Content from this blog has moved to www.michellerayburn.com.

6.28.2011

Great Deal on a Laptop

If you have a student looking for a laptop for college, or if you have considered one for home use, here is a great deal from Amazon. We just bought our son the Toshiba model that's just up from this one (and a little more expensive) otherwise I might have considered this one. You'll get a $50 gift card to use on your next purchase from Amazon.

How to Take Advantage of the Promotion

 Add the Toshiba Satellite C655D-S5134 laptop for $391.73 (free shipping) and the $50 gift card to your cart. The gift card will be discounted at checkout.
 
Upon completion of the purchase, in accordance with the promotion, the gift card will be mailed to the physical address designated by you at checkout through your Amazon account. 

The promotion applies only to products sold by Amazon.com. It does not apply to the same products sold by other sellers. Offer good from June 20, 2011, until July 4, 2011, or while supplies last.

Facing the Day with Realistic Expectations

Do you have days where you just want to stay in bed and read a book? I do! Don't worry, I'm not depressed. It's just that sometimes, I lie there thinking about my to-do list for the day and I don't want to face it. It's overwhelming and I'd rather avoid it all.

This morning, I came back to my room to make the bed, and there was the book I'd read before forcing myself to climb out, and the light was still on...beckoning me to slip back beneath the covers. I resisted, and here I am, at my desk getting going on the list. I posted a guest blog last week about being paralyzed by expectations. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by what others expect from you, I encourage you to check out Kathy Carlton Willis's I'm Living Out Loud blog. And be sure to read my guest post Paralyzed by Expectations.

Knowing God, Knowing Myself: An Invitation to Daily DiscoveryI'm tackling the list one thing at a time today and I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic. Oh, and that book I was reading this morning...Knowing God Knowing Myself by Cecil Murphey encouraged me too. In each chapter, he address one aphorism (succinct statements that express things he has learned or wants to learn). In one chapter, Cec talks about his to-do list and the aphorism of the day is "Today I have time to do everything I need to do today." In other words, he reminds himself that he only needs to focus on today and not worry about what he can't get done.
Thanks for the reminder, Cec. I needed that.

6.22.2011

Yay! One of my readers won the prize!

Congratulations to Shannon for winning the grand prize drawing from author Laura Hilton. As promised, I drew names using Random#.org and sent the name of one commenter in for the grand prize drawing and Shannon's name was drawn. She wins all this:

 
1 apple mug
1 apple scented candle in decorative tin
1 small packet of Starbucks coffee
Amish made rose petal soap
Beverly Lewis' Amish Cookbook
Simple Joys of the Amish Life by Mindy Starns Clark
$5.00 McDonald's Gift Card
Amish Popcorn
Autographed copy of Patchwork Dreams

Keep watching my review for other opportunities to enter drawings. You never know when your name might be drawn.

6.18.2011

To The Parents of the Class of 2011

We have one more graduation party to attend today, so I thought I'd share with you the thoughts I posted in my monthly column in Wisconsin Christian News last month: 

My oldest son graduates this year and right now, our house is all graduation talk. Photos. Invitations. Parties. Cleaning for our open house. He’s trying to decide what to say in his speech. I’m trying to decide if we should have punch or lemonade. It’s a big event in his life and also my own. In each of his firsts, I’ve experienced my own first. Now, for the first time, I’m about to send one of my offspring out on his own.

At graduation, the speeches are directed towards the graduates, as they should be. However, as I face this first, I’d love to hear a veteran parent give an address to those of us who have a little anxiety about sending our kids out into the world. Something like this…

Parents of the graduating class of 2011, your work is never done, but this phase is. As you enter this transition, your new job is helping your graduate learn how to live as an adult. I know, some of you have counted down to this day, and have already hired a contractor to draw up plans for making Johnny’s bedroom into a home spa. In contrast, others of you would pack yourselves into Suzy’s suitcase when she leaves for college in the fall if you could. But somewhere, in your hearts all of you are probably wondering if you’ve raised a son or a daughter who is ready to face real life. You wonder if you did your job right.

