Book Review

Made to Last

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Today we welcome the funny, talented, and kind debut author Melissa Tagg! This girl will make you laugh, she’s real, and she works at a non-profit. I know, it doesn’t get better than that! Well, except that she writes thoughtful, funny romantic fiction.

 

You work at a non-profit, can you share about that and what role that work plays in your fiction? 

Sure! I work at a Christian homeless ministry in Des Moines. We’re actually the largest, privately-funded provider of programs and services for those who are homeless and hungry in Iowa. I’m the grant-writer and communications coordinator—which means in addition to writing grants, I also work with our newsletters, direct mail appeals, eblasts, social media, videos, etc.

I really feel strongly that caring for our hurting neighbors is something God feels strongly about. In the Old Testament, you see Him telling people not to harvest the edges of their fields—to leave that grain for the poor. In Matthew 25, Jesus says whatever we do “for the least of these,” we do for him. In James we’re told true religion is caring for the widows and orphans. We all have a role to play in helping the hurting among us.

More than anything, my role at Hope Ministries has taught me about compassion, hurting when others are hurting, learning to see people through Christ’s eyes. Those are lessons I know I’ll continue learning for the rest of my life…so those themes definitely show up in my fiction. My first book, for instance, includes a shelter for orphans with special medical needs. My second book includes an adult with Down syndrome who finds herself homeless for a short time. In both books, the main characters step up to the plate to help out. I would love to inspire people to do the same.

 

Made to Last is a romantic comedy, in movies what is your favorite romantic comedy? In life, what things make you laugh?

Oh boy, that movie question is like asking someone to walk into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and pick out just one thing to eat.  I LOVE classic romantic comedies like It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, really anything with Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn. I’m on record call The Philadelphia Story the best rom-com of all time, so if I had to pick one, it might be that.

I’m not a huge fan of too many current rom-coms, but I did adore Dan in Real Life. It was such a perfect picture of family life, and who knew Steve Carell could be so heart-tugging?

As for what makes me laugh in real life: Without question, my family. They are a hilarious bunch.

 

An element of Made to Last includes being real vs. the person we hope for people to see. Why do you feel its important as woman of faith to be transparent about who we are including our struggles?

It’s funny because about halfway through writing Made to Last, it suddenly hit me: God had me writing this story for…me. I tend to be very tempted to find my worth in accomplishments or goals achieved—like how my character, Miranda, finds her value in her career success. But often it’s when those things are stripped away that we figure out who we really are—loved by an amazing God.

And here’s the thing: If I really, truly believe that I’m created, valued and cherished by a loving God, then why would I want to present any other picture of myself to the world around me than that person…the person He made me to be? For me, that’s what it comes down to. If I’m spending time and effort trying to display some other persona, then that says something about where I’m finding my worth.

But when I’m secure in who I am in Christ, then it’s easier to be transparent. Not necessarily easy—especially when it comes to my struggles—but easier. And we’re so much freer to really make a difference in the lives of the people around us when we’re not so busy trying to be people we aren’t.

Thank you SO much for having me on your blog, Lisa!

Tagg6Melissa Tagg is a former newspaper reporter and total Iowa girl. In addition to her work as a grant writer and communications coordinator at Iowa’s largest homeless ministry, she also serves as the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy. Melissa blogs regularly at Melissa Tagg  and loves connecting with readers on Facebook , Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg), Youtube and Goodreads.

Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of Made to Last!

How do you feel about keeping it real? Why is it so hard?

Healing our Hearts

_240_360_Book.932.coverWounded by God’s People. 

This should be an oxymoron, but that is not reality. We are fallible.

 

I don’t know if I know any one who has not been wounded. It’s devastating and painful. I know the sleepless nights and the spaces of tears and not knowing where to turn, feeling lost and hopeless.

Wise Anne Graham Lotz offers us hope through the story of Hagar, Abraham’s Egyptian slave who bore him Ismael.

