book review, characterizations, christian, christian blog, christian fiction, communication, family, non fiction, theater, writing

All That Really Matters

*I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and publisher as part of the author’s launch team. All thoughts below are my own and I was not required to post a positive review. Also, this blog post includes affiliate links which I do not receive compensation for.

All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese

 

They tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, you totally can! From the moment you hold this beautiful book in your hands you know it is going to give you so much more than the typical Christian fiction. It is beautiful inside and out!

From the cover:

Molly McKenzie’s bright personality and on-trend fashion and beauty advice have made her a major social media influencer. When her manager-turned-boyfriend tells her of an upcoming audition to host a makeover show for America’s underprivileged youth, all her dreams finally seem to be coming true. There’s just one catch: she has little experience interacting with people in need.

To gain an edge on her competitors, she plans to volunteer for the summer at a transitional program for aged-out foster kids, but the program’s director, Silas Whittaker, doesn’t find her as charming as her followers do. Despite his ridiculous rules and terms, Molly dives into mentoring, surprising herself with the genuine connections and concern she quickly develops for the girls–and Silas. But just as everything seems perfectly aligned for her professional future, it starts to crumble under the pressure. And as her once-narrow focus opens to the deep needs of those she’s come to know, she must face the ones she’s neglected inside herself for so long.

https://www.amazon.com/That-Really-Matters-Nicole-Deese/dp/076423496X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3G6D3CES39HG1&dchild=1&keywords=all+that+really+matters+nicole+deese&qid=1617729103&sprefix=all+that+really+ma%2Caps%2C164&sr=8-1


So many times when I begin a book review I say that the book was not what I expected. It is rare that I say it was MORE than I expected.

I knew I would like this book, in fact, I have only recently discovered Nicole Deese. I read her book, The Promise of Rayne (you can read my review of that book here: https://fromthewingsorg.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2431&action=edit) and instantly declared her as one of my new favorite authors! I just didn’t know how much I would love her book. But, I did. I laughed, cried, cheered, and more than that, cared for the characters– not just Silas and Molly, but ALL of them.

What I loved about this book:

Nicole Deese is a deep, thoughtful writer. The plot is never simple. Instead, she captivates you with the main plot of the story and then begins to build such deep dynamic characters that the backstory becomes a huge part of the plot. Her characters are memorable because Nicole crafts them masterfully to reveal charm, wit, humanity, weaknesses, goals, and inner conflicts.

I LOVED Molly and Silas. In fact, everyone needs friends in their lives like these two. Friends aren’t always perfect, but sometimes we judge instead of forgiving. They were both so real in their shortcomings and failures, but forgiving even when they had the right to judge. I loved watching their personal development both individually and in their relationships with others.

I especially loved Molly’s transparency as she wondered aloud how many people around the world were praying for her as she made a living “profiting from one of the world’s deadly sins: vanity.” I am reminded that it is easy to prejudge when we don’t know the whole story.

I laughed so much at the debate on the numbers of followers between Silas and Molly. Molly knew exactly how far away she was from a million…Silas was like the rest of us…if you have 600,000 it might as well be a million!

I also loved that Nicole took a topic (foster care and aging out of the system) and made us more aware of a deep need in our society. I love that she also mixed the story with the hot topic of social media. The story was current, relevant and fascinating. If I can read a book for entertainment and at the same time learn and feel, it is a definate win for me!

All That Really Matters. The inside cover quotes this verse: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phippippians 2:3-4.

In today’s world I find that the struggle to be heard, to have a voice that matters, to be “someone” pulls at most of us. How many “friends” or “followers” do you have? Some of us fight with an inside voice that tells us that how many “likes” you get matters. This book strips what we see of an influencer and lets us see the struggle that someone with Molly’s conscience might feel. It was convicting to me and a challenge to start my day remembering, “what really matters.”

One last thing–I loved that Nicole reached into a world of non-profits and exposed a need. There are so many wonderful causes to give or volunteer at. Thank you, Nicole, for pointing out a need.

I cannot say enough good things about this book or this author! I hope you will purchase a copy today and let me know what you think of it!

Who should read this book? Lovers of Christian fiction, Christian romance, Influencers, Adoptive parents or parents of foster children.

Favorite Quotes:

Molly, when you feel good in your own skin, it’s easy to help someone else feel good in theirs.”

Share your spark with the world, Molly, Stop trying to hide what God created to be seen.

