse, to the temptation to leave with someone who meets emotional needs not met in the marriage, to the lack of support from family, Sally John has addressed real problems in a real way. That’s what makes this great fiction. It isn’t about a perfect couple with a fairytale relationship. She shows the reader through the good days and bad days in a marriage that is going through the “sickness” and the “worse” phase of the vows, a marriage that hasn’t seen “health” or  “better” in a long time.

“Ransomed Dreams” is for anyone who has ever wanted to walk away from a difficult marriage, who has ever felt hopeless, or who has lost a dream. It’s an inspiring story of faith and emotional healing.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from Tyndale House.

This book comes out in July, but copies can be pre-ordered on Amazon. I'm thrilled that I got to read it early!

4.22.2010

Pursuing Your Dream

Do you have a dream that you have tucked away somewhere? Not a nightmare. A daydream. The kind of dream that begins with, "If only I could..."

Perhaps you're living your dream and making it happen. But what if your dream is forgotten somewhere in the back of your memory? I'm talking about the dream you haven't given permission to flourish. The one you pushed away because you were sure it was too late. What would it take to make it happen? What's stopping you from doing that?

I've met people who talk about a dream for years. But that's the problem. They just talk about it. They never figure out how to make it happen. Reaching your goal isn't going to to happen by chance. It takes action.  Fulfilling a dream means doing something, and it begins with one step. Then another. And another.

What is your dream? What have you always wanted to do? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. Here's a great place to begin thinking about your dream (fill in the blanks): 
  1. I have always wanted to __________________________. 
  2. ______________________ stands in the way of making that happen.
  3. If I'm going to fulfill my dream, I need to __________________________.
  4. The first step I could take towards reaching my goal is ________________. 
 

4.09.2010

Beyond Expectations

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you expected God to teach you something or show you something new, but you didn't know how far beyond your expectations he would go? That's how I'm feeling right now as I type from a hotel room in the middle of Iowa. In this little crowd of writers, I see God working in big ways in the lives of people who needed his touch. But that isn't all.

He's working in me too. Amid the conference business, I've found moments where he spoke directly to my heart. Sometimes through a fellow faculty member's teaching. Sometimes in the moments with a conferee when I see how detailed he is with his plan. Sometimes in a whisper that says, "Trust me, Michelle. I know what I'm doing."
What are you expecting God to do? Have you limited Him with your own expectations? Imagine how it would be if he worked in such a mighty way that he went beyond your expectations. He does it every day. And he can do that for you if you line up your expectations with his.

4.06.2010

Giving Back and Paying Forward

I'm packing my suitcase tonight. I'll pack my laptop and load up my attache with papers tomorrow, but I'm definitely leaving. Outta here. Sayonara. Driving far away.

No, I'm not running away from home. But I am leaving for nearly a week to attend a writers conference. Sometimes I attend conferences for learning, but this time I'll be speaking to writers in classroom sessions, meeting with conferees in one-on-one appointments, and praying with those who need encouragement. I'll be giving back to other writers in the same way many other writers have given back so that I could learn.

I think of the conferences I've attended and the faculty members who have stayed up late at night to critique my work. I think of the time they gave up to come to a conference--precious writing time that it cost them. I think of the ratio of time invested to money earned and I know they came up short on the earning end. Yet they did it because they wanted to give back to other writers.

Many well-known authors give back to beginning writers. They mentor. They teach at conferences. They spend time on online writers groups to give advice and wise counsel. Their generosity is what keeps me going as I put in the hours of preparation needed for this conference. Because of them, I've learned so much about writing and I want to carry on their spirit of generosity, like a pay it forward plan.

I said I'm not attending to learn. But maybe I am. Maybe I just didn't know that giving back is a part of the learning process. I've already learned something about myself in the preparation. I can't wait to see what God plans to teach me when I'm at the conference.

Think of the things you love to do. Are you giving back to others? Are you teaching someone else how to do what you do? Maybe you mentor someone or give your time to teach Sunday School. Maybe you've taught someone how to bake bread and make jam. Perhaps you've spent time with someone who desperately needs a friend.

Wherever you are in your own learning process, you can give back to someone who is at a different point in their own process. What can you do right now that would help someone else? You'll make a pay it forward investment when you give back to someone else.

4.01.2010

Where is the Boss? And Why Isn't She Fired Yet?

Administrative Meltdown
If somebody would put away these papers on my desk, my office would be much easier to work in. If somebody would answer the phone and respond to e-mails, I'd have more time for what I need to do. If somebody would pay my bills and update my day-planner, I'd feel much more on top of things.

Unfortunately, I'm the somebody who does these things.

Have you ever felt like you were the victim of your own administrative problems? Some days, I feel like this.
cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com
Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I think I need a makeover of my priorities...of my policies...of my practices. If I had a boss, he or she wouldn't let me take as many days out of my office as I take. He or she wouldn't let me procrastinate or make excuses. So, today, I'm not going to be a victim! I'm going to reorganize this administration from the top down. Cough. Um, that means it starts with me. 

Are you self-employed? Working from home? A domestic engineer (SAHM) looking for direction? Tell us how you've managed the distractions and time robbers to stay focused on your work. Or tell us how you'd like to improve your "home administration."

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