She offers us hope that God sees and loves the wounded…

here is the kicker. He sees and loves the wounders too.

 

Um… no. That is not how it works. But, yes it is.

If we seek complete healing this is how it works. Hard lesson? Yes. I struggle with this, I want the apology and justice. Do we always receive that? No.

The daughter of Billy Graham and a woman in ministry, Anne has sustained hurt. With honestly, she shares the moments when she inflicted hurt too.

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She [Hagar] had to stop her sobbing, stop fighting her wounders- mentally, emotionally, and spiritually- and just be still.

 

It is then that we realize, God is still there. He never left us.

We realize that often wounders, have been wounded too, this should open space for forgiveness.

 

I also love her example of Jesus . “He demonstrates that one way to overcome emotional pain is to focus on the needs of others- to reach out and help someone else who may also be suffering.”

In the messy aftermath of being wounded, About Proximity was born. That is the honest truth.

 

The prayer she shared in the book is now my prayer, I share it with you.

lotzThis book is simply an important read for our hearts.

Leave a comment to win a hard-covered copy of the book! What do you need to let go of this day? 

{This book is from BookSneeze, where I review a title in order to give away the book to you!}

Burning Sky

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Burning Sky is the first novel of author Lori Benton. You can read the first two chapters at Lori’s website.  You can follow her on facebook and pinterest, including a great Burning Sky board!

 

I am so excited to give this novel away! It was stunning.

Willa Obenchain was abducted by Mohawk Indians at age fourteen. Burning Sky was her given Mohawk name.

I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life.

The character of Willa blew me away. She stands strong throughout the book, almost majestic in nature. Her resolve is inspiring, her hurts achingly exposed, but moved through with grace. Willa is a literary character that will remain ingrained in my mind, one I will want to share as an example to other women.

burning skyThe setting of the New York frontier is beautiful in its own right. There is a connection between the story line and nature.

 

Willa is caught between two worlds, her Mohawk past and the white world she was born into. Her Mohawk brother Tames-His-Horse and an injured Scotsman Neil MacGregor guide her journey.  In the wake of the Revolutionary War, people distrust Indians and this places Willa in great danger when she takes in two orphaned Indian children.

Willa fights to save the land of her missing parents. The story circles action and mystery with surprising tenderness. I appreciate the themes of hope, courage, and the rights of all peoples. This is proximity.

 

Win a copy of Burning Sky by leaving a comment.

Have you ever felt torn between two worlds?

An End of Summer Read

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I wanted to give away one more summer inspired read! (Who can believe summer has drifted by again?)

Colleen Coble is a best-selling author of romantic mysteries.

Visit her website here.

 

I confess, I’m not a mystery girl. I read the end of the book before I finish more cases than not! I know it’s terrible. I know many of you love mysteries especially if there is a love story within the suspense. If that’s the case, you will love Rosemary Cottage. In my book giveaways, I am trying to find book genres for everyone!

The story takes place on North Carolina’s Outer Banks at Hope Beach Cottage. Reading the book is like taking a mini vacation to the shore. Amy Lang is a mid-wife and a surfer. She’s also mourning the death of her brother, Ben. His disappearance at sea during a surfing outing has left questions in her mind.

Down the beach lives Cost Guard Officer Curtis Ireland. He too is mourning the lose of his sister and single Mom, Gina, killed in a boating accident. Curtis now cares for his niece, Raine, left behind.

Together, they join forces to solve the mystery of their siblings deaths. Only to find there is much more to the story.

 

I loved the setting of the cottage beach house and the quaint town. Amy had a place of solace to return too when things were hard, we can all ask ourselves if we too have a place like that in our lives. There are some strong supporting characters, surfing Aunt Edith and misguided, young Heather. The story takes a number of surprising twists and turns. I’d be interested if anyone else figures out the mystery before the end. I like to be positive on my reviews, but I did find this one to be a little far-fetched. Still, quite entertaining and fast-paced. I enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading her other books.