I want to be more than a pretty face with an addictive personality. I want to be seen as the real deal. Someone who uses their influence to pay it forward. For good.

“…it has very little to do with that and everything to do with having the courage to speak up for herself. To speak her mind when she feels belittled and overshadowed. And don’t even think about telling me that’s not a critical life skill. Because that might just be the most critical life skill she could possess as a female living in our world today.”

“How you frame your words is often more important than the words themselves.”

A million dollars may as well be a hundred million to a nonprofit that barely managed to scrape by as it was.”

“Because that’s where hope actually lives–in the hustle. And if they can hustle a little harder, a little longer, a littler faster…mayber all those pretty things can be theirs. Maybe life will finally make sense. Maybe something they do will actually matter. Reality isn’t enough. It’s never been enough.”

“God has uniquely shaped gifts for every one of His uniquely shaped people.”

Because if you gave everything up, He might, what? Love you more? Forgive you more? Accept you more?” I didn’t miss the way Silas tried to catch my eye. But I didn’t want to be caught. All of that was true. “If that’s your goal, you’ll never meet it. There’s nothing you can sacrifice that’s worthy of what God gives us freely.

You don’t honor God with your life by changing your personality and tossing out everything that is unique about who you are. You honor Him by offering those very gifts back to Him.

When I’m focused inward, I miss out on divine opportunities to bless others–to serve, to help, to protect, to befriend. To love beyond my own capacity and capability. This heart makeover is still a work in progress.

Rating: 5/5

PURCHASE ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS TODAY!

Baker Book House: https://buff.ly/2NNV3gP

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3d2yihF

Barnes & Noble: https://buff.ly/3fbz7qX

Christianbook: https://buff.ly/3rfYri3

Kobo: https://buff.ly/3lNhLC0

About the Author:

Photo Credit: © Rayla Kay Photography | Image Courtesy of Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: © Rayla Kay Photography | Image Courtesy of Baker Publishing Group

Nicole Deese’s (www.nicoledeese.com) eight humorous, heartfelt, and hope-filled novels include the 2017 Carol Award-winning A Season to Love. Her 2018 release, A New Shade of Summer, was a finalist in the RITA Awards, Carol Awards, and INSPY Awards. Both of these books are from her bestselling Love in Lenoxseries. When she’s not working on her next contemporary romance, she can usually be found reading one by a window overlooking the inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She lives in small-town Idaho with her happily-ever-after hubby, two rambunctious sons, and princess daughter with the heart of a warrior.


Thank you, Bethany House Publishers and Nicole Deese for allowing me to read such a beautifully written, touching story.

Until next time,

Reba

book review, christian, christian blog, christian fiction, non fiction, reading, theater, writing

Cover to Cover

I set a goal of 52 books to read this year and I’m sad to say that it is March and I have finished only 4 books. I’m not off to a rousing start! I began the book Blackout in December. If you are interested in reading more about my thoughts on that book, please look me up on instagram at Reba.Hervas.

This month I tackled 3 books.

Book #1  Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I received this book for Christmas (thank you Kendra Jones). It has been on my want- to- read list for years. I think it hit the stands in 2013!
A book is a book and if I ever write one I would want people to still buy and read it years after it is first published!

From the cover:

“In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.”

This book was not quite what I expected. After only a few chapters in I found myself searching historical reports to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln. Perhaps because I grew up in another part of the country and perhaps because I wasn’t always a good student in the beginning, I never knew that Mary Todd wasn’t as admired as her husband.

What I loved about this book:

I love when a book inspires me to go back and study and see how the history holds up against the fiction part of the book. In this case, the book is so remarkably well done. I became more educated and inspired all at the same time.

It was quite shocking to me to learn of Elizabeth Keckley, an extraordinary woman, that most of us have never heard of, a former slave, who managed to cross the culture of the time to be a witness to a time in history that well….changed the United States. How fortunate we are to have Elizabeth Keckley’s real words to testify of the times. If you are interested check out her book, Behind the Scenes.

I love history that tells the story “out of the normal box.” In this case we see the struggle of our nation during an ugly part of history not from the side of the north or south, but from the eyes of a former slave who is now experiencing the background struggles–the things most of us can only imagine. It was fascinating as well as informative. Seeing the victory of the Civil War through her eyes was so much more meaningful than any other account I read.  To be honest, I found myself believing the book was really Elizabeth’s own thoughts instead of Jennifer’s.

