Monday, March 25, 2013

FIrefly Island by Lisa Wingate

This book was a real page turner. I had a hard time getting into it at first because I just kept thinking, "this is going to end badly." I couldn't imagine how a professional woman working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC could be happy quitting her job, getting married and moving with her ready-made family to a ranch in the back of beyond in Texas. I couldn't imagine a "happily ever after" coming from that scenario. But amazingly enough, it did. And with a lot of mystery and intrigue in the middle. There were a lot of mishaps along the way as she dealt with goats, cows, vermin and hometown folk in the small Texas town. Throw in a surprise pregnancy, a lot of loving, long-distance interfering relatives and some unusual new friends. This book had a lot of quirks and surprises but it chronicled the journey from self-sufficiency to being part of a community and a real genuine love relationship. By the time I got half way through the book I couldn't put it down anymore and could not wait to read to the last page to find out what happened. After I read the last page I sat and enjoyed knowing but with a little sadness at that being the end and no more to experience. I've read several of Lisa Wingate's books and all I can say is they keep getting better and better!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House to review. I did not receive any compensation for completing this review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

So Shines the Night by Tracy L. Higley

I am at a loss at where to begin to describe this book. This is Acts Chapter 18 and 19 as you have never even imagined it before. Tracy Higley never ceases to amaze me as to the depth of her historical research. This book is about Daria, who flees from Rhodes to Ephesus in search of a new life and answers to puzzling questions, and Lucas, a businessman from Ephesus who is also seeking answers. They become embroiled in the politics and intrigues of the day and find themselves exploring the secret world of the sorcerers, the intrigues of the business class who seek to keep the status quo of the worship of Artemis, and the intriguing group called "The Way" which consists of both Jews and Greeks who are followers of the Jesus, the Messiah. One of the leading characters is Paul and another is Timothy as well as others mentioned in the Book of Acts.

It is a wonderful story, a love story of sorts, a mystery, and just an intriguing look at what life was like in that place and time. It is an in-depth look into the worship of the gods, their followers, their temple etc., and the darker, demonic side of the sorcerers who tried to dig deeper only to become entangled in the world of the demonic.

As Ms. Higley has explored the wonders of the ancient world through her books, our study of ancient history and also of the early church has been enhanced. Her books are favorites of mine and my granddaughter's. My granddaughter can barely wait for me to finish the books so she can get her nose into them. There are such a rich and delicious read that it spoils us for other literature.

Author’s Note
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World continue to inspire my creative imagination and my passion for historical research. In So Shines the Night I wanted to give readers an experience of the Temple of Artemis in a real and tangible way.
By the opening of So Shines the Night, this temple had been built, destroyed by a flood’s deposit of silt and sand, rebuilt, destroyed by arson, and rebuilt yet again, larger and more magnificent than ever. The tenaciousness of the Ephesian people in their devotion to Artemis is undeniable.
The province of Asia Minor during the reign of the Roman Empire was an eclectic mix of Romans, Greeks, Jews and others, though the culture was mainly Greek. But the Ephesian Artemis was distinct from the usual Artemis worshipped elsewhere through the Greek world. The “virgin huntress” of the larger Greek world was here in Ephesus changed to focus more on fertility, and from the comment made in Acts 19, the Ephesians seemed to believe that she had fallen to them from the sky – it’s believed that perhaps some kind of meteoric rock actually fell and was preserved inside the temple.
Ephesus itself was an important harbor city of the ancient world, though it had been ravaged the century prior by the Mithridatic Wars which had left the city heavily in debt. When Augustus came to power in 27 BC, he made Ephesus the capital of his new province of Asia, and began a widespread rebuilding of the city, which brought affluence and luxury. At the point of our story, in 57 AD, there is still more extravagant building to come – for nearly another hundred years – including that iconic image of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. Readers who have visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus may have wondered at that structure’s absence from the story. In fact, it was not built until 135 AD.
All that Greek and Roman history is fascinating, but for me, the most enjoyable part of this book was getting to include some familiar characters from the pages of the Bible – Paul and Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, and a few other miscellaneous folks we know very little about. One of the challenges for me was pinning down an exact timeframe for the story, and in the end I made a decision based on widely-accepted historical research.

If you have one of those maps in the back of your Bible featuring “Paul’s missionary journeys,” you’ll find Ephesus along the route of Paul’s third journey. For those interested in a brief timeline, when Paul came to Ephesus he had already visited many of the well-known cities such as Thessaloniki, Phillipi, Athens and Corinth. He had worked alongside Barnabus and Silas, and picked up Timothy in Lystra. While in Corinth (probably around 53) he met Priscilla and Aquila who had moved there when the Roman emperor Claudius forced all Jews to leave Rome in 49. Paul stayed about eighteen months in Corinth, where he wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. Leaving Corinth, he took Priscilla and Aquila with him and stopped in Ephesus, leaving them there to begin missionary work while he continued on to Syria. Back in Ephesus, the tent-making couple encountered and discipled Apollos, who soon left them to join the church back in Corinth. Paul then returned to Ephesus, probably around 54, and stayed nearly three years, building the beginning of the Ephesian church. I would really encourage you to read through Acts 18 and 19. It’s my hope that after reading So Shines the Night, Acts 19 especially will leap off the page! Look for some familiar characters you may never have noticed before.