There is a great reading group guide in the end and I love how it draws you more deeply into the story. Here is great questions to think about:

Have you ever kept something to yourself because it was too painful to talk about? This book at its core is about deception, secrets, and forgiveness. These are topics that are powerful to think about in our every day lives and face head on.

 

Leave a comment and take one last summer beach trip to Hope Island! I’ll be giving away one copy of the book. 

Amy, as a midwife, was a healer in her work and her heart. Do you know someone like this in your life?

{This review is part of BookSneeze: where I give an honest review in exchange for a book to give away to you!}

Here are some of her other titles.

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The Secrets of Happy Families

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A Guest Post by Shannon Jammal-Hollemans

Book Review: The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler

It was a sunny, summer evening. With my family gathered around the dinner table, and our youngest off at the home of a friend, it was the perfect opportunity to talk about sex with my middle school-aged kids. The catalyst for this conversation was a chapter in Bruce Feiler’s latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families, entitled “Lessons from the Sex Mom.”

A colleague recently recommended that I read a piece by Bruce Feiler in the New York Times. The essay, I discovered, serves as a brief introduction to the larger topic addressed in Feiler’s latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families. I was so captured by the essay that I looked into the book. When browsing the chapter titles, and seeing “Lessons from the Sex Mom”, I knew this was a book for me.

 

I am generally leery of “best practices” type of self-help books. Life is always more complex. But Feiler’s book, while based on a “best practices” model, offers more. Gathering ideas from a variety of practitioners, backing them with statistics, and pairing them with stories from families, Feiler offers practical wisdom for addressing life’s complexities. With humor and humility, he addresses subjects from talking to kids about sex to branding your family with a mission statement.

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Feiler identifies concrete examples of activities that contribute to a family’s flourishing—intergenerational collaboration, consensus model decision making, the celebration of milestones, and making time to regularly check in with one another. He avoids, and even repudiates, recommendations that only serve to put pressure on families, like the expectation that families eat dinner together every night. Feiler asks, why not breakfast?

Avoiding the “shoulds” that often bog parents down and pile on guilt for what we are failing to do, Feiler’s book is refreshingly genuine and helpful. In the introduction, Feiler claims that what sets this book apart is the fact that he does not refer to the same psychological studies and data that similar books rely upon. Yet while he does avoid these for the most part, the book is solidly rooted in good psychology, and to its benefit.

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At its heart, the book is about adaptability and good communication. Happy families—like successful businesses, teams, and military units—are firmly rooted yet open to change, closely knit yet free to adapt.  To learn about crafting a family vacation, Feiler talked to the pioneers of the game FarmVille. His takeaways from that conversation were that happy family vacations—like successful games—have clear goals, set rules, opportunities for feedback, and voluntary participation. Many of Feiler’s conclusions about happy families are similar.

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The book has its faults. At times it can reek of North American individualism, but like talking to my kids about sex, The Secrets of Happy Families has served as a catalyst for me to initiate a few changes in my family. What better time than summer break? We are going to craft a mission statement. I am going to use the criteria of the FarmVille folks as checklist for planning our next vacation. I have even gotten a few takeaways that will apply to my work.

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But the real gift that I am taking away from Feiler’s book is the reminder that families, like all closely-knit relationships, need work to succeed. It doesn’t just happen. If the cycles of bad relationships are going to be broken, we need to be intentional. We need to talk about our issues. And we need to be open to implement change, to make mistakes, and to adapt again.

shannonShannon Jammal-Hollemans is a recent graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and works as a project developer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Though My Heart is Torn, Joanne Bischof

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Be Still My Soul was the first book in the Cadence of Grace Series by Joanne Bischof. We had the privilege of having Joanne visit About Proximity when the first novel released. The second in the series is called My Heart is Torn. The last in the trilogy, My Hope is Found will release in October 2013.