Some of the best lessons we have as humans come from history. This book paints a beautiful picture of historical events, Lincoln, everyday life, and the struggles of slavery.

One of the highlights for me was the detail Jennifer gave to Lincoln, including the very foundation of his philosophy of life and politics.

I did not feel like I was reading a historical fiction novel, but instead a real documented account of life with the Lincolns.

The book doesn’t just paint a rosy picture. To say that Mrs. Lincoln lived a pain-filled life would be quite the understatement,  but along with the personal pain  we also learn of the pain caused by  gossip, slander, rivalry, and the dishonesty that can take place in politics and life.

I grew to love Elizabeth so much that I truly felt pain for her at the end. She loved Mary Todd so much. She was a true friend, but Mary Todd didn’t have the mental capacity to be able to recognize that fact. It would have been easy for Mrs. Chiaverini to present a picture of Mrs. Lincoln very distasteful, but she did allow us to also see qualities that were admirable.

It wasn’t an easy read for me. I tend to have to trudge through long passages of details. I would much rather read dialogue and shorter accounts that pass from subject to subject. That said, it was truly a wonderful novel.

Who should read this book? Lovers of history, Civil War, Historical fiction, Lincoln.

Favorite Quotes:

With malice toward none, with Charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The sublimity of witnessing the ruler of a mighty nation turning to Holy Scripture for comfort and courage, and finding both in his darkest hour, brought tears to her eyes.

He was young, not to understand how foolhardy it was to take pride in something so fickle, so fleeting, as fame.

” I often heard Mr. Lincoln say to his wife: ‘Don’t worry, Mother, because all things will come out right. God rules our destinies.”

Her greatest legacy could not be measured in garments or in words, but in the wisdom she had imparted, in the lives made better because she had touched them.

Rating 4/5

Book #2  The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

From the cover:

Synopsis: 

A stunning story about the Women Airforce Service Pilots whose courage during World War II turned ordinary women into extraordinary heroes

1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart, who fast becomes a friend as treasured as the women she flies with. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

To make everything she’s lost count for something, Audrey joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. The bonds she forms with her fellow pilots reignite a spark of hope in the face war, and—when James goes missing in action—give Audrey the strength to cross the front lines and fight not only for her country, but for the love she holds so dear.

Shining a light on a little-known piece of history, The Flight Girls is a sweeping portrayal of women’s fearlessness, love, and the power of friendship to make us soar.

What I loved about this book:

It was an easy read. It was light, fluffy and a wonderful love story that had me  rooting for the two main characters the moment they were introduced.  I have read other reviews that disliked the book because it was more of a romance than historical fiction. I guess I was in the mood for exactly that, because that is the reason I loved it.

I loved the way the book began. I love WWII and thinking about the hours/days/moments right before Pearl Harbor was attacked helped me to see life on the island in a different light. Then, to see the devastation through the eyes of Audrey brought me to tears. Salazar masterfully described the scenes without the graphic detail that would have been uncomfortable to read. I found the emptiness and pain that Audrey and her friends felt to be realistic. How does anyone heal completely from seeing the horrors that they did?

I loved Audrey’s view of love. I found her entire journey to be one that might be unrealistic in today’s world. She knew who she was interested in and although they had no promises of a future commitment she felt as if she were cheating on him with any involvement with another guy.

I loved Audrey’s love of friends and the backstories that added to the drama of the book.

It was a little simplistic, and the details were not always true to historic form, but I enjoyed it!

Who should read this book? Lovers of historical romance, light romance, World War II.

Favorite Quotes:

“How some of us stay the path, others remain tormented, letting the pain devour them, and still others find a new route—different from the original—but somehow just as satisfying.”

Rating 4/5

Book #3 One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

From the cover: Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers–and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. The fantasy dates! The kiss-off rejections! The surprising amount of guys named Chad! But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since when is being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television?

Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition–under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. She’s in this to supercharge her career, subvert harmful beauty standards, inspire women across America, and get a free hot air balloon ride. That’s it.

But when the cameras start rolling, Bea realizes things are more complicated than she anticipated. She’s in a whirlwind of sumptuous couture, Internet culture wars, sexy suitors, and an opportunity (or two, or five) to find messy, real-life love in the midst of a made-for-TV fairy tale. In this joyful, wickedly observant debut, Bea has to decide whether it might just be worth trusting these men–and herself–for a chance to live happily ever after. – Dial Press

I am not a huge fan of shows like The Bachelor, but I’ll be honest- I did watch it at the beginning. I was heartbroken for Trista Sutter after she was runner-up for the man she thought she loved and couldn’t wait for her to find happiness in her own season of The Bachelorette. And she did, the whole country watch Ryan fall deeply and madly in love with her and she returned it. They married in 2003 and have been married ever since. After that however I was disappointed when the couples seem to break up within weeks of the finale. So I stopped watching.