Beyond the scope of this story, Paul left Ephesus and traveled inland through Macedonia (northern Greece), then down to the southern part of Greece, then looped back around and returned to Jerusalem, probably by about 58. It was then that he was taken before Governor Felix (Acts 24) and Festus about two years later (Acts 25). The voyage to Rome then began, including storms, a shipwreck, a poisonous snake bite, and then house arrest in Rome for two years, where he penned the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. He apparently did more traveling after his release from arrest in 63, though we do not have many details. Paul was probably martyred sometime around 67, by the emperor Nero.
Such an adventurous life the man led in his quest to spread the gospel! The events of Acts 19 alone were enough to fill a story for me, and when it was time to write about the “ancient wonder” of the Temple of Artemis, I found this time in its history infinitely compelling.

Choosing John as my narrator in the Prologue and Epilogue might strike some of you as a strange choice, but I couldn’t pass over the fascinating possibility that he may have lived out his last years in Ephesus after his exile on Patmos. Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have lived there as well, perhaps taken care of by John years earlier, before his exile. We also know that Timothy eventually returned to pastor the church in Ephesus.

Besides grafting in the ancient pagan and the familiar biblical history, my desire was to create a sort of old-fashioned gothic romance set in an ancient period, and readers of that genre will no doubt recognize the subtle influences of some of my favorites – traces of Jane Eyre and her Mr. Rochester, and of Maxim de Winter, whose dead wife Rebecca haunts him and his timid new bride. Or perhaps hints of Jekyll and Hyde, or even a touch of my favorite age-old motif, that of “Beauty and the Beast.” It was great fun crafting a story out of all these disparate elements, and it’s my sincere hope that you’ve enjoyed the adventure.

I have been privileged to explore the city of Ephesus twice, and I invite you to visit my website,, to browse my travel photo journals. You’ll experience the sights and sounds of this great ancient city, see photos of the hillside estates, the agoras and temples and streets, and the vast amphitheater where Daria fought the powers of darkness for the man she loved and the God she was beginning to discover.
You’ll also have a chance to connect with me. I love to hear from readers about the adventure of their own lives. Where are you in your own battle to stand strong and to trust? Please visit my site and share your heart with me!
And I hope you’ll join me on my next adventure! Check out the “Work-in-Progress” page to see where we’ll be headed next!

Learning to Love by Heidi and Rolland Baker

I was already somewhat familiar with IRIS ministries from reading some of Michele Perry's books about her ministry in Sudan. This book is by the leaders of the IRIS group, Heidi and Rolland Baker and tells of their work all over Africa and even in Asia. They tell amazing stories of God's miracles in these poor countries and even with the total lack of provisions available to people, how much joy the Christians there have. We, in this country, could learn much from these people about the joy of the Lord and what is really required for happiness (not all the stuff we think we need and take for granted) -- fresh water, food, shelter. In these countries people are regularly healed of deafness since birth and many other serious illnesses and deformities. We don't see so much of that here because we don't totally depend on God for EVERYTHING the way these people do. We try to be too independent and depend on ourselves instead of God. After reading this book, I don't know who is more deprived -- the people of these poor countries or us. I personally want more of the Lord. This book will bless you in many ways. And it is also very good to know what our missionaries face and what is really happening on the mission field. I hope everyone takes the time to read this and absorb the message that is here for us all.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House to review. I did not receive any compensation for completing this review. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days by Jonathan Bernis

This book is well written. It is somewhat repetitive but that does not detract from the message of the book. It serves to reinforce the points being made. This is a slightly different take than the usual book about End Times, but it is from a unique perspective. It is written by a Jewish rabbi that accepted Yeshua as Messiah and is now the head of a Messianic Jewish ministry that follows the dictates of the Great Commission to preach the good news to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. He has experienced amazing numbers of Jews accepting Jesus all over the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the time that the Bible speaks about when the fields are ripe for harvest and astounding numbers of Jews all over the world are responding to the Gospel message. This is truly a major "sign of the times."

I feel enriched having read this book and I feel that my missions focus is more refined after reading this book. I would recommend it to all thinking Christians and Jews because there is much to be gleaned here and we all need to reach out to God's chosen people.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House to review. I did not receive any compensation for completing this review. All opinions are my own.