Some of you just want a pat on the back that says well done. But others may hunger for a little more encouragement, something that eases your insecurity. High school hasn’t been a smooth ride for every teen. Kids don’t always behave the way we’d like them to, and some of you grieve over children who have rebelled against nearly every godly lesson you taught them. Some of you wish you could go back and re-do your parenting. You blame yourselves and harbor unwarranted guilt. Yes, as parents, we say and do things we regret. And we make decisions we later lament. However, no one has ever been a perfect parent. We all just do the best that we can with what we have learned.
 
If parenting a teen has been a challenge for you, I want you to have hope in knowing that God can redeem regret and even years wasted in rebellion.

God gives you an example of such redemption in the book of Joel. The people of Israel had lived in rebellion and experienced vast devastation by locusts because of their actions. But in Joel 2:25 God promised to restore the years the locusts ate, the energy wasted in backsliding and sin, and in his grace he would fully restore them. Soon, they would forget the heartache and rejoice, praising God for what he had done. Never underestimate the power of God to turn a life around and make you forget the pain of the past.

It’s okay to cry today, although, it isn’t pretty to blubber too much. Remember, there are cameras everywhere. You have reason to smile too, because you’ve worked hard to get your child to this point. If you had your own mortarboard, I’d beg you to throw it in celebration.

But what about that anxiety you have? Consider the promise in Isaiah 41:10 and imagine it had your son or daughter’s name filled in. “So do not fear, for I am with Sam; do not be dismayed, for I am Sam’s God. I will strengthen him and help him; I will uphold him with my righteous right hand.” Even though your son or daughter is likely leaving home soon, God is fully capable of upholding him or her in his hand.

Parents, your graduate will always need you. Continue to be a good example of active faith for your children. Show unconditional love, even if she changes college majors 4 times. Practice tough love when he begs to move home after he drops out one semester before college graduation and refuses to look for a job. Demonstrate grace when your child messes up and be straightforward about your own shortcomings.

God brought you to this moment, so give him all the glory he is due and thank him for all he has done and will do. Then, let’s eat cake.


Reprinted from the May 2011 issue of Wisconsin Christian News. (c) Michelle Rayburn. No part of this article may be reprinted or distributed without permission from Michelle. 

One More Amish Author to Consider

Last week, I told about a new Amish book I had just reviewed by Laura Hilton. Thanks for the great discussion about your favorite authors. Congrats to Shannon for getting her name picked to go to the final drawing for the gift basket. The winner of the grand prize will be drawn next week from all of the bloggers who submitted names. Good luck Shannon. I hope you win!

Plain Proposal (A Daughters of the Promise Novel)I'd like to tell you about another Amish fiction writer whose book I just finished. One comment from last week mentioned Beth Wiseman. I hadn't read any of her books, although I know she's popular, and now I know why. I really enjoyed "Plain Proposal". Be sure to check out Beth's website for how you can get updates from her blog, and from facebook.

Beth Wiseman is a master of showing, not telling. She knows how to draw the reader into the story and feel like a participant. As Miriam Raber’s story unfolds, the reader has many moments to assume he or she knows how the story will turn out, but it’s likely the reader will guess wrong. Right up until the last chapter, I didn’t know How Miriam and Saul would work out their situation. I’d tell what I thought was going to happen, but then I’d give away the ending. No spoilers here!

I’ve become a little burned out on Amish fiction lately, but I loved the way Beth Wiseman writes and I enjoyed this story. It’s clear she researches and in the story, she even points out some of the Pennsylvania Deitsch phrases that are commonly misused by “Englishers” who assume the Amish use them all the time. At last, a writer who avoids just copying what other Amish writers use! Instead, Beth consults her Amish friends for accuracy and is shows in her story.