Enter One To Watch. Oh! what a magnificently fun book. I opened it and literally did not want to stop reading it.  The plot was fun and unique and I loved the idea of finding love for Bea on a reality show!  The scandals and manipulations that follow are heartbreaking and intriguing. I didn’t trust any of the men, but secretly rooted for one to be her prince charming. Seriously, I couldn’t stop talking about it!

How does this” unlucky in love” end up on this reality TV show? Let’s just say there are many dangers in drinking too much…

I love the quirky way Kate Stayman-London has written this book. I love her details, including things that we take for granted but yet are so important to help us “see” the story.  I love Bea, as insecure as she is. I loved going on “the dates” with her. (I might have wanted to scream at her a few times) We get to watch her make stupid mistakes, but we also get to see her turn into a better version of herself.  LOVED the way it ended. 

I also loved the insertion of the chapters including social media: the twitter conversations, the interviews etc. It was such a realistic picture of how life is and how we, the public, cast our uneducated opinions out into the world without knowing the full story.

I’m not sure I love the horrible way Bea was abused by the show to gain ratings. Some of the men were so mean and said such horrible things to Bea that it made it difficult to read. Unfortunately, I think people can totally be that mean.

I also longed to have one boy/romance that made my heart speed up as I anticipated Bea finding her true love. Sadly, although it’s a romance, none of the relationships gave me all the feels.

Favorite Quotes:

“I’m afraid that you’re looking for your next chapter, and I’m looking for the whole rest of the book.”

“Some part of me that still feels like I should be grateful for any attention you show me, even if it’s nothing close to the way I want to be loved.”

 

Have you read any of these books yet?  What did you think of them? Which of these sounds most interesting? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to talk about it!

 

artistic vision, christian, communication, family, Fear, hope, theater, writing

Nine Things You Should Know About the Story of Noah

Eleven years ago I wrote a play that for some reason became one of the most special experiences our cast and crew had ever had. The theater space was not big. We had no animals. The set was made out of styrofoam instead of wood and we had absolutely no minutes with a completed stage before we opened the doors for the audience. When you are an all volunteer army you take the time people can give you whenever they have it to give you.  And, well, God knows and somehow it always gets done.

When I decided that it was time to repeat this wonderful story I had no idea that the world as we know it would stop and that the cast and crew would learn some of the same lessons that we imagine the original inhabitants of the ark might have felt. Why, Lord? How long, Lord? And a few others. But we understand that God’s timing is ALWAYS perfect.

It is always difficult to write a story that is taken from a Biblical story. I always want to be careful to note that some of this story is out of my imagination. The Bible doesn’t give us detail of what those eight passengers felt or thought while they were floating all those days. However, in reminding ourselves that these were REAL people I like to ask my audience to consider things that  they might not have ever thought about. Consider, for example…did they fight? Were they thankful? Did they complain like the children wandering in the desert?  And as an audience….how does that change our walk with God?

Here are nine things that impacted me in writing this play:

1. The story of Noah is told in a form of parallelism. It is interesting to note that as the story prepares us for the flood it unfolds in such a way that as the waters unfold it parallels  the beginning. For example,  we learn of Noah and his sons. We are told that the ark needs to be built and the flood will happen. There is a covenant made with Noah. The food is loaded into the ark and the command is given to enter the ark. There are seven days waiting for the flood. They enter. God shuts the door. 40 days of raining. The mountains are covered. The waters remain for 150 days.

Then, (I love this thought) The Lord remembers Noah.

Now, this is what I mean about how the account is parallel. Look how the next part unfolds. The story reverses.

The waters recede for 150 days. The mountain tops become visible. They wait 40 days. Noah opens the window of the ark. Raven and Dove leave the ark. They wait seven days for the water to recede. There is a command to leave the ark. God gives instruction about the food outside of the ark. God makes a covenant with all flesh. God promises He will not destroy the world with a flood in the future. And they leave the ark: Noah and his three sons.

I am not enough of a Biblical scholar to know the significance of that, but I do appreciate the beauty of it.