Be Still My Soul was a beautiful love story with unique elements. Lonnie and Gideon were forced into a hasty marriage. Through the pages of the story their relationship struggled and grew as Gideon became the man God intended him to be and Lonnie believed he could be. The sweet unfolding of a realistic relationship made the story memorable.

 

In Though My Heart is Torn, Gideon’s past comes back to haunt them.

Gideon O’Riley has two wives-but he doesn’t know it.

Every page of this story was heartbreaking; to see love torn apart, haunting past mistakes and a fledgling faith.

I don’t want to reveal to much of the story line, but I absolutely can’t wait to read the last book of the trilogy. This story, I read in two days, which means double thumbs up. Lonnie’s strength to move forward as a single Mom and trust in a bigger plan is a beautiful example, yet she shows her vulnerability and pain honestly. Gideon’s desire to be worthy of all God has called him to be inspires. You can feel his struggle reverberate through his physical being. New characters add an extra layer of faith journey to the story line.

 

The story also asks an important question:

How do our choices affect others and in response how God’s grace always has the power to redeem.

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You can follow Joanne Bischof’s blog here, also on facebook and twitter

Read the first chapter here.

joanne-bishofMarried to her first sweetheart, Joanne Bischof lives in the mountains of Southern California where she keeps busy making messes with their home-schooled children. When she’s not weaving Appalachian romance, she’s blogging about faith, writing, and the adventures of country living that bring her stories to life.

 

 

Leave a comment and win a copy of the book! 

From the study guide:

Can you think of a time when you relied on God’s grace to resolve an issue?

{I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.}

Manhood

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John Croyle, founder of Big Oak Ranch in Alabama, leads Dad’s through steps to help their sons reach authentic manhood.

Croyle was a All-American defensive end at the University of Alabama. He choose to forego professional football and established Big Oak Ranch, a place where he desired for children to have a chance. The ranch has grown to a boys ranch, girls ranch and a Christian school. All proceeds from the book go directly to the children. 1,800 abused and neglected children have lived and been given hope at the ranch.

 

I think this book is an important read because it is heartfelt, geared to Dad’s and incredibly practical. What guy doesn’t like practical advice laid out from the basis of football plays. Also, John Croyle’s voice is centered in his years of experience raising his own children and guiding the children of the ranch. The last chapter of the book includes an interview with Croyle’s now grown children Brodie and Reagan.

The book includes his history and also stories from the ranch. I especially love his focus on being an example to the boys that come to the ranch and also the teaching of strong work ethic. I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of a Dad in the life of a child and if that is not possible family members, friends and mentors that can stand in that gap.

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Other highlights:

  • The practical lists of action to do to become stronger in our parenting roles.
  • The ways in which we compromise all that we could be as parents.
  • The analogy that you are preparing your child to become an adult and the teamwork that takes.
  • The encouragement to never, ever give up.

As long as you and your boy are still breathing, you need to know it’s not too late.

 

Leave a comment and win a copy of the book for a Dad in your life.

What do you love about the role Dad’s play in children’s lives? 

Bread and Wine

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Bread and Wine a Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes.  By: Shauna Niequist

I wanted to give this book away, but honestly was intimidated to read it.

 

I would not describe myself as a foodie, maybe a burn the food person. I do like food though, does that count? In the locker room at the Aquatic Center I saw a brown loofah and thought it was a bag of tortilla chips last week. Sometimes I slap down fish sticks a’la Betty Draper of Mad Men for dinner, I really do. What I’m saying is I loved this book, even though I am not a foodie purist.

In this book each chapter is an essay ending with a recipe. Shauna invites us to her own table of her childhood and her present, a table shared by family and friends. Reading the book feels like being offered a warm invitation into the home of a life-long friend. As a writer her words speak wisdom and humor. She possesses the gift of hospitality and offers it up freely to her readers.

 

She shares transparently her own struggle with infertility and how around the table friends uphold one another.