The one thing I didn’t enjoy as much about the book was that it didn’t deviate far from the classic Amish story line of teens in rumschpringe who have to decide between remaining Amish or exploring the English world. Still, the author gave the story her own twists and made it a pleasant read.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Amish fiction and even more, enjoys authors who write Amish fiction well. There are many authors popping up who write in this genre, but not all do it as well as Wiseman.

I received this book for review purposes from the Amazon Vine program. My reviews are objective and honest.

6.16.2011

Book Review- The Fine Art of Insincerity

Have you ever hidden reality from your close friends? How about from your family? Sometimes, we can become so dysfunctional that we perfect the art of insincerity, even with those whom we ought to be able to trust with our feelings.

The Fine Art of Insincerity: A NovelIn the latest book from Angela Hunt, 3 sisters come together for a weekend to clean out their grandmother’s beachfront house. It sounds quaint, except they barely know one another outside of their bond of growing up in a troubled home. Following in the family tradition, Rose and Penny have had multiple marriages and both are restless again. In contrast, Ginger’s 27-year marriage is solid…or is it?

In The Fine Art of Insincerity, the sisters sort through their grandmother’s belongings, and each woman goes through her own emotional crisis, nor noticing how much her other sisters are hurting.  Gradually, the walls begin to break down.

This book deals with some heavy issues. A mother’s suicide, abortion, marriage, divorce, widowhood, family dysfunction, adultery, and much more. It’s an emotion-stirring story. I think readers will find themselves identifying with one of the three sisters. Ginger is the responsible one. Penny is the one in midlife crisis who dresses inappropriately and flirts with every man who comes around. Rose loves her dog to pieces, doesn’t realize just how much her husband loves her, and grieves over the children she’ll never have. If readers don’t relate to one of these three, surely the eccentric grandmother, a cheating husband, or a husband suspecting his wife of plotting to leave will stir some emotional connection.

Angela Hunt writes well and draws the reader into the story well. The one thing I found missing in this story is spiritual depth. Although each sister realizes her own flaws at some point, there isn’t a depiction of God’s grace. Other than Ginger being on staff at her church, there isn’t real spiritual depth here. There were several elements of the story that were morally wrong and characters didn’t arrive at a point where they acknowledge this. I think the story would have been much more powerful if this had been developed more.

I received this book from Glass Road Public Relations for review purposes. My opinions are my own and my reviews are objective and honest.

6.10.2011

Interview with Laura Hilton and Prize Drawing


Patchwork Dreams (Amish of Seymour V1)Yesterday, I featured Laura Hilton's new book Patchwork Dreams. Here's a little Q and A with Laura and then be sure to check the end of the post for how you can get entered into the prize drawing.

How has being published changed your life?
Well there’s a lot of administrative stuff that I didn’t know about beforehand. And a lot of things that take me out of my comfort zone. I’m naturally a shy quiet and private person, and suddenly I have to be more willing to talk about what I’m doing.

What is your current work in progress?
I am starting the third book in the Amish of Seymour series, which will be Becky’s friend, Annie’s story.

What would be your dream vacation?
Oh, well, I would love to spend a month or two in Michigan (our whole family loves Michigan and we missed it when we moved away) and just poke around the lighthouses, waterfalls, etc. that make the state great. Also, if I ever have a chance to go overseas, I would love to see Big Ben and visit some of the European castles. Also, I’d love an extended stay at an Amish bed and breakfast.

How do you choose your settings for each book?
Well, most Amish books are set in Ohio and Pennsylvania because that is where the largest communities are. I chose to set mine in Seymour, Missouri, because there is an Amish community there. Missouri is an untapped setting for Amish stories, and it was close enough for me to drive up there for research.

If you could spend an evening with one person who is currently alive, who would it be and why?
Oh, Beverly Lewis. When I grow up I want to write like her. I’d love to talk writing with her.