2.  The size of the ark (if we consider  that there is  18 inches to a cubit), the total cubic volume of Noah’s ark would have been 1,518,000 cubic feet, the equivalent to 250 single-deck railroad stock cars. Since the average stock car can carry 80 180 lb. sheep or 160 50 lb. sheep per deck (2.5 – 5 sq ft per animal), it’s estimated the ark could carry 20,000-40,000 sheep size animals. Wow. Just wow!

3. It is interesting to note that ancient records note that sailors would use doves, ravens, and other birds to help them find and navigate toward land. It is said that a raven will fly directly toward land, so they could follow the raven as a guide. Doves are not able to fly as long so they were used to determine location of land. If the dove returned it would mean that land was not close.

4. Noah and his family were on the ark for a total of 370 days. (There is a little debate about the exact  number of days, because of lunar years, but this is the number most scholars agree upon.)

5. Noah’s first recorded act after leaving the ark was to build an altar to the Lord (Gen. 8:20). Imagine what the world would be like if our first response to difficulties would be to honor God with sacrifices and praise?

6. The Bible says the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (a mountain range in Turkey) but does not specify which mountain.

7. The only time Noah is recorded as speaking is when he curses Canaan and blesses his sons Shem and Japheth. At all other points in his story, God does the talking and Noah does the listening. Again, another example. God talks….I should listen….totally not enough listening going on in the world today!

8. At 950 years of age, Noah had the third longest life recorded in the Bible (after Methuselah (969) and Jared (Father of Enoch) (962)). We all are aware that Methuselah was the oldest, but I had really never stopped to consider that Noah was only 19 years short of achieving the same record!

9. Besides the book of Genesis, Noah is also mentioned in eight other books of the Bible (1st Chronicles 1:4, Isaiah 54:9, Ezekiel 14:14; 20, Matthew 24:37-38, Luke 3:36, 17:26-27,Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:20, and 2 Peter 2:5).

Noah has a place of honor in the faith chapter.  Consider God’s servant: Noah.

What are other things you have learned when considering Noah? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Here is a little taste of our production.

 

January-March 2021
christian fiction, family, Fear, hope, theater, writing

Charity Chooses Hope and So Do I

Charity opened her diary for what she expected to be one last time in 2020.
She looked at the blank pages. One after another for the last month the pages were blank.
She closed the diary.
Standing up, she crossed to her dresser and picked up the newspaper.

“Another “166 people Dead as the Pandemic Continues to Reign.”

One solitary tear escaped the corner of her eye and made it’s way down her cheek.

So much loss. So much pain. So much devastation.

“Yep 2020. You didn’t bring any of the things we had looked forward to. New Year’s Day can’t come soon enough.”

Even with that thought came the next negative one right on top of it.

“How is the change of a date going to make any difference on our future?”

Then, for the first time in a long time she heard a voice of hope deep inside her.

“Because with the change of a date comes hope of something new.”

“Where did the tradition of writing New Year’s Resolutions come from anyway?” she continued to think, “Resolve…a commitment to continue a good practice or change a behavior or do something to improve my life.”

Charity crossed back to her diary. She flipped pass the last month of blank pages and stared at the last page. She picked up her pen and wrote largely……HOPE.

Maybe the problem wasn’t so much the disease, although it was a tragedy. Perhaps the problem was in her own attitude.

“Today I am responsible for one thing…how I look at the events of my life. I can choose to find the positive. I can choose to look at the events in the world realizing that none of this is a surprise to God and humbly give Him this day of my life…. or I can wallow in what I have lost and blame Him.”

RESOLVE

She paused for a moment and almost laughed out loud. “Why did it take me so long to remember, Lord? Every breath I have is only because it comes from You. If the sun shines or rain and snow comes it is only because of You. You, Creator, Healer, Sustainer, Maker, Artist, Savior.”

Charity closed the diary and stood up straighter. “I don’t have to wait until Midnight to start. I’m going to cling to Hope right now and through each day of the new year. Hope that we will gain control of the virus. Hope that our nation can be healed from the unrest and ugliness that has held us captive. Hope that I can make a difference.”

How are you going to look at 2021?

Thank you, God, for another year that you have given us. May we all sing Your praises with anticipation of another year to serve You.

Happy New Year.

I’d love to hear what words you have chosen to represent your 2021!

Until next time!

P.S.  Charity is a character from a book I started years ago….Should I ever finish it?? What should happen to Charity….