But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life- the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love- if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.

doorEven deeper, she writes about the Eucharist, the bread and wine and God’s invitation to all of us.

Every time we eat and drink should be a reminder that:
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I shut this book and am changed.

To: appreciate each meal as a gift from God’s hand.

To: be encouraged to open my door and feed those I love.

To: archive memories of gathering together when the days are hard.

To: slow down.

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leave a comment and be entered to win this book in hard cover. 

what is your favorite meal to fix when you have company? 

Unfinished

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Richard Stearns, President of World Vision has a new book called Unfinished Believing is only the Beginning. 

About Proximity was given a hard cover copy to review and giveaway!

Stearns first book was the National Bestseller The Hole in our Gospel. In that book he spoke about his journey from CEO of Parker Brothers Games and Lenox, Inc to World Vision.

 

In Unfinished, Stearns writes about our Biblical mission to proclaim God’s truths and act on his life-changing love.

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The book lacked the deep story telling Stearns included in his first book. He spent much of the chapters giving overview to the bigger story found in the Bible. I still enjoyed the book and its message very much. The stories he tells of his work with World Vision and other people’s acts of love are the strongest parts of the book.

One story stands out against the backdrop of the book for me. He told of how tourists vacationing at Haiti ocean resort locations are placed on buses with blacked out windows when they arrive at the airport. Then, they are transported to their destination. The windows are blacked out so they do not see the abject poverty they are passing by on the way to their resort.

 

The work is unfinished.

How often when we are not in direct proximity to suffering, do we black out what we see.

We were made for so much more.

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You have a critical role to play.

We need to cast off our inward, secure, isolated lives and look outward.

The book has a great study guide and an act,pray, influence and give guide.

 

Leave a comment and be entered to win a hard cover copy of the book! 

Are you ever tempted to black out what you know? What do you think when you read the words we were made for so much more?

A Dream So Big

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A Dream So Big: Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger

This is the story of the Peifer Family.

Steve Peifer was a manager of a corporate giant. He and his wife Nancy had two sons and lived in Dallas, Texas.

In 1997, their unborn son was said to have trisomy 13 and his condition to be “incompatible with life.” They were advised to abort the baby. They did not listen to that advice and loved their son for the eight days they were given with him.

The loss was deep and their family left for a 12-month assignment as dorm parents in a Kenyan boarding school. 12 months turned into a lifetime of service. Steve now serves as Director of College Guidance at Rift Valley Academy.

Their family established a rural food program that feeds 20,000 school children lunch. They also developed the first solar-powered computer training center in Kenya, and are currently developing more labs for schoolchildren.

 

My dear friend Becky Bing went to high school at Rift Valley Academy. I love her stories of being there and appreciate the loving wisdom she gathered while she lived in Kenya. Reading this book was especially exciting to me to learn more about what she experienced. I loved the book and the remarkable story of the Peifer family.

 

Steve is vulnerable and real in his re-telling of their story. The days were not always easy. You will fall in love with the resilient people of Africa and the Peifer’s who refused to give up.

Humor and tears coexist. The perilous driving conditions, baboons in the schoolyard, funny third-culture adolescent boys reside alongside the faces of starving children, magnadoodles delivered to orphanages and the hope computers bring.

Many Kenyan children only eat one meal a day. The Peifer’s do not look away from the suffering they witness and they summon us to have the strength to do the same.

 

The Peifer family also adopted twins, Katie and Ben while in Kenya. Their court appointed date to finalize the adoptions was on May 4, the exact date their son Stephan had passed away. I love how God can redeem the unredeemable. 

He also writes, Stephan was born six years ago today. March 4 used to be such a hard day. But I look at the twins, at the more than eight thousand schoolkids we feed every day, at the amazing life we live now because of his life, and I can see him in almost everything I do, everything I am. 

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Leave a comment to win a hard-cover copy of the book!

What is your dream so big? 

You can learn more about how to support the program Kenyan Kids Can here.