What is your most difficult writing obstacle, and how do you overcome it?
My most difficult obstacle was trying to write in the living room with five children! I’ve gotten pretty good at blocking out noises though. Unless the children are fighting or crying I can work through it
 *     *     *
Laura is giving away this fun prize package for $50 to one reader. I'll draw the name of one of my readers on June 17 and send that name on to the final drawing. One of my readers won once, so let's hope it happens again!
 Grand Prize Giveaway:
Amish Gift Set
* 1 apple mug
* 1 apple scented candle in decorative tin
* 1 small packet of Starbucks coffee
* Amish made rose petal soap
* Beverly Lewis' Amish Cookbook
* Simple Joys of the Amish Life by Mindy Starns Clark
* $5.00 McDonald's Gift Card
* Amish Popcorn
* Autographed copy of Patchwork Dreams
 To enter, leave your comments below answering one of these two questions:
  1. Who is your favorite Amish fiction author?
  2. Do you have Amish in your community? How have you noticed their "culture" differs in your area from that which you read about in fiction featuring other communities?


6.09.2011

New Amish Fiction from Laura Hilton

I'd like to introduce you to a new author from Whitaker House. Laura Hilton has just released Patchwork Dreams, the first in The Amish of Seymour series. Here's a little about the book and what I thought of it.

Book Summary
Becky Troyer has committed the ultimate sin, and finds herself on the edge of her Amish community. Jacob Miller believes he was sent to the Old Order Community in Missouri to help out a distant cousin. Instead, he discovers he was part of an arranged swap—sending men from his Pennsylvania district to the Missouri district to bring new blood into the Amish community. Becky dreams of marriage, but doesn't dare hope that anyone would choose her—not with her history. Can God use the lies that have affected Becky and Jacob to bring them together? Or will Jacob rebel and head home to his first love?

Review
This is a story of hope for two young people who had assumed their futures were all figured out for them, whether they liked it or not. But when they met each other, hope rekindled when each realized they didn’t have to be confined to what they had assumed their future might be.
Becky has a fondness for McDonald’s “fancy” coffee, a.k.a. cappuccino. She and Jacob looked for any opportunity to take the buggy to McDonalds for a coffee. The plot has a few twists and turns, misunderstandings that almost lead to ruined relationships and a sweet love story that will capture the hearts of many readers. It’s a quick, light read for those who enjoy Amish fiction.

What I liked: I liked that this wasn’t just another Amish book. Unlike some, where the main character meets “an Englischer” and struggles with the decision to leave the order or stay, this book takes a refreshing break from that story line. It also shows a less idealized and more raw side of Amish life in that it depicts a young woman who has had a child out of wedlock. Readers will discover more about this circumstance as the story unfolds. The family has a warm and loving relationship that's endearing.

What I didn’t like: I though that Becky and Jacob fell in love unrealistically quick and Jacob acted way too familiar with her. It was only a day or two after they met that he was calling her Bex, and not too many more when he reached across the table for her hand. He often did things like wink at her. I would think that since she was an unwed mother, her parents would have protected her more from instant male attention, even if it was from an Amish man (one whom they barely knew).

I was also disappointed that most Englischers in the story were evil and worldly. The story felt a little imbalance in that so few were trustworthy. It also seemed like Becky’s annoying former Englisch beau had a habit of showing up at McDonalds every time she was there. Incidents similar to that made the story a little too predictable.
 
About the Author
Laura Hilton graduated with a business degree from Ozarka Technical College in Melbourne, Arkansas. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, she is a professional book reviewer for the Christian market, with more than a thousand reviews published on the Web. Prior to Patchwork Dreams, she published two novels with Treble Heart Books: Hot Chocolate and Shadows of the Past, as well as several devotionals. Laura and her husband, Steve, have five children, whom Laura homeschools. The family makes their home in Arkansas. To learn more about Laura, read her reviews, and find out about her upcoming releases, visit her blog.
 
Watch for my Friday blog entry where you can read an interview with Laura and find out how you can enter into a drawing for a fabulous prize basket.

6.08.2011

Lazarus Awakening- A Review

Have you ever felt dead inside? It’s as if the world around you continues to spin, but you feel nothing. Nothing but darkness. That’s what it’s like to be a Lazarus.

Based on the biblical story of Lazarus who Jesus brought back to life after 4 days dead, Lazarus Awakening: Finding Your Place in the Heart of God is a call to the reader to come out of the spiritual tomb and really live. It’s about God’s unconditional love and our call to enjoy and intimate relationship with God.
Lazarus Awakening: Finding Your Place in the Heart of God 
I love Joanna Weaver’s tone and I’ve enjoyed her other book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, very much. She’s honest about her own shortcomings and her writing has a conversational style. I had a little more trouble really connecting with the subject matter of this book. Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a Martha and I really connected with her other writing. I wrote notes and highlights all over her first book and not so much in this one.

There were a couple of points towards the end where my heart connected with the author’s, though. Especially when she talked about her own testimony and lack of a drastic before and after story. I also liked the sidebars that she included throughout the book with extra content. Those gave opportunity for more thought and reflection.

The other thing that’s great is the Bible study material in the back. Joanna Weaver has included questions for discussion and reflection, as well as questions that urge the reader to go deeper and look up several Bible passages. There is a study guide for each chapter and I think I’d have to reread the book sometime and do the study to really get a lot more out of it. There are other helpful resources in the back too.

The reader who will enjoy this book is the one who has struggled with accepting God’s love and who has lived in fear, regret, and self-condemnation for all too long.

I received a free review copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their blogging for books program. My reviews are honest and I am not obligated to write a favorable review.

6.07.2011

Interview with Davis Bunn plus Free Chapter


Davis Bunn is an award-winning novelist whose audience spans reading genres from high drama and action thrillers to heartwarming relationship stories, in both contemporary and historical settings. He and his wife, Isabella, make their home in Florida for some of each year, and spend the rest near Oxford, England, where they each teach and write. Visit Davis at www.davisbunn.com

Q & A with Davis Bunn                   
Though you have published two dozen novels, Lion of Babylon seems to be a seminal work for you. Tell us where the idea began and how all the complexities of the story came together.
While crafting Lion of Babylon, I was repeatedly struck by how I had spent much of my life in preparation for this joyful task. During my earlier career in the business world, I worked four years for a company in which I was the only non-Muslim in the company’s entire management. I studied with an imam for a while to better understand their history, culture, and religious beliefs.
That job caused me to travel often to Africa, Asia, and almost every country in the Middle East, revealing the very distinct divisions represented by the word Muslim, which to most Westerners conjures up only images of terrorists and violence.
So Lion of Babylon has been at work in my heart and head for a while. Along with visits to the region, I have friends and acquaintances both in the U.S. and other countries who have been invaluable resources for “insider information” on government policies, national security, religious issues, cultural norms, the setting, and so on—all the parts and pieces that go into creating authentic characters and plot.
The original title of this novel was The Green Zone. Why the change to Lion of Babylon? What is the historical significance of the title?
Just as I was completing the first draft of my novel, the film Green Zone was released. Nothing could have been further from what I hoped to achieve in my story. Everyone at Bethany House Publishers who saw the film agreed. There was no question. The name had to be altered.
Lion of Babylon is an expression from the very early days of human history, around the time that Abraham was instructed by God to leave the idolatrous land of Ur. The title Lion of Babylon comes from that same period, derived from the epic poem Gilgamesh. It refers to a hero of the people, one who can be trusted to see them through perilous times. What better way to describe the gift that Jesus holds.
Have you personally witnessed or experienced reconciliation between Muslims and Christians? Or is the reconciliation that occurs in Lion of Babylon wishful thinking?
This sort of reconciliation goes on every day. And to witness this, especially by someone who knows first-hand the tragic conflict threatening to overwhelm these countries, is nothing short of miraculous. And yet it happens, over and over and over. And each time it occurs, it is living testimony to the power of faith in Jesus.
You have a passion for faith-based peace initiatives. How did that passion play into the writing of Lion of Babylon?
The role I play is very small, compared to the amazing and heroic work done by others. But it has remained something very dear to me, and perhaps someday I might take on a greater responsibility. The entire effort, which is taking place in every country in the Middle East and North Africa, comes down to the simple act of bringing the presence of Jesus into the heart of these discussions.
Did you have other motives for writing a book of this nature?
I can still remember the first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia, and all the mysterious beauty of this region came to life. Ever since I began writing, I have sought to reveal some small fragment of the wonder and astonishing richness I have discovered through my own travels. This certainly played a role in shaping this story.
Tell us about your process of writing Lion of Babylon?
This is the first time I have based a story upon my experiences of working and living in the Middle East. I wrote the outline over a six month period, coming back to it time and again between other projects.
My desire was to have half the story told from the point of view of an Arab Christian. I asked myself:
  1. What does it mean to live as a member of a minority faith? 
  2. What are the current circumstances faced by such a person and their family?
Lion of BabylonIn order for such issues to NOT get in the way of the overall story, I needed to grow utterly comfortable with this man, his world, and his ‘skin’, during the outlining phase of the writing process.
Then I just sat on it for months, knowing I needed something more, but not sure what it was. Finally I showed it to my editors at Bethany House Publishers. It was only when I received their feedback that I felt the book begin to genuinely solidify.

In general, the crucial change between outline and first draft is the climax. I have never had my first vision of the climax actually become the book’s culmination. Lion of Babylon is no exception. As usual, what I envisioned as the climax actually became one of the crucial moments LEADING to the climax. I find I like this uncertainty, this unexpectedness. If I don’t know, the reader normally can’t anticipate.
Where do you write – an attic, a nook, or an office?
My writing life is focused upon solitude. Because of this, I like to have a broad open space before me. My desk faces a window, and the window looks out over sky. I had a dear friend once, another author, who said he couldn't stand such a position; he would not ever get anything done. I feed off the sky.
You have been referred to as the ‘Gentleman Adventurer’, Davis. How did that description come to be?
I suppose it is because of my background and varied interests. Raised in North Carolina, my post-college years landed me in Europe, where I earned graduate degrees in finance and economics. My career in the business world took me to over forty countries on every continent, providing opportunities for hiking and skiing in the Alps or surfing off the coast of Africa.
Tell us about your faith journey.
I grew up in a southern family with unquestioned involvement in church as an important part of our lives. It wasn’t until I was 28, though, and running a business advisory group in Germany, that I met someone who opened the Scriptures up for me. I discovered that one could have more than simply a nodding acquaintance with Jesus. Two weeks later I began writing, and it has remained my passion and calling ever since.
Your writing also has been a journey. You wrote for nine years and produced seven manuscripts before the first one was accepted for publication. How were you able to retain your passion during that time?
I admit it was not easy, and I could have given up at many points along the way. But probably the most significant event was meeting someone who believed in me and my creative gifts. A lawyer, this friend offered to represent my work and find a publishing home for me. That occurred with the release of my first novel, The Presence, and I very wisely married her!
Isabella is an acclaimed attorney, doing work for the UN related to human rights and ethics, but she also is a beloved wife and partner with me on the writing. Her touch in some way appears in everything I write.
What is the take-away message you want readers to receive after reading your book?
Lion of Babylon is being called a thriller, and I do hope readers experience a ride they won’t forget. Beyond that, though, my desire is that readers will have a new understanding and appreciation of West versus East, of the highly complex issues related to the United States’ involvement in Iraq and Iran, and possibly a new way of thinking about solutions for peace in the Mideast.
I feel that we as believers need to glimpse a world beyond the dark headlines and the fearful strife. We need to gain a higher perspective. I would so very much like to have this story help readers rise up to a new vision of this region. One where Jesus reigns.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website, blog, and interactive discussion group
*     *     *     *     *
Would you like to read the first chapter of the book?
Lion of Babylon

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